With Christmas right around the corner and New Year’s Day soon to follow, that can mean only one thing when it comes to college football. It’s Bowl Season. Let’s take a look at who’s playing who in what bowl this year.
VANDERBILT VS. N.C. STATE
SHREVEPORT, LA – DEC. 26, 5 P.M., ESPN2
It was quite a season for the Commodores, who beat Georgia, Ole Miss and Tennessee to qualify for the post-season. Vandy lost to both Florida and Auburn by just seven each. It’s the second time in four seasons that the Commodores have beaten both the Bulldogs and Volunteers in the same year (in 2013, the ‘Dores also beat Florida). The Wolfpack were a middle of the pack ACC team, their big moment on the national stage, a near miss against Clemson, as a missed field goal cost N.C. State the upset. James Franklin led the ‘Dores to a Music City Bowl win over the ‘Pack and Mike Glennon, and Vandy is smelling this one.
TEXAS A&M VS. KANSAS STATE
HOUSTON, TX – DEC. 28, 9 P.M., ESPN
From 7-1 and ranked No. 4 in the nation, to 8-4 and disappointed to be one of many in the SEC in that tier. Kansas State and Bill Snyder are always tough, especially with time to prepare. Kevin Sumlin went from the coach on the hot seat to having the Aggies in the running for the playoff back to a simmering chair. The Aggies biggest strength is a corps of talented, speedy, big play receivers, and a talented defensive line. How engaged Myles Garrett will be, well that’s a big question since he is a likely top five pick in the upcoming draft, assuming the All-SEC defensive end declares for the draft.
SOUTH CAROLINA VS. USF
BIRMINGHAM, AL – DEC. 29, 2 PM, ESPN
With so many teams sitting at four and five losses in the Southeastern Conference, the traditional powers of the league – except of course 13-0, top ranked defending national champion Alabama – are all licking their wounds and playing the “what-if ” game. But in Columbia, even with a blowout loss to Clemson to cap the regular season, the Gamecock faithful are happy with Will Muschamp’s first season and to be playing in a bowl. The decision to go with young freshman Jake Bentley the second half of the season was the boost the ‘Cocks needed. Former minor leaguer Turned tight end Hayden Hurst and freshman receiver Bryan Edwards headline a talented group of pass-catchers. The Gamecocks will be motivated, and so will South Florida, hungry for an SEC scalp.
ARKANSAS VS. VIRGINIA TECH
CHARLOTTE, NC – DEC. 29, 5:30 P.M., ESPN
This could be one of the best match-ups of the bowl season, as the Razorbacks and Hokies go head-to-head in Charlotte. Arkansas, like most of the SEC, had a roller coaster ride through the season, highlighted by impressive wins over TCU and Florida. The low point was a 56-3 blasting by Auburn. The Hokies meanwhile played in the ACC Championship Game and gave Clemson, and the Tigers playoff hopes, a big scare. Justin Fuente has had a solid first season in Blacksburg, as he succeeds hall of fame coach Frank Beamer. Following a 3-9 transition year in 2013 when Bret Bielema shocked many by leaving Wisconsin, which he twice led to the Rose Bowl, the Hogs have gone 7-6, 8-5 and are now 7-5.
TENNESSEE VS. NEBRASKA
NASHVILLE, TN – DEC. 30, 3:30 P.M., ESPN
The Volunteers are one of those SEC teams bunched together with four or five wins. It looked as though they were on their way to Atlanta following a comeback win over Florida and “Hail Mary” win at Georgia. Then came the heart-breaker in overtime at Texas A&M (Butch Jones should have gone for two when the Vols cut the Aggies lead to 35-34 in the closing moments), a blowout loss to Alabama and then the real stinger – a close setback to South Carolina. A season-closing loss to Vanderbilt certainly hurt. The Vols would love to close out the season with a win over the royal program from Lincoln, granted the Cornhuskers are a long ways removed from their glory days. Nebraska looked as though they could be bound for the Big Ten Championship Game, but an overtime loss to Wisconsin hurt. Then came the 66-3 steamrolling by Ohio State. The Huskers got back on track, but then Iowa took them down in the finale. These two programs with such great history were hoping for something great this season. It was 19 years ago when Nebraska blew out Tennessee in the Orange Bowl, Peyton Manning’s final game as a Vol, for a share of the national championship.
FLORIDA STATE VS. MICHIGAN
MIAMI GARDENS, FL — DEC. 30, 8 P.M., ESPN
This is one of the most attractive games of the bowl season. Michigan, with the most wins in college football history, has been rejuvenated by Jim Harbaugh. A pair of heart-breaking losses, especially the controversial finale at Ohio State, cost the Wolverines a shot at the Big Ten championship and playoff berth. Will Michigan be motivated? Florida State has a checkered history in the Orange Bowl (the old stadium downtown and the various names of the “new” one on the Dade/Broward line), but Jimbo Fishers Seminoles love playing in Miami.
His seniors, along with being a young part of the 2013 national championship and 2014 playoffs, are 8-0 against Florida and the Hurricanes. Dalvin Cook is a flat-out dynamite, difference-making elite tailback. Florida State got blown out by Louisville, then got back on track. A pair of tight losses to North Carolina and Clemson cost the ‘Noles a great season, but a win over Michigan would certainly be a strong way to finish.
LSU VS. LOUISVILLE
ORLANDO, FL – DEC. 31, 11 A.M.
It looked like Tom Herman was going to be headed to Baton Rouge, but he chose Austin and the Bayou Bengals stayed with Ed Orgeron. Who would have thought, when Les Miles led LSU to the 2007 national championship, that his replacement would be the coach who getting fired by arch rival Ole Miss after a 3-9 campaign, 0-8 in the SEC. A pair of heart-breaking September losses to Wisconsin and Auburn marked the end of the road for Miles and Coach O took over. Another hard-fought battle to Alabama ended with another Tide victory, and Florida’s goal line stand handed the Tigers a fourth loss. There were some impressive wins, the triumphs over Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M standing out. This will be the final game for Leonard Fournette. That LSU running attack with Leonard and Derrius Guice will pound away at Louisville. Meanwhile, Lamar Jackson and Louisville will try and run past the talented Tiger defense, led by Arden Key. The ‘Ville looked like a national title contender following the blowout win over Florida State. The Clemson loss was a heart-breaker. Houston smoked the Cards in November and Louisville got stunned by upstart Kentucky in the regular season finale. This could certainly be one of the best bowl games of the season.
KENTUCKY VS. GEORGIA TECH
JACKSONVILLE, FL – DEC. 31, 11 A.M., ABC
These two teams are flying high. The Yellow Jackets, and the potent triple option, are rolling with wins in five of their last six, including the 28-27 comeback win at Georgia. Meanwhile, the Wildcats pulled off the biggest win of the Mark Stoops era, as they upset Louisville. Justin Thomas and the Tech offense will really put the pressure on the Wildcats defense. The key to the Kentucky offense is an outstanding running attack featuring Stanley “Boom” Williams and rising star freshman Benny Snell, whose grandfather is first cousins with Jets legend and Super Bowl III touchdown scorer Matt Snell. Tech has a lot of young talent and will be a favorite on their side in the ACC. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are embolden. A win would further increase their confidence in a run at the SEC East in 2017.
FLORIDA VS. IOWA
TAMPA, FL – JAN. 2, 1 PM, ABC
The Gators late season highlight was a sterling 16-10 win at LSU with an all-time great goal line stand. Florida’s defense is extremely talented, but the offense, outside of wide receiver Antonio Callaway, doesn’t have a lot of juice. Jim McElwain has taken the Gators to Atlanta in both of his seasons in Gainesville, but they do have eight losses. Last season, Michigan pounded the Gators 41-7 in the Citrus Bowl. Florida needs a stronger finish, especially after getting blasted by Alabama in Atlanta. The Hawkeyes, who just missed out on the playoff last season, had an excellent November, beating both Michigan and Nebraska. This figures to be a hard fought, defensive struggle.
WISCONSIN VS. WESTERN MICHIGAN
ARLINGTON, TX — JAN. 2, 1 P.M., ESPN
Fleck is full of energy and has Western Michigan at its highest of heights ever, undefeated champions of the MAC, in the top ten and in a major bowl. Wisconsin has impressive wins, and their three losses all came by a touchdown to an impressive hit list – Ohio State, Michigan and then Penn State in the Big Ten Championship Game. The key to this one will be the interest level of Wisconsin.
PENN STATE VS. SOUTHERN CAL
PASADENA, CA – JAN. 2,5P.M., ESPN
These two programs have accumulated a lot of hardware through the years, and they’ll square off in Pasadena for the first time. James Franklin, who worked wonders at Vanderbilt, has rejuvenated a program that is lucky it didn’t get the death penalty for the horrific Jerry Sandusky child rape scandal, with Joe Paterno’s role in the repulsive affair absolutely disgusting. And some people actually feel sorry for the twice beaten Nittany Lions missing out on the playoff. USC is one of the hottest teams in America. Clay Helton has done an excellent job this season, a two-time interim coach, getting the job full time following a slew of failures at the helm in the post Pete Carroll era. Southern Cal started 1-3 this season, then ran the table, highlighted by wins over Washington and Colorado, the two PAC-12 Championship Game combatants.
AUBURN VS. OKLAHOMA
NEW ORLEANS, LA – JAN. 2, 8:30 P.M., ESPN
Boomer Sooner blew through the Big XII to add another championship to Bob Stoops resume. September was grueling to Oklahoma, as the Sooners got smoked by Houston and Ohio State. Auburn, meanwhile, is part of that aforementioned group in the SEC. Despite losses to their big two rivals, Georgia and Alabama, expect for the Tigers to come out firing and give Oklahoma a good game in New Orleans. The Auburn defensive line is outstanding, meaning they have a chance to slow down those two Heisman finalists, including quarterback Baker Mayfield. A healthy Kamryn Pettway is a difference-maker at tailback, and the catalyst to Auburn’s hot run through the middle of the season. On the Sooners last trip to the Sugar Bowl, Trevor Knight quarterbacked OU to an upset of Alabama. It’s Oklahoma which will be on upset alert for this one.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF SEMI FINALS
ALABAMA VS. WASHINGTON
ATLANTA, GA – DEC. 31, 3 P.M, ESPN
What Nick Saban has done in Tuscaloosa is absolutely incredible. In this day and age, Saban has led Bama to the national championship in four of the previous seven seasons and now a third straight SEC title. From 2008-2016, Bama has gone either 11-1 or 12-0 in the regular season in eight of nine years. At one point, the Tide has been number one in nine straight years. The top-ranked, undefeated national champions hit a new high this season, rolling through the SEC with a perfect mark, while everyone else in the league has at least four losses. Think about this, the Crimson Tide has bookended their season thus far with a 54-6 drubbing of Southern Cal and 54-16 pounding of Florida in the SEC Championship Game. Leading the offense is the dynamic two-way quarterback Jalen Hurts, who deserved to be in New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. They once again have an awesome defense, O-Line, huge threats catching passes, a solid kicker, great punter, and fine stable of tailbacks. Plus the type of quarterback that has been their rare Kryptonite. This is Star Wars – the Empire now has the Death Star. While Saban and Urban Meyer, who have won eight of the last 13 national titles at four schools, are undoubtedly the top two coaches in the land, Chris Petersen is on the short list.
He did an incredible job at Boise State, and now has awoken the sleeping giant on the banks of Lake Washington. The 12-1 PAC-12 champions have the goods to hang tough with the Tide. Quarterback Jake Browning, who also deserved to be in New York, is tremendous, and undoubtedly the best signal caller Bama has faced this season. The Huskies were very impressive in dispatching Washington State to make it to the PAC-12 Championship Game, where they rolled past upstart Colorado. Washington has a puncher’s chance, but it’s hard to go against Bama, who, oh yeah, have quite a history in the Georgia Dome – where they just blasted Florida to win the SEC title.
CLEMSON VS. OHIO STATE
GLENDALE, AZ – DEC. 31, 7 P.M, ESPN
Meyer is now 61-5 in his five seasons at the Ohio State helm. Interestingly, the Buckeyes have only one Big Ten championship during this incredible run, their national title season of 2014. In 2013, Clemson beat Ohio State, which fell to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game – spoiling a national championship bid, in the Orange Bowl. The Tigers beat Oklahoma in the semifinals in Miami last season and fell to Bama 45-40 in the big one. Clemson is led by the dynamic junior quarterback DeShaun Watson, of Gainesville, Ga. and an outstanding line of scrimmage. They lost once, on a last second field goal to Pitt, and survived a couple of other scares. This team believes. So do the Buckeyes, sky high after the controversial win over Michigan. By the way, in this day of the playoff, Ohio State benefitted from not playing for the conference title. That loss to Penn State on the blocked field goal return for a touchdown is the Buckeyes lone blemish. This could be the best game of the postseason. JT Barrett goes down as one of the Buckeyes best quarterbacks ever and their defense is mighty tough. Raekwon McMillan, a native of Liberty County High School in Southeast Georgia, is one of the country’s best linebackers.