College football bowl schedule: 2021 breakdown, Part II – Dec. 20-25

By Amy Daughters -

The second salvo of the 2021 bowl schedule features eight games in six days, taking us all the way through Christmas Day. The good news is, the entire set is featured on ESPN, so just turn on the TV at the appropriate time each day and worry not about which channel to select.

Things get rolling on Monday with an afternoon fixture at 2:30pm EST. On Tuesday, it’s a double-header with start times at 3:30pm and 7:30pm EST. Wednesday serves a single evening offering at 7:30pm EST and Thursday features another 3:30pm/7pm EST combo.

Christmas Eve – Friday – is an evening affair (tie is optional, clothing is not) at 8pm EST and Christmas Day is home to a 2:30pm EST contest.

Though not overtly obvious in their appeal, half of the games on offer feature first-ever matchups – a chance to see history – and seven of the eight have a point-spread of a touchdown or less. It makes it the most closely matched set of the 2021 bowl season.

Monday, Dec. 20

MYRTLE BEACH BOWL

OLD DOMINION (6-6) vs. TULSA (6-6) – C-USA vs. AAC – Brooks Stadium, Conway, S.C. – 2:30pm EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 2020

Most appearances: Appalachian State (1-0), North Texas (0-1)

Last year: Appalachian State 56 – North Texas 28

The Teams

Old Dominion has only gone bowling once since moving up to the FBS ranks in 2014, a 24-20 win over Eastern Michigan in the 2016 Bahamas Bowl.

Tulsa is 10-12 in bowl play, most recently falling 28-26 to Mississippi State in the 2020 Armed Forces Bowl. The last win came in the 2016 Miami Beach Bowl, a 55-10 beatdown of Central Michigan.

The Matchup

This is Old Dominion and Tulsa’s first-ever football meeting.

Line: Tulsa -9

These two teams’ biggest statistical strengths align almost perfectly. Where Tulsa’s offense is ranked No. 39 overall/No. 3 in the AAC in rushing yards per game, Old Dominion’s defense is No. 27 nationally/No. 3 in the C-USA vs. the run. The Golden Hurricane posted 215-plus rushing yards on six of its 12 opponents this season (including hanging up 297 on a Cincinnati D giving up, on average, 137) while the Monarch D held six of its 12 to 107 or fewer. Also of note, both these teams finished 2021 strong – ODU started the season 1-6 and won its final five and Tulsa went 3-6 before winning the last three. PS – no QB in the FBS has thrown more interceptions this season than has Tulsa junior Davis Brin (#7) with 16.

Players to Watch

Old Dominion: sophomore RB Blake Watson (#2) (No. 16 in the FBS in rushing yards per game)

Tulsa: senior S TieNeal Martin (#7) (tied for the third most interceptions in the FBS), senior RB Shamari Brooks (#3) (No. 3 in the AAC in rushing yards per game)

Tuesday, Dec. 21

Famous Idaho POTATO BOWL

KENT STATE (7-6) vs. WYOMING (6-6) – MAC vs. MWC – Albertson’s Stadium, Boise, Idaho – 3:30pm EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 1997

Previous names: Humanitarian Bowl (1997-2003, 2007-10), MPC Computers Bowl (2004-06)

Most appearances: Boise State (3-1), Nevada (1-3), Utah State (1-3)

Last year: Nevada 38 – Tulane 27

The Teams

Kent State is 1-2 in bowl play, the only win coming in its most recent action, a 51-41 victory over Utah State in the 2019 Frisco Bowl.

Wyoming is 8-8 in bowl action, most recently beating Georgia State 38-17 in the 2019 Arizona Bowl.

The Matchup

This is Kent State and Wyoming’s first-ever football meeting.

Line: Wyoming -3

Both of these teams have solid rushing attacks paired with defenses that have struggled against the run. In one corner, it’s a Kent State ground game ranked a lofty No. 4 – in the entire FBS – in rushing yards per game taking on a Wyoming D ranked No. 92 nationally vs. the run. And, in the other, it’s a Cowboy rushing offense ranked No. 28 in the country vs. a Golden Flash defense ranked No. 106 against the run. Overall, Kent State has the more effective offense (ranked No. 36 in scoring vs. Wyoming’s No. 99) while the Cowboys have the better D (ranked No. 36 in scoring vs. the Flashes’ No. 119). Who will expose who?

Players to Watch

Kent State: junior S Dean Clark (#3) (tied for No. 9 in the FBS in solo tackles), sophomore RB Marquez Cooper (#1) (No. 6 in the MAC in rushing yards per game)

Wyoming: senior LB Chad Muma (#48) (No. 2 in the FBS in solo tackles and tied for No. 4 in total tackles), senior RB Xazavian Valladay (#6) (No. 3 in the MWC in rushing yards per game)

Tropical Smoothie Café FRISCO BOWL

UTSA (12-1, C-USA Champions) vs. (24) SAN DIEGO STATE (11-2) – C-USA vs. MWC – Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas – 7:30pm EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 2017

Most Appearances: Kent State (1-0), Louisiana Tech (1-0), Ohio (1-0), SMU (0-1), San Diego State (0-1), Utah State (0-1)

Last year: Cancelled due to COVID-19

The Teams

UTSA has never won a bowl game in its short history (it first fielded a team in 2011), its only two appearances both resulting in losses – a 31-24 defeat to then (16) Louisiana in the 2020 First Responder Bowl and a 23-20 loss to New Mexico in the 2016 New Mexico Bowl.

San Diego State is 6-9 in bowl play, most recently destroying Central Michigan 48-11 in the 2019 New Mexico Bowl.

The Matchup

This is UTSA and San Diego State’s first-ever football meeting.

Line: UTSA -2

This is a quality pairing between two of the best Group of 5 teams in 2021 – the C-USA champ vs. the MWC runner up – combined, the pair posted a 23-3 record during the regular season. The intriguing matchup is UTSA’s super-charged offense, averaging 37.8 points per game (No. 12 nationally) taking on a San Diego State defense allowing 19.5 (No. 17). While the Aztecs are all-world vs. the run (No. 2 in the entire nation) they have shown a vulnerability vs. the pass (No. 90). That puts the pressure on the Roadrunners’ air attack which has averaged 254 yards per game (No. 46 in the FBS). It’s no coincidence that the unit managed only 161 passing yards (the second fewest in 2021) in its only defeat – a shocking 45-23 decision at North Texas.

UTSA will be without its leading rusher – junior RB Sincere McCormick (No. 7 in the FBS in rushing yards per game) – who has declared for the NFL Draft and is opting out of the Frisco Bowl.

Players to Watch

UTSA: junior WR Zakhari Franklin (#4) (tied for No. 11 in the FBS in receiving TDs), senior OLB Clarence Hicks (#9) (tied for No. 16 in the FBS in sacks and No. 19 in tackles for a loss)

San Diego State: junior DL Cameron Thomas (#99) (No. 3 in the FBS in tackles for a loss and tied for No. 12 in sacks), junior S Patrick McMorris (#33) (tied for the third most interceptions in the FBS)

Wednesday, Dec. 22

Lockheed Martin ARMED FORCES BOWL

MISSOURI (6-6) vs. ARMY (8-3)– SEC vs. Independent – Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas – 8pm EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 2003

Previous names: Fort Worth Bowl (2003-05)

Most appearances: Houston (2-3), Air Force (1-4)

Last year: Mississippi State 28 – (22) Tulsa 26

The Teams

Missouri is 15-18 in bowl play, most recently falling to Oklahoma State 38-33 in the 2018 Liberty Bowl. It hasn’t won a bowl game since the 2014 Citrus Bowl, a 33-17 victory over Minnesota.

Army is 6-3 in bowl action. It went bowling as recently as last season, suffering a 24-21 loss vs. West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl. Its most recent win came in the 2018 Armed Forces Bowl, a 70-14 beatdown of Houston. The Black Knights haven’t beaten a current Power 5 member in bowl play since edging Illinois 31-29 in the 1985 Peach Bowl.

The Matchup

Missouri and Army have met four times previously but not since 1982. The Tigers lead the series 3-1, the Black Knights only win coming in 1971, also the only-ever meeting at West Point. This is the first postseason meeting between the two which also have dates booked in 2029 and 2033.

Line: Army -4

This paring, at least on paper, features one of the biggest mismatches of bowl season. On one side of the ball its Army’s option-tastic offense, ranked No. 2 in the nation in rushing yards per game, while on the other it’s a Missouri D ranked No. 124 in the FBS and dead last in the SEC vs. the run. On the flip side, how about the No. 3 back in college football – Tiger senior RB Tyler Badie (#1) – taking on a Black Knight D ranked No. 11 in the FBS against the run? Though the gap in athletic resources between the SEC and the service academies ought to give the advantage to Mizzou, this one has all the right stuff to be must-see TV.

Players to Watch

Missouri: senior RB Tyler Badie (#1) (No. 3 in the FBS in rushing yards per game, despite declaring for the NFL Draft, Badie is currently expected to participate in the Armed Forces Bowl), sophomore DB Jaylon Carlies (#1) (tied for the third most interceptions in the FBS)

Army: junior OLB Andre Carter II (#34) (No. 2 in the FBS in sacks, No. 13 in tackles for a loss and tied for No. 9 in forced fumbles)

Thursday, Dec. 23

FRISCO FOOTBALL CLASSIC

NORTH TEXAS (6-6) vs. MIAMI OHIO (6-6) – C-USA vs. MAC – Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas – 3:30pm EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 2021

Not to be confused with the Frisco Bowl – which featured UTSA and (24) San Diego State on Tuesday night – the Frisco Football Classic was added in late November (of this year) to ensure all 83 teams earning bowl eligibility in 2021 had an opportunity to play.

The Teams

Miami Ohio is 7-5 in bowl action. It most recently fell 27-17 to Louisiana in the 2019 LendingTree Bowl. It hasn’t tasted bowl victory since beating Middle Tennessee 35-21 in the 2010 GoDaddy.com Bowl.

North Texas is 2-9 in bowl play, falling 56-28 to Appalachian State in last year’s Myrtle Beach Bowl, also its fourth-straight bowl loss. The last win came in the 2013 Heart of Dallas Bowl, a 36-14 victory over UNLV.

The Matchup

This is Miami and North Texas’ first-ever football meeting.

Line: Miami Ohio -3

These two have opposite offensive superpowers – where Miami has a top-ranked passing attack, North Texas has an elite running game. It applies pressure to a pair of middle-of-the-pack defenses. For the Redhawks’ D (No. 64 in the nation vs. the run, allowing 151 yards per game) it’s all about containing a Mean Green offense that’s averaging 246 rushing yards per game (No. 3 in the nation). And for the UNT defense (No. 68 in the FBS vs. the pass, giving up 230 yards per game) it’s a quest to corral a Miami aerial attack averaging 283 yards per game (No. 20 in the nation). Though not one bit sexy, this is a solid matchup.

Players to Watch

Miami Ohio: sophomore QB Brett Gabbert (#5) (No. 19 in the FBS in passing yards per game), senior WR Jack Sorenson (#13) (No. 9 in the FBS in receiving yards per game), sophomore LB Ivan Pace Jr. (#0) (No. 15 in the FBS in total tackles), freshman DB Matthew Salopek (#15) (tied for No. 11 in the FBS in solo tackles and No. 18 in total tackles)

North Texas: senior RB DeAndre Torrey (#3) (No. 20 in the FBS in rushing yards per game)

Union Home Mortgage GASPARILLA BOWL

UCF (8-4) vs. FLORIDA (6-6) – AAC vs. SEC – Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla. – 7pm EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 2008

Previous names: magicJack Bowl (2008), Beef O’Brady’s Bowl (2009-13), St. Petersburg Bowl (2014-16)

Most appearances: Marshall (3-1), UCF (2-2)

Last year: Cancelled due to COVID-19

The Teams

UCF is 5-7 in bowl play. It got destroyed 49-23 by then (13) BYU in last season’s Boca Raton Bowl. The last win came in the 2019 edition of the Gasparilla Bowl, a 48-25 beatdown of Marshall.

Florida is 25-22 in bowl action. It got thumped 55-20 by then (6) Oklahoma in last year’s Cotton Bowl. The most recent win was in the 2019 Orange Bowl, a 36-28 triumph over Virginia.

The Matchup

UCF and Florida have met only twice previously, both times in Gainesville and both wins for the Gators. This is the first-ever postseason meeting and the first time the two have clashed in 15 years. They have plans to meet again in 2024, 2030 and 2033.

Line: Florida -6.5

Florida’s run game was unstoppable early in the season and then slowly tapered off before freefalling late in the year. After averaging 323 rushing yards in its first four games (a run that included Alabama and Tennessee) the Gators dropped to an average of 163 yards vs. its next three opponents and then plummeted to a mere 94 against its final four FBS foes. UCF’s D is ranked No. 71 nationally vs. the run giving up, on average, 155 yards per game. It held eight of its opponents to fewer than 140 rushing yards and then got blown up by Navy (348), (4) Cincinnati (336), SMU (241) and Louisville (191). This matchup might be a great opportunity for Florida to cash in on its deep trove of talent and build crucial momentum for next year.

With Dan Mullen gone, and Billy Napier waiting in the wings, Florida will be led on the sidelines by interim head coach Greg Knox. Knox has served as Mullen’s running backs coach since he took over the head job at Mississippi State in 2009.

Players to Watch

UCF: junior DL Cam Goode (#54) (tied for No. 9 in the FBS in forced fumbles)

Florida: junior QB Emory Jones (#5) (the No. 1 rushing QB in the SEC, Jones will play in the Gasparilla Bowl but then plans on entering the transfer portal)

Friday, Dec. 24

EasyPost HAWAII BOWL

MEMPHIS (6-6) at HAWAII (6-7) – AAC vs. MWC – Ching Complex, Honolulu, Hawaii – 8pm EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 2002

Most appearances: Hawaii (5-4)

Last year: Cancelled due to COVID-19

The Teams

Memphis is 5-8 in bowl play. It downed FAU 25-10 in last season’s Montgomery Bowl.

Hawaii is 8-6 in bowl action. It engineered a 28-14 triumph over Houston in last year’s New Mexico Bowl.

The Matchup

This is Memphis and Hawaii’s first-ever meeting on the gridiron.

Line: Memphis -7.5

This pairing features two solid passing attacks taking on defenses that have struggled against the pass. The bigger of the two mismatches is Memphis’ offense – ranked No. 17 in the nation in passing yards per game – taking on a Hawaii D ranked a desperate No. 127 vs. the pass – only three teams in the entire FBS have been more generous. Less frightening is the Rainbow Warriors’ aerial show – No. 35 in the USA – taking on a Tiger defense ranked No. 103 nationally against the pass. The Hawaii Bowl staff might need to purchase back-up batteries for the scoreboard!

Memphis will be without its leading receiver – senior WR Calvin Austin III (No. 19 in the FBS in receiving yards per game) – who is opting out of the Hawaii Bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft.

Players to Watch

Memphis: freshman QB Seth Henigan (#14) (No. 10 in the FBS in passing yards per game), senior LB JJ Russell (#23) (tied for No. 4 in the FBS in solo tackles and No. 9 in total tackles)

Hawaii: junior WR Nick Mardner (#84) (No. 13 in the FBS in yards per catch), junior LB Darius Muasau (#53) (tied for No. 2 in the FBS in forced fumbles and tied for No. 18 in solo tackles), senior DB Khoury Bethley (#5) (tied for the second most interceptions in the FBS)

Saturday, Dec. 25

TaxAct CAMELLIA BOWL

GEORGIA STATE (7-5) vs. BALL STATE (6-6) – Sun Belt vs. MAC – Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Ala. – 2:30pm EST – ESPN

The Bowl

First year: 2014

Most appearances: Appalachian State (2-0), Arkansas State (1-1)

Last year: Buffalo 17 – Marshall 10

As a note, there have been two other Camellia Bowls in history. In 1948 Lafayette, Louisiana hosted a postseason game by the same name in which Hardin-Simmons beat Wichita State 49-12. From 1961 to 1975 and then in 1980, the Camellia Bowl was a postseason championship/playoff game for the NAIA (1961-63), NCAA College Division (1964-72), NCAA D-II (1973-75) and NCAA D-IAA (1980) levels – all were played in Sacramento, California. 

The Teams

Georgia State is 2-2 in bowl play since moving up to the FBS ranks in 2013. It most recently downed Western Kentucky 39-21 in last season’s LendingTree Bowl.

Ball State is 1-7 in bowl action, the only win in program history coming in the 2020 Arizona Bowl, a 34-13 upset victory over then (24) San Jose State.

The Matchup

Georgia State and Ball State have met twice previously, a home-and-home in 2015-16 with the visiting team winning on each occasion.

Line: Georgia State -4.5

This one will likely come down to how well Ball State’s defense – ranked No. 93 nationally vs. the run – can manage to contain Georgia State’s blistering ground game, averaging 222 yards per game – the tenth best unit in America. Where the Panthers hung up 230-plus rushing yards on seven of their 12 opponents this season, the Cardinals coughed up 200-plus on five occasions.

Players to Watch

Georgia State: senior RB Jamyest Williams (#21) (tied for No. 18 in the FBS in yards per carry), sophomore S Antavious Lane (#34) (tied for the third most interceptions in the FBS)

Ball State: senior ILB Jaylin Thomas (#6) (tied for the third most interceptions in the FBS and No. 25 in total tackles)

Historical data courtesy of Sports Reference/College Football. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Lines courtesy of OddsShark.

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Comments (4)

Illinois played Army in the 1985 Peach Bowl, not the Citrus Bowl. It is notable as the only edition of the Peach Bowl not to feature a Southern team.

I think I’ve realized that bowl games are just sponsored postseason exhibition matches. Never thought of it that way before.

It works because people watch football, sponsors reach audiences, and universities get exposure.

A great way to end the season for most teams.