While bowl season doesn’t officially get under way for another 12 days, it’s never too early to start making predictions on games that are going to take place over the next month. In the throws of holiday festivities, swiping your credit card recklessly on presents for your loved ones while you listen to the same ten Christmas songs over and over again in different variations by different artists, you may not have time to learn up on teams that you have never watched play in stadiums located in cities you may not be able to locate on a map. Well fret not my friends, because I’m anti-Christmas music and have all my shopping done, so I’ll do the homework for you!
78 teams, 40 games, 22 days. It’s a lot to take in, but it’s truly my favorite time of the year, not because Frosty in on TV again, but because bowl season is upon us. There was nothing I enjoyed more when home for winter break while in college than turning the TV on and watching mid-afternoon bowl games on a Tuesday instead of going to class. Now that I’m a working man, it’s not as easy for me anymore to do that, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be heavily invested in the marathon of games. There a ton of good matchups to look at with teams that could surprise you this bowl season.
Without further adieu, let’s take a look at all 40 bowl games coming up and make a prediction on them all.
Saturday, December 16
A handful of games are slated for this Saturday docket to kick of bowl mania. While none are beaming with expectations, there are still a few matchups worth noting.
New Orleans Bowl
Troy vs. North Texas
This bowl kicks things off at the FBS level and features two teams that are relative unknowns to the casual fan. With that being said, this is a great one to start things off, as we’ll get two programs who have come into their own over the past few seasons. North Texas finished 9-4 on the season, falling to upstart Florida Atlantic in the Conference USA title game. That’s no dig on the Green Machine, as Lane Kiffin has taken the Owls of FAU to new heights this season. Troy comes into the game winners of six straight and as the last Sun Belt champion crowned without a conference title game. The Sun Belt will be going to a conference championship beginning in 2018. Troy knocked off LSU earlier in the season, making them the “household” name of these two schools. Don’t sleep on North Texas, though, as they boast the 18th best offense in college football, having scored 40 or more five times. Troy holds opposing offenses to 17.5 points a game. Defense travels. I’ll take Troy.
Troy 27-North Texas 21
Georgia State vs. Western Kentucky
Another matchup of Conference USA vs. Sun Belt, but this time, it’s two teams that snuck into bowl eligibility with six wins a piece. This one won’t be nearly as excited as the Cure Bowl, but it’ll give Penn State fans a chance to watch an opponent the Nittany Lions hung 56 points on earlier in the season. Jeff Brohm departed Western Kentucky this past offseason after leading the Hilltoppers to offensive supremacy the past three seasons. This season, under Mike Sanford Jr., Western Kentucky has fallen back to Earth and are the 65th best offense. Georgia State may have had a chance to win a seventh game cut out due to hurricane implication, but with the scheduled game being Memphis, a win was unlikely for the Panthers. Both teams enter bowl season reeling, as Georgia State will come into this one having lost two in a row, while Western Kentucky has lost four of five after starting the year 5-2. While this one doesn’t scream must watch, I know I’ll find myself checking in on the game. I’m going with the Hilltoppers to win their fourth straight bowl game in a game that isn’t all that close.
Western Kentucky 31-Georgia State 14
Las Vegas Bowl
Oregon vs. Boise State
This may be the most watched game of the five to start bowl play if for nothing more than the namesakes of the two teams. Two of the most successful teams of the last decade will meet up to play a bowl that neither program really wants to be involved in. Boise State, the winningest program since 2005, finished the season 10-3 and Mountain West Conference champions after defeating Fresno State. The Broncos doomed themselves with a loss to Fresno State last weekend in the final week of regular season play. The 11-2 Broncos would have made a much more compelling bowl case than the 10-3 ones did. The Broncos have scored 40 or more five times this year and are led by Cedrick Wilson, who has accumulated 1074 of the Broncos 1897 receiving yards. On the other side of the field stands a Ducks team that could be without the services of its head coach in the coming days, as Willie Taggart has been connected with the open Florida State job after Jimbo Fisher bounced for Texas A&M after Kevin Sumlin was fired. Still following the line? The Ducks had a rough go of conference play this season, losing all five of their games in the Pac 12, including three in a row to Washington State, Staford and UCLA, who were all ranked at the time. Oregon is also operating with an interim defensive coordinator this bowl season after Don Pellum joined Chip Kelly’s staff at UCLA. While Royce Freeman poses a problem for all defenses, he single-handedly won’t be enough to propel the Ducks in this one.
Boise State 30-Oregon 20
New Mexico Bowl
Marshall vs. Colorado State
Talk about two teams that couldn’t find an identity or any consistency this season. Both enter this bowl season at 7-5, but struggled to secure wins late in the season. Marshall rode a five game winning streak to jump out to a 6-1 record, only to lose four of its final five conference games in route to a 4-4 conference record, good for a tie for third in Conference USA East with Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State. It’s no wonder Conference USA will have four games played before the first weekend comes to a close. The team hung tough with a good NC State squad into week two, going into halftime down just three. Two of the Herd’s five losses came to those NC State Wolfpack and to FAU, two good teams. A 9-7 loss to UTSA is inexcusable and is likely keeping the Herd from a better bowl. The Rams back into bowl seasons as losers of three of their final four games. While they hung 52 on Boise State, it wasn’t good enough for a win as the defense allowed 59. One of their wins came against Abilene Christian, an FBS school than won just two games this season. I’m not sure how sold I am on the Rams as much so as I’m sold on senior quarterback Nick Stevens. He’ll be the X-factor versus a Marshall defense that allowed just 19.3 points per game this season.I’ll take the consistent defense despite Stevens’ play.
Marshall 24-CSU 17
Arkansas State vs. Middle Tennessee State
Arkansas State did everything it could to become bowl eligible. After starting 1-2, the Red Wolves rattled off six wins in eight games to finish the season 7-4. Despite the strong finish, a loss in the final week of the season cost Arkansas State a chance at the Sun Belt title. The Red Wolves fell to Troy 32-25, giving them their second conference loss of the season while Troy finished with just one. I don’t know if it necessarily did anything either for or against Arkansas State besides giving them a less opponent in Middle Tennessee State and forcing them to play in Alabama instead of New Orleans. Arkansas State scored at least 30 points in every win this season, finishing as the 11th best offense in the nation at 498 yards per game. They’ll face a defense, though, that has averaged just 24.3 points against this season. The Blue Raiders come into this one about as average as average can get, having neither won nor lost more than two games in a row, finishing 6-6 on the season. Despite having a .500 record, Middle Tennessee State will compete for it’s third bowl in a row and sixth in 12 years under Rick Stockstill. Prior to his arrival at Middle Tennessee, the Blue Raider appeared in just four bowls and hadn’t played in one since 1964. I’d be inclined to say that Justice Hansen will be the difference in this one. The Red Wovles quarterback has thrown for over 3600 yards and 34 touchdowns. He’s added six touchdowns and 388 yards on the ground. The dual-threat will be too much for Middle Tennessee.
Arkansas State 38-Middle Tennessee 20
Tuesday, December 19-Friday, December 22
Boca Raton Bowl
FAU vs. Akron
As you’ve seen, I give alot of praise to Lane Kiffin and his Owls. For the first time in program history, FAU won 10 games in a season in Kiffin’s first as head coach. Whether he’s doing well to spite Alabama or he’s genuinely invested in this porgram, his players have bought in. After losing three of their first four games, the Owls haven’t lost since, racking off nine consecutive victories, winning Conference USA in the process. Seven times the Owls scored 40 or more points this season, and average 40 points per game. To compete, the defense only allows 24.2 points per game. The Owls will take on another familiar Penn State opponent this year in Akron. On opening weekend, the Zips were throttled by Penn State, falling 52-0. After that, the MAC runner ups won seven of 12, finishing the year 7-6. The Zips really struggled to score this year, finishing in 102 in the country at 23.6 points per game. They scored 14 or less five times this season. The defense allows just 26.3 points per game, which means the team is playing in a ton of close games. I couldn’t quite figure out the MAC this year, to be honest. While it was clear Toledo was the best team, I was unaware if the rest of the conference was just a notch below, as sevne teams finished .500 or better, or if the conference just beat up on each other, wasn’t that good and Toledo simply took advantage by winning the most conference games. I’m going with the latter.
FAU 40-Akron 17
SMU vs. Lousiana Tech
In 2014, SMU won a lone game. The next year, the program doubled its victories to two. In 2017, the Mustangs are 7-5 and bowl eligible for the first time since 2012. Despite winning just four conference games and losing three of their final four contests, the Mustangs enter bowl season as a dangerous team. SMU has cored at least 30 points in all two games this season. The offense also has dropped 40 or more seven times. Led by quarterback Ben Hicks’ 32 touchdown passes, the Mustangs offense is roaring on all cylinders. It’s the eighth highest scoring attack in the country. The defense, however, has been an issue, having given up 30 or more eight times this year, including five in a row to end the season. Despite wining two of those five games, the Mustangs live and die by offensive firepower. The Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech are still searching for a replacement for Kenneth Dixon, who departed two seasons ago as the NCAA ‘s second highest scorer ever, behind just Navy’s Keenan Reynolds. This year, Bulldogs carried the ball at least 100 times, including quarterback J’Mar Smith, but none rushed for 1000 yards. Boston Scott led the way with 937 yards and eight touchdowns. The Bulldogs won two straight to become bowl eligible, but seemingly lost every meaningful game. The only bowl eligible team LT defeated was Western Kentucky. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad LT team, just one that beat the teams they should and lost to the teams they should en route to a .500 season. The Mustang roll in this one.
SMU 45-LT 23
FIU vs. Temple
A local team makes the list on a Thursday night prior to Christmas. If that’s your only reason to watch this one, you’re not alone. This game might not be a good one, but a least Philadelphians will get to see Frank Nutile play one final time this season. Nutile has been shades better than opening day starter Logan Marchi. The Owls won three of their final five games with Nutile under center, finishing a very pedestrian 6-6. They weren’t good this season, but did just enough, including beat an FCS team, to become bowl eligible. On the other side of the field is FIU, which finished the season 8-4 and on a two game winning streak. The Panthers are bowl eligible for jsut the third time in program history and the first time since 2011. The Panther score 27.5 points a game, but have score 104 over the last two. While I don’t like to admit I can’t watch every game every weekend, I can say I’ve seen an extensive amount of Temple football. The team isn’t good. FIU gets my pick.
FIU 27-Temple 17
Ohio vs. UAB
Talk about a dream destination. If you’re not going ot be playing for meaningful bowl victories, you might as well spend a weekend in December in the Bahamas. This game kicks off at 12:30 on a Friday afternoon, so viewership will be low, but I’ll do everything I can to record this game and watch it later than evening. It features a program in UAB that was nixed altogether in 2014 only to reinstated in 2017. The Blazers won eight games in their first season back, including winning six of their final eight games. The Blazers went 2-1 against bowl eligible teams this season, all of which were in conference. Head Coach Bill Clark was chosen as a semi-finalist in this year’s Coach of the Year Award, as well. There’s no doubt this is going to be running back Spencer Brown’s team for a long time to come. The freshman became the sixth in school history to top 1000 yards this season, rushing for over 1200 yards. On the other side of the field, the Ohio Bobcats come into this one reeling a bit as losers of two in a row after beginning the season 8-2. Despite the slide, this team is more talented than it’s given credit for. The offense is paced by dual-threat quarterback Nathan Rourke, who has accounted for 36 touchdowns and 2900 yards of total offense this season. The sophomore has seemingly gotten better as the season’s progressed, with the exception of the loss to Akron where he completed just nine of 22 passes. I think this could be one of those low key very entertaining games between two up and coming teams in mid-major conferences. The intrigue is enough to bring you in to the game, the play may be enough to keep you.
Ohio 28-UAB 23
Central Michigan vs Wyoming
We may go from the marquee destination to the worst one for a bowl game. Welcome to the Potato Bowl, or as I perceive it, the day two teams have to play in a near empty stadium on the coldest day of the year in Boise every single year. I’m not exaggerating. It seems this game is always in the low 20s or worse at kickoff and dips as the sun recedes. This year’s contest features a quarterback who has outgrown his program, in Wyoming’s Josh Allen, versus a team that hasn’t lost since October 14. Josh Allen will likely be a top ten pick in next year’s NFL Draft despite his less than stellar play this season. The The 6’5″ junior has regressed in his second season as starting quarterback. After throwing 28 touchdown a year ago, Allen has thrown just 13 this season. The improvement has come in his lack of turnovers, having thrown 15 picks last season to just six this year. His His numbers are skewed a bit due to not playing in the final two regular season games with a shoulder injury. I’d imagine with the time off, he’ll be ready to go for the bowl game. The Central Michigan Chippewas haven’t been defeated since they lost to Toledo on that day in October and have won seven of eight since starting the season 0-3. They’re a dangerous team right now, riding high into this contest with Wyoming. The Central Michigan defense is stifling, having forced 31 turnovers this season, the most in the country, including 18 interceptions. Despite my previous sentiments of the MAC earlier, it’s going to take a near perfect game from a less than perfect Allen for Wyoming to win this one.
Central Michigan 27-Wyoming 24
That marks the first ten games in the bowl season. With 40 games, I’ve decided to break this segment down into four equal parts. At the culmination of the breakdown, I’ll provide a recap piece on just the scores predicted for the bowl season.
Mandatory Photo Credit: AP Photo/The News-Star, Dacia Idom