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CFB Barometer: Bowl Season Edition

Jesse Siegel

Jesse Siegel

Siegel covers college football, college basketball and minor league baseball for RotoWire. He was named College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

'Tis the season to go bowling. The BCS National Championship game is the talk of the season, but we'll focus on some lesser-known matchups in this edition of the College Football Barometer. Intriguing contests abound during the Holiday Season, including some with exceptional names. Personal favorites include the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.

Without further ado, let's look at players with interesting matchups, including those on the upswing, and those who will have their work cut out for them during bowl season.

UPGRADE

Kapri Bibbs, RB, Colorado State -
Who had the most rushing touchdowns in the nation this season? It wasn't Heisman Finalists Andre Williams, Tre Mason or Jordan Lynch. That honor belongs to Bibbs, the sophomore rusher for the Rams who found the end zone an astonishing 28 times in 13 games. Bibbs racked up the yardage as well, toting the pigskin 254 times for 1,572 yards for 6.2 yards per touch. Bibbs rushed for 312 yards against Nevada on Nov. 9, then followed that performance up the following week with an outrageous six-touchdown game at New Mexico. Bibbs and the rest of the Rams will head back to the Land of Enchantment for the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 21. They'll face the 6-6 Washington State Cougars, allowed more than 30 points per game in 2013. Bibbs has had a superb season mostly under the radar for Colorado State, and should cap it off with a dominant output against the Cougs.

Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State -
Without much fanfare, Strong crossed the 1,000-yard receiving mark this season for the Wildcats, his first year with the Sun Devils. He had seven 100-yard games in 2013, including a career-high 168 yards against an extremely stingy Stanford Cardinal defense on Sept. 21. Strong has extremely favorable matchup against Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 30. The Red Raiders started the season 7-0 under new coach Kliff Kingsbury, but dropped the last five contests of the year en route to a 7-5 record. Tech gave up an outrageous 48.6 points over that five-game losing streak. The Sun Devils finished the regular season ranked in the Top 15 and were one win away from an appearance in the Rose Bowl. Instead, ASU will get a chance to beat up on a struggling Texas Tech squad. Strong should catch a plethora of passes in this contest.

Tarean Folston, RB, Notre Dame -
Folston came on strong for the Irish toward the end of the season. Notre Dame used a variety of running backs this season, including Cam McDaniel, George Atkinson III and Amir Carlisle. However, Folston has taken the lead in the backfield over the final five games of the season, rushing for 328 yards and two touchdowns during that span. The Irish will face a mediocre Rutgers squad in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 28. The Scarlet Knights were just 6-6 this season, including 3-5 in the AAC. Rutgers surrendered 29.8 points per game in 2013, 83rd in the nation. Assuming the weather will be a factor in the game as well, the rushers should play a vital role in the outcome. The surging Folston should be the chief beneficiary.

Isaiah Jones, WR, East Carolina -
Junior Justin Hardy is the surefire No. 1 receiver for the Pirates, as he hauled in 105 passes for 1,218 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Jones is just a freshman, but was the second-leading receiver in terms of receptions, yards and a touchdowns. He caught 54 passes for 556 yards and five scores. Jones crossed the 100-yard plateau in two of his last four games for ECU. The 9-3 Pirates face the 7-5 Ohio Bobcats on Dec. 23 in the aforementioned Beef 'O' Brady Bowl. The Bobcats dropped three of their last four games of the season, allowing 36.5 points per game over that span. With standout gunslinger Shane Carden tossing him passes, Jones should have a stellar performance against the lackluster Bobcats defense.

CHECK STATUS

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville -
Could emotions get the better of Teddy Ballgame in the Russell Athletic Bowl? This could be Bridgewater's last collegiate game, and it comes against the school he initially committed to before the Hurricanes fired Randy Shannon. Miami has been better under coach Al Golden, but the former Miami Northwestern star could have gone down in Miami lore had he stayed at home. Bridgewater will certainly want to put on a show back in Florida, so this game could go either way. Bridgewater could press too much and struggle, or he could maintain his usual, stoic demeanor and light up the Hurricanes. Neither result would be surprising, really.

Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan -
Gardner is expected to be ready for Michigan's bowl game but is in a walking boot battling a turf toe injury and using crutches. He has been unable to practice. Fortunately, the Wolverines don't play until Dec. 28, when they take on Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Gardner was outstanding in Michigan's 42-41 loss to Ohio State in the regular-season finale. The redshirt junior was 32-of-45 for 451 yards and four touchdowns through the air, while also rushing for an additional score. Gardner should be ready to take the field against the Wildcats in Tempe, Ariz., but he could be limited due to the nagging injury.

Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas -
Midway through the 2013 season, Brown snatched the starting running back job and never let go. Since Oct. 12, Brown has rushed for 711 yards and eight touchdowns in seven games. However, with the departure of coach Mack Brown, along with a tough matchup against the Oregon Ducks, it remains to be seen if Brown can stay on a hot streak. The Longhorns likely will be playing from behind in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 30. The only saving grace for Texas is that the game will take place in San Antonio, so there should be plenty of crowd support for the Longhorns. Still, the Ducks will play fast and force the Longhorns to keep pace, meaning Brown's touches may be more limited than usual.

Marqise Lee, WR, USC -
It's safe to say Lee has had a sub-standard 2013 campaign. Coming into the season, he was arguably the top wideout in the nation, having snagged 118 balls for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore. However, due to the combination of injury and inconsistency at quarterback, he managed just 50 catches for 673 yards and two scores as a junior. Lee is likely going pro after this season, and the Trojans are undergoing their third coaching change in less than three months from Lane Kiffin to Ed Orgeron and now Steve Sarkisian. Will he be focused on his final game as a collegian? Or will he have checked out? The matchup in the Las Vegas Bowl with Fresno State should be a high-scoring affair, so the stats will be there for the taking for Lee. However, with a big payday approaching in the NFL, it will be interesting to see if he decides to take the game lightly or use it as a showcase.

DOWNGRADE

Brennan Clay, RB, Oklahoma -
Clay has been the workhorse for the Sooners in 2013 but faces a difficult task against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. Only Auburn has run on the Alabama defense this season, and the Tigers are playing in the BCS National Championship game. Alabama retains the No. 2 overall defense in the country, allowing just 11.3 points per game. Coach Nick Saban will also make sure that stopping the run is the focal point of the Alabama defense, forcing Blake Bell and the inconsistent Oklahoma passing game to beat the Tide. As a result, Clay is almost certainly going to average fewer than his 5.8 yards per rush average in New Orleans on Jan. 2.

Shane Williams-Rhodes, WR, Boise State -
SWR is questionable for the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24 due to an ankle injury. Williams-Rhodes tied for the team-lead with 77 receptions in 2013, parlaying those grabs into 702 yards and six touchdowns. However, he did not play against New Mexico in the regular-season finale due to the injury. In SWR's absence, the Broncos will be forced to rely even more heavily on fellow wideout Matt Miller, who has accumulated 934 yards and 11 touchdowns through the air this season. Boise State faces an Oregon State squad that has lost five consecutive games entering bowl season, yielding 32.1 points per game in 2013. However, SWR's ankle will likely limit him, making him a risky play.

Anthony Jennings, QB, LSU -
Jennings should get the first start of his career for the Tigers in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 due to the injury to Zach Mettenberger. Mettenberger tore his ACL in the regular-season finale against Arkansas. Jennings came on and led the Tigers to the game-winning 99-yard drive in that contest Nov. 29, but the Razorbacks have an inferior defense. Jennings will face a much more difficult task against Iowa; the Hawkeyes ended the season on a three-game winning streak and have allowed just 18.8 points per game in 2013. That places Iowa 11th in the nation in points allowed. Jennings could be a future star, but it could be a rough first start for the freshman.

Trey Edmunds, RB, Virginia Tech -
Edmunds broke his right leg in the regular-season finale against the Virginia Cavaliers and will not play in the Hokies' bowl game. The freshman rushed for 675 yards during his first campaign in Blacksburg and managed to find the end zone 10 times on the ground. He scored four times in the Nov. 9 at Miami. Sophomore J.C. Coleman likely will take the place of Edmunds in the Sun Bowl against UCLA on Dec. 31. However, Coleman may find it difficult to roam against the Bruins, whose only losses in 2013 came against ranked opponents in Oregon, Stanford and Arizona State.