SATURDAY’S BOWL GAMES
Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6)
Time: 10 a.m. PST; Location: Annapolis, Md., TV: ESPN.
The buzz: After an early season three-game losing streak, Cincinnati won its final seven regular-season games to earn a share of the American Athletic Conference title. Gunner Kiel passed for 3,010 yards and 30 touchdowns while guiding an offense that ranked No. 13 in the nation in passing yards per game (300.2) and No. 26 in points scored per game (35.4). When Kiel faced injury issues, Munchie Legaux, who rebounded from a gruesome leg injury, stepped in to help lead the Bearcats. Cincinnati’s defense struggled during its three losses, giving up an average of 48.6 points against Ohio State, Memphis and Miami. The Bearcats are making their sixth consecutive bowl appearance. Virginia Tech is working to avoid its first losing season since 1992. The team earned national attention after upsetting Ohio State, but Virginia Tech followed it up with losses to East Carolina and Georgia Tech. The rest of the season was marked by erratic performances, including a 17-16 win over then-No. 21 Duke, followed by a double-overtime 6-3 loss to Wake Forest. The Hokies pulled off a 24-20 win over Virginia in the regular-season finale to earn bowl eligibility. Virginia Tech ranks No. 18 nationally in scoring defense, giving up 20.4 points per game.
•Hyundai Sun Bowl
No. 15 Arizona State (9-3) vs. Duke (9-3)
Time: 11 a.m. PST. Location: El Paso. TV: Channel 2
The buzz: Arizona State flirted with a spot in the College Football Playoff, but lost two of its final three games. Quarterbacks Taylor Kelly (1,874 yards, 20 touchdowns) and Mike Bercovici (1,445 yards, 12 touchdowns) have thrived in Coach Todd Graham’s rapid-fire offensive attack. The Sun Devils rank No. 19 nationally in points per game (37.0) and No. 37 in passing yards per game (276.3). However, turnovers by Arizona State’s offense played a big role in the sun Devils’ three losses this season. Duke won eight of its first nine games and was on pace to win the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division title before a 17-16 loss to Virginia Tech and a 45-20 loss to North Carolina. Quarterback Anthony Boone has 2,507 yards passing but also 17 interceptions. After snapping a 17-year bowl drought, the Blue Devils are playing in their third consecutive bowl game. However, Duke is chasing its first postseason win since 1961.
•Duck Commander Independence Bowl
Miami (6-6) vs. South Carolina (6-6)
Time: 12:30 p.m. PST. Location: Shreveport, La. TV: Channel 7.
The buzz: Both programs came into this season with high hopes but fell well short of expectations. Miami was coming off a nine-win season in 2013 despite losing star running back Duke Johnson to an ankle injury. Freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya was thrust into the starting job, and he performed admirably, but this team couldn’t quite put all the pieces together and lost its last three games of the regular season to Florida State, Virginia and Pittsburgh. South Carolina was coming off an 11-win season, but right from the start something wasn’t right with the Gamecocks. A blowout loss to Texas A&M in the season-opener set the tone for much of the season as Steve Spurrier’s team gave up way too many yards and points. It got so bad, Spurrier contemplated retiring. Instead, he says he’ll be back for another four years.
•New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Boston College (7-5) vs. Penn State (6-6)
Time: 1:30 p.m. PST. Location: New York. TV: ESPN.
The buzz: Boston College has won three of its last five games, with one of the losses by just three points on the road against No. 3 Florida State. Dual-threat quarterback Tyler Murphy, a Florida Gators transfer, leads the team in passing (1,526 yards, 11 touchdowns) and rushing (1,079 yards, 10 touchdowns). The Eagles rank No. 14 nationally in rushing yards (251.8 yards per game) and No. 19 in scoring defense, constantly shifting their alignments to confuse offenses and limit opponents to 20.5 points per game. Boston College is seeking its first bowl win since 2007. Penn State is into the postseason for the first time since the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal became public. Penn State opened the season on a four-game winning streak, but the Nittany Lions struggled against Big Ten Conference competition. The most painful loss might have been a 31-24 double-overtime defeat against Ohio State. The Nittany Lions count on quarterback Christian Hackenberg to lead the offense. The sophomore has passed for 2,606 yards and eight touchdowns but with 15 interceptions.