Bowl season is finally underway. By now, most people have at least glanced at the bowl schedule, and have probably decided which games they are and aren’t going to watch this holiday season.
However, there are a handful of games that could potentially be must-see TV, yet are largely being ignored by everyone except the most die-hard college football fans and alumni of the schools playing in those games. In an effort to prevent fans from missing out, here are five games that are “flying under the radar,” but should definitely be marked on people’s calendar.
Navy vs. San Diego State — San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl (December 23rd)
Although it is San Diego State that is essentially playing a home game, Navy has the more recent post-season experience. The Midshipmen are playing in their eighth straight bowl game and their third Poinsettia Bowl in the last six years. The Aztecs, who may very well be the surprise team of the Mountain West this year, are playing their first bowl game since 1998.
If you only need one reason to watch the Poinsettia Bowl, Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs provides a pretty solid one. Dobbs is the leader of the Midshipmen’s offense, both vocally and as a playmaker.
The Aztecs may have a lot of trouble stopping Dobbs; not only can he run the triple-option to near perfection, but he is underrated as a passer as well. A young man with high aspirations (he wants to become President), Dobbs shouldn’t disappoint in his last game for the Naval Academy.
If you’re not into the grinding pace that usually occurs when Navy has the football, don’t worry. San Diego State has one of the more prolific offenses in the nation, averaging 35 points and almost 450 yards per game. Considering the difficulty that Navy has had this season with stopping the passing game, Aztecs quarterback Ryan Lindley could have a field day.
Hawaii vs. Tulsa — Sheraton Hawaii Bowl (December 24th)
Viewer Beware: If you’re a fan of lock-down defenses and games decided in the trenches, stick to the Christmas specials on ABC. This game will most likely end up being an offensive shootout, which is a great thing if you’re looking for some entertainment the night before Christmas, but a nightmare for the defensive coordinators of both teams.
You can be pretty confident that this game will be dominated by the offenses. Hawaii and Tulsa both have top 10 offenses, with Tulsa averaging over 500 yards of offense per game, and Hawaii averaging just under that mark. Both teams also tout gunslingers at quarterback. Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz racked up over 4,600 passing yards this year. Tulsa’s G.J. Kinne is no slouch either, throwing for over 3,300 yards on the year.
Great offenses going against suspect defenses (which both Tulsa and Hawaii have) means points on the board. Lots of them. Both teams average over 39 points per game, and it would not be crazy to think that both teams could eclipse that mark in this game.
If you’re still not convinced by all the statistics, see if you can answer this question: When is the last time that the winning team did not score at least 35 points in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl? The answer, in case you’re stumped, is never.
West Virginia vs. NC State — Champs Sports Bowl (December 28th)
Had it not been for a complete meltdown against Connecticut back in October, West Virginia would be playing in the Fiesta Bowl, instead of the Huskies. Had it not been for a season ending loss to Maryland, NC State would have played in the ACC Championship game, with a chance to secure a BCS bid as well. In other words, this bowl features two teams that are really pretty good.
If you have yet to watch NC State in action, then this is a great opportunity to see one of the better quarterbacks in college football. Russell Wilson is one of the biggest reasons that the Wolfpack have had so much success this year.
The Wolfpack have the best passing attack in the ACC, and when the play breaks down, Wilson is versatile enough to tuck it and run. It will be interesting to find out whether or not Russell will have success against a tough West Virginia defense.
The Big East and ACC have been criticized this year for not having the same quality of teams as the other automatic-qualifying conferences. Both conferences have something to prove this bowl season, and this is one of only two bowl games in which the two conferences square off against one another. In a matchup featuring two of the better teams in their respective conferences, this one should be a hard-fought, close game.
Illinois vs. Baylor — Texas Bowl (December 29th)
In 2008, when both head coach Art Briles and quarterback Robert Griffin III arrived on the campus of Baylor University, the goal was simple: make Baylor football relevant again. Now, two years after that initial goal, Briles and Griffin can officially say they have done their job.
Griffin alone is a reason to tune in to this game. He is one of the most exciting, dynamic players in college football, and will probably make at least a few highlight reel worthy plays in this game. He is essentially Mr. Do Everything, with the ability to beat teams with either his arm or his legs. Without Griffin, the Bears probably wouldn’t be playing in a bowl game.
Thanks to a 69-67 thriller against Michigan (which the Illini ended up losing), it is hard to say that Illinois has been flying completely under the radar. However, considering the amount of attention this bowl game has been getting, it’s safe to say that people don’t know enough about this team. Typical of a Big 10 team, the Illini rely heavily on the run. In fact, Illinois ranks just a hair behind Michigan and Wisconsin, with just over 242 rushing yards per game.
This truly could be one of the best bowl games of the season. With a game changer like Griffin III taking the snaps for Baylor, and the ability of Illinois running back Mikel LeShoure to take it to the house every time he touches the ball, the potential for excitement is through the roof. Of all the bowls mentioned in this article, if you were to choose just one to watch, this would be the most highly recommended.
Georgia vs. UCF — AutoZone Liberty Bowl (December 31st)
At first glance, this game doesn’t appear to be much of a contest. However, this isn’t your typical SEC vs. C-USA battle. While Georgia is having somewhat of a down year, UCF is a team that is capable of playing with the big boys.
The Knights rely on their talented and athletic defense to win games. They give up less than 320 yards per game on defense, which is especially impressive considering the type of offenses they routinely faced in Conference-USA play. It should be fun to see if they can stop Georgia’s A.J. Green, who pulls down almost any ball that is thrown his way and has freakish athletic ability.
Georgia is probably better than its 6-6 record suggests, as they suffered three of their six losses early on in the season when Green was suspended. Once Green returned, the Bulldogs went 5-3, and their offense improved considerably. However, UCF is much better than the defenses Georgia tore up in those five wins.
Last time UCF played in a bowl game, they lost a defensive battle to another SEC opponent, Mississippi State. That game ended up being 10-3 in favor of the Bulldogs, and a similar score in this year’s game would not be all that surprising. Don’t shy away from the low score though. Although UCF would like to keep the scoring at a minimum, this game should be very close for four quarters, which is why it has been included on this list.