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.
POPEYES BAHAMAS BOWL
Site: Nassau, Bahamas
Date: Dec. 24
Time/TV: 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
Matchup: Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Western Kentucky (7-5)
NFL teams attending: None.
Top players to watch: Central Michigan (C Nick Beamish, ILB Justin Cherocci, WR Titus Davis, G Andy Phillips, NT Leterrius Walton); Western Kentucky (RB Leon Allen, OT Cameron Clemmons, WR Jared Dangerfield, QB Brandon Doughty, CB Cam Thomas).
Why NFL fans should tune in: This one's on Christmas Eve. Let's say you're hanging out with family; it would be understandable if, after a while, you decide to turn this on, at least for a while. It's worth tuning in to see Doughty, who is the nation's leading passer (4,344 yards, 44 touchdown passes). He recently received a sixth season of eligibility, and considering the growth he showed this season under first-year coach Jeff Brohm, it's conceivable he improves on those numbers and becomes a draftable quarterback next season. Clemmons (6-foot-6, 305) has the body to add 15 or so pounds, and he is adept in pass protection. Thomas (6-1, 190) is an intriguing prospect. He has good size, runs well, can play press-man coverage and likes to deliver a blow in run support. While he is inconsistent and has some technique issues, his upside is high. Allen (6-0, 235) is a junior who runs downhill and gives the pass-happy Hilltoppers a running threat. Dangerfield (6-3, 200) is a physical junior who is a red-zone weapon. As good as Western's receiving corps has been this season, Davis (6-2, 190) is the best receiver in this game -- and one of the best non-Power Five receivers in the nation. Davis has 33 career TD receptions, and possesses good size and excellent speed (he has been clocked as fast as 4.38 in the 40). He can get deep, and he also can turn a quick hitch into a big gain. Hopefully, he and Thomas will be matched up for at least part of the game. Phillips (6-3, 306) is a physical run blocker, and the Chippewas will look to run behind him and Beamish (a talented junior) as often as possible. Walton (6-5, 300) is a tall nose tackle who usually does a nice job of anchoring in the middle. Cherocci (6-0, 232) is a bit undersized and a half-step slow, but he has excellent instincts and has made 360 tackles the past three seasons, including 107 this season. He has 389 career stops, fourth-most among active players.
Brandt: Western Kentucky, 28-24
Brooks: Western Kentucky, 34-30
Jeremiah: Western Kentucky, 35-28
Fischer: Western Kentucky, 38-31
Goodbread: Western Kentucky, 27-20
Huguenin: Western Kentucky, 41-33
Date: Dec. 24
Time/TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Matchup: Fresno State vs. Rice
Top players to watch: Fresno State (S Derron Smith, WR Josh Harper); Rice (DT Christian Covington, CB Bryce Callahan)
Why NFL fans should tune in: If you're waiting around the tree to open presents or see a bunch of snow out the window, feel free to flip on the TV and catch some gorgeous scenery and the final pre-Christmas college football game of the year. The Bulldogs have struggled to replace Derek Carr at quarterback but closed well down the stretch to capture their division in the Mountain West and are hoping to end the season on the right note with a win against a well-coached Rice team looking to do the same. Keep an eye on Derron Smith, who might not go as early in the draft as former teammate Phillip Thomas (fourth round to the Redskins in the 2013 draft) but has played well in 2014 and could be a mid-round pick. On the other sideline, Bryce Callahan garnered an East-West Shrine Game invite and is hoping to make it two straight years with an Owls defensive player picked in the draft. Snuggle up next to the tree, watch a few future NFL players from both sides in action and enjoy some college football from the most picturesque place in the country.
Brandt: Rice, 28-27
Brooks: Fresno State, 28-25
Jeremiah: Fresno State, 28-24
Fischer: Fresno State, 36-27
Goodbread: Fresno State, 41-30
Huguenin: Rice, 31-24