It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Once again (and hopefully fully this time), we are going to preview each and every bowl game team by team, conference by conference. This year, there are 41 bowl games and the CFP National Championship on deck. There are 11 brand-new matchups with three programs making their bowl debuts. No bowl-eligible teams were left home. In fact, two technically ineligible FCS-to-FBS teams and a 5-7 team made it! When breaking the teams down, we will look at what certain players did.
The bowl opt-outs and transfers are too hectic to keep track of so we certainly apologize!
2023 MAC Bowls Preview
Myrtle Beach Bowl (December 16, 11:00 A.M., ESPN)
Ohio vs Georgia Southern
Bowl Record: 6-8
Despite lighting the world on fire on offense last year, Ohio took a step back in that category. The Bobcats finished a respectable 9-3 with a win over Iowa State, but dropped games to a beatable NIU squad and that Miami (OH) team. It would do Georgia Southern well to not overlook this MAC squad.
Nathan Rourke and this Ohio offense faltered this year. Rourke accounted for 2,207 yards and 11 touchdowns this year, a far cry from his 3,257 yards and 25 scores a year ago. Prior to the game, he elected to jump into the Portal. However, they have a two-headed rushing attack in Sieh Bangura (811 yards, seven touchdowns) and O’Shaan Allison (452 yards, three touchdowns) that is worth mentioning. Or, it would be if they both weren’t currently in the Transfer Portal.
The key to this team is its defense. Ohio, believe it or not, is top five in the nation in scoring and yards, hanging with the elites like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Georgia. They have four players with at least 10 TFLs led by senior linebacker, Bryce Houston. Houston tallied 119 tackles, 12.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks, three interceptions, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. It’s his second season with 100+ tackles.
Georgia Southern has been gashed through the air this year. Look for Ohio to take advantage and kick off the 2023-24 bowl slate with a win for the MAC.
Cure Bowl (December 16, 3:30 P.M., ABC)
Miami (OH) vs Appalachian State
Bowl Record: 6-6
The MAC Champion for the first time since 2019, Miami had themselves a great season. At 11-3, the Redhawks only lost to Toledo (and later avenged) and to Miami (FL) in The Confusion Bowl (yes, it’s a thing). They beat rival Cincinnati for the first time since 2005 and it’s now officially tied up, 60-60-7.
The offense was commanded by Brett Gabbert who had 1,634 yards and 14 touchdowns through eight games before getting knocked out against Toledo. Aveon Smith is not quite to the same level but he can still play. The Redhawks will be without both as Gabbert will still be hurt and Smith is on his way to the Portal. Overall, the offense runs through Rashad Amos and his 821 yards and 10 touchdowns.
As with Ohio, the defense is the strength of this team. They finished the year allowing 16.2 points per game, seventh in FBS. They have a pair of defenders with over 100 tackles in Matthew Salopek (MAC Defensive Player of the Year) and Ty Wise.
This is going to be an interesting battle. The champions of the MAC vs the Sun Belt runner-up. Defense vs offense. Miami will keep it close and interesting but Appalachian State should end up on top.
Camellia Bowl (December 23, 12:00 P.M., ESPN)
Northern Illinois vs Arkansas State
Head-to-head: Northern Illinois 7-1 Arkansas State
Bowl Record: 4-10
After an impressive win over Boston College to kick off the year, NIU struggled by dropping four in a row. After three consecutive wins in MAC play which include a pair of bowl-bound teams, the Huskies dropped back-to-back to non-bowl teams. They saved the season with a pair of wins to earn bowl eligibility for just the second time in the Thomas Hammock era.
The Huskies boast a legitimate running back in Antario Brown. With 1,164 yards and 10 touchdowns, Brown is second and third in the MAC, respectively. He has big-play ability and showed it in his 280-yard, four-touchdown performance against Akron. He only had 13 carries.
The Huskies have a solid secondary while allowing just 164.6 yards per game. Three members of the secondary hauled in at least two interceptions each. Oddly enough, NIU allowed more than 182 yards just twice.
Arkansas State has a baller of a freshman quarterback in Jaylen Raynor. At the time of writing, there are no Portal rumblings, so if he plays, Arkansas State will have a fighting chance. Roll with the Red Wolves.
68 Ventures Bowl (December 23, 7:00 P.M., ESPN)
Eastern Michigan vs South Alabama
Bowl Record: 2-4
At the gun in the final week of the season, Eastern Michigan earned bowl eligibility in wins over Akron and Buffalo. They beat who they needed to but did not earn a single win over a bowl-bound team. Well, it doesn’t matter who you beat, just that you got the win. Eastern is going bowling for the sixth time in the last eight years.
Overall, this is not an offense that will blow the doors off a defense. On the year, they only scored 20.3 points per game and managed 272.2 yards per game. It’s a rarity in today’s college football world but EMU had three different players with over 100 rushing attempts on the year with Samson Evans, Jaylon Jackson, and (quarterback) Austin Smith (in the Portal) leading the way.
Defensively, it’s not great. EMU was routinely gashed on the ground, allowing at least 100 yards on the ground in every game except for one. They have one of the worst run defenses in the country, allowing 177.7 yards per game.
That weakness on the ground will prove to be too much in this one. South Alabama has a solid rushing attack and should be able to get the win here.
Quick Lane Bowl (December 26, 2:00 P.M., ESPN)
Bowling Green vs Minnesota
Head-to-head: Bowling Green 2-2 Minnesota
Bowl Record: 5-8
For the first time since 2015, the Bowling Green Falcons finished with a true winning record. It’s been a long time coming but Bowling Green put together a solid team this year and is a program on the up and up. The Falcons started off the year by giving this year’s G5 surprise Liberty a run for its money in a 34-24 loss. After taking down an FCS foe, Bowling Green held its own against Michigan and Ohio. They then went down to Georgia Tech and flew the flag in a 38-27 win. Overall, BG beat the bad teams in the MAC and lost to the three best. Nothing to be ashamed about.
The strength of this team is its defense. They finished the year averaging 2.3 turnovers per game (most in FBS) and 33 sacks (most in the MAC). Cashius Howell (9.5 sacks) and Darren Anders (4.5 sacks) lead the way tied with 10.5 TFLs. On the back end, Jalen Huskey (Portal) and Jordan Oladokun each hauled in four interceptions.
This offense goes through its two top running backs. Terion Stewart (762 yards and eight touchdowns) is a constant home run threat while Ta’ron Keith is the change-of-pace. In addition to his 390 yards and four scores on the ground (second on the team), he leads the way with 44 receptions and is second on the team with 457 yards and three touchdowns. Keith has a whopping 7.7 yards per touch.
This is going to be a sloppy one. BG has lost a few defenders to the portal but, overall, they should be able to get the win. The tradition of MAC-over-B1G will continue with this one.
Arizona Bowl (December 30, 4:30 P.M., The CW)
Toledo vs Wyoming
Head-to-head: Toledo 1-1 Wyoming
Bowl Record: 11-9
The two-time defending kings of the MAC West are back for more. They were very nearly undefeated on the year with the only blemish in a last-second letdown at Illinois in Week 1 and then the loss in the MAC Championship. They passed every test in the MAC during the regular season and took down a very good San Jose State team along the way. The Rockets had a case for the G5’s NY6 bid but that loss to a middle-of-the-pack B1G West team (and, obviously, the loss to Maimi) damned them. Still, a very good year for the program.
This Toledo team racked up the most All-MAC selections for the third consecutive year and are led by Player of the Year, Dequan Finn. The shifty dual-threat quarterback threw for 2,657 yards and 22 touchdowns and added 563 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. Alas, he is in the Portal, so Tucker Gleason will be the guy. The breakout player on offense was none other than Maryland transfer, Peny Boone. Boone took over the starting job after being the fourth rusher on the team last year (on a team with four 100+ rushers, mind you), and amassed 1,400 yards (first in MAC, sixth in FBS) and 15 touchdowns en route to MAC Offensive Player of the Year honors.
Defensively, there are a few NFL players for Toledo. Most notably, Quinyon Mitchell. Mitchell broke out last year with five interceptions and a pair of pick-sixes in a single game. This year, he led the MAC with his 18 pass breakups. Dallas Gant, the Ohio State transfer, backed up his massive 2022 with another 109 tackles and 8.0 TFLs in 2023. This is not a defense that’s easily picked apart.
Wyoming is a good team but even without Finn, Toledo should be able to have the talent to get the win.
All About #MACtion
Year in and year out, these bowl games are scheduled and a certain author who is a tad overzealous about the MAC tends to way overestimate these matchups (me). This year, let’s shoot for a solid 3-3 MAC bowls record, how’s that sound?
Regardless, the MAC is home to some seriously underrated talents and college football fans should continue to pay attention. For as crazy as conference realignment has been, the MAC has been consistent. Tune in and enjoy!
Main Image: Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports