Bowl 1: Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl
Buffalo (10-4) vs. Charlotte (7-5)
1 p.m., ESPN
The Charlotte 49ers are making their first-ever bowl appearance since becoming a FBS (or as we’ve always called it, Division I) program five seasons ago. They have a coach in his first season (Will Healy, just 34 years old) and compete in Conference USA. The 49ers have won five in a row.
The Buffalo Bulls are in a bowl game for the second straight season, and are guided by Lance Leopold, who guided Wisconsin-Whitewater to an eye-opening six Division III championships. Buffalo competes in the Midwestern Athletic Conference (MAC), and went 10-4 this season. Similar to Charlotte, Buffalo has won five of its last six games and beat Central Michigan in the MAC title game.
Las Vegas has installed Buffalo as a 6 1/2-point favorite, at this writing on Thursday.
The Bulls have ran the ball 70 percent of the time in the 2019 season, and averages 236 rushing yards a game. In addition to being a good run-blocking offensive line, that line has given up just eight sacks in the last 12 games. Expect Buffalo to lean on running backs Kevin Marks and Jaret Patterson, who have combined to run for over 2,630 yards and 25 scores.
Buffalo will have Kyle Vantrease as its starter at quarterback after an injury ended the season of Matt Myers in September.
Conversely, Charlotte’s defense is allowing 32 ½ points a game, but did hold its last five opponents (all wins) to under 30 points. The 49ers’ defense has 36 sacks this season, led by defensive ends Alex Highsmith (14 sacks) and Markees Watts (9 ½).
The 49ers’ offense averaged 31.6 points a game, up an incredible 15 points a game from 2018. Quarterback Chris Reynolds has thrown for 2,366 yards, 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his time as a starter, and has ran for 757 yards and six touchdowns. Look for Reynolds to try and get the ball to go-to receiver Victor Tucker, who has 49 catches for 848 yards. Running back Benny LeMay missed a couple of games early with an Achilles injury, but if he’s healthy, he could be a factor: he’s rushed for over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.
The Bulls may be tough defensively. They are holding teams to just 2.9 yards per carry and also have 38 sacks as a unit.
Prediction: Buffalo 30, Charlotte 21
Bowl 2: Tropical Smoothie Café Frisco Bowl
Toyota Stadium, Frisco
Utah State (7-5) vs. Kent State (6-6)
6:30 p.m., ESPN2
Utah State, representing the Mountain West Conference (TCU’s stomping grounds for a while), against Kent State, the alma mater of one Nick Saban. Kent State. KSU has won three straight games.
At one point, Utah State quarterback Jordan Love was getting some Heisman attention, although it was very, very early in the season. He’s a junior, but he’s got the size. He is listed at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds. He threw for 3,085 yards, 17 touchdowns and (here it comes) 16 interceptions. He had been thought to come back for his senior season, but he has opted to forgo it and inter the NFL Draft. He’ll play in the upcoming Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Love got into some trouble and was arrested for marijuana possession recently – the Aggies say he will play in the bowl game. If he can’t, or if he is injured, it’s a big drop-off in experience to Henry Colombi, who has only thrown 29 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns all season.
Gerold Bright is the Aggies’ starter at running back, and he has 827 yards and eight touchdowns on 161 carries this season. Expect Jaylen Warren (561 yards, five touchdowns on 106 carries) to probably get some touches, as well. Siaosi Mariner is a leading receiver for Utah State – he has 56 catches for 874 yards and eight scores coming into this game.
Kent State’s QB, Dustin Crum, is sure to get some attention, as well. Crum threw for 2,333 yards, 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions this year. He also led the team in rushing (a bad sign) with just 560 yards and five scores.
Isaiah McKoy and Mike Carrigan figure to get the ball in the bowl game. McKoy led the Flashes with 767 yards and seven scores on 51 catches. Carrigan had 534 yards and five scores on 38 catches.
A big blow to Utah State is that linebacker David Woodward, an All-American, will be out with injury – that’s a big loss, because Woodward ‘s 93 tackles leads the team.
Prediction: Utah State 27, Kent State 24