It’s the most wonderful time of the year. I’m not talking about the Christmas holidays either, I’m talking about bowl season.
While the bowl season signals the end of the college football season, and the beginning of the long lull as we wait for it to return, it also means we get some great matchups to look forward to before diving headfirst into the college football playoff.
While there are a ton of matchups on the upcoming slate starting tomorrow, I am going to touch on some of the ones I am looking forward to the most.
Las Vegas Bowl: BYU vs. Utah
A rivalry game called the Holy War is going to be played in a bowl game in Las Vegas? Where do I sign up for that? The rivalry itself is already fun to watch as is despite the two teams no longer being in the same conference, and the fact that we get to see them play each other during the bowl season is just icing on the cake. Both teams are looking to get their tenth win of the season and both would love to get it over their hated in-state rival. In the words of Jim Ross, this one is going to be a slobber knocker. I am going to take Utah in a close one out in Vegas.
Russell Athletic Bowl: North Carolina vs. Baylor
This game hinges on Jarrett Stidham being about to play, because if Baylor is forced to run their Wildbear offense or have Chris Johnson start, I don’t see how this ends up being a close game. Ever since Stidham was knocked out of the lineup Baylor hasn’t been able to fire on all cylinders offensively and with North Carolina able to put points up in bunches, that will be a major problem. As things sit now, I am picking the Tar Heels.
Prediction: North Carolina
Texas Bowl: LSU vs. Texas Tech
This is a matchup of contrasting styles and offensive philosophies. On one hand you have the smash mouth, run the ball down your throat and play good defense style in LSU and on the other hand you have the spread you out and throw the ball around style in Texas Tech. While Texas Tech is capable of scoring on anyone, the deciding factor is going to be how badly they get gashed by Leonard Fournette on defense. Tech’s run defense was one of the worst, if not the worst in the entire country and that does not bode well for the Red Raiders in this one.
Music City Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Louisville
With the turmoil down in College Station this matchup intrigues me more than some of others. With Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray opting to transfer out of the program, the Aggies are down to starting third string quarterback Jake Hubenak with a former walk on backing him up. On paper this doesn’t look good for the Aggies, but Louisville has had to battle some quarterback inconsistencies as well. One of two things is going to happen in this game, either the Aggies are going to enter this game distracted by all of the issues swirling around the program and get embarrassed or they are going to rally around Hubenak and give Louisville their best shot. For the sake of Kevin Sumlin, I hope it is the latter. As of right now, I am rolling with Louisville.
Peach Bowl: Houston vs. Florida State
I feel like I am the only one really intrigued by Tom Herman’s bunch against Jimbo Fisher’s Noles. Houston is coming off a heck of a season in which they captured the AAC title in Herman’s first year as a head coach and they feature a dynamic offense and a defense who I think is better than some think. The Cougars will have their hands full with slowing down Dalvin Cook, but I feel like Houston can enter this matchup feeling like they have absolutely nothing to lose here. People didn’t expect them to make this kind of run, and people are not expecting them to beat Florida State. Sounds like FSU stands way more to lose than Houston does any way you slice it. I am picking the Cougars to shock the world in Atlanta.
Citrus Bowl: Michigan vs. Florida
This is a battle between two blue blood programs and looks really appealing on paper until you realize that Florida doesn’t have a quarterback. I expect Florida’s defense to play well throughout this matchup, but I feel like Treon Harris will eventually cost them the game in some capacity. Meanwhile the Wolverines have had a bit of a resurgence under Jim Harbaugh and are certainly on the uptick with the product on the field improving and recruiting taking off. I like Michigan to pick up the W.
Alamo Bowl: Oregon vs. TCU
This matchup has great potential for some offensive fireworks. Both teams have dynamic playmakers at quarterback in Vernon Adams and Trevone Boykin, and both offenses have playmakers around them. Adams really got going during the second half of the year once he got healthy, and with Josh Doctson not being able to go, I am giving the edge to the Ducks in what should be a shootout in San Antonio.
Fiesta Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Ohio State
This might be my favorite matchup of the entire bowl season. When I saw this matchup get revealed I was already on the edge of my seat for it. Notre Dame was decimated by injuries this year, but only lost both of their games by less than 10 points combined. Ohio State dealt with an identity crisis on the offensive side of the ball this year after losing Tom Herman to Houston, but they are still dangerous and one of the most talented teams in college football. Despite neither playing for national title this year, they both have a chance to cap the year with a big bowl game win over a big time opponent. I expect this game to be very close and to be back and forth to the very end. I could see this easily being a field game winner or even an overtime thriller. I’ve admired how Notre Dame has played all year long with the amount of adversity they hit early and often, and I am picking them to come out on top by a slim margin against the Buckeyes.
Prediction: Notre Dame
Rose Bowl: Iowa vs. Stanford
Two teams with similar identities that barely came up short in making the playoff. Iowa saw their undefeated season come to an end at the hands of Michigan State in the final seconds in the Big 10 title game, and Stanford ended up with one too many losses on their resume despite winning the Pac-12 title. I think the key to this game will be the Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey. Iowa will have their hands full in slowing the dynamic back down in this matchup and after watching them not find a way to get off the field against Connor Cook and LJ Scott in the final minutes against Sparty; I am taking the Nerds of Palo Alto to hoist the roses.
Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Ole Miss
This matchup features two teams they looked they were going to make some noise and possibly take the crown in their respective conferences. Things didn’t end up working out for them as things slipped away down the home stretch, but they still managed to make it to a major bowl game. Oklahoma State watched their Big 12 title hopes slip away as they were unable to close out the season against Baylor and Oklahoma at home and things spiraled out of control for Ole Miss after a big win against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The Rebels have had a bit of a distraction with the whole Robert Nkemdiche thing going on, but I like them over the Cowboys in this one.
Prediction: Ole Miss
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Oklahoma
We have us a matchup of similar styles in this half of the playoff bracket, with two spread teams that like to go up-tempo and score lots of points. Clemson finished as the only team with an unblemished record and capped it off with an ACC title with a win over North Carolina. Meanwhile Oklahoma comes into the playoff on a hot streak of their own, as they bounced back from an early season stumble against Texas to take home the Big 12 title that included a win over in-state rival Oklahoma in their annual Bedlam rivalry game. This is going to be a great matchup and features two great quarterbacks that got Heisman consideration, so I expect some serious back and forth action. Early on in the season I worried some about Oklahoma’s offensive line and that unit will be tested by Clemson and Shaq Lawson. I am going with Clemson in this one by a small margin, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Oklahoma pulled off the win.
Cotton Bowl: Alabama vs. Michigan State
Again we got another matchup with similar styles. This time we have two stout defensive teams, who possess offenses who want to run the football and control the time of possession. This matchup on paper will be interesting because while Alabama possesses the better running back and overall running game with Derrick Henry, Michigan State has the more capable quarterback in Connor Cook. I give Alabama the edge defensively, but the Spartans are no slouch by any means and will make things tough early on for Alabama and Jake Coker. I expect a low scoring affair and think the punters will get involved a lot early. I think the quarterback who makes fewer mistakes in this one will come out on top and I think despite not having the edge in that category, I think Alabama will come out on top.