VANDERBILT (6-6) VS. BAYLOR (6-6)
DEC. 27, 9 P.M. ESPN
Vandy comes into the game with some strong momentum on the heels of an impressive 38-13 victory over in-state foe Tennessee in the regular season finale. Kyle Shurmer carved up the Volunteers on 31-35 passing for 367 and three touchdowns in his final home game and delivered Vandy a fifth win in the last seven meetings with the Vols. Baylor, since it’s awful scandal, has had a bit of a resurgence, and making it to the postseason is a boost. The Bears will have a bigger crowd, but the Commodores will be highly motivated to close out with a winning record and send Shurmer out with a win. The ‘Dores, with Bill Wade at quarterback, beat Auburn in the 1955 Gator Bowl. Vandy tied Texas Tech in the 1974 Peach Bowl, and their 8-3 team of 1982 lost to Air Force in the Hall of Fame Bowl. That was it until 2008. The Commodores have been to the postseason six times in the last 11 years and in five of the previous eight, including a third in four seasons under Derek Mason.
MUSIC CITY BOWL
AUBURN (7-5) VS. PURDUE (6-6)
DEC. 28, 1:30 P.M. ESPN
This is all about Auburn’s interest level. The Tigers began the season ranked in the top-10 and beat Washington in Atlanta to get off to a flying start. But a heartbreaking loss to LSU derailed the Tigers and a brutal schedule sent Auburn to a disappointing 7-5 record. Certainly, there is no shame in losing to the Bayou Bengals, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi State. But the loss to Tennessee on the Plains really stung. Auburn got an impressive win over Texas A&M plus the season-opener over the PAC-12 champion Huskies and certainly has the talent to beat Purdue. But it figures to be chilly in Music City, and the Boilermakers are excited to be facing an SEC heavyweight and Jeff Brohm’s decision to stay in West Lafayette. This Purdue team, led by the heroic super-fan Tyler Trent, posted one of the biggest victories of the season, routing Ohio State 49-20 for one of the most memorable wins in program history.
FLORIDA (9-3) VS. MICHIGAN (10-2)
DEC. 29, NOON ESPN
These two programs have become quite familiar with one another with some sunshine state bowl meetings and last season’s high profile opener in Dallas. Michigan lost its opener to Notre Dame and got clobbered at Ohio State in the regular season finale, falling to the Buckeyes for the 16th time in the last 18 meetings. That’s just not fathomable to the Maize and Blue faithful. Not surprisingly, Florida was the most improved team in the country. The Gators only won four games a year ago, so going 9-3 with a win over LSU and upside down Florida State was huge for Dan Mullen in his first year. Michigan was dreaming of the College Football Playoff. A high profile showdown with a major SEC power will get their attention. But the excitement meter still should tilt in Florida’s direction. Despite the 62 points given up to the Buckeyes, the Michigan defense had a really good year. Don’t be surprised if Mullen has a new wrinkle for Jim Harbaugh’s boys, who got great news with the “retirement” of Urban Meyer.
SOUTH CAROLINA (7-5) VS. VIRGINIA (7-5)
DEC. 29, 12:30 P.M. ABC
There were high hopes for South Carolina after last season’s 9-4 campaign that was capped off by a postseason win over Michigan. It wound up another solid regular season for the Gamecocks, but they were outclassed 41-17 by Georgia and 56-35 by Clemson. The low-point was a 35-31 loss at Florida, a game that South Carolina led 31-14 in the second half. A rain and weather delayed win over Missouri at Williams-Brice Stadium was one of the season’s highlights. The setting and opposition makes for a good match-up. It’s not too far from either campus to the stadium in uptown Charlotte. Virginia looked like it was bound for the ACC Championship Game, but lost its last two to the two Techs. The biggest edge for South Carolina is an impressive group of pass-catchers capable of making big plays. The defense will certainly be looking for some redemption after the Clemson game. The results from the week after against Akron, in an effort to make up the hurricane cancelled Marshall contest from Sept., likely didn’t satisfy many Gamecock fans.
CLEMSON (13-0) VS. NOTRE DAME (12-0)
ARLINGTON, TEXAS, DEC. 29, 4 P.M. ESPN
Dabo Swinney has done a great job at Clemson, and the Tigers are in the College Football Playoff for a fourth straight season. With the woes at Florida State, the complete derailment of Louisville, North Carolina a non-factor and Virginia Tech’s regression, the biggest challengers in the ACC this year were Syracuse, which nearly pulled off the upset at Death Valley, and N.C. State, which got drubbed by the Tigers. Notre Dame barely beat Vanderbilt early, then made the change at quarterback. The Irish have been very good and caught a break with the schedule. The win over Michigan to open the season was enormous. The Irish’s two PAC-12 regular foes weren’t themselves, Stanford was ordinary and Southern Cal an underachiever. In the ACC, well Florida State and Virginia Tech, as mentioned above, each had arguably their worst teams of the 21st century. Clemson has the superior firepower and the Tigers defensive line could prove to be too tough for the Irish to handle.
ALABAMA (13-0) VS. OKLAHOMA (12-1)
MIAMI GARDENS, FLA.DEC. 29, 8 P.M. ESPN
Here they are again. Alabama is in the playoff for a fifth straight season after what went down in Atlanta. Though if things had gone the other way, the Crimson Tide would have likely still been in the party. Oklahoma got in as fourth-ranked Georgia fell back one spot. It’s the Sooners second straight trip and third in four years. Oklahoma’s offense is explosive and should be able to score some on Alabama. But it’s hard to imagine the Sooners slowing down the loaded Crimson Tide offense, no matter who plays quarterback. Nick Saban has guided Alabama to regular season records of either 11-1 or 12 in ten of the previous 11 years. Lincoln Riley has caught the eye of the NFL, and there are whispers that the Cowboys or Baker Mayfield’s Browns could be interested. This is a real blue-blood matchup. Alabama is trying to become the first team to go 15-0.
MISSOURI (8-4) VS. OKLAHOMA STATE (6-6)
DEC. 31, 3:45 P.M. ESPN
This should be one of the most entertaining games of the post season as a pair of old Big Eight and Big 12 foes square off in one of the longest running bowl games. Oklahoma State had one of the more bizarre regular seasons of any team. Mike Gundy’s Cowboys posted high profile wins over Boise State, Texas and West Virginia. Oklahoma beat them by one. Oh, for Georgia fans, had the Cowboys made the two pointer, and the same for Maryland against Ohio State. But the other losses came to TCU, Iowa State, Kansas State, Baylor and Texas Tech. Meanwhile, Mizzou put together a second straight undefeated November, highlighted by a 38-17 pounding of Florida in Gainesville and 50-17 rout of Tennessee in Knoxville. The foul weather game at South Carolina and last second controversial loss to Kentucky certainly sting. The Tigers are so close to being 10-2 with losses only to Georgia and Alabama. Drew Lock has had a great career and Mizzou would love to send him and this tough Tiger squad out with a big win.
TEXAS A&M (8-4) VS. N.C. STATE (9-3)
DEC. 31, 7:30 P.M. ESPN
How in the world Texas A&M beat LSU in the seven-overtime gridiron marathon, it is beyond belief. But Jimbo Fisher, in his first season in College Station, has the loyal Aggie faithful believing. A near-miss against Clemson produced boundless optimism, but that rugged SEC West slate prevented any shot at a great season. Along with Alabama, the Aggies also fell to Mississippi State and Auburn. The win over LSU, controversial as it was, marks the first time since coming into the league in 2012 that A&M beat the Bayou Bengals. Over the last two seasons, The Wolfpack have produced some very talented players. Their losses this year came to Clemson, Syracuse and Wake Forest. The Wolfpack, with their outstanding helmets, will really have their defense put to the test against the Aggies explosive offense. Quarterback Kellen Mond and elite wide receiver Kendrick Rogers (watch No. 13) are
both just sophomores. Look out Pack and SEC defenses in 2019.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (8-4) VS. IOWA (8-4)
JAN. 1, NOON ESPN 2
Joe Moorhead kept the train on the tracks for Mississippi State this season, and the Maroon Bulldogs are set for what should be a defensive slobber-knocker with Iowa. There is no shame in any of their losses. Kentucky, Florida, LSU and Alabama are all ranked in the top 14 nationally. It’s quite similar to Dan Mullen’s 2010 MSU squad. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop led an outstanding stop unit, highlighted by a tremendous defensive line. Iowa is typically tough and strong. With Wisconsin disappointing this season, the door was open for Iowa to make it to the Big Ten Championship Game. But Iowa lost a pair of nail-biter to Purdue, 38-36, and Northwestern, 14-10, which spells just an ok season, not a terrific one. Nick Fitzgerald will certainly go down as one of the best quarterbacks to play in Starkville, and he’ll be leaned on heavily in Tampa. Both teams should have plenty of interest and fanfare. The SEC West has been far better than the Big Ten West.
KENTUCKY (9-3) VS. PENN STATE (9-3)ORLANDO, FLA.
JAN. 1, 1 P.M. ABC
What a season for the Wildcats, who soared up to the top-10, and put together their most complete season since the great squad of 1977. Breaking the 31-game losing streak at Florida, domination of Mississippi State and the last second win at Mizzou highlight the season. The defense was top notch, and Benny Snell Jr., the fine running back, is a fan favorite for the Big Blue faithful. They’ll need the defense, led by all-star linebacker Josh Allen, to be at its best. Snell and do everything wideout/return specialist Lynn Bowden Jr will be the focal points of the offense, and of course the Nittany Lions defense. Kentucky looks like a Big Ten team in many ways. Penn State lost to Ohio State by one and to Michigan State by four. The Nittany Lions worst performance came on the first weekend of November, as Michigan blasted them 42-7. Trace McSorley is a really good quarterback.
LSU (9-3) VS. UCF (12-0)
JAN. 1, 1 P.M. ESPN
It’s a second straight undefeated season for the Knights, who last year capped it in Atlanta with a big win over Auburn. Central Florida would love to do it again and this time take down LSU. The Bayou Bengals lost a heartbreaker in seven overtimes to Texas A&M in a game that they seemed to have won three or four times. Ed Orgeron had some mojo going this season, led by transfer kicker Cole Tracy, quarterback Joe Burrow and a typically tough defense. Greedy Williams won’t play in the bowl game, but the SEC’s best linebacker Devin White will. Unfortunately, Central Florida lost its standout quarterback McKenzie Milton to a major knee injury in the Knights win over South Florida. UCF still has the speed and talent to beat LSU, but not having Milton will make it tougher. The Knight faithful have been boisterous, and they certainly figure to have LSU’s full attention.
OHIO STATE (12-1) VS. WASHINGTON (10-3)
JANUARY 1, 5 P.M. ESPN
In what will be Urban Meyer’s final game at Ohio State, the Buckeyes battle Chris Petersen’s talented Huskies in Pasadena. There are several pro prospects on the field for this one. It has been a tumultuous ride for the embattled Meyer, who was shamed by the Zach Smith domestic abuse scandal. Purdue rolled the Buckeyes 49-20. But Ohio State didn’t lose again. The Buckeyes were very lucky to beat Maryland, but turned it on to rout Michigan 62-39. Ohio State then handled Northwestern out of the lowly West Division for the Big Ten title. The Huskies are thinking what might have been. There was the tight season-opening loss to Auburn in Atlanta, an overtime knee-knocking setback to Oregon and head scratching 12-0 defeat at the hands of Cal. This could be one of the best games of the postseason, with the quarterback play of Dwayne Haskins and Jake Browning promising to be the highlight of this Rose Bowl.