Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
ILLINOIS (6-6) VS. LOUISIANA TECH (8-5)
Time: 10 a.m. PST. Location: Dallas. TV: ESPN.
The buzz: Despite losing starting quarterback Wes Lunt to a broken leg in October, Illinois won its final two games to clinch bowl eligibility. Lunt had 1,729 yards passing and 14 touchdowns. Reilly O’Toole stepped in and has passed for 1,049 yards and nine touchdowns. The Illini’s rushing attack ranked No. 114 in the nation at only 117.1 yards per game. Illinois is looking to improve to 9-9 in bowl games and earn its first postseason victory since 2011, and Coach Tim Beckman is looking for his first bowl victory at the school. Louisiana Tech used a five-game midseason winning streak to punch its ticket to the bowl. Skip Holtz’s team fell to Marshall, 26-23, in the Conference USA title game, keeping the game close despite losing five players to suspensions. Quarterback Cody Sokol, an Iowa transfer, was selected the conference’s newcomer of the year after turning the Bulldogs into a big-play offense. Tailback Kenneth Dixon also has been a force for Louisiana Tech, which hit a peak during a 76-31 victory over Rice on Nov. 29. The Bulldogs are seeking their first bowl victory since 2008.
Quick Lane Bowl
RUTGERS (7-5) VS. NORTH CAROLINA (6-6)
Time: 1:30 p.m. PST. Location: Detroit. TV: ESPN.
The buzz: Rutgers won five of its first six games before struggling through the heart of its Big Ten Conference schedule. Gary Nova led the Scarlet Knights with 2,667 yards passing and 20 touchdowns. Rutgers enters the bowl game with momentum after rallying from a 25-point deficit to beat Maryland. Offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen helped orchestrate the biggest comeback in Rutgers history during his return to Maryland, a school that fired him as coach in 2010. Rutgers is chasing its first bowl victory since 2011. North Carolina brushed off an early four-game losing streak, winning four of the next five games. Larry Fedora’s rapid-fire offense ranks No. 24 nationally in passing yards per game (279.3) and No. 33 in points per game (34.3). Quarterback Marquise Williams has 2,870 yards passing and 20 touchdowns, and 737 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. The Tar Heels rank among the bottom 10 in the nation in points given up per game (38.9). The Tar Heels are seeking consecutive bowl victories after topping Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl last season.
Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl
CENTRAL FLORIDA (9-3) VS. NORTH CAROLINA STATE (7-5)
Time: 5 p.m. PST. Location: St. Petersburg, Fla. TV: ESPN.
The buzz: Central Florida lost its first two games as quarterback Justin Holman went through growing pains. He steered the Knights to victories in their next five games before they lost to Connecticut on Nov. 1. The Knights earned a share of the American Athletic Conference title for the second consecutive season. North Carolina State made strides in its second season under Dave Doeren. The Wolfpack bounced back from mid-season loses to Florida State, Clemson, Louisville and Boston College. Central Florida is ranked No. 8 in points given up per game (17.9) and North Carolina is ranked No. 37 in rushing yards at 206 per game.