Bowl season is upon us!
Starting this Saturday, 40 college football bowl games will be crammed into 17 days, followed by the national championship contest a week later. With 80 out of the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams participating in this year’s postseason lineup—including three with losing records—there are bound to be some clunkers. But lots of great matchups are looming on the horizon.
So, to help fans navigate the post-season and plan their holiday schedule, we hereby present our “Bowl Viewing Guide” for 2016-17.
Worst Bowl Names: Nothing can top the old Poulan Weedeater Bowl, but there are some strong candidates this year. To name a few: San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, Camping World Independence Bowl, AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl, and Dollar General Bowl (since “Dollars” are what this is really all about). At least the Duck Commander.com Bowl only lasted one year.
Worst Matchup: A tie between two Dec. 26 games. The St. Petersburg Bowl matches two teams with a combined 11 wins—5-7 Mississippi State vs. 6-6 Miami. Meanwhile, the Quick Lane Bowl features Boston College vs. Maryland, a pair of 6-6 teams that posted conference records of 2-6 and 3-6 but became bowl eligible by winning games over non-league cupcakes.
Best Matchup: The Rose Bowl, No. 5 Penn State (11-2) vs. No. 9 USC (9-3), Jan. 2. Since October, these teams have arguably been the second and third best teams in the country behind No. 1 Alabama. Penn State upset No. 2 Ohio State and won the Big Ten championship. USC beat both of the teams in the Pac-12 Championship game, No. 4 Washington and No. 10 Colorado. The game features two exciting young quarterbacks, Penn State’s Trace McSorley and USC’s Sam Darnold.
Here are 12 other games that are worth watching, in chronological order for ease of scheduling:
Dec. 17—Las Vegas Bowl, Houston (9-3) vs. San Diego State (10-3).
Two of the nation’s best Group of Five teams face off in Vegas—Houston from the American Athletic and San Diego State from the Mountain West. The game features one of the best running backs in the country, the Aztecs’ Donnell Pomphrey, who needs just 108 yards to become college football’s all-time career rushing leader. Houston QB Greg Ward Jr., who led the Cougars to upset wins over Oklahoma and Louisville, is also worth the price of admission.
Dec. 20—Boca Raton Bowl, Memphis (8-4) vs. Western Kentucky (10-3).
Another battle of intriguing Group of Five teams. Western Kentucky, the Conference USA champion, averaged 45 points per game this year and Memphis, from the American Athletic, averaged 39 and a half. With two explosive, pass-oriented teams, this game could last over four hours, but there should be plenty of exciting scoring plays to enjoy.
Dec. 27—Holiday Bowl, Minnesota (8-4) vs. Washington State (8-4).
Mike Leach has built a successful program in Pullman around Luke Falk, one of the most productive and least publicized quarterbacks in the country. The game will contrast Leach’s prolific passing game with the Gophers’ more ponderous running game and stout defense.
Dec. 28—Foster Farms Bowl, No. 19 Utah (8-4) vs. Indiana (6-6).
Of course, I’m prejudiced, but two storylines make this one interesting: 1) new Indiana head coach Tom Allen, who moved up from defensive coordinator when the Hoosiers parted ways with former coach Kevin Wilson over “philosophical differences;” and 2) Utah running back Joe Williams, who came out of retirement to rush for 332 yards against UCLA and 1,185 for the season. The Utes were in the top 10 for much of the year, but their season turned on a single play against eventual league champion Washington—the Huskies’ game-winning punt return that featured no less than three uncalled blocks in the back.
Dec. 29—Alamo Bowl, No. 10 Colorado (10-3) vs. No. 12 Oklahoma State (9-3).
Mike MacIntyre’s amazing coaching job at Colorado was one of the great stories of the college football season, as the Buffs rose from the ashes to claim the Pac-12 South Division after being picked to finish last. The matchup between the Pac-12’s best defense and the potent OSU offense, led by quarterback Mason Rudolph, makes this one of the two best games outside the “New Year’s Six” bowls.
Dec. 30—Sun Bowl, No. 18 Stanford (9-3) vs. North Carolina (8-4)
Christian McCaffrey’s last college game. Nuff said? McCaffrey should have a career day shredding the Tar Heels’ pathetic run defense. North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky had an outstanding year, completing 69 per cent of his passes (281 of 408) for 3,468 yards, 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
Dec. 30—Orange Bowl, No. 6 Michigan (10-2) vs. No. 11 Florida State (9-3).
It will be interesting to see if Jim Harbaugh and his Wolverines can get up for a bowl game after losing in double overtime to Ohio State and being excluded from the playoff. No doubt the officials will have Harbaugh on a short leash after his critical comments following the Ohio State game. Meanwhile, Florida State finished strong after a 3-2 start and would like to get to 10 wins. Seminole running back Dalvin Cook is one of the country’s best.
Dec. 31—Citrus Bowl, No. 13 Louisville (9-3) vs. No. 20 LSU (7-4).
It’ll be strength against strength, with LSU’s great defense trying to contain Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Heisman Trophy winner. The game will also mark Ed Orgeron’s first game as LSU’s permanent head coach. LSU running back Leonard Fournette would like nothing better than to upstage Jackson. This rivals the Alamo Bowl as the top non-New Year’s Six bowl.
Dec. 31—No. 1 Alabama (13-0) vs. No. 4 Washington (12-1), Peach Bowl, College Football Playoff Semi-final Game
Does Washington have a chance against Alabama? Does anyone have a chance against Alabama? We’ll find out on New Year’s Eve. The Huskies’ Chris Peterson is an excellent coach with a great bowl pedigree (remember Boise State’s shocking win over Oklahoma in the ’07 Fiesta?), and his quarterback, Jake Browning, a surprising non-finalist for the Heisman, may have a chip on his shoulder. But will any of that matter against the Alabama defense?
Dec. 31—No. 2 Ohio State (11-1) vs. No. 3 Clemson (12-1), Fiesta Bowl, College Football Playoff Semi-final Game
Most experts expect an exciting game between two evenly-matched, playoff-tested teams. Ohio State won the first playoff in 2014 and Clemson lost in the championship game last year to Alabama. The Buckeyes are college football royalty. The Tigers have become one of the top programs in the country in recent years. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson was terrific in the latter part of the season and played brilliantly against Alabama last year.
Jan. 2—Outback Bowl, No. 17 Florida (8-4) vs. Iowa (8-4).
Yes, it will probably be a low-scoring defensive struggle, but it’s hard to leave out a bowl that pits the SEC West champion vs. a solid Big Ten team that upset Michigan and crushed Nebraska in the season finale.
Jan. 2—Sugar Bowl, No. 7 Oklahoma (10-2) vs. No. 14 Auburn (8-4).
Both teams started the season 1-2 and rebounded to earn a prime bowl bid. Oklahoma features perhaps the nation’s most well-balanced offense with quarterback Baker Mayfield and all-world receiver Dede Westbrook, both Heisman finalists, plus the running back tandem of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon.
Honorable mention: The state of Michigan. Not only did Michigan have a great season and end up in the Orange Bowl, but all of the state’s “directionals” are going to bowls this year. Undefeated Western Michigan (13-0), the Cinderella team of 2016, will play Wisconsin (10-3) in the Cotton Bowl. Eastern Michigan (7-5) will meet Old Dominion (9-3) in the Bahamas Bowl. And Central Michigan (6-6) will face Tulsa (9-3) in the Miami Beach Bowl.