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Bowl viewer's guide: Previewing Friday's slate of CFB action


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.


Site: Fort Worth, Texas
Date: Jan. 2
Time/TV: Noon ET, ESPN
Matchup: Houston (7-5) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6)
Top players to watch: Houston (WR Markeith Ambles, WR Deontay Greenberry, G Rowdy Harper, DT Joey Mbu, LB Efrem Oliphant); Pittsburgh (WR Tyler Boyd, OT T.J. Clemmings, RB James Conner, G Matt Rotheram).
Why NFL fans should tune in: If you've ever wanted to watch a bowl game with two interim coaches, here is your chance (Houston fired Tony Levine, and Pitt's Paul Chryst left to coach Wisconsin). There also is a handful of high-caliber talent, particularly for Pitt. Clemmings (6-foot-6, 315 pounds) is a senior who has zoomed up most draft boards, to the point where he looks to be a potential first-round pick. He is in just his second season as an offensive lineman after moving over from the defensive line and he plays right tackle, but he is physical, aggressive and athletic; he also is a highly effective run blocker and is headed to the Reese's Senior Bowl. Rotheram (6-6, 335) lines up next to Clemmings and is a mauler in the run game. That's good news for Conner (6-2, 250), a bruising sophomore who is fifth in the nation in rushing yards (1,675) and tied for third in rushing TDs (24). Boyd (6-2, 190) is another talented sophomore; he should head into next season as one of the top five or six wide receivers nationally. Ambles (6-2, 201), a senior, and Greenberry (6-3, 200), a junior, give Houston one of the most athletically gifted receiving duos in the nation, but the Cougars' passing attack -- for various reasons -- was a disappointment this season. Ambles and Greenberry combined for just 97 catches and eight TDs this season. The bowl game will be the 52nd consecutive start for Harper (6-5, 295), who also has started at tackle during his career for the Cougars. Mbu (6-3, 310) has accepted a Senior Bowl invitation; he is an athletic interior lineman, but his production never has been quite what was expected. Oliphant (6-1, 220) lacks size, but is instinctual and has made 263 tackles in the past two seasons, including 129 this season.
Game predictions:
Brandt: Pitt, 31-30
Brooks: Pitt, 17-16
Jeremiah: Pitt, 24-21
Fischer: Pitt, 28-14
Goodbread: Houston, 20-10
Huguenin: Pitt, 24-20


Site: Jacksonville, Fla.
Date: Jan. 2
Time/TV: 3:20 p.m. ET, ESPN
Matchup: Iowa (7-5) vs. Tennessee (6-6)
Top players to watch: Iowa (DL Carl Davis, OL Brandon Scherff, DB John Lowdermilk, DL Drew Ott); Tennessee (QB Josh Dobbs, DE Derek Barnett, LB Curt Maggitt, DB Brian Randolph).
Why NFL fans should tune in: The matchup between Scherff and Barnett will be the one to watch more so than any other on the field. Yes, Barnett is only a freshman and a long way from being evaluated as an NFL prospect. But he's also already one of the top defensive ends in the SEC with 20.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock has likened Scherff to 2014 first-round pick Zack Martin. ... Davis should give Tennessee plenty of problems up front and will be off to the Senior Bowl in the weeks after the game. ... Dobbs took over the quarterback job midseason and performed very well, particularly considering top receiver Marquez North was lost for the year to an injury. Dobbs is a dual-threat quarterback who figures to be UT's starter next year. ... Tennessee LB A.J. Johnson, one of the Volunteers' top pro prospects, remains suspended amid a rape investigation.
Game predictions:
Brandt: Tennessee, 30-27
Brooks: Tennessee, 21-20
Jeremiah: Tennessee, 24-21
Fischer: Tennessee, 24-16
Goodbread: Tennessee, 30-17
Huguenin: Iowa, 23-21


Site: San Antonio
Date: Jan. 2
Time/TV: 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
Matchup: UCLA (9-3) vs. Kansas State (9-3)
NFL team attending:Miami Dolphins.
Top players to watch: UCLA (QB Brett Hundley, LB Eric Kendricks, DT Ellis McCarthy, OL Malcolm Bunche, C Jake Brendel, S Anthony Jefferson, DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, LB Myles Jack, DL Eddie Vanderdoes); Kansas State (WR Tyler Lockett, DE Ryan Mueller, C BJ Finney, OL Cody Whitehair, QB Jake Waters, FB Glenn Gronkowski, CB Randall Evans).
Why NFL fans should tune in: The Alamo Bowl has annually been one of the best non-New Year's Day bowl games and the 2015 edition should be no exception to that with a marquee matchup of teams that were once firmly in the College Football Playoff hunt before final-week losses. The headliner in this one is obviously Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley, who has noted several times that this will almost assuredly be his final game in the powder blues. A possible early-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the dual-threat QB brings the ability to pick up yards with his legs and combines it with a very accurate arm that has been able to distribute the ball into the hands of playmakers like tailback Paul Perkins or wideout Jordan Payton. If your team needs quarterback help, you might want to pay extra close attention to this one. Even if they don't, players like running back/linebacker Myles Jack or defensive lineman/fullback Eddie Vanderdoes should keep you entertained, too. The Wildcats also bring plenty to the table and, as one can expect from a Bill Snyder-led team, they're well coached. Tyler Lockett is the big-play threat and is able to take the ball to the house no matter if he's returning a kick or busting open tight coverage near the goal line. Defensive end Ryan Mueller is a high-motor guy who is relentless chasing down opposing passers and will help give KSU's potent offense a chance to put up points on a short field. What more could you want than an appealing matchup under the lights on a Friday night in Texas?
Game predictions:
Brandt: Kansas State, 28-27
Brooks: UCLA, 31-28
Jeremiah: UCLA, 21-20
Fischer: Kansas State, 35-28
Goodbread: UCLA, 43-14
Huguenin: UCLA, 28-23


Site: Phoenix
Date: Jan. 2
Time/TV: 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Matchup: Washington (8-5) vs. Oklahoma State (6-6)
NFL teams attending:Buffalo Bills, Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints, Tennessee Titans.
Top players to watch: Washington (LB Shaq Thompson, DE Hau'oli Kikaha, NT Danny Shelton, OL Ben Riva, LB John Timu, WR Kasen Williams, RB Dwayne Washington, WR Jaydon Mickens, WR John Ross); Oklahoma State (DL Emmanuel Ogbah, QB Mason Rudolph, RB Desmond Roland, WR Brandon Shepard, WR James Washington).
Why NFL fans should tune in: This might not have two teams with the flashiest resumes of bowl season, but the Cactus Bowl still features plenty of exciting individuals who are flat-out playmakers (and should be at the next level, too). The big name in the mix is Thompson, who plays both linebacker (where he has more defensive touchdowns than a number of teams did in 2014) and running back and should see time at both in a game that will go a long ways in seeing if Chris Petersen's squad can contend for a title next year. Fellow two-way star Ross is also an electrifying kick returner who can take it to the house if he gets a lane and it's not a stretch to say the Huskies' entire front seven could see time on an NFL roster, including a backup or two. Mix in an improving offense that is sure to bust out a big play and there's plenty to keep an eye on with Washington. Given how young the Cowboys are, that might not be the case at every position, but Rudolph showed a lot of poise in rallying the team to bowl eligibility and has some nice young weapons like Roland and Washington. Cowboys pass rusher Ogbah isn't a name some are familiar with, but they should get to know him starting with this game because the Big 12 defensive lineman of the year is developing into a force not to be messed with.
Game predictions:
Brandt: Washington, 31-21
Brooks: Washington, 28-27
Jeremiah: Washington, 28-27
Fischer: Washington, 42-17
Goodbread: Washington, 27-20
Huguenin: Washington, 31-20

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