Forty-plus names, games, teams and minutiae making news this bloated bowl season:
WELCOME TO BOWL SEASON. LET’S HOPE IT’S ABOVE AVERAGE.
We are approaching the 120th anniversary of the first bowl game: the 1902 Rose Bowl, a 49–0 Michigan rout of Stanford. Unlike in recent decades, that game assuredly was not timed around the sunset over the San Gabriel Mountains; there were no stadium lights back then, so playing the fourth quarter after dark would have been inadvisable.
Thousands of bowl games have been played since then, many of them memorable but most of them fleeting in impact. We said quick hellos and goodbyes to the Bacardi Bowl in Cuba (seven iterations between 1907 and ’46); the Poinsettia Bowl (’05–’16, when San Diego ambitiously tried to be a two-bowl town); and the Great Lakes Bowl (a one-and-done in ’47, after the idea of December bowl games in Cleveland shockingly didn’t take root).
In examining this mountain of bowl history, it’s easy to find nominees for Greatest Bowl Ever (Texas 41, USC 39 in the ’06 Rose Bowl leaps to mind) and Worst Bowl Ever (Oregon State 3, Pittsburgh 0 in the ’08 Sun Bowl presents a dismally strong case). But what about the Most Average Bowl Ever? The Dash is at your service, doing the important research others wouldn’t dare undertake.
The winner: the 1973 Liberty Bowl. It is the not-great, not-terrible standard by which all other average bowl games should be judged. North Carolina State, coached by Lou Holtz, defeated Kansas, 31–18. It matched a pair of moderately successful teams in a more selective bowl era—the Wolfpack were 8–3, the Jayhawks were 7-3-1. It was a competitive game into the second half, but not close at the end. There was a brief flare of controversy over a muffed Kansas punt in the third quarter. The game MVP rushed for 83 yards. Two weeks later, Notre Dame defeated Alabama 24–23 in the Sugar Bowl to win the national title, a slightly more memorable game.
In previewing and predicting this year’s slate of matchups—The Dash is never responsible if you use these picks in your bowl pool and finish last—let’s apply the 1973 Liberty Bowl Epitome of Average Yardstick to every game.
BAHAMAS BOWL (1)
When: Dec. 17, noon ET
Where: The Bahamas
Who: Middle Tennessee (6–6) vs. Toledo (7–5).
Middle Tennessee season in a sentence: After winning a total of seven games the previous two years, a modest flutter of revival in Murfreesboro.
Toledo season in a sentence: A massive disappointment was salvaged somewhat by a closing three-game winning streak to become Caribbean-bound.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Assuredly worse, but with better weather. And it is nice of ESPN to tempt us into an early start to the weekend with a noon Friday kickoff to the first bowl.
Line (according to SI Sportsbook): Toledo by 10
Dash pick: Toledo 41, Middle Tennessee 28. Interesting tension here between a team that never turns the ball over (the Rockets have the fewest giveaways in the nation with six) and a team that often forces turnovers (the Blue Raiders are first nationally in takeaways with 31). Dual-threat Toledo quarterback Dequan Finn should be the difference maker here.
TAILGREETER CURE BOWL (2)
When: Dec. 17, 6 p.m.
Who: Northern Illinois (9–4) vs. Coastal Carolina (10–2)
Northern Illinois season in a sentence: The heart-attack Huskies kept winning the close ones, going 7–2 in one-score games on their way to the MAC title.
Coastal Carolina season in a sentence: With a pair of close Sun Belt losses, the Chanticleers couldn’t replicate last year’s magic, but this remains the nascent program’s Golden Era.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Better. Two good teams.
Line: Coastal Carolina by 9.5
Dash pick: Coastal Carolina 48, Northern Illinois 34. The key stat here: Coastal is second in the nation in yards per play at 7.63. NIU is 120th nationally in yards allowed per play at 6.69. Quarterback Grayson McCall could have a huge day against the Huskies defense, and in the process break Mac Jones’s single-season FBS pass efficiency record.
ROOFCLAIM.COM BOCA RATON BOWL (3)
When: Dec. 18, 11 a.m.
Where: Boca Raton, Fla.
Who: Western Kentucky (8–5) vs. Appalachian State (10–3).
WKU season in a sentence: The raiding of FCS Houston Baptist for its quarterback (Bailey Zappe), top receiver (Jerreth Sterns) and offensive coordinator (Zach Kittley) paid record-setting offensive dividends.
App State season in a sentence: Other than two trips to Lafayette, La. and a narrow loss to Miami, everything was beautiful for the Mountaineers.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Worse. Nobody really needs an 11 a.m. ET bowl kickoff.
Line: Appalachian State by 3
Dash pick: Appalachian State 45, Western Kentucky 38. One team is playing touch football, the other is playing tackle—take the one with the more physical running game. There is no stopping the Hilltoppers’ passing attack, but the App State defense has allowed just 11 points per game over its last five.
CRICKET CELEBRATION BOWL (4)
When: Dec. 18, noon.
Who: South Carolina State (6–5) vs. Jackson State (11–1)
South Carolina State season in a sentence: The Bulldogs won five of their last six, with a three-point win at North Carolina Central keying their MEAC championship and first Celebration Bowl berth.
Jackson State season in a sentence: Never dull under Deion Sanders, the Tigers rolled through the SWAC undefeated and never allowed more than 21 points in a game.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Worse game, better bands.
Line: Jackson State by 10
Dash pick: Jackson State 21, South Carolina State 10. Sanders has spent some time in recent weeks chasing FBS jobs (TCU, Colorado State) but he clearly has the better team here. His son, Shedeur, is a major quarterback talent.
PUBG MOBILE NEW MEXICO BOWL (5)
When: Dec. 18, 2:15 p.m.
Where: Albuquerque, N.M.
Who: UTEP (7–5) vs. Fresno State (9–3).
UTEP season in a sentence: A 6–1 start launched the Miners to their first bowl bid in seven seasons, validating Dana Dimel as a good coach for bad jobs.
Fresno State season in a sentence: Beating UCLA in the Rose Bowl and winning nine games reestablished the program in the upper echelon of the Mountain West—while also launching coach Kalen DeBoer to Washington.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Worse. Despite the Mexican food.
Line: Fresno State by 11
Dash pick: Fresno State 47, UTEP 34. The Miners are a feel-good story and should have a home-crowd advantage, since ABQ is a reasonable drive from El Paso. But unless some of those fans can rush Bulldogs quarterback Jake Haener (3,810 yards passing) or cover his receivers, this will be a tough afternoon for a suspect UTEP defense.
RADIANCE TECHNOLOGIES INDEPENDENCE BOWL (6)
When: Dec. 18, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Shreveport, La.
Who: UAB (8–4) vs. BYU (10–2)
UAB season in a sentence: Missed the Conference USA title game for the first time since 2017, but still recorded a fifth-straight winning record since being forced into near-extinction.
BYU season in a sentence: Unofficial Pac-12 champion recorded its second straight year of double-digit victories and retained coach Kalani Sitake.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Slightly better, despite being played in Shreveport.
Line: BYU by 7
Dash pick: BYU 31, UAB 20. This should be a run-heavy game, with the Blazers running on 64% of their plays this season and the Cougars 55%. BYU has played the superior schedule and deserved a better bowl and opponent than this. Also: As you may have discerned by now, The Dash is fading Conference USA.
LENDINGTREE BOWL (7)
When: Dec. 18, 5:45 p.m.
Where: Mobile, Ala.
Who: Eastern Michigan (7–5) vs. Liberty (7–5)
Eastern Michigan season in a sentence: Living on the edge, with six out of eight MAC matchups being one-score games and a pair of them one-point victories.
Liberty season in a sentence: First half was fine, second half stank.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Markedly worse, despite the verbal similarities between Liberty and LendingTree.
Line: Liberty by 9.5.
Dash pick: Liberty 35, Eastern Michigan 21. The Flames have the best player in the game in quarterback Malik Willis, who should be motivated to put some good things on tape for NFL scouts after a rocky latter half of the season. He should have his way running and passing against a defense surrendering 6.11 yards per play.
JIMMY KIMMEL L.A. BOWL PRESENTED BY STIFEL (8)
When: Dec. 18, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Los Angeles
Who: Utah State (10–3) vs. Oregon State (7–5).
Utah State season in a sentence: A remarkable reset in its first year under Blake Anderson, who brought his quarterback with him from Arkansas State and won the Mountain West for the first time.
Oregon State season in a sentence: Bowling for the first time since 2013 as fourth-year coach Jonathan Smith’s methodical program-building takes root.
Line: Oregon State by 7.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Slightly worse, despite the celebrity tie-in and the bowl’s mascot, Jimmy Camel, a vomiting camel.
Dash pick: Utah State 28, Oregon State 27. The Aggies have to slow down the Oregon State running game, and they showed some newfound proficiency in that area while routing San Diego State in the MWC title game. Undersized Utah State receiver Deven Thompkins has blossomed since the coaching change, averaging 16.6 yards per touch and helping USU lead the nation in scrimmage plays of 40 yards or longer (24).
R+L CARRIERS NEW ORLEANS BOWL (9)
When: Dec. 18, 9:15 p.m.
Where: New Orleans
Who: Louisiana (12–1) vs. Marshall (7–5).
Louisiana’s season in a sentence: After being upset by Texas in the opener (true statement, in retrospect), it’s been a dream that ends with the inevitable departure of coach Billy Napier.
Marshall’s season in a sentence: Zero victories over FBS teams with winning records.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Worse, but with beads and better food.
Line: Louisiana by 5
Dash pick: Louisiana 30, Marshall 23. Dicey spot for the Ragin’ Cajuns after losing Napier to Florida, and the secondary could be tested by the Thundering Herd’s Grant Wells. But promoting Michael Desormeaux from within and a strong senior class should help maintain continuity and focus on finishing out a great season on a high note.
MYRTLE BEACH BOWL PRESENTED BY TAXACT (10)
When: Dec. 20, 2:30 p.m.
Where: Conway, S.C.
Who: Old Dominion (6–6) vs. Tulsa (6–6)
Old Dominion’s season in a sentence: Didn’t see this coming after a 1–6 start.
Tulsa’s season in a sentence: Two bad months, followed by a very good November that was about a foot short in Nippert Stadium of an epic month.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Substantially worse.
Line: Tulsa by 9
Dash pick: Tulsa 31, Old Dominion 28. Operation Fade C-USA takes a brief respite here due to a trap-ish spread. Five of the Golden Hurricane’s six wins are by seven points or fewer, and the Monarchs are a hot team. ODU has forced 10 turnovers in its last four games, and Tulsa is one of the most turnover-prone teams in the nation with 24 giveaways.
FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL (11)
When: Dec. 21, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Boise, Idaho
Who: Kent State (7–6) vs. Wyoming (6–6).
Kent State season in a sentence: Many points scored, many points surrendered.
Wyoming season in a sentence: Blowing out eventual Mountain West champion Utah State on the road one week, being blown out at home by Hawai’i the next—that’s how you get to 6–6.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Worse by several light years.
Line: Wyoming by 3
Dash pick: Wyoming 41, Kent State 37. This is a tortoise-and-hare tempo matchup, with the Cowboys methodically grinding their way to 10 fewer offensive snaps per game. But they shouldn’t need many plays to score on the Golden Flashes, who have given up more than 40 points in five of their last seven games. As many Pokes fans as can free themselves up for a Tuesday afternoon game should make the relatively short trip to Boise and turn this into a Wyoming home game.
TROPICAL SMOOTHIE CAFE FRISCO BOWL (12)
When: Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Frisco, Texas
Who: UTSA (12–1) vs. San Diego State (11–2).
UTSA season in a sentence: Best in school history, paving the way for a leap to the American Athletic Conference.
San Diego State season in a sentence: A lot of accumulated mileage, both commuting to “home” games in Carson and in Matt Araiza punts.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Better. This is the best matchup of all the pre-Christmas bowls.
Line: UTSA by 2.5
Dash pick: UTSA 24, San Diego State 21. Is Brady Hoke having a 2008 experience all over again? That year he guided Ball State to a 12–0 record, then was surprisingly routed in the conference title game. The Cardinals subsequently dropped their bowl game as well, after Hoke had departed for San Diego State Tenure 1.0. The Aztecs were beaten badly by Utah State in the MWC title game and could be in trouble here in what should amount to a Roadrunners home game.
LOCKHEED MARTIN ARMED FORCES BOWL (13)
When: Dec. 22, 8 p.m.
Where: Fort Worth
Who: Army (8–4) vs. Missouri (6–6)
Army season in a sentence: Any season that ends in a loss to Navy cannot be considered great, but otherwise this was another good one.
Missouri season in a sentence: When you’re an SEC team playing your bowl game on Dec. 22, it didn’t go very well.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Worse.
Line: Army by 3.5.
Dash pick: Army 35, Missouri 28. Don’t overthink it—the Cadets are the No. 2 rushing offense in the country; the Tigers are the No. 125 rushing defense. Army might not have to pass at all, which is perfectly fine with coach Jeff Monken. (When his teams at West Point throw the ball more than 100 times in a season, they average 5.4 wins. When they have thrown in fewer than 100 times, they average 10 wins. This team has passed 101 times.) Army also is much more likely to be motivated to play.
FRISCO FOOTBALL CLASSIC (14)
When: Dec. 23, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Frisco, Texas
Who: North Texas (6–6) vs. Miami (Ohio) (6–6).
North Texas season in a sentence: The Mean Green saved Seth Littrell’s job by closing with a five-game winning streak, capped by handing UTSA its only loss.
Miami (Ohio) season in a sentence: The RedHawks also finished well, going 5–3 since September with the three losses by a combined four points.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Please. U.S. quality of life would not have suffered if this newly formed bowl had not been scheduled.
Line: Miami by 3.
Dash pick: North Texas 28, Miami (Ohio) 27. The only conference that should be faded harder than C-USA is the MAC. Should be a Mean Green home game if UNT fans show up (attendance this season at Apogee Stadium was not great). And the RedHawks have been much more successful at home than on the road this season.
UNION HOME MORTGAGE GASPARILLA BOWL (15)
When: Dec. 23, 7 p.m.
UCF season in a sentence: Gus Malzahn arrived, Dillon Gabriel got hurt and hit the transfer portal, and the glory days of 2017–18 receded a little further in the rearview mirror.
Florida season in a sentence: Tire fire.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Worse, even with the in-state (non)rivalry stakes.
Line: Florida by 6.5.
Dash pick: UCF 21, Florida 19. There are two competing schools of thought here. On the one hand, the Knights’ in-state players who were not recruited by the Gators should bring superior motivation against a team that has performed listlessly for months. On the other hand, Malzahn is 2–5 against the spread in bowl games since nearly winning the 2013 national championship as a 10-point underdog.
EASYPOST HAWAI’I BOWL (16)
When: Dec. 24, 8 p.m.
Who: Memphis (6–6) vs. Hawai’i (6–7)
Memphis’s season in a sentence: Things deteriorated after beating Mississippi State to reach 3–0.
Hawai’i’s season in a sentence: 33% of the Rainbow Warriors’ six victories came against New Mexico State.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: No amount of paradise can bring this game within range of average.
Line: Memphis by 7.5
Dash pick: Memphis 42, Hawai’i 34. With Aloha Stadium condemned, the Warriors have had their home games on campus at Ching Field, which is a “retrofitted” practice field that served as the smallest home stadium in FBS. That’s where this will be played as well. Nothing says bowl pageantry like staging this game where crowds have not exceeded 6,600. If the Tigers care even slightly, they should win and cover.
TAXACT CAMELLIA BOWL (17)
When: Dec. 25, 2:30 p.m.
Where: Montgomery, Ala.
Who: Georgia State (7–5) vs. Ball State (6–6).
Georgia State season in a sentence: Upset Coastal Carolina and finished strong for a third-straight winning record.
Ball State season in a sentence: More was expected of the defending MAC champions, who returned almost everyone from 2020.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: A Christmas Day matchup of mid-level Sun Belt and MAC teams? You know the answer.
Line: Georgia State by 4.5.
Dash pick: Georgia State 28, Ball State 23. This is the Quality Loss Bowl—all 11 combined defeats were to teams that are bowling. But the Panthers come in playing better, having won six of their last seven and pushing Sun Belt champion Louisiana on the road before submitting. Fade the MAC.
QUICK LANE BOWL (18)
When: Dec. 27, 11 a.m.
Who: Western Michigan (7–5) vs. Nevada (8–4).
Western Michigan season in a sentence: Beat the ACC and MAC champions on the road, but not much to go along with those two high points.
Nevada season in a sentence: A trio of two-point Mountain West losses left an aura of disappointment, then coach Jay Norvell left for a league rival.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: It’s 11 a.m. in Detroit in December, man.
Line: Western Michigan by 3.5
Dash pick: Western Michigan 30, Nevada 24. The only explanation for the line was that Vegas anticipated Wolf Pack quarterback and NFL prospect Carson Strong opting out, and he did exactly that Tuesday night. Without Strong and Norvell, and with WMU having a presumptive fan advantage, it’s time to reverse the MAC fade for this game.
MILITARY BOWL PRESENTED BY PERATON (19)
When: Dec. 27, 2:30 p.m.
Where: Annapolis, Md.
Who: Boston College (6–6) vs. East Carolina (7–5).
Boston College season in a sentence: A third-straight six-win regular season, as the commitment to mediocrity remains strong.
East Carolina season in a sentence: First winning record and bowl bid since 2014, as the Mike Houston rebuilding plan starts to pay off.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Worse.
Line: BC by 3.
Dash pick: East Carolina 24, Boston College 22. Give the Pirates the edge in enthusiasm and recent performance. Hard to look past the Eagles recording zero first downs in the second half and throwing for a full-game total of 19 yards in a home loss to Wake Forest.
TICKETSMARTER BIRMINGHAM BOWL (20)
When: Dec. 28, noon
Where: Birmingham, Ala.
Who: Houston (11–2) vs. Auburn (6–6).
Houston season in a sentence: Eleven wins bookended by two losses, with faith in Dana Holgorsen restored.
Auburn season in a sentence: Tumultuous, disappointing—and a single Iron Bowl play away from gut-your-rival glory.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Mildly better.
Line: Auburn by 3.
Dash pick: Auburn 29, Houston 24. The last time Holgo covered the spread in a bowl game was the first one he coached. And that was a decade ago. The Tigers have lost four straight heading into this game, but fade the mullet anyway.
SERVPRO FIRST RESPONDER BOWL (21)
When: Dec. 28, 3:15 p.m.
Who: Air Force (9–3) vs. Louisville (6–6).
Air Force season in a sentence: The three teams that beat the Falcons have a combined record of 29–9.
Louisville season in a sentence: Challenging schedule led to five losses against currently ranked opponents and a late giveaway against Virginia.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Worse.
Line: Louisville by 2.
Dash pick: Air Force 37, Louisville 35. The Cardinals were massacred on the ground by Kentucky to close the regular season. Now they have to decide whether they’re motivated to handle three hours of cut blocks from the No. 1 rushing team in the nation. Mercurial quarterback Malik Cunningham could win this by himself, though, if he plays to his full capability.
AUTOZONE LIBERTY BOWL (22)
When: Dec. 28, 6:45 p.m.
Where: Memphis, Tenn.
Who: Mississippi State (7–5) vs. Texas Tech (6–6).
Mississippi State season in a sentence: The Bulldogs have passed 402 more times than they have run, which is assuredly a Southeastern Conference single-season record but not a Mike Leach single-season record.
Texas Tech season in a sentence: Fired coach when he was 5–3, radio crew suspended for ripping the refs in a Tech win—just another silly season on the South Plains.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Worse.
Line: Mississippi State by 8.5
Dash pick: Mississippi State 48, Texas Tech 34. The nation’s No. 3 passing offense likes the look of the nation’s No. 118 passing defense. Leach Bowl goes to the guy who sued Texas Tech after the school fired him. “I’ve got great memories there,” Leach said last week. “They still owe me for 2009, the last time they won nine games, so maybe they’ll deliver the check. So we’ll see what happens there.”
SAN DIEGO COUNTY CREDIT UNION HOLIDAY BOWL (23)
When: Dec. 28, 8 p.m.
Where: San Diego
Who: UCLA (8–4) vs. North Carolina State (9–3).
UCLA’s season in a sentence: Best regular season in six years, starting well and ending well, but a gap remains between the Bruins and the best of the West.
NC State’s season in a sentence: A very good year that was a few plays short of a great year, with a chance for its first double-digit-victory season since 2002.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Better teams and better weather, since the kickoff temperature in Memphis 48 years ago was 32 degrees.
Line: NC State by 1.
Dash pick: UCLA 33, North Carolina State 31. Fun quarterback matchup, with the Bruins’ Dorian Thompson-Robinson averaging 274.4 yards of total offense per game and 7.3 yards per play, while the Wolfpack’s Devin Leary checks in at 280 and 6.9, respectively. UCLA hasn’t been bowling in four years and should have an enthusiastic home crowd—if its fans show up. The Bruins are more balanced offensively and a bit better on third down.
GUARANTEED RATE BOWL (24)
When: Dec. 28, 10:15 p.m.
Who: West Virginia (6–6) vs. Minnesota (8–4).
West Virginia’s season in a sentence: Consistently inconsistent, with too many games where the offense failed to fire.
Minnesota’s season in a sentence: Overcame an absolute plague of injuries at running back, which is a problem for a ground-based offense, and wound up holding Paul Bunyan’s ax at the end.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Let’s call it a push.
Line: Minnesota by 3.5.
Dash pick: Minnesota 24, West Virginia 14. A couple of good bowl coaches here, with P.J. Fleck 2–0 as an underdog both times at Minnesota and Neal Brown 4–0 in his career. The Gophers’ top-five defense is better than WVU’s offense, and Fleck should get a great scout after having recently re-hired Kirk Ciarrocca, who has been an offensive analyst on Brown’s staff this year. Minnesota is not expecting any players to opt out of the game; there may still be a couple to watch in that category for West Virginia.
WASABI FENWAY BOWL (25)
When: Dec. 29, 11 a.m.
Who: SMU (8–4) vs. Virginia (6–6).
SMU’s season in a sentence: Started fast against light competition, ended poorly when the schedule got tough, lost its coach.
Virginia’s season in a sentence: Brennan Armstrong, bad defense and Bronco Mendenhall’s sudden resignation.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Worse, right down to the confusing title sponsor. (A tech company, not the sushi seasoning.)
Line: Virginia by 2.
Dash pick: Virginia 45, SMU 37. An interim coach at SMU, Mendenhall coaching his last game at UVA, gunslinger quarterbacks and questionable defenses—this could get wild. Tanner Mordecai and Armstrong will put the pop in the passing game, but two of Mordecai’s top three receivers have both opted out. The Cavaliers have the x-factor advantage in multi-purpose Keytaon Thompson, a former full-time quarterback at Mississippi State they have used creatively all season. Bowl prep affords for more experimenting with the Hoos’ leading receiver and No. 3 rusher.
NEW ERA PINSTRIPE BOWL (26)
When: Dec. 29, 2:15 p.m.
Where: The Bronx
Who: Maryland (6–6) vs. Virginia Tech (6–6).
Maryland’s season in a sentence: Good Taulia was very good, and Bad Taulia was unable to cover up for a porous defense.
Virginia Tech’s season in a sentence: Started nicely and ended nicely, but everything in between was bad enough to cost Justin Fuente his job.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Worse. It doesn’t get any more mediocre than two 6–6 teams from Power 5 conferences who needed to win their last regular-season game to reach .500.
Line: Maryland by 1.
Dash pick: Maryland 36, Virginia Tech 31. The Terrapins were tested against a tougher schedule, having played (and lost to) four currently ranked opponents. The Taulia Tagovailoa–to–Rakim Jarrett connection should concern the Hokies, who have had four starters opt out of the game. The Terrapins’ suspect run defense must deal with Tech’s Raheem Blackshear, who finished the season strong.
CHEEZ-IT BOWL (27)
When: Dec. 29, 5:45 p.m.
Who: Clemson (9–3) vs. Iowa State (7–5).
Clemson’s season in a sentence: The Cheez-It Bowl was not the expected postseason destination.
Iowa State’s season in a sentence: Major disappointment lessened by the retention of coach Matt Campbell; now what’s up with everyone hitting the transfer portal?
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Better. The Tigers bring a brand name to the affair.
Line: Iowa State by 1.
Dash pick: Clemson 26, Iowa State 21. This game could be more about who’s missing than who’s present. The Tigers are down both their coordinators, with Brent Venables and Tony Elliott finally taking the leap to head-coaching jobs. Player opt-outs may follow. The Cyclones have had a flow of players into the portal, and it remains to be seen what their depth chart will look like when it’s finally released for this game. Which quarterback can end a disappointing season on a high note, Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei or Iowa State’s Brock Purdy?
VALERO ALAMO BOWL (28)
When: Dec. 29, 9:15 p.m.
Where: San Antonio
Oregon’s season in a sentence: Very good run with a major Utah problem, and now another coaching transition.
Oklahoma’s season in a sentence: Hugely underwhelming on the field, massively shocking at the end … and is that really Bob Stoops?
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Better. Brand names with big talent—and interim coaches.
Line: Oklahoma by 4.5.
Dash pick: Oregon 37, Oklahoma 34. Anyone who says they know what will happen here is lying. Coaches are missing, star players are missing, motivation is a jump ball for two teams that went late into November harboring College Football Playoff aspirations. But since the Sooners really didn’t do anything impressive all season, the Ducks are the pick here.
DUKE’S MAYO BOWL (29)
When: Dec. 30, 11:30 a.m.
Who: North Carolina (6–6) vs. South Carolina (6–6).
North Carolina’s season in a sentence: Didn’t you guys start out in the top 10?
South Carolina’s season in a sentence: Pleasantly surprised to be bowling in Year 1 of Beamer (The Younger) Ball.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Worse. This is a game only the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce could love.
Line: North Carolina by 7.
Dash pick: North Carolina 31, South Carolina 28. Sam Howell is expected to play, giving him the chance to go out in a blaze of Tar Heel glory, but this might be more of a running opportunity than passing, given the state of the Gamecocks’ run defense. Still, South Carolina has shown enough pluck that this could be a game that goes down to the wire.
TRANSPERFECT MUSIC CITY BOWL (30)
When: Dec. 30, 3 p.m.
Tennessee’s season in a sentence: Other than trashing its home field, this was a buoyant year as the Josh Heupel era gets a strong start.
Purdue’s season in a sentence: Best since the Joe Tiller era.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: A smidge better.
Line: Tennessee by 4.
Dash pick: Tennessee 42, Purdue 31. When the two best Boilermakers—receiver David Bell and defensive end George Karlaftis—opted out, this matchup took on an orange hue. The Volunteers lost running back Tiyon Evans but still have plenty of firepower to throw at Purdue’s pretty solid defense. Hendon Hooker has had a great season at Tennessee after transferring from Virginia Tech, making the most of the Heupel influence.
CHICK-FIL-A PEACH BOWL (31)
When: Dec. 30, 7 p.m.
Who: Michigan State (10–2) vs. Pittsburgh (11–2).
Michigan State’s season in a sentence: The program slide was reversed in a dramatic manner, with an immense commitment to continue the upward trend.
Pittsburgh’s season in a sentence: Best since the glory days of the 1970s and early ’80s, with a Heisman Trophy finalist leading the way to a first ACC title.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Much better. This is a good one.
Line: Michigan State by 1.5.
Dash pick: Michigan State 32, Pittsburgh 27. Until Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett and Spartans running back Kenneth Walker III declare their bowl intentions, this is a total crapshoot. The presumption is that Michigan State could better withstand the loss of its top-10 Heisman finisher than Pitt, if they both opt out. If Pickett plays, he could put on an epic display against the Spartans’ porous pass defense.
SRS DISTRIBUTION LAS VEGAS BOWL (32)
When: Dec. 30, 10:30 p.m.
Where: Las Vegas
Who: Wisconsin (8–4) vs. Arizona State (8–4).
Wisconsin’s season in a sentence: Seven solid Saturdays from Oct. 9 to Nov. 20; everything before and after was an offensive debacle.
Arizona State’s season in a sentence: A lot of buildup, not much delivery.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Perhaps a smidge better.
Line: Wisconsin by 7.
Dash pick: Wisconsin 24, Arizona State 13. The Badgers were better against a tougher schedule. The Sun Devils beat exactly one team that finished with a winning record (UCLA), losing to the other four. ASU will be down a couple of running backs, putting more on the shoulders of quarterback Jayden Daniels, who hasn’t had a great season passing the ball. Then again, neither has his counterpart, Graham Mertz. Paul Chryst has a 6–2 bowl record.
TAXSLAYER GATOR BOWL (33)
When: Dec. 31, 11 a.m.
Who: Wake Forest (10–3) vs. Texas A&M (8–4).
Wake Forest season in a sentence: One of the most successful and entertaining in school history; Slow Mesh forever.
Texas A&M season in a sentence: Not really the stuff of $90 million contracts.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Better. This should be quality entertainment.
Line: Texas A&M by 7.
Dash pick: Wake Forest 36, Texas A&M 34. If this were a regular-season game, the Aggies would be the pick. But quarterback Zach Calzada hit the portal, star defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal and safety Leon O’Neal Jr. opted out, and defensive coordinator Mike Elko took the Duke job. Too much upheaval, not enough playmakers to beat a veteran Wake Forest team that thrives on continuity.
TONY THE TIGER SUN BOWL (34)
When: Dec. 31, 2 p.m.
Where: El Paso
Who: Washington State (7–5) vs. Miami (7–5).
Washington State’s season in a sentence: This one deserves its own paragraph, with Nick Rolovich and some assistants being fired in October for failing to comply with the state vaccine mandate and being replaced with interim coach Jake Dickert, who did so well that he got the full-time job after a 7–5 surprise.
Miami’s season in a sentence: Messy, with a 2–4 start and a 5–1 finish and a quarterback change and ultimately changes at the athletic-director and head-coach levels, but not until after the school treated Manny Diaz like dirt on the way to hiring Mario Cristobal.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Worse. The Survivors of In-Season Mayhem Bowl feels like a subaverage performance in the making.
Line: Miami by 2.
Dash pick: Washington State 25, Miami 24. This is the Hurricanes’ third Sun Bowl, all three of them coming after firing their head coach (the dysfunction is real in Coral Gables). Miami is 0–2 in the other Sun Bowls under interim coaches, so make it 0–3. The Cougars had leading rusher Max Borghi opt out, but the offense is more of a Jayden de Laura production, anyway. Key stat: Wazzu is plus-10 turnover margin to Miami’s minus-6.
BARSTOOL SPORTS ARIZONA BOWL (35)
When: Dec. 31, 2 p.m.
Who: Central Michigan (8–4) vs. Boise State (7–5).
Central Michigan’s season in a sentence: A 4–4 start and a 4–0 finish powered by running back Lew Nichols III, the nation’s leading rusher.
Boise State’s season in a sentence: Worst regular-season record since 1998, as the Andy Avalos era struggled to get off the ground against a stout schedule.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Worse. A MAC vs. MWC also-ran matchup doesn’t move the needle past average.
Line: Boise State by 8.5.
Dash pick: Boise State 28, Central Michigan 24. The Chippewas are the hotter team, but the Broncos played the harder schedule. Boise’s run defense improved in the last five games and should be able to avoid being trampled by Nichols, who finished the season on a tear.
OUTBACK BOWL (36)
When: Jan. 1, 12 p.m.
Penn State’s season in a sentence: Winless in four games decided by fewer than five points, as the clutch play against Wisconsin and Auburn in September evaporated in October and November.
Arkansas’s season in a sentence: Best since Bobby Petrino, without the motorcycle scandal.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Better, since the Pig People should show up in force for their first bowl game since 2016.
Line: Penn State by 2.5.
Dash pick: Penn State 27, Arkansas 21. One of two star receivers in the game has opted out—that’s the Razorbacks’ Treylon Burks. We’ll see whether the Nittany Lions’ Jahan Dotson joins him (James Franklin said he generally leaves it to the players to make those kinds of announcements themselves). The Hogs certainly figure to be the more excited party for this game, but if Penn State protects Sean Clifford he could exploit their pass defense.
VRBO CITRUS BOWL (37)
When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m.
Who: Iowa (10–3) vs. Kentucky (9–3).
Iowa’s season in a sentence: Some great moments, and not all of them were punts.
Kentucky’s season in a sentence: Solo second place in the SEC East is UK’s best league finish since 1976.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Better, although this could be a bit of a stylistic slog.
Line: Kentucky by 2.5.
Dash pick: Kentucky 22, Iowa 17. Hawkeyes running back Tyler Goodson opted out, which reduces the Iowa offense to tight end Sam LaPorta catching passes from a pair of scatter-armed quarterbacks. Can All-American center Tyler Linderbaum play fullback, too? For the Wildcats, the key is to not commit gobs of turnovers against a team that produces gobs of takeaways. Iowa is plus-13 and Kentucky is minus-13, but much of that was early in the season.
PLAYSTATION FIESTA BOWL (38)
When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m.
Where: Glendale, Ariz.
Who: Oklahoma State (11–2) vs. Notre Dame (11–1)
Oklahoma State’s season in a sentence: Inches short—in Ames and in Arlington—of potential perfection.
Notre Dame’s season in a sentence: Everything was wonderful until Brian Kelly wound up talking like Foghorn Leghorn one strange night in Baton Rouge.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Far better, one of the best of this bowl season.
Line: Notre Dame by 2.
Dash pick: Notre Dame 24, Oklahoma State 21. The Fighting Irish had safety Kyle Hamilton and running back Kyren Williams opt out, but Hamilton has been out for weeks with an injury, anyway. Mike Gundy has covered the spread in his last five bowl games but lost star defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to Ohio State. The expectation is that the Irish will be an energized team after the promotion of popular Marcus Freeman to head coach and the retention of the core of the staff. Will the Cowboys be demoralized over what they lost in the Big 12 title game?
ROSE BOWL (39)
When: Jan. 1, 5 p.m.
Where: Pasadena, Calif.
Who: Utah (10–3) vs. Ohio State (10–2).
Utah’s season in a sentence: Against a backdrop of tragedy, the Utes fashioned one of their best seasons, and it will culminate in their first Rose Bowl.
Ohio State’s season in a sentence: No trip to Indianapolis, no berth in the Playoff and a blowout loss to Michigan makes 10–2 feel quite disappointing.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: The worst Rose Bowl is always better than the best Liberty Bowl, and this is not the worst Rose Bowl.
Line: Ohio State by 6.5.
Dash pick: Ohio State 34, Utah 31. If Buckeyes wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave don’t play, you can flip this pick—they and others have yet to declare their intention for this game, although coach Ryan Day said last week that he expects to have everyone in action. If Ohio State is missing some studs, the building blocks for a Utes upset are there: a physical running game against a defense that was trampled by Michigan; Kyle Whittingham’s ridiculous 11–3 bowl record (though he’s lost his last two); the record against Oregon (the Utes were an easy 2–0, the Buckeyes 0–1); and sky-high motivation against a blueblood opponent in a blueblood game.
ALLSTATE SUGAR BOWL (40)
When: Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m.
Where: New Orleans
Who: Mississippi (10–2) vs. Baylor (11–2).
Mississippi’s season in a sentence: Perfect outside the state of Alabama, and it held on to Lane Kiffin through the coaching carousel.
Baylor’s season in a sentence: Could a surprise season end any better than a goal-line stand to win the Big 12 championship?
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Far better in every category.
Line: Baylor by 1.
Dash pick: Baylor 28, Mississippi 25. The Bears have two very good running backs and a mobile quarterback, if Gerry Bohanon is back from injury. The Rebels have issues stopping the run. That could be the difference in this game, unless Matt Corral just decides to go ballistic and win it on his own for Ole Miss.
TAXACT TEXAS BOWL (41)
When: Jan. 4, 9 p.m.
Who: LSU (6–6) vs. Kansas State (7–5)
LSU’s season in a sentence: The disaster escalated quickly.
Kansas State’s season in a sentence: Streak City—win three, lose three, win four, lose two.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Worse, without question.
Line: Kansas State by 1.
Dash pick: Kansas State 23, LSU 21. This game is utter mayhem. Nobody knows who will play quarterback (due to injury at K-State and transfers at LSU). K-State will have an interim offensive coordinator, and LSU has an interim everything. More could change between now and the kickoff for a game weirdly scheduled on Jan. 4.
GOODYEAR COTTON BOWL CLASSIC CFP SEMIFINAL (42)
When: Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Arlington, Texas
Alabama’s season in a sentence: Narrow escape on The Plains followed by no doubts in Atlanta.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Slightly better.
Line: Alabama by 13.5.
Dash pick: Alabama 28, Cincinnati 13. The Bearcats are a legitimate Playoff team that will not be scared of the moment and should give the Crimson Tide offense some problems—especially with wide receiver John Metchie III out. But the two major problems for Cincy are these: how to block monster linebacker Will Anderson and trying to shock the world with an unreliable kicker. Problems up front will mean problems for Desmond Ridder, and Cincinnati cannot win without a great game from him. And there is the fact that Nick Saban doesn’t just tend to win semifinal games; he tends to win big.
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CAPITAL ONE ORANGE BOWL CFP SEMIFINAL (43)
When: Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Miami Gardens, Fla.
Georgia’s season in a sentence: Dreamy, other than Alabama—again.
Michigan’s season in a sentence: What it’s been waiting for since 1997, and certainly since 2015.
Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Also slightly better.
Line: Georgia by 8.
Dash pick: Georgia 21, Michigan 17. The spread is too big, but the Bulldogs’ defense is too good to be shredded for the second game in a row. Unless the Wolverines can hit some big plays in the passing game or via trickeration—which isn’t out of the question—an offense reliant on ground-and-pound running will struggle against the imposing Georgia front seven. The other issue: The teams that bothered Georgia’s defense the most (Alabama and Tennessee) did it with super tempo, which isn’t really in Michigan’s wheelhouse. The huge question for the Bulldogs is whether Stetson Bennett is the quarterback and how he fares with Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo chasing him. Wouldn’t be a shock to see JT Daniels early if Georgia’s first couple of drives falter.
CFP CHAMPIONSHIP GAME (44)
When: Jan. 10, 8 p.m.
Who: Alabama vs. Georgia in the Greg Sankey Invitational, as the rest of the nation convulses in outrage.
Dash pick: Alabama 26, Georgia 23. Tide win on a touchdown bomb in overtime by Paul Tyson to Ja’Corey Brooks. Or something like that.
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