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Friday, December 19, 2008
What to watch: Non-BCS early bowl edition


Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

Bowl season is upon us.

The EagleBank Bowl kicks us off bright and early on Saturday and there are seven bowls leading up to Christmas. So, let's look at the top things to watch heading into the early portion of the bowl season.

1. Put it on the line: Boise State coach Christ Petersen has shuffled his offensive line around all year because he hasn't felt comfortable with any one combination. He'll have to hope the lineup he picks for the Poinsettia Bowl is right because it will be going up against a TCU defensive front that is healthy, rested and the fastest the Broncos have seen this season.

2. The rematch: Navy took advantage of an underdog situation against Wake Forest earlier in the year, but the Midshipmen won't have that element of surprise this time around. Watch for a more confident Navy group, though, especially on defense after ending the season with two consecutive shutouts.

3. Keep the streak alive: Southern Miss enters the R+L Carriers Bowl against Troy with a streak of 14 consecutive winning seasons on the line. With a 6-6 record, a loss to the Trojans would guarantee a losing season and put a damper on the Golden Eagles late half run to bowl eligibility.

4. End on a high note: No team needs to end its season on a high note more than Notre Dame. After a miserable second half of the season and calls for its coach's ousting, Notre Dame needs to prove to itself and its fans that the tradition is still alive, even if it's just a little spark.

5. Live up to the hype: Few non-BCS players have received as many postseason accolades as TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes, and now it's time to live up to the hype. Hughes will have to be on his game to disrupt Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, who has't been rattled much this season.

6. Solidify the starting spot: Troy quarterback Levi Brown came into the season as third-string, but during the second half of the season he's lead Troy to its first outright conference title and put up ridiculous numbers doing it. He'll need another stellar performance against Southern Miss to strengthen his grip on the starting role for next season.

7. Pat Hill's Swan song: According to reports from various outlets, Pat Hill has fallen out of favor with Fresno State and has been shopping his coaching services. The New Mexico Bowl against Colorado State could very well be the last game Hill coaches with the Bulldogs.

8. Quest for perfection: BYU won't finish the season perfect, but a third consecutive 11-win season is not something to take lightly. The Broncos have a chance to complete that quest with a win over Arizona in the Las Vegas Bowl, a game the Cougars have won each of the past two seasons.

9. Thumbs up: Memphis quarterback Arkelon Hall played the last couple games of the season with a slightly healed broken thumb and it hurt the Tigers' passing game. Subsequently, Memphis' running game has carried it, but that won't be the case against a South Florida defense that is allowing less than 100 yards per game on the ground this season.

10. Redemption on the island: Unfortunately for Hawaii, its bowl history is marred with the pounding by Georgia in the Sugar Bowl last season. Although Notre Dame isn't what it used to be, a win over the Irish would give Hawaii a huge lift heading into next season and put the Warriors right back on the national map.