Every one of these bowl previews we do, the matchups get better, and we have our first really good matchups of top programs on this Wednesday slate. A few of these have the potential to be really fun matchups. Let’s rock and roll!
Military Bowl by Peraton 12/28 @ 2 p.m. ESPN
UCF (9-4) vs. Duke (8-4)
This could be a very fun matchup, but unfortunately, the Knights are dealing with a lot of roster movement. The offense averaged 34.4 points a game, 26th nationally, and nearly lead the team to a New Year’s Six bowl. The team will be without top QB John-Rhys Plumleedue to injury, and backup Mikey Keene is in the portal. Injuries and the portal have also decimated the WR corps.
Nobody expected Duke to win eight games, but here we are. The Blue Devils are hella fun to watch on offense. Not far behind UCF offensively, Duke averaged 33.1 points a game and had a defense that only allowed 22.8 points a game. They took down Miami and Wake Forest but had losses to Georgia Tech and Pitt disvalue how good their season was. A win would go a long way for the program and head coach Mike Elko.
- Thomas Castellanos, QB FR – The uncertain QB situation opens the door for freshman Castellanos, and I love what he can bring to this offense. He adds a dynamic element the Knights had with JRP at the helm. Castellanos rushed for 120 yards in limited action and attempted 16 passes. He’s the man now and a riser for me in CFF particularly.
- Isaiah Bowser, RB RS SR – The workload will likely fall on Bowser’s shoulders, and he can handle a massive amount of touches. He’s 6’1” and 225 pounds and runs like an angry bull. He rushed for 760 yards and 14 TDs this season while catching 14 passes. His YPC isn’t pretty, but he’s good to run the ball 30 times if needed.
- A mass exodus at WR leaves this room very thin but former Alabama WR, junior Javon Baker, leads the team and is still here. I expect junior RB CJ Harvey to be involved in the passing attack and run some with a more dynamic element to his game. For as dynamic as this offense is, it definitely runs through the success of the ground game.
Duke Blue Devils
- Riley Leonard, QB SO – Where have you been all my life, Riley? Leonard was one of the most dynamic players in the country, and once he took over the reins, the Blue Devils took off. He threw for nearly 2,800 yards, 20 TDs with six INTs, and then rushed for 636 yards and 11 more scores. Leonard should be on your 2024 Draft eligible list, and with some growth as a passer – he could hear his name called fairly early.
- Beyond Leonard, Duke’s offense had a bunch of pieces that complemented him well, but not many who stood out as CFF producers or possible NFL talent. Junior back Jordan Waters rushed for 561 yards and eight scores while adding 16 catches. He’s a big back and loves to run people over.
- For wideouts and receiving options, senior Jalen Calhoun led the team with 811 yards and scored four times. He’s a steady receiving option and has been amongst the top pass-catchers at Duke over the past four seasons. Sophomore Jordan Moore caught 57 balls and tallied 643 yards with five scores, he’s a taller receiver and has sure hands.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl 12/28 @ 5:30 p.m. ESPN
Kansas (6-6) vs. Arkansas (6-6)
Momma, I am ready for some meat and potatoes. I love this matchup, I know both teams are 6–6, but both played much bigger all season. Kansas started off 5-0, including a victory over the aforementioned Duke but struggled through the Big 12 slate with several heartbreaking close losses to Oklahoma, TCU, and Baylor. They stumbled down the stretch, inconsistent QB play being one of the biggest culprits, and still have a lot to prove in this matchup.
Arkansas blasted to 3-0 out of the gate and then ran into the SEC. Close losses to Texas A&M, Liberty, and LSU hurt as well did the loss of KJ Jefferson for a few games. The offense has a couple of powerful pieces returning, but the defense will be immensely weakened by the losses of longtime stud LB Bumper Pool and the former ‘Bama backer Drew Sanders. This team lives off power and is going to give Kansas all it can handle.
- Jalon Daniels, QB JR – The fast start for the Jayhawks was 100% because of the play of the junior signal-caller. Daniels threw for 1,470 yards and 13 TDs with only a pair of INTs. His dynamic playmaking was evident in his 404 yards and six TDs added via the ground game. Daniels was a revelation and had the team humming until his injury. Senior Jason Bean filled in admirably, throwing the ball well and having mobility as well, but he will be entering his sixth season if he plays again in 2023.
- Devin Neal, RB SO – Perhaps one of the most unheralded players in the FCS, Neal continues to produce and look better. He rushed for over 1,000 yards at a 6.2 YPC clip and caught 19 passes to boot. At 5’11” and 210 pounds, he’s close to the ideal size, and there’s a lot to love about his game. I would like to see more dynamic play creation, but he’s a well-rounded back who could see late second-day capital in the 2024 Draft.
- The receiver corps will all be back, and it’s a few younger cats leading the way. Quentin Skinner and Lawrence Arnold, both redshirt sophomores, are part of a passing attack that spreads the ball around. I’m not high on either for CFF or NFL aspirations though.
- KJ Jefferson, QB RS JR – When he announced his return, it was a blessing for Razorbacks fans, and he’s the leader of this team. Jefferson is a big dude at 6’3” and 245 pounds, threw for 2,361 yards and 22 scores while adding 510 yards and seven scores on the ground. Jefferson has a big arm, may not be the most accurate QB you will see, but he has great command of the offense. He will take shots, and when he runs, Jefferson hurts people.
- Rahiem Sanders, RB SO – We may have to bring in a ghostwriter to talk about Rocket, I am crazy about Sanders and his game. With the departure of Bijan, Sanders is my new RB1 in Devy, and you could make a case for him in CFF being number one too. He rushed for 1,426 yards, 10 TDs, caught 28 passes, and scored twice more via receptions. Sanders is 6’2” and 225 pounds. He runs like he is that big, but his moves are smooth and sudden. He’s not going to jump cut or juke on a dime. Sanders has elite vision and contact balance, he isn’t afraid to hit but is excellent at making people miss.
- The pass-catching crew took a few huge losses over the past few weeks. Veteran Jadon Haselwood opted out, and Ketron Jackson and Trey Knox hit the portal. That leaves senior Matt Landers as the last receiver on the roster with over 12 catches. Many times throughout the season, Landers was the one catching a key first down, and he’s a tall, reliable receiver. He caught 44 balls for 780 yards and scored seven times. I like Landers a lot, but I don’t see a role for him at the next level.
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl 12/28 @ 8:00 p.m. FOX
Oregon (9-3) vs. North Carolina (9-4)
Here’s a matchup of top teams we have been thirsting for. Each of these teams had playoff aspirations and conference title dreams, and each team didn’t finish anywhere near as strong as they hoped. And it’s the first bowl game not on ESPN!
The Ducks famously got thrashed by Georgia in the season opener before rebounding with eight straight wins. They finished by losing two of their three games, but all three games were against ranked teams. The offense scored 39.7 points a game, ninth best in the FCS, and will be returning many key pieces. The defense is losing several key defenders, with stud LB Noah Sewell opting out and misused LB Justin Flowe transferring.
It was all about the offense, baby, and North Carolina exploded over the first ten games. They scored in droves and only lost to Notre Dame until mid-November. Then the wheels fell off. The superstar QB looked human. They stumbled to losses versus Georgia Tech and NC State before getting demolished by Clemson in the ACC Title Game. The defense was bad and had many key players hit the portal, including star corner Tony Grimes.
Both teams lost their offensive coordinators to head coaching positions. I don’t care. We could see 100 points easily in this game.
- Bo Nix, QB RS SR – After three mostly underachieving years at Auburn, Nix arrived in Eugene with little expectations, and he demolished what anyone thought he was capable of. Nix threw for 3,388 yards with 27 TDs to only six INTs and rushed for over 500 yards and 14 more scores. We saw the potential of a former five-star recruiting pedigree finally. He vaulted himself into the Heisman talk, and with another year, Nix could be an early drafted QB.
- I go back and forth on who I like in this Oregon backfield and honestly, I like things about them all. Leading rusher Mar’Keise Irving, a sophomore transfer from Minnesota, rushed for 909 yards and also caught 30 passes. He had over 1,200 all-purpose yards and scored six times. Another transfer, a redshirt sophomore from Western Kentucky, Noah Whittington rushed for 757 yards and five TDs, also adding 17 catches. Both backs are 5’10” and 190 lbs., and both are dynamic runners and smooth pass-catching backs. Super sophomore Sean Dollars and sophomore Byron Cardwell went into the season fighting for starting reps, and both are now in the transfer portal.
- Troy Franklin, WR SO – With the return of Nix, I see a monstrous 2023 in store for Franklin and a massive rise in draft stock. He caught 56 passes for 867 yards and found the end zone eight times. He’s explosive off the line and catches passes so naturally, making tough catches look routine. Franklin is versatile and improving. This bowl game and next season, we will see what he is truly capable of.
- Other receivers will need to step up, and the departure of Seven McGee and Dont’e Thornton doesn’t help. Senior Chase Cota and sophomore Kris Hutson give Nix a few reliable secondary targets, but their trio of TEs is probably the second-best in the country. Sophomore Terrence Ferguson caught 27 balls for 307 yards and five scores. Sophomore Moliki Matavao only caught ten balls but is the most physically gifted of the bunch. And sophomore Patrick Herbert, brother of Justin, caught five passes but looked good in limited opportunities.
North Carolina Tar Heels
- Drake Maye, QB SO – If you haven’t heard of Maye, please remove your hermit shell and come out into the sunshine, child. Maye burst onto the scene, hurling 16 TDs versus one pick over the first four games en route to a QB1 season. When the Tar Heels stumbled the last three games, we saw that Maye was human. A few of those were against very solid defenses, and he was dealing with inconsistency at WR. Regardless, he threw for over 4,100 yards, rushed for another 650, and accounted for 42 TDs. I see a decline in 2023, but Maye is an immensely talented QB and my QB2 behind Caleb Williams in Devy.
- Omarion Hampton, RB FR – The true freshman had a few big games over the first month of the season but cooled off and didn’t have many carries past October 8th. He’s the future for NC at tailback, a thick back with power and fluency while running the ball. Hampton will rack up the yards at RB and has serious NFL potential.
- Elijah Green, RB RS SO – As the season went on, Green was the Tar Heel to own in CFF and should see a prominent role in the bowl game. He carried the ball for 508 yards over 114 touches and scored eight times. Green added 17 receptions too. He established himself as the lead back late in the season. But Hampton is the long-term play at RB, and I don’t see anything with Green to give me hope at the next level.
- Antoine Green, WR RS SR – Superstar WR Josh Downs opts out, leaving Green as the leading receiver, and he emerged as the season went on. He grabbed 43 catches for 798 yards and seven scores, mostly after the middle of October and on. Green is older and likely not going to translate to the next level, but he’s a 6’2” receiver with hands and speed to break off big plays downfield.
- Bryson Nesbit, TE SO – 6’6” and 245 lbs., strong hands, and smooth running routes downfield? Oh, plays for a QB1 that’s gonna throw the ball a ton, too? Give me Nesbit as a TE to continue to get better and put up solid TE numbers for CFF. Maye is going to rely on Nesbit, and I could see him vastly improving on the 32 catches for 470 yards and three scores he had in 2022.
TaxAct Texas Bowl 12/28 @ 9:00 p.m. ESPN
Texas Tech (7-5) vs. Ole Miss (8-4)
It feels like most of the teams I have written about over the past week were teams that backed into the Bowl season and barely made a bowl. The Red Raiders took the better route, winning their last three games over Kansas, Iowa State, and Oklahoma. Definitely not scrub teams. Texas Tech has always been about the offense and this year’s squad scored 33.6 a game despite a rotation of QBs that appears to finally be settled. Redshirt sophomore Donovan Smith played the most and had a very inconsistent go of it, but he is out the door – taking door number two to the portal. Redshirt freshman Behren Morton is injured. Leaving only one man standing.
Ole Miss had high, high hopes for a minute – losing only one game before November. Then came a close loss to Alabama, a shellacking from Arkansas, and a squeaker loss in Mike Leach’s final game as a coach (RIP Coach Leach). They still scored 34.2 points a game behind one of the best run games in the country and a dynamic duo of running backs. They have been hit hard by the portal, but ironically, almost all key pieces remain for another strong run in 2023.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
- Tyler Shough, QB SR – The former Oregon QB transfer is the last man standing and should have been the QB all along, but injuries have taken a toll. Shough has a strong arm, and his skill set is perfect for what Texas Tech likes to do. He will push the ball downfield via calculated throws, using timing and quick reads. Some tout him as an NFL talent, but I don’t see it. Plus I don’t like the way his last name is pronounced. If you want us to say Shuck, change the spelling man! Shough is a good college QB, at least, and if healthy, he’s going to be a top CFF option in 2023.
- Pick your poison at RB with the Red Raiders. Senior SaRodorick Thompson and Junior Tahj Brooks have nearly identical stats – both over 600 yards rushing with over 20 receptions and even TDs (Thompson 8, Brooks 7). Neither seems to be consistently lead back and thus, impossible to trust as anything other than a what the heck flex. Thompson is a bit bigger and more powerful whereas Brooks is a bit more shifty but also strong. I don’t see NFL potential in either.
- It’s hard for me to talk about Texas Tech WRs without screaming into the void about junior Myles Price. Give me a moment. Okay. Price was drafted in the first few rounds of many CFF drafts in the summer and has not taken the step we hoped. He had 48 catches for 478 yards and a pair of TDs, but we drafted him with hopes of more games like September 24th. Where he caught 13 passes for 98 yards versus Texas. Redshirt freshman Jerand Bradley had a good season, with 44 catches for 663 yards and five scores. He is the type of receiver Shough should love, a boundary guy with strong hands and a big frame. Junior Loic Fouonji and junior TE Baylor Cupp are other players to watch out for in this Shough-led offense going forward.
Ole Miss Rebels
- Jaxson Dart, QB SO – Caleb Williams followed Lincoln Riley to USC, forcing out Dart and Lane Kiffin swooped in to grab the talented young QB. Is he going to unleash him? Dart has the talent but wasn’t asked to take over games as the running game was the focus, even when the Rebels were behind. Dart threw for 2.616 yards and 18 TDs but did have eight INTs. He rushed for 548 yards, and his mobility was a dangerous part of the offensive game plans. Dart has the tools, and I would like to see him pass more, a la Matt Corral at Ole Miss.
- Zach Evans, RB JR – Transferring from TCU, Evans was going to get the feature back role in a powerful SEC offense. With tons of tread left, he was going to be “the man”. Evans was good, but he was massively outproduced by the freshman, who is next on the list. He had 900 yards and eight scores but only caught eight passes. As a runner, he’s one of the best in this class, if he declares. But his qualms about limiting playing time and maturity issues may hold him back.
- Quinshon Judkins, RB FR – With one of the best, if not the best, seasons by a freshman running back, Judkins has arrived. He was the 1A in the two-headed rushing attack, carrying the ball 251 times for 1,476 yards and scoring 16 TDs. He also added 13 receptions and seems fluent in that role. Judkins impresses me, his vision is some of the best I have seen, and the fact that he is only a freshman – Ric Flair woooooo. Judkins is the real deal and has two more seasons to improve.
- Maybe the reason Dart didn’t throw more is the pass-catching options. Jonathan Mingo and Malik Heath, both seniors, are solid options, but each had drop issues yet still eclipsed 800 yards. The offense missed talented sophomore TE Michael Trigg, and he is still out due to injury. I hope they add receivers in the portal and address a huge need.