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8 underrated bowl games you won’t want to miss

Matt Fitzgerald
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The College Football Playoff takes center stage in the NCAA postseason. There are also plenty of ranked matchups to look forward to. Additionally, there are many other meaningful games on tap that are too underrated to overlook.

Whether it’s programs enjoying a recent rise, overachieving Cinderella stories or simply a meeting of teams who aren’t appreciated enough, the so-called undercard is loaded.

Let’s take a closer look at this bowl season’s most notable clashes that shouldn’t be trivialized.

New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 15): North Texas vs. Utah State

The Mean Green haven’t recorded a legitimate, double-digit win season in over seven decades. They have a chance to do that with a victory in this one.

Aggies quarterback Jordan Love (28-to-5) and North Texas field general Mason Fine (27-to-5) have near-identical touchdown-interception ratios. They are precise pocket passers who always give their team a chance to win.

That said, Fine doesn’t have quite the rushing attack to complement him as Love does; Utah State averages nearly 204 yards rushing per contest.

The Aggies’ experience against superior competition should serve them well, too. They lost only to Michigan State and Boise State on the road.

DXL Frisco Bowl (Dec. 19): San Diego State vs. Ohio

Three of the Aztecs’ losses were by four points or fewer. The other two were at Stanford and at Fresno State. All of San Diego State’s games tend to be close, and this should be no exception.

The Bobcats have blown out five of their last six opponents, losing only to Miami (Ohio) by two points in that stretch.

Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke improved as a passer this season and is still a great threat as a runner. Rourke gives the favorites a clear edge under center.

However, the Aztecs’ gritty defense yields only 327.4 yards per game — 20th in the nation — and that should make this a tight tango.

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 22): Houston vs. Army

Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth is the site, making it a virtual home game for Houston. The Cougars loves to spread out opponents and sling it all around the yard. Army runs the military academy standards: Wishbone formation. Triple-option. Awesome.

Remember, the Black Knights took Oklahoma to overtime. Army played keep away Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray, ultimately falling short 28-21.

Superstar Houston defensive lineman Ed Oliver won’t be there to stuff the Knights’ premier rushing attack. He’ll will skip this contest to prepare for the NFL draft.

Cougars dual-threat phenom D’Eriq King accounted for 50 touchdowns this year but is out with a knee injury. That means his freshman stand-in, Clayton Tune, must make the most of likely limited possessions.

SERVPRO First Responder Bowl (Dec. 26): Boston College vs. Boise State

The Eagles back into the bowl season with three straight defeats, but the first of those was to Clemson. Stud tailback AJ Dillon hasn’t been quite the same since missing two games in the middle of the year and will indubitably benefit from the lengthy layoff.

Quarterback Anthony Brown was also banged up down the stretch for BC. If he and Dillon are right physically, this could be a deceptively difficult test for the Broncos.

But Boise is a consistent tradition of excellence, even in the post-Chris Petersen era. After losing to Fresno State in the Mountain West title tilt, the Broncos will be fired up to end their campaign on a high note.

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (Dec. 28): Purdue vs. Auburn

The only — albeit severe — blemish on Ohio State’s record was when the Buckeyes got rocked 49-20 by the Boilermakers.

Despite an uneven finish to the regular season, Purdue is not to be taken lightly. Often, teams that are .500 or thereabouts such as the 6-6 Boilermakers or their upcoming 7-5 opponent create downer bowl games. This isn’t one of those instances.

Auburn is always a tough out. It got eaten up in the SEC by the likes of Georgia and Alabama on the road. Even LSU managed to escape with a one-point win when it paid the Tigers a visit in September.

Valero Alamo Bowl (Dec. 28): Iowa State vs. Washington State

Hard to ignore the throwing exploits of Gardner Minshew. Wazzu coach Mike Leach loves to air it out, and Minshew is second nationally with 4,477 yards passing.

What fewer casual fans may be privy to is the stunning, sensational play of Minshew’s bowl-game counterpart: Cyclones true freshman Brock Purdy.

After beginning the year third on the depth chart, injury and performance issues thrust Purdy into taking charge of the offense. Iowa State is a different team since Purdy took over, losing just once to Texas on the road in eight games he’s played.

Purdy is a better athlete than Minshew, and has an NFL-caliber running back in David Montgomery at his disposal, too. This is going to be fun.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl (Dec. 31): Missouri vs. Oklahoma State

Tigers quarterback Drew Lock looked like a first-round lock before the 2018 campaign started. He didn’t meet the high standard set last year when he threw 44 touchdown passes.

However, Lock was learning a new offense with far more pro-style principles, which will better prepare him for the next level.

This should be a good, old-fashioned shootout between the Lock-led former Big 12 team and a current Big 12 offensive juggernaut. Taylor Cornelius is a capable, aggressive passer, but like Lock, tends to force the ball into coverage at times.

Whichever gunslinger takes care of the ball best probably helps his side win. Cornelius may throw in harm’s way more often with his stud running back Justice Hill sitting out after declaring for the NFL draft.

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl (Dec. 31): NC State vs. Texas A&M

Aggies defensive coordinator Mike Elko made a lateral move from Notre Dame before this season to join Jimbo Fisher’s staff. Elko is an up-and-coming head coaching candidate — and for good reason.

Despite playing in the vaunted SEC, Texas A&M ranks No. 22 in third-down conversion defense at 32.9 percent. The Wolfpack are percentage points ahead (32.2), albeit against inferior competition.

This is a big showcase for NC State’s Ryan Finley. The third-year starting field general is an NFL prospect with plus football IQ and accuracy but marginal arm strength.

Finley’s top target, Kelvin Harmon, would’ve been a stiff test for the Aggies’ secondary, but he too will sit out in advance of his pro career’s commencement.