Football Feast: The 10 Bowl Games to Watch This Year
Rare is the line of work in which being assigned another month of labor is a highly sought-after reward for a job well done, but that’s the dynamic in the world of college football, where the carrot of a bowl game is dangled in front of 80 teams as the proverbial “‘atta boy!”
Yes, you heard me correctly. EIGHTY of the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, New Age parlance for what was once called “Division I-A”) will be headed to far-off places ranging from tropical paradises like Oahu and Nassau to hardscrabble blue-collar towns like Detroit and Memphis.
Indeed, with 41 bowl games (including the College Football Playoff title game) on the schedule, many are now held in places where the trip feels as much like a jail sentence as it does a reward. Once a festival held sacred for just a dozen or so cities during the holiday season, college football bowl games in 2015 are an overgrown commodity, many of them appearing to be the brainchild of a madman holding a name generator that spits out company names and attaches them to random nouns. Quite frankly, that’s the only reasonable explanation for the existence of the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl.
If you’re like any of the other umpteen million Americans who call themselves college football fans, the fulcrum of your holiday free time probably centers around several of these games, with the number of games that you watch directly proportional to either how much you despise your fellow family members or just how degenerate a gambler you are.
Understandably, many of you are not hardcore enough to muster up interest in, say, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (yes, that’s a real football game), and you want only the high points of the 41-bowl onslaught. The good news is that, for those of you in Houston who fit that category, the football gods have staggered the schedule perfectly, providing a ten-game holiday football feast that includes all the teams from the state of Texas and all the New Year’s Six bowls.
Proudly, the only school that fits into both of those categories — Texas schools actually in a New Year’s Six bowl — is the University of Houston, playing in a New Year’s Eve brunch special against the Florida State Seminoles in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Whose house?
Without further ado, let’s serve up the feast!
Russell Athletic Bowl
10 NORTH CAROLINA vs 17 BAYLOR
Orlando, Florida / Orlando Citrus Bowl
Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. CST
Spread: Baylor -3
Analysis: North Carolina evolved over the second half of the season into one of the most explosive teams in college football. Meanwhile, Baylor, which was undefeated until starting QB Seth Russell decided to do a Marshawn Lynch impersonation against three Iowa State defenders, stumbled down the stretch with a revolving door of quarterbacks and players-impersonating-quarterbacks under center.
Motivational Edge: NORTH CAROLINA. After coming up short in controversial fashion to Clemson in the ACC Title Game, North Carolina will want to prove it’s not some fluke. It also has the better quarterback in this game, fifth-year senior Marquise Williams, who will be playing his final game.
Prediction: North Carolina 48, Baylor 40
Advocare V 100 Texas Bowl
20 LSU vs TEXAS TECH
Houston, Texas / NRG Stadium
Kickoff: 8 p.m. CST
Spread: LSU -7
Analysis: No team was happier to see November end than LSU, which began the month ranked second in the country, endured a three-game losing streak, almost watched its head coach, Les Miles, get fired, and then righted the ship with a win over Texas A&M. Meanwhile, Texas Tech did what it does nearly every year — score a ton of points, give up a ton of points and finish somewhere in the middle of the Big XII. LSU RB Leonard Fournette is licking his chops at the thought of how many yards he can get steamrolling through this Red Raider defense.
Motivational Edge: LSU. The LSU players will want the school to feel validated in its decision to retain Miles after the win over A&M. Fournette will run for 200 yards, easily.
Prediction: LSU 38, Texas Tech 23
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
TEXAS A&M vs LOUISVILLE
Nashville, Tennessee / Nissan Stadium
Kickoff: 6 p.m. CST
Spread: Texas A&M -1
Analysis: Serious question — what of any significance has Texas A&M accomplished since Johnny Manziel left campus two years ago? Nothing really, and I don’t think a win here would qualify as “significant.” A&M enters this game dealing with the transfer of its starting quarterback, Kyle Allen. The Aggies have been a mess offensively for most of the SEC portion of their schedule. Louisville righted the ship after a rough start, which included three-point losses to Houston and Clemson, two teams that ended up a combined 25-1 on the season.
Motivational Edge: LOUISVILLE. A&M seems to be reeling a little bit right now, while Louisville should be looking for some redemption from last season’s bowl appearance against a mid-level SEC foe, a 37-14 loss to Georgia.
Prediction: Louisville 27, Texas A&M 13
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
18 HOUSTON vs 9 FLORIDA STATE
Atlanta, Georgia / Georgia Dome
Kickoff: 11 a.m. CST
Spread: Florida State -7
Analysis: Tom Herman’s crew is three points away from being 13-0, and will get a chance to show everybody this season was no fluke. On the other side, for the first time in three seasons, Jimbo Fisher’s Seminoles are not playing a bowl game that’s part of a road to a national championship. They’re merely playing an exhibition. The nation will get a good look at two Heisman candidates for 2016 in Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. and Florida State RB Dalvin Cook.
Motivational Edge: HOUSTON. In some sense, this is Houston’s de facto first game of the 2016 season, as a win here likely secures a spot in the top 10-15 next preseason with a game against Oklahoma in the 2016 opener at NRG Stadium. This game is the next step in a non-Power Five school cracking the College Football Playoff code.
Prediction: Houston 33, Florida State 31
College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl
4 OKLAHOMA vs 1 CLEMSON
Miami Gardens, Florida / Sun Life Stadium
Kickoff: 3 p.m. CST
Spread: Oklahoma -4
Analysis: Clemson finished the season as the only undefeated team in all of FBS college football, and yet still finds itself a four-point underdog to Bob Stoops and the Sooners. Clemson is built on defense and the dynamic playmaking skills of Heisman runner up QB Deshaun Watson. Oklahoma is built around an explosive offense led by the triple threat of QB Baker Mayfield, RB Samaje Perine and WR Sterling Shepard, and has been pounding teams since its October loss to Texas, which has retroactively become the most head-scratching result of the regular season.
Motivational Edge: NONE
Prediction: Oklahoma 35, Clemson 28
College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
3 MICHIGAN STATE vs 2 ALABAMA
Arlington, Texas / AT&T Stadium
Kickoff: 7 p.m. CST
Spread: Alabama -9.5
Analysis: After the Crimson Tide lost to Ole Miss back in October, the nation started to do the one thing we’ve all learned we shouldn’t do — doubt Nick Saban. Alabama used that loss as a springboard through the SEC, and RB Derrick Henry shouldered the workload of seven construction crews on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. Alabama will be looking at a similar blue-collar culture across the line with the Spartans, who were adept at winning close games all season long. This is going to be a bloodbath.
Motivational Edge: NONE
Prediction: Alabama 16, Michigan State 13
BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl
8 NOTRE DAME vs 7 OHIO STATE
Glendale, Arizona / University of Phoenix Stadium
Kickoff: Noon CST
Spread: Ohio State -6.5
Analysis: Notre Dame is two last second losses away from an undefeated season in what has been easily Brian Kelly’s best coaching job since he arrived in South Bend in 2010, leading the Irish to a 10-2 record with injuries to starters at QB, RB, TE and DT and in the secondary. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes sort of went through the motions all season and still finished 11-1. Urban Meyer’s juggling of quarterbacks was clunky at best, but the schedule was very friendly.
Motivational Edge: NOTRE DAME. Will a defending national champion with year-long motivation issues show up big in a non-playoff game? That’s the question. I just can’t trust this Buckeye team.
Prediction: Notre Dame 26, Ohio State 24
Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual
6 STANFORD vs 5 IOWA
Pasadena, California / Rose Bowl
Kickoff: 4 p.m. CST
Spread: Stanford -6.5
Analysis: When Stanford lost its opener to Iowa, everyone seemed to think the Cardinal’s ride among college football’s elite was over. Then Christian McCaffrey happened. The sophomore running back broke Barry Sanders’s record for all-purpose yards and nearly won the Heisman, helping Stanford right the ship and win the Pac-12. Meanwhile, Iowa has been on a three-month campaign to make believers out of pundits who have scoffed at the school’s schedule.
Motivational Edge: IOWA. After Iowa nearly beat Michigan State for the Big Ten title, the nation seemed to condescendingly pat theHawkeyes on the head and say “Good job, good effort.” They’ll want to prove that wasn’t a one-time thing. Still, too much McCaffrey, though…
Prediction: Stanford 23, Iowa 20
Allstate Sugar Bowl
16 OKLAHOMA STATE vs 12 OLE MISS
New Orleans, Louisiana / Mercedes-Benz Superdome
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.
Spread: Ole Miss -7
Analysis: This is one of the hardest games to pick of the entire postseason, because Ole Miss is like the two-faced chick that Jerry dated in that one Seinfeld episode. Will it be the hot version of Ole Miss that handed Alabama its only loss, or the homely edition that lost to Memphis and Arkansas? This is all about which Ole Miss team shows up. So…
Motivational Edge: OLE MISS. Last bowl season, the hideous Ole Miss team showed up. I have to imagine losing 42-3 to TCU last season in the Chick-fil-A Bowl sticks somewhere in the Rebel craw, right? RIGHT?! Ole Miss wins, but I’ll take the points…
Prediction: Ole Miss 38, Oklahoma State 34
Valero Alamo Bowl
15 OREGON vs 11 TCU
San Antonio, Texas / Alamadome
Kickoff: 5:45 p.m. CST
Spread: Pick ’em
Analysis: Both of these teams came into the season with national championship aspirations, and now find themselves playing in a post-New Year’s Day “wind down” game. However, there will be no winding down of the scoreboard, since this could be one of the most exciting games of the postseason with two explosive quarterbacks in Oregon’s Vernon Adams Jr. and TCU’s Trevone Boykin.
Motivational Edge: OREGON. After a 3-3 start, the Ducks righted the ship with six wins in a row, including a win over sixth-ranked Stanford. They’ll want to prove they could’ve very easily been a playoff team.
Prediction: Oregon 45, TCU 43
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanCablinasian or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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