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SI’s Early Bowl Outlook: Why This New Year’s Six Rocks

Here’s what stood out to us as the 2022–23 bowl schedule was revealed.
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It’s college football’s Super Bowl before the national title game … it’s Selection Sunday! Sports Illustrated’s gurus provided live analysis and commentary throughout the day as all 41 FBS game pairings were revealed, with a particular focus on the matchups outside the College Football Playoff.

(For our Playoff-centered coverage, check out our Georgia–Ohio State preview and Michigan-TCU preview.)

Pat Forde: The post–College Football Playoff bowl results are trickling in, like mail-in ballots from Maricopa County, and it’s time to look at the vast panoply of matchups beyond the ones that will decide the national championship. May your favorite team have no opt-outs and no transfers between now and bowl time! (But don’t count on it.)

First reaction: The rest of the New Year’s Six rocks: great matchups in the Rose Bowl (Utah–Penn State), Sugar Bowl (Alabama–Kansas State) and a very orange Orange Bowl (Clemson-Tennessee). Only Penn State is a non-top-10 team in the final CFP rankings, and you could argue that the Nittany Lions should have been. Plus 2022 Cinderella Tulane vs. USC and likely Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams in the Cotton. I like it all.

Tulane celebrates a touchdown

Can the Green Wave keep rolling against USC?

Richard Johnson: Of the pre–New Year’s bowl games you are not going to want to miss the Cure Bowl, where UTSA takes on Troy. The Trojans have one of the best defenses in the country and are absolutely on a roll, having won 10 of 11 with the only loss coming on a Hail Mary defeat to App State. They have a young coach to watch in Jon Sumrall. The Roadrunners bring an exciting offense with Frank Harris distributing to electric WRs Zakhari Franklin and Joshua Cephus. Styles make fights, and this is gonna be a good one.

Richard: Birmingham Bowl has a Carolina flavor. ECU (North) versus Coastal Carolina (South). This one’s for all the Carolinas.

Pat: Is this also a mustard-based vs. vinegar-based matchup? I think so. And I think I’m pro-mustard in that one.

Richard: The New Mexico Bowl features BYU and SMU in a rematch of one of the most epic games—regular season or postseason—of all time back in 1980 when the Cougars erased a 21-point deficit in the last 2:33 of the game. Let’s hope history comes close to repeating itself, and we get another classic game.

Pat: The Jim McMahon Miracle! See YouTube for details.

Ross Dellenger: Say what you want about Notre Dame’s history (and plenty of people do), but the Irish are still one of the most attractive programs in college football. There is a battle between the Gator and Holiday Bowl for the Irish, reports Brett McMurphy.

Ross: Something to keep in mind: The SEC and ACC each use an internal selection process to divide teams among their bowls. The SEC and ACC conference offices choose where most of their teams are heading. It removes decisions from bowl executives, who may be partial to certain teams. There will be no leap-frogging from teams finishing well below others in the conference standings.

Pat: I’m sure Missouri would like that point to be made loud and clear, Ross. There was a lot of dust kicked up out of Lawrence about the Tigers ducking a bowl matchup with former hated rival Kansas, but Mizzou pushed back forcefully on that by noting that its bowl assignment was in the league’s hands. But rivals gonna rival, even if they don’t play each other anymore. (Of note: This is the first time in 15 years that Kansas has wanted any part of playing Missouri.)

Pat: I’m sorry the New Mexico Bowl has lost its Bowl Season leadoff status on that first Saturday—there are two games Friday the 16th now—but I like the matchup of Fresno State vs. Washington State. The Bulldogs are blazing hot, winning eight straight including an upset of Boise State on the blue turf to win the Mountain West championship. The Cougars are led by intriguing QB Cameron Ward, a sought-after transfer from Incarnate Word who has thrown for 3,000 yards in his first FBS season.

Ross: This is the first year that the Las Vegas Bowl is in the SEC’s rotation. The Gators get their ticket to Sin City to play Oregon State!

Pat: Florida fans should love that trip. New location, sparkly new stadium and obviously a very fun place to go. Utah and USC fans were having a big time on The Strip and the golf courses when I was there last week for the Pac-12 championship.

Ross: Oh, man. The Alamo Bowl is fun, fun, fun. Washington against Texas. Two offensive wizards—Steve Sarkisian and Kalen DeBoer—with two outstanding QBs, Michael Penix Jr. and Quinn Ewers.

Pat: One conference dynamic to watch for: a big bowl bounce-back for the Pac-12. The league went an ignominious 0–5 in bowl games last year, part of a rock-bottom season. The Pac-12 should finish this rebound season in much better fashion. Despite the sting (and seven-figure loss) from USC not making the Playoff, it will help the bowl matchups. Everyone in the league gets bumped down one spot, which should lead to more wins.

Cases in point: USC is an early 4.5-point favorite over Tulane in the Cotton, per Action Network; UCLA is a 2.5-point favorite over Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl; and Oregon State is a one-point favorite over Florida in Las Vegas. Washington is a 4.5-point underdog to Texas in the Alamo Bowl, and Washington State is a one-point ’dog to Fresno in New Mexico. I like the Huskies’ chances against the Longhorns (pending opt-outs, of course).

Ross: Per McMurphy, Baylor and Air Force are meeting in the Armed Forces Bowl, which is played in Fort Worth within the confines of TCU’s football stadium. Ha! Baylor and TCU, of course, have a long history that dates back to 1899. What a treat for the Bears to play in their rival’s stadium!

Pat: Easy trip for the Baylor fans. But not much hotel revenue for host city Fort Worth.

Ross: Texas Tech and Ole Miss in the Texas Bowl. Are we all ready for Lane Kiffin in a cowboy hat?

Pat: Congrats to Rice on its first bowl bid since 2014—with a 5–7 record. With not enough .500 or better teams to fill all bowl slots, the Owls get a bid to play Southern Mississippi in the Lending Tree Bowl in Mobile thanks to a high APR score. Go academics!

Pat: Music City Bowl reportedly will match Iowa and Kentucky, one season after those two played in the Citrus Bowl. Haven’t we suffered enough? These are the worst offenses in the Big Ten and SEC, respectively.

Ross: The Hawkeyes are second to last in average yards a game with 255. Kentucky averages 335. Combined, the two teams average 590 yards of offense a game. For some perspective, Tennessee, the country’s best offense, averaged nearly 540 yards a game this year. What I’m saying is … you’d probably have more fun at the downtown Nashville honky-tonks than this game. Skip the game and head to the bar!

Ross: The Gator Bowl reportedly won the battle for the Irish. They meet a South Carolina that is just as hot as any team in the country.

Pat: So … who takes snaps at quarterback for Notre Dame in that Gator Bowl? Drew Pyne is in the transfer portal and will no longer be part of the team. Tyler Buchner, the game-one starter who was lost for the regular season with a shoulder injury in the second game against Marshall, may be able to return. If not, freshman Steve Angeli could see his first college action. He was an early enrollee who led a game-winning drive in the spring game.

Ross: Either Dave Doeren or Mike Locksley will be covered in mayo this year. NC State and Maryland meet in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl in Charlotte!

Pat: Florida StateOklahoma in the Cheez-It Bowl in Orlando. (So many Cheez-It Bowls and locations, so little time to keep them all straight.) Twenty-two years ago, this was the BCS championship game matchup, won by the Sooners. Times change.

Pat: My Take The Over Special for bowl season is OregonNorth Carolina in the Holiday Bowl. Hardest watch: UConn-Marshall in the Myrtle Beach Bowl.

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