NAVY MIDSHIPMEN (6-5) vs. SAN DIEGO STATE AZTECS (7-5)
DEC. 23, 9:30 P.M. ET, QUALCOMM STADIUM, SAN DIEGO (ESPN)
Season highlights: Navy's 41-31 win over San Jose State on Oct. 25 was huge, as quarterback Keenan Reynolds finished with a career-high 251 rushing yards, the most by an FBS quarterback since fellow Midshipmen QB Shun White had 348 against Towson in 2008. That victory stands out, as do a Week 2 win at Temple and a 52-19 Nov. 15 rout of fellow triple-option school Georgia Southern, which ended up going 9-3 in its first year in FBS play. As always, nothing is bigger for Navy than the Dec. 13 game against Army.
Season lowlights: There is nothing low about losing to Ohio State and Notre Dame, but Navy gave both power programs all it could handle only to leave each contest with a bad taste in its mouth. A 30-21 loss at Air Force on Oct. 4 did not sit well either, as it marked the Mids' third straight loss at the time.
Player to watch: Everything comes back to Reynolds, who leads all quarterbacks nationally in rushing yards (1,082), rushing TDs (20) and rushes (205) despite missing two games. The junior is also first in yards per completion (17.42). He had the active FBS streak for consecutive games with a rushing touchdown (14) before it was snapped Nov. 1 against Notre Dame.
Motivation factor: An 11th bowl appearance in 12 years is quite an accomplishment for Navy, which will get to enjoy the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. Wins in their final two games would give the Mids their third straight season with at least eight wins. Wins in their final two games would also give them six wins in their last seven games, the only loss coming in a tight contest with Notre Dame. That would give the program plenty of momentum heading into the offseason.
-- Matt Fortuna
SAN DIEGO STATE BREAKDOWN
Season highlights: The Aztecs were one of only three teams in the country with a winning record to beat all of their opponents by double digits. So when they won, they won big. The biggest of those wins was probably a late-season 30-14 victory over Air Force that made them bowl eligible for the fifth straight year. A season-finale win over San Jose State was the icing.
Season lowlights: As good as the Aztecs were at running up the score, they couldn’t always hold a lead. Three losses this season came when they were leading going into the final quarter -- and all of them were on the road. The toughest came in Week 2, when they blew a 24-14 lead against then-No. 21 North Carolina before losing 31-27. With first-and-goal in the final minute at the UNC 3-yard line, quarterback Quinn Kaehler was picked off in the end zone to thwart the upset.
Player to watch: Donnel Pumphrey has quietly been one of the best running backs in the country. With 1,761 yards and 19 touchdowns, he is third in the nation in yards on the ground. He’s also inching closer to George Jones’ school record. He needs just 82 yards to break the single-season mark of 1,842.
Motivation: After going to just four bowl games in 41 years, the Aztecs are going to the postseason for the fifth straight season. That started in Brady Hoke’s final year as coach, when they topped Navy in the flooded Poinsettia Bowl of 2010. Hoke took the Michigan job shortly afterward. The Aztecs have won eight straight games over service academies, and SDSU was perfect at home this season. It bodes well for the Aztecs that the Poinsettia Bowl is being played at Qualcomm Stadium.
-- Kevin Gemmell