Most Meaningful Matchups - Final Round of Bowls, NY6 & Playoff Semifinals
Bowl season this year has had it’s fun moments but has been marred by cancellations of at least two bowls so far and the need for substitutes in two others. However, we are heading into the most, dare I say, meaningful stretch, with the playoff games (this year it’s the Cotton and Orange Bowls serving as semis) and of course the Grandaddy of them All, the Rose Bowl as well as other interesting upper-tier bows. Here’s our most meaningful for New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and our January 4th straggler>>>>>>
10. Gator Bowl – Wake Forest (10-3) vs. Rutgers (5-7) – 11:00 AM – Dec. 31st on ESPN: This game would have been up probably above all but NY6 games IF Texas A&M hadn’t had to cancel due to COVID/Optouts/A general disinterest in being beaten undermanned by this Wake Forest offense that can make you look silly. Rutgers gets the “opportunity” to go to a bowl game due to high APR academic scores. While Greg Schiano has started to build the Scarlet Knights into respectability – this is a tough matchup with only 9 days to come back to practice and prepare. Still – it’s on list because the Demon Deacons are really fun to watch.
9. Sun Bowl – Central Michigan (8-4) vs. Washington State (7-5) – 12:30 PM – Dec. 31st on CBS: Always one of my favorite little bowl games due to being able to watch it sans cable TV when I was a kid, this matchup was supposed to feature a scrappy Wazzu against the Miami Hurricanes. They’ve bailed due to COVID. So - the Sun Bowl has tapped Central Michigan - who had their Arizona Bowl appearance halted by Boise State opting out. This actually will be a pretty good game between one of the better MAC teams this year and the Cougs. Expect some points!
8. Outback Bowl – Penn State (7-5) vs. Arkansas (8-4) – Noon – Jan. 1st on ESPN2: I strongly considered rating this great matchup between two traditionally strong teams ahead of the Peach Bowl because of missing players but determined it didn’t quite get there. However – this is a game that gives us a lookahead to the future for two teams that could have had much better records and that I expect to make noise in the B1G and SEC respectively next season. Both teams will want to win – may mean a little more to Arkansas, back on New Year’s Day/Big Bowl spotlight for the first time in about a decade. Should be a close tight game and you can flip between it and the other two happening in same time slot.
7. Peach Bowl – Michigan State (10-2) vs. Pittsburgh (11-2) – 7:00 PM – Dec. 30th (!) on ESPN: Well I made a mistake – this bowl could’ve been on my previous Meaningful Matchup column. It’s not higher on THIS list because both teams are missing their best players (QB Pickett for Pitt and RB Walker for MSU). It should still be a close game but lost it’s luster a bit – both teams deserve better than the time slot they are given as well if you ask me – up against an NFL game too. Still – it was an unexpectedly great season for Sparty and for the Panthers so hopefully will give a glimpse into next year to see if the success is sustainable.
6. Citrus Bowl – Iowa (10-3) vs. Kentucky (9-3) – 1:00 PM – Jan. 1st on ABC: This is possibly the best non-NY6 bowl game matchup (other than maybe Alamo Bowl). I put it ahead of a NY6 game in this ranking precisely because both teams will be motivated to win and make a good year perhaps a great year. For Kentucky, in particular, winning a New Year’s Day bowl game and getting to 10 wins is a huge milestone accomplished very rarely. Should be a physical matchup – the team that can throw the ball better will likely win – and/or avoid turnovers.
5. Fiesta Bowl – #11 Oklahoma State (11-2) vs. #5 Notre Dame (11-1) – Noon – Jan. 1st on ESPN: These two teams were the closest to being in the playoff, until the Cowboys came up inches short in the Big 12 title game and Cincinnati won the AAC, keeping the Irish out. New head coach Marcus Freeman leads Notre Dame into the desert to face Oklahoma State who’s lost their excellent defensive coordinator. Two really good defenses – OK State is flat out elite – means this is likely a low scoring game. Prediction – if Notre Dame can come out and find some early success, put the Cowboys behind by a couple of scores, it will be a long afternoon for them. But if it’s close throughout, Cowboys may very well find a way. Big game for both programs.
4. Sugar Bowl – #9 Ole Miss (10-2) vs. #7 Baylor (11-2) – 8:30 PM - Jan. 1st on ESPN: This is a great matchup with arguably the third-best SEC team this year facing Big 12 Champion, and fierce defensive team Baylor in a classic Sugar Bowl. You may have to stay up until midnight or later but I’d expect a pretty fun game…with an Ole Miss victory…but we’ll see! Matt Corral is the best QB not named Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud in the country and Baylor has some real studs on defense. Plus both teams WANT to be here and win.
3. Rose Bowl – #6 Ohio State (10-2) vs. #10 Utah (10-3) – 5:00 PM – Jan. 1st on ESPN: While this may not be the two next highest rated teams after the Playoff participants, the Rose Bowl just always “feels” bigger. Utah is making their first ever appearance – huge for their program, especially after losing two players tragically – while Ohio State may be a little disappointed after not making playoff. Ohio State has more talent but may have opt outs to deal with. This should be a compelling game and there is no better visual in college football than Pasadena on Jan. 1.
2. Cotton Bowl – Playoff Semifinal - #4 Cincinnati vs. #1 Alabama – 3:30 PM – Dec. 31st on ABC: Most of America will probably be rooting for the underdog but very good Bearcats against the perennial championship contending Crimson Tide. The Tide has been really negatively impacted by injuries - now missing their #2 receiver John Metchie along with most of their scholarship running backs. Cincy’s secondary could give the Tide problems but the mismatch in this game may be the defensive front for Alabama versus an average Bearcat offensive line and skill position group. I think this will be a game into the 4th quarter but the Tide should win. Spread of 14 is a little dicey though.
1. Orange Bowl – Playoff Semifinal – #3 Georgia vs. #2 Michigan – 7:30 PM – Dec. 31st on ABC: Incredibly a lot of money is coming in on Michigan - the SEC Championship game loss by Georgia has really impacted how the semi-serious to casual college football fan and pundit class see the Dawgs. I think that’s a mistake. This is a strength on strength matchup and I think Georgia has more ability to get the ball downfield and move it more consistently against an elite Michigan defense than the other way around. Georgia is 6.5 favorite - I think they win and cover.
Texas Bowl – Kansas State (7-5) vs. LSU (6-6) – 9:00 PM – Jan. 4th on ESPN: This would normally be a pretty interesting matchup but LSU has tons of optouts, a skeleton interim coaching staff and nothing really to play for. Assuming K State QB Skylar Thompson can play, this looks like a convincing Wildcat win even though LSU would normally be more talented. It’s also the final bowl game of the year (strangely) unless you count the National Championship game several days later.
Arizona Bowl - Dec. 31st – Cancelled (Was to be Central Michigan vs. Boise State)
Despite all the COVID weirdness (why are we testing non-symptomatic healthy 20 year olds?) – there are some great matchups left out there. Hopefully we won’t see any more cancellations and/or can find replacements but we’ll see. For bowl season breakdowns and stream of consciousness commentary on all things college football – especially on December 31st and January 1st, follow me on Twitter at @ReadyCFB. Happy New Year!