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Bowl Predictions 2014-2015: Boca Raton to Hawai'i Bowl

Devon Johnson
Boca Raton Bowl: Florida Atlantic Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida on December 23rd
Marshall Thundering Herd (12-1) vs. Northern Illinois Huskies (11-2)

Two of the nation's top Group of Six schools square off in Boca Raton, Florida, with hopes of ending their seasons on high notes. Marshall will be led by their gunslinger at quarterback, senior Rakeem Cato, attempting to end his illustrious with another major performance. Cato will attempt to throw all over a Northern Illinois secondary that has not completely recovered from the loss of stud safety Jimmie Ward, who is now in the NFL. While Cato will constantly challenge the Huskies, he isn't the only offensive weapon at head coach Doc Holliday's disposal for the Herd. Running back Devon Johnson is an absolute speedster, who ran for 1,636 yards and 16 touchdowns and is a legitimate Heisman candidate for 2015. Another junior back, Steward Butler also adds a dangerous runner to the equation, especially near the end zone. Add in sure-handed receiver Tommy Shuler and the Herd's solid offensive line and you have all the recipes for huge offensive numbers, which Marshall has put up all season long. While Northern Illinois did have growing pains following the departure of their heart and soul, QB Jordan Lynch, going 11-2 and winning the MAC is nothing to be down about. Dual threat sophomore quarterback Drew Hare has done an admirable job attempting to fill the massive shoes left behind by Lynch, passing for over 2,000 yards and running for over 800, while not making too much mistakes along the way. He was helped by steady back Cameron Stingily and senior receiver Da'Ron Brown, who recorded over 1,000 yards and made a long list of impressive catches. While both offenses have all the talent and game plan to put up incredible numbers, their defenses could severely limit them. Marshall allowed 67 points to Western Kentucky, including 42 in the first two quarters of the game, while the Huskies have struggled to consistently stop offenses that spread them across the field, because they lack the speed, athleticism and instincts. This game will almost certainly be a shootout and whoever makes the least amount of mistakes, should end up winning. With a more experienced Cato leading Marshall, they should put up a victory in his grand finale.
Marshall, 49 Northern Illinois, 41

Poinsettia Bowl: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego on December 23rd
San Diego State Aztecs (7-5) vs. Navy Midshipmen (7-5)

The Poinsettia Bowl has been a postseason home for these two teams; it will be Navy's fourth appearance and SDSU's third since the bowl's inception in 2005. The Midshipmen hope they can get a big win against a solid Aztecs team after a rather unspectacular year for Navy, even with a near upset bid to begin the season against Ohio State. Navy will once more use their triple-option attack, spearheaded by Keenan Reynolds who ran for 1,182 yards on the year, while also throwing for 826 and eight touchdowns. Add in powerful Noah Copeland and the Midshipmen will do what they always do: run the ball, then run some more and continue to run. That will test a SDSU rush defense that did gain valuable experience when they played Air Force earlier in the year, which also runs the triple-option. They also had success against the Falcons, holding them to 14 points in a 30-14 victory in late November. While Navy runs the ball with a trio of different options, the Aztecs lean on just one ball carrier, but he is one great one. Donnel Pumphrey has been one of the nation's best backs, rushing for 1,761 and 19 scores and he will clearly give Navy some serious problems. Having a back like Pumphrey not only helps the ground attack flourish, it helps the play action game, where QB Quinn Kaehler is a solid quarterback and he has a dangerous weapon to help him in wide receiver Ezell Ruffin who can make some big plays. Both of these defenses have played decent all year and both are equipped to handle the run pretty well. That will force Reynolds and Kaehler to look through the air slightly more and turnovers and special teams matter even more. While Reynolds is one heck of a player he will need more than just Copeland and a decent defense to defeat a good Aztecs team. While both of these teams have ended their years on high notes, San Diego State will benefit from home field advantage and a more balanced team.
San Diego State, 28 Navy, 16

Popeyes Bahamas Bowl: Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas on December 24th
Central Michigan Chippewas (7-5) vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (7-5)

While the departure of Bobby Petrino back to Louisville was expected to dampen Western Kentucky's offense, it hasn't as the Hilltoppers have been absolutely scary offensively all year. Quarterback Brandon Doughty has thrown for 4,344 yards on the season along with 44 touchdowns, making smarter decisions all season and just seeming more relaxed in the pocket. Junior tailback Leon Allen is also a serious playmaker, rushing 1,490 yards and 12 touchdowns, mixing in power and quickness. They face off against the Central Michigan Chippewas, led by Michigan transfer Thomas Rawls, a powerful workhorse. Quarterback Cooper Rush is a strong-armed quarterback looking to take advanatage of a shaky Hilltoppers' secondary, along with one of the nation's most underrated receivers, Titus Davis, who has 843 yards on the season. While Western Kentucky has put up crazy offensive numbers the lack of middle linebacker Andrew Jackson's presence has been an issue, especially against the run, an issue considering the Chippewas give the ball to Rawls well over 20 times a game on average. While the Hilltoppers have a lot of speed offensively, Central Michigan has experience and depth on defense that few MAC teams have. If they can force Doughty into a couple mistakes and run the ball effectively, they will be in very good position to win their eighth game of the season.
Central Michigan, 34 Western Kentucky, 31

Hawai'i Bowl: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, on December 24th
Fresno State Bulldogs (6-7) vs. Rice Owls (7-5)

It took a long time for Fresno to recover from the loss of Derek Carr this past off season (he's now trying to lead Oakland back to contention) and while they still have work to do, they have ended the year on a high note, winning three of four after beginning the year at 3-6. Considering the loss of Carr and record-setting receiver Davante Adams, the team's offensive struggles have been no real surprise, but the defense has been brutal, 101st in scoring defense. They will face off against a solid Rice team, that is led by senior receiver Jordan Taylor and defensive end Brian Nordstorm, who has put up huge numbers on the season. Nordstorm and the rest of the Owls' defense, which was lacked consistency this whole 2014. Brian Burrell has done a superb job taking over the reigns of the Bulldogs' offense after beating out Duke transfer Brandon Connette for the job. He has only gotten better as the year has gone, especially during Fresno's recent hot streak. Marteze Waller and Josh Quezada are two solid backs who should have a strong day, while receiver Josh Harper is a do-it-all offensive weapon. Add in Derron Smith, an interception machine who is always ready for the big play, and the Bulldogs have the talent to handle the Owls. While the defense could still have a bad day, Fresno's recent play has given me much more confidence in picking them. While a .500 year is not anything to be crazy about for Fresno, after the team nearly went to a BCS bowl a season ago, it is a solid follow-up to consecutive great years for the Bulldogs, if they take down Rice in Honolulu.
Fresno State, 27 Rice, 20

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