Fudge Van Hooser was kind enough to give us one more NSLG heading into bowl season, and he even named an NSLG player of the year! Talk about going above and beyond! This season’s NSLG player of the year is Keenan Reynolds, and if you need to ask why then you just haven’t been paying attention. Stay tuned to see where Navy ends up in the final NSLG rankings before the final postseason rankings.
10. Memphis Tigers (9-3)
Bowl Game: Birmingham Bowl vs. Auburn
Memphis had a disappointing end to a terrific season. At one point sitting at #13 in the CFP poll, the Tigers lost three in a row to Navy, Houston and Temple. However, their strong non-conference wins over Bowling Green and Ole Miss give them the 10th slot in this year’s Bowl Season NSLG Top 10. Paxton Lynch looks to lead the Tigers to their second win over an SEC team as they face Auburn in what might as well be the other Tigers’ backyard. Both teams are expected to bring decent size crowds being in close proximity to Birmingham, but the real question is which team will want it more? Auburn has had a rough 6-6 season mustering only two conference wins and finishing last in the SEC West. The only motivation for Auburn will be to finish above .500 and gain much needed momentum heading into next season.
9. Appalachian State Mountaineers (11-2)
Bowl Game: Raycom Media Camellia Bowl vs. Ohio (Won 31-29)
Appalachian State comes in as the Sun Belt runner-up and earning their first FBS bowl bid in school history. In their first season of FBS post-season play, the Mountaineers had something they wanted to prove to the nation. In fact, in my opinion at least, App State is lucky to have kept head coach Scott Satterfield after being targeted by many of the coaching vacancies. ASU has the 20th ranked scoring offense along with the 3rd ranked scoring defense – one of the best offense-defense duos in the country. App State traveled down to Montgomery, AL to face Ohio in the second annual Camellia Bowl where they picked up their first bowl win in school history.
8. Arkansas State Red Wolves (9-4, Sun Belt Champions)
Bowl Game: R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl vs. Louisiana Tech (Lost 47-28)
Arkansas State makes a late appearance in the Bowl Season NSLG rankings after being crowned as the Sun Belt Champions. The Red Wolves 10th ranked offense has averaged 41 points per game, including 7 games of 48 or more. Their only three losses came from USC, Missouri and Toledo. The 2015 New Orleans Bowl featured two of the best scoring offenses in the nation as they took on Louisiana Tech, led by former Florida QB Jeff Driskel. The Bulldogs were a little too much for the Red Wolves in this one.
7. Toledo Rockets (9-2)
Bowl Game: Marmot Boca Raton Bowl vs. Temple
In at the #7 spot is the Toledo Rockets, just the second team on our list to have not played in a conference championship game or won a conference championship. Unlike Navy, however, the Rockets last game was almost a full month ago in their loss to Central Michigan, which ultimately lost them the MAC West crown. Toledo’s only two losses came in conference to CMU and NIU. They went undefeated in non-conference play with victories over Arkansas, Iowa State and UMass. Toledo was having a special season until losing their first game to NIU just minutes after being revealed as the #21 ranked team in the opening CFP poll. However, with their head coach heading to be the top guy at Iowa State, it’ll be solely up to the players to try to upset Temple on December 22.
6. San Diego State Aztecs (10-3 Mountain West Champions)
Bowl Game: Hawaii Bowl vs. Cincinnati
San Diego State’s late NSLG Top 10 campaign came from their 10th ranked defense that has only allowed 17.2 points per game this season. Going undefeated in conference play, their three losses came to California, South Alabama and Penn State. After winning their first outright conference title since 1986, the Aztecs look to gain some national credibility in the 2015 Hawaii Bowl, one of the most watched games of bowl season year after year being the only sporting event on TV on Christmas Eve. SDSU will be facing a Cincinnati team that was victim to a tough schedule this season. The Bearcats losses all came to good teams – Temple, Memphis, BYU, Houston and South Florida. Tommy Tuberville announced earlier this week that QB Gunner Kiel will not be playing in the bowl game due to personal reasons.
5. Temple Owls (10-3)
Bowl Game: Marmot Boca Raton Bowl vs. Toledo
Temple is no doubt one of the best three loss teams in the country. Two of their three losses come to New Year’s Six teams – Notre Dame and Houston – with their third loss coming to the AAC East runner-up South Florida. Temple’s 16th ranked defense, led by decorated linebacker Tyler Matakevich, has been the Owls’ strong suit all season long. Coming in at #24 in all three final polls, Temple has been respected by much of the country after a historic season for the Owls. The 2015 Boca Raton Bowl will feature another NSLG top team in the Toledo Rockets, who were also ranked in the Top 25 for a good portion of the season. Toledo blew their chance to top off a good season by losing their division to NIU and not reaching the MAC Championship. Both teams will want to finish their special seasons strong with both teams coming into this game having lost their last one.
4. Bowling Green Falcons (10-3 MAC Champions)
Bowl Game: GoDaddy.com Bowl vs. Georgia Southern
Bowling Green looked strong in their MAC Championship game with 501 yards of total offense in a 34-14 win over Northern Illinois. However, it was the defense that ultimately won the game by forcing 5 NIU turnovers. In less than 24 hours after the game, former head coach Dino Babers announced that he was leaving the Falcons to become the head coach at Syracuse. Their GoDaddy.com Bowl matchup will feature another team who lost their head coach to a better job, Georgia Southern. GSU head coach Willie Fritz has taken the job at Tulane. So this bowl game will be up to the players… who wants it more? The GSU triple option attack has been a tough challenge for most of its opponents this season as the Eagles are averaging 355.6 rushing yards this season, ranked #1 in the nation. Instead of the GoDaddy.com Bowl, we might as well call this the 2015 Vacancy Bowl. Expect a high scoring thriller between two of the best offenses that we have seen all year.
3. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (11-2 C-USA Champions)
Bowl Game: Miami Beach Bowl vs. USF
Western Kentucky slid into the final AP Poll at the #25 spot, a well deserved ranking for our NSLG 3rd place team. The Hilltoppers had a strong campaign going undefeated in conference play. Their only two losses came to two Power Five schools – Indiana and LSU, with their other two nonconference games including wins over Vanderbilt and Miami (OH). WKU only lost to Indiana by a field goal in a tough fight to the end, and gave LSU a challenging game until the Tigers ran away with it late in a 48-20 LSU win. Averaging 44.2 points per game, their offense has been virtually unstoppable. Although they may only have the 52nd ranked defense, letting up 25.2 points per game is not bad when your offense has such strong outings every week. The Miami Beach Bowl will feature the Hilltoppers and a team sitting just outside of the NSLG Top 10 – South Florida. USF finished the season strong catapulted by their huge 44-23 upset over #22 Temple. The Bulls are an underrated team, suffering their only losses to Florida State, Maryland, Memphis and Navy. The Miami Beach Bowl is one of the best early games of the 2015 Bowl Season.
2. Navy Midshipmen (10-2)
Bowl Game: Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Gumman vs. Pitt
The #2 slot on this week’s NSLG Top 10 proves just how strong the American Conference was this season. Despite not winning their conference or division, Navy – ranked 21st in the final CFP poll – is a team that we would pick to beat just about any team in the country. Navy escaped an always tough game in the Army vs. Navy game, one of the best rivalries in sports history. You can throw out the records in this one, its always a tough game. Keenan Reynolds became the first QB in the history of the rivalry to go 4-0 as a starter as he led the Midshipmen to their 14th straight victory over Army. To add to his Heisman worthy resume, Reynolds became the best rusher in NCAA Division I history (FBS & FCS) with 85 career rushing touchdowns. Navy will take on the ACC Coastal 2nd place team, Pitt, in the Dec. 28 Military Bowl. Pitt has the nation’s 20th ranked rushing defense, so when Navy is in control of the ball this game will be one heck of a matchup. Keenan Reynolds’ first challenge on the ground this season came against Tulane on Oct. 24, but he proved that he could throw while beating the Green Wave 31-14 despite only 38 rushing yards. Any team in the country, even the SEC, would love to have a Keenan Reynolds as their quarterback. Reynolds is this year’s Not So Little Guys Player of the Year.
1. Houston Cougars (12-1 AAC Champions)
Bowl Game: Chik-fil-a Peach Bowl vs. Florida State
Houston has been one of the most underrated teams in this year’s college football season. Only ranked 18th in the final CFP poll, Houston’s only loss of the season came to a much improved UConn team with one of the league’s best defenses. Houston’s key highlights include wins over Louisville, Vanderbilt, Memphis, Navy and Temple. Houston’s 233 rushing yards lead to Cougars past a tough Temple defense in the AAC Championship Game. The Cougars, led by quarterback Greg Ward Jr. have one more game to prove to the nation that they are worthy to be in the conversation of the country’s best teams. The offensive attack between Ward, Jr. and Demarcus Ayers (89 receptions for 1,140 yards) is good enough to beat Florida State if they are in sync as they have been in many games this year. The Seminoles’ 5th ranked defense will have a tough challenge set up on New Year’s Eve.