Sean Pendergast

Eight Non-Playoff College Bowl Games That Are Super Intriguing

Fisher and the Aggies are involved in one of the more intriguing bowl matchups this season.
Fisher and the Aggies are involved in one of the more intriguing bowl matchups this season. Screen grab from YouTube
I would imagine that the College Football Playoff committee didn't have to stay up into the wee hours selecting the four playoff teams and then seeding them. Yeah, I'm sure they acted like they spent a couple days doing it, sequestered in some five star hotel (somebody check the drink tabs and spa bills!), but in the end it couldn't have been more cut and dried.

There only four Power Five teams that finished with fewer than two losses, and all four won their conference title games this past weekend. LSU, Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma, in that order. Literally, no debate, no arguing. That's it. Easily the most boring college playoff selection season in the six year history of the mini-tournament. So, as we await those matchups, on the wonky date of December 28, there are other bowl matchups, both before and after those semifinal games, that carry great intrigue, even if they don't have significant impact on the final rankings in the sport.

Here are eight non-playoff bowl games that intrigue me, with a brief explanation as to why:

Boise State (12-1) vs. Washington (7-5)
Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, NV
December 21, 6:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN App
LINE: Washington -3.5
On the Boise State side of things, the Broncos are going for the first 13-win season in the history of their recently storied program, and there's probably a small part of them feeling like they should have Memphis' spot as the Group of Five representative in a New Year's Six bowl game. Meanwhile, Washington's head coach, Chris Petersen, announced a few weeks ago. to much surprise, that this would be his final season on the sidelines at UW. In the category of "circle of life," Petersen made his rise to prominence coaching Boise State throughout the 2000s.

Louisiana Tech (9-3) vs. Miami (6-6)
Independence Stadium, Shreveport, LA
December 26, 3 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
LINE: Miami -7.5

STORYLINE: Louisiana Tech Skip Holtz is certainly not his old man, coaching legend Lou Holtz, and this version of the Miami Hurricanes is light years removed from the ethos of "The U" from back in the '80s, that renegade program that tormented, among many others, the elder Holtz and Notre Dame. So this is hardly "Catholics vs Convicts," but it will be fun (maybe more for me, as a Notre Dame graduate) watching someone named "Holtz" coach against Miami.

Oklahoma State (8-4) vs. Texas A&M (7-5)
NRG Stadium, Houston, TX
December 27, 5:45 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
LINE: No line currently
Our hometown game pits two former Big XII rivals against one another, with the Aggies, now repping the SEC, having a nice home field advantage. Mike Gundy just keeps chugging along, keeping Oklahoma State in the Top 25 mix every year, but this is a huge game for Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher, whose massive $75 million, 10 year contract hangs over the 2020 season like a massive cloud. 2020 will be Fisher's third season, and there must be progress off of this disappointing 7-5 campaign, and for the Aggies, it has to start at NRG Stadium in three weeks.

Air Force (10-2) vs. Washington State (6-6)
Chase Field, Phoenix, AZ
December 27, 9:15 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
LINE: Air Force -2.5

STORYLINE: The intrigue here is purely in the contrast in styles, both coaching and scheme. Air Force is a service academy, where football is just part of a very regimented day, most of which is designed to train the players to protect the free world. Washington State is coached by Mike Leach, who reads books about pirates and baits the media. Schematically, Air Force runs an option scheme designed to eat up massive chunks of game clock, while Leach is a patriarch of the spread scheme designed to score quickly through the air. This game should be really interesting, assuming Leach hasn't been hired away by a school looking for a hire with some sizzle.

Penn State (10-2) vs. Memphis (12-1)
AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
December 28, 11:00 a.m., ESPN/ESPN App
LINE: Penn State -7

STORYLINE: The New Year's Six bowl match-up between the Group of Five representative and the Power Five at-large team is always intriguing, and in the five years of the current system, and in the five seasons the system has been in place, David has beaten Goliath three of the five seasons, including Tom Herman's Houston squad besting Florida State back in 2015. Motivation is always a key, and Penn State should be sufficiently motivated to create momentum to bring into what should be a playoff contending season in 2020.

Utah (11-2) vs. Texas (7-5)
Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
December 31, 6:30 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
LINE: Utah -6.5

STORYLINE: Hey, speaking of Herman, like Jimbo Fisher, he went 7-5 this season. However, unlike Fisher, Herman is finishing up his THIRD season, and doesn't have the "Hey, we're kinda just psyched to be in the SEC" vibe to hide behind. Texas wants wins, way more than the eight that Herman will finish with if the Longhorns pull the upset here. At the very least, Herman needs a bowl win to give the Longhorns something good to feel heading into the offseason, as he tries to restore his "prodigal son" status in the coaching realm.

Michigan (9-3) vs. Alabama (10-2)
Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL
January 1, Noon, ABC/ESPN App
LINE: Alabama -6.5

STORYLINE: Alabama being in a New Year's Six bowl game that is NOT a playoff game is new territory, as the Crimson Tide's streak of five consecutive playoff appearances ends with this 10-2 season, which some experts are treating like the sky is falling in Tuscaloosa. It will be fascinating to see how motivated a Tide team with no championship to play for will be. In the pre-playoff era, Saban's teams had some notable letdown losses in the Sugar Bowl, to Utah in 2008 and to Oklahoma in 2013. Jim Harbaugh could use a win over Saban to restore a small teaspoon of his luster, after Ohio state took the Wolverines to the woodshed again in late November.

Georgia (11-2) vs. Baylor (11-2)
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA
7:45 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
LINE: Georgia -7
Man, what a story Matt Rhule and the Baylor Bears have been, from 1-11 two seasons ago to 11-2 and runner-up in the Big XII this season, and a Sugar Bowl berth, to boot. The French Quarter will be crawling with green-clad Baylor folks who claim they don't drink! LIT!! Again, like with Alabama, the question here will be "How motivated is Georgia?", who was in this exact same spot last season, a heavy favorite over a Big XII runner-up, and got smoked by the Texas Longhorns. Of course, if Baylor wins, I doubt their QB Charlie Brewer will make the mistake of predicting future success that Sam Ehlinger made last season....

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast