Bowl Predictions: 43 Thoughts on 43 Bowls

The playoff discussion is over. We have our teams (and yes, Cincinnati, you're in).

Without further ado, and with appreciation that we'll have a full slate of bowls this year, here is a quick first thought for every bowl game this season.

Celebration Bowl - Jackson State vs. SC State — It's Deion's show and we're all witnessing it. I'm a little surprised his name hasn't come up for bigger openings. What he's done at Jackson State has been impressive, not only in winning, but in fan interest and support. JSU drew over 50,000 fans on three separate occasions this year. There's not another FCS school that's done that; let alone a whole lot of Group of Five FBS programs. Give Prime his due.

Bahamas Bowl - Middle Tennessee vs. Toledo — December in Nassau is certainly a reward. Toledo's Bryant Coback is one to watch for sure.

Cure Bowl - Northern Illinois vs. Coastal Carolina — Huskies are one of the best feel-good stories of the year. NIU's defense has given up 447 yards/game; they'll have to do much better against Grayson McCall and the Chants.

Boca Raton Bowl - Appalachian State vs. Western Kentucky — This one should be fun. Bailey Zappe is worth the price of admission. Chase Brice and the Mountaineers can sling it, too.

New Mexico Bowl - Fresno State vs. UTEP — Bulldogs had a good year and lost their head coach to Washington. They'll get a UTEP team who hasn't been to a bowl game since 2014. A short trip to Albuquerque and it might seem like a road game for Fresno.

Independence Bowl - BYU vs. UAB — I wish this would've been BYU-UTSA. Wouldn't count Bill Clark and the Blazers out of any game, but they'll have their hands full with a balanced, potent Cougar attack. Tyler Allgeier is the real deal.

LendingTree Bowl - Liberty vs. Eastern Michigan — Eagles have lost two of their last three. Should be an air show between Ben Bryant and Malik Willis.

L.A. Bowl - Utah State vs. Oregon State — Blake Anderson keeps on winning with his relentless air attack. B.J. Baylor, who has very quietly had a good season, can help the Beavers slow down the Aggie air assault.

New Orleans Bowl - Marshall vs. Louisiana — Cajuns will be right at home under the Dome. The real question is if Marshall's Grant Wells will be healthy enough to play. If so, should be a very entertaining game. If not, definitely hurts the Thundering Herd.

Myrtle Beach Bowl - Tulsa vs. Old Dominion — Tulsa gave Oklahoma State, Cincinnati and Ohio State scares. They also lost to Navy and UC Davis. Which Golden Hurricane team shows up to face Blake Watson, Ali Jennings III and a very balanced Monarch squad?

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl - Wyoming vs. Kent State — Kent State's reward for a MAC runner-up finish is a trip to Boise, which is a nice town but it's nicer in the summer. Dante Cephas is a lot of fun to watch in any weather, though. Wyoming is 2-0 vs. the MAC this year, including a win at Northern Illinois. Chad Muma is a tackling machine for the Cowboy D.

Frisco Bowl - UTSA vs. San Diego State —. The guy worth watching for the Aztecs is their punter. No, that's not a typo. Matt Araiza is going to get paid in the pros as he has done the nearly impossible by making each punt exciting to watch. The guy to watch for the Roadrunners is RB Sincere McCormick, who is talented enough to get his team out of any field position woes. Aztecs have to plug him up, which is no easy task.

Armed Forces Bowl - Army vs. Missouri — This game might fly by, given both teams love for the ground game. Army has to stop Tyler Badie at all costs. Meanwhile, Missouri's run defense has improved from its horrific stats through the first two months of the season. They'll be put to the ultimate test against the Army triple option.

Frisco Football Classic - Miami (OH) vs. North Texas — The bowl game created to ensure no 6-win team was left behind is a tale of contracts: Miami's passing attack versus the North Texas ground game. Credit the Mean Green, who won their last five to achieve bowl eligibility, including a drubbing of UTSA.

Gasparilla Bowl - Florida vs. Central Florida — The question on everyone's mind: Will Florida be motivated enough? Gus Malzahn and Central Florida will treat this game like the Super Bowl; can the Gators match the Knights' intensity?

Hawai'i Bowl - Hawai'i vs. Memphis — Not the worst place for a 6-6 Memphis team to spend Christmas Eve. Two teams that can really throw the ball, but who wants it more? Both have lost three of their last five, though Hawai'i won their last two and is the only team sub .500 to make a bowl game this year.

Camellia Bowl - Georgia State vs. Ball State — The Panthers won six of their last seven and gave Auburn one heck of a scare (that a referee's call could've made that scare a true upset). Both have played a similar opponent in Army. The Black Knights beat Georgia State, but got clobbered by Drew Pitt and the Cardinals.

Quick Lane Bowl - Nevada vs. Western Michigan — Wolf Pack lost three games by a combined total of 6 points. Broncos have a 44-41 win over ACC champion Pitt. Broncos are fairly balanced on offense, but will have to shut down Carson Strong and Nevada's insane passing attack and force them to win it on the ground.

Military Bowl - East Carolina vs. Boston College — Two teams on very different trajectories. Pirates have won four of their last five, while the Eagles have lost six of their last eight. BC's defense has to find a way to create turnovers; ECU QB Holton Ahlers has thrown 10 picks this year.

Birmingham Bowl - Houston vs. Auburn — Auburn's lost four straight; the last one in agonizing fashion, and now gets a very short drive up US 280 to face a dynamic Cougars squad. Houston will be motivated to knock a big boy off in their own state; Bryan Harsin and Auburn need this win for recruiting purposes. With Alabama and Georgia in the CFP, a loss in this game to Houston won't sit well with recruits or fans.

First Responder Bowl - Louisville vs. Air Force — Air Force is disciplined, physical and reliably good. But Louisville's Malik Cunningham is worth watching, and I don't know if Air Force has seen anyone like him all year. Their success in limiting his playmaking ability will be the deciding factor.

Liberty Bowl - Mississippi State vs. Texas Tech — Mississippi State returns to the scene of the football crime in Memphis. They'll want to wash away memories of their game with the Tigers, and what better way for Mike Leach to do so than to exact revenge on his former employer. Something tells me he's been waiting to do this for years. Raiders have lost four of their last five, but three of those were to teams then-ranked in the top 10. I like the Joey McGuire hire a lot for Texas Tech.

Holiday Bowl - UCLA vs. NC State — Should be a fun one! Love Chip Kelly's revival at Westwood, and when his offense is on, it's on (example: UCLA 62, USC 33). But Devin Leary has been lights out for NC State this year, and if anyone saw those last few minutes against North Carolina, you'd realize this is a tough, gritty, never-say-die Wolfpack group that's fun to watch.

Guaranteed Rate Bowl - Minnesota vs. West Virginia — Didn't see this matchup coming to fruition, but here we are. Gophers lost Ibrahim early but still slugged through their season, with Ky Thomas stepping up when it mattered. West Virginia has a turnover ratio of -7, something they'll have to clean up facing Tyler Nubin and company.

Fenway Bowl - SMU vs. Virginia — Virginia's lost their last four and SMU's lost four of their last five. Something has to give. Should be a good shootout between Tanner Mordecai and Brennan Armstrong. How motivated are the Cavs to send Bronco Mendenhall out a winner?

Pinstripe Bowl - Virginia Tech vs Maryland — Neither team was that bad, but both programs feel diasppointed with their seasons as they meet in New York. The key could be turnovers; Maryland is -8 for the year, while the Hokies are +3. Taulia Tagovailoa has to take care of the football in order for Maryland to win.

Cheez-It Bowl - Clemson vs. Iowa State — Neither team met their lofty expectations. How will the Clemson D perform with Brent Venables off to Oklahoma? They'll have to be ready for Breece Hall, and Brock Purdy's not too shabby throwing it either. Cyclone D needs to pressure D.J Uiagalelei, who's thrown as many touchdowns (9) as he has interceptions (9). Tigers have found their stride late, though, winning their last five and seven of their last eight.

Alamo Bowl - Oklahoma vs. Oregon — Oklahoma will be led by Bob Stoops. Who knows who will lead Oregon, as Miami is talking with Mario Cristobal as we speak. The Sooners, who were absolutely rattled by the last week in Norman, now might find new motivation as they have their new coach and Stoops has helped calmed the waters. If Cristobal leaves, and Joe Moorhead already off to Akron, there's a lot of questions in Eugene.

Duke's Mayo Bowl - N. Carolina vs. S. Carolina — It seems that these two teams meeting in Charlotte is pretty common. S. Carolina, who wasn't projected to do very much in Shane Beamer's first season, is thrilled to be in this game. N. Carolina though, has the more reliable quarterback in Sam Howell. This bowl game already put out a viral video offering $10,000 to the winning team's charity if they dunked the winning coach in Duke's Mayo, which would be ... different.

Music City Bowl - Purdue vs. Tennessee — This will be a sellout and they'll be treated to one heck of an offensive show. Will be a lot of fun watching Jeff Brohm and Josh Heupel face off in what will be anything but a low-scoring affair in Nashville.

Las Vegas Bowl - Wisconsin vs. Arizona State — Badgers bring the defense. Sun Devils bring the offense. The battle of best vs. best will decide this one. Meanwhile, Wisconsin will rely on their trusted ground game, and the Sun Devils haven't given up a lot of rushing yards. Could be a low scoring tilt.

Gator Bowl - Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M — Deacs love to sling it behind Sam Hartmann. Aggies have a great back in Spiller and one of the best tight ends in Wydermyer. A&M has been a wild roller coaster, beating Alabama but losing to LSU to end the season. Which A&M shows up to face a Wake team that needs a rebound from their ACC title loss to Pitt?

Sun Bowl - Washington State vs. Miami — Basically, the game that features the team loaded with drama currently (Miami) and the team who had drama midway through the season (Washington State). The Cougs have rebounded nicely from the Rolovich debacle, but given how badly Miami has handled things with Manny Diaz, what motivates him and his staff? And, how are the players handling this internally? What Miami's administration has done is horribly unfair to everyone within the Miami program.

Arizona Bowl - Boise State vs. Central Michigan — Boise will be the heavy favorite here, as they were very close to a nine-win season had some things gone different with UCF and Oklahoma State. But the Chips really have a great offensive attack. Lew Nichols is the best running back you've never heard about.

Outback Bowl - Arkansas vs. Penn State — Razorbacks have won four of their last five, with their only setback giving a scare to Alabama. Penn State's lost five of their last seven. Could be a battle of QBs and WRs, with Sean Clifford and Jahan Dotson for Penn State and K.J. Jefferson and Treylon Burks for Arkansas. Hogs ground game is better than Penn State's, but can their secondary, without Jalen Catalon, limit big plays from the Nittany Lions?

Citrus Bowl - Kentucky vs. Iowa — Iowa's offense continues to sputter (with the exception of Tyler Goodson), but man, that defense. Kentucky's Will Levis must be able to limit turnovers in order for the Cats to win. If Iowa's opportunistic defense shuts Levis down, pressure will be on Chris Rodriguez.

Texas Bowl - LSU vs. Kansas State — This one would have so much more juice had Ed Orgeron decided to stay for this game. Nevertheless, this one might be the toughest to predict. LSU has been up and down all season, while Kansas State fired their offensive coordinator after losing their last two. If you're playing confidence, this one is a low pick.

Rose Bowl - Utah vs. Ohio State — Should be a nice, offensive affair in Pasadena. I'm intrigued to see C.J. Stroud and the Buckeyes face a Utah team that did what Ohio State couldn't do: whip Oregon. Twice. Tavion Thomas and TreVeyon Henderson could light things up on the ground in a big way. This will be a fun game to watch.

Fiesta Bowl - Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma State — Irish will be fired up to win for new coach Marcus Freeman. Cowboys have to find a way to end this season on a high note after the gut-wrenching way they lost to Baylor last Saturday. While Oklahoma State has been known for their offense, their defense has been the story this season. Will be interesting to watch their strategy against Jack Coan and company.

Sugar Bowl - Ole Miss vs. Baylor — We all know what Matt Corral and Ole Miss can do on offense. Will be interesting to see them go toe to toe with Gerry Bohanon, Abram Smith, and Baylor's offensive attack. Dave Aranda and Lane Kiffin are both second-year coaches that got their teams to this point quickly. Should be a very good battle of the minds, as well as offensive firepower.

Peach Bowl - Michigan State vs. Pitt — Pat Narduzzi faces his former employer, who seems to be rolling quite well with Mel Tucker at the helm. Key to this game will be the Spartan pass defense and the Pitt rushing defense. Michigan State's two losses were to explosive passing attacks in Purdue and Ohio State. Now they have to face one of the nation's best quarterbacks in Kenny Pickett. Given ample time, will Tucker have the strategy to slow him down? Meanwhile, Panthers have to stop Kenneth Walker III at all costs.

Orange Bowl - Michigan vs. Georgia — Michigan is peaking at the absolute perfect time and Hassan Haskins is an absolute beast. The challenge will be for Haskins to carve his way on the ground through Georgia's defense, who will be highly motivated to prove themselves again after struggling mightily against Alabama. Meanwhile, the question for Georgia is at quarterback. Will Kirby utilize J.T. Daniels at any point to keep Jim Harbaugh on his toes? Or will he ride Stetson Bennett all the way? I doubt it matters much to Aiden Hutchinson.

Cotton Bowl - Alabama vs. Cincinnati — Give Nick Saban time to dissect an opponent and that's usually bad news for anyone. Cincinnati gave Georgia all it could handle and then some last year, and I'd expect Desmond Ritter, Jerome Ford (an Alabama transfer) and company to give the Tide all they can handle as well. If Will Anderson can break through the Bearcat OL consistently, it'll be a long night for Cincinnati. Meanwhile, the Cincy D has to find a way to pressure Bryce Young. If he gets time, he can carve any team up with ease. They also have to find a way to stop Jameson Williams at all costs. Saban knows this, so look for Slade Bolden to be highlighted more, especially with Metchie out.

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