Armed Forces Bowl
Rice (6-6) vs. Air Force (6-6), 11:45 a.m. (ESPN)
Line: Air Force by 3
Series Record: Air Force leads 5-1
What’s at stake: Both teams are trying to finish with a winning record. Rice is going for its fifth victory in a row to end its 101st football season. This is only the Owls’ third bowl game in 51 years. Air Force is playing in its school-record sixth consecutive bowl game, and fourth Armed Forces Bowl (1-2) in that span.
Key matchup: The Rice defense against Air Force offense, which is second nationally with 329 yards rushing per game. So how much do the Falcons run the ball? They have only 17 pass attempts in their last three games, including none in one of those games. Rice is 91st nationally in rushing defense, allowing 193 yards per game. The Owls gave up at least 333 yards rushing in three of the first four games, but no more than 148 the last four games and held Tulane to 0 yards on the ground.
Players to watch: Rice K Chris Boswell has an NCAA-leading six field goals of at least 50 yards, and 11 in his career are most among active kickers. Boswell tied an NCAA record with three 50-yard kicks in the regular-season finale. His 19 field goals overall are a single-season Rice record.
Air Force QB Connor Dietz graduated from the academy earlier this month and will play as a commissioned officer (second lieutenant). He has completed 67 of 108 passes for 1,127 yards and eight touchdowns, and has rushed for 658 yards with five touchdowns in his only season as the starter.
West Virginia (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5), 3:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Line: West Virginia 3˝
Series Record: Syracuse 32-27.
What’s at stake: The Mountaineers are trying to wrap up a season that started great (5-0), went sour (five-game losing streak), then ended on the upswing (two straight victories) with their first bowl victory as a member of the Big 12. It will come, oddly, against a member of their old conference. At least for now. The Orange began their last season in the Big East 1-3 before closing strong and sharing the conference title. It’s off to the Atlantic Coast Conference for Syracuse next year.
Key matchup: QB Geno Smith and WRs Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin and against Syracuse’s pass defense and veteran secondary. The Orange rank 63rd in the nation in sacks and 65th in yards passing allowed. Not terrible, but this will be as tough a test as All-Big East S Shamarko Thomas and the Orange defensive backs have faced this season. Snow is expected in the New York area on Saturday, so maybe that will slow down the prolific Mountaineers. On the other side of the ball, West Virginia’s defense ranks 123rd in the nation against the pass so clearly it could use any help it can get.
Players to watch: West Virginia’s Austin is one of the most dynamic and versatile players in the country. An All-American all-purpose player, Austin does most of his damage as a receiver. He had 1,259 yards through the air, 598 rushing and a little more than 900 on returns.
Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib. Like his West Virginia counterpart, Smith, Nassib is NFL-quality. The senior passed for 3,619 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Fight Hunger Bowl
Arizona State (7-5) vs. Navy (8-4), 4 p.m. (ESPN2)
Line: Arizona State by 14˝
Series Record: First meeting
What’s at stake: Arizona State is looking to finish off the first season under coach Todd Graham on a high note by snapping a three-game bowl losing streak and winning a postseason game for the first time since 2005. Navy did not make it to a bowl last year and has won only one bowl game since 2005.
Key matchup: Arizona State run defense vs. Navy triple option. The unorthodox offensive attack for the Midshipmen should test the Sun Devils’ defense which ranked 75th against the run this season. Navy is sixth in the nation with 275.6 yards rushing per game and has three players with more than 600 yards rushing this season. ASU LB Brandon Magee figures to be busy against the run-oriented attack. He had 104 tackles this season, becoming the first Sun Devil to top 100 since Robert James in 2007.
Players to watch: Arizona State DT Will Sutton. The All-American had an impressive regular season with 20 tackles for loss, 10˝ sacks and 58 total tackles. He ranked fifth nationally in tackles for loss per game and 13th in sacks per game.
Navy QB Keenan Reynolds. Reynolds took over midway through his freshman season and became the first Navy QB to win his first four starts since Bob Powers won six straight in 1979. Reynolds is 6-1 as a starter, completing 58 percent of his passes with eight TDs and only one INT. He also has rushed for 628 yards and 10 scores.
Texas (8-4) vs. No. 15 Oregon State (9-3), 6:45 p.m. (ESPN)
Line: Oregon State by 3˝
Series Record: Texas leads 2-0
What’s at stake: The Longhorns are trying to win their 10th bowl game under Mack Brown, who comes in with a 9-4 record in the postseason. A loss to Alabama in the 2009 BCS championship game snapped a five-game bowl winning streak for Texas, which missed the postseason in 2010 and beat Cal in the Holiday Bowl last year. The Beavers are in their first bowl game since 2009, when a five-game postseason winning streak was snapped with a loss to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Key matchup: Texas WR Mike Davis vs. Oregon State CB Jordan Poyer. Davis has 909 yards and could become just the sixth Texas player to have a 1,000-yard receiving season. Poyer, an All-American, is tied for second nationally with seven interceptions. The Beavers are tied for sixth nationally with 19 interceptions.
Players to watch: Texas QB David Ash is the starter again after getting pulled in a loss to TCU and remaining on the bench in the regular-season finale at Kansas State. Texas officials originally said Ash injured his ribs against TCU, but Brown revealed this week he was actually hurt the previous game against Iowa State. Case McCoy started against Kansas State.
Oregon State: QB Cody Vaz was chosen to start over Sean Mannion as the Beavers wrapped up practice in Oregon and headed for Texas. Mannion started the first four games before sustaining a left knee injury that required surgery. Vaz became the starter but sprained his left ankle against Stanford, so Mannion started the last three games of the regular season. Vaz has 11 touchdowns and just one interception, and Oregon State ranks 15th nationally in passing offense.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
TCU (7-5) vs. Michigan St. (6-6), 10:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Line: TCU by 2˝.
Series Record: Michigan State leads 1-0.
What’s at stake: Both teams are trying to build momentum for next season after limping down the stretch in 2012. TCU opened with four straight wins in its first season in the Big 12 before losing four of six while the Spartans had a similar finish after opening 4-2.
Key matchup: TCU’s defense against Michigan State RB Le’Veon Bell. The Horned Frogs had the nation’s 10th-best rushing defense during the regular season, allowing 103.92 yards per game, but haven’t seen many backs like Bell. The junior was third nationally with 147.3 yards per game and had 1,648 yards, second-most in Michigan State history.
Players to watch: TCU QB Trevone Boykin. TCU appeared to be in trouble when starter Casey Pachall was suspended after being arrested on drunken driving charges and later left the program. Boykin, a redshirt freshman, threw three interceptions in his first game, but bounced back with four TD passes the next week against Baylor. He threw for over 1,800 with 15 TDs.
Michigan St. DE William Gholston. The Spartans were fifth nationally in points allowed at 16.3 per game and Gholston was a big part of their success. Though he’s been criticized for being a borderline dirty player, the 6-foot-7, 278-pound junior is a disruptive force that the Horned Frogs will need to be aware of on every snap.