Happy new year, and welcome to 2019! The calendar has flipped to January, but we’re still tying up the final loose ends from an unforgettable 2018 season. After Tuesday night, there will be only one game left: Alabama and Clemson’s fourth consecutive postseason clash in Santa Clara with a national title on the line. But before that, we must enjoy one of the sport’s biggest days: New Year’s Day, when Top 25 teams clash from noon to midnight, including three New Year’s Six matchups packed with storylines.
To get you prepared, we've compiled a handy, digestible guide for those needing a primer on the Outback, Citrus, Fiesta, Rose and Sugar Bowls.
About Last Night: College football didn’t go quietly in 2018. Cincinnati outlasted Virginia Tech 35–31 in a Military Bowl that featured seven lead changes and an injury to Bearcats redshirt freshman QB Desmond Ridder that forced senior backup Hayden Moore to play hero. The Sun Bowl’s game-winning touchdown was a fumble by Stanford quarterback KJ Costello that dropped right into the hands of running back Cameron Scarlett at the goal line; Pitt’s offense sputtered in the final minutes of a 14–13 rockfight. And speaking of rockfights, Oregon beat Michigan 7–6 in the Redbox Bowl, a game that turned into a comedy of errors on both sides in the second half. Missouri gained 637 yards of offense but couldn’t convert a fourth-and-one with everything on the line in Memphis, as senior quarterback Drew Lock was stopped short of the line to gain on a keeper to seal a 38–33 Oklahoma State win in the Liberty Bowl. Northwestern was more successful with its comeback effort in the Holiday Bowl, converting on three Utah turnovers and scoring 28 points in the third quarter to outlast the Utes, 31–20. Jimbo Fisher capped off his first season with the Aggies with a 52–13 blow out against NC State in the Gator Bowl, which was powered by Trayveon Williams's 236 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Outback Bowl: Iowa vs. Mississippi State (Noon ET, ESPN2)
Why You Should Tune In:One of the nation’s best tight ends, Noah Fant, won’t suit up for Iowa as he readies for the draft, much to coach Kirk Ferentz’s disappointment, but Iowa’s offense has been more dynamic this year thanks to quarterback Nate Stanley’s flashes of excellence. Regardless, this is a battle of two of the nation’s best defenses. Mississippi State led the nation in points allowed (12.0); Iowa is 11th (17.4). The Bulldogs allowed the third-fewest yards per game in the country this year; the Hawkeyes finished seventh in that category. Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald is one of a select few in the country with 1,000-plus yards on the ground and through the air, and he’s playing his last college game.
What You May Not Know:Most fans wouldn’t think of Stanley as a dual-threat QB. After all, he has just 22 rushing yards on the season. But Stanley is multi-talented QB, one who would undoubtedly edge most Big Ten players in a punt, pass and kick competition. The Wisconsin native was the quarterback and punter on his high school football team, averaging over 45 yards per punt. At Iowa, Stanley has five career punts for a 34.4 yard average. Keep your eyes peeled if the Hawkeyes are going for it on fourth down from the Bulldogs’ 40 yard-line. — Sam Brief
NFL Draft Prospect to Watch:Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons could make a huge impact in the right defensive system. He dominated SEC lineman, most of the time with a straight bull rush. Simmons is an elite run stopper and the catalyst for a Bulldogs defense that allowed only seven rushing touchdowns and 3.04 yards a carry. — Scooby Axson
Citrus Bowl: Kentucky vs. Penn State (1 p.m. ET, ABC)
Why You Should Tune In:These are two excellent football teams fighting to reach the always-important 10-win plateau. For Kentucky, a win would not only be the program’s first bowl win since 2008, it would also secure the program’s first 10-win season since 1977. Meanwhile, Penn State is looking to wrap up its third straight 10-win season under James Franklin. This game will be all about the defenses and running backs. Kentucky’s stars are linebacker Josh Allen––a likely top-10 pick––and running back Benny Snell Jr., and while both are headed for the draft, they will play in the bowl game. Penn State has an underrated defense and two running threats in RB Miles Sanders and QB Trace McSorley.
What You May Not Know:Penn State has played four wild bowl games since Franklin arrived. It started in the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl when the Nittany Lions beat Boston College 31–30 thanks to a missed extra point in OT. A year later, freshman McSorley came in for an injured Christian Hackenberg and nearly led a dramatic comeback against Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl. The 2017 Rose Bowl against USC was one of the best football games of the last three years, regardless of level. And last year’s Fiesta Bowl against Washington was another one-score thriller. Buckle up. — Will Ragatz
NFL Draft Prospect to Watch: Allen had a spectacular season, leading the SEC in tackles for loss and sacks, while cleaning up during awards season with the Nagurski and the Bednarik. He also has 11 career forced fumbles. Allen can be a three-down linebacker in the NFL thanks to his incredible athleticism. He will be an immediate upgrade to any defense that can’t get to the passer or struggles on running downs. — Scooby Axson
Fiesta Bowl: LSU vs. UCF (1 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Why You Should Tune In:Why wouldn’t you tune in? We rated this matchup as the No. 1 most-watchable non-playoff game this bowl season. UCF has the nation’s longest active win streak, and the 12–0 Knights were (understandably) left out of the playoff for the second consecutive year. Even without injured quarterback McKenzie Milton, this team is on a mission for its 26th win in a row. Last year, UCF shocked Auburn in the Peach Bowl, and they’ll look to deliver the same blow to Ed Oregeron’s squad, which is out to prove UCF doesn’t belong with the top dogs. LSU lost two of four to close the season, and they can’t afford a misstep in the Fiesta Bowl. If UCF wins, stay tuned postgame to see if AD Danny White claims another national championship.
What You May Not Know:With UCF’s 56–41 win over Memphis in the AAC title game, the Knights clinched their 25th straight game with at least 30 points, breaking the record for the longest such streak in the AP Poll era (since 1936). The previous record-holder? Arch-nemesis USF, whose 24-game streak spanned 2015 to 2017.
NFL Draft Prospect to Watch: A typical sideline-to-sideline linebacker, LSU's Devin White is an explosive athlete with the speed to cover sideline-to-sideline and the strength to shed blockers. He finished second in the SEC in tackles after leading the league in 2017 and seemingly made an impact on every play. The ability to cover running backs on passing routes will make him an immediate asset at the next level. — Scooby Axson
Rose Bowl: Washington vs. Ohio State (5 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Why You Should Tune In:It’s the Rose Bowl! The Granddaddy of Them All! Short of the playoff, this might be the game that gets the participants the most fired up. It’s a historic game with deep importance to the two conferences involved and a cool-looking trophy. The 2018 edition has no shortage of storylines and great on-field matchups. It will be Urban Meyer’s final game as Ohio State head coach, so the Buckeyes obviously want to send him out with a victory. For all the success Chris Petersen has had at Washington over the past three years, the last two ended with disappointing losses (the 2016 CFP semifinal at the Peach Bowl and the 2017 Fiesta Bowl). On the field, Heisman finalist Dwayne Haskins and Ohio State’s endless supply of offensive playmakers against Washington’s elite defense will be one of the best battles of bowl season. On the other side, Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin need to take advantage of OSU’s less-than-spectacular defense.
What You May Not Know:If Meyer never coaches again, his .853 winning percentage will go down as one of the best ever. With a win, his seven-year Ohio State tenure would finish with a ridiculous nine losses. He went 54–4 in the Big Ten. Utter dominance. — Will Ragatz
NFL Draft Prospect to Watch: Haskins is a straight-up pocket passer who can throw receivers open on intermediate routes and also push the ball downfield with above-average accuracy. He had five 400-yard passing games in 2018, and if he makes the expected decision to enter the draft he should be one of the first two quarterbacks off the board, with a chance to compete for a starting job on day one in the NFL. — Scooby Axson
Sugar Bowl: Texas vs. Georgia (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Why You Should Tune In:First of all, Texas is back. The Longhorns went 9–3 in the regular season, handed rival Oklahoma its only loss of the regular season and reached the Big 12 title game. Austin native Sam Ehlinger has balled out in his sophomore season, passing for over 3,000 yards. Georgia, on the other hand, has to feel a bit demoralized. Two years in a row, the Bulldogs have had late leads over Alabama, and two years in a row, the Crimson Tide’s backup QB has entered and led a game-winning comeback in heart-stopping fashion. At 11–2 with a road loss to LSU, Georgia had an interesting case for the playoff, and having been slotted in at No. 5, they’ll look to prove the committee wrong in this bowl. Jake Fromm vs. Ehlinger is a sophomore QB battle for the ages.
What You May Not Know:Texas and Georgia, two of the sport’s most storied programs, are tied for second in college football history with 54 bowl game appearances each. The Bulldogs haven’t missed a bowl since 1996, and they boast the nation’s second-longest active bowl streak at 21 games. Even though the Longhorns have been to the second-most bowls, their lengthiest streak is just 12. Who’s been to the most bowls ever? Alabama, with 68. — Sam Brief
NFL Draft Prospect to Watch: After the Bulldogs lost a ton of talent from last year’s stellar defense, senior outside linebacker D’Andre Walker emerged as the team’s sack leader and became a league-renowned terror off the edge. He suffered a groin injury in the second half of the SEC title game loss to Alabama, but he has improved in the lead-up to New Year’s Day and should be healthy enough to mix it up with Ehlinger in the backfield.