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Bowl Projections: Week 13 (Conference Championships)

A look at the bowl schedule, and which teams could play where

The 2021 college football regular season is now over. While the parting is such sweet sorrow, it brings about a fascinating period in the cycle: bowl season. Bowl games are always fun because they pair teams that rarely play each other in exotic or different locations.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be putting out my weekly predictions of where every bowl-eligible team (and even some who aren’t technically eligible) into a game. These predictions are based on how I expect the rest of the season to play out, not necessarily where the teams’ current standings and records have them. I’ll provide the conference tie-ins/affiliations for each game and will do my best to adhere to them.

From a Boston College perspective, the Eagles finished the season 6-6, barely making it to bowl eligibility. BC struggled down the stretch as injuries took their toll, and a flu outbreak doomed any chance they had against ACC Atlantic champion Wake Forest. With a .500 record, the number of bowls BC can get to is pretty small.

Bahamas Bowl: Nassau, Bahamas, December 17th, 12:00 PM ESPN (C-USA vs. MAC)

Middle Tennessee State vs. Toledo

For some reason, probably due to international travel, this matchup has already been confirmed.

Cure Bowl: Orlando, Florida, December 17th, 6:00 PM ESPN2 (Group of 5 Conferences + Army)

North Texas vs. Miami (OH)

North Texas scored a shocking upset over previously undefeated UTSA to get to six wins and bowl eligibility.

Boca Raton Bowl: Boca Raton, Florida, December 18th, 11:00 AM ESPN (Group of 5 Conferences + Army)

Old Dominion vs. Georgia State

Two programs that leaped from the FCS in 2013 match up here in Boca Raton.

New Mexico Bowl: Albuquerque, New Mexico, December 18th, 2:15 PM ESPN (AAC/C-USA/MWC)

Marshall vs. Boise State

This is a very interesting G5 matchup. Marshall has an entertaining offense led by a great young QB. Boise State is not their usual dominant selves, but they’re still dangerous.

Independence Bowl: Shreveport, Louisiana, December 18th, 3:30 PM ABC (BYU vs. C-USA)

Auburn vs. Alabama-Birmingham

The only problem with this bowl matchup is that it isn’t being played in Alabama. Auburn limped down the stretch, thanks to injuries at the quarterback position. UAB couldn’t upset the giants in their conference, but they’re still a solid squad.

LendingTree Bowl: Mobile, Alabama, December 18th, 5:45 PM ESPN (MAC vs. Sun Belt)

Ball State vs. UTEP

The Miners skidded down the stretch, going 1-4 in their final five games. But Ball State doesn’t score very much, so this should be a competitive matchup.

Los Angeles Bowl: Inglewood, California, December 18th, 7:30 PM ABC (Pac-12 vs. MWC)

Oregon State vs. Nevada

Nevada falls down to this game, thanks to some critical head-to-head losses in their conference. But it’s still a very intriguing matchup.

New Orleans Bowl: New Orleans, Louisiana, December 18th, 9:00 PM ESPN (C-USA vs. Sun Belt)

Western Kentucky vs. Coastal Carolina

Here are two offenses that will put up tons of points. The Chanticleers disappointed this year, as they lost their QB for a few games. Additionally, they could be led by an interim if Jamey Chadwell leaps a Power Five program.

Myrtle Beach Bowl: Conway, South Carolina, December 20th, 2:30 PM ESPN (AAC/MAC/Sun Belt)

Eastern Michigan vs. Appalachian State

Here we have two solid teams led by transfer quarterbacks. If Appalachian State can upset Louisiana in the Sun Belt Championship this weekend, they’ll jump up a few spots. The Eagles are a solid team from top to bottom, but they might not have the talent to stick with the Mountaineers.

Idaho Potato Bowl: Boise, Idaho, December 21st, 3:30 PM ESPN (MAC vs. MWC)

Western Michigan vs. Fresno State

Fresno State just lost their head coach to Washington, so this is a relatively tough draw for a Fresno team that played very well across the season. Western Michigan can score points in bunches so take the over for this game.

Frisco Bowl: Frisco, Texas, December 21st, 7:30 PM ESPN (Group of Five Conferences)

Liberty vs. Air Force

Liberty fell to Army this past week in the Ironic Metaphors Bowl. The Flames had high expectations this year with quarterback Malik Willis, but they only mustered a 7-5 record. Conversely, Air Force is having one of the best seasons in recent program history. Even though they are the least run-heavy of the academies, they’ve been putting on clinics on the ground this year.

Armed Forces Bowl: Fort Worth, Texas, December 22nd, 8:00 PM ESPN (AAC/Army/C-USA)

Texas-San Antonio (UTSA) vs. Army

UTSA blew their perfect season, losing to North Texas this week. They get to stay pretty close to home in this game. But they’ll face Army, a consistently good team that plays very well on both sides of the ball.

Gasparilla Bowl: Tampa, Florida, December 23rd, 7:00 PM ESPN (AAC/ACC/SEC)

Tulsa vs. Florida

Tulsa got to bowl eligibility with an upset, comeback win over SMU this past weekend. On the other side of the field, Florida also secured bowl eligibility with their win over Florida State. The Gators just hired Billy Napier from Louisiana, but he will most likely not be coaching in this game. Florida has significantly more talent than Tulsa, so they theoretically should win this game easily.

Hawai'i Bowl: Honolulu, Hawai’i, December 24th, 8:00 PM ESPN (AAC vs. MWC)

Utah State vs. Memphis

Utah State very quietly had one of the best seasons in the Group of Five conferences with new head coach Blake Anderson. They’ll face San Diego State this weekend in the MWC Championship, and they could win that game. Memphis struggled this year due to multiple injuries at the quarterback position.

Camellia Bowl: Montgomery, Alabama, December 25th, 2:30 PM ESPN (MAC vs. Sun Belt)

Kent State vs. Louisiana

Louisiana will be without their head coach, Billy Napier, for the bowl game as he took the Florida job. But the Ragin’ Cajuns have an excellent running game and a stingy defense. Across from them will be Kent State, who will be looking to win the MAC this weekend. Kent State runs a wide-open spread offense, and they love to throw the ball with quarterback Dustin Crum.

Quick Lane Bowl: Detroit, Michigan, December 27th, 11:00 AM ESPN (Big Ten vs. MAC)

Virginia vs. Central Michigan

Virginia gets the nod here, as the Big Ten does not have enough teams to fill their slots. The Quick Lane Bowl was previously affiliated with the ACC, so they could go back to the well. The Cavaliers faltered down the stretch, partially due to injuries to Brennan Armstrong. While their defense is very suspect, Armstrong leads an offense that can keep pace with anyone. Across from them will be the local team, Central Michigan.

Military Bowl: Annapolis, Maryland, December 27th, 2:30 PM ESPN (AAC vs. ACC)

East Carolina vs. Virginia Tech

These two teams have played each other several times in the last few seasons, so this postseason matchup makes sense. Furthermore, getting Virginia Tech in a military-affiliated bowl game is a perfect fit. However, it would not shock me if the Hokies declined a bowl bid in favor of getting their new head coach onboarded. Regardless, East Carolina is a frisky, fun team that will challenge whatever ACC squad they face.

Birmingham Bowl: Birmingham, Alabama, December 28th, 12:00 PM ESPN (AAC vs. SEC)

Southern Methodist vs. South Carolina

Once again, we have a matchup of two programs headed in very different directions. South Carolina won two of their last three against Florida and Auburn to get to bowl eligibility, and despite a drubbing from Clemson, things are looking up for the Gamecocks. Conversely, SMU is losing its head coach to its cross-town rival, along with several vital assistants and multiple highly-touted recruits. The Mustangs also lost their last four games this year, so things are not looking good in Dallas.

First Responder Bowl: Dallas, Texas, December 28th, 3:15 PM ESPN (AAC/ACC/Big 12)

North Carolina vs. UCF

Here we have a matchup between two very high-octane offenses. The Tar Heels are fresh off blowing a two-score lead to rival NC State, capping off an already disappointing season in Chapel Hill. UCF weathered a season-ending injury to their quarterback (now in the transfer portal) to put together a solid 8-4 campaign in Gus Malzahn’s first year.

Liberty Bowl: Memphis, Tennessee, December 28th, 6:45 ESPN (Big 12 vs. SEC)

West Virginia vs. LSU

Both programs won games late in the season to squeak into bowl eligibility. LSU will still be conducting a coaching search, so there is the possibility that they will decline a bowl bid. West Virginia did not take the step forward that some expected this season, but this is a pretty marquee bowl for them.

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Holiday Bowl: San Diego, California, December 28th, 8:00 PM FOX (ACC vs. Pac 12)

Louisville vs. Washington State

Washington State weathered a pretty tough season, losing multiple coaches due to vaccination status. But they went 3-2 in their last five games. They made their interim coach full-time, so they’ll be heading full-steam into the offseason. Louisville was up and down for most of the year. Mostly, they’ve lost to good teams and beaten bad ones.

Guaranteed Rate Bowl: Phoenix, Arizona, December 28th, 10:15 PM ESPN (Big 12 vs. Big Ten)

Brigham Young vs. Maryland

This is a bit of an unfair matchup, but that’s what happens when you’re independent. BYU will still be ranked in the top-15, while Maryland barely squeaked into bowl eligibility by beating Rutgers.

Fenway Bowl: Boston, Massachusetts, December 29th, 11:00 AM ESPN (AAC vs. ACC or Notre Dame)

Houston vs. Boston College

Sigh. As if being stuck in Boston during the dead of winter wasn’t bad enough. Now the Eagles will need to face an ostensibly 11-2 Houston team.

Pinstripe Bowl: New York, New York, December 29th, 2:15 PM ESPN (ACC vs. Big Ten)

Miami (FL) vs. Penn State

We get a rematch of the classic 1987 Fiesta Bowl. Miami found something late in the year with their young players, especially quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, but they could be looking for a new coach relatively soon. Penn State struggled to play consistent football this year, primarily due to injuries at the quarterback position. But these teams are very evenly matched.

Cheez-It Bowl: Orlando, Florida, December 29th, 5:45 PM ESPN (ACC vs. Big 12)

Pittsburgh vs. Texas Tech

Pitt has a good chance at winning the ACC Championship, and if they do, they’ll jump up to the Gator Bowl. But for now, they still get to go to Florida for the Cheeze-It Bowl. As a reward for one of the best seasons in school history, the Panthers get to face a rebuilding Texas Tech program that barely got to bowl eligibility. They lost their last two games, albeit to two top-ten programs.

Alamo Bowl: San Antonio, Texas, December 29th, 9:15 PM ESPN (Big 12 vs. Pac 12)

Kansas State vs. Utah

I’ve been predicting this one for a while, and I think it’s a great fit to pair these programs against each other. They’re both hard-nosed teams that love to run the ball and play very good defense.

Duke's Mayo Bowl: Charlotte, North Carolina, December 30th, 12:00 PM ESPN (ACC vs. SEC)

Clemson vs. Missouri

Love to see lil’ ole’ Clemson catch a break here. After several years of getting extremely tough bowl matchups in the College Football Playoff, they finally get a relatively easy post-season. Not to mention we get a double Tigers game here. Missouri’s defense can’t stop anyone, and Clemson’s defense stops everyone, so give the edge to the orange and purple Tigers here.

Music City Bowl: Nashville, Tennessee, December 30th, 3:00 PM ESPN (Big Ten vs. SEC)

Purdue vs. Mississippi State

This is the exact opposite of the upcoming Las Vegas Bowl. Both teams love to throw the ball all over the field. Obviously, Mississippi State runs the purest distillation of the Air Raid, but Purdue is no slouch either. However, the Bulldogs feature a much better defense.

Peach Bowl: Atlanta, Georgia, December 30th, 7:00 PM ESPN (At-large vs. At large)

Michigan State vs. Mississippi

In the first of the “New Year’s Six” games, we get two teams that had Playoff aspirations. Ultimately, they fell short, but they both finished with high-quality 10-win seasons. Lane Kiffin could be somewhere else by the time this bowl game actually rolls around, but Mel Tucker will definitely be there with his 10-year, 95-million dollar extension.

Las Vegas Bowl: Las Vegas, Nevada, December 30th, 10:30 PM ESPN (Big Ten vs. Pac 12)

Wisconsin vs. UCLA

Another game with two teams that love to run the ball. Wisconsin suffered a pretty surprising upset at the hands of Minnesota during rivalry week, knocking them out of the Big Ten Championship. UCLA quietly went 8-4 this year with multiple quality wins and understandable losses.

Gator Bowl: Jacksonville, Florida, December 31st, 11:00 AM ESPN (ACC vs. SEC)

Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M

Unfortunately, Wake Forest misses out on the New Year’s Six, thanks to crucial losses to UNC and Clemson, along with a lack of quality wins. Even though their defense is suspect, their offense can hang at least 40 on anyone (not coached by Brent Venables). Conversely, Texas A&M was a disappointment this year, mostly due to poor play on offense. But their defense will present a great challenge to the Demon Deacons’ offense.

Sun Bowl: El Paso, Texas, December 31st, 12:30 PM CBS (ACC vs. Pac 12)

NC State vs. Arizona State

NC State put together an excellent season, capped off with a furious comeback win against rival North Carolina. But they’ll have to go on the road and play in a de facto home game against Arizona State. The Sun Devils have been wildly inconsistent this year; they can lose to anyone, but they can also beat anyone.

Arizona Bowl: Tucson, Arizona, December 31st, 4:30 PM Barstool Sports (MAC vs. MWC)

Northern Illinois vs. San Diego State

Two G5 champions square up here. NIU’s record is somewhat deceiving, as they have a negative point differential. San Diego State continues to roll with a familiar formula: run the ball, play sound defense, and win special teams.

College Football Playoff - Orange Bowl: Miami, Florida, December 31st, 3:30 or 7:30 PM ESPN

Georgia vs. Oklahoma State

Georgia maintains its stranglehold on the #1 spot, but they now face a new surprising #4 team. Oklahoma State scored a huge win in Bedlam over Oklahoma. The Cowboys have a very good defense, and they run the ball well. They should be able to get by Baylor this weekend, but Georgia is a different animal.

College Football Playoff - Cotton Bowl: Arlington, Texas, December 31st, 3:30 or 7:30 PM ESPN

Michigan vs. Cincinnati

With Michigan’s massive upset win over Ohio State, they vault all the way up to the #2 spot in the rankings. They’ll have to beat Iowa in the Big Ten Championship this weekend, but that shouldn’t be a big problem. Cincinnati completed their second consecutive undefeated regular season, but they have a tough test against 11-1 Houston this weekend.

Outback Bowl: Tampa, Florida, January 1st, 12:00 PM ESPN2 (SEC vs. Big Ten/ACC)

Arkansas vs. Minnesota

Two 8-4 teams match up here, both of which love to run the ball behind massive offensive lines. Minnesota scored an upset win over Wisconsin to earn a New Year’s Day bowl bid. Arkansas got off to a hot start, had some midseason struggles, but finished the season strong in their rivalry games.

Citrus Bowl: Orlando, Florida, January 1st, 1:00 PM ABC (Big Ten vs. SEC)

Iowa vs. Kentucky

Here are two teams with very strong running games and very good defenses. Iowa will most likely lose the Big Ten Championship because their quarterback position remains unresolved. Meanwhile, Kentucky has Will Levis, a possible future NFL quarterback, and a defense that plays well against the run.

Fiesta Bowl: Glendale, Arizona, January 1st, 1:00 PM ESPN (At large vs. At large)

Oklahoma vs. Notre Dame

Two interim coaches will match up here. Both schools are reeling from shocking departures from their head coaches. Oklahoma will be coached by Sooner legend Bob Stoops, while Notre Dame has not announced an interim yet. Notre Dame probably has the better team, but they barely miss the playoff due to not playing in a conference championship.

Rose Bowl: Pasadena, California, January 1st, 5:00 PM ESPN (Big Ten vs. Pac 12)

Ohio State vs. Oregon

Typically, bowl games do not like to pit teams against each other if they already played earlier in the season. But these are two iconic programs in the sport, and a rematch would be exciting. Ohio State turned their season around after the early loss to the Ducks, but Michigan beat them in a very similar way to Oregon. It will be interesting to see how Ohio State adjusts to Oregon at this point in the season.

Sugar Bowl: New Orleans, Louisiana, January 1st, 8:45 PM ESPN (Big 12 vs. SEC)

Baylor vs. Alabama

Baylor will face Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship but I do not expect them to win. OSU already beat them earlier in the year and they’re playing even better. But the Bears are still a good team and as a reward, they’ll get to face Alabama. This is a “down year” for Bama, as they’ll most likely lose to Georgia this week and miss the playoff for only the second time since its inception.

Texas Bowl: Houston, Texas, January 4th, 9:00 ESPN (Big 12 vs. SEC)

Iowa State vs. Tennessee

Two programs with identical records, but headed in opposite directions. Tennessee pleasantly surprised this year with an incredibly explosive offense. Conversely, Iowa State disappointed this year and they’ll be losing some of their best players soon.