The fourth segment of this year’s bowl bonanza is bursting with goodness – including the two games which will decide the pairing for the fifth-ever CFB Playoff Championship.
Saturday features three “regular” bowl games (two at Noon EST and one at 1:15pm EST) – including one ranked vs. ranked matchup – before the CFB Playoff Semi-Final games kickoff at 4pm EST (the Cotton Bowl Classic) and 8pm EST (the Orange Bowl). Both air on ESPN.
Sunday is a day off for college ball, giving way to the finale of the NFL regular season.
Monday – New Year’s Eve – is jam-packed with bowl action, featuring six matchups starting at Noon EST and finally wrapping up at 7:30pm EST.
From a viewing standpoint, this is the only set of games that will require mastery of your remote control. Of the eleven total contests, six are on ESPN, one is on ABC, one on CBS, one on CBSSN, one on FOX and one on FS1.
Happy New Year, friends.
Saturday, Dec. 29
SOUTH CAROLINA (7-5) vs. VIRGINIA (7-5) – SEC vs. ACC – Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C. – Noon EST – ABC
First year: 2002
Previous names: Continental Tire (2002-04), Meineke Car Care (2005-10)
Most Appearances: North Carolina (1-3)
Last year: Wake Forest 55 – Texas A&M 52
South Carolina is 9-13 in bowl action. It beat Michigan 26-19 in last season’s Outback Bowl.
Virginia is 7-12 in bowl play. It got thumped 49-7 by Navy in last year’s Military Bowl. It hasn’t won a bowl game since the 2005 Music City Bowl, a 34-31 victory over Minnesota.
South Carolina and Virginia shared membership in the ACC from 1953-70, when the Gamecocks went independent before joining the SEC in 1992. The two haven’t clashed since 2003, South Carolina leads 21-13-1 but the two have split the last four. This is the first-ever postseason meeting.
Line: South Carolina -3.5
The compelling strength vs. strength matchup in this one is South Carolina’s offense (ranked No. 38 in scoring) taking on a Virginia defense ranked No. 29 in points allowed. More specifically, it’s the Gamecocks’ No. 24 passing attack (ranked No. 3 in the SEC) taking on a Cavalier secondary ranked No. 14 vs. the pass (No. 2 in the ACC). If you’re wondering how potent South Carolina’s aerial attack is – the Gamecocks may have lost 56-35 to (2) Clemson in the final game of the regular-season, but they hung up a season-high 510-passing yards and five touchdowns on the Tigers in the loss. South Carolina will be playing without senior wide receiver Deebo Samuel – tied for the fifth-most touchdown receptions in the FBS – who’s opted to skip the bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft.
Players to Watch
South Carolina: junior quarterback Jake Bentley (#19) (No. 16 in the FBS in passing yards per game).
Virginia: senior strong safety Juan Thornhill (#21) (tied for the third-most interceptions in the FBS), junior cornerback Bryce Hall (#34) (No. 1 in the FBS in both passes defended and passes broken-up).
Chick-fil-A PEACH BOWL
(10) FLORIDA (9-3) vs. (7) MICHIGAN (10-2) – SEC vs. Big Ten – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta Ga. – Noon EST – ESPN
First year: 1968
Previous names: Chick-fil-A (2006-13)
Most appearances: Clemson (3-5)
Last year: (10) UCF 24 – (7) Auburn 27
Florida is 22-21 in bowl play. It last went bowling in 2016, downing (21) Iowa 30-3 in the Outback Bowl.
Michigan is 21-25 in bowl action. It fell 26-19 to South Carolina in last season’s Outback Bowl, also its second-consecutive bowl loss.
A rematch of the 2015-16 Citrus Bowl, the 2007-08 Capital One Bowl and the 2002-03 Outback Bowl, Florida has never beaten Michigan. The only other time the two clashed was in the 2017 season opener in Arlington, Texas, a 33-17 Wolverine win.
Line: Michigan -7.5
On paper Michigan is far and away the better of these two teams, achieving top rankings in every major offensive and defensive statistical category minus pass offense. The common thread in the Wolverines’ two losses in 2018 were an inability to run the ball combined with a generous secondary. Despite a No. 25 rank in rushing offense, (3) Notre Dame held Michigan to a mere 58 yards and (6) Ohio State limited it to 161, both season-lows. This puts pressure squarely on Florida’s rush defense – ranked No. 74 nationally and No. 11 in the SEC. The good news for the Gators is the Wolverines’ leading rusher (Karan Higdon – No. 16 in the FBS in rushing yards per game) – has opted to skip the bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft.
On the other side of the ball, the Wolverines’ No. 2 ranked pass defense (that’s a national ranking) got demolished by the Buckeyes’ aerial attack (No. 2 in the FBS) to the tune of 396 yards and six scores. That’s quite an achievement vs. a defense that’s held opponents to an average of 145 yards per game and seven total touchdowns. Unfortunately, the Gators’ passing attack is the weakest part of its offense – ranked No. 77 nationally vs. a No. 26 rank in rushing.
Players to Watch
Florida: junior defensive lineman Jachai Polite (#99) (No. 6 in the FBS in sacks and No. 23 in tackles for a loss).
Michigan: junior running back Chris Evans (#12) (the Wolverines’ No. 2 rusher, No. 15 in the Big Ten in yards per carry).
NOVA Home Loans ARIZONA BOWL
ARKANSAS STATE (8-4) vs. NEVADA (7-5) – Sun Belt vs. MWC – Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz. – 1:15pm EST – CBSSN
First year: 2015
Most appearances: Air Force, Nevada, New Mexico State (all 1-0) and Colorado State, South Alabama, Utah State (all 0-1)
Last year: New Mexico State 26 – Utah State 20 (OT)
Arkansas State is 3-5 in bowl action. It lost 35-30 to Middle Tennessee in last year’s Camellia Bowl. The most recent win came in the 2016 Cure Bowl, a 31-13 victory over UCF.
Nevada is 5-10 in bowl play. Its last bowl appearance was in the 2015 edition of the Arizona Bowl, a 28-23 win over Colorado State.
Arkansas State and Nevada have met five times previously, all played in the regular season between 1985 and 1999. The Wolf Pack lead 3-2.
Not only are both these teams represented by a wolf, both have potent passing attacks. The Arkansas State Red Wolves are ranked No. 23 nationally in passing offense while the Nevada Wolf Pack is No. 20. What they don’t share is the same level of defensive success vs. the pass, ASU is No. 12 – in the nation – against the pass while Nevada is No. 86. To put that into perspective, the Red Wolves’ secondary is ranked one step above Alabama’s, which is currently at No. 13.
Players to Watch
Arkansas State: senior quarterback Justice Hansen (#15) (No. 14 in the FBS in touchdown passes), senior defensive end Ronheen Bingham (#8) (No. 10 in the FBS in tackles for a loss).
Nevada: senior quarterback Ty Gangi (#6) (No. 13 in the FBS in passing yards per game).
Goodyear COTTON BOWL CLASSIC – CFB Playoff Semifinal Game
(3) NOTRE DAME (12-0) vs. (2) CLEMSON (13-0, ACC Champions) – Independent vs. ACC – AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas – 4pm EST – ESPN
First year: 1937
Most appearances: Texas (11-10-1)
Last year: (5) Ohio State 24 – (8) USC 7
Notre Dame is 18-18 in bowl play. It beat (16) LSU 21-17 in last season’s Citrus Bowl. This is its first appearance in the CFB Playoff.
Clemson is 22-20 in bowl action. It lost 24-6 to (4) Alabama in last season’s Sugar Bowl, also a semi-final for the CFB Playoff. Its last bowl win came in the 2016 CFB Championship game, a 35-31 win over (1) Alabama. The Tigers are 3-2 in CFB Playoff action.
This is Notre Dame and Clemson’s fourth-ever meeting and the first in the postseason. The two clashed in the 2015 regular season and then played a home-and-home series in 1977 and 1979. The Tigers lead 2-1, the Irish’s sole win coming in the very first meeting at Clemson.
Line: Clemson -10.5
Notre Dame is the only CFB Playoff participant that isn’t ranked in the Top 5 nationally in scoring offense. (4) Oklahoma is No. 1, (1) Alabama is No. 2 and (2) Clemson is No. 4. It makes the Irish’s No. 33 place look tragic, especially vs. a Clemson defense ranked No. 2 in scoring. The compelling matchup on the other side of the ball is the Tigers’ No. 10 ranked rushing attack – their biggest strength offensively speaking – taking on a Notre Dame defense ranked No. 33 vs. the run. The Irish have faced four rushing attacks this season that are currently ranked in the Top 25: Michigan (No. 25), who they held to 58 yards in a 24-17 win. Wake Forest (No. 24), who rushed for 259 in a 56-27 decision. Pitt (No. 18), who was held to 116 in a narrow 19-14 win and Navy (No. 6) who hung up a season-high 292 in a 44-22 Irish win.
Players to Watch
Notre Dame: junior safety Jalen Elliott (#21) (tied for the fourth-most interceptions in the FBS), junior cornerback Julian Love (#27) (No. 8 in the FBS in passes broken-up and No. 14 in passes defended).
Clemson: sophomore running back Travis Etienne (#9) (No. 3 in the FBS in rushing touchdowns, No. 7 in yards per carry and No. 10 in rushing yards per game), junior defensive end Clelin Ferrell (#99) (No. 8 in the FBS in sacks and No. 18 in tackles for a loss).
Capital One ORANGE BOWL – CFB Playoff Semifinal Game
(4) OKLAHOMA (12-1) vs. (1) ALABAMA (13-0) – Big 12 vs. SEC – Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla. – 8pm EST – ESPN
First year: 1935
Most appearances: Oklahoma (12-7)
Last year: (6) Wisconsin 34 – (11) Miami Fla. 24
Oklahoma is 29-21-1 in bowl action. It lost to (3) Georgia 54-48 in double overtime in last year’s CFB Playoff Semi-Final Rose Bowl. Its most recent bowl win came a year earlier in the 2016 Sugar Bowl, a 35-19 victory over (17) Auburn. At 0-2, the Sooners have never won a CFB Playoff game.
Alabama is 40-25-3 in bowl play. After upending (1) Clemson 24-6 in last season’s CFB Playoff Semi-Final Sugar Bowl, it edged (3) Georgia 26-23 in overtime in the national championship game. The Tide are 5-2 in CFB Playoff action. It is the only program to have participated in each of the five brackets thus far.
A rematch of the 2013/14 Sugar Bowl, the 1970 Bluebonnet Bowl and the 1962/63 Orange Bowl, this is Oklahoma and Alabama’s sixth-ever meeting. Other than the three bowl games, the two met in a home-and-home series in 2002 and 2003. Oklahoma holds a 3-1-1 advantage and has won three straight. The Sooners’ only win came in the first-ever meeting, the 1962/63 Orange Bowl, a 17-0 shutout.
Line: Alabama -14.5
Both of these teams are scoring machines, but only one has an elite defense. Oklahoma comes into the game ranked No. 1 nationally in scoring, No. 11 in rushing offense and No. 8 in passing offense. This sets up as a battle for the ages vs. an Alabama D ranked No. 4 in scoring, No. 19 vs. the run and No. 13 vs. the pass. Flip the tables and it’s an entirely different story, moving from an epic strength vs. strength scenario to a big-time mismatch. The Tide are ranked No. 2 in scoring offense, No. 36 in rushing and No. 7 in passing. Depending on who you are rooting for, this sets up as a nightmare or the fulfillment of your wildest dreams vs. a Sooner D ranked No. 96 in scoring offense, No. 53 vs. the run and No. 129 vs. the pass. That last number means Oklahoma is tied – with Houston – for the worst pass defense in the entire FBS.
Players to Watch
Oklahoma: junior quarterback Kyler Murray (#1) (No. 1 in the FBS in passer rating and No. 3 in passing yards), freshman running back Kennedy Brooks (#26) (No. 3 in the FBS in yards per carry), junior wide receiver Marquise Brown (#5) (No. 9 in the FBS in receiving yards per game) – expected to play despite a lower leg injury, sophomore linebacker Kenneth Murray (#9) (No. 6 in the FBS in total tackles).
Alabama: sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (#13) (No. 2 in the FBS in passer rating) – expected to play after undergoing ankle surgery on Dec. 1, sophomore wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (#4) (tied for the fifth-most touchdown receptions in the FBS), sophomore defensive lineman Quinnen Williams (#92) (No. 14 in the FBS in tackles for a loss).
Monday, Dec. 31
CINCINNATI (10-2) vs. VIRGINIA TECH (6-6) – AAC vs. ACC – Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Md. – Noon EST – ESPN
First year: 2008
Previous names: EagleBank (2008-09)
Most appearances: Navy (2-1)
Last year: Navy 49 – Virginia 7
Cincinnati is 7-9 in bowl play. It last went bowling in 2015, losing 42-7 to San Diego State in the Hawaii Bowl, also its third-consecutive bowl loss. The last win came in the 2012 Belk Bowl, a 48-34 victory over Duke.
Virginia Tech is 13-18 in bowl action. It fell 30-21 to (17) Oklahoma State in the 2017 Camping World Bowl. Its last victory came the year before, in 2016, when it downed Arkansas 35-24 in the Belk Bowl.
A rematch of the 2014 Military Bowl, the 2008/09 Orange Bowl and the 1946/47 Sun Bowl, Cincinnati and Virginia Tech have met 11 times previously. The Hokies hold a 6-5 advantage and have won three of the last four.
Line: Cincinnati -7.5
The big mismatch in this one is Cincinnati’s No. 16 nationally ranked rushing attack taking on Virginia Tech’s No. 105 ranked rush defense. After holding its first five opponents to an average of 100 yards rushing per game, the Hokies coughed up, on average, 282 to its last seven foes. Keep in mind that the Bearcats have quietly put together one of the best defenses in the FBS this season – ranked No. 7 in scoring, No. 8 vs. the run and No. 26 vs. the pass.
Players to Watch
Cincinnati: sophomore running back Michael Warren II (#3) (No. 5 in the FBS in rushing touchdowns), senior defensive tackle Cortez Broughton (#96) (No. 22 in the FBS in tackles for a loss).
Virginia Tech: junior quarterback Ryan Willis (#5) (No. 3 in the ACC in passing yards per game).
Hyundai SUN BOWL
STANFORD (8-4) vs. PITTSBURGH (7-6) – Pac-12 vs. ACC – Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Texas – 2pm EST – CBS
First year: 1935
Most appearances: Texas Tech (1-8)
Last year: NC State 52 – Arizona State 31
Stanford is 14-14-1 in bowl play. It fell 39-37 to (13) TCU in last season’s Alamo Bowl. Its most recent win came in the 2016 edition of the Sun Bowl, a 25-23 win over North Carolina.
Pitt is 13-20 in bowl action. Its last bowl appearance was in 2016, a 31-24 loss to Northwestern in the Pinstripe Bowl, also its third-straight bowl loss. Its last win came in the 2013 Little Caesars, a 30-27 victory over Bowling Green.
A rematch of the 1927/28 Rose Bowl, Stanford and Pitt haven’t clashed on the gridiron in 86 years. In total they’ve met three times, all between 1922 and 1932. The Panthers hold a 2-1 advantage.
Line: Stanford -7
Though not mismatches or great battles of strength, this game will likely come down to which defense can do a better job of containing the opposing team’s offensive forte. Stanford is ranked an un-Stanford-like No. 19 nationally in passing offense (compare that to its No. 123 rank in rushing), putting the pressure on Pitt’s middle-of-the-road (No. 54 in the FBS) pass D. On the flip side, it’s Pitt’s No. 18 ranked rushing attack (vs. a No. 120 ranked pass offense) taking on a Cardinal defense ranked No. 40 vs. the run.
Players to Watch
Stanford: junior quarterback K.J. Costello (#3) (No. 11 in the FBS in passing yards per game), senior wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside (#19) (tied for the third-most touchdown receptions in the FBS), sophomore cornerback Paulson Adebo (#11) (No. 1 in the FBS in passes defended).
Pitt: senior running back Qadree Ollison (#30) (No. 3 in the ACC in rushing yards per game).
MICHIGAN STATE (7-5) vs. OREGON (8-4) – Big Ten vs. Pac-12 – Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif. – 3pm EST – FOX
First year: 2002
Previous names: Diamond Walnut San Francisco (2002-03), Emerald (2004-09), Kraft Fight Hunger (2010-12), Fight Hunger (2013), Foster Farms (2014-17)
Most appearances: Boston College (1-2), UCLA (0-3)
Last year: Purdue 38 – Arizona 35
Michigan State is 12-15 in bowl play. It thumped (21) Washington State 42-17 in last year’s Holiday Bowl.
Oregon is 13-18 in bowl action. It got beat 38-28 by (25) Boise State in last season’s Las Vegas Bowl, also its third-straight bowl loss. The most recent win came in 2014, a 59-20 beatdown of (2) Florida State in the CFB Playoff Semi-Final Rose Bowl.
This is Michigan State and Oregon’s seventh-ever meeting. They last met in a home-and-home series in 2014 and 2015, each winning on their own turf. The series is deadlocked at three games apiece. This is the first-ever postseason meeting.
Line: Oregon -1.5
Not surprisingly, these two programs are polar opposites. The Spartans own and operate an offense that can’t find the end zone (ranked No. 122 nationally in scoring) and a defense that keeps opponents outside of the goal line (ranked No. 13 in the nation in scoring). The Ducks, on the other hand, have a so-so defense (No. 63 in scoring) and a high-flying offense (No. 17 in scoring). It’s the History Channel vs. the Sci-Fi Channel…Old School vs. New School…tune in to see who triumphs.
Players to Watch
Michigan State: junior defensive end Kenny Willekes (#48) (No. 7 in the FBS in tackles for a loss and No. 28 in sacks).
Oregon: junior quarterback Justin Herbert (#10) (No. 27 in the FBS in passing yards per game), junior wide receiver Dillon Mitchell (#13) (No. 18 in the FBS receiving yards per game).
AutoZone LIBERTY BOWL
(23) MISSOURI (8-4) vs. OKLAHOMA STATE (6-6) – SEC vs. Big 12 – Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, Tenn. – 3:45pm EST – ESPN
First year: 1959
Most appearances: Arkansas (2-3)
Last year: Iowa State 21- Memphis 20
Missouri is 15-17 in bowl play. It fell 33-16 to Texas in last year’s Texas Bowl. It hasn’t won a bowl game since 2014, beating Minnesota 33-17 in the Citrus Bowl.
Oklahoma State is 18-10 in bowl action. It took down (22) Virginia Tech 30-21 in last season’s Camping World Bowl.
A rematch of the 2013/14 Cotton Bowl, Missouri and Oklahoma State shared membership in the Big 8 and then Big 12 from 1960 until 2011. The Tigers hold a 29-23 advantage, but the Cowboys have won three of the last five.
Line: Missouri -4.5
The pair of mismatches in this game should result in an exciting explosion of yards and points. On one side of the ball it’s Mizzou’s No. 27 ranked passing attack (ranked No. 18 nationally in scoring) taking on an Oklahoma State defense ranked No. 107 vs. the pass. On the other, it’s the Cowboys’ No. 12 ranked passing game squaring off with a Tiger defense ranked No. 104 against the pass. It’s as if each team peered into the mirror and instead seeing themselves looking back at them, they see their opponent from the 2018 Liberty Bowl.
Players to Watch
Missouri: senior quarterback Drew Lock (#3) (No. 22 in the FBS in passing yards per game).
Oklahoma State: senior quarterback Taylor Cornelius (#14) (No. 9 in the FBS in passing yards per game), sophomore wide receiver Tylan Wallace (#2) (No. 3 in the FBS in receiving yards per game).
SDCCU HOLIDAY BOWL
(22) NORTHWESTERN (8-5) vs. (17) UTAH (9-4) – Big Ten vs. Pac-12 – SDCCU Stadium, San Diego, Calif. – 7pm EST – FS1
First year: 1978
Most appearances: BYU (4-6-1)
Last year: (16) Michigan State 42 – (18) Washington State 17
Northwestern is 4-10 in bowl play. It edged Kentucky 24-23 in last year’s Music City Bowl.
Utah is 17-4 in bowl action. It downed West Virginia 30-14 in last season’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, also its fifth-consecutive bowl win.
Northwestern and Utah have only clashed twice previously, both regular-season games in Evanston, Illinois – in 1981 (a win for the Utes) and 1927 (a win for the Wildcats).
Line: Utah -8.5
Northwestern has struggled epically to find the end zone in 2018, ranked No. 107 in the FBS in scoring. It won’t get any easier for the Wildcats vs. Utah’s D, one of the elite units in the nation. The Utes are No. 16 in scoring and a lofty No. 5 vs. the run, putting them just two slots behind (2) Clemson at No. 3. On the other side of the ball, Utah’s offense is a middle-of-the road unit. The biggest opportunity for it to make the difference is through the air, where it will square off a Northwestern defense that is No. 106 against the pass (vs. No. 32 against the run).
Players to Watch
Northwestern: sophomore linebacker Blake Gallagher (#51) (No. 20 in the FBS in total tackles).
Utah: senior linebacker Chase Hansen (#22) (No. 5 in the FBS in tackles for a loss) – listed as a game-time decision due to an undisclosed injury, sophomore defensive back Jaylon Johnson (#1) (tied for the fourth-most interceptions in the FBS).
TaxSlayer GATOR BOWL
NC STATE (9-3) vs. (19) TEXAS A&M (8-4) — ACC vs. SEC – TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville, Fla. – 7:30pm EST – ESPN
First year: 1946
Previous names: TaxSlayer (2014-17)
Most appearances: Florida (7-2), Clemson (4-5)
Last year: (24) Mississippi State 31 – Louisville 27
NC State is 17-13-1 in bowl play. It thumped Arizona State 52-31 in last season’s Sun Bowl.
Texas A&M is 17-22 in bowl action. It fell 55-52 to Wake Forest in last year’s Belk Bowl, also it’s third-consecutive bowl loss. The most recent win came in the 2014 Liberty, a 45-27 victory over West Virginia.
This is the first-ever football meeting between NC State and Texas A&M. The Aggies are 13-18 vs. the current membership of the ACC while the Wolfpack are 38-57-6 against the SEC (the bulk of which is a 26-28-4 mark vs. South Carolina).
Line: Texas A&M -3
Both of these teams have struggled to shut down opponents’ passing attacks in 2018. NC State is ranked No. 120 nationally vs. the pass (No. 13 in the ACC) and Texas A&M comes in at No. 109 (No. 14, or dead last in the SEC). Though the Aggies’ passing offense is good (No. 33 nationally and No. 5 in the SEC) it isn’t elite. The Wolfpack’s is. NC State is ranked No. 6 in the FBS in passing yards per game, just behind West Virginia at No. 3, Texas Tech at No. 4 and Ole Miss at No. 5. This puts the pressure squarely on A&M’s secondary. The good news for the Aggies is that Kelvin Harmon – NC State’s leading receiver – has decided to opt out of the bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft.
Players to Watch
NC State: senior running back Reggie Gallaspy, Jr. (#25) (No. 3 in the FBS in rushing touchdowns), senior quarterback Ryan Finley (#15) (No. 5 in the FBS in passing yards per game), junior wide receiver Jakobi Meyers (#11) (No. 17 in the FBS in receiving yards per game).
Texas A&M: junior running back Trayveon Williams (#5) (No. 4 in the FBS in rushing yards per game).