• The major conferences begin the heart of their bowl schedule on Boxing Day. Here's what you need to know about Tuesday's tripleheader.
By The SI Staff
December 25, 2017

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 the previous day’s action.

What happened on Sunday: In the only bowl game of the day, Houston and Fresno State squared off in the Hawai'i Bowl. The Bulldogs pulled away late in the fourth quarter to win, 33-27, while enjoying a highlight-reel day from quarterback Marcus McMaryion, who threw for a career-best 342 yards.

Cactus Bowl

Why you should watch: The last time UCLA and Kansas State played, there were handshake fireworks between coaches Jim Mora and Bill Snyder. Mora was fired before UCLA’s season finale, so now it’s interim head coach Jedd Fisch’s turn to lead the Bruins against the Wildcats before Chip Kelly takes the reins. The quarterbacks in this game looked to be the main attraction. Josh Rosen was supposed to be under center for potentially his final game with the Bruins before declaring for the NFL draft, but will reportedly not play under doctor's orders. The junior signal-caller accumulated 3,717 yards and 26 touchdowns through the air this season while only tossing 10 interceptions. On the other side, Kansas State has dual-threat quarterback Skylar Thompson. The redshirt freshman had his best performance in an upset victory against Oklahoma State, completing 10 of his 13 throws for 204 yards and three scores, to go along with 93 yards and another touchdown on the ground.

Most interesting player on the field: Kansas State QB Thompson. Thompson emerged as the Wildcats' late-season savior, shooting up the depth chart and spearheading an overtime win over Texas Tech in addition to the upset of the Cowboys. Kansas State's future has plenty of Thompson in it, starting with a bowl game against the Bruins. — Max Meyer and Connor Grossman 

Quick Lane Bowl

Why you should watch: The Quick Lane Bowl will be a matchup between a 6-6 Duke team that needed to win its last two games to become bowl eligible and an 8-4 Northern Illinois squad that was one game away from playing for a MAC title. If you value stout pass defense, this game is for you.

The teams feature defenses that have surrendered almost an identical amount of points this season—Duke has allowed 249 and Northern Illinois has given up 250. Each unit also has 15 interceptions for the year, which has them tied at 18th in the country. While Duke has gotten to this point by stifling quarterbacks to a 50.5 completion percentage and just 174.8 passing yards per game, the 11th best total in the nation, Northern Illinois has pressured quarterbacks into mistakes by totaling the fourth most sacks in the country.

Duke's Mark Gilbert is second in the nation with six interceptions and Northern Illinois' Sutton Smith leads the country with 14 sacks.

Most interesting player on the field: Northern Illinois DE Sutton Smith. The Huskies' defense has been led by the nation's most prolific pass rusher, a sophomore who has found the quarterback in nine of his 12 games this year. Smith will probably not touch Elvis Dumervil's NCAA record for 20 sacks in a season, but with one more sack he will be in a six-way tie for the 14th most sacks in one season, and with 2.5 sacks he will be tied for the sixth-best total in NCAA history.  — Khadrice Rollins

Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl

Why you should watch: Utah installed a pass-first, uptempo offense this season with Troy Taylor as its new offensive coordinator, and the Utes responded by averaging 29.5 points (58th in the country) and 256 passing yards (43rd) per game. Starting quarterback Tyler Huntley missed the team’s regular-season finale against Colorado with an unspecified injury, but Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said that Huntley’s status is “looking very positive” against West Virginia. The Mountaineers have worse quarterback luck for this game, as their starter Will Grier broke his finger in a mid-November affair against Texas. Nonetheless, West Virginia still figures to rely upon its explosive offense, as it managed to put up 31 points at Oklahoma the following game. However, the Mountaineers face a tall task going up against a Whittingham-coached team during bowl season. The Utes have compiled a 10-1 record in bowl games since Whittingham took over as coach in 2005. Can Utah continue its historic bowl success this time around in Dallas?

Most interesting player on the field: Utah K Matt Gay. Kickers deserve love too, especially the most recent recipient of the Lou Groza Award. Gay has made 27 of his 31 field-goal attempts this season, including two from 56 yards out. He also drilled all 37 of his extra points. Also, be on the lookout for Utah’s super punter Mitch Wishnowsky. — Max Meyer

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