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Going Bowling 2018: Predicting the outcome of every college bowl game

December 12, 2018
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Here we are again. Once more, college football’s bowl season is upon us. And once again, I embark on my annual Quixotic quest of picking the winners of every single bowl game. You’d think I’d get sick of tilting at this particular windmill, but no one ever accused me of being sensible

While I've had some success in the past, make no mistake - I have no idea what I'm doing.

It's an opportunity to watch a bunch of college football teams about which you know nothing. It’s a wonderful dice roll; you never know if you might happen upon a game where something unprecedented takes place. In fact, I have a long history of stumbling onto the wildest, most unexpectedly entertaining bowl matchups of each season. I expect more of the same this year.

And with that - let's go bowling.


Bowl schedule

Saturday, Dec. 15

New Mexico Bowl – 2 p.m.
North Texas (9-3) vs. Utah State (10-2)

There’s nothing quite so much fun as watching two high-octane offenses go at each other in a bowl game. That’s where we’re at here – North Texas scored over 36 per game on the season, while Utah State was third in the country in scoring with a staggering average of 47.2 points per game. Both teams have OK defenses, but let’s be real – there are going to be points scored. A LOT of points. Who scores more?

Winner: Utah State

AutoNation Cure Bowl – 2:30 p.m.
Tulane (6-6) vs. Louisiana (7-6)

A pair of Louisiana teams match up in this one. They share more than a state in common – both teams have run-oriented offenses that averaged over 200 yards per game. However, the Green Wave definitely have an advantage as far as history is concerned – this marks the 29th contest between these two teams and Tulane has won 22 of them. It’ll come down to defense; by most measures, Tulane’s is superior.

Winner: Tulane

Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl – 3:30 p.m.
#21 Fresno State (11-2) vs. Arizona State (7-5)

There’s a fair amount to like here. Fresno State has seen some awfully good QB play out of Marcus McMaryion, while their defense has been next level – teams score less than 14 per game against them. However, Arizona State took a surprising step forward under new coach Herm Edwards. QB Manny Wilkins was terrific and RB Eno Benjamin led the Pac-12 in rushing. This one could prove very entertaining.

Winner: Fresno State

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl – 5:30 p.m.
Georgia Southern (9-3) vs. Eastern Michigan (7-5)

Georgia Southern bounced back after a terrible 2017, thanks to a rushing attack that ranked ninth nationally. They could do some damage against a not-great Eastern Michigan run defense. Meanwhile, Eastern Michigan QB Tyler Wiegers is good, but so is the Georgia Southern pass coverage. Still, Eastern Michigan has a knack for big plays and even their losses have been close. This one could be tight.

Winner: Georgia Southern

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl – 9 p.m.
Middle Tennessee (8-5) vs. Appalachian State (10-2)

Yet another one of the early games that might well turn out to be a lot of fun. Middle Tennessee is a solid program; they’ve got a good QB in Brent Stockstill and a decent defense. Appalachian State, however, is one of the very best teams outside the power conferences. Offensively, they’re just OK, but their defense has been phenomenal – less than 16 points allowed per game. App State easily.

Winner: Appalachian State

Tuesday, Dec. 18

Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl – 7 p.m.
UAB (10-3) vs. Northern Illinois (8-5)

A pair of conference champions facing off in this one. UAB won 10 games and Conference USA despite only returning to the field last fall after being disbanded. Northern Illinois has become a powerhouse in the MAC. Both rely on the run and have excellent scoring defenses. There are some elite pass rushers in the game as well. Regardless of who wins, this will likely be a low-scoring affair.

Wednesday, Dec. 19

DXL Frisco Bowl – 8 p.m.
San Diego State (7-5) vs. Ohio (8-4)

This will come down to a strength-against-strength matchup. Ohio RB A.J. Ouellette amassed more than 1,000 yards, while fellow RB Maleek Irons and QB Nathan Roarke both eclipsed 800 on the ground. But San Diego State is one of the country’s best run defenders, giving up less than 95 yards per game and under three yards per carry. Call it a hunch, but I think the Aztecs defense handles its business.

Winner: San Diego State

Thursday, Dec. 20

Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl – 8 p.m.
Marshall (8-4) vs. South Florida (7-5)

This one is essentially a home game for USF, who play this game in their home stadium. They come in reeling, having lost their last five after starting the season 7-0. They need QB Blake Barnett to go, but his status is questionable. Marshall’s defense will likely stifle the strong USF running game; the offense is young and talented. Worth noting: Marshall is 5-0 in bowls under coach Doc Holliday.

Winner: Marshall

Friday, Dec. 21

Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl – 12:30 p.m.
FIU (8-4) vs. Toledo (7-5)

This one has fireworks potential written all over it. Toledo has one of the nation’s most prolific offenses – they averaged over 41 per game – while FIU was no slouch at nearly 35. Toledo has had some injury issues at QB, but both guys are capable. The receiving corps is crazy deep. However, on the defensive side, FIU has the advantage. Will it be enough? Probably not – expect a shootout.

Winner: Toledo

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl – 4 p.m.
Western Michigan (7-5) vs. BYU (6-6)

BYU is pretty far removed from its glory days, but they’ve got a freshman quarterback who has looked pretty good in Zach Wilson and a solid defense that handled some good offensive attacks. Western Michigan lost their starting QB to injury, but they’ve got a pair of rushers in LeVante Bellamy and Jamauri Bogan that combined for nearly 1,900 yards and 21 TDs on the season.

Winner: Western Michigan

Saturday, Dec. 22

Jared Birmingham Bowl - noon
Memphis (8-5) vs. Wake Forest (6-6)

This game is interesting because it features a couple of the country’s best offensive skill players. Memphis has running back Darrell Henderson, Wake Forest has wideout Greg Dortch – both among the best in college football. However, Wake Forest’s run defense is suspect, setting the table for a big Henderson day. The Demon Deacons will go to Dortch plenty – Memphis isn’t great against the pass. It’ll come down to whose great is greater.

Winner: Memphis

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl – 3:30 p.m.
Houston (8-4) vs. Army (9-2)

I always root for the service academies in bowl games – this is no exception. Army was second in the nation in rushing, putting up over 300 yards per game on the ground. And since Houston’s D-line is struggling with injury, this could be a nightmare matchup for the Cougars. Of course, Houston’s offense is packed with talented players. Army needs to control the game to win – and I think they will.

Winner: Army

Dollar General Bowl – 7 p.m.
Buffalo (10-3) vs. Troy (9-3)

A standout defense versus a high-octane offense – just the kind of strength-on-strength showdown that makes bowl games so much fun. Troy’s got a killer D, while Buffalo throws points on the board. If that’s a wash, it’ll come down to whether the Troy rushing attack can get it going against a pretty good Buffalo defense. It’s the kind of game that has real potential for drama – it’ll be a close one either way.

Winner: Buffalo

SoFi Hawai'i Bowl – 10:30 p.m.
Louisiana Tech (7-5) vs. Hawaii (8-5)

This Hawaii team can put up points – over 32 per game – with a QB in Cole McDonald that threw 35 TD passes on the season. They’ve got a talented receiving corps as well. But Louisiana Tech has a fairly stingy defense, so they might be able to handle the Rainbow Warriors. That said, the Bulldogs come in having lost three of four. A big game from QB J’Mar Smith is their only shot.

Winner: Hawaii

Wednesday, Dec. 26

SERVPRO First Responder Bowl – 1:30 p.m. 
Boston College (7-5) vs. #25 Boise State (10-3)

Boise State seems to have settled into its “best of the rest” lane – a good team whose double-digit wins will land them in a bowl game like this one. Boston College started strong and faded down the stretch – they come in having lost three in a row. Both teams have very good running backs and solid defenses; it’s just going to come down to whose is better and more solid, respectively.

Winner: Boise State

Quick Lane Bowl – 5:15 p.m.
Minnesota (6-6) vs. Georgia Tech (7-5)

Georgia Tech is always a must-watch in bowl season – the flexbone option offense is always a delight to watch. They led the nation in rushing at nearly 335 yards per game. Oh, and legendary coach Paul Johnson is retiring after the game. Minnesota has some talented players – RB Mohamed Ibrahim, WR Tyler Johnson – but they’ll struggle to stop the Georgia Tech rush. No way the Yellowjackets lose.

Winner: Georgia Tech

Cheez-It Bowl – 9 p.m.
California (7-5) vs. TCU (6-6)

This one has the potential to be a bit dull, with a pair of strong defenses facing off against one another. It’ll boil down to which skill position player – RB Patrick Laird for Cal, WR Jalen Reagor for TCU – goes off. Neither team is inclined to give up big plays, while both struggle to avoid turnovers. The winner here will be the one that takes care of the football and feeds its star.

Winner: California

Thursday, Dec. 27

Walk-On's Independence Bowl – 1:30 p.m.
Temple (8-4) vs. Duke (7-5)

Duke football is no longer the joke it was a decade ago – this marks six bowls in seven years. However, the offense hasn’t been there for the Blue Devils as of late. They’ll need to turn it around against a Temple team that has shown the potential for big offensive production. Oh, and the Owls pass defense led their conference. Expect Temple to run all over Duke’s iffy rushing defense.

Winner: Temple

New Era Pinstripe Bowl – 5:15 p.m.
Miami (7-5) vs. Wisconsin (7-5)

This is not the bowl game that either of these teams was hoping for coming into the season. Both had high expectations that were dashed due to a combination of injury and ineffectiveness. And so they land in New York, where the weather will only exacerbate the scoring difficulties that plague both squads. This will be a low-scoring game, and while some low-scoring games can be exciting, this one definitely won’t be.

Winner: Wisconsin

Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl – 9 p.m.
Baylor (6-6) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6)

Sometimes, looks can be deceiving. A pair of .500 teams facing off in a Thursday night bowl game? Why would you watch that? Well, in this case, it’s because both of these teams are better than their records might imply. Baylor has a potent offensive attack, while Vanderbilt’s defense managed to handle its business even in the SEC. It’ll all come down to which team wins the battle of strength vs. strength.

Winner: Vanderbilt

Friday, Dec. 28

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl – 1:30 p.m.
Purdue (6-6) vs. Auburn (7-5)

This is one of those “meh” matchups you often get in mid-tier bowl games. It’s not that these teams are bad – Purdue beat Ohio State, Auburn went 7-5 with an SEC schedule. But it’s tough to find reasons to get fired up about the game. Auburn’s got a great defense, while Purdue QB David Blough had a very good year. Auburn’s offense is marred by injury, but Purdue’s defense is bad. Go Auburn? I guess?

Winner: Auburn

Camping World Bowl – 5:15 p.m.
#16 West Virginia (8-3) vs. #20 Syracuse (9-3)

How jazzed are the folks from Camping World? This is easily the best bowl outside the big names, and it’s not close. Both of these teams feature offenses that averaged over 40 points a game this season – and there’s no reason not to expect both teams to clear that mark in this game. This one’s going to be explosive; whichever team manages one more big play on D will win it.

Winner: Syracuse

Valero Alamo Bowl – 9 p.m.
#24 Iowa State (8-4) vs. #13 Washington State (10-2)

Another delightful strength-on-strength showdown, though this one might feature the strongest units of any of this year’s matchups. Washington State scores a ton of points; QB Gardner Minshew passed for 36 TDs against just nine picks. Iowa State’s defense was among the national leaders in pass efficiency defense and put up 31 sacks. Still, it’s tough to see the Cyclones really stopping Washington State.

Winner: Washington State

Saturday, Dec. 29

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - noon
#10 Florida vs. #7 Michigan

This is a tough one to pick, if only because both teams have shown inconsistencies. Either squad can win if they play up to their potential. Michigan has some real skill on defense, but they’ve gotten blown up before. Florida has shown glimpses of quality offense, but too often, they’ve been uneven at best. Yet both teams are rife with high-end talent. In a surprisingly low-scoring affair, give me the Wolverines.

Winner: Michigan

Belk Bowl - noon
South Carolina (7-5) vs. Virginia (7-5)

This one has the potential to be a bit one-sided. South Carolina had a pretty impressive passing attack this season, but Virginia’s defense has been stifling against the pass – one of the best in their conference. Meanwhile, Virginia QB Bryce Perkins was one of the best in the ACC and South Carolina’s defense has been fairly porous, allowing over 27 points a game. If the Cavaliers show up, it’ll be all Virginia.

Winner: Virginia

NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl – 1:15 p.m. 
Arkansas State (8-4) vs. Nevada (7-5)

This is one of those games that has a chance to be a LOT of fun, a sneaky-good under-the-radar sleeper. Both of these teams have top-25 passing offenses; QBs Justice Hansen (Arkansas State) and Ty Gangi (Nevada) both had excellent seasons. While Hansen might have the edge in that matchup – he was responsible for 33 total TDs (27 passing, six rushing) – Nevada’s D is better. Expect a shootout.

Winner: Nevada

Monday, Dec. 31

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman - noon
Cincinnati (10-2) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6)

The Hokies keep their streak alive; Virginia Tech makes its 26th consecutive bowl appearance. They’ve struggled with injuries all year, but are always dangerous. Meanwhile, Cincinnati cruised through the AAC, thanks to some quality quarterback play courtesy of Desmond Ridder and a big leap forward on defense – they barely gave up 16 a game. The Hokies will play hard, but it’s tough to pick against the Bearcats here.

Winner: Cincinnati

Hyundai Sun Bowl – 2 p.m.
Stanford (8-4) vs. Pittsburgh (7-6)

Two venerable football institutions meeting for the first time in nearly 90 years – gotta love bowl season! Don’t let your hopes get too high, however; neither of these teams has been particularly exciting this season. Pitt has gotten it done mostly on the ground, while Stanford had to shift schematically thanks to an injury to star RB Bryce Love. It’ll be a ho-hum game at best. As for the winner? Coin flip.

Winner: Pittsburgh

Redbox Bowl – 3 p.m.
Michigan State (7-5) vs. Oregon (8-4)

So this game might feature the most interesting stylistic contrast of any matchup this bowl season. Oregon features its usual offensive fireworks, averaging more than 37 points per game. They’re fast both on the ground and through the air. But Michigan State has a shutdown defense; only one team dinged them for over 30 all year. However, Michigan State also has QB questions – they just won’t score enough.

Winner: Oregon

AutoZone Liberty Bowl – 3:45 p.m.
#23 Missouri (8-4) vs. Oklahoma State (6-6)

Another high-scoring affair. Both of these offenses are excellent – Missouri averaged just shy of 37 points a game, OSU just a bit more than 38. Missouri QB Drew Lock and OSU QB Taylor Cornelius will both be airing it out. It’s going to boil down to which defense manages to come up with a couple of big stops or forced turnovers. That will make all the difference when both teams clear 35 points.

Winner: Missouri

San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl – 7 p.m.
#22 Northwestern (8-5) vs. #17 Utah (9-4)

As someone who loves wild offensive explosions in his bowl games, this one is probably not going to be for me. Both teams have had serious issues on the offensive side of the ball at times this year, so who knows what kind of scoring we’re going to see – particularly because both defenses are quite good. Points will be at a premium, with the team that manages one or two big plays likely to pull it out.

Winner: Northwestern

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl – 7:30 p.m.
NC State (9-3) vs. #19 Texas A&M (8-4)

This one might not leap out at you, but this to could be one of the better games. You’ve got two teams with explosive players on offense and not a lot going on in terms of defense. Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams is top-shelf, putting up over 1,500 yards on the ground to go with 15 TDs. NC State has an accurate QB in Ryan Finley who’ll pick apart A&M’s suspect pass defense. Big shootout potential.

Winner: NC State

Tuesday, Jan. 1

Outback Bowl - noon
#18 Mississippi State (8-4) vs. Iowa (8-4)

If you like well-executed, old-school football, this might be the best matchup on the bowl slate. Both teams feature quality defenses, though Mississippi State’s is likely the better of the two – best pass defense in the SEC and nearly 40 sacks. Iowa’s no slouch, though, allowing less than 18 points per game to high-quality opponents. It’s a game where the best pro prospects are probably playing on the line. Low-scoring win for Iowa.

Winner: Iowa

VRBO Citrus Bowl – 1 p.m.
#14 Kentucky (9-3) vs. #12 Penn State (9-3)

In this one, a mainstay of college football excellence squares off with a relative newcomer to the game’s upper echelon. Kentucky was an afterthought for years, but this team has been making waves in the SEC. Meanwhile, Penn State looks to hit double-digit wins for the third year in a row. It’ll likely be a defensive struggle, so it’ll come down to which team can hit on a couple of big plays.

Winner: Kentucky

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl – 1 p.m.
#11 LSU (9-3) vs. #8 UCF (12-0)

It’s tough not to root for UCF, who are on the verge of completing a second consecutive undefeated season in which they get zero love from the playoff committee. However, the reality is that an injury to starting QB McKenzie Milton undercuts them, particularly when they’re facing off against an LSU defense that even down two quality cornerbacks is easily the best one they’ve seen all year. Still, I must follow my heart.

Winner: UCF

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual – 5 p.m.
#9 Washington (10-3) vs. #6 Ohio State (12-1)

Perhaps the preeminent game outside the playoff, this one features two top-10 squads facing off in the most historic bowl game of all. While the matchup between Ohio State’s prolific passing attack and Washington’s incredible secondary will garner the most attention, don’t sleep on the OSU D versus Washington’s offense. Truthfully, that’s the matchup that will ultimately decide this thing – and I don’t think the Huskies measure up.

Winner: Ohio State

Allstate Sugar Bowl – 8:45 p.m.
#15 Texas (9-4) vs. #5 Georgia (11-2)

Imagine you’re the Texas Longhorns. You’ve put together a lovely bounceback season – well within the top 20 - winning nine games and making it all the way to the Big 12 title game. Your reward? Facing off against a wildly talented Georgia team that is probably pretty salty about getting iced out of the playoff. The Bulldogs are incredibly talented on both sides of the ball and playing with a chip. Sorry Longhorns.

Winner: Georgia


College Football Playoff schedule

Saturday, Dec. 29

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic – 4 p.m.
#2 Clemson (13-0) vs. #3 Notre Dame (12-0)

While it’s nice for us to keep treating Notre Dame as a peer to these top-tier programs, there’s no way the Fighting Irish deserve to be in this game. In terms of talent, Clemson completely blows the doors off this Notre Dame team. Don’t get me wrong, Notre Dame is very good, but there’s not a single place where they win the tale of the tape. Clemson will tear through this team with ease and make their way to yet another berth in the National Championship. It’s not even going to be close.

Winner: Clemson

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl – 8 p.m.
#1 Alabama (13-0) vs. #4 Oklahoma (12-1)

This one is exciting. The two best college quarterbacks in the land – Oklahoma’s Kylar Murray and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa – facing off with a National Championship slot on the line. Murray won the Heisman, Tagovailoa was runner-up. Neither team’s defense quite measures up to the quality of the offense; it’ll boil down to which one can contain the other team’s star more effectively. Alabama’s got the edge on both sides, but not a huge one – surprising, considering how phenomenal the Crimson Tide’s talent is. This might be the only team in the field Oklahoma wouldn’t beat.

Winner: Alabama


That leaves us with an Alabama/Clemson matchup for the National Championship … again. And I’m going to go ahead and pick the Crimson Tide to win … again. Hard to pick against a team that is so clearly firing on all cylinders. So I’m guessing that come January 7, a whole lot of folks are going to be yelling “Roll Tide!”

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