Thirty-one bowl games, two CFP Semi-Finals and three cancellations later – we’ve arrived at the end of the 2021-22 bowl season.
What remains – other than the CFP title game on Jan. 10 – are the final six bowl games, five of which are scheduled for New Year’s Day and one, the official hangover game of the 2021 season, on Jan. 4.
Saturday kicks off at Noon EST on ESPN2 and then gains momentum with a pair of games on ESPN/ABC at 1pm EST. After that it’s a double-header on ESPN – the Grandaddy of Them All at 5pm EST followed by the Sugar Bowl at 8:45pm EST.
That leaves the Texas Bowl, slated for next Tuesday night at 9pm EST, on, you guessed it – ESPN.
Thanks to anyone who made it this far and to all of those who stopped by and visited our bowl party when you could – it’s been, as they say in the biz, a real delight.
Saturday, Jan. 1
(21) ARKANSAS (8-4) vs. PENN STATE (7-5) – SEC vs. Big Ten – Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla. – Noon EST – ESPN2
First year: 1986
Previous names: Hall of Fame Bowl (1986-95)
Most appearances: Iowa (3-3), Michigan (3-3)
Last year: Ole Miss 26 – (7) Indiana 20
Arkansas is 15-24-3 in bowl action. It last went bowling in 2016, falling 35-24 to then (18) Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl. The last win came in the 2015 Liberty Bowl, a 45-23 victory over K-State.
Penn State is 30-18-2 in bowl play, most recently beating then (15) Memphis in the 2019 Cotton Bowl.
This is Arkansas and Penn State’s first-ever football meeting.
Line: Arkansas -2.5
The Razorback defense gave up, on average, 171 passing yards in its eight wins vs. an average of 303 in its four losses. Cue up Penn State, which is ranked No. 22 nationally in passing yards per game vs. No. 118 in rushing and things get interesting. While the Nittany Lions have had success through the air, they’ve struggled to score points, averaging 26.3 points per game (No. 81 overall). On the flip side, how about an Arkansas rushing attack ranked No. 12 in America taking on a Penn State D ranked No. 7? This is a quality matchup that is worth rolling over on the couch to watch.
Arkansas will be without junior WR Treylon Burks (tied for No. 11 in the FBS in receiving TDs) who has declared for the NFL Draft and is opting out of the Outback Bowl.
Penn State will be without senior WR Jahan Dotson (tied for No. 6 in the FBS in receiving TDs and No. 15 in receiving yards per game), who has also declared for the NFL Draft and opted out of the bowl game and will likely also be missing senior DE Arnold Ebiketie (No. 7 in the FBS in tackles for a loss) who is expected to take the same route.
Players to Watch
Arkansas: sophomore QB KJ Jefferson (#1) (No. 6 in the FBS in passer rating), senior LB Bumper Pool (#10) (tied for No. 10 in the FBS in total tackles), senior DB Montaric Brown (#21) (tied for the second most interceptions in the FBS)
Penn State: senior S Ji’Ayir Brown (#16) (tied for the third most interceptions in the FBS)
PlayStation FIESTA BOWL
(9) OKLAHOMA STATE (11-2) vs. (5) NOTRE DAME (11-1) – Big 12 vs. Independents – State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Ariz. – 1pm EST – ESPN
First year: 1971
Most appearances: Ohio State (5-4)
Last year: (12) Iowa State 34 – (25) Oregon 17
Oklahoma State is 20-11 in bowl action, most recently edging then (19) Miami Fla. 37-24 in last season’s Cheez-It Bowl.
Notre Dame is 19-20 in bowl play. It fell 31-14 to then (1) Alabama in last year’s Rose Bowl/CFP Semi-Final. The last win came in the 2019 Camping World Bowl, a 33-9 victory over Iowa State.
This is Oklahoma State and Notre Dame’s first-ever football meeting. The Cowboys have never lost to a current independent program: 1-0 vs. New Mexico State, 2-0 vs. BYU and 1-0 vs. Army.
Line: Notre Dame -2.5
Though Oklahoma State – and the entire Big 12 – are better known for their wild passing attacks, this Cowboy squad has reached double-digit wins with a stifling defense. OSU is ranked No. 7 in the FBS in scoring D, No. 5 vs. the run and No. 12 vs. the pass. Notre Dame, which is an impressive No. 20 nationally in scoring offense (35.3 points per game), has squared off with five defenses currently ranked in the top 30 in scoring, two of which are in the top ten. How did the Irish fare against defenses with similar stats as the Cowboys? Well, they hung up 41 points on a Wisconsin D allowing an average of 16.4 (No. 6 in the FBS) in Week 4 and then turned around the next Saturday and managed a mere 14 points vs. a Cincinnati defense allowing 16.1 (No. 4). Oklahoma State’s D will decide this one.
With Brian Kelly’s shocking relocation to Baton Rouge, the Irish will be led on the sidelines by Marcus Freeman, who is making his head coaching debut after being promoted from his role as the DC. Freeman was a linebacker at Ohio State and kicked off his coaching career as a GA in Columbus in 2010. From there he traveled the Midwest as a defensive assistant making stops at Kent State, Purdue, and Cincinnati before landing in South Bend this season.
Notre Dame will be without sophomore RB Kyren Williams (tied for No. 19 in the FBS in rushing TDs) who has declared for the NFL Draft and has opted out of the Fiesta Bowl.
Players to Watch
Oklahoma State: senior LB Malcolm Rodriguez (#20) (tied for No. 10 in the FBS in total tackles, No. 11 in solo tackles and No. 9 in forced fumbles), freshman DE Collin Oliver (#30) (tied for No. 13 in the FBS in sacks)
Notre Dame: sophomore DL Isaiah Foskey (#7) (tied for No. 2 in the FBS in forced fumbles and No. 16 in sacks)
Vrbo CITRUS BOWL
(15) IOWA (10-3) vs. (22) KENTUCKY (9-3) – Big Ten vs. SEC – Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla. – 1pm EST – ABC
First year: 1947
Previous names: Tangerine Bowl (1947-82), Capital One Bowl (2003-14),
Most Appearances: Georgia (4-1-1), Michigan (4-2), Auburn (3-3), Florida (2-4), Penn State (2-4),
Last year: (15) Northwestern 35 – Auburn 19
Iowa is 17-15-1 in bowl action, fresh off destroying then (22) USC 49-24 in last season’s Holiday Bowl.
Kentucky is 11-9 in bowl play, most recently edging then (24) NC State in the 2020 Gator Bowl.
This is Iowa and Kentucky’s first-ever meeting on the gridiron.
Line: Kentucky -3
The solid strength vs. strength matchup in this one is Kentucky’s ground attack – ranked No. 22 nationally – taking on an Iowa defense ranked No. 15 in the FBS vs. the run. Keep in mind that where the Wildcats (which averaged 206 yards per game in 2021) finished the season strong, averaging 268 rushing yards in its last four outings, the Hawkeyes (which gave up an average of 114 yards per game this year) digressed, allowing an average of 148 to its last four opponents. Iowa, which has been epically ineffective offensively in 2021 (No. 96 in scoring, No. 111 in passing and No. 110 in rushing), will need all the defensive firepower it can get its’ hands on to have a chance.
PS The Hawkeyes lead the nation in interceptions (24) while Kentucky junior QB Will Levis (#7) has thrown 12 picks this season, tying him for the fourth most in the FBS.
Players to Watch
Iowa: junior LB Jack Campbell (#31) (No. 4 in the FBS in total tackles), junior DB Dane Belton (#4) (tied for the second most interceptions in the FBS), senior DB Riley Moss (#33) (tied for the third most interceptions in the FBS)
Kentucky: junior RB Chris Rodriguez, Jr. (#24) (No. 12 in the FBS in rushing yards per game), junior WR Wan’Dale Robinson (#1) (No. 16 in the FBS in receiving yards per game)
(6) OHIO STATE (10-2) vs. (11) UTAH (10-3, Pac-12 Champions) – Big Ten vs. Pac-12 – Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, Calif. – 5pm EST – ESPN
First year: 1902, 1916-present
Most appearances: USC (25-9)
Last year: CFP Semi-Final Game (1) Alabama 31 – (4) Notre Dame 14
Ohio State is 26-27 in bowl play, most recently triumphing 49-28 over then (2) Clemson in last year’s Sugar Bowl/CFP Semi-Final. It finished last season with a 52-24 defeat to (1) Alabama in the CFP title game.
Utah is 17-6 in bowl action. It last went bowling in 2019, suffering a 38-10 loss to Texas in the Alamo Bowl. The most recent win came in the 2017 Heart of Dallas Bowl, a 30-14 victory over West Virginia.
Ohio State and Utah have only met once previously, a 1986 regular season game in Columbus that the Buckeyes won 64-6.
Line: Ohio State -4
The common thread in Utah’s three losses in 2021 was a struggle to stop the pass. Overall, the Utes gave up, on average, 195 air yards per game (No. 24 in the FBS), a number that plummeted to an average of 90 in their ten wins and jumped to 232 in the three losses – 231 at (13) BYU (averaging 270 passing yards per game, No. 25 in the FBS), 204 at San Diego State (averaging 155, No. 121) and 260 at Oregon State (averaging 213, No. 86). It adds up to a scary outlook vs. Ohio State, the No. 5 passing attack in America, averaging 365 air yards per game. This is a serious test for a Utah D that’s performed well all season.
Ohio State will be without wide receivers Chris Olave (No. 5 in the FBS in receiving TDs) and Garrett Wilson (tied for No. 6 in the FBS in receiving TDs) who have both declared for the NFL Draft and are opting out of the Rose Bowl.
Players to Watch
Ohio State: freshman RB TreVeyon Henderson (#32) (tied for No. 10 in the FBS in rushing TDs), freshman QB C.J. Stroud (#7) (No. 2 in the FBS in passer rating and No. 4 in passing yards per game), sophomore WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba (#11) (No. 11 in the FBS in receiving yards per game)
Utah: sophomore RB Tavion Thomas (#9) (tied for No. 1 in the FBS in rushing TDs), junior DL Devin Lloyd (#0) (No. 2 in the FBS in tackles for a loss and tied for No. 3 in interceptions)
Allstate SUGAR BOWL
(7) BAYLOR (11-2, Big 12 Champions) vs. (8) OLE MISS (10-2) – Big 12 vs. SEC – Caesars Superdome, New Orleans, La. – 8:45pm EST – ESPN
First year: 1935
Most appearances: Alabama (9-7)
Last year: CFP Semi-Final Game (3) Ohio State 49 – (2) Clemson 28
Baylor is 13-12 in bowl play. It last went bowling in 2019, falling 26-14 to then (5) Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Its most recent win came in the 2018 Texas Bowl, a 45-38 victory over Vanderbilt.
Ole Miss is 24-14 in bowl action, most recently downing then (7) Indiana 26-20 in last year’s Outback Bowl.
Baylor and Ole Miss have met only once previously, a regular-season game in Waco in 1975, a 20-10 win for the Bears.
Line: Ole Miss -1.5
This matchup features two elite running offenses facing defenses that have enjoyed different levels of success. First up, it’s Ole Miss’ ground game, the No. 8 unit in America, taking on a Baylor D ranked No. 17 in the nation vs. the run. On the flip side, it’s the Bears’ No. 16 ranked rushing offense taking on a Rebel D ranked No. 102 against the run. While the numbers give Baylor a clear advantage, did you know that the Bears No. 14 ranked scoring defense is also ranked a somewhat concerning No. 71 nationally and No. 6 in the Big 12 vs. the pass? It’s the same unit that coughed up 342 air yards to a (13) BYU offense averaging 270 (No. 25) and 468 to a TCU squad averaging 240 (No. 59). Ole Miss is ranked No. 21 nationally in pass O, averaging 282 yards per game. This is a great matchup between a defensive minded coach and a coach hell bent on ringing up the scoreboard.
Players to Watch
Baylor: senior RB Abram Smith (#7) (No. 9 in the FBS in rushing yards per game), senior S Jalen Pitre (#8) (tied for No. 8 in the FBS in tackles for a loss), senior S JT Woods (#22) (tied for the third most interceptions in the FBS)
Ole Miss: junior QB Matt Corral (#2) (No. 17 in the FBS in passing yards per game), senior DL Sam Williams (#7) (tied for No. 4 in the FBS in sacks and No. 9 in forced fumbles)
Tuesday, Jan. 4
TaxAct TEXAS BOWL
KANSAS STATE (7-5) vs. LSU (6-6) – Big 12 vs. SEC – NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas – 9pm EST – ESPN
First year: 2006
Most appearances: Texas A&M (2-1)
Last year: Cancelled due to COVID-19
Kansas State is 9-13 in bowl action. It last went bowling in 2019, falling 20-17 to then (21) Navy in the Liberty Bowl. The most recent win came in the 2017 Cactus Bowl, a 35-17 victory over UCLA.
LSU is 28-23-1 in bowl play, most recently destroying then (4) Oklahoma 63-28 in the 2019 Peach Bowl/CFP Semi-Final, a feat it followed up with a triumphant 42-25 beatdown of then (3) Clemson in the 2019/20 CFP title game.
K-State and LSU have met once previously, during the 1980 regular season, a 21-0 shutout victory for the Tigers in Baton Rouge. The Wildcats have never scored a point on LSU.
Line: Kansas State -4
The common thread in K-State’s losses this season was an inability to stop the run. Where the Wildcats gave up, on average, 94 rushing yards in its seven wins, it almost doubled that number in its four losses (172). It puts pressure on the weakest component of LSU’s offense – a running game that finished 2021 ranked No. 117 in the FBS and No. 13 in the SEC in yards per game. If you throw out the Tigers’ season-high 321 ground yards in the upset win over Florida, they averaged a mere 90 in their other 11 outings. The only good news is, LSU finished the season on the upswing, averaging 104 rushing yards in its last four games vs. 71 in its first five.
With Ed Orgeron out of the picture, and former Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly waiting in the wings, LSU will be led on the sidelines by interim Brad Davis. A Baton Rouge native, Davis was an offensive lineman for Oklahoma in the early 2000s and served as an assistant all over the country before landing consecutive stops as an O-line coach in the SEC: Florida (2017), Missouri (2018-19), Arkansas (2020) and finally LSU (2021).
LSU senior LB Damone Clark (No. 2 in the FBS in total tackles and No. 4 in solo tackles) has opted out of the Texas Bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft.
Players to Watch
Kansas State: sophomore RB Deuce Vaughn (#22) (tied for No. 10 in the FBS in rushing TDs and No. 14 in rushing yards per game), sophomore DE Felix Anudike-Uzomah (#91) (No. 1 in the FBS in forced fumbles and No. 10 in sacks)
LSU: sophomore DE BJ Ojulari (#8) (tied for No. 11 in the SEC in sacks and No. 13 in tackles for a loss)