The most wonderful time of the year is finally upon us, as college football’s bowl season is set to kick off on December 16.
As always, this bowl season brings a variety of matchups, including a number of intriguing games between high-profile programs, and a few featuring some underdogs hoping to make a splash on the national stage.
There will be plenty of time to dissect the biggest games over the next few weeks, but here’s an early look at the schedule and some predictions for the biggest games outside of the College Football Playoff.
R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl (1 p.m. ET)
Troy (-5.5) vs. North Texas
AutoNation Cure Bowl (2:30 p.m. ET)
Western Kentucky (-5) vs. Georgia State
TV: CBS Sports Network
Las Vegas Bowl (3:30 p.m. ET)
No. 25 Boise State vs. Oregon (-7.5)
Gildan New Mexico Bowl (4:30 p.m. ET)
Marshall vs. Colorado State (-5.5)
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl (8 p.m. ET)
Middle Tennessee vs. Arkansas State (-3.5)
Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl (7 p.m. ET)
Akron vs. Florida Atlantic (-22.5)
DXL Frisco Bowl (8 p.m. ET)
Louisiana Tech vs. SMU (-5)
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl (8 p.m. ET)
Temple (-7) vs. Florida International
Bahamas Bowl (12:30 p.m. ET)
UAB vs. Ohio (-7.5)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (4 p.m. ET)
Central Michigan vs. Wyoming (-1)
Birmingham Bowl (12 p.m. ET)
Texas Tech vs. South Florida (-2.5)
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (3:30 p.m. ET)
San Diego State vs. Army*
Dollar General Bowl (7 p.m. ET)
Appalachian State vs. Toledo (-8)
Hawai’i Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET)
Fresno State vs. Houston (-2.5)
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl (1:30 p.m. ET)
West Virginia vs. Utah (-7)
Quick Lane Bowl (5:15 p.m. ET)
Duke (-4.5) vs. Northern Illinois
Cactus Bowl (9 p.m. ET)
Kansas State (-2.5) vs. UCLA
Walk On’s Independence Bowl (1:30 p.m. ET)
Southern Miss vs. Florida State (-15)
New Era Pinstripe Bowl (5:15 p.m. ET)
Boston College vs. Iowa (-3)
Foster Farms Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET)
Arizona (-3.5) vs. Purdue
Academy Sports & Outdoors Texas Bowl (9 p.m. ET)
Texas vs. Missouri (-3)
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman (1:30 p.m. ET)
Virginia vs. Navy*
Camping World Bowl (5:15 p.m. ET)
No. 22 Virginia Tech vs. No. 19 Oklahoma State (-6.5)
Valero Alamo Bowl (9 p.m. ET)
No. 13 Stanford vs. No. 15 TCU (-2.5)
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl (9 p.m. ET)
No. 18 Washington State (-3) vs. No. 16 Michigan State
Belk Bowl (1 p.m. ET)
Wake Forest (-3) vs. Texas A&M
Hyundai Sun Bowl (3:30 p.m. ET)
No. 24 NC State (-6.5) vs. Arizona State
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (4:30 p.m. ET)
No. 21 Northwestern (-7) vs. Kentucky
Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl (5:30 p.m. ET)
Utah State (-3.5) vs. New Mexico State
TV: CBS Sports Network
Goodyear Cotton Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET)
No. 5 Ohio State (-6.5) vs. No. 8 USC
TaxSlayer Bowl (Noon ET)
No. 23 Mississippi State vs. Louisville (-6.5)
AutoZone Liberty Bowl (12:30 p.m. ET)
No. 20 Memphis (-3.5) vs. Iowa State
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (4 p.m. ET)
No. 9 Penn State (-3) vs. No. 11 Washington
Capital One Orange Bowl (8 p.m. ET)
No. 6 Wisconsin (-6.5) vs. No. 10 Miami (FL)
January 1, 2018
Outback Bowl (Noon ET)
Michigan (-7.5) vs. South Carolina
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (12:30 p.m. ET)
No. 7 Auburn (-9.5) vs. No. 12 UCF
Citrus Bowl presented by Overton’s (1 p.m. ET)
No. 14 Notre Dame vs. No. 17 LSU (-3)
Rose Bowl (National Semifinal, 5 p.m. ET)
No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Georgia (-1.5)
Sugar Bowl (National Semifinal, 8:45 p.m. ET)
No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Alabama (-2.5)
January 8, 2018
National Championship Game (8 p.m. ET)
*denotes odds have not been released
Cotton Bowl: Ohio State vs USC
One of the most anticipated matchups outside of the playoff will be the battle between the Ohio State Buckeyes and USC Trojans.
Normally these two conference champs would meet in the Rose Bowl, but since that game is part of the playoff this year (Oklahoma vs. Georgia) this classic Big Ten/Pac-12 showdown shifts to the Cotton Bowl.
The Ohio State defense will give Sam Darnold one of his toughest tests of the year, and his track record against strong defenses bodes well for the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes defense ranks 16th in the nation in passer rating allowed, and will be just the second team Darnold has faced that ranks in the top 25. Against Washington State, which ranks fifth, Darnold was just 15-of-29 with an interception—USC lost the the game 29-15.
USC’s passing game has suffered this season in part due to the lack of depth in its receiving corps. Darnold relies heavily on Deontay Burnett, who accounted for 26 percent of USC’s receptions in the regular season.
Ohio State has fared well against teams lacking a variety of weapons thanks to cornerback Denzel Ward. Against Wisconsin, for example, Ohio State frequently lined up Ward against tight end Troy Fumagalli and held him to just five catches for 48 yards.
If Ward can have a similar effect on Burnett, the Buckeyes should be able to slow down the Trojans offense and cruise to victory.
Prediction: Ohio State 38, USC 27
Orange Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Miami FL
Miami has been decimated by injuries this season, and it showed during its final two games in losses to Pittsburgh and Clemson.
The Hurricanes should still have a shot to end their year on a high note, however, thanks to its ability to create turnovers. Miami led all Power Five teams in turnovers this season, averaging 2.5 per game.
Traditionally, Wisconsin is a team that excels at protecting the football, but the Badgers have struggled in that area at times this season.
Wisconsin had at least one turnover in 12 of its 13 games this season, and committed multiple turnovers against each of its toughest opponents, including two against Ohio State, three against Northwestern and four against Iowa.
Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook has been the culprit of most of these mistakes, having tossed 15 interceptions this season.
As long as Miami’s defense is able to force Wisconsin into mistakes and keep passing the turnover chain around the sidelines, the Hurricanes should be able to pull out a victory.
Prediction: Miami 23, Wisconsin 17
Peach Bowl: Auburn vs UCF
From a statistical standpoint, it’s difficult to make a case for UCF giving Auburn a serious challenge in this matchup. However, it’s always hard to predict the motivation of a team in Auburn’s situation.
Auburn has the unique distinction of having wins over two teams headed to the playoff (Alabama and Georgia) and also played Clemson tough in a 14-6 loss. As a result, Auburn has nothing left to prove in the Peach Bowl.
For UCF, however, this is their national championship and arguably the biggest game in school history.
Even though Auburn appears to hold an edge in every phase of the game, UCF can’t be discounted due to the motivation factor. In fact, it has become almost expected for the underdog to win these types of matchups.
The last time a Group of Five team played in the Peach Bowl, we were treated to one of the biggest bowl upsets in recent memory when Houston thumped Florida State 38-24 in 2015.
In terms of the on-field matchup, one of the keys will be UCF’s ability to slow down Auburn’s pass rush.
The Knights allowed just 12 sacks this season, but they haven’t faced a pass-rusher like Auburn’s Jeff Holland. According to CFB Film Room, Holland led the SEC with 56 quarterback pressures this season.
If UCF can protect quarterback McKenzie Milton, it should be able to hang with Auburn and potentially pull off the upset.
Prediction: Auburn 31, UCF 27
All betting info from OddsShark.com
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Source: Bleacher Report-CFB News