Ohio State's showdown with USC leads Friday's bowl slate, but there's a full day of games before that. We preview all five bowls here.

By The SI Staff
December 29, 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 Thursday: Navy got things started with a 49–7 thrashing of Virginia in the Military Bowl. After the Hoos struck first on a 98-yard kickoff return, the Midshipmen scored 49 unanswered points, including five rushing TDs by backup QB Zach Abey. In the Camping World Bowl, Mason Rudolph threw for two scores and 351 yards and Oklahoma State held off Virginia Tech late to win 30–21.

In the night's two marquee matchups, TCU rallied back from a 21–3 deficit to beat Stanford in the Alamo Bowl behind Kenny Hill, who threw for two TDs, caught one and ran for another in a 39–37 win. Stanford star RB Bryce Love ran for two scores and 145 yards but was held out late due to a thumb injury. Meanwhile, Michigan State cruised past Washington State in the Holiday Bowl, 42–17. The Spartans' LJ Scott ran for a pair of TDs on the ground.

Friday brings our second five-game day of bowl season and first since the opening Saturday. The all-day slate starts at 1 p.m. ET and ends in primetime.

Belk Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M (1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Why you should watch: For one thing, the Belk Bowl has the best Twitter account of bowl season. If you don’t watch, you’re going to miss out on understanding their wonderful live tweeting. Meanwhile on the field, Wake Forest is hoping to notch its eighth win of the season—which would be the program’s most since 2008—and should be well-represented at a game being played in the Demon Deacons’ home state. The Wake offense is no joke—last month, it dropped 64 points on Syracuse—and its big-play ability could provide some fireworks. For A&M, this is its first game since firing Kevin Sumlin. And while Jimbo Fisher won’t yet be on the sidelines in Charlotte (interim coach Jeff Banks is handling coaching duties), the Aggies could get his tenure off to a positive start with a win. It’s also your last chance to watch dynamic A&M receiver Christian Kirk before he leaves for the NFL.

Most interesting player on the field: Wake Forest QB John Wolford. The underrated Wolford is a four-year starter who threw 25 touchdowns against just six interceptions while leading the ACC in passing efficiency in 2017. He’s helped bring the Demon Deacons from the ACC basement and back-to-back three-win seasons to a position of relevance in one of the nation’s toughest divisions and will want to go out with a bang. — Molly Geary

Hyundai Sun Bowl: NC State vs. Arizona State (3:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

Why you should watch: It’s the final game of the Todd Graham era at Arizona State, as Graham is hanging around to coach the Sun Devils in their bowl game against NC State. Both teams were inconsistent throughout the season, but have notched multiple upsets—NC State beat then-No. 12 Florida State and No. 17 Louisville, while ASU defeated then-No. 24 Oregon and No. 5 Washington. So it’ll be interesting to see which version of each team arrives at the Sun Bowl. A staple of Graham’s time in Tempe were his blitz-happy defenses, whereas one of the Wolfpack’s biggest strengths was their pass protection, giving up the seventh-lowest sack total in the country with seven. Additionally, the Sun Devils’ red-zone offense was among the best in college football, scoring on 46 of their 48 trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, with the only two “failures” coming on kneeldowns to end the game. NC State has been formidable in red-zone defense, letting offenses score touchdowns on just 20 of 39 trips.

Most interesting player on the field: Arizona State WR N’Keal Harry. The only reason why the choice for the Sun Bowl’s can’t-miss player isn’t top-10 NFL draft pick Bradley Chubb is that Chubb will sit out the Sun Bowl to prepare for the NFL draft. The sophomore wideout Harry is also an enthralling watch, as the 6’4” weapon is a force for Arizona State, especially on 50-50 balls. He was one of only two Pac-12 players to record an 1,000-yard season in 2017, and the Wolfpack will have their hands full trying to guard him. — Max Meyer

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Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Kentucky vs. Northwestern (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Why you should watch: You’re going to see an indignant Northwestern team that rightfully feels it should be playing in a better bowl than this one. The Wildcats went 9–3 and finished the season on a seven-game win streak, and two of their losses came to Ohio State and Penn State. Northwestern was in discussion for both the Holiday and Outback Bowls, but both Michigan schools were selected ahead of them—Michigan was chosen for the Outback Bowl despite having four losses and no wins over teams that finished with a winning record, and three-loss Michigan State got the Holiday Bowl nod despite losing to Northwestern at home.

Kentucky is appearing in its second consecutive bowl game after a five-year postseason drought. The other Wildcats—this a battle of Wildcats—have lost three of four to end the season with their lone win coming by three over Tennessee at home. Northwestern should like its chances to get to 10 wins for the second time in three seasons.

Most interesting player on the field: Northwestern running back Justin Jackson. Northwestern’s all-time leading rusher has surpassed 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons in Evanston. The remarkably durable back has totaled 5,283 rushing yards over his career, the fourth-best total in Big Ten history and 12th best all-time in the FBS. If you haven’t had a chance to watch Jackson, who evades defenders with sharp cuts rather than outright speed, you have one more chance to do so. — Daniel Rapaport

Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl: New Mexico State vs. Utah State (5:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN)

Why you should watch: Believe it or not, this is a rematch of the 1960 Sun Bowl, where Utah State lost after not completing a single pass (that was common back them) and it also happens to be New Mexico State's last appearance in any bowl before this one. The bowl may not be as much of a novelty for Utah State, which probably has had its fill of going to the Potato Bowl multiple times in recent years. But this game is all about New Mexico State, which had to win its last two games just to qualify for the postseason.

Most interesting player on the field: Jalen Davis, cornerback, Utah State. Davis, who collected a handful of All-America honors this month, is a pure ballhawk. Three of his five interceptions this season were returned for touchdowns; only 10 other players in FBS had more than one pick-six. — Scooby Axson

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: USC vs. Ohio State (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Why you should watch: Two of the biggest names in college football at quarterback dueling it out in Sam Darnold and J.T. Barrett. Two absolutely electric tailbacks ready to run wild in their home state in Ronald Jones II vs. J.K. Dobbins. Ohio State’s vaunted defensive line vs. USC’s NCAA-leading sack defense. These two powerhouse schools have talent oozing all over the roster. In fact, this pretty much feels like a third playoff game with these two name-brand programs facing off. This will be the fourth straight year that USC has drawn a Big Ten opponent in a bowl game, but this is its first time playing against Ohio State since the 2009 regular season. In that top-10 showdown, true freshman QB Matt Barkley silenced the then-largest crowd in Ohio Stadium history by orchestrating a 14-play, 86-yard drive late in the contest to give USC an 18–15 win. This time around, it’s a matchup that features two angry teams that want to prove they were snubbed by the College Football Playoff committee.

Most interesting player on the field: USC LB Uchenna Nwosu. He might not be as well-known as other key Trojans, but Nwosu was arguably USC’s MVP this season. The pass rusher has made a name for himself in his senior campaign, registering 71 tackles and 7.5 sacks. He’s also excellent at deflecting passes, with a team-leading 13 breakups (yes, more than any USC defensive back). — MM

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