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Ranking the 2018 Bowl Games


Dec 03, 2018 EST


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1. Orange Bowl (CFP semifinal): No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) vs. No. 1 Alabama (13-0) – 8 p.m., Dec. 29. ESPN

Kyler Murray vs. Tua Tagovailoa? Yes please. Can we make it a best out of three series? The country’s two most electrifying quarterbacks will face off in primetime for the right to play for the national title. Oklahoma’s offense is piling up yards and points at a rate never before seen in college football history while Tagovailoa has thrown more than nine touchdowns for every interception in 2018. If Oklahoma’s defense can break serve just a couple of times this game has a chance to be a classic.

2. Cotton Bowl (CFP semifinal): No. 3 Notre Dame (12-0) vs. No. 2 Clemson (13-0) – 4 p.m., Dec. 29, ESPN

This is the first time two undefeated teams have met each other in a College Football Playoff Semifinal. It’s history in the making! The Tigers’ vaunted defensive line will be tasked with stopping Notre Dame’s Dexter Williams and getting presure on QB Ian Book. Notre Dame’s defense will have to figure out how to keep Travis Etienne out of the end zone and stop Clemson’s wide receivers from getting open for freshman Trevor Lawrence. If Clemson wins it could face Alabama for the fourth-straight season in the College Football Playoff.

3. Sugar Bowl: No. 15 Texas (9-4) vs. No. 5 Georgia (11-2) – 8:45 p.m., Jan. 1, ESPN

The runners-up to playoff teams meet on New Year’s night in New Orleans. Jake Fromm was throwing dimes against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Will he do the same against a stout Texas secondary? Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger evolved into a well-rounded quarterback in 2018 and receivers Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson match up well with any secondary in the country.

4. Rose Bowl: No. 9 Washington (10-3) vs. No. 6 Ohio State (12-1) – 5 p.m., Jan. 1, ESPN

Washington’s defense with a month to prepare against Ohio State’s offense is incredibly enticing. Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins is a Heisman contender and has thrown for 17 touchdowns over the Buckeyes’ last three games. Washington quarterback Jake Browning has completed over 60 percent of his passes in each of his last three games and the Huskies’ offense features running backs Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed. Washington’s gameplan will likely include trying to keep the ball for as long as possible.

5. Camping World Bowl: No. 20 Syracuse (9-3) vs. No. 16 West Virginia (9-3) – 5:15 p.m., Dec. 28, ESPN

This game is in the top five because we’re banking on a ton of points. And West Virginia’s Will Grier, Gary Jennings and David Sills playing in the team’s bowl game. If West Virginia’s star offensive players decide to skip the game we’d understand and drop the game outside our top 10. But we’re hoping for a matchup between Grier and Syracuse’s Eric Dungey, two guys who have been some of the most productive college football quarterbacks over the past couple seasons.

6. Fiesta Bowl: No. 8 UCF (12-0) vs. No. 11 LSU (9-3) – 1 p.m., Jan. 1, ESPN

This game would be a little more fun if Florida was the SEC team involved and McKenzie Milton was playing for the Knights but we’re not complaining about the matchup. UCF’s offense proved it can still be explosive without Milton in the AAC title game and LSU’s defense includes LB Devin White, CB Greedy Williams and S Grant Delpit. It’s strength vs. strength in this one.

7. Citrus Bowl: No. 14 Kentucky (9-3) vs. No. 12 Penn State (9-3) – 1 p.m., Jan. 1, ABC

Kentucky’s defense has been one of the best in the SEC throughout 2018. The rushing attack is pretty damn good too with Benny Snell. Can the passing offense keep up with Penn State’s Trace McSorley? It’s the final game for the Nittany Lions QB and he’ll be complimented by running back Miles Sanders, who has replaced Saquon Barkley admirably in the backfield. Sanders has rushed for over 1,200 yards and scored nine touchdowns this season.

8. Peach Bowl: No. 10 Florida (9-3) vs. No. 7 Michigan (10-2) – 12 p.m., Dec. 29, ESPN

This is the second time in three seasons that Florida has played Michigan in a bowl game. Will the first team to 20 win? Both teams boast stout defenses and offenses that rely on the running game. It could come down to a battle between Michigan’s Shea Patterson and Florida’s Feleipe Franks to see who can break the most big plays.

9. Alamo Bowl: No. 13 Washington State (10-2) vs. No. 24 Iowa State (8-4) – 9 p.m., Dec. 28, ESPN

Iowa State got this spot over West Virginia and figures to give Washington State a better defensive test than the Mountaineers would. Brock Purdy has been a find at quarterback and he’s got the chance to face off against Gardner Minshew, a guy who could finish in the top five of the Heisman voting. While Iowa State is a good team it’s hard not to think that Washington State deserves a better bowl opponent.

10. Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State (7-5) vs. No. 21 Fresno State (11-2) – 3:30 p.m., Dec. 15, ABC

Fresno State’s reward for winning the Mountain West is a chance to best a Pac-12 team in Vegas. That Pac-12 team is none other than Herm Edwards’ Arizona State Sun Devils. ASU has three of the Pac-12’s best offensive players in QB Manny Wilkins, WR N’Keal Harry and RB Eno Benjamin. Seeing those guys go against Fresno’s defense should be a treat.

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11. Liberty Bowl: No. 23 Missouri (8-4) vs. Oklahoma State (6-6) – 3:45 p.m., Dec. 31, ESPN

Oklahoma State finished with six wins despite beating Texas and Boise State. Missouri ended the season on a four-game win streak after a loss to Kentucky dropped the Tigers to 4-4. Missouri quarterback Drew Lock became one of the most proficient passers in SEC history throughout his Missouri career and the Tigers have been a much-improved team throughout November. Can the defense keep an Oklahoma State offense that’s averaged over 38 points per game in check?

12. New Mexico Bowl: Utah State (10-2) vs. North Texas (9-3) – 2 p.m., Dec. 15, ESPN

Bowl season gets going with two really fun offenses, led by two lesser-known quarterbacks. North Texas’ Mason Fine has combined for 58 touchdown passes over the last two seasons while Utah State’s Jordan Love emerged as one of the Mountain West’s best. Utah State already lost coach Matt Wells to Texas Tech. Could UNT lose Seth Littrell to Kansas State?

13. Outback Bowl: No. 18 Mississippi State (8-4) vs. Iowa (8-4) – 12 p.m., Jan. 1, ESPN2

Mississippi State’s defensive line is one of the best in the country. The Hawkeyes run the ball via a committee between Mekhi Sargeant and Toren Young who both average over four yards a carry and have combined for 14 touchdowns on the ground. It’s the final game for Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. He set the SEC record for career rushing yards by a quarterback earlier in the season.

14. Holiday Bowl: No. 22 Northwestern (8-5) vs. No. 17 Utah (9-4) – 7 p.m., Dec. 31, FS1

This is going to be a slobberknocker and a throwback. The Utes lost the Pac-12 title game 10-3 to Washington and Northwestern’s offense ranks No. 107 in scoring. The defensive chess match will be fun as Pat Fitzgerald and Kyle Whittingham try to outscheme each other. Northwestern has the edge at quarterback with Clayton Thorson but Utah freshman Jason Shelley could benefit greatly from a couple weeks of bowl practices.

15. Gator Bowl: No. 19 Texas A&M (8-4) vs. NC State (8-4) – 7:30 p.m., Dec. 31, ESPN

The Aggies secured a Gator Bowl berth with a win over LSU in seven overtimes. NC State was a sneaky contender for a New Year’s Six bowl berth until a stunning home loss against Wake Forest. NC State’s Ryan Finley will be drafted in 2019 and wide receiver Kelvin Harmon has become one of the best in college football. A&M’s Trayveon Williams has had a spectacular season as well.

16. Armed Forces Bowl: Houston (8-4) vs. Army (9-2) – 3:30 p.m., Dec. 22, ESPN

It’s too bad Houston will be without QB D’Eriq King and stud DL Ed Oliver, or this game would be ranked higher. Without those two, the appeal drops off despite getting your last chance to watch one of the best Army teams in recent memory. Jeff Monken has done a great job.

17. Dollar General Bowl: Troy (9-3) vs. Buffalo (10-3) – 7 p.m., Dec. 22, ESPN

Troy finished as the runner-up to App State in the Sun Belt East, but is still one of the conference’s best teams despite the injury to QB Kaleb Barker. Buffalo had its best season ever with 10 wins, but blew a big second-half lead in the MAC title game. The Buffs have two future pros on offense, however, with QB Tyree Jackson and WR Anthony Johnson.

18. First Responder Bowl: Boston College (7-5) vs. No. 25 Boise State (10-3) – 1:30 p.m., Dec. 26, ESPN

Boston College really might finish 7-6 for the fifth time in six seasons under Steve Addazio. That’s especially disappointing when you remember BC started the year 7-2 and was consistently ranked in the top 25. Boise State blew a chance to win the Mountain West championship on its home turf, but had to go on a seven-game winning streak just to reach that point. This is a really good Broncos team.

19. New Orleans Bowl: Middle Tennessee (8-5) vs. Appalachian State (10-2) – 9 p.m., Dec. 15, ESPN

Two very good Group of Five programs here. From an MTSU perspective, this is the last time Rick Stockstill will coach his son, left-handed quarterback Brent Stockstill, who has started most of his career and put up a bunch of yards. App State is the Sun Belt champion, but may be without coach Scott Satterfield in this one. He’s a top candidate for the Louisville job.

20. RedBox Bowl: Oregon (8-4) vs. Michigan State (7-5) – 3 p.m., Dec. 31, FOX

Will Oregon’s Justin Herbert be available for the game? He could be one of the top quarterbacks taken in the 2019 NFL draft. Michigan State’s offense has failed to live up to expectations in 2018 so it would be fun if it showed up in this game. Otherwise it could be a slog.

21. Boca Raton Bowl: Northern Illinois (8-5) vs. UAB (10-3) – 7 p.m., Dec. 18, ESPN

NIU had a big comeback effort to beat Buffalo for the MAC title on Friday night. The Huskies have one of the best defensive players in the country in Sutton Smith, who leads the nation with 15 sacks. UAB’s story is an awesome one. The Blazers won the C-USA title this year, just four years after shutting down the program.

22. Sun Bowl: Stanford (8-4) vs. Pitt (7-6) – 2 p.m., Dec. 31, CBS

Pitt is rewarded with a trip to El Paso after losing to Clemson by 32 on Saturday night. If you like teams that run the ball, well then you are in luck with this game. Both teams are incredibly efficient on the ground and Pitt will have to figure out a way to stop K.J. Costello from throwing jump balls to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.

23. Music City Bowl: Auburn (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6) – 1:30 p.m., Dec. 28, ESPN

Purdue’s offense better show up. The Music City Bowl organizers wanted the .500 Boilermakers after Jeff Brohm decided to stay at Purdue instead of heading to Louisville. Auburn was ranked in the top 10 to start the year but fell flat after beating Washington to start the season. If Gus Malzahn has time to draw up a fun offensive gameplan then this game has the chance to be a shootout.

24. Birmingham Bowl: Wake Forest (6-6) vs. Memphis (8-5) – 12 p.m., Dec. 22, ESPN

Wake Forest had some surprising wins over NC State and Duke, a 59-7 triumph, just to reach a bowl after an injury-plagued year. Memphis nearly beat UCF in the AAC title game, but scored just three second-half points in that one. Still, the Tigers have one of the best RBs in the country in Darrell Henderson. He should be your focus if you watch this one.

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25. Independence Bowl: Duke (7-5) vs. Temple (8-4) – 1:30 p.m., Dec. 26, ESPN

Daniel Jones is an NFL QB prospect for Duke, a team that was outscored 94-13 in its final two games. David Cutcliffe will have his guys ready to finish the season out on a much higher note. Geoff Collins has been a smooth transition from the days of Matt Rhule for Temple. The Owls shook off an 0-2 start to win eight of its final 10. Those two losses came to UCF and Boston College, both on the road.

26. Arizona Bowl: Arkansas State (8-4) vs. Nevada (7-5) – 1:15 p.m., Dec. 29, CBSSN

This is a sneaky shootout. Both teams average over 30 points per game and give up over 20 points per game. Arkansas State yields over 200 yards per game on the ground while Nevada allows over 285 yards per game through the air.

27. Belk Bowl: Virginia (7-5) vs. South Carolina (7-5) – 12 p.m., Dec. 29, ABC

Both Virginia and South Carolina have flashed at times in 2018. Bryce Perkins is a delight at quarterback for the Cavaliers and it’ll be fun to see him against an SEC defense. South Carolina’s Jake Bentley had a great game to end the season against Clemson and will look to keep that going to end his junior season.

28. Cheez-It Bowl: Cal (7-5) vs. TCU (6-6) – 9 p.m., Dec. 26, ESPN

The best of the new bowl sponsors has two really good defenses. TCU has been hampered by injuries all year and was down to its third string QB in the last two weeks, but managed to beat Baylor and Oklahoma State to reach six wins. Cal, in its second year under Justin Wilcox, snapped a losing streak to USC but couldn’t beat rival Stanford.

29. Camellia Bowl: Georgia Southern (9-3) vs. Eastern Michigan (7-5) – 5:30 p.m., Dec. 15, ESPN

Georgia Southern’s option offense is a ton of fun to watch. The Eagles should be able to have plenty of success against Eastern Michigan’s 93rd-ranked rush defense. EMU allows 192.9 yards per game on the ground. Georgia Southern gains an average of 260.8 per game — No. 10 nationally.

30. Military Bowl: Virginia Tech (6-6) vs. Cincinnati (10-2) – 12 p.m., Dec. 31, ESPN

The Hokies kept their bowl streak alive with a win over Marshall on Saturday. Cincinnati, meanwhile, was one of the quietest 10-win teams in the country. The four-game difference between the two teams is the biggest differential of all the bowl games but this could end up a lot closer than you’d first expect.

31. Bahamas Bowl: Florida International (8-4) vs. Toledo (7-5) – 12:30 p.m., Dec. 21, ESPN

Butch Davis has done a nice job revitalizing the FIU program, though missing out on the C-USA title game was a tough blow. Toledo scored more than 50 points in six of its seven wins, so there could be plenty of offense in this one.

32. Pinstripe Bowl: Miami (7-5) vs. Wisconsin (7-5) – 5:15 p.m., ESPN

Two of the most disappointing teams in the country meet in New York City. Miami has been super underwhelming on offense and was 5-5 at one point before rallying with wins over Virginia Tech and Pitt. Wisconsin had even higher preseason expectations, but that sputtered quickly. Still, running back Jonathan Taylor going against a stout Miami defense will be fun.

33. Quick Lane Bowl: Georgia Tech (7-5) vs. Minnesota (6-6) – 5:15 p.m., Dec. 27, ESPN

Georgia Tech has the chance to send Paul Johnson out with a win in Detroit. After 11 seasons, Johnson is stepping aside after the bowl game having accumulated a 82-59 record with the Jackets along the way. Minnesota had big wins over Purdue and rival Wisconsin late in the year to reach its first bowl under second-year coach P.J. Fleck.

34. Frisco Bowl: Ohio (8-4) vs. San Diego State (7-5) – 8 p.m., Dec. 19, SPN

This game features two offenses that rely heavily on the running game. Ohio’s has three players with at least 800 rushing yards, including QB Nathan Rourke, who has 2,225 yards and 22 touchdowns passing to go with 816 yards and 13 TDs rushing. This was a down year by SDSU’s usual standards, but the Aztecs are one of the most consistent programs in the country. Juwan Washington is the player to watch for SDSU.

35. Gasparilla Bowl: Marshall (8-4) vs. South Florida (7-5) – 8 p.m., Dec. 20, ESPN

USF started the year 7-0 before losing five in a row. It was a rough turn of events, but the Bulls have some notable transfers like ex-Alabama QB Blake Barnett and ex-Florida RB Jordan Cronkrite. Marshall won three of its last four to reach eight wins for the fifth time in the last six seasons.

36. Texas Bowl: Baylor (6-6) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6) – 9 p.m., Dec. 27, ESPN

Matt Rhule has revitalized Baylor from the fiery end of the Art Briles. The Bears were 1-11 in his first year and got to six wins this year. A bowl win and a winning record would be a big deal. It would be a big deal for Vanderbilt, too. It’s Derek Mason’s fifth season and the Commodores have yet to win a bowl or finish better than 6-7.

37. Hawaii Bowl: Louisiana Tech (7-5) vs. Hawaii (8-5) – 10:30 p.m., Dec. 22, ESPN

Hawaii QB Cole McDonald put up some crazy numbers this season with 3,790 yards and 35 TDs. His favorite target is John Ursua, who enters bowl play with 89 catches, 1,343 yards and 16 TDs. Louisiana Tech enters bowl play having lost three of its final four games, including a 30-15 loss to Western Kentucky, a team that won just three games. Yikes.

38. Potato Bowl: Western Michigan (7-5) vs. BYU (6-6) – 4 p.m., Dec. 21, ESPN

BYU had that upset over Wisconsin early in the year, but that proved not to be too much of an upset with the way UW’s season progressed. BYU beat the likes of UMass and New Mexico State just to reach a bowl and then a blew a chance to snap its losing streak to Utah. WMU started 6-2, lost three straight and then beat MAC champion NIU. The Broncos have a fun two-headed monster at running back in LeVante Bellamy and Jamauri Bogan.

39. Cure Bowl: Louisiana (7-6) vs. Tulane (6-6) – 2:30 p.m., Dec. 15, CBSSN

Willie Fritz runs a run-based offense at Tulane, which is back in a bowl after a four-year absence. ULL won the Sun Belt West this season but lost to App State in the conference title game. This could be fairly high-scoring.

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