Picks: Marshall tops NIU in first week of bowls

Editor’s note: Throughout the season, Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel have presented their weekly picks.

Below are their selections for the first week of bowl season (all times ET). Enjoy.

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FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL

Western Michigan (+1.5) vs. Air Force, 5:45 p.m. (ESPN)

Mandel: Western Michigan’s freshman standout Jarvion Franklin (1,525 yards, 24 TDs) gets some national air time. But Air Force played a higher level of competition during the season, in fact beating both 11-2 Boise State and 10-2 Colorado State. Air Force 41, Western Michigan 20

Feldman: Two programs in bounce-back seasons. I’ll go with Zach Terrell and the much more dynamic WMU offense. WMU 34, Air Force 20

The result: Air Force 38, Western Michigan 24

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NEW ORLEANS BOWL

Nevada (-1) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

Mandel: The best argument for ULL is its de facto home-field advantage. Football-wise, Nevada’s .500 record in the Mountain West is more impressive than the Ragin’ Cajun’s 7-1 mark in the Sun Belt. Nevada 27, Louisiana-Lafayette 24

Feldman: Ragin Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth has won all three of his bowl trips at ULL and I think he’ll make it four in a row in a game that’s pretty much a home game. ULL 37, Nevada 21

The Result: ULL 16, Nevada 3

NEW MEXICO BOWL

Utah State (-10) vs. UTEP

Mandel: Aggies coach Matt Wells quietly pulled off one of the more impressive coaching jobs this season, leading Utah State to nine wins despite a Spinal Tap succession of quarterback injuries. Score another one for the Mountain West. Utah State 37, UTEP 20

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Feldman: Sean Kugler had a very nice second season turning a 2-10 team into a 7-5 group, but I don’t think the Miners will have quite enough against a USU program that has good bowl experience and a lot of resolve led by standout LB Zach Vigil, the best defensive player in the MWC. Utah State 20, UTEP 13

The Result: Utah State 21, UTEP 6

LAS VEGAS BOWL

Utah (-3.5) vs. Colorado State

Mandel: I would have liked to have seen the Rams get their shot at a Pac-12 foe without an interim coach (Dave Baldwin). They’ve certainly got quite a few weapons on offense with No. 2-rated passer Garrett Grayson, All-American WR Rashard Higgins and RB Dee Hart. But the Utes have played high-level defense all season and can control clock with RB Devontae Booker. Utah 24, Colorado State 20

Feldman: Jim McElwain’s gone and a Rams coaching staff is in the tough spot of wondering if after going 10-2 they all could be out of jobs while they face a Utes team with one of the best defensive fronts in college football. CSU has a terrific passing attack led by QB Garrett Grayson and Rashard Higgins but the Utes’ pressure will be too much for them. Utah 27, Colorado State 17

The Result: Utah 45, Colorado State 10

CAMELLIA BOWL

The national championship

South Alabama (-3) vs. Bowling Green, 9:15 p.m. (ESPN)

Mandel: I don’t usually play the curmudgeonly "too many bowls" card, but this matchup of six-loss mid-majors makes a compelling case. Bowling Green 30, South Alabama 21

Feldman: BG’s lost three in a row and been dismal on D. Then again South Alabama’s lost four of its last five. I’ll play the hunch and go with Dino Babers team. Bowling Green 28, South Alabama 17

The Result: Bowling Green 33, South Alabama 28

MIAMI BEACH BOWL

BYU (+1) vs. Memphis, 2 p.m. (ESPN)

Mandel: Memphis was one of the great turnaround stories this year. BYU performed admirably down the stretch given the loss of heart-and-soul QB Taysom Hill, as Christian Stewart emerged as a solid passer. Memphis’ defense is stout and could cause problems for Stewart, but BYU is the more talented team. BYU 24, Memphis 14

Feldman: Justin Fuente was rewarded for a terrific season with a contract extension. He’s got his program going, having won six in a row, and Barry Odom runs a very good D that should be able to slow down the Cougar offense. The Tigers haven’t allowed an opponent to score more than 20 in its last six games but BYU is more physical than any of those other teams. Memphis 23, BYU 20

The Result: Memphis 55, BYU 48

BOCA RATON BOWL

Marshall (-10) vs. Northern Illinois, 6 p.m. (ESPN)

Mandel: If you look at the way the teams ended the regular season, NIU was trending upward, Marshall downward. But it’s foolish to take momentum into consideration with such a long break before the bowl game. Look for Herd QB Rakeem Cato to go out with a big last game and for Marshall’s defense to play better than of late. Marshall 45, Northern Illinois 34

Feldman: Rakeem Cato’s career finale comes against a very underrated team that has won seven in a row. I was very tempted to go with NIU but this is such a homecoming game for Cato and so many of his teammates I think they’ll find a way to win. Marshall 38, NIU 34

The Result: Marshall 52, Northern Illinois 23

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POINSETTIA BOWL

Navy (+3) at San Diego State, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Mandel: San Diego State will have had two extra weeks to prepare for this game than Navy, which will have faced Army just 10 days earlier. And that’s big when preparing for an offense like Navy’s. That and the home crowd favor the Aztecs. San Diego State 31, Navy 20

Feldman: This is a home game for the Aztecs (6-0 at home this year) and the last time out for OC Bob Toledo. Expect an inspired performance from them and from a program that has an eight-game winning streak over service academies. San Diego State 38, Navy 27

The Result: Navy 17, San Diego State 16

BAHAMAS BOWL

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Central Michigan (+3.5) vs. Western Kentucky, Noon (ESPN)

Mandel: Western Kentucky flew under the radar prior to its Nov. 28 upset of then-undefeated Marshall, but the Hilltoppers’ offense is not to be taken lightly. Coach Jeff Brohm’s team scored at least 31 points in all but one game, averaging 44 per game. QB Brandon Doughty threw for more yards than any other quarterback. Look for the Hilltoppers to pour it on against their MAC foe provided they don’t spend all week on the beach. Western Kentucky 52, Central Michigan 27

Feldman: I was close to picking CMU because of their much better road record but Western’s won four in a row and QB Brandon Doughty’s been terrific down the stretch, throwing 19 TDs against just 2 INTs. WKU 41, CMU 30

The Result: Western Kentucky 49, Central Michigan 48

HAWAII BOWL

Fresno State (+2) vs. Rice, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Mandel: Rice allowed just 16.6 points per game in its seven wins, but a whopping 49.6 in its five losses, which includes a 76-31 debacle against Louisiana Tech its last time out. Fresno actually had a decent defense down the stretch. Fresno State 42, Rice 24

Feldman: The Owls come into this having given up 107 points in their last two losses. I’ll go with Fresno, which has more athletes and was playing better down the stretch. Fresno State 28, Rice 21

The Result: Rice 30, Fresno State 6

Mandel this season: 115-65 straight-up; 88-92 vs. spread

Feldman this season: 116-64 straight-up; 91-89 vs. spread