College Football Bowl Games
Is there anything better than bowl season for college football fans? From the moment the Bahamas Bowl kicked off on December 17 until the national champion is crowned on January 10, there is seemingly a non-stop deluge of college football on our television screens. This year, there are 42 bowls plus the national championship game, meaning there are 43 games to watch in that majestic 24-day span.
Many of our partners are participating in bowls this postseason, and thankfully none of them are playing against each other. So let’s look at what to expect in the five bowl games that feature our partner schools, and how each can earn one last victory this season.
Gasparilla Bowl: UCF vs. Florida (Dec. 23, 7 p.m.)
There has been a lot of talk around the future of the Florida football program with new coach Billy Napier. But the 2021 Gators still have one last game to play, and it will be close to home against an in-state foe, Central Florida. Florida is more talented than UCF on paper, but that doesn’t always guarantee a win. No one in Gainesville is happy with how this season turned out, but Florida put in a great effort against Florida State to earn bowl eligibility. Quarterback, Emory Jones presents a lot of problems for opposing defenses as Florida’s leading rusher. He doesn’t have the same weapons the Gators have had in previous years, but the UCF defense has faltered this year when overmatched by the opposing offense. The difference in this game will be Florida’s defense and whether they will rise to the occasion to slow down a physical, run-first Golden Knights offense.
Liberty Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Texas Tech (Dec. 28, 6:45 p.m.)
The good news for Texas Tech fans is they are all intimately familiar with what the Red Raiders will be facing in the season finale. The bad news is that few times have they been able to slow down Mike Leach’s Air Raid, especially this year with Will Rogers at the helm. Texas Tech will have its chances to score on offense with its rushing attack against a vulnerable Mississippi State defense. Donovan Smith’s revelation over the past month should also open up the door for the Red Raiders to attack the Bulldogs through the air. But the biggest challenge is clearly going to be keeping Rogers and the Bulldogs offense out of the end zone. It is not fair to expect a Texas Tech secondary that has allowed at least 300 passing yards six times this season to shut down a passing attack averaging more than 385 yards per game. However, if the Red Raiders can control the clock with their rushing attack and bend, but not break defensively, they can defeat their old coach and end the season with a win.
Duke’s Mayo Bowl: North Carolina vs. South Carolina (Dec. 30, 11:30 a.m.)
It’s not unusual for South Carolina and North Carolina to face off in Charlotte, it’s just that those games normally start the season not end them. In 2015 and 2019 – and again in 2023 – these two teams opened the season with a neutral site game in Charlotte. The fact the Gamecocks are even in a bowl game is tremendous and Shane Beamer deserves a lot of praise for how well South Carolina has played this season. The Gamecocks probably could have had another win or two under their belts as well, but without a steady quarterback, they found ways to grind out victories against Florida and Auburn at home. The Tar Heels will present a stiff challenge for the Gamecocks defense with a plethora of weapons South Carolina hasn’t faced since playing Georgia early in the season. However, North Carolina has had its struggles stopping the run, and that has been the strength of this Gamecocks offense when South Carolina has been at its best this season.
Gator Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M (Dec. 31, 11 a.m.)
This will be a fun matchup between two teams with opposing styles of play and clear weaknesses on defense. Texas A&M is at its best when it’s able to establish the rushing game and control the clock with Isaiah Spiller. Wake Forest is going to air it out and has one of the most explosive offenses in the country with Sam Hartman at the helm, and have averaged more than 41 points per game. The Demon Deacons, though, have struggled to stop most offenses this year and are allowing more than 200 yards per game on the ground and more than 30 points per game. The Aggies defense looks better on paper than Wake Forest’s, but Texas A&M did allow Mississippi State, LSU and Alabama to all throw for at least 300 yards and three scores. Logically, more faith should be put into the Texas A&M defense and the Aggies’ ability to run the ball, but the Demon Deacons are perfectly comfortable turning the game into a shootout. Preventing the two offenses from trading scores needs to be Texas A&M’s mission in this game.
Sun Bowl: Washington State vs. Miami (Dec. 31, 2 p.m.)
Miami has been in the spotlight the past two weeks with the announcement of their new head coach Mario Cristobal. Despite distractions, Manny Diaz has had quite a successful end to the season. This year started out with high hopes of contending for an ACC crown, but this team won five of its last six games after a tough 2-4 start. Tyler Van Dyke became a superstar quarterback with 25 touchdowns, just six interceptions and nearly 3,000 passing yards in 10 appearances. Charleston Rambo had an incredible season catching passes with 79 receptions for more than 1,100 yards and seven scores. The defense had some struggles this season, but still made timely stops to preserve victories. This bowl game will be a fun challenge for the Hurricanes against a resilient Washington State squad. However, nothing about the Cougars offense is overly scary for the Hurricanes and nothing about the defense has been overwhelmingly dominant either.