College bowl season officially kicks off Saturday, and College Football 24/7 is providing a daily glimpse at the best players in each game and predictions from writers Gil Brandt, Bucky Brooks, Daniel Jeremiah, Bryan Fischer, Chase Goodbread and Mike Huguenin.
R+L CARRIERS NEW ORLEANS BOWL
Site: New Orleans
Date: Dec. 20
Time/TV: 11 a.m. ET, ESPN
Matchup: Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) vs. Nevada (7-5)
NFL teams attending:Buffalo Bills
Top players to watch: Nevada (QB Cody Fajardo, DE Brock Hekking, WR Hasaan Henderson, DE/LB Ian Seau); Louisiana-Lafayette (RB Alonzo Harris, WR Jamal Robinson).
Why NFL fans should tune in: Why not get your bowl season started out right with an intriguing matchup between an up-and-down Wolf Pack team taking on one of the most impressive Sun Belt teams over the years in ULL? Fajardo has put up comparable numbers to Colin Kaepernick during his time in Reno and is among the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. The team's pistol offense gets a lot of the press, but it's the defense you'll really want to keep an eye out for with Ian Seau (Junior's nephew) and wild man Brock Hekking, who might have the best hair in college football and is an equally fearsome pass rusher. As for the Ragin Cajuns, they feature a number of playmakers on the offensive side that could wind up being late Day Three selections.
Brandt: UL-Lafayette, 24-21
Brooks: UL-Lafayette, 33-30
Jeremiah: Nevada, 28-24
Fischer: UL-Lafayette, 33-23
Goodbread: Nevada, 30-21
Huguenin: UL-Lafayette, 27-24
GILDAN NEW MEXICO BOWL
Site: Albuquerque, NM
Date: Dec. 20
Time/TV: 2:20 p.m. ET, ESPN
Matchup: Utah State (9-3) vs. UTEP (7-5)
NFL teams attending: None reported
Top players to watch: Utah State (LB Kyler Fackrell, LB Zach Vigil).
Why NFL fans should tune in: The Aggies were one of the Mountain West's best-kept secrets this season with young head coach Matt Wells managing to win nine games in the regular season despite using four different quarterbacks on the year due to injuries. They're led by a stout defense featuring the underrated linebacking duo of Zach and Nick Vigil, a pair that combined for a mind-blowing 261 tackles. Seeing them fly all over the field is reason enough to tune in, but former Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler has done an equally good job guiding the Miners to a bowl berth. Sophomore running back Aaron Jones is the key cog in the UTEP offense and somebody to watch out for, if you're not tuning in just to see if the Miners can win a bowl game for the first time in nearly a half century.
Brandt: UTEP, 35-27
Brooks: Utah State, 23-20
Jeremiah: Utah State, 34-24
Fischer: Utah State, 24-16
Goodbread: Utah State, 24-13
Huguenin: Utah State, 30-21
ROYAL PURPLE LAS VEGAS BOWL
Site: Las Vegas
Date: Dec. 20
Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Matchup: Utah (8-4) vs. Colorado State (10-2)
NFL teams attending:San Diego Chargers
Top players to watch: Utah (DE Nate Orchard, S Eric Rowe, S Brian Blechen, OL Jeremiah Poutasi, RB Devontae Booker, WR Kaelin Clay, TE Westlee Tonga, P Tom Hackett, LB Jared Norris, DL Hunter Dimick); Colorado State (OL Ty Sambrailo, RB Dee Hart, QB Garrett Grayson, TE Kivon Cartwright, CB Bernard Blake, WR Rashard Higgins).
Why NFL fans should tune in: This game is loaded with future NFL draft picks and might have as many prospects on the field as some upper-tier bowls. For starters, Colorado State's explosive offense features a potential first-round offensive tackle in Sambrailo, the nation's leading receiver in Higgins, the Mountain West Player of the Year in Grayson and a stud running back in Hart. Yes, the Rams will be without their head coach (Jim McElwain, who was hired at Florida), but that shouldn't slow them down in capping one of the best seasons in school history. They'll be going against a talented Utah team that managed to grab an 8-4 record in the toughest division in college football. The defense is loaded with players to keep an eye on, starting with Orchard, the player who leads the country in sacks per game. Throw in plenty of playmakers on the back end and an impressive rusher pacing the offense in Booker and this could be one of the best games of December.
Brandt: Utah, 35-28
Brooks: Utah, 20-17
Jeremiah: Utah, 31-28
Fischer: Utah, 27-20
Goodbread: Colorado State, 35-21
Huguenin: Utah, 27-24
FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL
Site: Boise, Idaho
Date: Dec. 20
Time/TV: 5:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
Matchup: Air Force (9-3) vs. Western Michigan (8-4)
NFL teams attending:Detroit Lions
Top players to watch: Air Force (K/P Will Conant, LB Jordan Pierce, SS Weston Steelhammer); Western Michigan (OT Willie Beavers, CB Donald Celiscar, FS Justin Currie, WR Corey Davis, RB Jarvion Franklin).
Why NFL fans should tune in: These teams are nice turnaround stories (Western was 1-11 and Air Force 2-10 last season), but there isn't all that much high-level talent on hand. Befitting a guy with that last name, Steelhammer -- a sophomore -- is a big hitter for Air Force. Conant (6-2, 215), a senior, has a good leg as a kicker and also is a solid punter; he could get some NFL free-agent looks, though he does owe the Air Force at least two years of active duty when he graduates. Celiscar (5-11, 185) is a senior who could be a third-day pick; he has 60 tackles, four picks and 17 pass breakups. Beavers and Currie are juniors who should get NFL looks next year, and Davis is a sophomore who likely will be one of the best non-Power Five receivers in the nation in 2015. Franklin (1,525 yards, 24 TDs) is the second-leading freshman rusher in the nation this season; he has had six games with three TDs.
Brandt: Air Force, 27-24
Brooks: Western Michigan, 44-41
Jeremiah: Western Michigan, 28-27
Fischer: Air Force, 30-24
Goodbread: Air Force, 28-24
Huguenin: Air Force, 37-28
RAYCOM MEDIA CAMELLIA BOWL
Site: Montgomery, Ala.
Date: Dec. 20
Time/TV: 9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Matchup: Bowling Green (7-6) vs. South Alabama (6-6)
NFL teams attending:St. Louis Rams
Top players to watch: Bowling Green (G Alex Huettel, WR Roger Lewis, LB Gabe Martin, DE Bryan Thomas); South Alabama (QB Brandon Bridge, DE/OLB Theo Rich, TE Wes Saxton, WR Shavarez Smith, OT Ucambre Williams).
Why NFL fans should tune in: Uhhhh, give us a minute. ... There isn't much of a reason to watch, though this is South Alabama's first-ever bowl appearance. Martin (6-2, 236) and Thomas (6-2, 248) were two of the better senior defenders in the MAC. Huettel, a junior, should be one of the better non-Power Five offensive linemen next season, while Lewis was the No. 2 freshman receiver in the nation with 69 catches. Bowling Green has run 1,013 plays, sixth-most in the nation. Bridge (6-5, 235), a Canadian who began his career at FCS member Alcorn State, has all the needed measurables and is a good athlete. While he is extremely raw as a quarterback, he is a potential late-round choice because of his potential upside. Saxton (6-4, 235) is a definite third-day prospect; he runs well and is a good receiver, though underutilized in that role. Saxton, who played with Jameis Winston in high school and whose cousin is former NFL RB Tony Nathan, needs to work on his blocking. Smith (6-1, 210) has good size but lacks speed. Williams (6-3, 295) plays tackle for the Jaguars but might get a chance at guard in the NFL. Rich (6-2, 260) has some pass-rush skills and is physical at the point of attack.
Brandt: South Alabama, 27-24
Brooks: Bowling Green, 38-37
Jeremiah: South Alabama, 31-24
Fischer: Bowling Green, 42-23
Goodbread: South Alabama, 35-27
Huguenin: Bowling Green, 38-31