Athlon ranks the bowl games from No. 1-39.
College football’s regular season is over and the matchups for the 2017-18 bowl season are set. In the CFB Playoff, Alabama and Clemson will meet in the Sugar Bowl, with Oklahoma and Georgia set to duel in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. It's no secret most of the attention in the bowl season is devoted to the playoff, but there are several other matchups that are appointment television. The bowl slate features 39 matchups and the national championship game to be played on Jan. 8 in Atlanta, Ga. The postseason action starts on Dec. 16 with five matchups, including the New Mexico Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl and New Orleans Bowl. Additionally, there are nine other bowl contests before Christmas, and several big games slated for Dec., 29, Dec. 30, Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. The New Year's Six bowl slate kicks off on Dec. 29 with Ohio State and USC meeting in the Cotton Bowl and continues on Dec. 30 with Washington-Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl and Miami-Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl.
Watching all 39 bowl games isn’t impossible, but it can be difficult prioritizing which matchups are must-see television around the holidays.
Athlon ranks and previews all of the matchups from the must-see to the ones you can avoid. From No. 39 to No. 1, here’s a look at the bowl matchups in terms of watchability and quality of game.
Ranking All 39 Bowl Games: Must-Watch to Must-Miss
39. Cure Bowl – WKU (6-6) vs. Georgia State (6-5)
Dec. 16 – 2:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
The third annual Cure Bowl features a matchup of two first-year coaches. Georgia State played in the first inception of this bowl game in 2015 and rebounded from a 3-9 record last season to finish 6-5 under new coach Shawn Elliott. The Panthers overcame a disappointing loss to Tennessee State in the opener and a 56-0 defeat to Penn State to win six out of their next seven games. Quarterback Conner Manning (2,870 yards, 13 touchdowns) guides the offense, but receiver Penny Hart (73 catches for 1,094 yards) is the unit’s top performer. The defense is one of the better groups in the Sun Belt, holding opponents to 25.5 points a game. Under the direction of new coach Mike Sanford, WKU is making its fourth bowl game in a row. The Hilltoppers had to replace a handful of key players from last year’s team that won the Conference USA title but earned a trip to the Cure Bowl on the right arm of quarterback Mike White. The senior passed for 24 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. He’s had to carry the offense with a struggling line (42 sacks allowed) and a rushing attack that’s averaging only 66.1 yards a game. Keep an eye on turnovers in this one. Both WKU and Georgia State are minus-six in turnover margin this season.
Early Prediction: WKU
38. Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl – Temple (6-6) vs. FIU (8-4)
Dec. 21 – 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
FIU was quietly one of the best turnaround stories in college football this season. Under first-year coach Butch Davis, the Panthers finished 8-4 – a marked improvement from last season’s 4-8 record. FIU also finished the year on a high note, winning their last two games and scoring 63 points in the finale against UMass. Senior quarterback Alex McGough (17 TDs) is steady, and the offense features four running backs with at least 400 rushing yards. Temple lost a good chunk of talent from last year’s team that won the American Athletic Conference and also had to deal with a transition to new coach Geoff Collins. The Owls started slow but won three out of their last four games to get bowl eligible. Quarterback Frank Nutile’s insertion into the starting lineup and an improved rushing attack helped this team improve in the month of November.
Early Prediction: Temple
37. Arizona Bowl – Utah State (6-6) vs. New Mexico State (6-6)
Dec. 29 – 5:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
In terms of good storylines for college football’s postseason, New Mexico State’s appearance in this bowl isn’t far behind UAB’s berth in the Bahamas Bowl. The Aggies ended a bowl drought that has lasted since 1960 by defeating South Alabama on Dec. 2 to secure their sixth victory. A high-powered offense led the way for New Mexico State this season, as quarterback Tyler Rogers tossed 26 touchdowns and running back Larry Rose rushed for 807 yards. Additionally, receiver Jaleel Scott caught 73 passes for 1,042 yards and eight scores to round out a talented trio for Martin’s offense. Utah State is back in the postseason after a disappointing 3-9 record in 2016. Coach Matt Wells’ squad made a switch at quarterback to freshman Jordan Love in late October, and the move paid dividends for the Aggies. Utah State won three out of its last five games to secure bowl eligibility and suffered a three-point defeat at Air Force in the finale. Wells’ defense is allowing only 27 points a game, but this unit is going to be tested by New Mexico State’s offense. In his final game at New Mexico State, Rose could have a huge day against a Utah State defense giving up over 200 yards a game on the ground.
Early Prediction: Utah State
36. Quick Lane Bowl – Duke (6-6) vs. Northern Illinois (8-4)
Dec. 26 – 5:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Both Duke and Northern Illinois missed out on the postseason last year, so a rebound to the Quick Lane Bowl is a good way to cap the 2017 campaign. Additionally, these two teams have never met on the gridiron. The Blue Devils will need a big game from sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones in order to move the ball against a stingy Northern Illinois defense. The Huskies are only giving up 20.8 points a game and lead the MAC with 41 sacks generated. End Sutton Smith (14 sacks and 28.5 TFL) has been one of the top players in the Group of 5 ranks this season and will be a handful for Duke’s offensive line (27 sacks allowed). When the Huskies have the ball, this unit wants to establish the run. Coach Rod Carey’s group averages 187.3 yards a game on the ground, with Jordan Huff (740 yards) and quarterback Marcus Childers (454 yards) leading the way. Childers’ dual-threat potential will test a Duke defense only giving up 5.2 yards a play and 20.8 points a game.
Early Prediction: Northern Illinois
35. Boca Raton Bowl – FAU (10-3) vs. Akron (7-6)
Dec. 19 – 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Any opportunity to catch FAU and coach Lane Kiffin is must-see television. The Owls are making their first bowl appearance since 2008 and should be a heavy favorite with a matchup in their home stadium. FAU’s high-powered offense is led by standout running back Devin Singletary (1,796 yards, 29 touchdowns). In addition to Singletary, quarterback Jason Driskel has tossed 13 touchdowns to just four interceptions, leading an offense averaging nearly 40 points a game. Akron is making just its third bowl game in its program history. Coach Terry Bowden led the Zips to a MAC East title this year and found a rising star in freshman quarterback Kato Nelson. But Akron is going to have its hands full against FAU’s offense. The Zips rank seventh in the MAC by giving up 26.3 points a game and have been vulnerable against the run (197.2 ypg allowed).
Early Prediction: FAU
34. Frisco Bowl – Louisiana Tech (6-6) vs. SMU (7-5)
Dec. 20 – 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
The game formally known as the Miami Beach Bowl could be a high-scoring affair for the first edition of the Frisco Bowl in Texas. SMU is back in the postseason for the first time since 2012, and a big reason why for the turnaround over the last few seasons was the arrival of coach Chad Morris. After a 2-10 debut, the Mustangs improved to 5-7 last year and 7-5 in 2017. Behind quarterback Ben Hicks and standout receivers Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn, SMU is averaging 40.2 points a game (third in the AAC). The Mustangs have experienced their share of ups and downs on defense (35.5 ppg allowed), but Louisiana Tech’s offense is not as explosive as its 2016 unit was. However, this Bulldogs team was second in Conference USA with a plus-seven turnover margin and lost four games by one score. With dual-threat quarterback J’Mar Smith leading the way on offense, Louisiana Tech can trade scores with SMU.
Early Prediction: SMU
33. Camellia Bowl – MTSU (6-6) vs. Arkansas State (7-4)
Dec. 16 – 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Former Sun Belt foes Arkansas State and MTSU meet for the first time since 2012 in the Camellia Bowl. Due to injuries to receiver Richie James and quarterback Brent Stockstill, the Blue Raiders had an up-and-down 2017 campaign. However, MTSU finished by winning three out of its last four games, including a 41-10 victory over Old Dominion on Nov. 25. While the offense watched its average dip from 39.7 to 24.8, the Blue Raiders showed improvement on defense behind first-year coordinator Scott Shafer. MTSU cut its points allowed per game average from 35.8 to 24.3 in 2017. Arkansas State is consistently at the top of the Sun Belt, and coach Blake Anderson’s squad is 26-6 in league play over the last four years. This season’s team features one of the conference's top defenses, limiting opponents to 24.9 points a game. End Ja’Von Rolland-Jones recorded 13 sacks this year to lead all Sun Belt defenders. The Red Wolves had no trouble moving the ball this year (38.5 ppg), but this unit lost 22 turnovers. Quarterback Justice Hansen led all Sun Belt passers with 34 touchdowns this year.
Early Prediction: Arkansas State
32. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl – Wyoming (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (8-4)
Dec. 22 – 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
This game would rate higher on this list if we knew the status of Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen. The junior suffered a shoulder injury on Nov. 11 against Air Force and missed the next two games. Allen’s status is uncertain, and with the NFL likely his next stop in 2018, the junior needs to be 100 percent for offseason workouts. If Allen doesn’t go, Nick Smith (471 yards and 2 TDs) will get the start. The Cowboys are 0-2 with Smith as the starter and scored just 24 points over the last two games. Adding to the concern on offense for Wyoming is a lackluster rushing attack, which is averaging just 3.2 yards a carry. Central Michigan finished the regular season by winning its last five games, including a 31-24 victory over Northern Illinois. Coach John Bonamego’s team is led by quarterback (and Michigan transfer) Shane Morris, as the senior has passed for 2,908 yards and 26 scores. The Chippewas also feature a rising star in running back Jonathan Ward, along with standout tight end Tyler Conklin. Morris, Ward and Conklin will challenge a Wyoming defense allowing just 17.8 points a game this year.
Early Prediction: Central Michigan
31. New Mexico Bowl – Colorado State (7-5) vs. Marshall (7-5)
Dec. 16 – 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Colorado State and Marshall have never met on the gridiron, but that will change on Dec. 16. The Rams have played in two previous versions of the New Mexico Bowl but haven’t appeared in this game since 2013. The Thundering Herd are back in the postseason after a disappointing 3-9 record last fall. After starting 6-1, Marshall lost four out of its last five games. Getting back on track and finishing the year on a high note would be a good way for coach Doc Holliday’s team to close out the 2017 campaign. This matchup is an intriguing battle of a high-powered offense against one of the top defenses in Conference USA. Colorado State is led by senior quarterback Nick Stevens and likely All-American receiver Michael Gallup (94 catches for 1,345 yards), who helped guide this offense to an average of 33.8 points a game. Marshall’s defense allowed only 19.3 points per contest, led C-USA in rush defense and gave up more than 31 points just twice in 2017. Offensively, quarterback Chase Litton (23 TDs) has a talented group of receivers at his disposal, along with promising running back Tyler King (714 yards). However, the Thundering Herd have lost 21 turnovers and are generating just 5.3 yards a play. While Marshall hasn’t been overly prolific on offense, Colorado State’s defense is giving up 6.2 yards per play.
Early Prediction: Colorado State
30. Military Bowl – Virginia (6-6) vs. Navy (6-5)
Dec. 28 – 1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
These two teams met regularly in the 1980s and '90s but haven’t played since '94. After winning 20 games from 2015-16, Navy took a step back with a 6-5 mark prior to the showdown against Army on Dec. 9. The Midshipmen have struggled with turnovers (-6), the defense has allowed 6.5 yards a play, and injuries have hit the quarterback depth chart this year. While three different quarterbacks have played significant snaps, Navy is still averaging 347.5 yards a game on the ground. But the Midshipmen’s rushing offense will be tested by Virginia’s front seven. Linebacker Micah Kiser (134 tackles) is among the nation’s best at his position, and safety Quin Blanding (121 stops) will provide support against the run. Virginia’s offense is averaging only 23.8 points a game, but quarterback Kurt Benkert has delivered a standout season by throwing for 3,062 yards and 25 scores. The Cavaliers rank last in the ACC against the run but may not need much on the ground to win this one. Navy ranks 10th in the AAC in pass efficiency defense and has surrendered 11 plays of 40 yards or more through the air. That’s a tough matchup against Benkert and his group of receivers.
Early Prediction: Navy
29. Heart of Dallas Bowl – West Virginia (7-5) vs. Utah (6-6)
Dec. 26 – 1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Quarterback play will be under the microscope when these two teams meet for the first time since 1964 on the gridiron. West Virginia quarterback Will Grier suffered a hand injury on Nov. 18 against Texas and is not expected to return in time for the bowl game. With Grier sidelined, sophomore Chris Chugunov will get the start under center. The extra time for bowl prep should help Chugunov, and he has a strong supporting cast at his disposal. The Mountaineers feature Justin Crawford (1,061 yards) and Kennedy McKoy (565) at running back, with three standouts – David Sills, Ka’Raun White and Gary Jennings – at receiver. Utah’s defense will be a formidable test for West Virginia’s high-powered offense, as the Utes ranked fourth in the Pac-12 by limiting opponents to 5.2 yards a play. The quarterback situation is unsettled on coach Kyle Whittingham’s sideline as well, as Tyler Huntley missed the season finale due to an injury. If Huntley is unable to start, senior Troy Williams will get the nod at quarterback. Regardless of who starts, Utah’s ground game will test a West Virginia defense giving up 204.8 rushing yards a game.
Early Prediction: Utah
28. Pinstripe Bowl – Boston College (7-5) vs. Iowa (7-5)
Dec. 27 – 5:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
The last three Pinstripe Bowls have been decided by seven points or less. And this bowl game in Yankee Stadium secured another quality matchup for 2017, as Iowa takes on a hot Boston College team. The Eagles finished the regular season by winning five out of their last six games. The main reason for the late-season surge? Running back AJ Dillon. The freshman finished the regular season with 1,432 yards and 13 touchdowns, with quarterback Darius Wade going without an interception in his three starts since Anthony Brown was lost for the year due to injury. Iowa’s offense averaged 28.3 points a game under first-year play-caller Brian Ferentz but was a little streaky. Similar to Boston College, the Hawkeyes like to lean on the run. Senior Akrum Wadley has rushed for 1,021 yards, with James Butler chipping in 364 on 81 attempts. With both teams wanting to establish the run, whichever defense controls the line of scrimmage is likely to come out on top. Additionally, balance on offense is critical. Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley (25 TDs) has been more consistent through the air than Wade. This game also features two of college football’s top defenders, in Iowa senior linebacker Josey Jewell and Boston College end Harold Landry (missed last four games due to injury and is uncertain to play).
Early Prediction: Iowa
27. Cactus Bowl – Kansas State (7-5) vs. UCLA (6-6)
Dec. 26 – 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
This matchup in the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks is likely to be the final game for UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen. The junior is expected to head to the NFL following the 2017 season. In addition to Rosen’s finale in a Bruin uniform, this is also the last contest before the Chip Kelly era begins in Los Angeles. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch will serve as the team’s interim coach after leading UCLA to a win over California in late November. Rosen and receiver Jordan Lasley are a tough matchup for Kansas State’s secondary, which ranks fifth in the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense. UCLA has struggled to stop the run all season, giving up 282.7 yards a game. That’s problematic against the Wildcats, as coach Bill Snyder’s team average 186.7 yards per game on the ground. The quarterback situation for Kansas State is unsettled. With Jesse Ertz out due to injury, freshman Skylar Thompson or Alex Delton will get nod under center. Regardless of who starts for Kansas State, expect to see plenty of carries from running back Alex Barnes (702 yards).
Early Prediction: Kansas State
26. Belk Bowl – Wake Forest (7-5) vs. Texas A&M (7-5)
Dec. 29 – 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Belk Bowl featured one of college football’s most entertaining postseason games, as Virginia Tech rallied to defeat Arkansas in a back-and-forth 35-24 affair. Wake Forest and Texas A&M have never met on the gridiron, but that shouldn’t stop the potential fireworks in this matchup. The Demon Deacons are making their second consecutive trip to a bowl under coach Dave Clawson and rank third in the ACC with an offense averaging 33.7 points a game. Quarterback John Wolford threw for 25 touchdowns and 2,792 yards and added 615 yards and 10 rushing scores to lead the way on offense. Texas A&M isn’t hurting for talent on either side of the ball, but this program will be under the direction of an interim coach. Kevin Sumlin was dismissed after the season finale, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher left Tallahassee to take over in 2018. Special teams coordinator Jeff Banks will serve as the interim coach for this game. Texas A&M’s offense averaged 31.1 points a game and features one of the SEC’s best receivers in junior Christian Kirk. Quarterback Nick Starkel returned from an ankle injury suffered against UCLA to throw for 10 touchdowns over the last four games. This could be a high-scoring matchup.
Early Prediction: Wake Forest
25. Bahamas Bowl – UAB (8-4) vs. Ohio (8-4)
Dec. 22 – 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
For the second consecutive year, the Bahamas Bowl features one of the best storylines of the bowl season. After UAB’s program was wrongly disbanded at the end of the 2014 season, the Blazers returned to the gridiron and finished 8-4 – the program’s highest win total at the FBS level. Coach Bill Clark deserves National Coach of the Year consideration for the job in Birmingham this year. Expect the ground attacks and defense to be featured when this game kicks off. Powered by freshman running back Spencer Brown, the Blazers rank second in Conference USA in rushing offense. Ohio’s ground attack averages 244.2 yards per game, with junior A.J. Ouellette (980 yards) leading the team. Quarterback Nathan Rourke replaced Quinton Maxwell early in the year as the starter and has provided more punch on the ground (882 yards) while throwing for 2,018 yards and 15 touchdowns. Both defenses allow less than 26 points a game, but Ohio’s run defense (111.4) has been tougher than UAB’s (169.8 ypg). This matchup is likely to hinge on which team stops the run better and whichever quarterback – UAB’s A.J. Erdely or Rourke – delivers just enough through the air.
Early Prediction: Ohio
24. Independence Bowl – Florida State (6-6) vs. Southern Miss (8-4)
Dec. 27 – 1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Florida State’s trip to Louisiana for a bowl game isn’t quite the one this team had in mind back in the preseason. The Seminoles were considered a preseason favorite to win the national title, so a trip to the Sugar Bowl was well within reach. Instead, Florida State will spend the holidays in Shreveport under the direction of interim coach Odell Haggins after Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M. Will motivation be an issue for the Seminoles? If not, this could be an entertaining matchup between two talented offenses. Florida State’s freshman duo of quarterback James Blackman and running back Cam Akers should benefit from the extra bowl prep. However, Southern Miss is only giving up 23 points a game and ranks third among Conference USA teams in rush defense. When the Golden Eagles have the ball, Florida State has to find a way to contain all-around threat Ito Smith at running back. Smith has rushed for 1,321 yards and 13 scores and caught 36 passes this year. In addition to Smith, Southern Miss has additional firepower from receiver Korey Robertson (72 catches) and dual-threat quarterback Kwadra Griggs (15 TDs, 2 INTs and 231 rushing yards).
Early Prediction: Florida State
23. Sun Bowl – Arizona State (7-5) vs. NC State (8-4)
Dec. 29 – 3 p.m. ET, CBS
The Pac-12 has a four-game winning streak over the ACC in the Sun Bowl, but that run could be in jeopardy on Dec. 29. Arizona State heads to El Paso looking to close out the Todd Graham era with its eighth win of 2017. Graham was fired following the Sun Devils’ finale against Arizona, with former NFL coach Herm Edwards taking over for 2018. On the other sideline, NC State is coming off its best season under coach Dave Doeren. The Wolfpack finished 8-4 but lost three games by a touchdown or less. The strength of NC State’s team rests in the trenches, as the Wolfpack own one of the ACC’s top offensive and defensive lines. Quarterback Ryan Finley has passed for 3,200 yards and 16 touchdowns, and the Sun Devils will have to contain all-purpose threat/tight end Jaylen Samuels. Arizona State’s offense prefers to lean on its rushing attack, but quarterback Manny Wilkins has showed progress under the watchful eye of new coordinator Billy Napier. Receiver N’Keal Harry is also among the best in the Pac-12 at his position.
Early Prediction: NC State
22. Music City Bowl – Kentucky (7-5) vs. Northwestern (9-3)
Dec. 29 – 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Nashville is likely to be painted blue on Dec. 29, as a battle of Wildcats is set for the Music City Bowl. Northwestern got off to a slow start with a 2-3 record through its first five games. However, coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team rallied with seven consecutive victories to close out the regular season. Northwestern’s offense revolves around senior running back Justin Jackson, who has eclipsed 1,000 yards in all four seasons on campus. Kentucky is giving up 162.2 rushing yards per game this year, so Jackson could close out his collegiate career with a huge performance. He’s not the only weapon for Fitzgerald, as quarterback Clayton Thorson completed a career-best 60.6 passes in 2017. Similar to its Wildcat counterparts on the other sideline, Kentucky likes to run the ball. Sophomore Benny Snell rushed for 1,318 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. Northwestern ranks fourth in the Big Ten in rush defense, so Kentucky needs quarterback Stephen Johnson to connect on a few first-down throws early on to keep the defense honest.
Early Prediction: Northwestern
21. New Orleans Bowl – Troy (10-2) vs. North Texas (9-4)
Dec. 16 – 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
The bowl season kicks off in New Orleans with a matchup featuring two of college football’s head coaches on the rise. Under second-year coach Seth Littrell, North Texas has made it to back-to-back bowl games and won Conference USA’s West Division title in 2017. Led by sophomore quarterback Mason Fine (3,749 yards and 28 TDs), the Mean Green ranked second in the conference by averaging 35.9 points a game. Fine is the catalyst for this attack, but the offense won’t have standout running back Jeffery Wilson (1,215 yards) available due to injury. With Wilson sidelined, freshman Nic Smith (665 yards) is expected to work as the top option in the backfield. Fine figures to have his hands full against a Troy defense that ranks first in the Sun Belt by limiting offenses to just 17.5 points a game this season. Third-year coach Neal Brown is 24-13 in his tenure at Troy, and the Trojans shared the Sun Belt title with Appalachian State after beating Arkansas State in Week 14. This team picked up a huge non-conference win at LSU earlier this year and one of its losses came against Boise State – a top 25 team and the Mountain West champion. Expect plenty of points in this one. Both teams average over 30 points a game and can hurt defenses with a balanced attack.
Early Prediction: Troy
20. Hawaii Bowl – Fresno State (9-4) vs. Houston (7-4)
Dec 24 – 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Fresno State closes out a remarkable turnaround under new coach Jeff Tedford with its first bowl trip since 2014. A big part of Tedford’s year-one improvement has been the play of the defense. Coordinator Orlondo Steinauer guided this unit to first in the Mountain West by limiting opponents to 17.2 points a game. The Bulldogs led the conference in sacks generated (32), were second in rush defense and limited opponents to 4.9 yards a play. In addition to the strong play on defense, Fresno State’s offense found a spark behind Oregon State transfer Marcus McMaryion at quarterback. A change at quarterback also helped Houston late in the year, as dynamic sophomore D’Eriq King posted over 300 total yards in each of the last three games. Sophomore defensive tackle Ed Oliver (14.5 tackles for a loss) will provide a tough test for Fresno State’s offensive line at the line of scrimmage.
Early Prediction: Houston
19. Birmingham Bowl – Texas Tech (6-6) vs. USF (9-2)
Dec. 23 – Noon ET, ESPN
There should be no shortage of points in this Big 12-AAC matchup in Birmingham. Texas Tech’s win over Texas on Black Friday sent the Red Raiders to the postseason and may have saved coach Kliff Kingsbury’s job. Kingsbury’s teams never have trouble putting points on the scoreboard. And the 2017 version of Texas Tech’s offense is averaging a healthy 34.3 points a game. But a big reason why the Red Raiders hit the six-win mark in 2017 was the improvement on defense. Under coordinator David Gibbs, Texas Tech cut its points allowed average to 31.8 from 43.5 in 2016. While the Red Raiders have showed improvement on defense, containing USF’s high-powered attack isn’t going to be easy. The Bulls are led on offense by dynamic senior quarterback Quinton Flowers, who averaged 324.7 total yards a game this year. In addition to Flowers and the high-scoring offense, USF led the American by limiting opponents to 4.7 yards a play.
Early Prediction: USF
18. Texas Bowl – Texas (6-6) vs. Missouri (7-5)
Dec. 27 – 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
It’s a reunion of sorts in NRG Stadium on Dec. 27, as old Big 12 foes Missouri and Texas meet for the first time since 2011. In addition to the reunion, this matchup features one of the nation’s top offenses (Missouri) against a standout defense (Texas). The Longhorns are only allowing 21.7 points a game, but the secondary will be tested without safety DeShon Elliott, who declared early for the NFL draft and won’t play on Dec. 27. Missouri quarterback Drew Lock set a new SEC single-season record with 43 touchdown tosses and has plenty of big-play threats at receiver, including J’Mon Moore (60 catches) and Emanuel Hall (24.8 yards per catch). The Tigers aren’t just an aerial assault, as Ish Witter (992) is closing in on 1,000 yards, and sophomore Damarea Crockett could return in time for this game after missing the final six regular season contests. Texas has struggled to find the right answers on offense this year. The Longhorns average 29.2 points a game and averaged just 3.3 yards per rush in Big 12 play. Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger missed a couple of games due to injury but finished his debut in Austin with 10 touchdowns and 1,803 yards. He should benefit from the extra practices, but Texas will have to find a way to slow down Missouri’s high-powered offense.
Early Prediction: Missouri
17. Foster Farms Bowl – Purdue (6-6) vs. Arizona (7-5)
Dec. 27 – 8:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Get ready for offensive fireworks when Arizona and Purdue meet in the Foster Farms Bowl. Under first-year coach Jeff Brohm, the Boilermakers showed marked improvement. Purdue’s win total increased by three games, and the offense took a step forward under Brohm’s play-calling. Quarterback Elijah Sindelar (1,703 yards and 14 TDs) will test an Arizona secondary ranked ninth in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense. Running back Markell Jones ran for 217 yards in the season finale against Indiana and should be near full strength after battling injuries in 2017. The outlook on Arizona’s season changed dramatically when sophomore Khalil Tate took over as the starting quarterback. Tate is a dynamic athlete and an improving passer and was the driving force behind an offense that averaged 41.8 points a game. The strength of Purdue’s defense rests in the trenches, as this unit has allowed only 3.6 yards a carry in 2017. Can coordinator Nick Holt find a way to keep Tate in check? With Arizona’s defense giving up 34.1 points a game and Tate’s big-play ability, both teams should have no trouble moving the ball on Dec. 27.
Early Prediction: Arizona
16. Dollar General Bowl – Appalachian State (8-4) vs. Toledo (11-2)
Dec. 23 – 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
For the second year in a row, Appalachian State and Toledo will meet in a postseason game. If last season is any indicator, the rematch should be just as good as the 31-28 Appalachian State victory in the Camellia Bowl. In addition to the rematch factor, this game features a pair of rising stars on the sidelines – Jason Candle (Toledo) and Scott Satterfield (Appalachian State). The Rockets claimed their first MAC title since 2004 by defeating Akron in the conference title game. Quarterback Logan Woodside has torched opposing defenses for 28 touchdowns and an average of 289.1 passing yards a game. Woodside has a strong supporting cast at his disposal, which includes running back Terry Swanson (1,319 yards) and receivers Diontae Johnson (1,257 receiving yards) and Jon’Vea Johnson (41 catches). Stopping Toledo’s high-powered attack won’t be easy, but Appalachian State’s defense is limiting opponents to 21.9 points a game. The Mountaineers have wreaked havoc around the line of scrimmage with 34 sacks and 83 tackles for a loss. Generating negative plays and putting Woodside into third-and-long will be a priority. Considering the firepower on the other sideline, Appalachian State’s best defense might be its offense. Toledo’s rush defense is giving up 166.4 yards a game and will have its hands full against the Mountaineers' ground game. Running back Jalin Moore has played in 10 games and rushed for 912 yards, with quarterback Taylor Lamb pitching in 539 yards. Appalachian State will look to play ball control and limit Toledo’s possessions.
Early Prediction: Toledo
15. TaxSlayer Bowl – Louisville (8-4) vs. Mississippi State (8-4)
Dec. 30 – Noon ET, ESPN
Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson returns to his home state of Florida for what could be his final game at the collegiate level. The junior is having another monster statistical season and is due for another trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony. Jackson has passed for 3,489 yards and 25 touchdowns and leads all Louisville players with 1,443 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. Mississippi State’s defense showed marked improvement under coordinator Todd Grantham this year, but Jackson and coach Bobby Petrino got a good look at this scheme from Grantham’s stint in Louisville. The Cardinals have struggled at times on defense under new play-caller Peter Sirmon, but with Jackson leading the way, the Cardinals can simply outscore a lot of teams. Mississippi State heads to Jacksonville as a team in transition. Coach Dan Mullen left for Florida, and Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is set to take over in 2018. With Mullen off to Gainesville, Greg Knox will serve as the team’s interim coach. Additionally, starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is sidelined due to a serious ankle injury suffered in the finale against Ole Miss. With Fitzgerald sidelined, true freshman Keytaon Thompson will make his first career start. Thompson will benefit from the practice time to work as the starter, and he’s helped by a strong offensive line and 1,000-yard rusher Aeris Williams at running back. Don’t be surprised if this is a high-scoring game.
Early Prediction: Louisville
14. Liberty Bowl – Iowa State (7-5) vs. Memphis (10-2)
Dec. 30 – 12:30 p.m. ET, ABC
For the first time in Liberty Bowl history, this postseason game will host the hometown Memphis Tigers. These two programs are trending up under their current coaching staffs. Mike Norvell has picked up where Justin Fuente left off and guided Memphis to 18 wins over the last two seasons. After a 3-9 record in his debut last fall, Matt Campbell took Iowa State to a seven-win mark in 2017. The Cyclones navigated some early uncertainty after quarterback Jacob Park took a leave of absence, but Kyle Kempt and Zeb Noland have been more than capable under center. The strength of Iowa State’s offense is its receiving corps, including underrated senior Allen Lazard. Running back David Montgomery was banged up at the end of the regular season but the Dec. 30 date should allow for him to return at full strength. Establishing the run could be crucial to Iowa State’s hopes of a victory in Memphis. Behind quarterback Riley Ferguson and receiver Anthony Miller, the Tigers average 47.7 points a game. This will be an interesting matchup against an Iowa State defense that ranked second in the Big 12 in fewest points allowed.
Early Prediction: Memphis
13. Armed Forces Bowl – Army (8-3) vs. San Diego State (10-2)
Dec. 23 – 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Don’t expect too many forward passes in this matchup. Army leads the nation by averaging 368.1 rushing yards per game, while San Diego State is 12th at 252.3 per contest. The Black Knights are led by quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw (1,472 yards), with Darnell Woolfolk (668), Kell Walker (553) and Andy Davidson (517) providing support. For the second year in a row, the Aztecs had a 2,000-yard rusher. Senior Rashaad Penny (2,027 yards) is not only one of the nation’s top running backs but also leads all players in college football with an average of 224.8 all-purpose yards a game. San Diego State’s run defense has been stout this year, limiting opponents to 110.8 yards a game. Additionally, the Aztecs have a couple of weeks to prepare for this game under the watchful eye of defensive mastermind (and head coach) Rocky Long.
Early Prediction: San Diego State
12. Outback Bowl – Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (8-4)
Jan. 1 – Noon ET, ESPN2
These two teams met in the 2013 Outback Bowl, with South Carolina winning 33-28. While most may not remember the result of that matchup, Jadeveon Clowney’s hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith certainly won’t be forgotten anytime soon. A lot has changed over the last few seasons for both teams. Most notably, the coaching staffs. Michigan is under the direction of Jim Harbaugh, with the Wolverines in the midst of a rebuilding year. South Carolina turned to Will Muschamp to replace Steve Spurrier after the legendary coach retired during the 2015 season. Muschamp has guided the Gamecocks to back-to-back bowls and has a promising core in place for 2018. Points could be at a premium in this game. Michigan’s offense averaged 25.8 points a contest this year, while South Carolina posted 24.1. Sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley leads the Gamecocks’ offense, but this unit suffered a setback early in the year with injuries to running back Rico Dowdle and receiver Deebo Samuel. Harbaugh’s offense is built around a strong rushing attack, and the Wolverines have three players with least 540 yards on the ground this year. Quarterback Brandon Peters missed the regular season finale against Ohio State due to a concussion but is expected to return for the bowl. Even if Michigan’s offense is sluggish, it’s tough to see South Carolina scoring too much against the Wolverines’ defense. Under coordinator Don Brown, Michigan is holding opponents to 18.3 points a game this year. The front seven is loaded with talent, including tackle Maurice Hurst, end Rashan Gary and linebackers Devin Bush and Mike McCray.
Early Prediction: Michigan
11. Las Vegas Bowl – Boise State (10-3) vs. Oregon (7-5)
Dec. 16 – 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Remember the last time these two teams met? It was the infamous 19-8 game in Chip Kelly’s debut at Oregon, which also featured a famous punch by running back LeGarrette Blount. This meeting will feature its share of fireworks too, as Boise State’s defense is tasked with slowing down a high-powered Oregon offense once again. The Broncos are holding opponents to 22.5 points a game and rank second in the Mountain West by limiting offenses to 4.9 yards a play. It’s a good thing coach Bryan Harsin’s team has owned one of the Mountain West’s top defenses. Boise State isn’t quite as explosive on offense as in recent memory. Quarterback Brett Rypien passed for 2,515 yards and 14 touchdowns but also gave way to a handful of snaps from Kansas transfer Montell Cozart. The Ducks finished the regular season at 7-5, but this team was better than its record indicated in coach Willie Taggart’s debut. Starting quarterback Justin Herbert missed five games due to a collarbone injury, which left Oregon’s offense without much of a passing game. With Herbert back under center, the Ducks closed by scoring 48 points against Arizona and 69 versus Oregon State. Running back Royce Freeman posted his third 1,000-yard season in four years by rushing for 1,475 yards this fall. Additionally, Freeman owns the Pac-12 record for most career rushing touchdowns (60). Boise State’s defense against Oregon’s offense will decide this matchup.
Early Prediction: Oregon
10. Holiday Bowl – Washington State (9-3) vs. Michigan State (9-3)
Dec. 28 – 9 p.m. ET, FOX
For the second year in a row, Washington State will play in the Holiday Bowl. Coach Mike Leach’s team once again brings its high-powered offense to San Diego to take on a physical and rugged Big Ten defense. After losing to Minnesota last fall, the Cougars hope to reverse their fortune against Michigan State. After a disappointing 3-9 record last fall, the Spartans were one of college football’s most-improved teams in 2017. The formula for coach Mark Dantonio’s team will be pretty simple on Dec. 28: Establish the run and limit the possessions of Washington State’s offense. Michigan State’s ground attack is led by junior LJ Scott, and quarterback Brian Lewerke ranked second on the team with 486 rushing yards. When Washington State has the ball, quarterback Luke Falk looks to end his career on a high note after a sluggish performance against Washington in the regular season finale. But Falk and his receivers will have their hands full against a Michigan State secondary ranked fourth in the Big Ten in pass efficiency defense and a pass rush that’s generated 28 sacks. Whichever team can establish the tempo and pace of the game is likely to come out on top.
Early Prediction: Michigan State
9. Citrus Bowl – Notre Dame (9-3) vs. LSU (9-3)
Jan. 1 – 1 p.m. ET, ABC
For the second time in four years, Notre Dame and LSU are set to meet in a bowl game. In 2014, the Fighting Irish and Tigers met in the Music City Bowl, with coach Brian Kelly’s team winning a 31-28 matchup. This meeting takes place in Orlando and should be one of the better matchups outside of the New Year’s Six and CFB Playoff. The matchup in the trenches is the battle to watch on Jan. 1. Notre Dame’s offensive line is one of the best in college football and helped to clear the way for running back Josh Adams to rush for 1,386 yards and nine scores. However, Adams was slowed by injuries late in the year and time off should get him back to full strength. Regardless of how well Notre Dame runs the ball, this team needs more from quarterback Brandon Wimbush to create balance on offense. LSU’s speed and athleticism on defense are also obstacles for the Fighting Irish after struggling with a similar defense against Miami earlier this year. When the Tigers have the ball, coach Ed Orgeron’s team will look to establish running back Derrius Guice (1,153 yards) against a Notre Dame defense giving up 153.2 rushing yards a game. Quarterback Danny Etling quietly put together a nice season under new coordinator Matt Canada, connecting on 60.3 percent of his throws for 2,234 yards and 14 touchdowns to two interceptions. Can the Fighting Irish knock off LSU in a bowl once again? Or will LSU’s speed and athleticism be too much?
Early Prediction: LSU
8. Camping World Bowl – Oklahoma State (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (9-3)
Dec. 28 – 5:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Camping World Bowl secured one of the most intriguing pre-New Year’s Day bowls with a matchup of Oklahoma State and coach Mike Gundy’s offense against Virginia Tech and Bud Foster’s defense. The Cowboys averaged 46.3 points a game in the regular season and can attack defenses through the air with quarterback Mason Rudolph and receiver James Washington or via the ground game with Justice Hill. But Foster’s defense will provide plenty of resistance. The Hokies limited opponents to 13.5 points a game and allowed only 4.9 yards a play. This unit has generated 29 sacks and the interior line combination of Tim Settle and Ricky Walker needs to generate a push to disrupt Rudolph’s timing. Virginia Tech’s offense will look to play ball control behind quarterback Josh Jackson. The strength of Oklahoma State’s defense is its front seven, but Jackson and the Hokies have to establish the run to keep Rudolph and Washington on the sideline. An interesting subplot to this game: Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente is an Oklahoma native. Can Virginia Tech’s offense slow the game down and play keep away from Oklahoma State? Or will the Cowboys simply have too much firepower on offense?
Early Prediction: Oklahoma State
7. Alamo Bowl – TCU (10-3) vs. Stanford (9-4)
Dec. 28 – 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Alamo Bowl features two teams in TCU and Stanford that lost in conference championships and just missed out on a berth in a New Year’s Six game. Adding to the intrigue is a matchup of one of college football’s top defensive minds in TCU coach Gary Patterson, who is tasked with finding a way to slow down Stanford’s ground game and running back Bryce Love. The junior led the offense with 1,973 yards and 17 touchdowns, averaging a healthy 8.3 yards per carry. But how much running room will Love find on Dec. 28? The Horned Frogs led the Big 12 in rush defense by limiting opponents to just 99.9 yards a game on the ground. The Dec. 28 date is also critical for Love, as he battled a high-ankle sprain in the second half of the year. In order for Love to find running room, Stanford is going to need a big game from quarterback K.J. Costello. The redshirt freshman has showed flashes of promise, completing 59.2 percent of his throws for 11 touchdowns and 1,361 yards. TCU’s offense also leans on its ground game, and Stanford’s defense has been vulnerable (170.7 ypg allowed) to rushing attacks. The Horned Frogs also need an efficient (and mistake-free game) from quarterback Kenny Hill in what’s likely to be a low-scoring game.
Early Prediction: TCU
6. Orange Bowl – Miami (10-2) vs. Wisconsin (12-1)
Dec. 30 – 8 p.m. ET – ESPN
Motivation shouldn’t be an issue for this ACC-Big Ten clash in the Orange Bowl. Both Miami and Wisconsin spent time in the top four of the CFB Playoff rankings and suffered losses on Championship Saturday that ended any hopes of reaching the Sugar or Rose Bowl this year. The Hurricanes are a program on the rise under coach Mark Richt, and a home game against the Badgers is a good way to close out the 2017 campaign. With Richt upgrading Miami’s talent level on the recruiting trail, along with a strong core set to return in 2018, this team could use the Orange Bowl as a springboard to another playoff run next fall. But for Miami to win this one, Richt has to find a few answers on offense. The Hurricanes managed only 17 points in their last two games and will be without tight end Christopher Herndon and receiver Ahmmon Richards due to injury. The offense runs through quarterback Malik Rosier (2,917 yards and 25 TDs), but Miami’s hopes of jump-starting its offense won’t be easy against Wisconsin. The Badgers allow only 13.2 points a game and lead the Big Ten in rush defense. It’s no secret what Wisconsin’s formula for success is on offense. The Badgers want to run the ball with running back Jonathan Taylor and use quarterback Alex Hornibrook to hit play-action passes. Taylor could find some running lanes against a Miami defense giving up 146.1 rushing yards a game. Expect a low-scoring, defensive slugfest on Dec. 30.
Early Prediction: Wisconsin
5. Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl – UCF (12-0) vs. Auburn (10-3)
Jan. 1 – 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
If you like offense, then the Peach Bowl will be must-see television on Jan. 1. UCF led the nation with an average of 49.4 points a game, with Auburn posting 34.4 per contest. This will be the final game for the Knights in the Scott Frost era, as he’s headed to be Nebraska’s head coach in 2018. Frost is expected to return to Orlando and lead UCF in this game. Under Frost’s direction, the Knights have assembled a dynamic offense. Quarterback McKenzie Milton threw for 3,795 yards and 35 scores and added 497 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. Milton had a variety of options at running back and receiver at his disposal, which helped this offense generate 28 plays of 40 yards or more in 2017. Auburn is making its second trip of the season to Mercedes-Benz Stadium after losing to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Coach Gus Malzahn’s team will benefit from the month off, especially to get running back Kerryon Johnson back to full strength. Johnson was limited in the SEC title game, which certainly played a role in Auburn’s sluggish showing. Assuming Johnson is healthy and back in the lineup, that will alleviate some of the pressure on quarterback Jarrett Stidham. The sophomore was a big-time pickup on the recruiting trail for Malzahn and will attack a UCF secondary that allowed 17 plays of 40 yards or more this year.
Early Prediction: Auburn
4. Fiesta Bowl – Washington (10-2) vs. Penn State (10-2)
Dec. 30 – 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Big Ten and Pac-12 have two intriguing matchups in New Year’s Six bowls this year, and the Fiesta Bowl pairing of Penn State and Washington should provide plenty of fireworks. The Nittany Lions are led by quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley, but coach James Franklin’s team won’t have coordinator Joe Moorhead calling the plays on Dec. 30. Moorhead left Happy Valley to take over as Mississippi State’s head coach. Quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne was promoted to play-caller, but he won’t have much time to get acclimated to the role against a tough Washington defense. The Huskies rank first in the Pac-12 by limiting opponents to 14.5 points a game, and the rush defense has been stingy (92.3 ypg) all season. Will Barkley find running room against a standout front seven that features likely All-American lineman Vita Vea? When Washington has the ball, this unit struggled to generate big plays but still ranked second in the Pac-12 in scoring (36.9 ppg). Quarterback Jake Browning threw for 18 touchdowns, while running back Myles Gaskin posted 1,282 rushing yards. The Huskies have an edge in the trenches, but McSorley and Barkley will be tough to contain for all four quarters.
Early Prediction: Penn State
3. Cotton Bowl – USC (11-2) vs. Ohio State (11-2)
Dec. 29 – 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
The New Year’s Six bowl slate kicks off in Arlington with an intriguing battle between two of college football’s top programs. And there should be no shortage of motivation for either team. Ohio State just missed the CFB Playoff with its No. 5 ranking on Selection Sunday, while USC can play the disrespect card after its No. 8 placement. While much of the attention in this game is going to be focused on the two quarterbacks – Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett and USC’s Sam Darnold – the play in the trenches is going to be a huge factor in the outcome. The Trojans have allowed 22 sacks this season, which is bad news against a Buckeyes’ front that features Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Nick Bosa. The extra time to prepare will help Barrett after undergoing knee surgery less than a week prior to playing in the Big Ten Championship Game. Barrett will look to close his career in Columbus out on a high note, while the one-two punch of Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins at running back looks to test a USC defensive front giving up 158.3 rushing yards a game.
Early Prediction: Ohio State
2. Oklahoma (12-1) vs. Georgia (12-1)
Jan. 1 – 5 p.m. ET, ESPN
The traditional Rose Bowl matchup between a Big Ten and a Pac-12 team is hard to beat, but the backdrop in Pasadena for Oklahoma-Georgia in the College Football Playoff should be an awesome experience for both fanbases. And despite the success by both teams at a high level, this is the first meeting between the Bulldogs and Sooners on the gridiron. Oklahoma’s high-powered offense has been nearly unstoppable this year. Quarterback Baker Mayfield has been the best player in college football, and running back Rodney Anderson has powered the ground game in an impressive second half of 2017. Led by left tackle Orlando Brown, Oklahoma’s offensive line is among the best in college football. First-year coach Lincoln Riley had a tough assignment after he replaced Bob Stoops early this summer, but Oklahoma hasn’t missed a beat and claimed its third Big 12 title in a row with a win over TCU on Dec. 2. Georgia is aiming for its first national title since 1980, and this certainly won’t be the last time the Bulldogs are in contention for a playoff spot under coach Kirby Smart. Georgia’s power rushing attack will test an Oklahoma defense giving up 144.2 yards a game on the ground. If the Bulldogs establish the line of scrimmage and keep Mayfield on the sidelines, Smart’s team should come out on top. However, if Oklahoma gets ahead early and pushes the tempo, Georgia would be forced out of its comfort zone on offense. This matchup has it all. Excellent setting, tradition, standout programs, a likely Heisman winner and an intriguing battle of offense versus defense.
Early Prediction: Oklahoma
1. Sugar Bowl – Alabama (11-1) vs. Clemson (12-1)
Jan. 1 – 8:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
Clemson vs. Alabama III shouldn’t disappoint. These two teams met in each of the last two national championship games, with both matchups coming down to the wire. In the rubber match, will the Tigers come out on top like last season? Or will the Crimson Tide knock off the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff and advance to the title game for the third year in a row? This Alabama team may not be as dominant as some of Nick Saban’s previous versions, but there’s no shortage of talent in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide might be the playoff team that benefits the most from the month to prepare, especially as the defense looks to get healthy at linebacker. Getting the front seven prepared for Clemson will be a priority for Saban and coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. The Tigers don’t have the downfield passing attack that they possessed under Deshaun Watson, but this offense has shifted its strength to the ground, averaging 204.1 rushing yards a game. True freshman Travis Etienne (744 yards) is the headliner for coach Dabo Swinney, and quarterback Kelly Bryant (646 yards) is another valuable piece to the ground game. Alabama’s rush defense showed a few cracks in November and will be tested early and often. The formula for success is pretty simple for the Crimson Tide: Stop the run and take your chances with Bryant game through the air. When Alabama has the ball, it’s no secret this team wants to establish the run. Of course, that’s easier said than done against a standout Clemson front. The x-factor to watch for the Crimson Tide is quarterback Jalen Hurts, along with the receivers outside of Calvin Ridley. This should be another thriller.
Early Prediction: Clemson