Most Meaningful Matchups - Bowl Season
Part 2: The December 26th-30th Games
Bowl season is already in full swing (lucky kids don’t know how good they have it when we used to have to wait until Christmas Day or later for any). Reminder – if you have friends or family who complain about bowls or make fun of them, cut them out – you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life! (I’m kidding…about family). Last week I posted about the games happening right now (through Christmas Day). This week we’re previewing the second wave of bowl games, still relatively minor but getting more fun leading up to New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day when the major bowls and Playoffs commence. Here’s our most meaningful and/or fun for December 26th-December 30th>>>>>>
10. Pinstripe Bowl: Virginia Tech (6-6) vs. Maryland (6-6) – Dec. 29th – 2:15 PM (ESPN) – This barely made the top 10 even though I’m quite interested as a Maryland guy. The truth is, this is a bit of a regional rivalry that was lost when Maryland went to the Big 10 years ago but it’s still a big matchup for recruiting battles in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area. Both programs have to do really well there to contend in their conference. Plus it’s in Yankee Stadium!
9. Duke’s Mayo Bowl: North Carolina (6-6) vs. South Carolina (6-6) – Dec. 30th – 11:30 AM (ESPN) – The winner gets to call themselves “Carolina” (old Steve Spurrier joke)! This matchup has some rivalry feel to it with the two programs in neighboring states. The SC Gamecocks are happier by far to be hear than the Tar Heels as both had unexpected seasons…in different directions. North Carolina has more talent and the better QB. If they show up, they should win but South Carolina has been scrappy all season long and an upset is possible. As above, this is important for recruiting too.
8. Guaranteed Rate (Phoenix) Bowl: Minnesota (8-4) vs. West Virginia (6-6) – Dec. 28th – 10:15 PM (ESPN) – Minnesota is the superior team in my view and should win this by a couple of scores. West Virginia had a very up and down season as a young team but the extra bowl practices will do them good for next year. You never know with bowl games however! This matchup does feature two very good, younger coaches as well.
7. Liberty Bowl: Texas Tech (6-6) vs. Miss. State (7-5) – Dec. 28th – 6:45 PM (ESPN) – Call this the “Mike Leach Revenge Bowl” as Leach still is angry about money owed to him when Texas Tech fired him over ten years ago. The Bulldogs had a revival season behind an opportunistic defense and Will Rogers maturing as a QB. The 7-5 record is a bit deceiving in the tough SEC West. The Red Raiders fired their coach midseason but eeked into a bowl thanks to a 58 yard field goal at the buzzer over Iowa State. This seems like a mismatch but watching for the spectacle is recommended.
6. Las Vegas Bowl: Wisconsin (8-4) vs. Arizona State (8-4) - Dec. 30 - 10:30 PM (ESPN) – This is a really solid matchup between two pretty good teams that want to control line of scrimmage. The Sun Devils have a little more of a high flying offense while the Badgers have the better defense. I’d expect a close, hard-fought game.
5. Birmingham Bowl: Houston (11-2) vs. Auburn (6-6) – Dec. 28th – Noon (ESPN) – For some reason, Auburn is favored in this game but after losing four straight they’d like to get back on the winning track in this virtual home game. However, Houston is the better team – and is perhaps criminally underrated after winning 11 games
4. Music City Bowl: Purdue (8-4) vs. Tennessee (7-5) – Dec. 30th – 3:00 PM (ESPN) – Two teams with unexpectedly good seasons…Purdue was a giant-killer of sorts beating two (at the time) top 5 teams before tailing off at the end of year while the Volunteers were in every game they played and have found a QB (Hooker) to lead them into next year looking to make an impact in the SEC East. Expecting a pretty close game here but Purdue is missing two key players so favor Tennessee.
3. Cheez-It Bowl: Clemson (9-3) vs. Iowa State (7-5) – Dec. 29th – 5:45 PM (ESPN) – A bowl game that is comically named and – when it was out in Phoenix (instead of Orlando now) – it featured some comically sloppy play. However, I wouldn’t expect that here. Clemson was left for dead after a slow start but rebounded to get to 9-3 and hopes this will launch them into the future. It’ll be interesting to see what they look like without their two coordinators who took head coaching jobs. Iowa State also had a disappointing season compared to expectations that they would contend for the Big 12 title again but is a scrappy, tough group that wants to close the season out with a win. Hopefully it’ll be a good game.
2. Holiday Bowl: UCLA (8-4) vs. NC State (9-3) – Dec. 28th – 5:00 PM (FOX) – N.C. State is on the cusp of a 10 win season – no small matter for their always decent but never spectacular program. Meanwhile the Bruins and Chip Kelly are glad to be back in a bowl game after a four year absence. This will be a physical matchup in the trenches with Kelly’s pull and pin offensive line schemes against very talented NCSU defensive front and vice versa. Prediction? The team that can move the ball through the air and convert more third and longs will win.
1. Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Oregon (10-3) – Dec. 29th – 9:15 PM (ESPN) – Clearly the best matchup of this period with two name brand teams who were in the national playoff hunt until the final couple weeks of the season. While the game was diminished by the departure of BOTH programs’ head coaches to other jobs in a wild coaching carousel, it should still be very entertaining as the Alamo Bowl often is.
First Responder Bowl: Louisville (6-6) vs. Air Force (9-3) – Dec. 28th – 3:15 PM (ESPN) – Air Force was a really good Mountain West team, Louisville had ups and downs but did enough to save head coach Scott Satterfield’s job it appears. However, this looks like a blowout for the Falcons.
Fenway Bowl: Virginia (6-6) vs. SMU (8-4) – Dec. 29th – 11:00 AM (ESPN) – SMU was a pretty solid team this year while Virginia was an exciting offensive team that couldn’t stop anybody. Should be a high scoring affair. The abrupt retirement of Virginia’s head coach Bronco Mendenhall and SMU’s coach Sonny Dykes leaving for TCU takes a little luster off.
Military Bowl: East Carolina (7-5) vs. Boston College (6-6) - Dec. 27 - 2:30 PM (ESPN) – The Pirates had a nice season as the rebuild continues there. Boston College meanwhile is 2-6 in it’s last 8 and struggled to overcome the loss of their QB after 4-0 start. Next year should be better for the Eagles. Not a great game, not going to lie.
Quick Lane Bowl: Western Michigan (7-5) vs. Nevada (8-4) - Dec. 27 - 11 AM (ESPN) – Would have been more interesting if Jay Norvell hadn’t bolted Reno for a somewhat lateral job at Colorado State and if QB Carson Strong was playing. Nevada’s reward for an 8-4 is getting to play basically a road game against Western Michigan in Detroit at 9:00 AM Nevada time on a Monday. Not great.
There you have it – plenty to watch right after Christmas and before the New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day extravaganza.– I’ll post the next breakdown of games next week. As always, you can follow me on Twitter for insights and banter at @ReadyCFB.