Bowl previews and picks against the spread: Everything you need to know for Saturday's games

New Mexico Bowl: Central Michigan (8-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3)

Location: Albuquerque | When: 2 p.m. ET | TVESPN | LineSan Diego State -3.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

Central Michigan: The Chips, in the first year under ex-Florida head coach Jim McElwain, fell to 2-3 after losses to Miami and Western Michigan in back-to-back weeks before getting things rolling. CMU was 6-1 in the final seven games of the season. The only regular-season loss was a trip to Buffalo on Oct. 26. The three straight wins at the end of the season — including a 45-44 victory at Ball State — were vital for the Chippewas as they clinched the MAC West title. CMU, however, lost 26-21 to Miami (Ohio) in the MAC title game as it became the only team to play both Miamis in 2019.

San Diego State: This Aztecs team is a throwback to 1980s NFL football. SDSU runs it over 40 times a game and averages less than 3.5 yards a carry while averaging 19 points a game and holding opponents to under 13 points per game. SDSU started the season 7-1 and snuck into the AP top 25 to start November. But a 17-13 loss at Nevada dropped the Aztecs out of the Top 25. A 14-11 loss at Hawaii ended the Aztecs’ hope of winning the Mountain West’s West division and the season ended with a 13-3 win over BYU.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

If you like to watch two teams that run the football a lot, this game is for you (one of them is just a lot better at it than the other). And the New Mexico Bowl is a nice game to watch while you’re getting warmed up to sit on the couch and watch five more bowl games the rest of the day along with three NFL games. It’s a big football Saturday. Don’t miss a second of it.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Central Michigan RB Jonathan Ward: Ward has three fewer carries than Kobe Lewis and has 105 more yards. Ward averages over six yards a carry and has scored 15 rushing touchdowns. He’s also a threat in the passing game with 33 catches for 322 yards and a score. It’s not a coincidence that he had just 10 carries for 26 yards in CMU’s MAC title game loss. 

San Diego State CB Luq Barcoo: The senior corner has been one of the most productive corners in college football in 2019. Barcoo has eight interceptions and 16 passes defensed through 12 games, while also contributing 51 tackles and five tackles for loss. He’s broken up a pass in nine of San Diego State’s games this season and only Florida Atlantic’s Meiko Dotson has more interceptions.

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

San Diego State OG Daishawn Dixon: The three-year starter at left guard is one of the few draftable possibilities in this game. He’s a 6-foot-5, 320-pound mauler in the ground game, but his pass protection could use work. Dixon will play in the East-West Shrine Game and is a candidate to be drafted later in Day 3 range, depending on his testing, but he could fall to the priority free-agent ranks.

— Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Central Michigan: CMU is making its fifth bowl game appearance in six years. And it’s still looking for its first bowl win since 2012. Yes, CMU has lost its last four bowl games. The crazy Bahamas Bowl was 2014. The Quick Lane Bowl in 2015. The Miami Beach Bowl in 2016. And then the Potato Bowl at the end of 2017. Maybe this is the year. And if it is, it would cap off an excellent turnaround under McElwain, who inherited a team that went 1-11 in 2018.

San Diego State: It’s the 10th straight bowl game for the Aztecs yet it is somehow San Diego State’s first trip to the New Mexico Bowl despite the game’s longstanding tie-in with the Mountain West. A win would give the Aztecs victories in the New Mexico Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, Hawaii Bowl, Potato Bowl and the now-defunct Poinsettia Bowl as an MWC member.

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: Central Michigan +3.5

Sam Cooper: San Diego State -3.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: San Diego State -3.5

Pete Thamel: San Diego State -3.5

Dan Wetzel: San Diego State -3.5

Sean Sullivan: San Diego State -3.5

Cure Bowl: Liberty (7-5) vs. Georgia Southern (7-5)

Location: Orlando | When: 2:30 p.m. | TV: CBSSN | Line: Georgia Southern -4.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

Liberty: Liberty, in its first season as a full FBS member, needed a win over New Mexico State in its season finale to clinch bowl eligibility. Because the Flames tallied two wins over FCS teams, they had to reach the seven-win mark and did so by notching their second victory of the season over New Mexico State. Liberty won its other six games in a seven-game stretch, but those teams have just a combined 23-49 record. 

Georgia Southern: After a 1-3 start to the season that included a near-upset of Minnesota, the Eagles won four straight, including a double-overtime win over South Alabama, a triple-overtime win over Coastal Carolina and a massive upset over then-undefeated Appalachian State. That turned out to be the only loss of the year for App State, the eventual Sun Belt champions. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

This game will be a contrast of offensive styles featuring the pass-happy attack of Liberty led by head coach Hugh Freeze (formerly of Ole Miss, of course) and Georgia Southern’s option schemes. The Flames have the No. 21-ranked passing offense in the country, highlighted by the explosive connection between quarterback Stephen Calvert and receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden. Georgia Southern, meanwhile, has the eighth-best rushing attack in the country and features three players who have rushed for at least 675 yards. 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Stephen “Buckshot” Calvert, QB, Liberty: A four-year starter, Calvert put up big numbers yet again as a senior for Liberty. In 12 games, Calvert has thrown for 3,393 yards and 26 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He has six 300-yard games on the year and went for a career-high 474 yards in the win over UMass. 

Kindle Vildor, CB, Georgia Southern: Vildor, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior, has been one of the top cornerbacks in the Sun Belt over the past few seasons. He earned first-team All-Sun Belt honors in each of the last two seasons. Overall in his four-year career, he has played in 47 games and totaled 93 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 30 pass breakups and eight interceptions.

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Liberty WR Antonio Gandy-Golden: The 6-4, 220-pound receiver has put up monster numbers the past two seasons, catching a combined 145 passes for 2,370 yards (a 16.3-yard average) with 19 TDs over 23 combined games. After a slew of drops in 2018, Gandy-Golden cured that with only two on 129 targets this season, according to Pro Football Focus. He possesses some interesting physical traits, can go up and get the ball and is relatively dependable, but Gandy-Golden isn’t a special athlete by NFL standards. He could end up the highest-drafted Liberty player in decades. The last time the school produced a pick higher than No. 125 was Kelvin Edwards (88th pick by the New Orleans Saints in 1986).

Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Liberty: Liberty was a consistent contender in the Big South and decided to transition to FBS over the last few years. The Flames went 6-6 in 2018, but were not yet eligible for bowl play. Now in 2019, Freeze can cap off his first season with the program by getting its first bowl win at the top level of college football. 

Georgia Southern: Georgia Southern has won both of the bowl games it has played in since transitioning to FBS in 2014. The Eagles, in their first year under Chad Lunsford, went 10-3 and won the Camellia Bowl a year ago. They won’t get back to double-digit wins, but they could notch yet another bowl win in Lunsford’s second year running the program full time. 

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: Georgia Southern -4.5

Sam Cooper: Liberty +4.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: Georgia Southern -5

Pete Thamel: Georgia Southern -5

Dan Wetzel: Liberty +5

Sean Sullivan: Georgia Southern -5

Boca Raton Bowl: SMU (10-2) vs. Florida Atlantic (10-3)

Location: Boca Raton, Florida | When: 3:30 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: SMU -3.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

SMU: The Mustangs had a roaring start with eight wins to begin 2019. SMU broke into the Top 25 after its fifth win of the season and then beat Tulsa, Temple and Houston before climbing as high as No. 15 in the AP poll. The undefeated run ended in a 54-48 defeat to eventual AAC champion Memphis. SMU beat East Carolina the following week before losing another thriller, this time to Navy. The Mustangs hit 10 wins for the first time since 1984 with a win over Tulane in the final week of the season. 

FAU: FAU opened the season losing by 24 to Ohio State and then by 34 to UCF. Things got a lot better from there. The Owls never scored fewer than 28 points in any game the rest of the season as they went 9-1 over the next 10 games. The six consecutive wins at the end of the season won FAU the Conference USA East division and earned a spot in the conference title game against UAB. That was a blowout as FAU beat the Blazers 49-6 and Lane Kiffin left a short time later to officially become Ole Miss’ new head coach. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

This game should feature a lot of offense. Both teams were in the top 20 in points per game and feature creativity and dynamism on the offensive side of the ball. We may even get a Lane Kiffin interview during the game too if ESPN can get it set up.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

SMU RB Xavier Jones: The Mustangs throw the ball a lot. QB Shane Buechele has thrown over 440 passes. But Jones has been the most productive player on the SMU offense, especially in the red zone. He’s rushed for 1,249 yards and has scored 23 total touchdowns. Jones has broken the 100-yard mark in eight games in 2019. SMU won all eight of those games. 

FAU QB Chris Robison: The former Oklahoma signee has made good on his second chance at college football’s top level in Boca Raton. Robison has thrown for 3,392 yards and completed over 60 percent of his passes in 2019 while tossing 26 touchdowns and six interceptions. The former four-star recruit is in his second year as FAU’s starter after he was dismissed from Oklahoma in 2017.

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Florida Atlantic TE Harrison Bryant: Tough call here, as there are several intriguing mid-round prospects playing in this game, including SMU WR James Proche. But we’ll go with one of our favorite studies during our 2020 draft prep to this point in Bryant, the Mackey Award winner who has the ability to make catches down the seam. He also has improved his blocking and has a shot to be drafted somewhere in the third or fourth round.

— Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

SMU: SMU hasn’t won a bowl game since it won the Hawaii Bowl at the end of the 2012 season. More importantly, the Mustangs haven’t won 11 games since that famous 1981 11-0-1 campaign. A victory on Saturday would be the program’s third season with more than 10 wins. 

FAU: A win would be FAU’s second 11-win season in three years and a fitting way to cap Kiffin’s tenure with the school before Willie Taggart officially takes over. That 11-3 season in 2017 also ended with a win in the Boca Raton Bowl. FAU should have the home-field advantage, even if SMU is favored in this game.

PICKS

Sam Cooper: SMU -3.5

Nick Bromberg: SMU -3.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: SMU -3.5

Pete Thamel: SMU -3.5

Dan Wetzel: FAU +3.5

Sean Sullivan: SMU -3.5



Camellia Bowl: Florida International (6-6) vs. Arkansas State (7-5)

Location: Montgomery, Ala. | When: 5:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: Arkansas State -3.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

FIU: Some thought FIU could contend for the Conference USA title this year, but it needed a late-season upset over Miami to get to a bowl game. The Panthers started the year 1-3, won three straight and then went 2-3 over their last five games. But the win over the Hurricanes was undoubtedly the highlight of the year. 

Arkansas State: The Red Wolves dealt with tragedy early in the year when Wendy Anderson, the wife of head coach Blake Anderson, died after a fight with cancer. Anderson returned to the sideline in Week 2 and coached his team to a win over UNLV. The team also dealt with a season-ending injury to starting QB Logan Bonner, but rallied with a four-game winning streak late in the year to get to a bowl game for the ninth consecutive season. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

First of all, this is the first full Saturday of bowl season, so you’ll have plenty of football to keep you occupied throughout the day. This is one of six games on tap, and it could be one of the most competitive between two programs itching for a bowl win. It’s also a matchup of two under-the-radar quarterbacks. FIU’s James Morgan is on the radar of NFL scouts while Arkansas State’s Layne Hatcher threw for 2,553 yards and 23 touchdowns. Hatcher, a redshirt freshman, began his career at Alabama. 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

FIU LB Sage Lewis: Sage Lewis has led the way for the FIU defense during his time with the program. A senior, Lewis has earned first-team All-C-USA honors in both 2018 and 2019. This year, Lewis is second on the team with 81 tackles and leads the team with three interceptions. For his career, Lewis enters the bowl game with 287 tackles — tied for fifth all-time in FIU history.

Arkansas State WR Omar Bayless: Omar Bayless emerged as the top pass-catcher in the Sun Belt this season as a senior. Bayless leads the conference with 84 catches, 1,473 yards and 16 touchdowns and registered seven games of 100-plus yards along the way. He also caught a touchdown pass in all but two of Arkansas State’s 12 games. 

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

FIU QB James Morgan: The Bowling Green transfer has been on scouts’ radar for more than a year now, even though he suffered an ankle injury early this season and never really got healthy or played to his potential. But Morgan has decent size (6-4, 213 pounds) and respectable arm talent and is a candidate to be a Day 3 pick as a developmental prospect. His 2018 tape is better than his 2019 tape, so scouts must figure out if he’s regressed or whether the injury and his surrounding cast are to blame.

- Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

FIU: FIU can accomplish two feats it has never done before with a win. The win would give the Panthers three-straight winning seasons for the first time in program history. It also would mark the first time FIU has won a bowl game in consecutive seasons. FIU beat Toledo in the Bahamas Bowl last year. 

Arkansas State: Arkansas State has gotten to a bowl game in all six seasons under Blake Anderson, but has just one bowl victory to show for it. That win came over UCF in the 2016 Cure Bowl, but the Red Wolves have lost their last two bowl games: the 2017 Camellia Bowl to Middle Tennessee and last year’s Arizona Bowl to Nevada. ASU hopes this season ends on a better note. 

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: FIU +2.5

Sam Cooper: Arkansas State -2.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: FIU +2.5

Pete Thamel: FIU +2.5

Dan Wetzel: FIU +2.5

Sean Sullivan: FIU +2.5

Las Vegas Bowl: No. 19 Boise State (12-1) vs. Washington (7-5) 

Location: Las Vegas | When: 7:30 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: UW -3.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

Boise State: Another year, another Las Vegas Bowl. It’s the team’s second trip to Vegas in the last three years and the Broncos’ third Vegas Bowl appearance in the last eight seasons. Boise State got here by virtue of winning the Mountain West title. Again. The only blemish on Boise State’s record is a 28-25 loss at BYU on Oct. 19. If it wasn’t for that game, Boise State would probably be in the Cotton Bowl playing Penn State. Vegas isn’t a terrible consolation prize. Especially given the storyline surrounding this game. 

Washington: The preseason Pac-12 favorites had a bad season. The first loss came at home to Cal in a game delayed by thunderstorms that ended in the middle of the night for most of the country. Washington got to 4-1 after that but then lost at Stanford. The Cardinal finished 4-8. Consecutive losses to Oregon and Utah came in the weeks after the Stanford loss. Washington led in the second half of each of those games. And then the Huskies lost at Colorado on Nov. 23 before its customary win over Washington State in the Apple Cup. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

This one is pretty simple. It’s the final game for Washington coach Chris Petersen. He’s been one of the most successful coaches of the 2000s and it’s fitting — if not painful for him — to see him coach his final game with the Huskies against the team that he brought to prominence.

Petersen has a career record of 148-38 as a head coach. That includes a 92-12 record in eight years at Boise State where he led the Broncos to two undefeated seasons. The team’s worst campaign was an 8-4 season in his final year before he took the Washington job in 2014. 

Petersen will be replaced by Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake after the game.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Boise State EDGE Curtis Weaver: Watch Weaver try to chase after Jacob Eason all day. It’s likely going to be his final college game after an extremely productive three years at Boise. Weaver enters with 13.5 sacks in 2019 and 34 in his career. He also has 47.5 tackles for loss in his career, an astounding total given he has just 126 career tackles. He’s one of the most dominant defensive players in school history. 

Washington RB Salvon Ahmed: The junior has rushed for exactly 1,000 yards on 5.5 yards a carry this season in his first year as Washington’s feature back. He’s been up and down, however. He’s rushed for over 100 yards in four games while also tallying fewer than 50 yards in four games. 

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Boise State WR John Hightower: Last season, Hightower was a sparsely used but highly effective big-play machine. This season, the 6-2, 185-pound playmaker developed as a full-time receiver and fascinating prospect. Although he’s still raw as a former junior-college track star (400-meter hurdles), his upside really is interesting. Hightower can blow by people, but this might be the best secondary he’s faced. Then again, he might be the fastest receiver the Huskies have seen this season.

— Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Boise State: This is a bit of a consolation game for the Broncos because of that BYU loss. But a win would give Boise State a fourth season with 13 wins or more. And they’ve all come in the last 17 years. That’s a record of excellence few teams can match. 

Washington: A win in Petersen’s final game, obviously. But it would also be Washington’s first bowl game win since a victory in the 2015 Heart of Dallas Bowl. The Huskies have been to major bowl games in each of the past three seasons but has lost them all to very good opponents. Washington is just 4-8 in bowl games since 2000. 

PICKS

Sam Cooper: Washington -3.5

Nick Bromberg: Boise State +3.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: Boise State +3.5

Pete Thamel: Boise State +3.5

Dan Wetzel: Boise State +3.5

Sean Sullivan: Boise State +3.5

No. 20 Appalachian State (12-1) vs. UAB (9-4)

Location: New Orleans | When: Dec. 21 (9 p.m.) | TV: ESPN | Line: App State -16.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

App State: Even after losing coach Scott Satterfield to Louisville, App State cruised to another Sun Belt championship. This year, it was a 12-1 run under Eliah Drinkwitz that was capped off with a 45-38 conference title game victory over Louisiana. The Mountaineers also picked up wins over two Power Five teams: North Carolina and South Carolina. 

UAB: The UAB football program is a remarkable 28-12 since resuming play in 2017. The Blazers won 11 games, including the C-USA title and the Boca Raton Bowl in 2018. The Blazers took a step back in 2019, but took advantage of an easy schedule to get to nine wins and clinch the C-USA West title before getting trounced by Florida Atlantic, 49-6, in the C-USA title game. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

App State has been one of the most consistent teams in the country this season. Had the Mountaineers not lost to Georgia Southern on Halloween, they very well could be playing in the Cotton Bowl later this month. Instead, App State — winners of 23 of its last 26 games — finished just behind No. 17 Memphis and No. 19 Boise State in the final College Football Playoff rankings. Don’t expect that strong play to stop any time soon. Even though Eliah Drinkwitz left after one year to take the Missouri job, the promotion of App alum Shawn Clark should keep things rolling in Boone. 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

App State RB Darrynton Evans: Following the injury to Jalin Moore early in 2018, Darrynton Evans assumed App State’s lead back duties and has been one of the best in the Sun Belt. After going for 1,187 yards and 7 TDs last year, he has surged past those totals with 1,323 yards and 17 TDs in 2019.

UAB LB Kristopher Moll: Moll is having a huge season for the Blazers. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior leads UAB in both tackles (96) and tackles for loss (16). His nine sacks ranks second on the Blazers behind Jordan Smith, who has 10. Moll has 23.5 tackles for loss over the last two seasons. 

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Appalachian State LB Akeem Davis-Gaither: The Senior Bowl invitee has really improved over the past few seasons and has enough playmaking ability to thrive as a three-down backer at the next level, as well as a core special teamer. He’s undersized and looks like a safety, so adding bulk is going to be needed at some point. But flip on the North Carolina game to see Davis-Gaither’s diving interception and you’ll quickly realize that he has NFL instincts and athleticism.

- Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

App State: The Mountaineers can get to the 13-win mark for the first time since 2007, when they won the third of their third-straight FCS national championships. App State moved up to the FBS level in 2014 and became eligible for postseason play in 2015. The program has won a bowl game in all four of those eligible seasons. A win in the New Orleans Bowl can make it five out of five. 

UAB: UAB finally got its first bowl victory a year ago when it beat MAC champion Northern Illinois 37-13 in the Boca Raton Bowl. The Blazers want to make it two bowl wins in a row while also getting to the 10-win mark for the second time in program history. 

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: App State -16.5

Sam Cooper: App State -16.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: UAB +16.5

Pete Thamel: UAB +16.5

Dan Wetzel: UAB +16.5

Sean Sullivan: App State -16.5

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