- Pull up an easy chair. Grab some snacks and beverages. Don't move for a few weeks. Bowl season is here starting with this quintet of games.
The bittersweet arrival of the first day of bowls reminds us all that only 40 games remain in the college football season, but it also sets the table for what figures to be a thrilling College Football Playoff finale. All month long in the Daily Bowl Digest, we’ll be setting the table for each day of bowl action, with game-by-game previews and a quick look back at what happened last night. First up: A marathon Saturday highlighted by one of the most intriguing matchups of the first half of the slate.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Troy vs. North Texas (1 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Why you should watch: With all due respect to the Celebration Bowl, the annual showdown between the MEAC and SWAC champions that is entering its third year of existence, the New Orleans Bowl is the official start of the bowl season, and the Sun Belt traditionally plays into the fanfare by sending its conference champion to the Superdome. This year, that’s Troy, which only lost to Mountain West champ Boise State on the road and South Alabama in a midweek letdown game. Conference USA runner-up North Texas was certainly outclassed by Florida Atlantic in the conference title game, but the Mean Green will be playing for the school’s first 10-win season ever.
This is the first time since 2010 that the game hasn’t featured at least one team from Louisiana, but it’s safe to expect a high-energy contest just the same as two dangerous offenses trade possessions in the Superdome’s fast track.
Most interesting player on the field: Troy RB Jordan Chunn. The last time the college football world was focused on Chunn, he was rumbling through LSU’s defense on the way to a 30-carry, 190-yard night that keyed the Trojans’ upset win in Tiger Stadium. The next game against South Alabama, Chunn suffered a leg laceration that required 18 stitches and sidelined him for the next two weeks. Now back at full strength, Chunn enters his college finale one touchdown shy of the Sun Belt’s all-time record (48, held by Tyrell Fenroy of Louisiana-Lafayette) with a juicy matchup against North Texas’s 107th-ranked run D. — Eric Single
Autonation Cure Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Georgia State (2:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN)
Why you should watch: Passing enthusiasts, pull up a chair. Western Kentucky and Georgia State both field putrid running games, so taking to the air might be the only way the ball moves up and down the field. Western Kentucky finished dead last in FBS in rushing offense, and Georgia State sits 116th. This game was built for fans who don’t have time for trench battles.
Most interesting player on the field: WKU LB Joel Iyiegbuniwe. Iyiegbuniwe (pronounced ee-yay-boo-nee-way) led the Hilltoppers in tackles and forced three fumbles on his way to all-Conference USA honors. The Bowling Green native has become a team captain for a Hilltoppers team that can’t always lean on a high-powered offense the way it has in recent years. — Scooby Axson
Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State vs. Oregon (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Why you should watch: No Willie Taggart, no problem for Oregon? We’ll see in the Ducks’ first game after Taggart bolted for Florida State with former offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal serving as the team’s head coach. Cristobal does have prior experience as a head coach with FIU, but it will be interesting to see if there are any bumps in the transition and how the team responds to the switch.
The good news for Cristobal is that the Ducks were one of the top offenses in the country with a healthy Justin Herbert under center, and Herbert is good to go against Boise State. Herbert and an explosive Oregon rushing attack featuring Royce Freeman, Kani Benoit and Tony Brooks-James will certainly be a challenge for Boise State to try to stop. But the Broncos also boast an intriguing offense of their own, with quarterback Brett Rypien a key reason behind Boise State’s status as one of the top passing offenses in the Mountain West Conference.
Most interesting player on the field: Oregon QB Justin Herbert. The Pac-12 has a couple quarterbacks vying for top draft pick honors in the 2018 NFL draft, but Herbert could end up as the crown jewel of the 2019 class. Oregon’s offense was among the best in the country with a healthy Herbert under center. With senior running back Royce Freeman deciding to skip the bowl game, Herbert has a good chance to showcase his arm talent. — Max Meyer
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Marshall vs. Colorado State (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Why you should watch: Colorado Sate enters the game with a solid offense and two big time weapons in receiver Michael Gallup and running back Dalyn Dawkins. Gallup is fifth in the nation in receiving yards and Dawkins is 16th in rushing yards. However, the duo will have its work cut out for it against a Marshall defense that is allowing less than 20 points a game.
Marshall is 25th in the country in defensive yards per game and allows only 212.3 passing yards per game. Seeing how the unit can matchup with Dawkins and Gallup will be interesting as the two are some of the best talents Marshall will face all season.
Most interesting player on the field: Colorado State WR Michael Gallup. Gallup has put together one of the best seasons of any receiver in the nation. With 94 catches for 1,345 yards and seven touchdowns, the senior from Monroe, Ga. has established himself as one of the top threats in the Mountain West. He has gone for more than 100 receiving yards six times this year, and the Rams are 4–2 in those games. He has also eclipsed 200 receiving yards twice this year, both in victories. — Khadrice Rollins
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Middle Tennessee (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Why you should watch: If you like offense, you’re going to enjoy watching Arkansas State. The Red Wolves ranked sixth in the country in passing yards per game behind Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year Justice Hansen, whose numbers include 3,630 passing yards, a 63.7% completion rate and 34 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. He’ll look to be slowed by a Blue Raiders defense that ranks 46th, including linebacker Khalil Brooks, who ranked third in the C-USA in tackles for loss.
Can Middle Tennessee score enough to hang with the Red Wolves? Their quarterback, Brent Stockstill, is no slouch, returning from injury to throw 10 touchdowns in his final four games after throwing 61 total in the last two seasons. But the key to this game will likely remain Middle Tennessee’s defense, which got burned by the best QB it faced this season, Western Kentucky QB Mike White, and will need to do a better job against Hansen and Co.
Most interesting player on the field: Arkansas State DE Ja'Von Rolland-Jones. The senior is a two-time Sun Belt Player of the Year (offense or defense), owns the conference’s all-time sacks record and ranks second in the nation this season with 13. Middle Tennessee QB Brent Stockstill and the Blue Raiders’ offensive line should be on high alert, especially since Rolland-Jones is one sack shy of breaking Terrell Suggs’s all-time FBS record. — Molly Geary