Bowl Schedule 2013-14: Highlighting Must-See Early Matchups

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 29:  The Miami Hurricanes take the field against the Pittsburgh Panthers on November 29, 2013 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Why wait until January to enjoy some college football? Within the first week of bowl season alone, there are plenty of intriguing matchups that will provide plenty of entertainment.

This time of year is a smorgasbord for fans. You have tons of great games all in the space of a few weeks. Since it's cold out there, you might as well stay inside and watch some football.

The first couple weeks are arguably the best because you're treated to teams and players you may not know, and the games themselves are spaced so close together that it's basically wall-to-wall football.

Among the first few games on tap, these three should be appointment television for fans.


Las Vegas Bowl: Fresno State vs. USC

Dec 7, 2013; Fresno, CA, USA; Fresno State Bulldogs quarterback Derek Carr (4) acknowledges fans on stage after the Bulldogs defeated the Utah State Aggies 24-17 at Bulldog Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

If Lane Kiffin still coached USC, you could expect a Sun Bowl-sized disappointment. Although their coaching situation remains murky, the Trojans should be up for this one.

There's a lot on the line for Clay Helton, even if he's keeping the seat warm for Steve Sarkisian. It can be tough on an interim coach in a bowl game, a situation Fresno State's Tim DeRuyter can relate to, per the Los Angeles Times' Gary Klein:

DeRuyter was appointed interim coach for the bowl game after Texas A&M fired Mike Sherman at the end of the regular season. Nearly two weeks later, Fresno State hired DeRuyter, forcing him into double duty.

"I was trying to get ready for the bowl game and at the same time get the [Fresno State] coaching staff together," DeRuyter said. "At least we were Central time, so I would get done with everything, and the last couple hours of the day you could call some kids on the West Coast.

"It made for long days."

Seeing how USC responds to such a roller-coaster season will be interesting. Maybe the team can use this game as a springboard to success and a return to prominence.

On the other side, Derek Carr alone makes Fresno State worth watching. The senior quarterback looks to be a first-round draft pick in 2014, and this is a great showcase for his abilities. The Bulldogs haven't had a lot of marquee games this season, so this is the first chance many fans will have to see what kind of talent Carr is.

In his most recent mock draft, ESPN's Todd McShay (Insider subscription required) had this to say about Carr:

He had a monster 2013 season (4,866 yards, 48 TDs to just 7 INTs), is very accurate and has great touch on short-to-intermediate throws, has a high football IQ and gets the ball out quickly. He can improve his deep-ball accuracy, but has the arm strength to make all the NFL throws and the maturity and experience to come in and play right away.

With a big game, the Fresno signal-caller will only strengthen his draft prospects.


Poinsettia Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. Utah State

Dec 6, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Northern Illinois Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch (6) throws a pass during the second quarter against the Bowling Green Falcons at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

You don't see players like Jordan Lynch come along all the time. The Northern Illinois quarterback finished third in the 2013 Heisman voting, which was the highest ever finish for a MAC player.

Lynch is a tremendous athlete, rushing for 1,881 yards and 22 touchdowns and passing for another 2,676 yards and 23 touchdowns. The Huskies will have a nearly impossible task replacing their graduating star.

Given his limited passing abilities, it's unlikely Lynch will get drafted or have much of an NFL career. That means the Poinsettia Bowl will be one of, if not the last time he'll step on the football field in a meaningful game.

Make sure to watch Lynch while you still can.


Russell Athletic Bowl: Louisville vs. Miami

Dec 5, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Louisville Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) hugs his mother after defeating the Cincinnati Bearcats 31-24 at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The same could be said of Teddy Bridgewater. The Louisville quarterback looks destined for the NFL, as he's ranked as the top prospect at his position on many experts' draft boards. He's not going to stay in school for an extra year when there's nothing to gain in terms of his draft stock.

You'll want to make sure you're tuning into what could be Bridgewater's last game as a Cardinals player.

This is also a great matchup between two schools looking for a win.

Louisville could use a victory over Miami next year and beyond to prove that it isn't merely a big fish in a small pond.

For the Hurricanes, beating the Cardinals will continue the progress made under Al Golden. They faded after that blowout loss to Florida State, and this bowl game offers a chance at redemption.