Utah State Aggies quarterback Levi Williams knows his way around the Potato Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Weekend bowl games: Preview, picks and predictions

There are few experiences that approach the anxious energy of eagerly awaiting the final leg to hit on a plus-money, three-team parlay, especially when the final leg is a double-digit favorite teased to the moneyline.

The only hurdles to clear before enjoying the view of that final leg are the first two legs.

College bowl season is loaded with value opportunities. Given the impact of the transfer portal, many of those develop just days before kickoff.

We are focused on three bowl games this week, playing them together for a nice potential holiday bonus.

FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL

Utah State Aggies vs. Georgia State Panthers

Date, time: Saturday, Dec. 23, 3:30 p.m. ET
Site: Albertsons Stadium, Boise, Idaho
The line: Utah State -2.5, total 59.5

Utah State is a middling college football team as its 6-6 record (4-4 in the Mountain West Conference) would indicate. But the Aggies aren’t going to be adversely affected by the transfer portal.

Georgia State (6-6, 3-5 in the Sun Belt Conference) is less than a middling team – as its five-game losing streak would indicate. And the Panthers can’t get a break.

The transfer portal consumed a good chunk of the offense, which relied heavily on its ground-game success. Top rusher Marcus Carroll, right tackle Montavious Cunningham and top receiver Robert Lewis won’t play. And the defense lost starting cornerback Bryquice Brown.

Utah State has the familiarity card to play, as well. Coach Blake Anderson is 5-1 when facing Georgia State, and starting quarterback Levi Williams was a standout in the 2021 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl when playing for Wyoming.

Williams ran for more than 200 yards and four TDs and passed for another in that 52-38 win against Kent State.

Top target Jalen Royals led the FBS with seven touchdown receptions of 50+ yards.

The Aggies defense is anchored by graduate senior linebacker MJ Tafisi Jr., whose 131 tackles (10.9 per game) rank No. 8 in the country.

LAS VEGAS BOWL

Northwestern Wildcats vs. Utah Utes

Date, time: Saturday, Dec. 23, 7:30 p.m. ET
Site: Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas
The line: Utah -6.5, total 41.5

These teams appear headed in opposite directions, with Northwestern rallying in the wake of a coaching change and Utah cursing the football gods.

The Utes (5-4, 8-4 Pac-12) dropped three of their final five games and are the more affected of the teams with regard to the transfer portal.

The Wildcats (5-4, 7-5 Big Ten) capped their season with victories at Wisconsin, at home against Purdue and at Illinois.

This matchup has all the potential to be messy – and likely within two touchdowns.

Bryson Barnes, who threw for 1,517 yards on 134 completions, 12 touchdown passes and nine interceptions, would need to play a virtually flawless game to ignite a blowout. His ESPN QB rating was 123.6.

Northwestern’s Ben Bryant completed 150 throws for 1,585 yards and had 11 touchdown passes and six interceptions with a rating (per ESPN) of 126.5.

With comparable QBs and modest offenses, look for a relatively tight game.

HAWAI’I BOWL

San Jose State Spartans vs. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

Date, time: Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET
Site: Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex, Honolulu
The line: San Jose -10.5, total 52.5

Both teams finished the regular season 7-5, but the Spartans closed with a rush following a 1-5 start and tied for first in the Mountain West Conference.

The Chanticleers and long-time (40 starts) quarterback Grayson McCall were 7-3 before McCall was hurt and they dropped their final two games.

McCall won’t play Saturday, either, having entered the transfer portal.

Coastal Carolina must fly 5,000 miles for this “neutral site” matchup against San Jose State, which has played – and won – in Hawai’i three times in the past four years.

San Jose State opened as a 7.5-point favorite and has seen plenty of public support in the days since.

Spartans quarterback Chevan Cordeiro probably feels this is somewhat of a home game, having played there in high school and at the University of Hawai’i.

Running back Kairee Robinson should be able to find plenty of room to run against the Chanticleers’ shaky rush defense.

Cordeiro threw 19 touchdown passes and only four interceptions while Robinson scored 18 TDs to anchor a ground game that exceeded 200 yards in five of San Jose State’s final six games this season.

Robinson rolled up 200 yards by himself in a Nov. 11 victory over Fresno State.

Barring a big turnover disparity, this one falls into the late-night comfort zone – just win the game outright, Spartans!

The bet, with a +150 payout (DraftKings): Three-team teaser parlay Utah State +3.5, Northwestern +12, San Jose State moneyline of -380.

–Field Level Media

Aug 26, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; San Jose State Spartans quarterback Chevan Cordeiro (2) drops back to pass against the Southern California Trojans during the first half at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

San Jose State cruising, Coastal Carolina losing in build-up to Hawaii Bowl

The first half of the 2023 season couldn’t have gone much worse for San Jose State.

The Spartans coasted through the second half and have a chance to slap a shiny ribbon on the season in the Hawaii Bowl on Saturday night against Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers are trying to avoid seeing a bad December, due to the transfer of record-smashing quarterback Grayson McCall, get even worse.

San Jose State charged to a second-place finish in the Mountain West with six straight wins, but tiebreakers left them out of the conference championship game with a bowl eligibility consolation prize. As an added bonus, the game is a homecoming for quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, who grew up in Honolulu.

“It’s everything I could ask for,” he said. “To play in front of my family and hometown for the last game in a Spartan uniform — best thing I could ask for.”

Cordeiro’s play has been about the best thing San Jose State (7-5) could ask for as he’s completed 62.7 percent of his 332 passes for 2,558 yards with 19 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He also gained 213 yards and three scores on the ground.

Cordeiro was efficient and good in the team’s 37-31 win at UNLV on Nov. 25, hitting 19 of 26 attempts for 249 yards and a pair of touchdowns. When the Rebels drew within 20-17 in the third quarter, Cordeiro threw a touchdown pass that started a run of 17 straight points that enabled the Spartans to seal the outcome.

Cordeiro won’t have a couple of key teammates around for the bowl game. Left tackle Fernando Carmona and tight end Dominick Mazotti entered the transfer portal earlier this month. Carmona is likely headed for a Power 5 school with the likes of Ole Miss, Arkansas, South Carolina and Auburn already offering him.

Leading receiver Nick Nash (47 catches, 704 yards, 8 TDs) said he would stay with the Spartans.

“They’ve stuck with me through hard times,” he said. “This is where I want to finish out my career in college and hopefully move on to the next level.”

Coastal Carolina (7-5) won’t have its face of the program around, but that’s a reality the Chanticleers braced for the past two months. McCall, instrumental in the program’s rise to a top 25 ranking and unbeaten regular season in 2020, has transferred to N.C. State. He missed the final six weeks of the season recovering from a head injury.

First-year coach Tim Beck, N.C. State’s offensive coordinator prior to taking the Coastal job, said that Ethan Vasko would start in the bowl game. Beck said he talked to the Wolfpack’s coaching staff about McCall.

“At the end of the day, I want to help all our guys,” Beck said. “My door’s always open.”

McCall completed better than 67 percent of his passes for 1,919 yards with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions but suffered a serious concussion on Oct. 21 against Arkansas State and missed the last five games. Vasko hit on 56 of 89 attempts for 580 yards in seven games while rushing for 318 yards, second on the team.

His top target will be wide receiver Sam Pinckney, who finished the year with 64 receptions, 904 yards and seven touchdowns. Pinckney owns the NCAA record with 57 straight games with at least one catch.

This will be the first matchup between the Chanticleers and Spartans.

–Field Level Media

Nov 26, 2022; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego State Aztecs wide receiver Brionne Penny (11) runs with the ball as Air Force Falcons linebacker Alec Mock (40) prepares to punch the ball during the second half at Snapdragon Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

San Diego St., Middle Tenn. to battle in Hawaii Bowl

San Diego State and Middle Tennessee will meet in the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24, the bowl game announced Monday.

The Aztecs (7-5) of the Mountain West are in a bowl game for the 12th time in 13 seasons, with the shortened 2020 COVID-19 season marking the lone miss.

“I’m excited that we get a chance to play one more time for our seniors,” San Diego State head coach Brady Hoke said in a news release. “I’m proud of the way our team has fought through adversity this year and to make another bowl game is a testament to their dedication and hard work. We’re looking forward to a playing a tough Middle Tennessee team and to spend a week in Hawaii.”

Middle Tennessee (7-5) of Conference USA has won its past three games. The Blue Raiders are in a bowl for the sixth time in the past eight seasons.

“I am extremely happy and proud for our team and especially our seniors that they can experience a bowl as prestigious at the Hawaii Bowl,” Blue Raiders coach Rick Stocksill said in a news release. “This will be an incredible experience for them, and they are very deserving considering all the adversity and accomplishments they have fought through and achieved this year. We are very excited for this opportunity and we can’t wait to get there and experience the Hawaiian culture.”

San Diego State and Middle Tennessee have never met.

This is the second bowl matchup to be officially announced. Miami (Ohio) and UAB will meet in the Bahamas Bowl on Dec. 16.

–Field Level Media

Nov 27, 2021; Laramie, Wyoming, USA; Hawaii Rainbow Warriors running back Calvin Turner Jr. (7) runs against the Wyoming Cowboys during the fourth quarter at Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Hawaii Bowl canceled after Hawaii withdraws

A lack of available players led Hawaii to withdraw Thursday from the Hawaii Bowl, which was to be played Friday in Honolulu.

Memphis had been due to oppose the Rainbow Warriors, but the game is now canceled.

Hawaii was left short-handed due to COVID-19 protocols as well as players who were unavailable due to injuries or transfers.

Rainbow Warriors coach Todd Graham said in a statement, “We are disappointed our season has to end this way. As competitive as we are and as much as we want to play the game, we cannot put the health and safety of our student-athletes at risk.”

Hawaii athletic director David Matlin added in a statement, “The health and safety of our student-athletes is the most important part of this decision. The recent surge in COVID-19 cases has forced us to not participate in the game.

“We are disappointed for our players, coaches, and fans. ESPN and the EasyPost Hawaii Bowl staff did everything they could for us and we appreciate their valiant effort throughout the week. We want to thank the Memphis Tigers for making the long trip to Hawaii. We are disappointed we can’t compete on the football field.”

The Rainbow Warriors became the second team this week to be forced out of a bowl game due at least in part to COVID-19 issues. Texas A&M bowed out of the Gator Bowl, with Rutgers replacing the Aggies for the matchup with Wake Forest on Dec. 31.

Hawaii ends the year with a 6-7 mark while Memphis winds up 6-6.

–Field Level Media

Aug 28, 2021; Pasadena, California, USA; Hawaii Rainbow Warriors  quarterback Brayden Schager (13) drops back to pass in the fourth quarter against the UCLA Bruinsat Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Texas QBs reconnect at Hawaii Bowl

A pair of true freshman quarterbacks from Texas square off when Memphis meets Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl on Friday night in Honolulu.

It is the first-ever meeting between the Tigers (6-6) and Rainbow Warriors (6-7), but it’s the second meeting this calendar year between signal-callers Seth Henigan of Memphis and Brayden Schager of Hawaii.

On Jan. 1, 2021, Henigan directed Denton Ryan High School to a 17-7 win against Schager’s Highland Park squad in the Texas Class 5A playoffs and went on to win a state championship.

“I think it’s really cool,” Henigan said via Zoom. “Two true freshman quarterbacks from Texas just putting on for the state. That would be really exciting for both of us.”

Henigan broke the Memphis freshman record with 3,322 passing yards and is 13th in the nation in total offense with 315.4 yards per game. He has thrown 25 touchdown passes and eight interceptions but will be without top receiver Calvin Austin III (74 catches for 1,149 yards and eight TDs). Austin opted out to prepare for the NFL draft.

Schager has played in six games (three starts) this season, completing 60.7 percent of his passes for 615 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions. He gets the nod Friday because Hawaii’s leading passer, Chevan Cordeiro (2,793 yards, 17 touchdowns), announced he was entering the transfer portal on Dec. 1.

“It’s his football team now,” Hawaii coach Todd Graham said. “I think he’s excited about that … and I’m excited for him. This is his opportunity that he’s been waiting for and what he came here to do.”

Memphis finished 3-5 in the American Athletic Conference, gaining bowl eligibility with a 33-28 win against Tulane in its Nov. 27 regular season finale. Three of its losses were by three or fewer points.

The Tigers are playing in their eighth straight bowl game and 15th overall (5-9 record). It’s their first appearance in the Hawaii Bowl.

Second-year Memphis head coach Ryan Silverfield was an offensive analyst on Graham’s coaching staff at Arizona State during the 2015 season.

Tigers defensive backs coach Charles Clark was named the interim defensive coordinator earlier this month after Mike MacIntyre left to become the Florida International head coach.

Hawaii finished 3-5 in the Mountain West Conference, achieving bowl eligibility the same day as Memphis with a 38-14 win at Wyoming. Five of its losses were by 14 or more points.

The Warriors are also appearing in their 15th bowl game (8-6 record). It’s their 10th time in the Hawaii Bowl (5-4 record).

–Field Level Media

Dec 24, 2019; Honolulu, Hawaii, USA; The Hawaii Warriors hoist the winning trophy at the end of the Hawaii Bowl at Aloha Stadium. The Hawaii Warriors defeated the Brigham Young Cougars 38-34. Mandatory Credit: Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN cancels Hawaii and Bahamas bowls

There will be no bowl games outside of the continental United States in 2020.

On Friday, ESPN Events announced it was canceling both the Hawaii Bowl and the Bahamas Bowl. ESPN, which owns and operates the two bowls along with 15 others, cited the coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions as the reasons behind the decision.

“We are disappointed that we aren’t able to stage events at these premier destinations this year,” said Pete Derzis, ESPN senior VP of college sports programming and ESPN Events. “We are committed to bringing both games back in 2021.”

The two bowl games are usually played in December. The RedBox Bowl, in the San Francisco Bay Area, had previously announced it would not be played this season as well, which leaves the number of postseason major college football games still planned at 39.

Nonconference college basketball tournaments traditionally held in Hawaii and the Bahamas have also been canceled this season.

The 2020 Bahamas Bowl was to be a matchup between teams from Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference. The 2020 Hawaii Bowl would have featured teams from the Mountain West and either Conference USA or the American Athletic Conference.

The Hawaii Bowl, in Honolulu has been played since 2002. The Bahamas Bowl, in Nassau, has operated since 2014.

–Field Level Media