Date: Dec. 22, 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Location: Boise, Idaho | Albertsons Stadium
Best moment: The 20-0 win over Kent State. This isn’t the best team the Zips beat, but this victory was important for other reasons. The Golden Flashes’ campus is just 10 miles from Akron so, naturally, Kent State is the Zips’ biggest rival. This was also Akron’s most lopsided win over Kent State since 2005, and this regular-season finale clinched a winning season.
Lowest moment: The 59-10 loss to Bowling Green. The Falcons are a solid team, but this was just flat-out embarrassing. Matt Johnson was nearly perfect on 25-of-30 passing for 357 yards and five touchdowns as Bowling Green outscored Akron 31-0 in the second half. Akron couldn’t get much of anything going and turned the ball over four times.
Key player: LB Jatavis Brown. Pick a stat, and chances are Brown leads the Zips. He leads the conference in sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (17.5), and he also leads Akron in tackles (108) and forced fumbles (3). He’s a big reason Akron boasts arguably the top defense in the MAC.
Motivation level: High. This is Akron’s first winning season in a decade, so there’s a lot to build from here. These seniors still know what a 1-11 season feels like (2012), so there’s no doubt they’re hungry for a bowl win. Win or lose, the Zips have already taken a step forward -- but they want to go as far as they possibly can.
-- Josh Moyer
Utah State Aggies
Best moment: The Aggies had lost 12 straight games to Boise State when the Broncos came calling in mid-October. Utah State reversed that streak in epic fashion, forcing eight turnovers -- including seven in the first half -- on its way to a 52-26 victory over a traditional Mountain West Conference power. After the game, coach Matt Wells opined that this may have been the greatest win in Utah State program history. So, yeah, it was the best moment of 2015 -- better than even a later 24-0 run to close out a comeback victory against Nevada.
Lowest moment: The Aggies’ Mountain West Conference championship hopes died a painful death in Albuquerque. New Mexico beat Utah State 14-13 in an early November game that was as sloppy as it was close. Fumbled snaps, untimely penalties, critical missed field goals -- you name it, it happened to the Aggies in this loss. So began the season’s final stretch, in which Utah State lost three of its final four games.
Key player: He missed more than half of the season due to injury, but quarterback Chuckie Keeton is the heart and soul of this Utah State team. The fifth-year senior is a true dual threat when he isn’t hobbled, and he set the Aggies’ program record for career touchdown passes in the regular-season finale. Keeton's gutsy performance in a loss at Utah early on turned many heads -- he kept Utah State close.
Motivation level: Bowl territory is nothing new for Utah State -- the Aggies have been to the postseason for several consecutive years now -- but there should be some excitement to help Keeton end his college career on a high note.
-- David Lombardi