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 AAC Bowls Preview
Frisco Bowl (December 19, 9:00 P.M., ESPN)
UTSA vs Marshall
Head-to-head: UTSA 1-2 Marshall
Bowl Record: 0-4
While this season was not quite as good as many anticipated, the UTSA Roadrunners had plenty to be proud of. They started off 1-3 after dropping close games to Houston and Army before getting whacked by Tennessee. Then, they rattled off seven straight wins in AAC play and even set up a crucial matchup with Tulane where the winner would go 8-0 in conference play and would go to the conference championship. Alas, the Roadrunners dropped that one and here they are.
Longtime quarterback Frank Harris started off as the leader of the offense, but he was lost for a month toward the beginning of the season due to injury. However, he quarterbacked the team for its lengthy winning streak and put up 2,506 yards and 18 touchdowns through the air and 323 yards and four scored on the ground. Joshua Cephus returned when he could have transferred out and put up career-bests in yards (1,049) and touchdowns (nine) this year.
Defensively, UTSA was not among the best but they had a few players worth a look. Trey Moore (in the Transfer Portal) led the way with 17.5 TFLs and 14 sacks. There are legitimate rumblings that he will be headed to a Power 5 school. Jimmori Robinson also balled out to the tune of 10 TFLs and four sacks.
This is a very intriguing matchup. Both of these teams have had some legit success over the last few years and have been among the best the Group of 5 has to offer. UTSA should get the win and their first bowl win at the FBS level.
Boca Raton Bowl (December 21, 8:00 P.M. ESPN)
South Florida vs Syracuse
Head-to-head: USF 8-2 Syracuse
Bowl Record: 6-4
At 6-6, this year was not the best in recent memory for the USF Bulls. They faced off against just three bowl-bound teams and lost to each one. The best win on the season was making CFP Semifinalist Albama sweat early on in the year.
Offensively, USF went as quarterback Byrum Brown went. The talented sophomore quarterback broke out to the tune of 3,078 yards and 23 touchdowns through the air and added a team-leading 189 rushing attempts and 11 touchdowns while being a narrow second with 745 yards. Thankfully, he’s not Portal hopping. This is a very solid offense as a whole.
The weakness is its defense. For every yard the offense earned, the defense allowed. Literally, the Bulls gained and allowed 455.3 yards per game. In seven games, the Bulls allowed over 300 passing yards and over 400 four times. On the ground, they allowed at least 100 yards in 11 games and at least 200 in five.
The play of Brown makes one very tempted to take the Bulls here but that defense paired with the bump some teams get from firing their coach is impossible to ignore. Take the Orange here.
First Responder Bowl (December 26, 5:30 P.M., ESPN)
Rice vs Texas State
Head-to-head: Rice 2-2 Texas State
Bowl Record: 7-6
This was not the best Rice team in recent memory but they beat who they should have and even stole a win over the Big 12’s Houston team to get to 6-6. Of those six wins, one came against an FCS foe and none came against bowl-bound teams. In fact, the Owls finished 0-5 against bowl-eligible programs this year.
Offensively, Rice was led by journeyman, J.T. Daniels. The quarterback elected to medically retire from the game prior to this game, so the next quarterback with playing experience is AJ Padgett and his 636 yards and seven scores. Quarterback-turned-receiver Luke McCaffrey could be considered the most dynamic player on this offense as he amassed 1,064 scrimmage yards and 12 total touchdowns. He will be one to watch moving forward for sheer intrigue’s sake.
When looking at teams, some programs just don’t stand out. However, there are some instances where something catches your eye. Nine Rice defenders forced a fumble this year. That’s more than the number of interceptions they forced (five). Leading the way in the secondary was Tre’shon Devones and his two interceptions and 10 pass breakups.
This game will not be the prettiest one on the AAC bowls slate. However, Texas State can put up points and move the ball. They don’t have much of a defense, so first to 50 wins.
Military Bowl (December 27, 2:00 P.M., ESPN)
Tulane vs Virginia Tech
Head-to-head: Tulane 4-5 Virginia Tech
Bowl Record: 7-8
The first of two incredibly disrespectful bowl matchups between the AAC and ACC. 11-2 Tulane, near-champion, and reigning NY6 Cotton Bowl champion gets…6-6 Virginia Tech. All year, Tulane was expected to be the Group of 5 selection for the NY6 bowl. They had a loss early against Ole Miss (another NY6 Bowl-bound team) and won every other game in the regular season. They did ultimately fall to SMU in the AAC Championship, of course.
This offense is led by one of the best G5 quarterbacks out there, Michael Pratt. The talented fourth-year starter took a step back from last year’s spectacular season but he still put up 2,406 yards and 22 touchdowns. Next to him in the backfield has been Makhi Hughes who went off for 1,290 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. This Tulane offense was not as dynamic as last year but it’s still very good.
This is a good Tulane defense that takes advantage of mistakes. In total, the Green Wave forced 17 interceptions led by three players with at least three each. Up front, guys like Devean Deal and Patrick Jenkins were forces to be reckoned with, combining for 23.5 TFLs and 9.5 sacks. On the year, Tulane held opponents to under 100 rushing yards nine times in 13 games.
Tulane wins this one.
Fenway Bowl (December 28, 11:00 P.M., ESPN)
SMU vs Boston College
Head-to-head: SMU 1-0 Boston College
Bowl Record: 7-10-1
The second disrespectful bowl: 11-2 AAC Champion SMU vs 6-6 Boston College. The Mustangs’ two losses were to two Big 12 teams. They ran through the American and nine of those wins were by more than one score. This is a dangerous SMU team and were very nearly the G5 NY6 team and were narrowly edged by Liberty.
SMU can move the ball and scores in bunches. Quarterback Preston Stone led the way with 3,197 yards and 28 scores but the most impressive thing was his weapons. He doesn’t have a single dominant receiver. Seven receivers had between 20 and 40 receptions, eight had between 300 and 518 yards, and seven had multiple scores. Two had seven each. All of that while having two running backs with at least 100 rushing attempts. They scored over 40 points a game.
In addition to the sixth-best scoring offense, SMU sports the 12th-best scoring defense. Up front, Elijah Roberts dominated to the tune of 11.5 TFLs and 10 sacks to pace the Mustangs’ defense. In the secondary, is was all Isaiah Nwokobia and his four interceptions and two touchdowns.
What are we even doing here? SMU wins. Who cares that it’s a late December game at Fenway against a Boston-based team. SMU is a talented team and should get the win.
Liberty Bowl (December 29, 3:30 P.M., ESPN)
Memphis vs Iowa State
Head-to-head: Memphis 0-1 Iowa State
Bowl Record: 6-8
At 9-3, Memphis had another solid season and was actually much, much closer to national attention than one would think. Sure, they went 2-3 against bowl-bound teams but they lost to NY6-bound Mizzou by seven and AAC Champ SMU by four.
Once again, the Tigers’ offense was among the best in the county, scoring 39.7 points per game (seventh-best in FBS). Quarterback Seth Henigan put up his third consecutive 3,300+ yard season and set a new career best with 28 touchdowns. He finished 11th in FBS in passing and third among Group of 5 quarterbacks. To take the heat off, he had Blake Watson and his 1,503 scrimmage yards and 17 total touchdowns out of the backfield.
The defense was not exactly up to par compared to the offense yet again. However, sophomore linebacker Chandler Martin had a season worth mentioning. He led the way in tackles (87), TFLs (12), and added two sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and a touchdown. Overall, this defense was gashed for over 421 yards per game and 29 points per game.
Iowa State is a fairly respectable team this year. They’ve been able to step up against good passing attacks, save for one game. There is certainly a path for Memphis to get the win in this one but the Cyclones should finish on top.
All-American American Conference
Following this year, there are a few conferences that could, realistically, call themselves the American Athletic Conference with how much land they are covering. Despite that, there is only one AAC.
Overall, The strength of the conference dipped with Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF skipping town but they put together a decent season. They had two teams with legit shots at the NY6 bowl and are on an upward trajectory. The AAC is home to a number of underrated playmakers. Tune in and enjoy!
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