The full 40-game college football bowl schedule was released Sunday and it’s time to break down which contests you should be paying attention to. We’ve decided to rank the five bests bowl matchups for you.
A note off the top: It would be far too easy to list the national semifinal games and the championship game on this list, so we’re going with the best five games other than those. Obviously you should be interested in those matchups, this is the best of the rest.
5. Holiday Bowl: No. 16 Michigan State vs. No. 18 Washington State
Broadcast info: Dec. 28, 9 p.m. EST, FS1
Washington State looked like a potential playoff team after starting 6-0, but Mike Leach’s squad went 3-3 down the stretch to finish 9-3 and miss the Pac-12 title game.
Michigan State looked like a major comeback story after the Spartans started 6-1. Then they suffered an overtime loss against Northwestern and were blown out by Ohio State 48-3.
So who are these two 9-3 teams? It’s a good question, but one with a complicated answer.
Wazzu finished the season ranked second in the nation in passing yards per game (374.8), but somehow also ranked 15th in total defense (314 yards per game). That is, frankly, shocking given Leach’s history.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan State finished with it’s typically stout defense ranked ninth in the nation in yards allowed (298 yards per game), while their offense ranked 91st, averaging just 378 yards per game.
This game will come down to a battle between the minds of Leach and Mark Dantonio. Leach’s Air-Raid offense against Dantonio’s defense. It should be a fun chess match.
4. Alamo Bowl: No. 13 Stanford vs. No. 15 TCU
Broadcast info: Dec. 28, 9 p.m. EST, ESPN
Stanford was three points away from winning the Pac-12 and heading to one of the big six bowls, but their second loss to USC in the Pac-12 title game sent them here. Luckily, Heisman hopeful Bryce Love has struggled with a high ankle sprain and should finally be healthy.
Meanwhile, TCU lost to a playoff team (Oklahoma) twice, and fell in a fluky 14-7 matchup at Iowa State. Other than that, the Horned Frogs looked great this season, including two big wins over Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
Stanford boasts a rushing attack that racked up 205.8 yards per game, and Love has rushed for 1,973 yards and 17 touchdowns while averaging a ridiculous 8.3 yards per carry this season. TCU’s defense ranked 19th in the country in total defense (329 yards allowed per game) and fourth in rushing defense (99.8 yards per game). It will be a battle between Stanford’s power and TCU’s attacking defense.
Love is a blast to watch, but Stanford’s offense has completely changed since K.J. Costello took over at quarterback. The Cardinal can actually throw the ball now. TCU’s defense will have to come up big, but Gary Patterson always seems to figure out something on that side of the ball.
3. Citrus Bowl: No. 14 Notre Dame vs. No. 17. LSU
Broadcast info: Jan. 1, 1 p.m. EST, ABC
LSU opened the season 3-2 with bad losses to Mississippi State and Troy. After that defeat at home to the Trojans, Ed Orgeron’s team turned things around, winning six of its final seven games, the only loss coming at Alabama.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s finish was incredibly disappointing after opening the season with an 8-1 record where the team’s only loss was a 20-19 defeat at the hands of Georgia, who is in the playoff. Down the stretch, the Irish lost two of their last three games, getting blasted by Miami 41-8 and hammered by Stanford 38-20.
The key for both teams in this matchup will be rushing offense. The Irish need to find ways to move the ball against LSU’s stout front seven and the same goes for the Tigers. Both teams feature two of the nation’s top running backs in Derrius Guice and Josh Adams, and average-at-best quarterback play so this should be a fun, old-school, grind-it-out battle.
Brian Kelly and Orgeron will both be highly motivated to add another win to their seasons. After all, 10-3 looks a heck of a lot better than 9-4.
2. Peach Bowl: No. 7 Auburn vs. No 12 Central Florida
Broadcast info: Dec. 30, 12:30 p.m. EST, ESPN
Central Florida is one of the best stories of the 2017 season, as they were winless two seasons ago and went 12-0 this year. While head coach Scott Frost has moved on to Nebraska, the Knights will have plenty to prove against Auburn. Plenty of people associated with UCF’s program are smarting because the team went undefeated, yet didn’t even get a look from the playoff committee.
Meanwhile, Auburn had a chance to reach the playoff and blew it. All the Tigers had to do was beat a Georgia team they blasted 40-17 a few weeks ago. Instead, they got hammered by the Bulldogs 28-7 in the SEC Championship over the weekend. Gus Malzahn’s 10-3 team will be smarting from that loss and looking to prove itself to a national audience.
These are two explosive offensive teams. Auburn finished the season averaging 454 yards per game, while UCF ranked 5th in the nation at 540 ypg. Meanwhile, UCF led the national by averaging a ridiculous 49.4 points per game. Auburn also ranked 14th nationally in total defense, allowing just 312 yards per game. This should be a fantastic matchup that is a whole lot of fun.
1. Cotton Bowl: No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 8 USC
Broadcast info: Dec. 29, 8:30 p.m. EST, ESPN
This is easily the marquee matchup of the non-playoff games. These are two of the nation’s most storied programs and both teams believe they should have been in the final four. Both teams won their conference championship games and both finished the season 11-2.
When they’re on, Ohio State might be the best team in the country. At their best they can beat anyone. The problem is, the Buckeyes have pulled Jekyl and Hyde acts on several occasions. With their wealth of skill position players and a month to prepare, Urban Meyer should be able to come up with a fantastic gameplan.
USC had a “disappointing” season according to some, but any time you beat 10 power-five teams (most in the nation) and are forced to play 12-straight weeks without a bye, it’s going to be a tough schedule. Sam Darnold and Ronald Jones II are two of the nation’s best offensive players and could be in their final games for the Trojans. You can bet they’ll come out fired up.
The key to this matchup will be the quarterback matchup. J.T. Barrett and Darnold could both be in their final collegiate games. Barrett is a senior and Darnold is likely to be a top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Both guys will be wanting to prove something after their teams missed the College Football Playoff. Expect some fireworks.