TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl Noon EST on ESPN
Houston vs. Auburn
Both teams finished the season with losses, and each would love to win this bowl game. Houston lost to playoff-bound Cincinnati and went 11-2 behind a strong defense, a potent offense at times, and a stud freshman running back. Auburn lost four straight to end the season after a hot start and took Alabama to overtime in their last game. Unfortunately, starting quarterback Bo Nix transferred, but they still boast an immensely talented backfield.
The backfield is where my eyes will be on for this matchup. Both teams have strong backs and good rushing defenses. Auburn features two insanely talented RBs – Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter. Bigsby was rumored to be transferring but ultimately stayed and is one of the top backs eligible for the 2023 Draft. He’s a tough runner and also can catch passes. Hunter emerged as a compliment and is much quicker and perhaps more dangerous. He averaged nearly seven yards a carry in his freshman season. Both are solid C2C options, but Bigsby has a future for sure in the NFL. Both guys had a little trouble getting going in big games; the offense isn’t versatile enough to take pressure off the run game.
Houston scored in bunches but didn’t face many strong defenses. Their two losses came against Texas Tech and Cincinnati, and the offense was ineffective. They have their own freshman phenom back, Alton McCaskill. He was a lightning rod and popular pickup in C2C, as he scored 17 TDs this season. He rushed for 883 yards at five yards a pop and was a catalyst for the offense.
Quarterback Clayton Tune is a C2C staple, throwing for over 3,200 yards and 28 scores with only nine picks. He came on strong toward the end of the year, and his leading target was redshirt sophomore Nathaniel Dell. Dell won some leagues and was a late pickup in drafts, possibly even a waiver pickup. He caught 80 passes for 1,179 yards and hit paydirt 12 times. Both Tune and Dell will be strong C2C assets in 2022, but I don’t see a fantasy viable future for either at the next level.
SERVPRO First Responder Bowl 3:15 p.m. EST on ESPN2
Air Force vs. Louisville
Air Force led the nation in rushing and time of possession. Louisville can score in 12 seconds with their dynamic QB. So yeah, this could be an interesting game in contrasting styles.
The Falcons will try to grind the ball downfield and average over 37 minutes in time of possession per game. They did not face a Power 5 school this season, but when up against the offenses of Nevada and Utah State, which can move the ball, the Air Force D was pummelled. They do have an attractive C2C asset in RB Brad Roberts. He’s a junior with decent size, 5’11” and 205 pounds, and who they appear to lean on most. Roberts rushed for 1,279 yards and found the endzone 13 times. The offense spreads it around, but he is the offensive player to own for Air Force in 2022.
Louisville’s attack is led by redshirt junior Malik Cunningham, one of the most dangerous players in the country. He won people games in college fantasy, against Duke in particular. When Cunningham is on, he is so scary. He scored seven times, accounted for over 500 yards in that game, and scored over 70 points in most college leagues. Cunningham is most dangerous as a runner, scoring 19 times via the rush. He takes care of the ball and doesn’t push it too much downfield. If Cunningham is playing well, this won’t be a game. I love him as a C2C asset but don’t see a viable future in the NFL.
Keep an eye on a few ancillary pieces in the Cardinals offense. Freshman Trevion Cooley is a favorite of mine and looked good in limited playing time. Redshirt freshman Jalen Mitchell led the team in rushing with 722 yards and five scores, also chipped in 12 receptions. He has excellent size at 5’10” and 220 pounds. Redshirt sophomore Tyler Harrell is a BURNER – only 14 grabs but five TDs and averaged over 31 yards a catch.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl 6:45 p.m. EST on ESPN
Mississippi State vs. Texas Tech
It’s time to get in the zone, AutoZone! I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. Mike Leach gets a chance to coach the Bulldogs against his former team, and this game will be high-scoring. The first team to 50 wins! And we don’t need your stinkin’ defense!
Let’s start with the current Mike Leach team. The Bulldogs have a few players I am keeping an eye on. QB Will Rogers has the stats you want in C2C – 4,440 yards, 35 TDs, and only 8 INTs. He is only a sophomore and will be one of the top dozen QBs drafted in college fantasy next season. As far as an NFL asset, I don’t see it yet. The offense doesn’t push the ball downfield, and he isn’t asked to make many throws beyond twenty yards.
Fellow sophomore Jo’quavious Marks is an excellent C2C back; he doesn’t get many carries but had 79 receptions for 464 yards (basically a carry, at 5.9 yards per catch) and scored nine total TDs. Receivers Makai Polk and Jaden Walley are good college players, too, and each could find a spot in the NFL. Polk led the team with 98 grabs for 989 yards and nine scores. He’s a possession receiver with good hands and hasn’t had a chance to display more due to the offense. Walley is in the same boat, and most of us on the site thought he would be the alpha in the offense. He caught 52 passes for 610 yards and scored six times. Each WR will return and are worth monitoring for C2C, and possibly later NFL Draft picks.
The Red Raiders have a player at QB who interests me immensely, and I’m hoping to watch a lot more in 2022. Redshirt freshman Donovan Smith was drafted as an athlete and may have found his position. In limited action, he looked to be the real deal. Smith passed for 929 yards with six TDs versus only two INTs in only four starts. He has excellent size at 6’5” and 230 pounds, can move around with the ball, and has a live arm. It will be interesting to see how he develops next season.
The team rarely runs, but I have liked the way junior SaRodorick Thompson looks when he runs. I am not sure there is a spot for him in the NFL, and he’s not consistent enough to produce for C2C. Junior wideout Erik Ezukanma leads the team with 705 yards and four receiving scores, but none of the receivers produce consistently enough. I do like Ezukanma as a borderline NFL guy – he’s a big receiver (6’3” and 220 lbs.) with good hands and runs routes well. Like with the Mississippi State duo of Polk and Walley, Texas Tech doesn’t push downfield, and he doesn’t get many catches that allow him to get extra yardage.
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl 8 p.m. EST on ESPN
UCLA vs. NC State
The Holiday Bowl matchup will be one of the better games in the bowl games; both teams have strengths to match up to each others’ strengths. Both defenses are tough against the pass, and NC State’s passing attack is lethal. UCLA’s offense is efficient and can control the game with a formidable rushing attack. Their passing game can push it down the field and limit turnovers, also led by a veteran QB. I love the matchup, and there are some players to keep an eye on.
The veteran QB is Dorian Thompson-Robinson, and he could enter the draft. The transfer of Dillon Gabriel to the team could signal the end of the DTR era. He’s a solid college QB and may land a spot in the NFL, but I can’t see him being more than a backup.
The biggest name for UCLA as far as the NFL is concerned is their RB, Zach Charbonnet. He transferred from Michigan and made a huge impact this season. Charbonnet rushed for over 1,100 yards, 13 TDs, and caught 24 passes. He has good vision and contact balance. I could see him finding success in the NFL in the right system.
If Greg Dulcich declares for the draft, I believe he can succeed on the next level. He had 725 yards and five scores this season, and was one of DTR’s favorite options when they needed a critical first down. I love Dulcich’s hands, and he is a smooth route runner. He will need to work on blocking, but I could see his ceiling as a low-end TE1 in the NFL.
The Wolfpack are led by college fantasy star, redshirt sophomore QB Devin Leary. He passed for 3,433 yards and 35 TDs, with only five INTs. I don’t see an NFL spot for him, but I project another massive year in 2022.
The RB duo of Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person Jr. is one of the most versatile duos in the country. Knight is the more promising of the duo. The redshirt sophomore rushed for 753 yards and caught 21 passes but only scored three times. I love him as a runner – he has good vision and seems to be a complete back. Next season will be significant for him. Person declared for the draft and is a bigger back, 6’1” and 220 lbs., and I am not sure he plays in this game. He’s a powerful back and also an excellent pass-catching option.
Guaranteed Rate Bowl 10:15 p.m. EST on ESPN
West Virginia vs. Minnesota
The bowl game here won’t be a boat race to 50 points, and there likely won’t be 50 scored between the teams. West Virginia has a strong rushing attack and an offense that will try to control the clock. The Mountaineers feature an aggressive rushing defense, bumping heads with the Gophers’ potent rushing offense. Minnesota has won their last four bowl games and will be looking to set the tone for next season in this one.
West Virginia’s star RB, Leddie Brown, opted out of this one, and junior Tony Mathis is worth keeping an eye on. He finished the season strong, and it will likely be his backfield in 2022. “The” name for this team is freshman WR Kaden Prather. He has the potential to change the offense. A strong, physical receiver with burst and acceleration, Prather is a four-star who can elevate the offense. He’s a name to keep an eye on in C2C and for NFL potential.
Minnesota’s QB is Tanner Morgan, who announced he would return for what is, I believe, his eleventh season. He’s a solid QB who won’t win or lose games for the Gophers. RB Mohamed Ibrahim is still out but will be a top-three college RB in 2022. None of the stable of backs that have filled in for him has been overly impressive. I expected more from WRs, Chris Autman-Bell, and Daniel Jackson; neither has moved the needle for me in C2C or NFL hopes.