LET’S GO BOWLING AGAIN
Bowl season officially started on Saturday with play to resume today, but seeing as how this will probably be the last time I touch on the bowl games (at least until the College Football Playoff), I figured I’d take a look at everything surrounding this exciting time.
Without question, everyone’s focus is on the two national semifinals, as the winners will square off for the national title. However, the final stretch of college football is stuffed with intriguing games beyond the Rose and Sugar bowls.
Oklahoma vs. Georgia
Jan. 1, 2018; 5 p.m. on ESPN
Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield hasn’t faced a defense of this caliber. On the other hand, Georgia hasn’t had to stop a quarterback like the Sooners’. If the national semifinal that interests you the most is the Rose Bowl then I get it. Unlike the Sugar Bowl, this showdown features a contrast in styles.
Mayfield, who has accounted for 46 touchdowns with only five interceptions, has guided the country’s most efficient offense. The Sooners tallied 8.4 yards per snap and 583.3 yards per game while averaging 44.9 points, the fourth-best mark in the FBS.
On the flip side, the Bulldogs defense touts top-six marks in yards per play (4.5), yards per game (270.9) and scoring (13.2).
Oklahoma left tackle Orlando Brown highlights one of the nation’s best offensive lines, but Georgia’s front seven is loaded with NFL-caliber players such as linebacker Roquan Smith.
According to OddsShark, Georgia is a two-point favorite, but I’m not counting out Mayfield and have the Sooners moving on.
Clemson vs. Alabama
Jan. 1, 2018; 8:45 p.m. on ESPN
For those of you that appreciate sustained excellence, you get round three of the past two National Championships. The first two matchups resulted in a thrilling fourth quarter and then an instant classic. The Tide celebrated the first, and the Tigers the second behind Deshaun Watson.
Plus, anyone who prefers a different team in the championship is guaranteed to see that happen.
Clemson and Alabama thrived this season thanks to their defenses, earning top-six finishes along with Georgia in three major categories.
If the Tigers can contain the Crimson Tide rushing attack, quarterback Jalen Hurts will be forced to win the game through the air. That was a big reason Auburn won the 2017 Iron Bowl. Otherwise, the Tigers will need Kelly Bryant to do his best Watson impression and shred the Alabama defense.
I see the first of those two happening, Clemson moving on to its third straight championship game and winning its second straight ring.
GROUP OF FIVE GAMES
Yes, the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC garner most of the attention in the college football world, but I’m not going to overlook the best matchups involving non-power conference programs.
Among meetings between two Group of Five teams, the Dollar General Bowl is the premier tilt.
As I touched on in an earlier column, Appalachian State clipped Toledo in the 2016 Camellia Bowl, when the teams alternated touchdowns until the decisive field goal late in the fourth quarter. The Rockets, whom OddShark lists as a 7.5-point favorite, will be looking for redemption.
The Armed Forces Bowl provides the best chance for a sub-three-hour game. Army and San Diego State rank third and 15th nationally in rushing attempts per game. Rashaad Penny needs 122 yards to record the 10th-most prolific rushing season in FBS history.
The Bahamas Bowl boasts the best location and one of the best storylines of the postseason. Following a two-year hiatus, UAB returned to the field and finished 8-4. The Blazers will take on Ohio, which quietly had the nation’s No. 14 scoring offense.
Finally, let’s not forget about Lane Kiffin and Florida Atlantic, who will host Akron in the Boca Rotan Bowl, too.
BEST BOWL DAY OF THE YEAR
New Year’s Day features the playoff semifinals, and December 30 holds a pair of New Year’s Six games plus two intriguing matchups. There isn’t much doubt December 28 is the third-most appealing day, though.
Virginia and Navy start the action with a 1:30 p.m. kickoff in the Military Bowl. The Cavaliers made an unexpected charge to bowl eligibility, while the Midshipmen were 4-1 at home this season.
After that, get settled in at 5:15 p.m. for the clash between Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State in the Camping World Bowl. An aggressive Hokies defense matching up against an explosive Cowboys offense makes this more than watchable. There should be plenty of big plays in Orlando where the Mason Rudolph-to-James Washington connection will feature for the final time.
A pair of 9 p.m. kickoffs will wrap up the night, with Washington State meeting Michigan State in the Holiday Bowl and Stanford playing TCU in the Alamo Bowl.
GET YOUR SWAG ON
Sports Business Journal reported what each bowl will give its players, and there’s a $550 limit per individual, but Fossil, provides watches for 14 of the 39 bowl games.
In the Peach Bowl, Auburn and UCF players will each receive a $300 Visa gift card, so in other words it’s effectively giving everyone $300 cash.
Orlando hosts both the Citrus and Camping World bowls, and the giveaways are the same. Notre Dame, LSU, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State players can look forward to $400 trips to Best Buy.
Finally, the Fiesta Bowl – which is sponsored by Playstation – has the best swag out of any of the other bowl games. Penn State Nittany Lions and Washington Huskies will each receive a PS4 bundle in addition to a Fossil watch and Ogio backpack. Free gaming system, though? Sign me up!
Let the bowl season continue. It truly is the best time of the year.