by Rob Joyce
Bowl season is underway, as six of the 41 postseason college football games came and went last weekend. Whether you think there are far too many games (there are), some of the bowls have flat-out ludicrous names (the Cheribundi Tar Cherry Boca Raton Bowl and Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl agree with you) or have any of another 100 complaints about the bowl season, chances are you’re going to watch plenty of these contests.
With so many options from which to choose, what games should you spend the most time on? Outside of the playoff games, here are the five bowl games that provide the most intriguing matchups:
5) Dollar General Bowl, Dec. 23 (Toledo vs. Appalachian State):
The only non-playoff bowl pitting two conference champs against one another, this is a rematch of last year’s Camellia Bowl, a 31-28 Mountaineers victory. The Rockets finished 11-2 and won the MAC, scoring 30-or-more points in all but three games. App State had a down year by their standards, going 8-4 but still walking away with a Sun Belt championship.
4) Taxslayer Bowl, Dec. 30 (#23 Mississippi State vs. Louisville):
This would be a lot more intriguing had Bulldogs’ quarterback Nick Fitzgerald not gotten hurt in the Egg Bowl. Still, it’s one more chance to watch Lamar Jackson’s brilliance with the Cardinals. He didn’t repeat as a Heisman winner, but consider that he averaged 411 yards of offense per game by himself. If he had even a little bit of help around him, he probably would have repeated.
3) Alamo Bowl, Dec. 28 (#13 Stanford vs. #15 TCU):
Two very good coaches, two very good defenses, two physical football teams. There are a lot of similarities between the Frogs and Cardinal. Though TCU had the slight statistical edge both offensively (more yards, slightly more points per game) and defensively (only 17.6 points allowed per game, a small miracle in the Big 12), Stanford has Heisman runner-up Bryce Love. That’s a nice way to tilt the field back in Stanford’s favor. There won’t be the most points in the world scored here, but it should be a highly entertaining 60 minutes of football.
2) Cotton Bowl, Dec. 29 (#5 Ohio State vs. #8 USC):
Oh what could have been. Both teams finished 11-2 and won their conference championship games. But the Trojans failed to impress in early season wins, lost at Washington State on a Friday night then went to South Bend and got blitzed by Notre Dame 49-14. The Buckeyes were decimated by Oklahoma in Columbus in Week 2, then embarrassed in a 31-point loss at Iowa that was too much for the committee to overlook.
Still, you have Sam Darnold vs. JT Barrett at quarterback – will it be Darnold’s last at USC? Ronald Jones and JK Dobbins are explosive running backs, and the brand recognition alone should draw eyeballs.
1) Peach Bowl, Jan. 1 (#7 Auburn vs. #12 UCF):
This is the Knights’ Super Bowl. They finished 12-0 with the highest-scoring offense in the nation and are the only unbeaten in FBS, yet they are ranked 12th by the committee. The entire coaching staff is going to Nebraska after the game, and this is might be the only shot a Group of Five team has to prove it belongs with its Power 5 brethren.
If UCF can upend a Tigers team that was a win away from likely being in the playoff, it would go a long way towards Group of Five relevance. If Auburn and their high-powered defense smothers the Knights’ offense, and running back Kerryon Johnson goes off against a loose UCF D, the Group of Five might as well consider starting its own postseason system.