Three pre-New Year's Day bowl games that you need to watch
By DAVID ROBERTS
College Contributor Network
So there you are, sitting in your La-Z-Boy while the last days of 2014 dwindle down. You think to yourself: "I wish I didn't have to wait until New Year's Day to watch some good football."
You're tired of these teams you've never heard of. You've never seen Bowling Green play, and you don't plan on changing that anytime soon, even if the Falcons (yes, that's the Bowling Green -- that team you've never seen play -- mascot) are playing South Alabama in the only game on that night. You'd rather go to a PTA meeting than watch that game -- and you don't even have a kid.
Luckily, there are a few proverbial diamonds in the rough to be found on the 2014 side of bowl season. Here they are:
Dec. 27, 2014 –- Hyundai Sun Bowl
No. 15 Arizona State (9-3) vs. Duke (9-3)
Numbers to know:
4-2 –- Arizona State's record against ranked teams this season
-13 –- Duke's turnover margin (Arizona State's: +25)
OK, this one possesses enough hype on its own, but I'll talk about it a little bit just in case you're Phyllis from Alabama and don't waste your time watching anything that isn't Roll Tide football. It's possible that this game has the most blasphemous mascot matchup of any bowl game this season with the Blue Devils taking on the Sun Devils.
Anyway, both of these teams lost steam toward the end of the season when Arizona State and Duke each lost two of its last three games. If we could rewind back to Nov. 8, the Blue Devils were sitting at 8-1 atop the Coastal division of the ACC and the Sun Devils had just mutilated No. 10 Notre Dame and were also 8-1. In fact, Arizona State came just one score from playing Oregon for a Pac-12 Championship.
If you tune in, you'll likely see two quarterbacks for Arizona State: Taylor Kelly and Mike Bercovici, the latter of whom being arguably the frattiest quarterback in the Pac-12. Bercovici has relieved Kelly at times this season, including in the team's clash against Arizona in the final regular season game. Kelly has passed for 1,874 yards on 244 pass attempts, but Bercovici has logged 1,445 yards on just 186 pass attempts.
Despite the instability at the quarterback position, the Sun Devils rank 28th in the nation in passing offense and average 276.3 yards through the air each game. The team has also accumulated 32 passing touchdowns this season, which makes for an interesting matchup with Duke's defense, a top-20 defense in terms of scoring defense. The Blue Devils surrender an average of 20 points per game, but Arizona State has scored less than 20 points just one time this season -- a 19-16 overtime victory over then-No. 17 Utah.
Dec. 29, 2014 -– Autozone Liberty Bowl
Texas A&M (7-5) vs. West Virginia (7-5)
Numbers to know:
1-4 -– West Virginia's record against ranked teams this season
9 -– West Virginia is No. 9 in the nation in passing offense
12 -– Texas A&M is No. 12 in the nation in passing offense
Boy, we were fooled. A 52-28 throttling of then-No. 9 South Carolina in the season opener catapulted Texas A&M into national relevance and brought sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill a previously unknown level of fame. The Aggies' run at an SEC title lasted about a month, which is just about how long Hill's career lasted, too. After winning their first five games, the Aggies dropped five of their final seven matchups, landing them in a bowl game against the Mountaineers.
You could make the argument that this year's installment of the Autozone Liberty Bowl is a battle of two teams with extremely unfortunate schedules. Between the Aggies and Mountaineers, the two teams have faced 10 ranked teams this season. West Virginia has played four teams that have been ranked in the top five at least once this season, and Texas A&M had the misfortune of playing in the toughest division in college football. Of the seven teams in the SEC West, five are ranked in the top 25 and all seven are playing in bowl games.
For freshman quarterback Kyle Allen, this game is essentially an audition to keep his spot at quarterback for next season. The Aggies are 2-2 under the leadership of Allen, who took over midseason after Hill was suspended for violating team rules. Allen owns a trademark 41-38 victory at then-No. 3 Auburn, but will need a strong showing against West Virginia in order to gain a leg up on the competition that he will face in the spring. Texas A&M will bring in the top-ranked quarterback in the nation next season in Kyler Murray, who will likely compete with Hill and Allen for QB-1.
However, it wasn't too long ago that West Virginia showed up in a big way, obliterating Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl back in 2012. Save for last year, the Mountaineers have played in a bowl game every season dating back to 2002. West Virginia has gone by the pace set by senior quarterback Clint Trickett this season. However, Trickett has only one touchdown pass in his last three games, all of which the Mountaineers have lost, consequently.
In the games where Trickett has passed for 300 or more yards this season, West Virginia is 5-2. When he has has failed to reach that benchmark, the team is 1-3. Trickett's recent struggles have not hindered West Virginia's production too much it seems, as the Mountaineers are still inside the top 10 in passing offense, averaging 314 yards through the air this season, six more than Oregon's season average.
Dec. 23, 2014 -– Boca Raton Bowl
Marshall (12-1) vs. Northern Illinois (11-2)
Numbers to know:
77 –- Marshall's total touchdowns this season, third-highest in the nation
7,324 –- Marshall's total yards this season, the most of any team
More offense? Yes, more offense -- and lots of it, too. This is bowl season, and people want to see the scoreboard lit up brighter than Rockefeller Plaza. Repeat this political mantra after me: "Give the people what they want." How about a team with the second-best total offense against the team with the 13th-best rushing offense? Works for me.
Marshall nearly had a case to play in the newly implemented College Football Playoff. It's not likely that they would have gotten in, especially with both Baylor and TCU getting shot down, but if the Thundering Herd had not lost to Western Kentucky 67-66 in their second-to-last regular season game, they would have had a legitimate gripe.
Think of it this way, Marshall is the present-day Boise State. You could say that Boise State's annual exclusion from the BCS is one of the primary reasons why we have this playoff system now. So, wouldn't it make sense to invite a Boise State-esque team? We'll shelve that question for when a non-Power Five school runs the table, however.
Nobody racks up as many yards as Marshall does, as the Thundering Herd piled on 7,324 this year, which was the most efficient offense in terms of total yards. Many of those yards came by way of senior quarterback Rakeem Cato, who needs 378 yards against Northern Illinois to collect 4.000 yards passing on the season. He passed for 4,201 in 2012, and fell 84 yards short of the plateau last season.
The Huskies are finding life after Jordan Lynch somewhat manageable. The AP All-American who broke four NCAA records during his stint at Northern Illinois has moved on, but the Huskies have gone 11-2 in his absence, relying heavily on their rushing attack. Senior running back Cameron Stingily and sophomore running back Drew Hare have each rushed for over 800 yards this season, combining for 1,745 yards on the ground and 21 touchdowns. Northern Illinois is 13th in the nation in rushing offense, which is seven slots behind Marshall, which sits at No. 6 in the nation.
David Roberts is a fourth-year English major at the University of South Carolina. He was born in the San Francisco Bay Area, but relocated to the land below the Mason-Dixon line in grade school, citing earthquakes and Raiders fans as minor nuisances. David is a die-hard Cubs fan and still breaks down when thinking about the 2003 NLCS. Follow him on Twitter: @davidjayroberts