Impact Players for Bowl Season
LAS VEGAS, NV (The Spread) - The bowl games start this Saturday with four big matchups and it's important to know some of the key players in some of these early games that are non-BCS matchups.
Let's first start on Saturday with the Las Vegas Bowl, featuring Southern California and Fresno State. The first thing to know about that game is that Steve Sarkisian is taking over for USC after the bowl game. Right now, USC will have their third head coach this season as offensive coordinator Clay Helton takes over for the Las Vegas Bowl, replacing Ed Orgeron, who resigned. Orgeron had taken over for Lane Kiffin, who was fired early in the season. When he wasn't given the job full-time after the Trojans lost to UCLA, 35-14 in the season finale, he promptly resigned.
The key player in this matchup is Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr. The younger brother of David Carr, the Bulldogs' gunslinger has 48 TD passes and just seven interceptions in 2013. This is a Fresno State team that has faced the likes of Nevada, UNLV, Idaho and Hawaii. They did put up 41 points on Boise State, but this is a tough challenge going up against a USC defense that allowed just 215 yards per game though the air this season.
Another intriguing game that features an impact player is Washington State facing the likes of Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl on December 21. Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday leads the Air Raid offense. Head coach Mike Leach likes pirates and passing the football. He doesn't like running the ball as his Cougars average 365 yards per game in the air and just 59 yards on the ground. That means there's a lot of pressure on Halliday to control this game and he faces a Colorado State defense that allows 265.4 yards per game in the air, which ranks 109th in the nation. Halliday has 28 touchdowns and 21 interceptions, which shows he can be mistake-prone.
The third matchup involves Buffalo against San Diego State from Boise in the Idaho Potato Bowl on Dec. 21. The key player in this game is Buffalo running back Branden Oliver. The senior has 1,421 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, averaging 5.0 yards per carry. But there's an issue with Oliver against elite teams. San Diego State allows 135 yards per game on the ground, and wouldn't be considered elite. Oliver has struggled against quality teams, especially against Ohio State, Baylor and Bowling Green, where he averaged 2.8 yards per carry or less. For Buffalo to have any success against San Diego State, they need a strong performance from Oliver.
On Monday, December 23rd, East Carolina takes on Ohio University in the St. Petersburg Bowl. This doesn't sound like an exciting game on paper, but wait until you see the East Carolina offense that averages 460 yards per game and their quarterback Shane Carden. If they had a defense, they might be undefeated, but that's why they are 9-3 and playing in an early bowl game. Carden led Conference USA with 3,866 yards passing and was second in the league with 32 touchdowns. He went over 300 passing yards seven times and tossed three or more touchdown passes seven times. Ohio has allowed 212.2 yards per game in the air so this could be a challenge for Harden and company who might want to rely more on a running game against a Bobcats' defense that allows 180.2 yards per game.
Our final impact player in the early bowl game is quarterback Sean Mannion from Oregon State. The Beavers take on Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24. Here's a player who started out like a Heisman Trophy candidate and ended it on a weak note. He does rank second in the nation with 4,403 yards passing and has a great receiver in Brandin Cooks, who leads the nation with 1,670 receiving yards. Oregon State won six straight games after losing to FCS opponent Eastern Washington to start the season and did not beat a team with a winning record. They did play well in the Civil War, falling to Oregon, 36-35. Now the Beavers are on a five-game losing streak and the offense is averaging just 21 points per game in that streak. On other side, Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick is coming back from a broken ankle and played sparingly in their last game against New Mexico. Interim coach Bob Gregory takes over for Boise State coach Chris Peterson, who left for the Washington Huskies. He has a decision to make at quarterback and might end up playing Southwick and Grant Hedrick, who has 1,443 yards passing, 15 touchdowns and just five picks this season.
Have fun this weekend with the bowl games and make sure you're aware of all the impact players of all the teams playing.