The final day of bowl action before Christmas is a doozy, with four compelling matchups to keep you busy all Saturday long, one week out from the College Football Playoff semifinals.
To get you ready for today’s action, we’ve compiled a handy, digestible guide to the game for those needing a primer on the Birmingham, Armed Forces, Dollar General and Hawai'i Bowls.
Bowls from last night: Florida International used three rushing touchdowns from Anthony Jones, who was injured along with a teammate in a September drive-by shooting, to outlast Toledo in a back-and-forth Bahamas Bowl, 28–25. In the Potato Bowl, BYU quarterback Zach Wilson was a perfect 18-for-18 passing to lead a 49–18 rout of Western Michigan.
Jared Birmingham Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Memphis (Noon ET, ESPN)
Why You Should Tune In: Darrell Henderson is one of the most exciting playmakers in college football, and he needed 91 rushing yards in this game to hit 2,000 on the season—but the Memphis star decided to skip it to prepare for the NFL draft, so the Tigers will have to lean on their 2019 backfield of Patrick Taylor Jr. and Tony Pollard to replace him. Wake Forest, meanwhile, has had a weirdly up-and-down season. The Demon Deacons lost 63–3 to Clemson and were shelled by lowly Florida State, but they upset NC State in Raleigh and capped off the regular season with a 59–7 thrashing of Duke. We don’t know what we’ll get from either team, but .
What You May Not Know:In 2003, legendary Memphis running back DeAngelo Williams set a program record with 1,430 rushing yards. A year later, he eclipsed that. Then in 2005, Williams set the mark that still stands today: 1,964 yards. Henderson came 55 yards short of Williams in his final year of college, but he would have still needed almost 2,500 yards to touch Williams’s career total. — Sam Brief
NFL Draft Prospect to Watch: Not only is Memphis missing Henderson, but Wake Forest is also without its most dynamic offensive weapon in redshirt junior Greg Dortch, who suffered a hand injury in the season finale. Those are two big blows for NFL draft onlookers tuning in. Don't sleep on Matt Colburn II, the senior Wake Forest running back who averaged 4.8 yards per carry this season. He exploded for 243 yards and three scores on a Louisville team that once pulled a scholarship offer to him, so there's still potential for an eye-popping individual performance. — Eric Single
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Houston vs. Army (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Why You Should Tune In: Watching the triple option offense is like going back in time. It’s a dying art, but one that Army still executes at a high level behind QB Kelvin Hopkins Jr. and a host of running backs headed by Darnell Woolfolk. The Black Knights have won eight in a row since nearly upsetting Oklahoma. This game will also give a good look at the future of Houston football. Freshman QB Clayton Tune took over for injured star D’Eriq King midway through the Cougars’ Week 12 game against Tulane and has flashed potential despite a poor completion percentage. With extra practice time to get ready for Army, it’s possible we see Tune’s best game of the year. Not getting to see King or future top-10 pick DT Ed Oliver is a bummer, though.
What You May Not Know:Army is playing in its third straight bowl under Jeff Monken, and the last two were about as exciting as bowls get. In the 2016 Heart of Dallas Bowl, Army needed an overtime touchdown on fourth and goal to beat North Texas 38–31 after the Mean Green tied it on a late field goal. Last year, Army scored a touchdown and two-point conversion with 18 seconds left, then survived a wild ending to win the Armed Forces Bowl 42–35. The Black Knights completed a combined three passes in those wins. You’ll want to tune in to see what madness ensues this year. — Will Ragatz
NFL Draft Prospect to Watch: With Ed Oliver sitting out, focus on Houston tight end Romello Brooker, who increased his production during his senior season from seven catches to 29 and tied for the conference lead for tight ends by scoring six touchdowns. He benefitted from offensive coordinator Kendal Briles’s playcalling, which lined him up all over the field. Brooker’s size is NFL-caliber, and if he works on blocking and tests out well at the combine, he could earn a third-day pick.
Dollar General Bowl: Buffalo vs. Troy (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Why You Should Tune In: This alliterative battle between the Buffalo Bulls and the Troy Trojans features two Group of Five teams who bested Big Ten teams in September. Buffalo crushed Rutgers, 42–13, and Troy edged Nebraska, 24–19. The Bulls boast one of the MAC’s most exciting playmakers in junior quarterback Tyree Jackson, who has drawn Cam Newton comparisons but in reality towers over the 2010 Heisman winner at 6'7" and 245 pounds. He threw for 27 touchdowns and ran for 11 more in 2018, and he’ll face a Troy defense that hasn’t given up more than 30 points since its season opener against Boise State.
What You May Not Know:The Dollar General Bowl has undergone five name changes since the turn of the millennium. It started in 1999 as the Mobile Alabama Bowl. Then, GMAC (now Ally Financial) entered the picture, and the game became the GMAC Mobile Alabama Bowl in 2000. From ’01 to ’10, it was the GMAC Bowl. In ’11, it became the glorious GoDaddy.com Bowl. Dollar General took over in 2016, and this year is the third installation of the Dollar General Bowl. Tired? Good. Enjoy the game. — Sam Brief
NFL Draft Prospect to Watch: Jackson is the tallest quarterback prospect in the draft and perhaps the most intriguing. While he possess a cannon of an arm, it’s not very accurate, even when he sits in the pocket and has time to survey the field. He is a capable runner, but that part of his game was showcased less and less throughout his career as the other parts of his game proved sound enough to tear up the MAC.
Hawaii Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. Hawaii (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Why You Should Tune In: What else are you going be doing on Saturday night? I hope your plans include watching this game, which features two of the best players in the Group of Five. Hawaii receiver John Ursua is fifth in the nation with 1,343 receiving yards and first with 16 receiving touchdowns. Louisiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson is one of the best pass rushers in the country (15 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss this year) and a potential first-round pick. Ferguson’s ability to get to Rainbow Warriors quarterback Cole McDonald will be key for the Bulldogs; the nation’s sixth-leading passer is coming off a 452-yard, three-touchdown performance against San Diego State. Louisiana Tech is on a four-season streak of bowl wins under Skip Holtz.
What You May Not Know:Hawaii has already played 13 games this year despite not making the Mountain West title game. How’s that possible? It’s thanks to a little thing called the “Hawaii Exemption”. Hawaii––and any team that plays a road game at Hawaii––is allowed to schedule a 13th game if it desires. That’s the reason why there were four games back on Aug. 25, including Hawaii’s win over Colorado State. Also, McDonald only needs 1,760 passing yards and 24 touchdowns in this game to break Colt Brennan’s single-season records from 2006. So you’re telling me there’s a chance. — Will Ragatz
NFL Draft Prospect to Watch: Ferguson, the Conference USA defensive player of the year, was an absolute terror for offenses in his senior year. He is two sacks away from Terrell Suggs’s FBS career sack record of 44. Ferguson is excellent with his hands and gets a great burst off the line. His ability to stop the run and close on quarterbacks who try to escape the pocket makes him a special player to circle. — Scooby Axson