Projecting Every Bowl Game Post Week 7

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistOctober 15, 2013

Projecting Every Bowl Game Post Week 7

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    Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

    At roughly the midpoint of the college football season—though so much can and will change in the next two months—we've already seen enough games to make some concrete judgments.

    Nonconference play, for the most part, is a thing of the past. Teams are starting to square-off with evenly matched foes on a weekly basis, giving fans a better sense of how good each program is.

    With so much football ahead of us, there's no reason to take bowl projections all that seriously. They provide a meaningful draft of the postseason, but not a final copy.

    Still, there's no shame in looking ahead to what the bowls might have in store.

New Mexico Bowl

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    San Diego State vs. Utah

    Info: Dec. 21, Albuquerque, N.M.

    Utah is coming on strong in 2013 and now owns wins over quality sides like Stanford and BYU.

    The remaining schedule is tough but not impossible, and with just two more wins, the Utes will become bowl eligible. They're probably good enough to get there.

    If they do, and San Diego State is indeed waiting for them in the New Mexico , you might want to get your 35s ready in your postseason pick-'em pool. The Aztecs have been drilled against quality competition so far this season.

     

Las Vegas Bowl

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    Boise State vs. USC

    Info: Dec. 21, Las Vegas, Nev.

    Bowl games this early in the schedule are NOT supposed to be so loaded with NFL talent.

    But with both USC and Boise State starting slow this year and with both already two games down in the loss column, there's a legitimate chance this could happen.

    Boise State's offense struggled against the first Pac-12 defense it faced, scoring just six points at Washington. This game won't have the same road-field disadvantage, but the Trojans' defense is just as good (if not better) than the Huskies'.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

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    Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

    Bowling Green vs. Texas State

    Info: Dec. 21, Boise, Idaho

    Texas State has shown some flashes of decency since joining the FBS last season, and this is its best team to date. If the Mountain West can't qualify enough teams for the postseason, don't put it past the Bobcats to slip into this game.

    Though the TV ratings would likely be small, it would actually have an interesting opponent in Bowling Green—one that almost went on the road and beat Mississippi State last week.

    Don't let the anonymity of the programs fool you. This would be a fun game to watch.

New Orleans Bowl

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    Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Tulane

    Info: Dec. 21, New Orleans, La.

    Tulane is one of the most pleasant surprises in college football this year, coming out of nowhere to start the season 5-2 with a 3-0 record in C-USA.

    Louisiana-Lafayette, meanwhile, is the favorite to emerge from the Sun Belt and has a quarterback, Terrance Broadway, whom America doesn't know nearly enough about.

    Would Tulane enjoy an unfair home-field advantage playing in New Orleans? Maybe. But it would make for one of the craziest game weeks this bowl has ever enjoyed.

Beef O'Brady Bowl

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    Buffalo vs. North Texas

    Info: Dec. 23, St. Petersburg, Fla.

    Buffalo might be America's most underrated team, checking in at 4-2 on the season with losses at Ohio State and Baylor.

    No team that's beaten the Bulls this year has lost a single game.

    With Khalil Mack on one side of the ball and Branden Oliver on the other, Buffalo should be able to move through the MAC and advance to the Beef O'Brady.

    But North Texas has shown some pluck this year and wouldn't go down without a fight.

Hawaii Bowl

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    Middle Tennessee State vs. Wyoming

    Info: Dec. 24, Honolulu, Hawaii

    Like UL-Lafayette's Terrance Broadway, Wyoming's Brett Smith is a quarterback who doesn't get talked about nearly enough.

    He and the Cowboys have been surprisingly competitive this year, most notably in a near-upset of Nebraska in Lincoln, when Smith threw for 383 yards and the team gained over 600.

    Middle Tennessee State is always a solid team, even though it's gotten off to a slow start in C-USA play.

    Expect the Raiders to bounce-back and make the postseason, but don't expect many people to pick them in whatever bowl they make.

Little Caesars Bowl

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    Ohio vs. Iowa

    Info: Dec. 26, Detroit, Mich.

    There's a chance Iowa won't qualify for this spot, as it still needs two more wins to reach six and has a tough upcoming schedule. But Kinnick Stadium should have just enough magic left to propel the Hawkeyes into the postseason.

    Ohio fell flat on its face against Louisville in Week 1, but since then, the Bobcats have looked pretty good and redeemed themselves with a win over Marshall.

    This would be an ugly, physical game, but it would be one of the postseason's best chances for a non-BCS team to upset a big boy.

Poinsettia Bowl

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    Utah State vs. Army

    Info: Dec. 26, San Diego, Calif.

    Football season just feels better when Army is good enough to win games.

    But, however joyous the Knights' competence has been, the season-long loss of Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton would cast an ugly shadow over this game (as it has the Aggies' season).

    Utah State is good enough to survive Keeton's loss and still qualify for a bowl. But without its do-it-all leader on the field, it's hard to expect much more.

    Army might be able to pull this one out.

Military Bowl

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    Western Kentucky vs. East Carolina

    Info: Dec. 27, Washington, D.C.

    It's hard to get too excited about a pair of directional schools from the worst two conferences in college football. But this game could be sneaky fun.

    ECU receiver Justin Hardy and Western Kentucky running back Antonio Andrews are two of the best skill position players in America—BCS conference or otherwise.

    Watching them go at it on opposite sides of the ball (against defenses that can be had) would be a whole lot of fun.

Texas Bowl

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    TCU vs. Michigan

    Info: Dec. 27, Houston, Texas

    Michigan was finally knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten at Penn State on Saturday, and there's a chance that could just be the start of its bleeding.

    The Wolverines flirted with losing to Akron and Connecticut prior to their trip to Happy Valley, turning the ball over in bunches and just generally looking sloppy for the better part of this season.

    There's no "definite" win left on its schedule, which could send Michigan hurtling down to the lowly Texas Bowl for a game with another slightly underwhelming team, the TCU Horned Frogs.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

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    Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

    Oregon State vs. BYU

    Info: Dec. 27, San Francisco, Calif.

    This one would be a cool contrast of styles.

    Oregon State's offense has been a machine this year, especially through the air. Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks lead the nation in almost every volume-related metric for passing and receiving.

    BYU, meanwhile, famously hung 550 rushing yards on Texas and uses its option rushing attack to pound teams away physically. Its offense is every bit as hard to prepare for, it just doesn't function in the same way.

    Would Oregon State's cream-puff defense stand any chance of slowing BYU down?

Pinstripe Bowl

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    Notre Dame vs. Houston

    Info: Dec. 28, New York, N.Y.

    This is, er, not exactly how Irish fans pictured the season going. But after what their team has shown so far this season, it's hard to imagine it ending up somewhere better.

    The Pinstripe Bowl isn't the worst place in the world to be, and at least the fans get to enjoy a trip to New York. The Irish would be a replacement for a Big 12 team and get an intriguing matchup with Houston—which, as of Week 7, remains undefeated.

    A lot of pick-'em players would pound the Irish here, and if they came out motivated, there's no reason this one would stay close.

    But, can Notre Dame wake up for the Pinstripe Bowl one year after playing in the BCS National Championship Game?

Belk Bowl

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    Jim Urquhart-USA TODAY Sports

    Rutgers vs. Georgia Tech

    Info: Dec. 28, Charlotte, N.C.

    Both of the these teams have the potential to be very good—especially on offense—but neither has been able to keep up that production from week to week.

    Vad Lee and Gary Nova are two of the most capricious quarterbacks in the nation, and this one would likely come down to which one of them plays better/the least-poorly.

    Don't expect it to be easy on the eyes, but this would be one of the most evenly matched games in the postseason.

Russell Athletic Bowl

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    UCF vs. Miami

    Info: Dec. 28, Orlando, Fla.

    The ACC doesn't have great bowl-ties, and with two conference schools projected to play in the BCS, Miami is lucky to even make the Russell Athletic as a fourth-place finisher.

    Though the Hurricanes are currently undefeated, they still have a tough schedule ahead of them and have let a couple of less-talented teams hang around with them in spots.

    UCF has already won at Penn State this year and given South Carolina a scare. If Miami didn't wake up and come ready to play, there's no reason the Knights couldn't take it down.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

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    Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    Oklahoma vs. Northwestern

    Info: Dec. 28, Phoenix, Ariz.

    As recently as two weeks ago, both of these teams were undefeated and eyeing a potential shot at the BCS.

    Now, two Saturday's and three combined losses later—though neither is out of its respective conference race—each is reeling and looking for answers.

    Northwestern ended its bowl drought against Mississippi State last year and would be looking to do the unthinkable by winning two straight.

    But after watching what Wisconsin did to them last week, would anyone be willing to bet on the Wildcats to slow down Blake Bell and Brennan Clay?

Armed Forces Bowl

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    San Jose State vs. Navy

    Info: Dec. 30, Fort Worth, Texas

    Navy is always a tricky bowl-opponent, sticking feverishly to its triple-option style and forcing more talented teams to play at its tempo.

    In this one, the Midshipmen might actually be favored—and with good reason. San Jose State is loaded with individual stars but hasn't quite come together as a team.

    Still, with David Fales under center, the Spartans would have a momentous advantage at the game's most important position. This would be a tough one to pick.

Music City Bowl

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    Pittsburgh vs. Ole Miss

    Info: Dec. 30, Nashville, Tenn.

    This would be a rematch of last year's BBVA Compass Bowl, which Ole Miss won in a 38-17 rout.

    The same might be predicted here in the Music City Bowl, but Pittsburgh has looked much better than expected this year, while Ole Miss has been a slight disappointment.

    With Tom Savage, Tyler Boyd, Devin Street and Aaron Donald starring, the Panthers might have a chance to exact some revenge and shock the Rebs in Nashville.

Alamo Bowl

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    Texas vs. UCLA

    Info: Dec. 30, San Antonio, Texas

    Texas is 3-0 in the Big 12 right now. For all the upshift and turmoil, it leads the conference, has a favorable schedule and employs enough talent to make a BCS run.

    How ridiculous is that?

    Still, what's more ridiculous is that if Texas and UCLA did meet in the Alamo Bowl, the Bruins would be heavy and rightful favorites. No matter how well Texas performs to close the season, Brett Hundley & Co. are good enough to shut it down.

    Fun side-plot: What if Texas, as some have suggested, floats a feeler call to UCLA's Jim Mora Jr. before or after the game? This one could get awkward.

Holiday Bowl

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    Texas Tech vs. Washington

    Info: Dec. 30, San Diego, Calif.

    A matchup of two pleasant surprises could morph into one of the most exciting games of the postseason.

    Even with two consecutive losses, few teams have impressed more than Washington this year. And there is no shame at all in losing at Stanford and at home against Oregon.

    Texas Tech, meanwhile, remains undefeated but probably isn't as good as its record indicates. With all of its hardest games coming up, the Raiders are a candidate to fall back to Earth.

    Still, with Kliff Kingsbury roaming the sideline, anything is possible. He coached Johnny Manziel to a pretty amazing bowl win in 2012 and might be able to repeat the feat in 2013.

Independence Bowl

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    Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

    Ball State vs. Boston College

    Info: Dec. 31, Shreveport, La.

    Boston College has been a frisky underdog this year, putting a slight scare into USC and Florida State before putting a big scare into Clemson last week.

    The Eagles should win enough games to become bowl-eligible, which, given their expectations at the start of the year, has to be considered a success.

    Still, finishing the year with a loss to the MAC would not be considered a success, and Ball State has the horses to upset them.

    The Cardinals are 6-1 overall, 3-0 in conference play and have one of America's best big-play receivers, Willie Snead, making things happen on the outside.

Sun Bowl

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    Arizona State vs. Maryland

    Info: Dec. 31, El Paso, Texas

    It wasn't pretty, but Maryland did what it needed to do after losing by 63 at Florida State, eking out a 27-26 home win over Virginia.

    With a not-that-hard schedule ahead of it and C.J. Brown (hopefully) coming back, the Terps should be able to finish around fifth in the ACC and head to the Sun Bowl.

    Waiting for them, though, will be a very good Arizona State team with an offense that might be strong enough to replicate (in tempered doses) what Jameis Winston & Co. did to UMD a couple of weeks ago.

    Randy Edsall would have his work cut out for him in this one.

Liberty Bowl

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    Marshall vs. Tennessee

    Info: Dec. 31, Memphis, Tenn.

    In hindsight, as Virginia Tech has continued to roll past every team not coached by Nick Saban, the Thundering Herd's near-upset in Blacksburg looks even better than it did at the time.

    Rakeem Cato is one of the best quarterbacks in college football, and Marshall has a defense good enough to get-by in big games.

    Expect it to roll through C-USA and into the Liberty Bowl, where plucky-but-sometimes-anemic Tennessee would likely enter as less than a touchdown favorite.

    Who's gutsy enough to call the upset?

Chick-Fil-A Bowl

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    Virginia Tech vs. Georgia

    Info: Dec. 31, Atlanta, Ga.

    The Hokies return to the scene of the crime—Atlanta—for their second showdown with a blue-chip SEC program after losing to Alabama at the Georgia Dome in Week 1.

    This time, the road-field-disadvantage would be even more pronounced, as 'Dawgs fans would travel en masse to support their team.

    Still, after dreaming of much bigger things this season, would Georgia's faithful be able to get out and get loud for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl?

    Against Virginia Tech's vicious defense, the team would need that support.

Gator Bowl

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    Missouri vs. Nebraska

    Info: Jan. 1, Jacksonville, Fla.

    This one is cool: an old-school Big 12 showdown between teams from the Big Ten and SEC.

    So is the state of college football, where conference realignment has eliminated traditional rivalries like this one by more than one degree of separation.

    The teams last played in 2010, with freshman Taylor Martinez (above) completing six passes for 115 yards and out-dueling Blaine Gabbert in a blowout win. Roy Helu also broke a school record with 307 rushing yards in that game.

    For the sake of nostalgia, please let this happen.

Heart of Dallas Bowl

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    Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

    Indiana vs. Rice

    Info: Jan. 1, Dallas, Texas

    Indiana looks like a real team this year, even if its defense still functions like a sieve. Nate Sudfeld and the offense can put up points with most every team in the nation.

    Rice, meanwhile, did a good job hanging around with Texas A&M in Week 1 (even though Johnny Manziel missed the first half) and currently sits 3-0 in C-USA.

    The Owls can score points when they need to, and the Hoosiers can't do much in the way of stopping teams. This one should be an interesting four-quarter affair.

Capital One Bowl

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    Wisconsin vs. Texas A&M

    Info: Jan. 1, Orlando, Fla.

    Wisconsin doesn't prefer to play shootouts, but as made clear in last year's Big Ten Championship Game, it isn't opposed to it either.

    That's what might be in store in this one. Texas A&M's offense is about as unstoppable as it gets, and even the Badgers' defense would struggle to slow Johnny Football down.

    But the Aggies' cotton-soft defense would be no match for Melvin Gordon, James White and the rest of Wisconsin's power running-game.

    Take the over on points and the under on punts.

Outback Bowl

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    Michigan State vs. Florida

    Info: Jan. 1, Tampa, Fla.

    This one won't be easy on the eyes.

    You could make a very strong argument for Michigan State and Florida as the No.-1 and No.-2 defenses in America. Better than Alabama. Better than Stanford. Better than everyone.

    That's how good these respective units are.

    But the offenses have been equally bad, and even though each is (slowly) improving, it's likely that neither would be able to find much rhythm in Tampa.

    How low can Vegas set the over/under?

Rose Bowl

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    Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

    Ohio State vs. Stanford

    Info: Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif.

    Both of these teams entered the year with BCS National Championship aspirations, and depending on how the rest of the season unfolds, both still have a realistic shot.

    But neither should scoff at the idea of playing in the Rose Bowl—even if that chore is becoming a tired one in Palo Alto.

    Stanford has always had success against mobile quarterbacks—see its last two games against Oregon—but Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes can attack a defense in so many different ways.

    At the end of the day, this might be a chess match between Urban Meyer and David Shaw. And that's a chess match everyone should tune-in for.

Fiesta Bowl

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    Baylor vs. Clemson

    Info: Jan. 1, Glendale, Ariz.

    This one would be the anti-Florida vs. Michigan State—two of America's best offenses running up and down the field for 60 minutes.

    Clemson's defense has looked a little bit better this year—side note: Vic Beasley is a monster—but in its one game against a good offense, it ceded 35 points (at home) to Georgia.

    Baylor would likely find the same success, but Clemson's own offense would enjoy a huge advantage over Baylor's soft defense, which was exposed up the middle against Kansas State on Saturday.

    Get your popcorn ready.

Sugar Bowl

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    South Carolina vs. Louisville

    Info: Jan. 2, New Orleans, La.

    Louisville finds itself in a familiar position, heading to New Orleans for a Sugar Bowl showdown against (what should be) a highly favored SEC opponent.

    This time, it gets South Carolina instead of Florida, which means the same, ferocious, NFL-talent-laden defense only with an offense that's equally as capable.

    Teddy Bridgewater and Jadeveon Clowney have been billed as the top-two picks in April's NFL Draft, which means their names might be inextricable for the rest of their careers.

    It's about time they shared the same field.

Cotton Bowl

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    Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    Oklahoma State vs. LSU

    Info: Jan. 3, Arlington, Texas

    LSU might be (and probably is) one of the five best teams in America, but that doesn't do it a whole lot of good in a division with Alabama.

    For the second straight year, it will be consigned to a non-BCS game, this time the Cotton Bowl against Big 12 foe Oklahoma State.

    The Tigers would enter as betting favorites, but as they did last year against Clemson, there's a chance they come out flat and uninspired in a game they deem beneath them.

    Are the Cowboys good enough to make them pay?

Orange Bowl

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    Florida State vs. Fresno State

    Info: Jan. 3, Miami, Fla.

    It's a battle of FSUs down in Miami, where Florida State—for the second consecutive year—wins the ACC, heads to the Orange Bowl and finds itself matched up with a non-AQ opponent.

    In all fairness, Fresno State is probably better-equipped for this stage than Northern Illinois was last year. Derek Carr and the Bulldogs' offense are no fluke. They can move the ball on anyone.

    But the Fresno State defense leaves a lot to be desired and has already been gauged by multiple teams this season.

    Jameis Winston—not unlike Johnny Manziel in last year's Cotton Bowl—would relish this spotlight and have a chance to post some eye-popping numbers.

     

BBVA Compass Bowl

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    Cincinnati vs. Auburn

    Info: Jan. 4, Birmingham, Ala.

    Auburn has quietly enjoyed a heck of a bounce-back year, advancing to 5-1 last week and making its debut in the AP Poll. After going 3-9 in 2012, this season is already a major success.

    That said, the only SEC home games left on its schedule are Georgia and Alabama, so there's a chance this might be its ceiling. Starting this week at Texas A&M, things get a little bit more difficult.

    Still, a trip to any bowl—even the BBVA Compass—is an upgrade in Year 1 of the Gus Malzahn era, and Cincinnati is a historically frisky postseason opponent.

    A win here would help build even more momentum heading into 2014.

GoDaddy.com Bowl

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    Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

    Northern Illinois vs. Arkansas State

    Info: Jan. 5, Mobile, Ala.

    Even if Northern Illinois runs the table this year—which it won't—the success of Fresno State might relegate it to the GoDaddy.com Bowl.

    This would obviously be a major step down from the Orange Bowl, but Jordan Lynch & Co. still have a lot to be proud of. What they've accomplished these last two years has been nothing short of transformative.

    Poor Arkansas State, which isn't bad by any stretch, would be unlucky to catch the Huskies in Lynch's farewell game with a program he's helped rebuild.

BCS National Championship Game

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    Alabama vs. Oregon

    Info: Jan. 6, Pasadena, Calif.

    The game that everyone wants to see.

    Some folks will point to Oregon's last BCS National Championship Game, a relatively boring loss to Auburn in 2011, as an argument against this game's intrigue.

    But this Oregon team is different. It's better. Marcus Mariota is not Darron Thomas. This defense is legitimately one of America's best.

    Watching a fully realized Ducks squad go up against Nick Saban and the immovable Tide defense—which, by the way, would be playing for a three-peat—is the national title game that America deserves.

    Start crossing your fingers.