First Thoughts On The Coming Bowl Season

The college bowls start in twelve days with a schedule bookended by the Arizona teams—it’s Arizona-New Mexico as the first game on December 19 and the final game on January 2 is Arizona State-West Virginia. Neither one of those games does much for me, but in between there’s a whole lot of interesting matchups, from the Playoff, to the rest of the New Year’s Six to more on the undercard…

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Boise State-Northern Illinois (4:30 PM ET, ESPN)
The Huskies are my favorite program in the non-Power 5 conferences and even though this isn’t a vintage Boise team, it’s a great opportunity for the MAC to make a statement in the bowl season, an arena that has not always been kind to the conference.

Indiana-Duke (3:30 PM ET, ABC)
Tulsa-Virginia Tech (5:45 PM ET, ESPN)
UCLA-Nebraska (9:15 PM ET, ESPN)

The VT-Tulsa game in Shreveport might be an unattractive matchup in a less than ideal venue, but how do you not get a little fired up for Frank Beamer coaching his final game for the Hokies. Fittingly, it’s in the bowl game that was Frank’s first—his 1993 team that beat Indiana did it in Shreveport.

The Indiana-Duke game at Yankee Stadium will be a constant reminder to Hoosier fans over that loss they took on the basketball court to the Blue Devils last week. It’s a real rivalry right now to see if IU’s football team or basketball team plays less defense. Regardless, just getting here is a win for Hoosier coach Kevin Wilson who got himself considerably more job security than hoops counterpart Tom Crean.

I shouldn’t be interested in the UCLA-Nebraska game, with the Cornhuskers at 5-7, but I’m letting my Big Ten bias show here. And I do think this game has the makings of one where the disappointing favorite mails it in early and an underdog that’s taken a lot of heartbreaking losses chooses to let it all hang out.

Pitt-Navy (3:30 PM ET, ESPN)
Central Michigan-Minnesota (5 PM ET, ESPN2)

More Big Ten bias on display with the Gophers being chosen in their game against a mediocre MAC team. The Pitt-Navy game from Annapolis though, has real promise. Both teams should be in better bowls—Pitt should have gotten the bid to New York City instead of Duke, and in Navy’s case their locked in to the Military Bowl on their homefield but this is a team that was within a game of getting the midmajor berth in the New Year’s Six. My interest is further enhanced by the fact I like both programs, I byproduct of having lived near each campus and gone to several home games for each.

North Carolina-Baylor (5:30 PM ET, ESPN):
The quality of this game will relate directly to whether Baylor can either get a quarterback healthy or—just as likely—that the three weeks of prep time will allow Art Briles to cook up some alternatives. The Tar Heels hung with the #1 team in the country in Clemson and can score points. We all know Baylor can blow the scoreboard lights out with a healthy offense. I generally don’t like that style of football, but this game could be a lot of fun.

DECEMBER 30: USC-Wisconsin (10:30 PM ET, ESPN): Wisconsin is the team I root for and their ability to at least be competitive is a litmus test for how good this Badger team really is. They lost to the only three notable teams they played—Alabama, Iowa and Northwestern. But the first two of those were among the best in the country, and the latter it took two officiating blunders. If Wisconsin beats USC it validates their season and would be a much-needed win for the embattled Big Ten West.

Houston-Florida State (Noon ET, ESPN)
Oklahoma-Clemson (4 PM ET, ESPN)
Michigan State-Alabama (8 PM ET, ESPN)

The latter two are, of course, the Playoff semifinals, at the Orange and Cotton Bowls respectively. If you’ve watched even a little bit of sports media, you’ve been inundated with commentary on these teams, so I’ll save that for as we get closer to kickoff. I really like the Peach Bowl matchup—Florida State hasn’t looked like an elite team all year, so this is a real opportunity for either FSU to close the season off with a flourish, or for Houston to strike a blow for the midmajors. I’m pulling for Houston.

Northwestern-Tennessee (Noon, ESPN2)
Michigan-Florida (1 PM ET, ABC)
Ohio State-Notre Dame (1 PM ET, ESPN)
Stanford-Iowa (5 PM ET, ESPN)
Ole Miss-Oklahoma State (8:30 PM ET, ESPN)

The latter three games are major bowl spots, the Fiesta, Rose and Sugar respectively. Can I vent about the placement of the ND-Ohio State game in Tempe? Why is the Fiesta Bowl, one of the six showcase games of the sport, forced to compete with two other bowls in the same slot? Why are they forced into an 11 AM local kick? Flip the Sugar and Fiesta timeslots and move the Big Ten-SEC Undercard—both really good games by the way—to some other day.

Penn State-Georgia (Noon ET, ESPN)
Kansas State-Arkansas (3:20 PM ET, ESPN)
Oregon-TCU (6:45 PM ET, ESPN)

Penn State-Georgia wakes up the echoes of 1982, when the Nittany Lions beat the Bulldogs for Joe Paterno’s first national championship. I thought Arkansas would be in the New Year’s Six this year, but their bad start eliminated that. The Hogs have found their footing down the stretch and I’m curious to see if they can pound the Wildcats in the trenches.

TCU narrowly missed the New Year’s Six and is the best team not in a major bowl. Oregon has come a long way from the early season struggles and based on what they are right now, could be the second-best team outside the New Year’s Six. A win in San Antonio would be a big feather in the cap of either program.