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2021 Bowl Projections: Week 11

A detailed look at bowl projections for every team that could be playing in the post season

We are rapidly approaching the end of the 2021 college football regular season. 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. Most teams only have two games left in the regular season, so the number of permutations and combinations of matchups is slowly shrinking. Therefore, it’s time to dive into the complex but exciting world of bowl projections.

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 are bowl-eligible and could end the season as good as 8-4. But they have two games left that are far from cakewalks. BC cannot win the ACC Atlantic, so they are effectively eliminated from the New Year’s Six bowls and some of the higher-tier ACC bowls (Gator, Cheez-It, Sun). However, the ACC has plenty of other bowl affiliations, several of which are great geographic matches for the BC fanbase.

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

Charlotte vs. Toledo

In the first matchup of the 2021 bowl season, we see two city-based state schools head to the tropics. In only a few years at the FBS level (and only a few more as a football program in general), the Charlotte 49ers have become a consistently solid program. Toledo had a somewhat disappointing season for a program that has been one of the more consistent winners in the MAC. But they can get back to 6-6 and extend their streak of non-losing seasons to 12.

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

Middle Tennessee State vs. Wyoming

I’ll be honest with you here: I don’t know much about either of these teams. This bowl is among the newer ones and frankly does not need to exist. Wyoming is pretty bad, with three of their wins coming against Montana State, UConn, and Colorado State. After some tough matchups early in the season (at Virginia Tech, at UTSA, and at Liberty), the Blue Raiders’ schedule eased up a bit, and they’ve three of their last four by margins of 31, 25, 40.

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

Hawai’i vs. Ball State

The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors travel almost 5,000 miles for their bowl game from one tropical location to another. Hawai’i has some surprising wins but also some even more baffling losses. The Cardinals of Ball State have been a very tough out this season, suffering their three conference losses by an average of six points.

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

Alabama-Birmingham vs. Boise State

This was a bit of a down year for the Broncos, at least by their program’s standard. Despite some tough road losses (UCF, Oklahoma State), they’ve also scored wins against some of the best teams in their conference this season (Utah State, Fresno State) and even an upset of top-15 BYU. Still in the shadows of their own resurrection, the UAB Blazers continue to put together quality seasons.

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

BYU vs. Western Kentucky

If you want an explanation as to why BYU is joining the Big 12 next season, this game is why. The Cougars will most likely finish as a top-15 program. But as an independent and one without the national following and financial cache of Notre Dame, the best bowl tie-in they could secure was the aptly-named Independence Bowl. No team this highly-ranked should be playing in this game. Across from BYU are the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and one of the most explosive passing offenses in the country, led by Houston Baptist University transfers quarterback Bailey Zappe and wide receiver Jerreth Sterns. Despite the locale for this game, this could be a very exciting matchup.

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

Western Michigan vs. Georgia State

These are two teams currently headed in opposite directions. Western Michigan began their season getting trounced by Michigan but stole on from Pitt and reeled off four consecutive wins. But they’ve lost three out of the last five, and they’ve allowed at least 31 points in every game. Conversely, Georgia State drew some challenging games to start the season and went 1-4 in their first five games, including losses to Army, UNC, and Auburn. But they’ve won four of their last five, and the only loss came to Louisiana, the best team in the conference, by four points on the road.

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

Oregon State vs. Nevada

This is one of the new bowls in the rotation this year. Played in SoFi Stadium, home of the Rams and Chargers, the Jimmy Kimmel Bowl brings together a Pac-12 surprise team and one of the best offenses in the Mountain West Conference. The Beavers bring a punishing ground attack behind running back BJ Baylor, while the Wolfpack have one the top quarterbacks in the upcoming draft class, Carson Strong, and a high-flying air raid attack.

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

UTEP vs. Troy

The UTSA Road Runners are getting all the press, but the turnaround by the UTEP Miners is just as, if not more impressive. After going 1-11 his first two years in El Paso, Dana Dimel turned this program around. Troy seemingly had a perfectly average season, losing to good teams for the most part and beating bad teams.

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

Miami (OH) vs. Appalachian State

This matchup features two teams that could win their conference in the coming weeks. Miami of Ohio is currently tied for first in the MAC East and could lock up the division with two wins. The Redhawks lost a close one to Ohio two weeks ago but blew out Buffalo last week. The Appalachian State Mountaineers dethroned the G5 darling Coastal Carolina a few weeks ago and now have a pretty clear path to the Sun Belt championship. The quarterbacks in this game are intriguing: Brett Gabbert for Miami is Blaine’s (current Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup QB) younger brother, while Chase Brice is on his third college team in as many years, somehow turning his career around after a disastrous season at Duke in 2020.

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

Central Michigan vs. Air Force

This promises to be a fun game, partially because of the french fry bath for the winning coach and two exciting offenses. Air Force incorporates some of the triple option concepts favored by the service academies but also is willing to throw the ball with more traditional offensive aspects. The Chippewas, led by former Florida head coach and lover of marine life Jim McElwain, have a very explosive offense with the three-headed monster of Daniel Richardson (QB), Lew Nicholls (RB), and Kalil Pimpleton (WR/RS). If you can stand watching football on Boise’s blue field, this should be a good game to turn on.

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

Coastal Carolina vs. Fresno State

Here we have two of the most exciting Group of Five teams in all of college football. Unfortunately, both of their seasons took negative turns after injuries to the quarterbacks. Jake Haener for Fresno State generated some Heisman hype after playing Oregon close and upsetting UCLA. But his play has been inconsistent, partially due to some nagging minor injuries. On the other side, the Chanticleers got off to another hot start before losing a weekday road game to Appalachian State. Since then, they’ve lost quarterback Grayson McCall to injury, which significantly hinders their offense. There’s also the chance that Coastal’s head coach, Jamey Chadwell, finally leaps to a Power Five job after the regular season (Virginia Tech???). Coastal is still fun to watch, and Fresno loves to throw this ball, so this game still has a decent chance to be pretty exciting.

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

Marshall vs. Army

It’s been a season of runs for the Marshall Thundering Herd. After two dominating wins over Navy and North Carolina Central, they lost three straight to East Carolina, Appalachian State, and Middle Tennessee State. But after that, they reeled off four consecutive wins, albeit against pretty lowly opponents. The Herd will face Western Kentucky for the C-USA East title, but they will most likely face the undefeated UTSA Road Runners if they win. The Black Knights of Army have a very similar season arc: four straight wins, three straight losses (two to ranked Power Five teams), and now two consecutive wins. Marshall will have time to prepare for Army’s option attack, but the Black Knights are shockingly throwing the ball consistently well this season, so an extra few weeks may not be enough.

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

Syracuse vs. South Carolina

Unfortunately, this is the one game that features two teams with losing records, by my projections. But they’re two of the few teams with 5-7 records and won’t be firing their coach. I’m going out on a limb with Syracuse and Dino Babers, but even with some tough losses, I think he’s found something on offense with Sean Tucker. On the other side are the South Carolina Gamecocks. Most expected this team to be nothing more than a doormat for the SEC East. But they hung tough in most of their games and even blew out their rival Florida two weeks ago. I think both of these teams would accept a bowl bid because it allows their team to get a few more weeks of practice in and use a possible bowl win as a springboard into next year.

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

Memphis vs. San Diego State

Memphis took a step back this year, as they dealt with losing multiple players to the NFL and graduation, combined with lots of injuries at the quarterback position. But if you’re watching this game on Christmas Eve, there’s only one name you need to know: Matt Araiza, the San Diego State punter. Araiza might be the greatest punter in college football history, as he is currently averaging over 52 yards per punt with 34 50+ punts with 29 landing inside the 20. Araiza could end up being the highest-drafted punter since Bryan Anger went 70th overall in the third round in 2012.

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

Kent State vs. Louisiana

This game features two every explosive offenses that score in very different ways. The Kent State Golden Flashes like to spread out the defense and throw the ball a ton, while the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns love to run behind their big powerful offensive line. Louisiana has the defensive advantage here, but the Cajuns could lose head coach Billy Napier to a higher-profile job in the coming months.

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

Liberty vs. Northern Illinois

Northern Illinois will most likely win the MAC this year, and they are probably one of the most surprising conference winners in college football. The Huskies went 0-6 last year in a chaotic COVID season, but former Michigan State quarterback Rocky Lombardi has NIU back in bowl contention for the first time since 2019. Liberty gets a spot in this bowl because they are in an independent program, and there are no teams left from affiliated conferences that would fit here. This will give Malik Willis, Liberty’s dynamic quarterback, a good opportunity to showcase his skills on a national stage. He didn’t play well against Ole Miss two weeks ago, but Northern Illinois should provide a better opportunity.

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

East Carolina vs. Louisville

The Military Bowl pairs up two former American Athletic Conference foes. Louisville’s gone through a weird season, earning close wins against UCF and Florida State before losing four of their next six, punctuated by beating a Dennis Grosel-led BC and trouncing Syracuse. Similarly, East Carolina lost their first two games, nearly beating South Carolina. Their six wins are bisected by two consecutive one-score losses to Houston and UCF, two of the best teams in the conference.

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

Central Florida vs. Florida

It’s kind of a shame this game won’t be played in the Sunshine State. But neither of these teams lived up to their preseason expectations, partially due to injuries. UCF lost quarterback Dillon Gabriel pretty early in the season, but they’ve been able to salvage their season to some extent. Florida’s had a few injuries here and there, but the biggest story is their abysmal defense. Head coach Dan Mullen fired defensive coordinator Todd Grantham last week, and the Gators promptly let Samford hang 52 on them, including 42 in the first half. Mullen could be out of a job by the time this game rolls around, so keep an eye on Gainesville.

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

UTSA vs. Southern Methodist

Ah, the good ole’ First Responder Bowl. This game features two of the best Group of Five teams in the country this season, and they’ll both be staying in the Lone Star State. SMU has put together several very quality seasons behind transfer quarterbacks directing their wide-open offense. I’m predicting and hoping that UTSA finishes this season undefeated. Unfortunately, this might be the best bowl they can make, as the committee has no interest in giving the Road Runners any respect. But maybe they’ll prove me wrong if UTSA gets through the season without a loss.

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

West Virginia vs. Missouri

These two teams hit pretty low points this season, but they’ve bounced back recently and should both make a bowl game. West Virginia needs to win their last two games to become eligible. But they catch a reeling Texas at home before finishing their season at Kansas. Obviously, BC fans are familiar with the Missouri Tigers. They’ve gotten blown out by good teams (Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Georgia) but won against bad teams (Vanderbilt, South Carolina), and they have Florida this week.

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

North Carolina vs. Washington State

Here is another matchup between teams with bizarre seasons. North Carolina began the season as a top-15 team and an ACC Coastal favorite. But they’ll need a win over FCS Wofford this week to get to bowl eligibility before facing NC State. The Wazzu Cougars have had one of the strangest seasons in living memory, losing their head coaching and multiple assistants due to refusal to comply with vaccine mandates. This game will feature two offenses that love to throw the ball.

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

Texas Tech vs. Maryland

This matchup features two teams going in opposite directions. The Terrapins need just one win, and they get Rutgers in the final week. But they’ve lost five of their last six, with their only win coming by three points against Indiana. On the other side of the field, Texas Tech recently fired their head coach, Matt Wells, and hired a Baylor assistant who is a high school football coaching legend. Unfortunately, the Red Raiders get two top-15 teams to close their season (Oklahoma State and Baylor). But they’ll want a bowl game with their new head coach to finish their season and set themselves up for success next season.

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

Houston vs. Boston College

Finally, we get to the main event, although it isn’t that surprising. The Fenway Bowl was basically created to shuttle BC off away from the warm weather bowls and actual, legitimate football stadiums. However, it will give the Eagles a modicum of a home-field advantage. The Eagles face the Houston Cougars, who were the runner-ups in the American Athletic Conference. The Cougars run a variant of the air raid under Dana Holgorsen, which will be an interesting matchup for the Eagles’ defense. Expect the weather, specifically the temperature and wind, to play a role in this game.

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

Miami (FL) vs. Minnesota

Moving onto BC’s other “favorite” bowl destination, the Pinstripe Bowl pits two teams with very strange seasons against each other. Miami had ACC title aspirations this year, but D’Eriq King’s injuries put the Hurricanes behind the eight-ball. Minnesota at one point had Big Ten West title aspirations, but weird losses to Bowling Green and Illinois killed their momentum. Given how this game’s weather usually goes, bet on the Golden Gophers here.

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

Pittsburgh vs. Kansas State

In this matchup, we’ll see two fifth-year quarterbacks that technically could come back for a sixth year if they wanted to next year. Kenny Pickett made a massive leap as a player this season, breaking tons of Pitt passing records, most of which were owned by Dan Marino. On the other side of the field, Skylar Thompson is somehow still under center for the Wildcats. Kansas State has been quietly solid this entire season, but I don’t foresee a scenario where they can keep up with Pickett and the Panthers.

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

Baylor vs. Utah

Between two games that should be high-scoring affairs, we have a clash of two defensive-minded teams that find ways to get by on offense. Baylor has been able to get their offense going at times, but they’ve been inconsistent, even in their best wins. However, they haven’t faced a defense like Utah’s, one of the best in the nation. Keep an eye on Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd and Baylor safety Jalen Pitre; both should hear their names called in the 2022 NFL Draft.

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

Virginia vs. Tennessee

While the last two teams are among the best defenses in college football, this game will feature two of the highest-octane scoring attacks in the country. Both feature dual-threat quarterbacks that are the driving force behind the offense. Furthermore, neither team plays defense particularly well. Hammer the over here folks.

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

Penn State vs. Mississippi State

Mississippi State actually played in this bowl the last time it was played, losing to Louisville in 2019. For some reason, I thought Penn State had played in this bowl recently; turns out they’ve never played in this game. Penn State has some solid defensive pieces, so watching them go up against Mike Leach’s air raid offense will be very interesting. Conversely, Penn State’s offense has been wracked by inconsistency throughout the season, while the Bulldogs’ defense exhibits the hallmark traits of any Leach defense: it ain’t good.

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

Wake Forest vs. Michigan State

In the first New Year’s Six Bowl, two of the most surprising teams of the 2021 season find themselves in a rematch of last year’s Pinstripe Bowl. It will also be a personal rematch for Michigan State running back and Heisman contender Kenneth Walker III; he transferred to Michigan State this offseason after spending his first few years in Winston-Salem. Both teams can put up points in bunches, so this should be a really fun one down in Atlanta.

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

Purdue vs. UCLA

With this matchup, we have two explosive offenses that are very stylistically different. The Bruins want to run the ball and get explosives with a deep stable of running backs and a mobile quarterback; the Boilermakers love to throw it all over the field. Neither team is particularly stalwart defensively, so this should be another points fest.

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

North Carolina State vs. Arkansas

We’ve got two teams donned in shades of red that operate with pack/herd mentality here. NC State dethroned Clemson early in the season but lost close to Miami and Wake Forest on the road. Arkansas started the season very hot before running into the buzzsaw that is Georgia. But getting to an 8-4 and a New Year’s Eve Bowl in Sam Pittman’s second season is a remarkable accomplishment.

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

Clemson vs. Arizona State

Arizona State earned very high rankings at various points in the season and looked like the favorite to win the Pac-12 South. But they suffered numerous weird losses. Of course, Clemson only making the Sun Bowl might be enough to make Dabo consider taking the Lord’s name in vain. It will be interesting to see if he can motivate his players for a relatively inconsequential bowl game; heaven forbid any of his stars opt-out to prepare for the draft.

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

Eastern Michigan vs. Utah State

Utah State might the quietest, very good team this season. In my predictions, they suffer their third loss of the season in the Mountain West Conference championship game. As has been the case throughout the season in the MAC, Eastern Michigan was up and down the whole year in a cannibalistic conference. Arguably, the most interesting aspect of this game will be which schools accept bids to this bowl, or perhaps which ones reject bids, given the new broadcast/title sponsor of the game.

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

Georgia vs. Notre Dame

This is my predicted 1 vs. 4 game in the playoff. Notre Dame sneaks into the playoffs primarily due to late losses by other teams (Oklahoma, Oregon, Oklahoma State, Alabama, Michigan, etc.). Naturally, their reward is the opportunity to play the unquestionable best team in the country this season. Georgia arguably has the best defense in college football history with a surprisingly effective and balanced offense. I do not think this game will end well for the Irish.

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

Ohio State vs. Cincinnati

On the other side of the bracket, we have two schools from the Buckeye State. After an early-season loss to Oregon, Ohio State reeled off several impressive wins, especially late in the season, displaying an explosive offense and improved defense. Cincinnati finally earns their playoff berth, again somewhat due in part to other teams’ losses. As has been the case in most years past, the 2 vs. 3 matchup will be much more competitive than the 1 vs. 4.

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

Kentucky vs. Wisconsin

Whatever the total is for this game, take the Under. These two teams love to run the ball and have the personnel to do so, with dominant offensive lines and bruising running backs. Keep an eye on Wisconsin's true freshman Braelon Allen, who might still be 17 when this game is played; the 6'2" 240 back could be the second coming of Derrick Henry or Ron Dayne.

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

Iowa vs. Texas A&M

This should be another low-scoring game. Both teams sport some of the best defenses in college football this year. They also have inconsistent at best (anemic at worst) offenses, which ultimately kept them out of the playoff.

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

Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi

Here we have two teams with solid seasons but couldn’t squeak into the playoffs. Ole Miss brings possible 2022 #1 overall pick, quarterback Matt Corral while the Pokes have an uncharacteristically good defense.

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

Michigan vs. Oregon

I’m sure both teams will be disappointed to miss this playoff. But this is an elite pairing of some of the biggest brands in college football (albeit both owned by Nike). This would be Michigan’s first Rose Bowl under Jim Harbaugh and their first since 2006. Oregon, like most Pac-12 schools, takes the Rose Bowl very seriously, so no need to worry about lack of motivation from either team, unlike the next game.

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

Oklahoma vs. Alabama

A matchup many predicted for the CFP this season and possibly even a national championship final. But both programs did not live up to their elite billing from the preseason, suffering killer losses that ultimately knocked them out of the playoff. As both teams will be disappointed and most likely unmotivated, this game could turn out to be a stinker.

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

Iowa State vs. Auburn

We close out the bowl season with a matchup of two programs that had higher aspirations and were ranked in the top-15 at various points in the season. Iowa State had lost some heartbreakers this year and it may be the last time the Cyclones have quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Breece Hall. Conversely, the Tigers could be without quarterback Bo Nix, who just suffered an injury. They’ll have to settle for finishing their seasons in Houston.