- The Military, Sun, Redbox, Liberty, Holiday and Gator Bowls are all on tap for the New Year's Eve six-game slate. Here's everything you need to know to get prepared for the action.
The College Football Playoff semifinals may be over, but there’s still plenty of football left to be played before the national title game, including a six-game slate on New Year’s Eve. We’ll get to close out 2018 with Cincinnati–Virginia Tech, Pitt–Stanford, Michigan State–Oregon, Missouri–Oklahoma State, Utah–Northwestern and NC State–Texas A&M.
To get you prepared, we've compiled a handy, digestible guide for those needing a primer on the Military, Sun, Redbox, Liberty, Holiday and Gator Bowls.
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman: Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech (Noon ET, ESPN)
Why You Should Tune In: Virginia Tech is only in this game because it scheduled a 12th-hour game with Marshall to keep its bowl eligibility alive after seeing its September game against East Carolina canceled by the effects of Hurricane Florence. The Hokies extended their nation-leading bowl streak to 26 years and draw Luke Fickell’s pesky Bearcats. Behind fabulous freshman QB Desmond Ridder, who threw only five picks all season, Cincinnati won 10 games for the first time since 2012. For Virginia Tech, junior Ryan Willis took over for an injured Josh Jackson under center midseason and turned some heads. How fluidly these inexperienced QBs duel it out in Annapolis will be a storyline to watch.
Betting Guide: Will Cincinnati's Defense Be Too Much for the Hokies?
What You May Not Know: VT and Cincy met in this same exact bowl back in 2014. It wasn’t an overly thrilling game—the Hokies pulled away late for a 33–17 win in which Cincinnati QB Gunner Kiel was injured. J.C. Coleman had one of his best career games for Virginia Tech, piling up 157 yards and a score in the victory. — Sam Brief
NFL Draft Prospect to Watch: In this deep class of defensive lineman, Virginia Tech defensive tackle Ricky Walker might get lost in the shuffle, but it won't be because of his skill set. He is just as talented as any of the players that will be taken ahead of him, but the consistency in his production doesn't stack up with others at his position. However Walker is your classic run-stuffer, who uses his hands well to fight off blocks and make plays. — Scooby Axson
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Pittsburgh vs. Stanford (2 p.m. ET, CBS)
Why You Should Tune In: Two teams who have combined for 19 bowl appearances in the last 10 seasons and have distinctly different offensive strengths meet for the first time since 1932? Count us in. Pitt used a dynamic rushing attack to beat six bowl-eligible teams on its way to winning the ACC Coastal for the first time. Stanford’s running game has been shockingly disappointing, as senior Bryce Love’s decision to return to school after his 2,000-yard, Heisman-finalist junior year has turned out horribly. Love dealt with injuries and was ineffective when healthy; he had just one 100-yard game, which was back in Week 2, compared to 12 such games a season ago. Love will sit out the bowl game in preparation for the draft, but luckily, Stanford’s passing game has turned into one of the best in the country. Quarterback KJ Costello and big, physical receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside have had huge years and are a joy to watch.
Betting Guide: Can Stanford End Season on High Note vs. Pitt?
What You May Not Know: Behind senior running backs Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall, Pitt was one of only three teams (joined by Memphis and UConn) to have multiple 1,000-yard rushers. Against Virginia Tech, the duo combined for 421 rushing yards on just 23 carries (18.3 yards per carry!). They deserve a lot of credit, as do the five members of Pitt’s O-line, all of whom were at least honorable mention All-ACC. — Will Ragatz
NFL Draft Prospect to Watch: Arcega-Whiteside is a problem for every cornerback in the country. He’s listed at 6'3" and 225 pounds, but he plays three inches taller with his feel for jump balls and his elite box-out skills, and he emerged as an incredible bailout weapon for Costello as the Cardinal progressed through the season. Those ball skills are going to translate to the next level.
Redbox Bowl: Michigan State vs. Oregon (3 p.m. ET, FOX)
Why You Should Tune In: Most experts considered Oregon junior QB Justin Herbert as the No. 1 player at his position for the upcoming draft class, but the 6'6" Eugene native has decided to return for his senior season, a win for the Ducks on its own. For Michigan State, freshman Rocky Lombardi replaced Brian Lewerke during the season, but Lewerke will get the start in the bowl game. The junior quarterback hasn’t quite been 100% ever since injuring his throwing shoulder against Penn State on Oct. 13.
Betting Guide: Can Defense Keep Michigan State in the Game vs. Oregon?
What You May Not Know: Every year, players participating in bowl games are gifted swag in accordance with NCAA rules, ranging from $400 shopping trips to fidget spinners. Last year, the Foster Farms Bowl (which is what the Redbox Bowl was previously named) featured one of the most lavish grab bags: A Fossil watch, Sony extra bass noise-canceling headphones, a Timbuk2 backpack, a coin and a $25 Apple iTunes gift card. I’d take it. This year the Spartans and Ducks get much of the same, plus a Roku. — Brief
NFL Draft Prospect to Watch: Michigan State running back L.J. Scott has not had the senior season he envisioned, missing eight games with injuries and finishing with just 275 total yards. But instead of shutting it down for the year or taking advantage of the new redshirt rule and coming back in 2019 for another chance at finishing strong, Scott declared for the draft and announced that he would be playing in the Redbox Bowl, his first action since late October. This game is a chance for Scott to prove to NFL evaluators he’s back to his old tough-running self and end a decorated career in green and white on his terms.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State (3:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Why You Should Tune In: All the ingredients are there for a lively, high-scoring affair between old Big 12 foes in Memphis. Both teams average around 37–38 points per game and have prolific senior quarterbacks: Missouri’s Drew Lock is a surefire early draft pick in 2019 and Oklahoma State’s Taylor Cornelius should get a professional opportunity as well. Of all the bowls, only Wake Forest–Memphis, West Virginia–Syracuse and Oklahoma–Alabama garnered higher over-unders than this game. The difference may be Missouri’s running game and defense. The Tigers have a pair of talented backs and a solid defense, whereas OSU could be in trouble without leading rusher Justice Hill (who is skipping the game for draft prep) and because its defense gave up at least 35 points in four of its last five games. Mizzou comes in winners of four straight and having secured the transfer commitment of former Clemson star Kelly Bryant. A win would only increase the momentum toward 2019 in Columbia.
Betting Guide: Missouri and Oklahoma State Are Ready for a Shootout
What You May Not Know: These old Big 12 foes have met 52 times, most recently in the 2014 Cotton Bowl in Arlington. It was a terrific game that was sealed when Shane Ray returned a Michael Sam strip-sack 70 yards for a touchdown to put Missouri up 41–31. — Ragatz
NFL Draft Prospect to Watch: Lock could have entered the draft last year after setting the SEC single-season record with 44 touchdown passes in 2017. Instead he came back for his senior season and although his counting stats dipped, he did improve on his accuracy and cut down on his mistakes. He has a big-time arm and the patience and creativity to allow receivers to break open when his first and second reads aren’t there.
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: Utah vs. Northwestern (7 p.m. ET, FS1)
Why You Should Tune In: Both the Utes and Wildcats made their conference title games, and this San Diego matchup should deliver as a loser’s bracket complement to the following day’s Rose Bowl between Washington and Ohio State. Utah QB Tyler Huntley broke his collarbone a few weeks ago and missed the Pac-12 title game—head coach Kyle Whittingham said it “would take a miracle” for him to play, so expect Jason Shelley to once again take the reins, but his team’s bread and butter is its 15th-ranked defense. Northwestern senior QB Clayton Thorson, who tore his ACL in last year’s Music City Bowl, will play his final game for Pat Fitzgerald and exit as one of the Big Ten’s most productive players ever. With 90 yards, he’ll move into the top four of all-time Big Ten passing leaders (Drew Brees tops the list).
Betting Guide: Utah Is Too Good on Defense for Northwestern to Keep Up
What You May Not Know: Dating back to the pre-Urban Meyer days, Utah has won 14 of its last 15 bowl games, which is a pretty incredible stat given that bowls are generally evenly matched. Setting each of the Utes’ last 15 bowls as 50–50 games, the odds of winning 14 of them are just 0.006%. They’re 6.5-point favorites against Northwestern, looking to make it 15 of 16. — Brief
NFL Draft Prospect to Watch: Chief among the concerns about Thorson at the next level is his lack of success throwing the ball down the field. Dink-and-dunk passing is slowly vanishing at the NFL level, and Thorson, who has 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions while averaging 6.4 yards per attempt, will have ample opportunity to raise his stock. Utah’s stout defense could create problems for Thorson in his college finale.
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: NC State vs. Texas A&M (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Why You Should Tune In: As one of two New Year’s Eve nightcaps, this should be an entertaining ACC–SEC battle. Texas A&M is loaded with skill-position talent and got its four losses from playing one of the toughest schedules in the nation. The Aggies almost beat Clemson in September, hung closer with Alabama than anyone else in the regular season (it was a three-score game, but still) and blew a late 10-point lead to Auburn. Keep an eye on running back Trayveon Williams (third in the nation in yards from scrimmage) and outstanding tight end Jace Sternberger. For NC State, top wideout Kelvin Harmon skipping the game to prepare for the draft is unfortunate, but it will give junior Jakobi Meyers a chance to shine after Meyers broke Torry Holt’s school record for receptions in a season.
Betting Guide: Trenches Will Be Key for A&M Against NC State
What You May Not Know: Don’t forget about the best punter in the country! The Aggies’ Braden Mann easily led the nation in punting average at 51.1 yards. He boomed an 82-yard punt against Kentucky. He shattered the FBS record of 60-plus yard punts with 14. He also does kickoffs and has four tackles, including an important forced fumble against South Carolina. The SEC special teams player of the year is a legitimate weapon in the field position game and absolutely a reason to tune in to the Gator Bowl. — Ragatz
NFL Draft Prospect to Watch: If it seems NC State quarterback Ryan Finley has been in college forever, it’s because he has. He started his career at Boise State in 2013; six years and 45 games later, he will head to the pros after one last test against an SEC defense. Scouts praise Finley’s accuracy, which is best on West Coast-type short-to-intermediate routes, and he can place the ball in tight windows on the move. He could use some more weight on his frame, but has the arm, size and brain that teams want.