• Get ready for the first day of bowl season with a quick preview of all five of Saturday's matchups, featuring players to watch, storylines you need to know and trivia you probably don't need to know.
By The SI Staff
December 14, 2018

The long postseason march to the national championship game has to start somewhere, and on Saturday afternoon it will, as 2018’s first bowl games kick off in Orlando, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Montgomery and New Orleans.

To get you ready for Saturday’s action, we’ve compiled a handy, digestible guide to every game, including the case for tuning in, the draft prospect you need to keep an eye on and bits of trivia you may not know.

Bowl Predictions: SI’s Experts Make Their Picks for Every Game

AutoNation Cure Bowl: Tulane vs. Louisiana (1:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN)

Why You Should Tune In: This matchup projects as pretty even regardless of which team has the ball. Louisiana boasts an impressive run-heavy offense behind a trio of backs with at least 700 rushing yards this season, but Tulane’s run defense allows less than four yards per carry. Tulane’s putrid offense will have a good chance to move the ball on Louisiana; keep an eye on wideout Darnell Mooney against the Ragin’ Cajuns’ awful pass defense. One intriguing element to this game is that Tulane will have a first-time play-caller (Alex Atkins) after firing offensive coordinator Doug Ruse at the end of the regular season.

Betting Preview: Big Plays Should Lift Louisiana Past Tulane

What You May Not Know: A win for either team would be historic in some sense. Tulane, which famously went 12–0 and cracked the AP top 10 under Tommy Bowden in 1998, hasn’t won a bowl game since 2002. Louisiana has played in the New Orleans Bowl five times in the last seven seasons. This will be its first time playing in a different bowl game since the 1970 Grantland Rice Bowl, when Louisiana was part of the NCAA College Division (now known as D-II). — Will Ragatz

Draft Prospect to Watch: Consistency is the key for Mooney, who had four 100-yard games for Tulane, but also had four other games where he had two catches or fewer. He could benefit from another year in school, but then again, his quarterbacks only completed 49.6% of their passes all season. Like most prospects coming from a non-Power 5 school, he could improve his stock by testing well if he is invited to the combine. — Scooby Axson

New Mexico Bowl: North Texas vs. Utah State (2 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Why You Should Tune In: You like offense, right? Assuming you do, this matchup should deliver. Utah State owns the third-best scoring offense (47.2 points per game) in the nation, trailing only title contenders Oklahoma and Alabama. And North Texas isn’t too shabby, either. With 473 yards per game, the Mean Green are mighty explosive behind junior quarterback Mason Fine, who threw for over 3,700 yards in the regular season. More than just the offense, this is a solid chance to watch a legitimately good team on the first day of bowl season. Ranked No. 23 in the Coaches Poll, Utah State finished 10–2 and nearly knocked off then-No.11 Michigan State in Week 1. The Aggies’ only other loss came on the blue turf of Boise State.

Betting Preview: Without Its Head Coach, Utah State Prepares for North Texas

What You May Not Know: In a 44–17 early-season rout at Arkansas, North Texas ran one of the best trick plays in recent memory: A fake fair catch punt return.

It was a beautifully devised and executed play by special teams coordinator Marty Biagi and return man Keegan Brewer. Teams often reveal obscure trick plays during bowl season, so lock in on the Mean Green. — Sam Brief

Draft Prospect to Watch: Utah State tight end Dax Raymond is an intriguing prospect who only had 25 catches this season but missed four games due to a broken hand. He has good size and decent blocking skills, but needs to be used in different ways to maximize his potential. He scored only three touchdowns on his 70 career catches and could make waves at the Senior Bowl. — SA

Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State vs. Fresno State (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

Why You Should Tune In: Top-three NFL wide receiver prospect N’Keal Harry won’t play for the Sun Devils, but Arizona State is still a fun team to watch. Sophomore running back Eno Benjamin is one of the most underrated backs in the country—he rushed for 1,524 yards this season (tied for third in the FBS), including a 312-yard, three-touchdown performance on Sept. 29 against Oregon State. Benjamin meets his match with Fresno State. The Bulldogs give up just 13.7 points per game, second-fewest in nation, and they specialize in stuffing the run. It’s a classic offense-defense clash.

Betting Preview: Fresno State Eyes First 12-Win Season vs. Arizona State

What You May Not Know: Herm Edwards hadn’t coached in college football for 28 years when Arizona State hired him. Edwards’s only college coaching gig was as the defensive backs coach for San Jose State, and his only bowl appearance was the 1987 California Bowl against Eastern Michigan. The one-loss Spartans opened as 17.5-point favorites but lost, 30–27. Now, Edwards will play the underdog in his second bowl appearance, as his Sun Devils opened as 3.5-point ’dogs. — SB

Draft Prospect to Watch: KeeSean Johnson had a productive season for the Bulldogs, with 87 receptions for 1,267 yards and eight touchdowns, including tying for the nation’s lead with 13 catches of 30-plus yards. What Johnson doesn’t have in speed and explosiveness, he more than makes up for with his intangibles. He can high point the ball to make catches over smaller defensive backs and can run the entire route tree with precision. — SA

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Georgia Southern vs. Eastern Michigan (5:30 p.m ET, ESPN)

Why You Should Tune In: This is a big deal for Eastern Michigan. Historically, the Eagles are one of the worst programs in D-I, having made all of two bowls in 44 years (their lone victory is the aforementioned upset over Herm Edwards and San Jose State in 1987). There was some risk that EMU would be one of the few bowl-eligible teams that didn’t get selected, leading to this video pitch. This would be a huge win for coach Chris Creighton, who already beat Purdue this year. Georgia Southern and its Shai Werts-led triple-option offense will be tough to stop; EMU allowed 289 rushing yards to Army in a 37–22 loss when it last faced a triple-option. Georgia Southern impressively throttled Appalachian State in October and now has a chance for its third nine-win season and second bowl win in just its fifth year in the FBS.

Betting Preview: Georgia Southern's Option Will Be Tough for EMU to Stop

What You May Not Know: This all-Eagles matchup is the only bowl game between teams with same nickname. Last year had two: Utah State vs. New Mexico State and Northwestern vs. Kentucky. These would’ve been fun bowls this year:

• Georgia vs. Fresno State (Bulldogs)
• Clemson vs. LSU (Tigers)
• West Virginia vs. Appalachian State (Mountaineers)
• USC vs. Troy (Trojans)
• Washington vs. Northern Illinois (Huskies) — WR

Draft Prospect to Watch: As the NFL has prioritized the need for a receiving running back, Eastern Michigan’s Blake Banham could fit the mold as a third-down back. At 5'9", Banham led the team in catches, yards and touchdowns, while also averaging nearly 10 yards per punt return. But running back might not be where he ends up should he make a roster, as he had seven carries the entire season. — SA

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Appalachian State (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Why You Should Tune In: Coach Scott Satterfield left App State for Louisville a couple weeks ago after going 51–24 during six seasons in Boone. The Mountaineers nearly shocked Penn State in Week 1, then closed with 10 wins in 11 games with an average margin of victory of 28 points. Sophomore QB Zac Thomas has had a nice year and has been safe with the ball, throwing only four picks. On the flip side, Middle Tennessee has the nation’s best lefty QB not named Tua. Senior Brent Stockstill threw for over 3,000 yards and is playing his final game in the Big Easy.

Betting Preview: Middle Tennessee Will Attack Appalachian State Through the Air

What You May Not Know: Stockstill is the coach’s son. His dad, Rick, has been Middle Tennessee’s lead man since 2006, and the two have combined to lead the Blue Raiders to a bowl game in each of their four seasons. Brent owns Middle Tennessee’s career records for passing yards, touchdown passes and completions. — SB

Draft Prospect to Know: Durability concerns aside, Stockstill, a left-hander with a smooth delivery, still threw for over 12,000 yards and 105 touchdowns in his career. He does have a good arm and showed improved accuracy after an injury-plagued 2017. He can fit the ball into tight windows, but must be more pocket savvy when facing a rush, which has led to inopportune interceptions. His height (6'0") and average athleticism could hurt him in the long run. —SA

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