Here’s One Reason To Watch Each Bowl Game This Weekend
The 2021 college football regular season has wrapped up, and that means it's time for bowl season. There are 44 bowl games in the next few weeks including the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday, January 10. But until then, there's plenty of teams that need to end their season with a bowl trophy.
This weekend has eight games, and here is a preview for each of them. Everything starts with two games on Friday, Dec. 17.
Bahamas Bowl: Middle Tennessee (6-6) vs. Toledo (7-5) 11:00 a.m. on ESPN
The Toledo Rockets nearly pulled off a stunning upset in South Bend during a 32-29 loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, so don't let their record fool you. This is a very good team with a high-flying offense that has scored 216 points in their last five games, averaging over 43 points per game. They're 4-1 in that stretch. Their running back, junior Bryant Koback, has been a big part of that, going over 100 yards in each of those games.
Cure Bowl: Northern Illinois (9-4) vs. Coastal Carolina (10-2) 5:00 p.m. on ESPN2
The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers out of the Sun Belt are looking for their first ever bowl win, but it's not going to be an easy matchup against the Northern Illinois Huskies from the MAC. Northern Illinois won the MAC Championship Game comfortably against Kent State, but they've been battle-tested this season after winning a very tough MAC West Division where all six teams are in bowl games. Northern Illinois was 7-2 in games decided by one score, so if it's a close game, expect the Huskies to be prepared in what should be a close matchup against the Chanticleers.
Saturday, Dec. 18 is packed with five games.
Boca Raton Bowl: Western Kentucky (8-5) vs. Appalachian State (10-3) 10:00 a.m. on ESPN
Both of these teams lost their respective conference championship games to 12-1 opponents, but there's definitely a clear matchup to watch in this one. Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe has been putting up ridiculous numbers this year for the Hilltoppers. The MVP of Conference-USA finished the season with 5,545 yards and 56 touchdowns to only 11 interceptions with a completion percentage just under 70 percent. He showed up with a big game in the Conference-USA Championship Game, and he'll need to do it again when he faces a stingy App State defense that gave up 15 points per game over their final seven games. The Mountaineers went 6-1 in that stretch.
New Mexico Bowl: UTEP (7-5) vs. Fresno State (9-3) 1:15 p.m. on ESPN
The Bulldogs out of Fresno State are a head-scratching team. They've had huge wins against top 25 opponents like UCLA and San Diego State, and they also nearly took down Oregon. However, they also have losses to Hawai'i and a blowout loss to a mediocre Boise State squad. The UTEP Miners have limped into this bowl game, losing four of their last five after starting the season 6-1. Bulldogs quarterback Jake Haener has shined in big games this year, and he has seven games with over 300 yards and multiple touchdown passes, so he's the player to watch against a struggling Miners squad.
Independence Bowl: UAB (8-4) vs. #13 BYU (10-2) 2:30 p.m. on ABC
The BYU Cougars had a great season, winning multiple games against top 25 opponents, including a big victory over Utah, the Pac-12 Champion. Running back Tyler Allgeier was a workhorse for the Cougars. He had 1,414 yards and 20 touchdowns on 249 carries in 2021. His matchup against a solid UAB Blazers defensive unit will be the one to watch on Saturday afternoon. For UAB, their 34-31 loss to UT-San Antonio late in the season was the reason they weren't the representatives out of the West Division in the Conference-USA Championship Game.
LendingTree Bowl: Liberty (7-5) vs. Eastern Michigan (7-5) 4:45 p.m. on ESPN
The Liberty Flames are an opponent that Louisiana fans recognize after the Ragin' Cajuns beat them 42-14 late in the regular season. Their quarterback Malik Willis was praised coming into the season, and he's been the man for Liberty's offense, leading the team in both rushing and passing. Even though the Flames have lost their last three, he's the player to watch in this one. Eastern Michigan was another one of those teams from the MAC West that was battle-tested during the season, yet ended above .500 to book a ticket to bowl season.
LA Bowl: Utah State (10-3) vs. Oregon State (7-5) 6:30 p.m. on ABC
The Utah State Aggies have caught fire recently, winning seven of their last eight games including a surprising 46-13 dismantling of San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference Championship Game. In their last five wins, their average margin of victory has been over 26 points. They've been crushing teams in the second half of the season. Oregon State is the favorite in this one, so it'll be interesting to see if Utah State can continue their ridiculous stretch. On the other side, Oregon State went 5-4 in Pac-12 play. Their running back B.J. Baylor was the star of the show for the Beavers, finishing 2021 with 1,259 yards and 13 touchdowns on 209 carries.
New Orleans Bowl: #23 Louisiana (12-1) vs. Marshall (7-5) 8:15 p.m. on ESPN
Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns, the nationally ranked champions of the Sun Belt Conference, are looking to start the era under new head coach Michael Desormeaux by capping off a magical 2021 season with a program-record 13th straight victory. The talented Cajuns defense has smothered opponents, holding teams to 16 points per game during their winning streak, and school record-holding senior quarterback Levi Lewis will be playing his last game in a Louisiana uniform. He'll look to do what he has done efficiently in his entire career as a Ragin' Cajun: win football games. Louisiana's trio of excellent running backs behind a stout offensive line will help with that.
Four of Marshall's five losses in 2021 were by one possession, with their only blowout loss coming in the last week of the regular season to Western Kentucky. Before that game, the Thundering Herd had won five of six games. Marshall averaged 34 points per game this season, so their offense vs. the Cajuns stout defense will be the main reason to watch the New Orleans Bowl. Quarterback Grant Wells had 3,433 yards this season but was also turnover prone with 12 interceptions. Both these teams are future conference foes with Marshall's pending move to the Sun Belt, so this game should be a glimpse into the future.
That's all of the games that open up bowl play this weekend. As always, it should be a fun few weeks to close out the 2021 college football season.