As we enter the college football post-season, here is a rundown.
Recently it was announced that the NCAA was expanding its playoff schedule in 2024 to a 12-team format, making the run to the championship a four-round enterprise. Among the mixed reactions to this plan is the possibility that the biggest tradition in the sport – the post-season bowls – would become further diluted.
To this, I say it is a tepid complaint. For how long was the loudest critique of the game that a definitive champion needed to be declared? Then, what about the ensuing gripes about which schools got excluded? Beyond that, many of the bowl season traditions had been leeched over the last couple of generations. With the major bowls as an exception, the lesser bowls have been diminished with corporate sponsorships and crowded out by the arrival of newly created bowl games, which were made arbitrarily.
That said, this is still a great time of year. We have been inundated with games on a near-daily basis, some being competitive or at least fun to watch, if meaningless. Not all of these more than three dozen contests were scintillating contests, of course. But now the big guns are competing and the stakes and tension only get raised.
Lending Tree Bowl – December 17, 5 pm – Mobile, AL
- Southern Mississippi / Rice
This probably has to be regarded as the biggest dog of this bowl season, with true interest beyond either school likely being minimal. Both teams faltered at the end of the season, piling up losses, with Rice earning a bid despite a losing, 5-7 record.
[Result So. Miss. 38 — Rice 24]
Bahamas Bowl – December 16, 11:30 am – Nassau, Bahamas
- Miami (OH) / University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)
Not a bad reward for a mediocre season — getting the chance to play in paradise and make it home in time for the holidays. This kickoff bowl game is between two 6-6 teams who preferred playing at home this season. So, it is a stretch to guess who has the edge.
[Result Blazers 24 — Red Hawks 20 This went back and forth, with UAB stopping the drive at the 2-yard line as time ran out.]
Quick Lane Bowl – December 26, 2:30 pm – Detroit, MI
- Bowling Green / New Mexico State
Two more teams without winning records, NMS finds itself with the invite since Ohio State became seeded in the College championship, and there were no other bowl-eligible teams in the Big 10. This marks the first bowl appearance for either school in five years, so they may bring a bit of energy to the game–even if the matchup does not deliver a ton of excitement.
[Result Aggies 24 – Falcons 19 No statistical standouts, as Bowling Green fell behind by 17 and could not close the gap.]
Myrtle Beach Bowl – December 19, 2:30 pm – Myrtle Beach, SC
- Marshall / Connecticut
There is a chance at this being a competitive game. Marshall, in its debut season in the Sun Belt Conference, was still glowing after upsetting Notre Dame and went on to finish 8-4. U. Conn has a new coach in Jim Mora, who turned this program around to have a winning season for the first time in years.
[Result Thundering Herd 28 — Huskies 14 In the first quarter Marshall had a short touchdown after a fumble and then a pick-6, and the defense prevailed from there.]
First Responder Bowl – December 27, 3 pm – University Park, TX
- Memphis / Utah State
Another .500 matchup, and a pair of teams with uneven seasons. Give an edge to Memphis since many of their losses were close, while the Aggies had close wins or suffered blowouts.
[Result Tigers 38 – Aggies 10 Seth Nenigan threw for 284 yards and three touchdowns, as Memphis took command in the second quarter and cruised the rest of the game.]
Birmingham Bowl – December 27, 6:45 pm – Birmingham, AL
- Coastal Carolina / East Carolina
After becoming the highest-ranked Sun Belt team ever after the 2020 season (14th overall), the Chanticleers settled back to expectations, and now approach their bowl game in a stripped-down fashion. Their former coach took the job at Liberty, and entertaining quarterback Grayson McCall is questionable with injuries. This means there could be some balance in this Carolina competition, as the Pirates have a postseason game for the first time in five years. Ironically, the last time was in this very same game.
[Result Pirates 53 – Chanticleers 29 East Carolina QB Holton Ahlers tossed five touchdowns, ran for another, and even caught a 14-yard pass. McCall ran for a score in the second quarter to give Coastal Carolina a lead, but left when he was injured on the play.]
Frisco Bowl – December 17, 9:15 pm – Frisco, TX
- Boise State / North Texas
Close to a home game for the Mean Green, and they might need that boost from the stands. Both teams come off losses in their conference championships, and North Texas saw their coach fired on Monday following that loss. They sport a 29-year-old QB. Meanwhile, Boise had its upheaval early in the season, firing the offensive coordinator and switching quarterbacks, and the season turned around as they went undefeated in the conference. Drop the money on the Broncos.
[Result Broncos 35 — Mean Green 32 The 10.5 underdogs kept it close. Boise’s Ashton Jeanty ran for 179 yards, and QB Taylen Greene had 119 more.]
Camellia Bowl – December 27, Noon – Montgomery, AL
- Georgia Southern / Buffalo
Georgia Southern hit a high note when they beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln in a shootout. Both teams make this bowl on the strength of narrow victories in the final game of their schedule. GSU topped Appalachian State in double overtime, and following a November delay due to a blizzard, Buffalo beat Akron last week by one point.
[Result Bulls 23 – Eagles 21 A close game throughout, but even with Kyle Vantrease throwing for over 350 yards, the favored Eagles failed to complete drives.]
Hawaii Bowl – December 24, 8 pm – Honolulu, HI
- Middle Tennessee / San Diego State
The Blue Raiders made a name for themselves with a rout of the University of Miami, one of three victories against Florida schools, but today that is more of a testament to UM’s dismal rebuilding year. The Aztecs, meanwhile, had a competitive season with a lower-caliber offense.
[Result Blue Raiders 25 – Aztecs 23 This was an aerial game, with nobody rushing for 30 yards. Middle Tennessee capped it off with an 11-play drive to get the winning kick.]
Independence Bowl – December 23, 3 pm – Shreveport, LA
- Houston / Louisiana
Houston looks to be the offensive force here, as quarterback Clayton Tune has thrown for 3,845 yards, run for just under 500, with 42 total TD. The Ragin’ Cajuns are also not afraid to toss numbers on the scoreboard. So if these teams are on, this could become a fun watch.
[Result Cougars 23 – Ragin’ Cajuns 16 As advertised, Tune threw for three touchdowns and also led the team with 55 rushing yards.
Armed Forces Bowl – December 22, 7:30 pm – Fort Worth, TX
- Air Force / Baylor
Baylor was in a major bowl last season but has seen much of its defense depart, plunging them down to a 6-6 level this year. That susceptible defense will be tested because the Air Force is – ironically – a ground team. Operating with the option, they barely throw the ball, with the fewest passing plays of any Division-1 school. This could either lead to an intriguing matchup or become a slog of a game to watch.
[Result Falcons 30 – Bears 15 Air Force barely threw for 100 yards, as the Falcons ran for 276; Baylor struggled all day.]
Pinstripe Bowl – December 29, 2:00 pm – Bronx, New York
- Minnesota / Syracuse
Don’t expect much in the way of fireworks in this one being played at Yankee Stadium, as both teams have run-heavy, workman-like offenses. It looks to be a battle of the running backs. Mohamed Ibrahim on Minnesota ran for just shy of 1,600 yards, while on the other side, Syracuse also has a 1,000-yard rusher in Sean Tucker.
[Result Golden Gophers 28 – Orangemen 20 With Tucker not playing after declaring for the NFL Draft, Minnesota was in full control, with the ground game dominating.]
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl – December 20, 1:30 pm – Boise, Idaho
- San Jose State / Eastern Michigan
It feels like an easily dismissed matchup of Mountain West and Mid-America Conference teams, but it has a chance at being a fun contest. San Jose’s season was rocked when its running back was killed in an accident, but after suffering losses following the tragedy, they began to put their season back together. EM had a solid year; a win in this game will give them the first 10-win season since the 1980s.
[Result Eagles 41 – Spartans 27 After giving up two, 1st quarter touchdowns, MVP Taylor Powell guided Eastern Mich. to 33 straight points.]
Gasparilla Bowl – December 23, 6:30 pm – Tampa, Florida
- Wake Forest / Missouri
Feels like there could be the makings of a blowout. The Demon Deacons have a good aerial attack with QB Sam Hartman, and Missouri might be a bit in disarray. Although they beat late-season giant killer South Carolina and played Georgia surprisingly close, the Tigers have a number of players about to transfer. So, it is unclear how many will be playing at 100 percent – if they play at all.
[Result Demon Deacons 27 – Tigers 17 Sam Hartman had three touchdown throws for the Deacons, including the final with under three minutes to seal the win.]
Arizona Bowl – December 30, 4:30 – Tucson, AZ
- Ohio U / Wyoming
OU had a great year, going 9-4 and making it to the MAC championship before losing to Toledo. But, their quarterback Kurtis Rourke is possibly out with an injury, and squaring off with a defensively-focused team like the Cowboys means this could end up as a low-scoring slog.
[Result Bobcats 30 – Cowboys 27 The offenses found a way, and the teams traded leads throughout. Sieh Bangura paced Ohio with 139 rushing yards and a score.]
New Orleans Bowl – December 20, 9:00 pm – New Orleans, LA
- Western Kentucky / South Alabama
This one doesn’t sound sexy, but there is some competitive talent at play here. The Hilltoppers have quarterback Austin Reed, who has 4,247 yards on the season and 36 touchdowns. The Jaguars have a strong defense and a solid running attack. They boast an 8-2 record and almost beat UCLA, losing by one point.
[Result Hilltoppers 44 — Jaguars 23 Reed threw for 497 yards and guided WKy. to 677 total yards in the blowout.]
Boca Raton Bowl – December 20, 7:30 – Boca Raton Florida
- Toledo / Liberty
What looks like a good contest is ranked a bit lower due to Liberty being a question mark. Their season was humming along and they managed to crack the top-25 rankings. But then head coach Hugh Freeze accepted the chance to be Auburn’s new leader; the team lost the final three games. On the Toledo side, they have a dynamic offense–if quarterback Dequan Finn is completely healthy. They just won the MAC Championship and might be cruising.
[Result Rockets 21 — Flames 19 Toledo’s ground game ruled the clock, as two late Liberty strikes were not enough, when they missed the 2-point conversion with minutes remaining.]
Military Bowl – December 28, 2:00 pm – Annapolis, MD
- Duke / Central Florida
This could actually be a higher-ranked game. Duke, under new head coach Mike Elko, saw a strong turnaround, with an eight-win team that sports close losses to Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and Pitt by just a combined nine points. The Golden Knights, meanwhile, are a strong offensive force that lost in the AAC CHampionship to Tulane, whom the Knights beat in the regular season.
[Result Blue Devils 30 – Golden Knights 13 Underdog Duke put together three long drives in the second quarter to power them over a UCF offense that struggled all game.]
LA Bowl – December 17, 3:30 pm – Inglewood, CA
- Fresno State / Washington State
Two programs with seasons worth being proud of. WS had a solid schedule, with respectable losses they were competitive in, save for a final blowout at the hands of Washington. Fresno was the Mountain West Champion, avenging their earlier loss against Boise State.
[Result Bulldogs 29 — Cougars 6 Fresno had 501 yards behind Jordan Mimms, rushing for 209.]
Guaranteed Rate Bowl – December 27, 10:15 pm – Phoenix, AZ
- Wisconsin / Oklahoma State
A pair of powerhouse football programs that had disappointing seasons square off, with just two victories over .500 between them. The OSU Cowboys opened with only one loss, in overtime to TCU, in their first seven games. Then the wheels came off, and they finished 7-5. Wisconsin was an even bigger disappointment, favored to go to the Big-10 title game. Instead, they saw their coach getting fired and QB Graham Mertz jumping into the transfer portal.
[Result Badgers 24 – Cowboys 17 A pasted-together Wisconsin squad built a decent lead, and the OSU offense struggled to make a sustainable game.]
Cure Bowl – December 16, 3:00 pm – Orlando, FL
- UTSA (24) / Troy (25)
Never heard of this game? No matter. Unfamiliar with the teams? Don’t let that be a reason to miss it. Though surprising, there is a reason these two are ranked schools at the end of the season. Both teams won their last 10 games straight, with Troy winning the Sun Belt title, and the Roadrunners taking the Conference USA crown. Fun offenses and respectable defensive play are promised, as one of these schools will close the season in the top-25.
[Result Trojans 18 — Roadrunners 12 Defense ruled, with the scoring starting with UTSA getting a safety. But, Troy forced five turnovers and held UTSA scoreless in the second half.]
New Mexico Bowl – December 17, 7:30 pm – Albuquerque, NM
- SMU / BYU
My advice: Bet the over in this one. Both teams are in the top-40 in scoring, and both are ranked lower than 100 defensively. They both average better than 30 points per game in offense, and both teams defensively give up 30 points per game. So, fun should be had, is what I’m saying.
[Result Cougars 24 — Mustangs 23 SMU managed two 4th quarter touchdowns and played to win, missing the 2-point conversion at the end. ]
Music City Bowl – December 31, Noon – Nashville, TN
- Iowa / Kentucky
There is just not a lot of tension and excitement here. These are two defensive-minded schools, to start with. Then you have Kentucky’s Will Levis likely to sit ahead of the draft, Iowa’s Spencer Petras out with an injury, and little else to elevate your blood pressure. These two schools met last year in the Citrus Bowl, further dampening the novelty; this year’s sequel looks to be less thrilling than that 20-17 result.
[Game in progress.]
Fenway Bowl – December 17, 11:00 am – Boston, MS
- Cincinnati / Louisville
How about this for some drama leading to a lack of excitement? Head coach of Louisville Scott Satterfield has just announced he’s leaving for a new job. The school that hired him? Cincinnati, needing to replace its coach, who left for Wisconsin. That curious twist creates interest, but it also diminishes game quality; You now end up with a slight conflict between two teams–just out of the top-25–both led by interim coaches.
[Result Cardinals 24 — Bearcats 7]
Las Vegas Bowl – December 17, 4:30 pm – Las Vegas, NV
- Oregon State / Florida
The Gators make a rare trip west of the Mississippi River, and it may not be pretty. Florida had a mixed season, as it is younger and still building up. It faces an OSU squad that has been on the rise, seeing its first 9-win season in a decade, while playing tough against USC and Washington. The Gators are further hindered by the absence of exciting QB Anthony Richardson; he will not play, as he ranks high on the NFL draft board.
[Result Beavers 30 — Gators 3 While never in the game, the Gators managed a late field goal, extending the longest current college football streak without being shut out.]
Gator Bowl – December 30, 3:30 – Gainesville, FL
- South Carolina (19) / Notre Dame (21)
The Irish opened the season with a pair of losses, went 3-3, and had no inspiring victories aside from a decent BYU team and a faltering Clemson. But, this is Notre Dame, so they get ranked at 8-4 and see a respectable bowl invite. This game drops lower because the team was shocked by starting QB Drew Pyne’s decision to transfer, and a number of potential draft picks might be sitting this out as well. Meanwhile, South Carolina had a mixed bag, but capped the year, following a trouncing by the Florida Gators, with their blowout of Tennessee and beating rival Clemson.
[Result Fighting Irish 45 – Gamecocks 38 Tyler Buckner stepped in to fill the void, and he threw three touchdowns and ran for two additional. He also tossed two, pick-6 interceptions to help keep the game close for South Carolina.]
Duke’s Mayo Bowl – December 30, Noon – Charlotte, NC
- NC State (17) / Maryland
This could turn out to be a fun one, with offensive possibilities on both sides. The Terapins had a mediocre year with wins over lesser teams and losses to expected betters. Tua’s brother Taulia Tagovailoa is a bit of a gunslinger, so he will provide some action. The Wolfpack has surprised many with a solid campaign, including a big rivalry win over North Carolina in overtime to cap the season.
[Result Terrapins 16 – Wolfpack 12 This became a game of attrition. Completing drives was the challenge for both offenses, as they combined for seven field goals and each had a pair of interceptions.
Texas Bowl – December 28, 9:00 pm – Houston, TX
- Texas Tech / Ole Miss
This is a curious matchup, with a vibrant Ole Miss offense pitted against a decent defense from the Red Raiders. Lane Kiffin has turned the Rebels into a team most don’t like to play. The school needs to take the next step up, as it opened at 7-0, but then stumbled against a tougher second-half schedule. TT rebounded with a three-win close to the season against some weaker opponents, including Oklahoma, so they might feel some momentum coming into Houston.
[Result RedRaiders 42 – Rebels 25 Tyler Schouh was in command this whole game, and Ole’ Miss could not get their offense in gear. Rebels QB Jason Dart had a game effort — with 361 in the air and two touchdowns — but he could not overcome three interceptions.
Reliaquest Bowl – January 2, Noon – Tampa, FL
- Mississippi State / Illinois
Even more of a chess match is seen in this contest, against two, 8-4 teams with contested styles. The Bulldogs’ offense is all about throwing the ball, while the Illini finished with the best passing defense. Meanwhile, Illinois loves to run its ground game; Mississippi St. was in the top half of the country in rushing defense. There could be as much mental intrigue as physical conflict in this one.
Sun Bowl – December 30, 2:00 pm – ElPaso, TX
- UCLA (18) / Pitt
A real chance at some scoreboard lights going out, as both teams are able to move the ball. The Bruins put up 40 points in five of their first six games, and the lowest output was 28 points in a loss to Arizona. Pitt, meanwhile, put up 34 or more points in half of their games, with running back Israel Abanikanda leading the country with 20 rushing touchdowns.
[Result Panthers 37 – Bruins 35 As expected, this was a shootout. UCLA took a one-point lead with less than a minute remaining, but it was enough for Pitt to force a short drive and get the winning field goal with seconds on the clock.]
Citrus Bowl – January 2, 1:00 pm – Orlando, FL
- LSU (17) / Purdue
The Tigers had a season of extremes. Low expectations started in the preseason, with the arrival of new coach Brian Kelly indicating they were rebuilding. But by mid-season, they went on a tear, beating – on successive weeks – Florida, Ole Miss, and then ruining Alabama’s year with a huge upset. Then they sputtered with a surprising loss to Texas A&M; They also lost handily to Georgia in the SEC title game.
Purdue had a solid season overall, making it to the Big 10 Championship, but then things turned. After showing some competitiveness against Michigan, the Wolverines took over and dominated to a win. Then head coach Jeff Brohm left to take the job at Louisville. QB Aiden O’Connell is fun to watch, but he is also an NFL prospect and might sit out as a result.
Liberty Bowl – December 28, 5:30 pm – Memphis, TN
- Kansas / Arkansas
Kansas is the question mark here, as they opened the year 5-0, but then QB Jalen Daniels went down with an injury and they finished 6-6. This is a football program that was mired in losing seasons, so if Daniels is completely healthy, they could be a scary opponent. Arkansas is another program on the rise, but its slow build is somewhat hidden by playing in the SEC. This could turn out to be a very competitive game.
[Result Razorbacks 55 – Jayhawks 53 “Competitive” was an understatement. At one point trailing by 25, Kansas stormed back for three touchdowns and a field goal in the final 18 minutes. A health Daniels threw for 544 yards and 5 touchdowns to force the tie. It took three overtime periods for Arkansas to barely prevail.]
Cheez-It Bowl – December 29, 5:30 pm – Orlando, FL
- Florida State (13) / Oklahoma
This has the makings of a blowout, as FSU had a blistering second half of the schedule, and Oklahoma was a mixed bag with a definitively uneven season. QB Jordan Travis on the Seminoles became a severe weapon and running back Trey Benson is also a threat, opening things up even further. This could spell trouble for the Sooners because, although they can score, the defense is porous–at one stretch surrendering over 40 points in four consecutive games.
[Result Seminoles 35 – Sooners 32 The Sooners offense managed to keep pace, with the score tied twice in the 4th quarter, and it took a last-minute field goal to decide things.]
Cotton Bowl – January 2, 1:00 pm – Arlington, TX
- USC (10) / Tulane (16)
Tulane is one of this season’s surprise schools, as they just continued to win on the way to the AAC Championship. This is a well-rounded team, with a solid defense that could be severely tested by Heisman favorite Caleb Williams. But it all depends on how well he comes back from a hamstring strain suffered in the PAC-12 title loss to Utah. The Trojans also looked suspect in that game, giving up an early lead and getting run over in the second half. Do not count Tulane out of this one.
Holiday Bowl – December 28, 8:00 pm – San Diego, CA
- Oregon (15) / North Carolina
Two very closely matched teams that could produce big numbers. Oregon had one of its prototypical seasons by challenging for a top slot and finding ways to miss out. The Tar Heels, on the other hand, excelled and fell just short of stepping up to the next level. These are two programs with strong quarterbacks and high-flying offenses, and neither cares much about stopping opponents. A good prop bet might involve how many lead changes take place.
[Result Ducks 28 – Tarheels 27 First-half explosions gave way to a quieter second, but Oregon came back in the 4th quarter – with a 4th-down strike and 19 seconds remaining; then, they got an extra point that bounced off the uprights to get through for the win. ]
Alamo Bowl – December 29, 9:00 pm – San Antonio, TX
- Texas (20) / Washington (12)
Two quarterbacks with a chance of racing their team down the field through the air make this a possible thrill ride. Washington has surprised many with a two-loss season and an offense that loves the end zone. Texas was only a slight disappointment, but all four of its losses were in one-score games, including losing to Alabama by a point. Expect some fireworks and a lot of Longhorns fans in the stands.
[Result Huskies 27 – Longhorns 20 More of a grinding style game with lengthy drives, Washington kept pace ahead of Texas, with Michael Penix guiding them, even as Longhorn transfer QB Quinn Ewers delivered some fireworks. ]
Rose Bowl – January 2, 5:00 pm – Pasadena, CA
- Penn State (11) / Utah (8)
Utah has been impressive this year, leading up to their sound victory in the PAC-12 Championship, beating USC for the second time this season. Penn State, meanwhile, had something of a quiet season, as they had an unimpressive schedule and were defeated easily by Michigan and Ohio State. Two very solid programs are making this an intriguing game.
Sugar Bowl – December 31, Noon – New Orleans, LA
- Alabama (5) / Kansas State (9)
Anything less than a college championship bowl appearance is a disappointment for the Crimson Tide. A two-loss program is absolutely rare to see, but being Nick Saban’s squad, it means they still nearly got in. After being overlooked in the preseason, Kansas State had a steady rise up the polls, leading to the electric, Big 12 Championship, where they edged TCU in overtime. This game could be really close, since Alabama is sitting on a number of definitive NFL departures, including defending Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, which means we do not know how many will be sitting out this game.
[Game in progress.]
Orange Bowl – December 30, 8:00 pm – Miami Gardens, FL
- Tennessee (6) / Clemson (7)
Want to bet what color will dominate in the stands?? Besides both teams echoing the hue of the game, they match as well on having tumultuous seasons. Both, at times, were highly rated and then went through some tough losses. Now the teams are in the top-10, and both have quarterback questions. Tennessee lost Hendon Hooker to injury in its thumping by South Carolina. Clemson, meanwhile, is going with a freshman, Cade Klubnick, who took over the reins in the ACC title game and led the Tigers to a big win over North Carolina.
[Result Volunteers 31 – Tigers 17 Though a closer game than the score indicates, Tennessee led the whole way with QB Joe Milton, while Clemson’s offense was clicking except for finishing drives.]
Fiesta Bowl – December 31, 4:00 pm – Glendale, AZ
- Michigan (2) / Texas Christian (3)
This one could be closer than some expect, as TCU has an explosive offense and the defense has been a bit underrated. QB Max Duggan is the real deal, as he can throw with abandon, as well as use his legs. He basically took this team on his back in the Big-12 Championship, getting them to overtime in a narrow loss to Kansas State. Many have dinged the team for a light schedule, but they have delivered this season.
Michigan is a complete team, and Jim Harbaugh has built it back into a powerhouse. They seem to play better against tougher opponents — look no further than dismantling Ohio State in the manner they did weeks ago.
Peach Bowl – December 31, 8 pm – Atlanta, GA
- Georgia (1) / Ohio State (4)
This is a stirring matchup beyond the top-ranked setting. Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Georgia’s Stetson bennet are both Heisman hopefuls and NFL-bound. The Buckeyes’ offensive juggernaut will be pitted against Georgia’s vaunted defense in the kind of matchup you crave in the NCAA, and it might outshine the championship game in terms of that kind of battle. This one is not to be missed for any reason.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
January 9, 8:30 pm – SoFi Stadium, Inglewood California
Broadcast will be on ESPN.