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Bowl viewer's guide: Previewing the weekend's CFB action

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East Carolina QB Shane Carden and Florida DE Dante Fowler Jr. will face off in the Birmingham Bowl.

College Football 24/7 is providing a daily glimpse at the best players in each bowl game and predictions from writers Gil Brandt, Bucky Brooks, Daniel Jeremiah, Bryan Fischer, Chase Goodbread and Mike Huguenin.


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BIRMINGHAM BOWL

Site: Birmingham, Ala.
Date: Jan. 3
Time/TV: 1 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Matchup: East Carolina (8-4) vs. Florida (6-5)
Top players to watch: East Carolina (QB Shane Carden, WR Justin Hardy, OT Ike Harris, WR Cam Worthy); Florida (DE Dante Fowler Jr., C Max Garcia, CB Vernon Hargreaves III, TB Matt Jones, LB Antonio Morrison).
Why NFL fans should tune in: Jan. 3 will feature NFL wild-card playoff games, so maybe tune into this and get revved up for playoff football? Then again, this might not be suitable pre-playoff viewing. Florida's motivation is questionable; the Gators will be playing for an interim coach (D.J. Durkin) who already knows he's not being retained. ECU's senior pass-catch duo of Carden and Hardy is one of the most prolific in NCAA history. Hardy (6-0, 188) already holds the FBS record for career receptions (376, for 4,381 yards, which is sixth-most in history), while Carden (6-2, 221) has thrown for a school-record 11,564 yards and 84 touchdowns. Carden's yardage total is 34th all-time and a 250-yard game would put him 30th (currently, Drew Brees is 30th, Russell Wilson 32nd and Geno Smith 33rd). Worthy (6-3, 220), a senior, has good size, and while he has been inconsistent, he has an intriguing skill set; he had a monster game in a win over Virginia Tech (six receptions for 224 yards, one of four 100-yard games for him this season). Harris (6-7, 304) is a junior who should get some NFL looks next season. ECU will miss standout NT Terry Williams (6-1, 353), who was ruled ineligible for the game by the school. He has a ton of talent (figurative, not literal, though his conditioning sometimes makes you wonder), but he doesn't always show it. He can be flat-out dominating at times, and he holds up extremely well at the point of attack. Florida's offense has been a mess for four seasons and that is why the Gators have a new coach. Jones (6-2, 235), a junior, already has said he's turning pro. He's a tough inside runner who has good hands and is a willing blocker, and he could be a third-day pick. Garcia (6-5, 310), a senior, turned into a team leader after transferring from Maryland following his sophomore season. His versatility -- he has started at tackle, guard and center in his college career -- makes him an appealing prospect; this season was his first as a center, and he played well. Fowler (6-3, 261), a junior who already has announced he will declare for the draft, and Hargreaves (5-11, 195), a sophomore, are among the best players nationally at their positions. Fowler is athletic and was used in a variety of roles by UF coaches. He has good pass-rush skills and a high-level motor, and he holds up against the run. Hargreaves figures to spend a lot of the day against Hardy, which will be must-watch viewing for scouts. Hargreaves has good speed and excellent instincts, and also works hard in run support. Morrison (6-1, 225) is a try-hard junior with OK speed who can deliver a blow. He leads the Gators with 98 tackles.
Game predictions:
Brandt: East Carolina, 21-20
Brooks: East Carolina, 35-32
Jeremiah: East Carolina, 28-24
Fischer: East Carolina, 24-18
Goodbread: East Carolina, 24-13
Huguenin: East Carolina, 23-21


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GODADDY.COM BOWL

Site: Mobile, Ala.
Date: Jan. 4
Time/TV: 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Matchup: Arkansas State (7-5) vs. Toledo (8-4)
Top players to watch: Arkansas State (CB Artez Brown, RB Michael Gordon, QB Fredi Knighten, LB Qushaun Lee, FS Sterling Young); Toledo (K Jeremiah Detmer, RB Kareem Hunt, C Greg Mancz, OT Chase Nelson, LB Junior Sylvestre).
Why NFL fans should tune in: OK, we get that this isn't exactly a scintillating matchup, but it is the penultimate FBS game of the season, so why wouldn't you watch? Knighten (6-1, 189), a junior, is 13th nationally in total offense (304.1 yards per game) and has done a nice job in his first season as a starter running the Red Wolves' version of the spread; he has rushed for 11 TDs. Gordon (5-8, 187) is a quick back who, not surprisingly, is good in space; he has had five 100-yard games and rushed for 13 TDs. Lee (5-11, 247), a senior, is on the short side, but he's also a tackle machine. He is a big hitter and has 379 career tackles, fifth-most among active players, to go along with eight career interceptions. Brown (6-0, 180) and Young (6-2, 193) are seniors who head an OK secondary. Brown has good speed and four interceptions, while Young lacks top-end speed but is a heady player who is good in run support. Toledo leads the MAC in total offense and Hunt (5-11, 215), a sophomore, leads the league in rushing (151.1 yards per game); he missed three games this season with an ankle injury but hit the 100-yard plateau in each of the nine games he played. Mancz (6-5, 300) is a four-year starter for the Rockets; this is his first season at center after moving from guard, and he was the best lineman in the MAC. Nelson (6-8, 315) is huge and his size will intrigue NFL teams. Sylvestre (6-0, 222), a senior, lacks size, but he runs well, is productive (212 tackles, including 19 tackles for loss, in the past two seasons) and packs a wallop. Detmer (5-8, 180), a senior, is steady and has made 65 career field goals, second-most among active players.
Game predictions:
Brandt: Toledo, 35-27
Brooks: Arkansas State, 32-30
Jeremiah: Arkansas State, 28-21
Fischer: Arkansas State, 33-31
Goodbread: Arkansas State, 35-28
Huguenin: Toledo, 34-27

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