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Going Bowling! An ill-informed attempt to pick every college bowl winner

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Going Bowling! An ill-informed attempt to pick every college bowl winner (AP file photo)

That’s right, folks – it’s that time again.

Time for this annual ill-considered insane effort. And it is definitely insane, especially in the Einsteinian sense of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. I do this every year, with the same amount of forethought (none) and research (not much), and I get the same coin-flip results.

Now, it should be noted that I’m notUNinformed – as a reasonably avid general sports fan, I have a pretty good lay of the land regarding the top level of college football. However, when you’re talking about more than 80 teams when it’s all said and done, well … let’s just say that there are some teams here with which I am less familiar.

Put it all together and we’re essentially at the usual “tilting at windmills” level of readiness.

(As always, read the following with this caveat in mind: while I have had some degree of success with this feature in the past, always remember that I have no 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, though I’ll admit it has been a while since I landed on a really good one. Perhaps that tradition continues this year.

So here we are – let’s go bowling.


Dec. 17

Bahamas Bowl - Noon on ESPN
Middle Tennessee (6–6) versus Toledo (7–5)

These two teams are both primarily driven by their defenses. Middle Tennessee has a solid secondary and Toledo sports some exceptional pass rushing talent. In the end, it’ll come down to the most dynamic player on offense, which is probably Toledo’s Bryan Koback.

Winner: Toledo

Cure Bowl - 6 p.m. on ESPN2
Northern Illinois (9–4) versus Coastal Carolina (10–2)

As always, one of the most fun parts of bowl season is watching teams running schemes you don’t get to see that often. Coastal Carolina is a triple option team – a successful one, judging by those 10 wins. Make it 11, because while NIU had a nice bounceback year, they can’t hang with the Chanticleers.

Winner: Coastal Carolina

Dec. 18

Boca Raton Bowl – 11 a.m. on ESPN
Western Kentucky (8–5) versus Appalachian State (10-3)

According the numbers, Western Kentucky had one of the most prolific offenses in all of college football this season, averaging well over 500 yards a game. But while Appalachian State can’t quite match that firepower, they’re a much better team on defense. They’ll slow down the Hilltoppers just enough to eke out a high-scoring win.

Winner: Appalachian State

Celebration Bowl - Noon on ABC
South Carolina State (6–5) versus Jackson State (11–1)

I’ll concede that the only thing I know about either of these programs is that one of them is coached by Deion Sanders. And you know what? That’s enough for me. Jackson State has lost it once all season and it seems unlikely number two is coming.

Winner: Jackson State

New Mexico Bowl - 2:15 p.m. on ESPN
UTEP (7–5) versus Fresno State (9–3)

Under ordinary circumstances, Fresno State wins in a walk. However, with their coach gone to another job and their QB headed to the transfer portal, they’re certainly reeling. This might be just what UTEP needs to get their first bowl win in over 50 years. It’s still an upset, but less of one – go UTEP!

Winner: UTEP

Independence Bowl - 3:30 p.m. on ABC
UAB (8–4) versus No. 13 BYU (10–2)

This one is less about talent and more about motivation. This is kind of same-old-same-old for BYU – they’ve been this level of good for quite some time. They’ve got the horses, players like RB Tyler Allgeier, to hold off a scrappy UAB team. And hey – 11 wins might get the Cougars into the Top 10.

Winner: BYU

LendingTree Bowl - 5:45 p.m. on ESPN
Eastern Michigan (7–5) versus Liberty (7–5)

A tale of two 7-5s. Liberty comes into this game riding a string of fairly substantial losses, while Eastern Michigan had to finish strong just to get here. In a vacuum, Liberty’s probably the winner here, but I’ve got a hunch that Eastern Michigan is going to have just a little more fire, with that little bit making the difference.

Winner: Eastern Michigan

LA Bowl - 7:30 p.m. on ABC
Utah State (10–3) versus Oregon State (7–5)

Utah State has a lot of intriguing offensive weapons – wideout Deven Thompkins has had a monster year for them – and has shown proficiency in using them. It seems unlikely that the inconsistent Oregon State defense will be able to keep up. Fun fact: This is actually the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl, the first-ever to be named after a living person. Do with that what you will.

Winner: Utah State

New Orleans Bowl - 9:15 p.m. on ESPN
No. 23 Louisiana (12–1) versus Marshall (7–5)

This pick seems kind of like a no-brainer. I mean, I’m sure Marshall’s squad is perfectly nice – seven wins is no joke – but come on. A Louisiana team ranked in the Top 25 with just one loss in a game played in New Orleans? The question isn’t whether the Ragin’ Cajuns will win behind their exquisitely-named new coach Michael Desormeaux – it’s by how much.

Winner: Louisiana

Dec. 20

Myrtle Beach Bowl - 2:30 p.m. on ESPN
Old Dominion (6–6) versus Tulsa (6–6)

Not a particularly impressive pairing here, which just means that there will be some weird magic that happens along the way. Both teams can run the ball and both QBs have the potential to give the ball away; we’ll see how that impacts the offense. With little else to go on, I’m going with Old Dominion for the Maine connection courtesy of former ODU coach Bobby Wilder.

Winner: Old Dominion

Dec. 21

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl - 3:30 p.m. on ESPN
Kent State (7–6) versus Wyoming (6–6)

Wyoming took a bit of a plunge to get here after starting the season hot with four straight wins. Kent State got knocked out of the MAC title game. Expect Wyoming to try and control the game via their ground attack and their stout defense. Kent State needs to get QB Dustin Crum going to win it.

Winner: Wyoming

Frisco Bowl - 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
UTSA (12–1) versus No. 24 San Diego State (11–2)

This has the potential to be among the better games of bowl season. UTSA is one of the best stories in college football this year and will likely turn out in force. Meanwhile, San Diego State is a Top 25 squad with a good D and solid run game. I’m always looking to feel good, so let’s go Roadrunners – expect a big game from running back Sincere McCormick.

Winner: UTSA

Dec. 22

Armed Forces Bowl - 8 p.m. on ESPN
Missouri (6–6) versus Army (8–3)

Army’s here, doing what Army does, which is sit at or near the top of the list of rushing offenses in FBS football; they average just over 300 yards per game on the ground with their triple option. Missouri’s run defense is pretty good, but will it be good enough? And can Army slow Missouri’s versatile attack? No and yes.

Winner: Army

Dec. 23

Frisco Football Classic - 3:30 p.m. on ESPN
North Texas (6–6) versus Miami-Ohio (6–6)

In case you ever wondered about where bowl games come from, this one was basically just conjured up out of the ether because there were so many bowl-eligible teams. The committee just made it up! And so good luck to North Texas and Miami-Ohio as they engage in this proud tradition.

Winner: North Texas

Gasparilla Bowl - 7 p.m. on ESPN
UCF (8–4) versus Florida (6–6)

Some hot Florida-on-Florida action here, folks. UCF has been pushing Florida to schedule them for a while – that paperwork was signed, but this bowl will serve as a preview. Florida seems largely over this season, but while UCF is hungry, their QB is in the transfer portal. Who knows how this one goes?

Winner: UCF

Dec. 24

Hawai'i Bowl - 8 p.m. on ESPN
Memphis (6–6) versus Hawai'i (6–7)

Real talk: If I’m watching this game on Christmas Eve, something has gone terribly awry. Memphis has been bad for much of the back half of the season, while Hawai’i basically gets to play because they’re already here. This one is even more of a personal coin flip than usual.

Winner: Hawai’i

Dec. 25

Camellia Bowl - 2:30 p.m. on ESPN
Georgia State (7–5) versus Ball State (6–6)

Two teams that are basically going to run into each other for four quarters. We’ve got two teams with little passing offense and relatively inefficient run games. This game’s sole benefit is serving as ASMR for folks who stayed up too late assembling things the night before. Best nap game of bowl season.

Winner: Ball State

Dec. 27

Quick Lane Bowl - 11 a.m. on ESPN
Western Michigan (7–5) versus Nevada (8–4)

Western Michigan never wins bowl games – just one out of 10 – but this is a de facto home game in Detroit. Nevada’s the better offense, but only if QB Carson Strong plays – he’s dinged up and considering bailing to prepare for the NFL draft. Tough to go against the more talented team, but I’m picking WMU.

Winner: Wester Michigan

Military Bowl - 2:30 p.m. on ESPN
Boston College (6–6) versus East Carolina (7–5)

This one promises to be competitive at the very least, though whether that competitiveness leads to interesting football remains to be seen. It’ll come down to QB performances – seasoned vet Holton Ahlers holds it down for East Carolina, a rested Phil Jurkovec for BC – to determine the victor.

Winner: Boston College

Dec. 28

Birmingham Bowl - Noon on ESPN
No. 20 Houston (11–2) versus Auburn (6–6)

Tough to pick against Houston here – they’re by far the more successful squad, excelling in all facets of the game – but there’s something about Auburn. Sure, they’re in administrative turmoil, but they’re also an SEC team that gets to play what’s basically a home game here. If the Tigers decide to play for pride, they’ll pull out the win – and I think they’ll do just that (that one’s for you, David).

Winner: Auburn

First Responder Bowl - 3:15 p.m. on ESPN
Air Force (9–3) versus Louisville (6–6)

Could be a fun matchup – Army led college football in rushing with a staggering 342 yards per game, while Louisville features a pretty solid run defense. Ultimately, I think it comes down to which team is more up for this game, and if that’s the case, I don’t know how you pick against Army.

Winner: Army

Liberty Bowl - 6:45 p.m. on ESPN
Mississippi State (7–5) versus Texas Tech (6–6)

I’m enough of a college football follower to know that current Mississippi State coach Mike Leach is also the former coach of Texas Tech, a school with whom he still has considerable bad blood. Ole Miss has a high-octane offense and Leach is going to want to run it up – expect points galore! And in the end, I think Leach gets the W.

Winner: Mississippi State

Holiday Bowl - 8 p.m. on Fox
UCLA (8–4) versus No. 18 NC State (9–3)

This UCLA team is pretty good and they’re playing pretty close to home. However, while NC State’s got a long trip ahead of them, they’re also considerably better than the Bruins on both sides of the ball. If the Top 20 Wolfpack can handle things the way in which they’re capable, they’ll win with ease.

Winner: NC State

Guaranteed Rate Bowl - 10:15 p.m. on ESPN
West Virginia (6–6) versus Minnesota (8–4)

These are both pretty good teams, but the ways on which they are good – strong run games, good defenses – aren’t necessarily going to translate to a good watching experience. It’ll be a grind-it-out kind of contest on both sides, but I think Minnesota is going to prove slightly better at grinding.

Winner: Minnesota

Dec. 29

Fenway Bowl - 11 a.m. on ESPN
SMU (8–4) versus Virginia (6–6)

It’s kind of a bummer that these two teams – both in the top 20 nationally in passing offense – wind up in a spot where bad weather could potentially be a factor. In warm weather or a dome, this could be an offensive explosion. Instead, it’ll boil down to who makes fewer mistakes. I’m going UVA.

Winner: Virginia

Pinstripe Bowl - 2:15 p.m. on ESPN
Maryland (6–6) versus Virginia Tech (6–6)

Funny that teams are playing at Fenway and Yankee Stadium the same day. It’s been an uneven season for both squads, so it could go either way, but I like Virginia Tech to control the game on the ground and get it done with their defense. This one’s for you, Dennis – go Hokies!

Winner: Virginia Tech

Cheez-It Bowl - 5:45 p.m. on ESPN
No. 19 Clemson (9–3) versus Iowa State (7–5)

Ah yes, the Cheez-It Bowl – a tradition unlike any other. Seems odd to see mighty Clemson relegated to this kind of also-ran status, facing a so-so Iowa State team rather than competing for the national title, but that’s how it goes in college football. Even with potential opt-outs, the Tigers should win this one handily and blow away the Cyclones.

Winner: Clemson

Alamo Bowl - 9:15 p.m. on ESPN
No. 14 Oregon (10–3) versus No. 16 Oklahoma (10–2)

Two months ago, this was a potential New Year’s Six matchup. Maybe even a playoff semifinal. Now, it’s a still-good Alamo Bowl, but while Oklahoma looks calm and prepared, Oregon is reeling, both because of late-season performance and the impending departure of their coach. The Ducks may be ranked higher, but the Sooners are going to land win number 11.

Winner: Oklahoma

Dec. 30

Duke's Mayo Bowl - 11:30 a.m. on ESPN
North Carolina (6–6) versus South Carolina (6–6)

North Carolina versus South Carolina in something called the Duke’s Mayo Bowl? Hell yes. This one is on my calendar as a surprise excitement candidate. There’s a great regional rivalry, with USC being the hungrier team and UNC having more talent. Both teams will fight hard, but I think the Gamecocks’ want-to overcomes the talent disparity.

Winner: South Carolina

Music City Bowl - 3 p.m. on ESPN
Tennessee (7–5) versus Purdue (8–4)

Lots of storylines here. Tennessee had a down year by program standards, but they do get the benefit of playing in Nashville. Purdue has shown flashes, beating not one but two top-three teams this season; if all their guys play, they could expose a less-than-stellar Volunteers defense. Could be a close one, but I’ve got the Boilermakers.

Winner: Purdue

Las Vegas Bowl - 10:30 p.m. on ESPN
Wisconsin (8–4) versus Arizona State (8–4)

These are two teams who came into the season with much higher aspirations than the Las Vegas Bowl. ASU’s offense is solid, but Wisconsin has an incredibly efficient defense. The Badgers can run the ball a bit, too, thanks to Braelon Allen. I’m guessing Arizona State will find a way to score some points, but Wisconsin’s D will ultimately win the day.

Winner: Wisconsin

Dec. 31

Gator Bowl - 11 a.m. on ESPN
No. 17 Wake Forest (10–3) versus No. 25 Texas A&M (8–4)

Potential fun factor is mighty high in this one. Wake Forest is another productive offensive team, putting up nearly 470 yards and over 43 points per game. Meanwhile, Texas A&M has an elite defense to go with their iffy offense. We love strength on strength; I’m picking the Demon Deacons to roll up the yardage against an indifferent Aggies team.

Winner: Wake Forest

Sun Bowl - 12:30 p.m. on CBS
Washington State (7–5) versus Miami (7–5)

Look, history isn’t much of an indicator when it comes to these bowl games – there’s just so much turnover across the board – but the truth is that Miami has lost 10 of their last 11 bowl games, including this exact one twice before. I don’t know anything about Washington State, but that’s who I’m picking. Trends are trends.

Winner: Washington State

Arizona Bowl - 5:30 p.m.
Central Michigan (8–4) versus Boise State (7–5)

The actual contest here will likely be decent – both teams had strong finishes and feature talented defenses – but the biggest item of interest will be seeing what game sponsor Barstool brings to the table as far as the experience. Who knows what those yahoos will get up to?

Winner: Boise State

Jan. 1

Outback Bowl - Noon on ESPN2
Penn State (7–5) versus No. 21 Arkansas (8–4)

These are both teams with a lot of veteran players – it’ll be interesting to see how potential opt-outs wind up impacting everything. Penn State’s defense is good, but there’s a lot of coaching flux for the Nittany Lions. Arkansas has earned its place in the Top 25 and the Razorbacks should be able to ride their balanced offense to a win.

Winner: Arkansas

Citrus Bowl - 1 p.m. on ABC
No. 15 Iowa (10–3) versus No. 22 Kentucky (9–3)

Expect a defensive struggle here. Iowa led the country in interceptions and goes against a QB who has shown himself prone to picks. Then again, Kentucky controls the ground game pretty well, allowing well under four yards per carry. It’ll come down to which group is best able to execute its strengths.

Winner: Iowa

Jan. 4

Texas Bowl - 9 p.m. on ESPN
LSU (6–6) versus Kansas State (7–5)

As with many teams thus far, both LSU and Kansas State are dealing with coaching turnover. While K-State has the slightly better record, this game is going to swing on how engaged LSU is; if the Tigers show up to play, the Wildcats are in trouble. However, I have a hunch that LSU just doesn’t care all that much.

Winner: Kansas State


New Year’s Six

Dec. 30

Peach Bowl - 7 p.m. on ESPN
No. 10 Michigan State (10–2) versus No. 12 Pittsburgh (11–2)

This one has some promise as an exciting offensive matchup. The big question is KEN you stand it – between Pitt’s QB Kenny Pickett and MSU’s RB Kenneth Walker III, there’s potential for fireworks on both sides. It remains to be seen which defense is better prepared to handle its opponent’s strengths; the Michigan State pass defense has looked iffy for weeks now, with Pickett poised to take advantage. That said, who knows if Pitt can slow down Walker? It’s going to be a high-scoring affair, but I think the Panthers take it.

Winner: Pittsburgh

Jan. 1

Fiesta Bowl - 1 p.m. on ESPN
No. 5 Notre Dame (11–1) versus No. 9 Oklahoma State (11–2)

The reward for each of these teams narrowly missing the playoff is a matchup against the another. However, it seems unlikely that they’ll get up for the game in the same manner – Notre Dame is rallying behind their new coach, while OSU is reeling following the championship loss that likely kept them out of the CFP. Notre Dame has the better offense, Oklahoma State the better defense, so I’m going with the team that has been the most consistent overall in recent weeks – and that is the Fighting Irish.

Winner: Notre Dame

Rose Bowl - 5 p.m. on ESPN
No. 6 Ohio State (10–2) versus No. 11 Utah (10–3)

The Utes are undoubtedly thrilled to be here – it’s their first Rose Bowl – and they’ve got talent that might be able to slow down the Buckeyes. However, it’s tough to miss the fact that Ohio State has Utah outgunned talent-wise pretty much across the board. If Utah can follow the example of Michigan, they might be able to keep it close, but the OSU offense – led by QB C.J. Stroud – is ultimately going to prove to be too much for them. I have a hunch this one will be over long before its over.

Winner: Ohio State

Sugar Bowl - 8:45 p.m. on ESPN
No. 7 Baylor (11–2) versus No. 8 Ole Miss (10–2)

These are two teams that are absolutely stoked to be here, both having essentially maximized the possibilities considering their respective records. It’s another example of a game where the team that best takes advantage of its strength will win out – the clash between the potent offense of Ole Miss and the stifling defense of Baylor might be the best unit-on-unit competition in the entirety of bowl season. This one could go either way, but I’m leaning Ole Miss.

Winner: Ole Miss


College Football Playoff

CFP semifinal at Cotton Bowl Classic - Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
No. 1 Alabama (12–1) versus No. 4 Cincinnati (13–0)

This is a big deal, regardless of the outcome. Cincinnati represents the first-ever Grout of 5 team to ever make the playoff. And the Bearcats earned their spot, beating everyone they’ve played and forcing the committee to take them seriously. Desmond Ridder has played at an elite level under center and Cincy has some defensive studs. However … they’re playing Alabama. Nick Saban’s squad briefly looked to be in danger of missing the playoff, only to show everybody exactly what they’re about. Their QB Bryce Young is one of the best in the nation, leading an offense stacked with talent – they’ll hit some deep shots along the way. And Bama’s D will get the necessary stops. Might be closer than anticipated, but you can’t pick against Alabama.

Winner: Alabama

CFP semifinal at Orange Bowl - Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
No. 2 Michigan (12–1) versus No. 3 Georgia (12–1) 

This is legitimately a tough one. Coach Jim Harbaugh has finally done what Michigan hired him to do – beat Ohio State and make the playoff. Now, he’s got to get through a very good Georgia team to finish the job – a team that closely resembles his own. Both teams excel on the defensive line and feature multiple quality rushing options. Neither team has a stud at QB, though both Cade McNamara (Michigan) and Stetson Bennett IV (Georgia) are perfectly capable. Both of these team have a lot going for them; it’s almost certainly going to come down to which team makes the fewest big mistakes. Honestly, my head is going Michigan, but my heart really wants to see Kirby Smart and these Bulldogs get another crack at the Tide. This one’s for you, Amy – go Dawgs.

Winner: Georgia

CFP National Championship – Jan. 10, 8 p.m., ESPN

I’ve said what’s going to be said. In this rematch between SEC rivals, I think the winner will be – again – Alabama. Sorry, Georgia – the drought continues.

National Champion: Alabama

Last modified on Tuesday, 14 December 2021 13:08


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