2014 College football opening day preview and predictions.

College football fans, it’s the best time of the year! Okay, so maybe it’s not the first weekend if the season. No, there’s no gigantic primetime game with major playoff implications. Oh, and it’s not the start of the playoff either. But, Bowl Season is still a pretty big deal, even if it’s more of a joke than ever before.

There are now 38 bowl games, which means 76 of the 128 teams in the FBS (59 percent) get to play in a postseason game, even if a lot of them barely attained six wins with the least notable conferences. A lot of those teams flood the first week of the bowl season, with the more notable games taking place in the third week, which is when the major bowl games, and the playoff games take place.

As a result, I will be making nine bowl preview articles: one for today, one for Week 2 (Monday, December 21 through Friday, December 26), one for Saturday the 27th, one for the remaining pre-New Year’s games, one for New Year’s Day, one for the non-playoff, post-New Year’s games, and two for the playoffs.

Today’s games are not very intriguing, and while there are two somewhat important NFL games on deck for the day, the bowl games could be fun. At least, if my predictions hold up, that will likely be the case.

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl (11/10 a.m. Central, ESPN)

Nevada Wolfpack (7-5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (8-4) 

The first game of the bowl season pits two teams best known for their rushing offenses, with each squad running for over 200 yards a game, scoring just under 30 points per game, and allowing nearly as much.

The Wolfpack boast a dual threat senior quarterback in Cody Fajardo who, despite running for nearly 1,000 yards this season, has not progressed since a tremendous sophomore season, in which he threw for nearly 2,800 yards, ran for over 1,100 yards, and scored 33 total touchdowns. He has thrown more interceptions this year than ever before, and is throwing for under 200 yards a game since his freshman season.

Meanwhile, the Ragin’ Cajuns are playing their best football of the season. Since starting 1-3, they have won seven of their last eight. Granted, each of those eight games were in the Sun Belt, but this still a pretty solid team. They boast a rushing attack led by the speedy Elijah Maguire (150 rushes, 1,165 yards, 7.8 ypc, 14 rush touchdowns, 414 receiving yards), and the bruising Alonzo Harris (737 yards, 12 touchdowns). Quarterback Terrance Broadway is a dual threat as well, running for over 600 yards.

Now, if anyone’s wondering why I’m spending time talking about this game, there’s a reason. The New Orleans Bowl is usually a close, hard fought game which goes down to the wire. Each of the last three seasons, the Ragin’ Cajuns have played here, and won a close game each time, with the three games being decided by 14 total points.

While I believe the Wolfpack will put up a fight, and they have faced better teams (seven teams in bowl games, including close losses to Boise State and #10 Arizona), the same thing will happen as the games against Boise State and Arizona. The Wolfpack will trail early, compete down the stretch, put up some solid offensive numbers, but will ultimately fall short. Prediction: Nevada 28, Louisiana-Lafayette, 34. 

 

Gildan New Mexico Bowl (2:20, 1:20c, ESPN)

Utah State Aggies (9-4) vs. UTEP Miners (7-5) 

The next game is one that, for a few years, was a guarantee to be a legendary, high scoring game. In 2008 and 2009, Fresno State lost a pair of epic games to Colorado State (40-35) and Wyoming (35-28, 2 overtimes) in this bowl. Then, after a pair of blowout games, the 2012 and 2013 editions resulted in two of the most entertaining bowl games ever.

In 2013, the Washington State Cougars took a 35-13 lead over the Colorado State Rams. Neither team accomplished much over the course of the season, with the teams combining for a 13-12 record. Washington State could put up points for days, while nothing much was expected from Colorado State. Granted, the Rams had a great running back in Kapri Bibbs, but not much else. So, this game looked over in the second quarter.

The Rams put up some points, cutting the deficit to 38-30 in the fourth quarter. But, after another Washington State touchdown, hope looked to have been lost. Then, with 2:52 left in the game, Rams quarterback Garrett Grayson threw a touchdown pass to Vaden, and then, with 33 seconds remaining, Bibbs ran in from a yard out to score his third touchdown of the game, and the ensuing two-point conversion attempt tied the game up at 45.

On the kickoff, Washington State fumbled, the Rams recovered, kicked a field goal with no time remaining, and won 48-45. It was perhaps the best New Mexico Bowl ever, along with the 2012 edition. In that game, a pair of 7-5 teams, the Arizona Wildcats and Nevada Wolfpack put on an epic show.

Both teams were loaded on offense, with Cody Fajardo and Matt Scott both being dual threat quarterbacks, and running backs Stepfon Jefferson and Kadeem Carey each lighting up the stat sheets. The game was expected to be a shootout, and it was just that.

The Wolfpack scored the first 21 points of the game, but by halftime, had cut the deficit to 31-28. They had actually tied it up at 28 apiece, before a Wolfpack field goal gave Nevada the lead again. The second half was not as loaded, but was still pretty damn good. The Wolfpack outscored the Wildcats 14-0 in the third quarter, taking a 45-28 lead into the final quarter. That is where the game became a legendary one.

Scott threw a deep 64-yard touchdown pass to Austin Hill to make it a 10-point game just 16 seconds into the final quarter, but neither team scored for the next 13 minutes. Then, after a short Nevada field goal, Scott led the Wildcats down the field for another touchdown pass to Hill. With 42 seconds left to go, the Wildcats were down by just six. They recovered the onside kick, and with 19 seconds to go, Scott threw yet another touchdown pass, this time, to Terrence Miller, and the Wildcats took their first lead of the game. Fajardo was picked off soon thereafter, and the Wildcats prevailed with a thrilling 49-48 victory, and the teams combined for 1,234 yards and 70 first downs.

Now, why did I spend so much time showcasing the latest editions of this bowl game? Well, because this game will be the opposite. It will not feature much offense, as neither team has much to offer there. Granted, each team has scored over 30 points in at least half their games, and UTEP does boast a 1,200 yard rusher in Aaron Jones, but that’s it.

The Aggies are down to their third-string quarterback, after longtime dual threat starter Chuckie Keeton’s season ended prematurely yet again. But, the defense is 12th in the FBS in scoring defense, and allows a paltry 4.8 yards per play. That’s why the Mountain West runners up will win this game. Prediction: Utah State 21, UTEP 10.

 

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl (3:30/2:30c, ABC)

#22 Utah Utes (8-4) vs. Colorado State Rams (10-2)

THe next game is one that I believe will be a good one. The Utes present one of the best defensive players in college football in Nate Orchard, who has 17.5 sacks on the season. Meanwhile the Rams boast a big-time offensive attack. Quarterback Garrett Grayson has thrown for nearly 3,800 yards and 32 touchdowns, with the bulk of that going to Biletnikoff Award finalist Rashard Higgins (89 catches, 1,640 yards, 17 touchdowns). They also have former Alabama running back Dee Hart, who has run for 1,254 yards and 16 touchdowns.

The Utes were a formidable team for two-thirds of the season, winning games at UCLA and beating USC, before losing three of their last five. Two of those losses, home games against #10 Arizona and #2 Oregon, were blowout losses, while the two wins were in double OT at Stanford and at struggling Colorado. They also have a big-time running back in Devontae Booker (1,350 yards, 9 touchdowns), but I feel as if Colorado State is better. This is a huge game for the Montain West, and I see them prevailing. Prediction: Utah 24, Colorado State 27.

 

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (5:45/4:45c, ESPN)

Western Michigan Broncos (8-4) vs. Air Force Falcons (9-3)

The next game will be very interesting, as Western Michigan carries it’s three-headed offensive attack against one of the nation’s best rushing teams. The Falcons have rushed for over 3,200 yards this season, while the Broncos have a strong-armed quarterback in Zach Terrell (3,146 yards, 23 touchdowns), and a terrific receiver in Corey Davis (70 catches, 1,232 yards, 12 touchdowns). Oh, and they also have a star running back in Jarvion Franklin (1,525 yards, 24 rushing touchdowns.) It’s quite a turnaround for a team that managed just a single win last season.

This game depends on how Air Force manages it. If they can take up a lot of clock, they can win. If not, the Broncos will take it. I’ll bet on the former, in a terrific game. Prediction: Western Michigan 24, Air Force 27.

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl (9:15, 8:15c, ESPN)

South Alabama Jaguars (6-6) vs. Bowling Green Falcons (7-6)

The final game of the day, well, does not put forth much to talk about. Neither team scores much, and allows more points than they score. Both teams have a few solid offensive players, but no one that stands out. South Alabama has lost four of five, while the Falcons have lost three straight. This one’s a coin flip, in one of the least notable bowl games in recent memory. Prediction: South Alabama 13, Bowling Green 17.

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