December 17 – Temple vs. Wyoming
It’s hard to believe that this is a matchup of two 8-win teams this early in the bowl schedule. Temple was the preseason favorite to win the MAC East, but slipped up at eventual champ Ohio and Bowling Green. Wyoming returned plenty of starts and ended up tied for 3rd in the Mountain West. This one will be won and lost on the ground. The Owls sport the nation’s 7th-ranked rushing offense, lead by Bernard Pierce who’s averaging just over 125 yards a game. That leads the MAC. His 25 touchdowns also lead the conference. He will be Wyoming’s biggest problem because they allow over 230 yards a game on the ground.While they also run the ball pretty well, with the running back committee of Alvester Alexander, Brett Smith and Brandon Miller, the Cowboys offense will have to work overtime to keep up. Combine Wyoming’s porous run defense and Temple’s 3rd-best scoring defense and it looks like Temple better clear an extra seat on the plane home for the New Mexico Bowl trophy.
December 17 – Ohio vs. Utah State
The Bobcats could legitimately be a 12-win team right now, losing three conference games by a combined 7 points including a three-point loss in the MAC title game. Utah State also could have a far better record, losing by an average of five points and don’t forget the scare they put into Auburn in their opener.That said, they will test Ohio’s run defense with Robert Turbin, the country’s 10th best rusher (118 ypg), leading the 6th-ranked rushing attack (277.5 ypg). Ohio’s rush defense is solid and Tyler Tettleton is capable of taking over a game and should be able to pick apart an Aggie’s pass D that allowed 270 yards a game (77th). Yes, they held Northern Illinois to just 23 points in their MAC title game loss, but if Tettleton can’t connect early, the Bobcats could be run over for their 7th bowl loss in as many tries. It’s still a close-looking game and I have to show the MAC some love.
December 17 – Louisiana-Lafayette vs. San Diego State
The Ragin’ Cajuns are making their first bowl appearance in more than 40 years and will be welcomed back to the postseason by the Aztec’s Ronnie Hillard, the nation’s 3rd-best rusher (138 ypg, 20TDs). An even bigger reason for ULL to worry is that their two Sun Belt losses were to the top two rushing teams in the conference (Western Kentucky and Arkansas State). San Diego State has done pretty much what’s been expected of them. Fueled offensively by Hillard, the Aztecs won the games they were supposed to, lost when they were expected and stayed competitive in most of those games (except Boise State, but I think they get a pass on that one). Hillman’s dominance on the ground and ULL’s difficulty with top rushing teams makes this a relatively clear call for me.