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Going Bowling 2019 - Predicting winners for every college bowl game

December 17, 2019
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Going Bowling 2019 - Predicting winners for every college bowl game (AP photo)

Can you believe I’m doing this again?

Once more, college football’s bowl season is upon us. And once again I, glutton for punishment that I am, 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.

As always, this feature comes with the standard caveat: while I've had some success in the past, I absolutely do not have any real idea what I'm doing.

But bowl season can be fun regardless of your level of knowledgeability. 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. I personally have a bit of a history of stumbling onto wild and unexpectedly entertaining bowl matchups. I’m hoping that tradition continues this year.

And with that - let's go bowling.


Dec. 20

Bahamas Bowl

Buffalo (7-5) vs. Charlotte (7-5) (2 p.m. | ESPN)

Always nice to see a program make their bowl debut – go Knights! – but Charlotte probably doesn’t have enough to celebrate with a win. Buffalo might not have Khalil Mack anymore, but they do have his brother Ledarius. Still, even a fully Mack-less Buffalo squad would be able to handle this outmanned Charlotte squad.

Winner: Buffalo 

Frisco Bowl

Kent State (6-6) vs. Utah State (7-5) (7:30 p.m. | ESPN2)

Kent State got it done in the end, winning three in a row to become bowl eligible for just the fourth time ever. The Golden Flashes are probably going to say goodbye to that streak, however; the Utah State Aggies have quarterback Jordan Love throwing the ball, and while he didn’t have quite the huge year many predicted, he’s more than good enough to take down Kent State.

Winner: Utah State

Dec. 21

Celebration Bowl

Alcorn State vs. North Carolina A&T (Noon | ABC)

This bowl – a traditional matchup between HBCU schools – features a pairing that’s a bit of a tradition in itself. These same two teams squared off in last year’s game, with North Carolina A&T taking care of business and winning by two. Expect a similar outcome this year, with the Aggies managing just enough offense to take down the Braves.

Winner: North Carolina A&T

New Mexico Bowl

Central Michigan (8-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3) (2 p.m. | ESPN)

Considering how much trouble the Aztecs have had scoring this season, it’s remarkable that they’ve managed nine wins. I’m guessing that they won’t make it to double digits, however – I like the creativity of the CMU offense to counter San Diego State’s defensive prowess. It’ll be close either way, but I’m picking the Chippewas in a mild upset.

Winner: Central Michigan

Cure Bowl

Liberty (7-5) vs. Georgia Southern (7-5) (2:30 p.m. | CBSSN)

Look at this! A UMaine opponent making a bowl appearance! They’ll have to be happy with the bid, however, as it seems unlikely that Liberty will be able to muster up enough on the defensive side to handle a Georgia Southern team that was among the top-10 in the nation in rushing offense. Plus, the Eagles run an option scheme, which is tough to defend (and fun to watch).

Winner: Georgia Southern

Boca Raton Bowl

FAU (10-3) vs. SMU (10-2) (3:30 p.m. | ABC)

This matchup promises the potential of that most beloved of random bowl games – a back-and-forth high-scoring affair. Both of these offenses have been prolific all season; there’s no reason to expect that to change. SMU in particular was a juggernaut – 43 points a game. Don’t be surprised if this one winds up as a 48-45 shootout … a shootout that will see SMU end up on top.

Winner: SMU

Camellia Bowl

Arkansas State (7-5) vs. Florida International (6-6) (5:30 p.m. | ESPN)

This, on the other hand, is one of the nondescript matchups that are inevitable when there are 80 teams being thrown into consideration. Arkansas State has gone bowling just about every year this decade; FIU has a coach in Butch Davis who used to be someone you knew. But FIU can’t win on the road, and last I checked, Montgomery wasn’t in Florida.

Winner: Arkansas State

Las Vegas Bowl

No. 19 Boise State (12-1) vs. Washington (7-5) (7:30 p.m. | ABC)

This one will be all about Washington head coach Chris Peterson, whose high-profile success at Boise State was what helped land him his current job. Oh, and he’s on the way out the door, so this is a goodbye to the Huskies as well. It’ll be interesting to see this play out; Boise State is probably the better team, but Washington will have emotion on its side. I’m hesitant, but I’m picking the Broncos.

Winner: Boise State

New Orleans Bowl

No. 20 Appalachian State (12-1) vs. UAB (9-4) (9 p.m. | ESPN)

Appalachian State has had a great season and is notorious for taking care of business in bowl games. Yes, their coach has taken a new gig, but that won’t be enough to cover the wide gap between their team and this scrappy UAB squad. UAB’s a tough, scrappy bunch, but they’re going to be swamped by the much more talented Mountaineers.

Winner: Appalachian State

Dec. 23

Gasparilla Bowl

Marshall (8-4) vs. UCF (9-3) (2:30 p.m. | ESPN)

It has been a minute since UCF was playing in a non-New Year’s Day bowl game. It raises some questions about motivation, but the truth is that the Golden Knights are still stacked in terms of talent. On the other hand, Marshall hasn’t lost a bowl game in a decade, so there’s that. Still, I don’t think the Thundering Herd will be able to hang with the UCF crew.

Winner: UCF

December 24

Hawai'i Bowl

BYU (7-5) vs. Hawai'i (9-5) (8 p.m. | ESPN)

The sole Christmas Eve game is this sensible matchup. The Rainbow Warriors are an obvious pick, while the islands’ significant Mormon population makes BYU a logical fit. As for the quality of play? Who knows? BYU is the more talented squad and has played the tougher schedule, but Hawai’i is playing in their home stadium. I’m rolling the dice and saying that’s enough to eke out a victory.

Winner: Hawai’i

Dec. 26

Independence Bowl

Louisiana Tech (9-3) vs. Miami (Fla.) (6-6) (4 p.m. | ESPN)

Miami had a real up-and-down season and is notorious for disinterested play in exactly this sort of minor bowl. The Hurricanes have more talent, but Louisiana Tech will be playing in their backyard – the game is in Shreveport – and generally put much more pride into games like this. Expect Miami to phone it in once again and give the high-scoring Bulldogs a relatively easy win.

Winner: Louisiana Tech

Quick Lane Bowl

Eastern Michigan (6-6) vs. Pittsburgh (7-5) (8 p.m. | ESPN)

This one looks like a bit of a no-brainer. Eastern Michigan barely squeaked into this one; their sole advantage is that the game is at Ford Field – close to a home game for the Eagles. Every other indicator points toward Pitt. The Panthers didn’t have a great season, but their defense is legit; in particular, their pass rush has been very impressive. They’ll chase EMU QB Mike Glass all day.

Winner: Pittsburgh

Dec. 27

Military Bowl

North Carolina (6-6) vs. Temple (8-4) (Noon | ESPN)

Kind of tough to get fired up for this one. Temple has shown some edge, especially on the defensive side of the ball. But UNC has QB Sam Howell, a freshman who put up over 3,300 yards and 35 TDs in his first collegiate season. Oh, and Temple coach Rod Carey has literally never won a bowl game – he’s 0-6, albeit all with his old team at Northern Illinois. Give me the Tar Heels.

Winner: North Carolina

Pinstripe Bowl

Michigan State (6-6) vs. Wake Forest (8-4) (3:20 p.m. | ESPN)

I love the Pinstripe Bowl because it’s one of the few outdoor bowls in the northern part of the country, played in Yankee Stadium, no less. Wake Forest has the stronger offense, with a solid scheme and good talent. Michigan State has a better sense of the elements. Neither team comes in hot; both struggled down the stretch. It’s a coin flip for me, but I’m going with the Spartans.

Winner: Michigan State

Texas Bowl

No. 25 Oklahoma State (8-4) vs. Texas A&M (7-5) (6:45 p.m. | ESPN)

This one depends on OSU’s Chuba Hubbard, the nation’s leading rusher and a cornerstone of the Cowboys offense. He’s also draft-eligible may not play. If he does, OSU wins easily. If he doesn’t, well … the Aggies have a pretty stout defense. Still, A&M hasn’t beaten anyone of consequence this season; I don’t expect that to change, regardless of the presence (or absence) of Hubbard in the cupboard.

Holiday Bowl

No. 16 Iowa (9-3) vs. No. 22 Southern California (8-4) (8 p.m. | FS1)

In other years, this might have been a marquee matchup. It’s still pretty good, though. USC has a great passing offense behind QB Kedon Slovis, top-10 in the country. Meanwhile, Iowa’s pass defense is also top-10; they’ve got the best non-Chase Young pass rusher in the country in A.J. Epenesa. And hey, since Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was the head guy here at UMaine back in the day – go Hawkeyes!

Winner: Iowa

Cheez-It Bowl

Air Force (10-2) vs. Washington State (6-6) (10:15 p.m. | ESPN)

My affection for watching service academies succeed in bowl games is well-documented. But this one has even more promise than most. Air Force has a great defense and a solid QB; Donald Hammond III goes deep better than most service quarterbacks. Meanwhile, Washington State QB Anthony Gordon needs 605 yards to break the single-season passing record of 5,833. Also – Cheez-Its!

Winner: Air Force

Dec. 28

Camping World Bowl

No. 15 Notre Dame (10-2) vs. Iowa State (7-5) (Noon | ABC)

Obviously, the Fighting Irish aren’t psyched to be playing in the Camping World Bowl, but they simply didn’t make much noise on the national stage this year. Meanwhile, Iowa State had a disappointing season and is just looking to build a little momentum going into next season. Tough to see Notre Dame going down in this one – they’re just too talented, even if this bid is a bit disappointing.

Winner: Notre Dame

Cotton Bowl Classic

No. 10 Penn State (10-2) vs. No. 17 Memphis (12-1) (Noon | ESPN)

This has the potential to be the best non-playoff game of the entire bowl season. Memphis is looking to complete the best season in program history with a win here, while Penn State certainly deserves its spot in the top 10. Watch the running backs – Kenneth Gainwell (AWESOME RB name) for Memphis and Journey Brown for Penn State. The best performance between the two could decide it.

Winner: Memphis 

Dec. 30

First Responder Bowl

Western Kentucky (8-4) vs. Western Michigan (7-5) (12:30 p.m. | ESPN)

Talk about the Wild West, eh? We’ve got the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers taking on the Western Michigan Broncos – two teams about which I know even less than the usual next-to-nothing I bring to the table for these picks. So, when in doubt, pick the team with the best player on the field. In this case, that looks to be WMU running back LeVante Bellamy.

Winner: Western Michigan

Music City Bowl

Louisville (7-5) vs. Mississippi State (6-6) (4 p.m. | ESPN)

These two teams each feature a player who is low-key among the best at his position. Mississippi State has running back Kylin Hill, who led the SEC in rushing, while Louisville has diminutive wideout Tutu Atwell, who led the ACC in receiving. Louisville’s big play capability makes them dangerous, so while the Bulldogs have a good defense and control the ball, I’m going with the Cardinals.

Winner: Louisville

Redbox Bowl

California (7-5) vs. Illinois (6-6) (4 p.m. | FOX)

This game features a pair of teams looking to put some history behind them. Illinois is back in a bowl for the first time in years, courtesy of a defense that managed two dozen takeaways over the course of the year. Cal basically needs QB Chase Garbers to play the whole game; they’re 6-0 when he does, 1-5 when he doesn’t. I’m guessing he stays on the field and takes care of the ball.

Winner: California

Orange Bowl

No. 9 Florida (10-2) vs. No. 24 Virginia (9-4) (8 p.m. | ESPN)

Florida has rebounded from a stretch of mediocrity to put up strong back-to-back seasons; their defense has proven especially stout. Meanwhile, Virginia is just lucky to be here, led by their explosive dual-threat QB Bryce Perkins. Alas, the Gators are more talented across the board, so while the Cavaliers will put up a fight, Florida will likely win this one fairly handily.

Winner: Florida

Dec. 31

Belk Bowl

Kentucky (7-5) vs. Virginia Tech (8-4) (Noon | ESPN)

Let’s talk about Kentucky QB Lynn Bowden, who started the season as a WR/KR before moving under center and leading the team to five wins in seven; he’s the only player in FBS to lead his team in both receiving and rushing. The Hokies will struggle to stop him and the Wildcats run game, though Tech is a talented team. Their youth may work against them, however.

Winner: Kentucky

Sun Bowl

Arizona State (7-5) vs. Florida State (6-6) 2 p.m. | CBS)

Hard to care too much about this Florida State team, which has been mired in meh-ness for what seems like forever. They do have a strong running game led by RB Cam Akers, who excelled despite a questionable line. On the other sideline, ASU coach Herm Edwards is looking to land his first-ever bowl win, with help from freshman QB Jayden Daniels. I think he pulls it off.

Winner: Arizona State

Liberty Bowl

Kansas State (8-4) vs. Navy (10-2) (3:45 p.m. | ESPN)

Another service academy team! We’re looking at a pair of teams that absolutely love to run the ball, so it’ll come down to which one proves more capable of stifling the other’s rushing attack. Navy QB Malcolm Perry brings real athleticism to the Midshipmen’s offense, and Navy’s defense has been consistently stronger than that of the Wildcats. Go Navy!

Winner: Navy

Arizona Bowl

Georgia State (7-5) vs. Wyoming (7-5) (4:30 p.m. | CBSSN)

This is one of those weirdo matchups that make bowl season so fun. Teams from Wyoming and Georgia meeting in Arizona to play a game? Why not? As for the action on the field, well … it could be a slog. Both teams are heavily reliant on the run, but their explosiveness is something of a question. Of course, now that I say this, they’ll probably combine for 90 points. I’m going with Wyoming. 

Winner: Wyoming

Alamo Bowl

No. 11 Utah (11-2) vs. Texas (7-5) (7:30 p.m. | ESPN)

It looked for a minute like Utah might crash the playoff party, but a pair of late losses leaves the Utes settling for the Alamo Bowl. Their star is RB Zack Moss, who could possibly sit out. Texas is led by the excellent passing and situational rushing of QB Sam Ehlinger. I think Utah is the better team, the no-playoff letdown might leave room for the Longhorns to make move. It might – but probably won’t.

Winner: Utah

Jan. 1, 2020

Citrus Bowl

No. 13 Alabama (10-2) vs. No. 14 Michigan (9-3) (1 p.m. | ABC)

This is not at all where Alabama expected to be. Nick Saban’s crew is out of the playoff for the first time since there has BEEN a playoff, and a Citrus Bowl date with Michigan is slim comfort. Neither team’s defense has been particularly effective in recent weeks, which means that the Crimson Tide’s loss is all of our gain. Wolverines QB Shea Patterson can hang, but Bama wins in a shootout.

Winner: Alabama

Outback Bowl

No. 12 Auburn (9-3) vs. No. 18 Minnesota (10-2) (1 p.m. | ESPN)

Minnesota has had one of the best seasons in program history, led by the exceptional performance of wide receiver Rashod Bateman. They’ve looked good. But Auburn has looked better. The Tigers have a strong offense and a defense led by elite lineman Derrick Brown. All in all, while the Golden Gophers have had a season for the ages, it’s probably going to end with a loss. War Eagle!

Winner: Auburn

Rose Bowl

No. 6 Oregon (11-2) vs. No. 8 Wisconsin (10-3) (5 p.m. | ESPN)

Two of the best players in the country will be on the field for this one. Well – LOTS of the best players in the country, but two in particular. Oregon QB Justin Herbert is a potential top-five NFL pick, while Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor has put up one of the most productive rushing seasons ever. As for who wins, well … it’ll boil down to which defense can manage to slow down the other side’s best guy.

Winner: Oregon

Sugar Bowl

No. 5 Georgia (11-2) vs. No. 7 Baylor (11-2) (8:45 p.m. | ESPN)

In terms of talent, Georgia certainly warrants inclusion in the playoff. Alas, a few ill-timed stumbles leave them just outside. Expect them to be angry about it, much to the chagrin of the Baylor Bears, whose identical record does not make them the equal of the Bulldogs. The Baylor defensive line is elite, but so is the Georgia rushing attack. In this strength against strength battle, the Dawgs win out.

Winner: Georgia

Jan. 2

Birmingham Bowl

No. 21 Cincinnati (10-3) vs. Boston College (6-6) (3 p.m. | ESPN)

Cincinnati fell victim to the historic season of Memphis, leaving them to accept this matchup against a deceptively strong BC squad. Specifically, RB A.J. Dillon, one of the best backs in school history and this year’s third-leading rusher nationally. If he plays – he may sit to prepare for the draft – he’ll give the Bearcats plenty of trouble. Even that won’t be enough, though – I think Cincy wins regardless.

Winner: Cincinnati

Gator Bowl

Indiana (8-4) vs. Tennessee (7-5) (7 p.m. | ESPN)

In a matchup that seems more appropriate for the basketball court, we have Indiana and Tennessee taking their swings. Tennessee has more talent, but their best receiver – Jauan Jennings – is suspended for the first half of the game. That might open up the possibility of the Hoosiers winning their first bowl game in nearly three decades. And that’s what I’m rooting for.

Winner: Indiana

Jan. 3

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Nevada (7-5) vs. Ohio (6-6) (3:30 p.m. | ESPN)

I’m always going to chuckle at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Will the game be any good? Tough to say. It’ll either be a snoozefest or absolutely electric; that’s how it usually goes. I’ll be keeping an eye on Ohio QB Nathan Rourke, whose strong performance might lead to him becoming the first native Canadian to be a regular starter under center in the CFL should his NFL prospects fall short.

Winner: Ohio

Jan. 4

Armed Forces Bowl

Southern Miss (7-5) vs. Tulane (6-6) (11:30 a.m. | ESPN)

A classic strength-versus-strength matchup, with the top-20 run defense of Southern Miss matched up against the top-20 rushing attack of Tulane. My gut tells me to lean toward the offensive prowess of the Green Wave, but Southern Miss has some studs, led by linebacker Terry Whittington. I’ll go with Tulane, but I don’t feel great about it.

Winner: Tulane

Jan. 6

LendingTree Bowl

Louisiana-Lafayette (10-3) vs. Miami (Ohio) (8-5) (7:30 p.m. | ESPN)

The final non-playoff game of the year is this one, and while it could turn out to be a strong offering, it appears on paper to be a bit of a dud. Louisiana-Lafayette has a strong offense and their fans have a rep for traveling well – the game is in Alabama – but Miami’s got a pretty good defense. If their freshman QB Brett Gabbart can step up, they can make a game of it. Seems unlikely, though.

Winner: Louisiana-Lafayette


College Football Playoff

Dec. 28

Peach Bowl (College Football Playoff semifinal)

No. 1 LSU (13-0) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) (4 p.m. | ESPN)

There’s little to dispute LSU’s place atop the college football rankings. They have been a dominant squad in just about every facet of the game, led by landslide Heisman winner and likely number-one NFL draft pick QB Joe Burrow. He’s keyed the exceptional offense, with plenty of help from guys like RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire; the Tigers defense is … less impressive.

Oklahoma is here thanks the efforts of graduate transfer QB Jalen Hurts, who knows all about the big stage, having won a championship with Alabama at this very spot before making the move to become a Sooner. CeeDee Lamb is one of college football’s best pass catchers and the Sooner defense is solid; can Hurts help OU win its first-ever playoff game?

No, he can’t. Barring something drastically unforeseen, this is an LSU win.

Winner: LSU

Fiesta Bowl (College Football Playoff semifinal)

No. 2 Ohio State (13-0) vs. No. 3 Clemson (13-0) (8 p.m. | ESPN)

Ohio State fans would be forgiven for wishing the game was in a different spot; their last trip to the Fiesta Bowl ended in an embarrassing shutout. That won’t happen again, with QB Josh Fields throwing to an elite receiving corps. However, an injury to Fields’s knee means that the Buckeyes may need to rely on the also-excellent RB J.K. Dobbins. They’ve looked good on D as well.

Clemson is the reigning national champion, so they know a little bit about what it takes. They’ve got the very productive Trevor Lawrence under center and great receivers in Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross. Oh, and the Tigers are top-tier defensively, led by do-everything linebacker Isiah Simmons. It’s been a while since anyone repeated as national champs, but Clemson looks ready to make a run.

This battle of undefeated teams promises to be a little tighter than the other semifinal, but in the end, I like Clemson to have a shot at repeating.

Winner: Clemson

Jan. 13

College Football Playoff National Championship Game (8 p.m. | ESPN)

And here it is, the end. The game that will decide college football’s national champion. I’ve got LSU facing off against Clemson here – a battle of Tigers. And while there’s no disputing the both-sides-of-the-ball excellence of Clemson, it’s really hard to pick against the utter dominance put forth by LSU over the course of the season.

In the end, all I can say is: Geaux LSU.

Winner and National Champion: LSU

Last modified on Tuesday, 17 December 2019 08:17

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