12/19/17: Akron Zips vs. FAU Owls
Two of the biggest names in football will square off with each other in the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl on Tuesday night. Terry Bowden, son of legendary Florida State head coach Bobby, and Lane Kiffin, son of defensive whiz Monte, hope to lead Akron and Florida Atlantic, respectively, to a bowl victory.
Kiffin directs one of the most prolific offenses in the country at FAU. Quarterback Jason Driskel, a starter a year ago who lost his job at the beginning of this season, returned to throw for 1,977 yards and 13 touchdowns. The catalyst of the offense though is sophomore Devin Singletary, the Conference USA MVP. Singletary rushed for 1,796 yards and a nation’s-best 29 touchdowns. FAU averages 39.8 points and 491.9 yards per game. The Akron defense will have its hands full.
The Zips have played pretty good defense throughout the season. Akron is tied for second in the country in interceptions with 19 and has scored four defensive touchdowns (7th nationally). Free safety Jordan George is eighth in the nation with five interceptions and he will be busy on Tuesday night. It was the defense that helped the Zips win their final two regular season games and advance to the MAC championship game.
The FAU defense is run by the elder Kiffin, the father of the ‘Tampa 2’ defense made popular when Kiffin was with Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay in the NFL. The Owls (10-3), champions of Conference USA, give up a few more points per game than Akron having played in a pass-happy conference. FAU’s defense was very stingy in its last two games giving up 12 to Charlotte and 17 to North Texas in the Conference USA championship game.
12/20/17: LA Tech Bulldogs vs. SMU Mustangs
SMU will welcome new head coach Sonny Dykes to the program after Chad Morris left to take the job at Arkansas. Dykes has had all of a week or so to prepare for Wednesday night’s DXL Frisco Bowl and will allow some of Morris’s former assistants take on a greater role in play-calling on both sides of the ball. Dykes is very familiar with the Mustangs’ opponent, Louisiana Tech. Dykes was the Bulldogs head coach from 2010 to 2012.
SMU (7-5) enters the game having lost three of its last four games. Two of those losses were to ranked opponents in Memphis and UCF. The Mustangs have one of the better offenses in the nation. SMU averages 40.2 points and 493.8 yards per game. The passing game is tough to stop led by quarterback Ben Hicks who has thrown for 3,442 yards and 32 touchdowns. The Mustangs are one of only two teams in the country with a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher, and two 1,000-yard receivers.
Running back Xavier Jones ran for 1,019 yards and receivers Trey Quinn (1,191) and Courtland Sutton (1,017) each topped the 1,000-yard mark. Both Quinn and Sutton had 12 touchdown receptions. Louisiana Tech’s defense will be challenged.
The Bulldogs (6-6) had to win their last two games against UTEP and UTSA to become bowl eligible. Head coach Skip Holtz’s defense gives up 26.7 points per game and is led by junior DE Jaylon Ferguson, who has six sacks this season and 26.5 for his career. Senior safety Secdrick Cooper (63 tackles, 2 INTs) will have to direct the Bulldogs secondary to its best performance of the season.
12/21/17: Temple Owls vs. FIU Panthers
Yes, there is a Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl and Temple will meet Florida International on Thursday night in St. Petersburgh, Fla., to claim the bowl’s first-ever winner. Veteran coach Butch Davis took over the FIU program and went 8-4 in Year 1. The Panthers’ offense exploded in the final two games of the season putting up a combined 104 points in wins over Western Kentucky and UMass. Temple, which is in its third straight bowl game for the first time in school history, became bowl eligible with a 43-22 win over Tulsa in the final regular season game.
The FIU offense is led by senior QB Alex McGough who has completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 2,791 yards and 17 touchdowns. He will be without his favorite target on Thursday night. Wide receiver Thomas Owens, the team’s best at the position, will miss the Gasparilla Bowl with a knee injury. Owens had 59 receptions for 887 yards in nine games this year. Senior WR Julian Williams, who missed the final seven games of the regular season, will be available.
McGough and the FIU offensive line will have to deal with Temple defensive ends Sharif Finch and Jacob Martin who between them have a total of 15.5 sacks. Finch has 14.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks while Martin leads the team with eight sacks. He also has 11 tackles for loss.
The Owls’ offense took a turn for the better when junior Frank Nutile took over at quarterback and started the final five games of the season. He has completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 1,346 yards and 11 touchdowns.
12/22/17: LA Lakers @ Golden State Warriors
The Lakers have the unenviable task of facing the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors not once, but twice in one week. They will meet in Oakland on Friday night after having squared off on Monday in Los Angeles. Prior to this week, the two teams had met just once back on Nov. 30 in L.A., a game won in overtime by the Warriors, 127-123.
The Lakers season thus far has been disappointing. Through 27 games, Los Angeles is 10-17 and won just twice in the Lakers last nine games. The team is filled with young stars including one Lonzo Ball who commands more attention for the antics of father, LaVar. Ball has had his moments but is still getting accustomed to the pro game.
Kyle Kuzma, another rookie, leads the Lakers in scoring averaging 16.3 points a game. Second-year pro Brandon Ingram is right behind with 16.2 points per game and Julius Randle, who is in his third year in the league, averages 12.4 points and 6.2 rebounds. For all of his hype, Ball does play a pretty good all-around game. In addition to his 9.1 points a game, the rookie averages 6.9 rebounds and a team-high 7.2 assists.
The Warriors (23-6), who are currently second in the Western Conference standings, have won eight straight heading into Monday and Friday games with the Lakers. Los Angeles will have its hands full with Steph Curry (26.3 ppg), Kevin Durant (26.1), and Klay Thompson (20.9). Golden State leads the NBA in scoring averaging 116.8 points per game. The Lakers defense – they allow 109.3 points a game, 26th in the league – is going to have to rise to the occasion.
12/23/17: Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers could not save his Packers from the Carolina Panthers last week. Rodgers returned from a broken collarbone to help Green Bay make a last-ditch playoff run, but it failed. The Packers lost to the Panthers last week 31-24 making Saturday’s matchup with Minnesota nothing more than an NFC North division battle at Lambeau Field.
The Vikings (11-3) have already won the division and they are still in the hunt for the NFC’s top seed in the postseason. It will be hard to obtain as Minnesota must finish the season with two wins and watch the Eagles lose their final two. The Vikings beat the Packers 23-10 earlier in the season. It was against the Vikings that Rodgers was hurt. Now, Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy has a decision to make. With the playoffs out of question, does he send Rodgers back to the bench or let him play?
Regardless, the Vikings are very good on defense. They are second in the NFL in points against allowing just 17.3 per game. Quarterback Case Keenum is having a brilliant season throwing for 3,219 yards and 20 touchdowns and wide receiver Adam Thielen (83 rec., 1,191 yds.) has blossomed into one of the NFL’s best. Minnesota has lost once in its last ten games, ironically, to the same Carolina Panthers by an identical 31-24 score.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater took nine snaps in last week’s 34-7 win over Cincinnati. Keenum was 20-for-23 for 236 yard and two touchdowns. The Vikings defense held the Bengals to just 161 total yards. Green Bay has had its share of difficulties running the football, something that will be needed to beat the Vikings in December at Lambeau.
12/24/17: Fresno State Bulldogs vs. Houston Cougars
It is one of the most impressive turnarounds in recent college football history. Fresno State, 1-11 a year ago, went 9-4 and played for the Mountain West Conference title. The Bulldogs now get to play in the Hawaii Bowl against Houston on Christmas Eve. The Bulldogs turnaround has a lot to do with its defense which gives up just 17.2 points per game (ninth in the nation). Head coach Jeff Tedford is known for his offenses, but the Bulldogs chances for a bowl win lay with the defense.
The Bulldogs will have to slow down a Houston offense that is not as prolific as it has been in year’s past. The Cougars average 28.4 points per game and 436.1 yards of total offense. In the Cougars last two games of the season, the offense scored just 17 in a loss to Tulane and 24 in a win over Navy. The reins of the offense have been given over to D’Eriq King who has thrown for 991 yards and rushed for another 341 since taking over the job from Kyle Postma. King has an impressive pair of receivers in Steven Dunbar (66-873) and Linell Bonner (73-850).
The big difference just might be ball control. Houston is 106th in the country in time of possession. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, are much more methodical on offense and control the ball for over 31 minutes per game. Tedford and Fresno State has also already made a trip to Hawaii this season. In early November, the Bulldogs beat Hawaii 31-21 behind quarterback Marcus McMaryion’s four touchdown passes.
12/25/17: Oakland Raiders @ Philadelphia Eagles
Christmas night in Philadelphia brings with it an opportunity to move closer to home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs when the Eagles welcome Oakland (6-8) to town. The Raiders, though not mathematically eliminated from the postseason, all but blew their playoff hopes with a loss to Dallas last week. Oakland has now dropped two straight as the offense failed to put up more than 17 points.
The Eagles, now 11-2, played their first game without QB Carson Wentz last week and backup Nick Foles didn’t disappoint. The veteran hit 24-of-38 passes for 237 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-29 win over the New York Giants. While the Eagles offense didn’t miss many beats, the Philadelphia defense may be an area of concern as the postseason nears. The normally stout Eagles defense has given up 64 points in its last two games. The Giants gained 505 yards of total offense against Philadelphia.
Oakland has plenty of offensive weapons but hasn’t been able to put them all together at the same time. The Raiders running game averages a paltry 93.7 yards a game (25th in the NFL) and the offense scores just 20.1 points per game. Wide receiver Amari Cooper has had his share of injuries and he will miss Saturday’s game in Philadelphia. Quarterback Derek Carr has 3,113 yards passing and 20 touchdowns but his season doesn’t compare to last year. An Oakland win keeps the Raiders mathematically alive for the postseason albeit just barely. The Eagles have locked in a first-round bye and can finish no lower than the NFC’s No. 2 seed regardless of Saturday’s outcome.