AAC Bowl Prospectus

Ezra Shaw

Breaking down all of the five bowl games with AAC representatives.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: no. 15 UCF vs. no. 6 Baylor

Jan. 1 8:30 p.m.   Glendale, AZ    ESPN

The AAC conference champions will have their mettle tested against a Baylor offense that seems like it could melt the old Steel Curtain. The 11-1 Bears are led by marquee quarterback Bryce Petty, who captained coach Art Briles' spread attack to over 53 points per game—by far the best in the country. Petty will be playing on Sundays soon enough, as should UCF signal caller Blake Bortles.

Bortles and the Knights stumbled down the stretch of their AAC title run, but an undefeated conference record placed them unquestionably in the ranks of the BCS. The UCF defense is a very disciplined unit that will be stretched from sideline to sideline. The Knights may need an extra score on defense or special teams to keep up. Baylor is currently listed as three-score favorite.

Russell Athletic Bowl: no. 18 Louisville vs. Miami

Dec. 28 6:45 p.m.   Orlando, FL    ESPN

After upsetting a major program from Florida last year, Louisville heads into the Russell Athletic bowl as decided favorites against another team out of the Sunshine state this post-season. The Cardinals will battle an underachieving Miami Hurriance group that finished its year 9-3 after a string of very poor performances in October and November. Teddy Bridgewater completed better than 70 percent of his passes for 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions this season, which could be his last in Louisville.

Meanwhile, the Cardinal defense finished 2013 with a top-five national ranking, and it will line up against a Hurricane offense saddled without its best player, injured running back Duke Johnson. However, Miami produced 31 first half points in its last game against Pittsburgh, when inconsistent starting quarterback Stephen Morris threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns.

Belk Bowl: Cincinnati vs. North Carolina

Dec. 28 3:20 p.m.   Charlotte, NC    ESPN

Once it failed to secure a victory over Louisville in the season finale, Cincinnati punched its second consecutive ticket to the Belk Bowl. Last year, the Bearcats defeated Duke 48-34 in a game that went undecided until the final seconds. In just under three weeks, they'll tangle with a 6-6 North Carolina team that has won five of its last six to gain bowl eligibility. The Tar Heels' lone loss was a heartbreaking 27-25 defeat to no. 24 Duke, who went on to compete (and get smashed) in the ACC title game.

Brendon Kay has put forth a very respectable season for Cincinnati under center, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 22 touchdowns. He'll likely find himself in a shoot-out with a Tar Heel offense that has averaged better than 41 points over its last six games. The Bearcat defense will especially have to keep an eye on tight end Eric Ebron, who hauled in 55 passes this year for nearly 900 yards. Ebron is projected as a first-round NFL draft pick in 2014.

BBVA Compass Bowl: Houston vs. Vanderbilt

Jan. 4 1:00 p.m.   Birmingham, AL    ESPN

In one of the most underrated games on the 2013 bowl slate, Houston and Vanderbilt will meet after they each completed an 8-4 regular season. Of course, the two teams endured vastly different conference schedules, but they separately boast considerable talent on one side of the ball. The Cougar defense limited opponents to just over 20 points per game, thanks to a pass rush built on nine separate defenders, who recorded multiple sacks.

Offensively, the Commodores have watched star wide receiver Jordan Matthews snatch 107 balls for 1,334 yards over only 12 games. Matthews is another surefire NFL prospect that gave even the best SEC defenses problems. Following a tough 56-24 loss at then no. 16 Texas A&M, Vanderbilt concluded its regular season with four straight wins.

New Era Pinstipe Bowl: Rutgers vs. Notre Dame

Dec. 28 Noon   Bronx, NY    ESPN

Rutgers has squeaked in to the Pinstripe Bowl thanks only to a home defeat of USF and its close proximity to the Big Apple. If you have free time on this late December day from 12-3 p.m., spend it somewhere away from the TV.

Let's just leave this at "Go Irish", shall we?

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