One last ‘What to Watch’ entry for the 2021 season (and in a bit of a different format, no less)! Friday kicks off bowl season and we’ll have college football on 14 of the next 16 days.
I’m gonna love it. My wife is gonna hate it.
Let’s take a look at the games... although keep in mind that player opt outs will put a dent in the team rankings, so that may sway the outcomes.
Rankings for SP+ Ratings and Sagarin Ratings listed, respectively, ahead of each team’s name. FCS SP+ Ratings are found here.
Friday, Dec 17
- [Bahamas Bowl] 91/107 Middle Tennessee vs 50/69 Toledo - 12:00pm - ESPN
- [Cure Bowl] 100/89 Northern Illinois vs 25/56 Coastal Carolina - 6:00pm - ESPN2
- [FCS Semifinals] FCS 2/64 James Madison vs FCS 1/48 North Dakota State - 9:15pm - ESPN2
The early days feature most of the really uneven matchups, although there are still some really good ones in there. Friday, Dec 17, is not a day with those good ones. There is, however, an FCS semifinal game Friday night. That one features two of the top three teams at the FCS level in James Madison - led by former NC State assistant Curt Cignetti - and a North Dakota State team that, according to Sagarin, is one of the top 50 teams in all of college football, sandwiched between North Carolina and Louisville in their rankings. This is must-watch football!
Saturday, Dec 18
- [Boca Raton Bowl] 26/60 Western Kentucky vs 30/42 Appalachian State - 11:00am - ESPN
- [Celebration Bowl] FCS 80/207 South Carolina State vs FCS 27/164 Jackson State - 12:00pm - ABC
- [FCS Semifinals] FCS 3/59 South Dakota State vs FCS 7/97 Montana State - 2:00pm - ESPN2
- [New Mexico Bowl] 90/129 UTEP vs 36/45 Fresno State - 2:15pm - ESPN
- [Independence Bowl] 45/76 UAB vs 42/30 BYU - 3:30pm - ABC
- [LendingTree Bowl] 97/103 Eastern Michigan vs 60/72 Liberty - 5:45pm - ESPN
- [Los Angeles Bowl] 78/57 Utah State vs 41/39 Oregon State - 7:30pm - ABC
- [New Orleans Bowl] 52/46 Louisiana vs 44/82 Marshall - 9:15pm - ESPN
Saturday, Dec 18, is when the fun really starts! Western Kentucky vs App State is your brunch entertainment. Lots of offense expected in that one. UAB-BYU is another intriguing matchup. I expect BYU to win, but UAB can run the ball and they do have the better defense according to SP+, but my brain won’t let me believe it when you look at their schedules.
Like WKU-App, the favorite in the Louisiana-Marshall game depends on which advanced rating system you’re looking at. The Ragin’ Cajuns have won 12 straight and are allowing less than 17 points per game during that streak. I sure hope Billy Napier took his Defensive Coordinator with him to Florida. (Checks... yes, he did. Smart man.)
Monday, Dec 20
- [Myrtle Beach Bowl] 96/117 Old Dominion vs 64/79 Tulsa - 2:30pm - ESPN
The Myrtle Beach Bowl and Idaho Potato Bowl give you a pair of reasons to avoid afternoon work early the week of Christmas.
Tuesday, Dec 21
- [Idaho Potato Bowl] 92/105 Kent State vs 81/88 Wyoming - 3:30pm - ESPN
- [Frisco Bowl] 57/53 UTSA vs 56/54 San Diego State - 7:30pm - ESPN
There is no more evenly matched bowl game this season than the Frisco Bowl between UTSA and San Diego State. Both teams are just a single ranking away from each other in both SP+ and Sagarin, with SDSU being the “favorite” via SP+ and UTSA the higher-ranked via Sagarin. Unfortunately, UTSA running back Sincere McCormick has opted not to play in the game as he has declared for the draft. Circle his name for your 2022 fantasy football drafts! For those gamblers among you, UTSA is currently a 2-point favorite and SDSU has the #2 rushing defense in the country. Do with that info what you will.
Wednesday, Dec 22
- [Armed Forces Bowl] 70/75 Missouri vs 59/67 Army - 8:00pm - ESPN
Old friend Eli Drinkwitz has his Missouri squad as an underdog to Army in their bowl game. Gonna have to do better than that if you’re going to survive as a head coach, Eli! What’s that? Oh. Yeah, that’ll help.
Thursday, Dec 23
- [Frisco Football Classic] 98/111 North Texas vs 73/90 Miami (OH) - 3:30pm - ESPN
- [Gasparilla Bowl] 67/63 UCF vs 27/40 Florida - 7:00pm - ESPN
UCF vs a 6-6 Florida team sounds incredibly appealing, but both SP+ and Sagarin have Florida as the favorite; SP+ says they’re a two-score favorite.
Friday, Dec 24
- [Hawaii Bowl] 75/84 Memphis vs 87/100 Hawaii - 8:00pm - ESPN
Memphis and Hawaii will welcome Santa down the chimney on Christmas Eve. Memphis is the favorite, but Hawaii is the home team and likely will be a bit more focused without the distractions of... err... their everyday lives.
Saturday, Dec 25
- [Camellia Bowl] 80/92 Georgia State vs 102/93 Ball State - 2:30pm - ESPN
There’s Christmas afternoon football! Don’t look up who’s playing, just plan on throwing some batteries in your kids new toys and kicking back on the couch to college football. So much better than having to watch the NBA!
Monday, Dec 27
- [Quick Lane Bowl] 83/80 Western Michigan vs 63/43 Nevada - 11:00am - ESPN
- [Military Bowl] 71/78 Boston College vs 76/81 East Carolina - 2:30pm - ESPN
The ACC kicks off their bowl season the week after Christmas. Boston College takes on East Carolina on Monday, Dec 27, in a game that looks to be fairly evenly matched on paper. If Phil Jurkovec is actually back to full health, that’s a different story.
Tuesday, Dec 28
- [Birmingham Bowl] 33/41 Houston vs 34/25 Auburn - 12:00pm - ESPN
- [First Responder Bowl] 53/44 Air Force vs 48/49 Louisville - 3:15pm - ESPN
- [Liberty Bowl] 24/32 Mississippi State vs 54/68 Texas Tech - 6:45pm - ESPN
- [Holiday Bowl] 38/24 UCLA vs 13/18 NC State - 8:00pm - FOX
- [Guaranteed Rate Bowl] 72/51 West Virginia vs 20/26 Minnesota - 10:15pm - ESPN
NC State plays on Tuesday, Dec 28. There are other games that day, but that’s the one we all care about. Go State! Beat the Bruins!
Okay, so also that day Houston and Auburn play in a game where you’re probably surprised to learn that both defenses are better than the offenses. That same day, Air Force defenders get to experience the pain of trying to stop Malik Cunnigham, while Mike Leach faces off with his former employer, Texas Tech, in a game that will feature an unending supply of references back to that fact. If you hate yourself, you could turn that into a drinking game (<insert alcohol abuse hotline phone number here>).
Wednesday, Dec 29
- [Fenway Bowl] 47/52 SMU vs 51/58 Virginia - 11:00am - ESPN
- [Pinstripe Bowl] 68/77 Maryland vs 62/62 Virginia Tech - 2:15pm - ESPN
- [Cheez-It Bowl] 8/10 Clemson vs 19/17 Iowa State - 5:45pm - ESPN
- [Alamo Bowl] 28/19 Oregon vs 17/9 Oklahoma - 9:15pm - ESPN
The four games on Wednesday, Dec 29, feature three ACC teams. I was incredibly shocked to hear that the over/under on the SMU-Virginia game was south of 100 (it’s 71.0). Later that day, Virginia Tech fights cancer in New York and Clemson gets to learn about corn from Iowa State players and try to tackle Breece Hall (another name to circle for your 2022 fantasy football drafts), assuming he actually plays (he’d be smart not to).
The nightcap that evening is the real deal: Oregon vs Oklahoma. Both schools lost their coaches to bigger schools. Both had promising seasons derailed late in the year. Both are probably fairly disappointed that they’re playing in the Alamo Bowl. This game will either be a boring sleepwalking effort on both sides or just full of pent up rage and raw aggression.
Thursday, Dec 30
- [Mayo Bowl] 46/47 North Carolina vs 69/70 South Carolina - 11:30am - ESPN
- [Music City Bowl] 11/33 Tennessee vs 40/23 Purdue - 3:00pm - ESPN
- [Peach Bowl] 10/12 Pittsburgh vs 35/27 Michigan State - 7:00pm - ESPN
- [Las Vegas Bowl] 9/14 Wisconsin vs 23/34 Arizona State - 10:30pm - ESPN
On Dec 30, we’ll all be Gamecock fans. I don’t expect them to win, especially not with Sam Howell playing, but wouldn’t it be amazing for North Carolina to go from preseason Top 10 to finishing with a losing record? That’s the Christmas gift I really want this year.
Tennessee might be the team SP+ and Sagarin disagree on the most. The Vols are way better than their 7-5 record. It’s amazing how well VT transfer and Greensboro native Hendon Hooker has played for them this year. Purdue is also better than you’d expect - they did knock off two at-the-time #2 teams this year, but they also struggled to beat Illinois and Nebraska, so... (shrug).
If Kenny Pickett plays in the bowl game, Pitt will roll a Michigan State team that will be without Kenneth Walker III (he declared for the draft and opted out of the bowl game). If he doesn’t play, then I’d expect Jordan Addison also won’t play and Pitt will be rolled.
Wisconsin vs Arizona State in Las Vegas... Cool beans.
Friday, Dec 31
- [Gator Bowl] 39/22 Wake Forest vs 6/15 Texas A&M - 11:00am - ESPN
- [Sun Bowl] 58/38 Washington State vs 31/36 Miami - 12:00pm - CBS
- [Arizona Bowl] 82/71 Central Michigan vs 43/28 Boise State - 2:00pm - Barstool (???)
- [Cotton Bowl - CFP SEMIFINAL] 5/6 Cincinnati vs 3/1 Alabama - 3:30pm - ESPN
- [Orange Bowl - CFP SEMIFINAL] 1/2 Georgia vs 4/4 Michigan - 7:30pm - ESPN
Alright! Now we’re into the New Years’ Eve games! Pop the bubbly and find someone worth kissing and who will still want to kiss you after you watch football all day and likely ignore every other aspect of your life! Yes!
Texas A&M is going to murder Wake Forest. I honestly think that ACC Championship Game performance is going to beat Sam Hartman again. Dude just looked destroyed in that game like he doubted if he was even standing on earth at that point in time. Not sure he shakes it that quickly.
Washington State vs Miami will be the third bowl game where both teams will be without the head coach that started the season for them (SMU-Virginia and Oregon-Oklahoma are the other two). Boise State vs Central Michigan is a game that’s probably best served being broadcast on Barstool - however you can actually watch it. Boise’s going to curb stomp CMU, and that’s not something meant for families to see over the holidays. Might as well throw Inglorious Bastards on for your kids to watch.
The CFP semifinal games are on that night and that’s what’s super exciting. If you need info on those games you can literally just go anywhere and everywhere to find it. Everyone has an opinion on it. Your aunt who couldn’t tell a football from a soccer ball but can tell you the difference between 18 different varieties of yarn has an opinion about this year’s CFP. If you get lost in the woods this holiday season, just say, “I think Cincinnati has a good chance to beat Alabama” and someone will show up to argue with you.
Saturday, Jan 1
- [Outback Bowl] 16/16 Penn State vs 22/29 Arkansas - 12:00pm - ESPN2
- [Fiesta Bowl] 15/7 Oklahoma State vs 7/5 Notre Dame - 1:00pm - ESPN
- [Citrus Bowl] 32/20 Iowa vs 21/21 Kentucky - 1:00pm - ABC
- [Rose Bowl] 14/8 Utah vs 2/3 Ohio State - 5:00pm - ESPN
- [Sugar Bowl] 18/13 Baylor vs 12/11 Ole Miss - 8:45pm - ESPN
Alright, so while you’re nursing your hangover on Jan 1, you get to ponder how a coach who is 11-10 over the last two seasons just signed a 10-year, $70 million contract. Oh, and he’ll be facing off with a coach whose agent just asked for a 7-ear, $50 million extension after said coach has gone 11-11 over the last two years.
Once you’re over your hangover and the added headache of the above, Oklahoma State plays Notre Dame. This will be the first game for the Irish under new head coach Marcus Freeman. Dude has had a meteoric rise through the coaching ranks to now getting his first head coaching gig at what is probably the most prestigious college football institution. I mean, it was just two years ago that I was doing a Defensive Coordinator POAPS piece on this guy!
Iowa’s offense is one of the worst in the country. Their 1,151-yard running back has opted out of the bowl game. Kentucky’s defense is no steel wall, but the Hawkeyes might not score in this game.
Utah and Ohio State have one thing in common: they both hate Oregon, but for different reasons. The Buckeyes are probably one of the four best teams in the country, but their early season home loss to Oregon came back to bite them after they got trounced by rival Michigan late in the year. That loss to the Ducks likely kept OSU out of the playoffs. Utah, meanwhile, just likes to beat Oregon like they owe them money. Maybe they should just pretend Ohio State is Oregon. I mean, Oregon wears enough other stupid uniform combinations, would it really surprise anyone to see them come out in the unis of another team?
Of the entire bowl season, outside of the CFP games and the games I have a personal vested interest in, I’m most excited for the Baylor vs Ole Miss game. Dave Aranda is one of the premier defensive minds in the game while Lane Kiffin is his equal on the offensive side. I am pumped for this one!
Tuesday, Jan 4
- [Texas Bowl] 61/31 LSU vs 29/35 Kansas State - 9:00pm - ESPN
LSU and Kansas State are playing on Jan 4th for some reason. Maybe Brian Kelly will have worked on his fake southern accent enough by them to make it passable. Or maybe the Baton Rouge natives will have already voodooed him out of town by then. Either is possible!
Saturday, Jan 8
- [FCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP] JMU/NDSU vs SDSU/Montana State - 12:00pm - ESPN2
Monday, Jan 10
- [CFP NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP] Cincinnati/Alabama vs Georgia/Michigan - 8:00pm - ESPN
The FCS National Championship is Saturday, Jan 8th, while the CFP National Championship is that Monday, Jan 10th. After that is a bleak chasm of non-football things. So lap it up now, folks...
Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Go Wolfpack!