Predictions for Every 2015-16 College Football Bowl Game
The bowl lineup is officially set. So too is the College Football Playoff field. Congratulations, everyone, you can stop making arguments for which teams should or shouldn't have made the final four.
Oh, who are we kidding? That's not going to stop. But that's why we have a comment section—that, and to pick apart our bowl game predictions.
On that note, we've broken down each of the 40 bowl games plus the College Football Playoff National Championship based on matchups, key players and noteworthy stats. In the event the game was still too close to call, tiebreakers were awarded to teams with the best mascot.
Not really. But maybe.
Anyway, enjoy the bowl predictions and the bowl season. And remember, it's never too late to tell us how wrong we were.
New Mexico Bowl
Dec. 19; Albuquerque, New Mexico (2 p.m. ET)
Matchup: Arizona vs. New Mexico
Let's hear it for New Mexico, getting its first winning season since 2007. Head coach Bob Davie has quietly done an excellent job building the Lobos program with this run-based offensive attack.
As for Arizona, the Wildcats have obviously taken a step back from last year when they went to the Fiesta Bowl, though injuries have wrecked the team almost from the get-go. But the thing is, Arizona isn't necessarily great at stopping ground attacks. Only Oregon State has allowed more rushing touchdowns this season in the Pac-12.
This is another home game for the Lobos, who should continue their turnaround season for one more game.
Projected Winner: New Mexico
Las Vegas Bowl
Dec. 19; Las Vegas (3:30 p.m. ET)
Matchup: BYU vs. No. 22 Utah
The Holy War is back for another go, y'all, despite some apparent opposition. It'll be the final game for BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, who last week accepted the head coaching job at Virginia. One would think the Cougars will want to send Mendenhall out on the right note.
Utah's success might depend on whether star running back Devontae Booker will be healthy enough to play after injuring his knee in November. The timeline for his return was about four to six weeks, according to Dirk Facer of the Deseret News.
With Booker's availability in question, the Cougars are the safer bet.
Projected Winner: BYU
Dec. 19; Montgomery, Alabama (5:30 p.m. ET)
Matchup: Ohio vs. Appalachian State
I'm continuously impressed by what coach Frank Solich has done with the Ohio program. The Bobcats had been to just two bowl games before Solich arrived. The Camellia Bowl will be Ohio's seventh postseason appearance since.
However, get to know Appalachian State quarterback Taylor Lamb, who is No. 1 in the Sun Belt and No. 6 nationally in passer efficiency. He doesn't throw it often, but he makes the most of his attempts.
Projected Winner: Appalachian State
Dec. 19; Orlando, Florida (7 p.m. ET)
Matchup: San Jose State vs. Georgia State
San Jose State is one of three 5-7 teams to make the postseason. However, Georgia State has, in an under-the-radar way, had one of college football's more special seasons. The Panthers had one win in the past two years, but head coach Trent Miles has turned things around and capped 2015 off with an impressive 34-7 win over Georgia Southern.
Pro: Georgia State gets to continue its magical season.
Con: The Cure, as far as anyone knows, will not be performing at halftime.
Projected Winner: Georgia State
New Orleans Bowl
Dec. 19; New Orleans (9 p.m. ET)
Matchup: Arkansas State vs. Louisiana Tech
The New Orleans Bowl has a knack for producing some early bowl-season fun, and this one should follow that trend. Louisiana Tech was one win away from playing in the Conference USA Championship Game. Former Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel has found a nice home to finish up his collegiate career, and he's only had statistically a couple of bad games this year.
Indoors on a fast track, this game should produce a ton of offense. Don't be surprised if it comes down to whichever team has the ball last.
Projected Winner: Louisiana Tech
Miami Beach Bowl
Dec. 21; Miami (2:30 p.m. ET)
Matchup: South Florida vs. Western Kentucky
Ah, yes. The "Willie Taggart Bowl," as it will be known for the next two weeks. The South Florida coach will take on his old program in what could be an underrated postseason game early on.
The Hilltoppers have offense for days, and quarterback Brandon Doughty is one of the more accomplished passers from the last two seasons. But Taggart is an offensive guy at heart too. Additionally, the Bulls rank 23rd in points allowed per game and are tied for 21st in interceptions.
USF won seven of its last eight games—the lone loss was to Navy—and finally found an offense to boot. The Bulls should do a better job than expected at keeping pace with Western Kentucky's offensive prowess while having the defensive edge.
Projected Winner: South Florida
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Dec. 22; Boise, Idaho (3:30 p.m. ET)
Matchup: Akron vs. Utah State
Once again, Utah State had to navigate its way through a season—or, at least part of it—without star quarterback Chuckie Keeton. The Aggies have one of college football's more entertaining quarterbacks, but for the life of him, he hasn't been able to stay healthy. Yet, Utah State keeps making bowl appearances.
Keeton played in the final two games of the season and will suit up for the final time against the Zips. His ability to move, create plays and extend drives should be the Aggies' key to victory.
Projected Winner: Utah State
Boca Raton Bowl
Dec. 22; Boca Raton, Florida (7 p.m. ET)
Matchup: No. 24 Temple vs. Toledo
Temple and Toledo are familiar with late-season disappointments. The Owls couldn't overcome Houston in the American Athletic Conference Championship, and the Rockets lost their season-ending game against Western Michigan to lose a chance at the Mid-American Conference title game. Not long after, head coach Matt Campbell left for Iowa State.
Offensive coordinator Jason Candle's promotion to head coach provides stability between now and the next game, but the matchup against Temple could still be problematic. You'd think the Rockets would be more explosive on offense, but Temple has more plays of 10- and 20-plus yards (even though, admittedly, the Owls played more games).
Linebacker Tyler Matakevich has been excellent, and the Temple defense makes enough stops to get the job done. As long as the Owls take care of the ball on offense, they've shown decent balance with the ability to create big plays.
Projected Winner: Temple
Dec. 23; San Diego (4:30 p.m. ET)
Matchup: Boise State vs. Northern Illinois
Boise State, which is normally accustomed to playing for conference championships, has experienced a weird season. The Broncos lost on one of those pesky BYU Hail Mary attempts* and turned the ball over not once, not twice, not thrice, but eight times against Utah State.
(*Technically, it was just a go-ahead touchdown, but let's be real: There were a lot of people praying at the time it was thrown.)
But Bryan Harsin is a good coach, and the Broncos match up well defensively to Northern Illinois' run-first offense.
Projected Winner: Boise State
Dec. 23; Mobile, Alabama (8 p.m. ET)
Matchup: Bowling Green vs. Georgia Southern
Bowling Green head coach Dino Babers is off to Syracuse, but not before giving the Falcons a Mid-American Conference Championship. Now, can they win one more?
This game features a stark contrast of styles. Bowling Green has a veteran quarterback in Matt Johnson, who has thrown for exactly 4,700 yards. Georgia Southern's option attack, meanwhile, produces 355.6 yards per game on the ground.
Both offenses are effective in their own way, so it's a matter of which defense can make an important stop or two. We're taking Georgia Southern in a close one.
Projected Winner: Georgia Southern
Dec. 24; Nassau, Bahamas (Noon ET)
Matchup: Middle Tennessee vs. Western Michigan
Like offense? Well then you'll love the Bahamas Bowl. These are two teams averaging roughly 34-35 points per game. Blue Raiders redshirt freshman Brent Stockstill, who's really more like a third-year player, was one of the more prolific passers this season, averaging 306.5 passing yards per game.
However, the difference-maker could be Western Michigan wideout Daniel Braverman. Recall earlier this year when Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer called Braverman "an NFL guy," per Bill Landis of the Northeast Ohio Media Group. Both Braverman and fellow Broncos receiver Corey Davis are averaging more than 100 receiving yards per game.
Projected Winner: Western Michigan
Dec. 24; Honolulu, Hawaii (8 p.m. ET)
Matchup: Cincinnati vs. San Diego State
2015 was a year of high expectations for Cincinnati—expectations that ultimately weren't met. The Bearcats were projected to win the American Athletic Conference, but instead they finished 7-5. San Diego State, on the other hand, won a Mountain West title over Air Force on Saturday.
The Aztecs aren't as flashy as the Bearcats in terms of explosive plays, but they are effective and are one of the better teams in the Mountain West on third downs and scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Rocky Long has done a heck of a job there.
Projected Winner: San Diego State
St. Petersburg Bowl
Dec. 26; St. Petersburg, Florida (11 a.m. ET)
Matchup: Marshall vs. UConn
Give UConn coach Bob Diaco some credit. In one year, he knocked off Houston from the list of unbeaten teams, took the Huskies to a bowl game and created a rivalry trophy with Central Florida.
What have you accomplished lately?
Anyway, Marshall's quietly done a nice job following up on last year's 13-win season by going 9-3 and finishing second to Western Kentucky in the Conference USA East division. Normally, playing UConn results in more trouble than anyone would like to admit, so expect the Huskies to keep things close.
In those types of games, however, even the worst offenses need a big play or two. The Huskies might struggle to manage that much.
Projected Winner: Marshall
Dec. 26; El Paso, Texas (2 p.m. ET)
Matchup: Miami vs. Washington State
Miami has its new coach, Mark Richt, but there's one more game before the Hurricanes can start their new era.
Miami and Washington State have both been stronger teams in the season's second half. The Hurricanes won four of their last five games after letting go of Al Golden, and Washington State won three straight games twice this year.
If Cougars quarterback Luke Falk is recovered from his concussion, the offense should work far better than it did in the Apple Cup loss to Washington. Still, Canes quarterback Brad Kaaya had one of the ACC's highest passer ratings in the month of November. He's playing his best football right now.
Expect a quarterback duel in El Paso.
Projected Winner: Miami
Heart of Dallas Bowl
Dec. 26; Dallas (2:20 p.m. ET)
Matchup: Washington vs. Southern Miss
Serious question: How come Southern Miss coach Todd Monken isn't getting more consideration from higher-profile jobs? He took the Golden Eagles from one win in 2013 (and coming off a winless season the year before) to 9-4 this year. It's been quite the turnaround.
Still, you have to be equally impressed with Washington coach Chris Petersen's performance. The Huskies' record this year is actually worse than it was in 2014, but Petersen was replacing four NFL-caliber defenders.
The Huskies offense is still a work in progress, but it's shown some explosiveness at times. The extra practices could be good for quarterback Jake Browning's development.
Projected Winner: Washington
Dec. 26; Bronx, New York (3:30 p.m. ET)
Matchup: Duke vs. Indiana
Statements like these are always a reach, but here it goes: Indiana might be college football's most dangerous 6-6 team.
In its six-game losing streak during the middle of the season, the Hoosiers came within one score of beating the following teams: Ohio State, Rutgers, Iowa and Michigan. Sometimes, the difference between six wins and eight or nine is razor-thin.
Running back Jordan Howard, originally from UAB, was arguably the most successful transfer in 2015. He'll be needed in the Bronx, where late December weather is unkind.
Projected Winner: Indiana
Dec. 26; Shreveport, Louisiana (5:45 p.m. ET)
Matchup: Virginia Tech vs. Tulsa
Normally, going to a place like Shreveport for the Independence Bowl would make one question Virginia Tech's motivation. But this is head coach Frank Beamer's last game. The Hokies will be plenty motivated.
Tulsa's been a great story this year. First-year head coach Philip Montgomery has turned things around quickly—and don't forget the Golden Hurricane gave Oklahoma everything it could handle way back in September. This offense is potent, ranking 14th nationally in total yards per game.
But Tech and defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who is staying on with new head coach Justin Fuente, find a way to make enough stops. And while guesses are always a 50-50 shot, we're not going to go against Beamer in his last game.
Projected Winner: Virginia Tech
Foster Farms Bowl
Dec. 26; Santa Clara, California (9:15 p.m. ET)
Matchup: UCLA vs. Nebraska
UCLA had higher hopes than the Foster Farms Bowl when it began the year, but injuries took their toll over the course of the season. Freshman quarterback Josh Rosen was about what you'd expect. He showed flashes at times of being every bit what he was hyped to be; other times, he looked like a true freshman.
But the Bruins can at least move the ball. That's been a chore for the Cornhuskers throughout much of the season. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong has made questionable decisions all season.
Nebraska has been painful to watch on offense. Will 15 additional practices result in any noticeable improvement?
Projected Winner: UCLA
Dec. 28; Annapolis, Maryland (2:30 p.m. ET)
Matchup: Pittsburgh vs. No. 21 Navy
There are "de facto home games" in bowl season. And then there are actual home games. That's what Navy is working with in the Military Bowl against Pitt.
Midshipmen quarterback Keenan Reynolds could very well earn a trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony. No one in the Football Bowl Subdivision has scored more career rushing touchdowns than Reynolds. He's been masterful in Navy's option attack, and he's underrated as a passer.
Pitt will have more time than normal to prepare for Navy's offense, but it remains a difficult one to defend, and Reynolds and Co. are simply too good at what they do.
Projected Winner: Navy
Quick Lane Bowl
Dec. 28; Detroit (5 p.m. ET)
Matchup: Central Michigan vs. Minnesota
Minnesota is the final five-win team to reach a bowl, but it might not make it to six wins. Central Michigan has been pesky this year against Power Five opponents. Just ask Oklahoma State, Syracuse and Michigan State.
In the season's second half, Central Michigan has fared much better, winning five of its last six games. Its only two conference losses, to Western Michigan and Toledo, came by a combined seven points.
Quarterback Cooper Rush is severely underrated. He's not going to be one of the most talked-about quarterbacks in the game, but his ball placement and timing is fantastic.
Projected Winner: Central Michigan
Armed Forces Bowl
Dec. 29; Fort Worth, Texas (2 p.m. ET)
Matchup: Air Force vs. California
Cal has a great quarterback in Jared Goff, but the Golden Bears have spiraled since October. After starting 5-0, Cal lost five of its last seven games. On top of that, head coach Sonny Dykes apparently wants out if at all possible.
That's the kind of thing that can really hurt team morale and motivation heading into the postseason. Eventually, Dykes and Cal will part ways. It's more of a matter of when (and how) than if.
Air Force is no slouch. This is a team that's coming off a Mountain West Championship appearance, and it also gave Michigan State, a playoff team, everything it could handle early in the year.
Projected Winner: Air Force
Russell Athletic Bowl
Dec. 29, Orlando, Florida (5:30 p.m. ET)
Matchup: No. 10 North Carolina vs. No. 17 Baylor
Baylor limps into the Russell Athletic Bowl having lost three of its last four games, including a miserable one to Texas on Saturday. It's possible backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham could be healthy enough to play by late December. If not, Chris Johnson will get his third start.
Still, the potential for a shootout goes without saying. The Bears and Tarheels rank first and 11th, respectively, in points per game.
While Bears receiver and Biletnikoff finalist Corey Coleman will be the focal point as he plays his last game, the real difference-maker could be defensive tackle Andrew Billings. His presence as a disruptive force in the interior of the Bears defensive line could knock Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams off-balance.
Motivation may be a question, but Baylor hasn't performed well in bowl games in the last two years. Healthy again, look for the Bears to make a statement.
Projected Winner: Baylor
Dec. 29; Tucson, Arizona (7:30 p.m. ET)
Matchup: Nevada vs. Colorado State
If you thought five-win teams playing bowl games was bad, how about two teams from the same conference playing one another in a bowl? Because that's exactly what the Mountain West has with Colorado State and Nevada in the Arizona Bowl. The only silver lining is the two teams did not play one another already in the regular season.
Understandably, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson was livid. In a statement, he called the situation a "travesty."
"The NCAA decision to allow 5-7 teams to be added to the pool on an equal footing with 6-6 teams was flawed," he wrote.
Projected Winner: Colorado State
Dec. 29; Houston (9 p.m. ET)
Matchup: No. 20 LSU vs. Texas Tech
LSU running back Leonard Fournette at one point had the Heisman wrapped up and ready to take home. Then, the Tigers went on a late-season slide, and those hopes fell off a cliff. So what's a better remedy than playing Texas Tech, which boasts the 126th-best run defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision?
The Red Raiders have also given up 42 rushing touchdowns. Only Eastern Michigan has allowed more. (For the record, Fournette rushed for 233 yards and three touchdowns against EMU this year, which seems almost humane.)
The Red Raiders have plenty of offensive firepower of their own with quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, and the dirty little secret out of Baton Rouge is that the Tigers defense isn't all that stingy.
But Fournette versus this Texas Tech run defense is too glaring of a mismatch.
Projected Winner: LSU
Dec. 30; Birmingham, Alabama (Noon ET)
Matchup: Memphis vs. Auburn
Talk about a tale of two seasons for the Birmingham Bowl. Auburn had playoff aspirations, while Memphis was simply trying to follow up on a 10-win season a year ago. Instead, Auburn sank, and Memphis secured a huge win over Ole Miss on its way to a 9-3 season.
Edge-rusher Carl Lawson is a beast, and he'll put some pressure on Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch. But unless Auburn can slow down Lynch and Co. from scoring points in bunches, it doesn't have the firepower to get into a shootout.
Memphis didn't finish as strong as it would have liked, but heading into bowl season, it's the better team. The question is whether Memphis can play that way without head coach Justin Fuente, who left for the same job at Virginia Tech.
Projected Winner: Memphis
Dec. 30; Charlotte, North Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET)
Matchup: Mississippi State vs. North Carolina State
The Belk Bowl is a fun quarterback battle, with Mississippi State's Dak Prescott and North Carolina State's Jacoby Brissett. If you like big, dual-threat quarterbacks who can do it all, this game is for you.
Prescott is as reliable as they come, and his rapport with receiver De'Runnya Wilson has made the passing game work. But Brissett is more slippery for a guy his size (6'4") and can extend plays with the best of them.
This has offense written all over it, and both quarterbacks could eclipse 300 total yards. In a coin flip, Brissett's ability to make highlight-reel plays on his own is the difference.
Projected Winner: North Carolina State
Music City Bowl
Dec. 30; Nashville, Tennessee (7 p.m. ET)
Matchup: Louisville vs. Texas A&M
Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson has a bright future ahead of him. He's still learning how to develop his game, but his athleticism helps him in his learning curve.
And since starting 0-3, Louisville is 7-2. A&M, on the other hand, suffered another late-season collapse under head coach Kevin Sumlin. The defense hasn't taken major strides forward under new coordinator John Chavis, and there's now a quarterback problem with Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray. (Allen suffered a shoulder injury versus Alabama.)
It's one thing for A&M's defense to be a liability, even though sophomore defensive end Myles Garrett has been a thorn in the backfield. It's another for the Aggies offense to suffer. There's too much for A&M to figure out right now.
Projected Winner: Louisville
Dec. 30; San Diego (10:30 p.m. ET)
Matchup: Wisconsin vs. No. 25 USC
USC couldn't contain Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Fortunately for the Trojans, Wisconsin doesn't have anyone as explosive as McCaffrey.
Talent-wise, USC has the advantage too, with receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (and his lethal stiff arm), running back Ronald Jones II, linebacker Su'a Cravens and cornerback Adoree' Jackson.
The Badgers defense is splendid; no one in the Big Ten allowed fewer points per game than Wisconsin. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is a magician, but the Badgers haven't been their usual selves on offense in terms of running the ball, and they haven't shown they can beat anyone of note.
This could be one of those games where Wisconsin controls the overall tone but USC is able to make some key plays when needed.
Projected Winner: USC
Dec. 31; Atlanta (Noon ET)
Matchup: No. 18 Houston vs. No. 9 Florida State
Three years ago, Florida State played Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl and dismantled the Huskies 31-10. This Houston team is, shall we say, a little bit better than NIU. (Before going any further, toss out the loss to UConn. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. was hurt, and there is an actual Bermuda Triangle effect of playing the Huskies in Storrs. Look it up.)
Ward is tiny—he's listed at 5'11" and 185 pounds—but he's an electrifying player and can flat-out ball. Florida State trying to limit his impact is no easy task. The Cougars have athletes, a sound defense and are well-coached by Tom Herman. They're going to be amped to prove they can play with anyone.
Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook is one of the country's best, but he's been the core of the offense. As weird as it sounds, Florida State's best bet may be maintaining a low-scoring situation and using Cook to grind down the game. Otherwise, a fast start for Houston could spell trouble.
Projected Winner: Houston
Orange Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal)
Dec. 31; Miami (4 p.m. ET)
Matchup: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Oklahoma
The Orange Bowl semifinal will pair arguably college football's two best quarterbacks: Clemson's Deshaun Watson vs. Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield. As Matt Hinton, formerly of Grantland, pointed out, it doesn't have the Jameis Winston-Marcus Mariota Heisman feel to it, but this matchup is just fine.
In short, expect some good old-fashioned backyard football in South Beach.
The Sooners opened as 1.5-point favorites, according to Odds Shark, but after last year's Russell Athletic Bowl blowout to the Tigers, they'll try to play the revenge card.
Both offenses, though routed in the spread, have powerful running games with Wayne Gallman (Clemson) and Samaje Perine/Joe Mixon (Oklahoma). Oklahoma has the Big 12's best defense, while Clemson has All-Conference-caliber playmakers at each level.
This should be a ton of fun with an abundance of points scored, but Watson's ability to make clutch throws late combined with Shaq Lawson's pass-rushing capability give the Tigers a slight edge.
Projected Winner: Clemson
Cotton Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal)
Dec. 31; Arlington, Texas (8 p.m. ET)
Matchup: No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Michigan State
A healthy Connor Cook should make a huge difference for Michigan State. The Spartans quarterback has been dealing with a shoulder injury over the past few weeks, and it's showed in the offense's overall explosiveness. Indoors, Cook and receiver Aaron Burbridge should be able to exploit Alabama's secondary for some big passing plays.
The questions is: Will that be enough? Alabama is outstanding at stopping the run, and Michigan State is still primarily a run-first team. If Michigan State can pick up some big yards on first and/or second downs through the air, that'll be its best bet.
Both defenses are good enough that this game should be on the lower scoring end, but the strength of Tide running backs as the game progresses will be the difference.
Projected Winner: Alabama
Jan. 1; Tampa, Florida (Noon ET)
Matchup: No. 13 Northwestern vs. No. 23 Tennessee
It's sort of amazing that Northwestern got to 10 wins this season basically on defense alone. The Wildcats average 20.7 points per game. That's dead last in the Big Ten.
Tennessee also has a lot of weapons that Northwestern will have to defend. It starts with quarterback Joshua Dobbs and continues with running back Jalen Hurd and receiver Josh Malone. The Vols' frustration is that head coach Butch Jones has been so hesitant to let the offense rip.
If Tennessee can get the game into the 30s, it'll be in perfect shape. Northwestern has only scored more than 30 points once all season. If it's a low-scoring game the Wildcats defense dictates, the Vols have been vulnerable to blowing things late.
Projected Winner: Tennessee
Jan. 1; Orlando, Florida (1 p.m. ET)
Matchup: No. 14 Michigan vs. No. 19 Florida
Not to make light of anyone or anything, but I've never been more confident that a team will win a game by the score of 9-5. And yes, this involves a safety, zero offensive touchdowns and a missed extra point.
In all seriousness, this has defensive struggle written all over it. Both teams are excellent at stopping the run, though the Wolverines have taken a step back in that department over the last month. In the SEC Championship Game, the Gators gave up 189 yards to Alabama running back Derrick Henry. (That's more yards, by the way, than Florida had on offense.)
So expect a low-scoring, slow-'em-down game with everyone's favorite All-Name selection Jake Butt making some big grabs for the Wolverines in the passing game.
Projected Winner: Michigan
Jan. 1; Glendale, Arizona (1 p.m. ET)
Matchup: No. 8 Notre Dame vs. No. 7 Ohio State
There's usually one non-playoff game a year that jumps off the page like no other. Notre Dame and Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl is that game.
The Irish are a mere four points away from being playoff-bound—a feat even more impressive when you consider how banged-up they've been from Week 1. Ohio State has neither looked the part of a playoff-caliber team, nor had the resume, for much of the year.
However, the Buckeyes finally turned a corner against Michigan in late November. It was a week too late, but we finally saw what Ohio State was capable of doing.
So the question really becomes which Ohio State will show up? Both teams are insanely talented, but Ohio State is healthier and has seemingly figured things out on offense. Head coach Urban Meyer has an exemplary record in bowl games.
Projected Winner: Ohio State
Jan. 1; Pasadena, California (5 p.m. ET)
Matchup: No. 6 Stanford vs. No. 5 Iowa
The Rose Bowl between the Pac-12 champion and Big Ten runner-up will feature all—and we mean all—the tight ends.
Kidding aside, the Rose Bowl pairs an offense with one of college football's most exciting players (Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey) against a defense that ranks among the top 25 units in yards per play allowed (4.79). Specifically, Hawkeyes cornerback Desmond King is the real deal.
McCaffrey has been unstoppable, though. His 268.9 all-purpose yards per game is 68.1 more than the next-closest player. He's going to get his touches, his yards and his touchdowns. It would take the defensive performance of the postseason for Iowa to shut him down. The Hawkeyes are up to the challenge, and their offense is more efficient than the Big Ten narrative allows, but McCaffrey will make one or two key plays to serve as the difference-maker.
Projected Winner: Stanford
Jan. 1; New Orleans (8:30 p.m. ET)
Matchup: No. 16 Oklahoma State vs. No. 12 Ole Miss
This spot would have gone to Baylor had the Bears beat Texas, but thanks to the fact they literally didn't have a quarterback, Oklahoma State will go to the Sugar Bowl instead. Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph's health—he sustained a foot injury during Oklahoma State's Nov. 21 loss to Baylor that required surgery—is a big factor here. However, head coach Mike Gundy said he feels "confident" Rudolph will be ready for the Sugar Bowl, per Bill Haisten of the Tulsa World.
Both defenses are physical. Only Alabama has allowed fewer rushing touchdowns than Ole Miss in the SEC. The Cowboys have been excellent at taking the ball away, ranking ninth nationally in that category, and edge-rusher Emmanuel Ogbah is a beast. However, there's star power at receiver with James Washington and Biletnikoff finalist Laquon Treadwell. Indoors on a fast track? That should be fun.
Oklahoma State has a knack for starting slow, but it should come out with some juice after losing its final two games of the season. Ole Miss has more raw NFL talent, but Gundy has won four of his last five bowl games.
Projected Winner: Oklahoma State
Jan. 2; Jacksonville, Florida (Noon ET)
Matchup: Georgia vs. Penn State
Mark Richt won't coach Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl as he heads to his new job at Miami, but the Bulldogs should be fine without him. Ultimately, the TaxSlayer Bowl looks like a defensive struggle on paper. And with neither team showing much potency in the passing attack, expect the running games to take center stage.
Penn State's offensive line has been horrendous for the past couple of seasons. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg hasn't helped matters by holding on to the ball longer than he should in certain situations, too. Other than running back Saquon Barkley, the Nittany Lions don't have much working for them.
Edge-rusher Carl Nassib leads the Big Ten in sacks and tackles for loss, so he should play a big role. But in a battle of ineffective offenses, I don't know that I trust Penn State's to make more plays.
Projected Winner: Georgia
Jan. 2; Memphis, Tennessee (3:20 p.m. ET)
Matchup: Kansas State vs. Arkansas
Kansas State was going bowling regardless of its final record due to its Academic Progress Rate (APR), but the Wildcats were able to get their sixth win of the season over West Virginia on Saturday. That's three straight wins to end the year, but only one of those opponents, the Mountaineers, had a winning record.
K-State's game plan involves slowing things down and controlling the game's tempo. The offense isn't explosive, and the defense isn't efficient enough to handle a lot of time one the field. However, Arkansas showed this year it was far more than just a team that enjoys running the ball over and over again. Quarterback Brandon Allen was the SEC's third-leading passer in yards per game. As it so happens, K-State's pass defense is among the Big 12's worst (in part due to injuries in the secondary).
Arkansas can be explosive. K-State isn't. Bill Snyder is a wizard, which means he might be able to make things close, but the Wildcats need to rely on either special teams plays or big turnovers to win this one.
Projected Winner: Arkansas
Jan. 2; San Antonio (6:45 p.m. ET)
Matchup: No. 15 Oregon vs. No. 11 TCU
Holy touchdowns, Batman. Take the over in this one. Just take it.
If you like offense, the Alamo Bowl is going to be a treat. By then, Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin should be recovered from his ankle injury, and it's possible receiver Josh Doctson (wrist) could give it a go. “I feel like he’ll be back. He has the choice, the option to play in the ballgame," Boykin said (via Carlos Mendez of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram).
A healthy TCU would certainly be more fun to watch, but Oregon is playing tremendous football right now. Quarterback Vernon Adams, finally healthy from his own injury issues, is college football's most efficient passer. What's more, his 179.51 passer rating is right there with what Marcus Mariota had in 2014.
Defenses might be optional in this game, but Adams' late-season surge should help Oregon outlast the Frogs.
Projected Winner: Oregon
Jan. 2; Phoenix (10:15 p.m. ET)
Matchup: West Virginia vs. Arizona State
At first glance, this has "shootout" written all over it. However, West Virginia isn't quite the Air Raid team you'd think. The Mountaineers are all about grinding things out on offense and playing good defense. Only Oklahoma had a better defense in the Big 12 in 2015.
Additionally, the Mountaineers are one of college football's most penalized teams and are among the Big 12's worst teams in third-down and red-zone conversions. Basically, if West Virginia loses on first down, it will probably lose the game. The Sun Devils are putrid on pass defense (113th in yards per attempt allowed), but that's not WVU's strength offensively.
Neither team has been consistent, so this feels like a toss-up in that no one's sure how this game is going to turn out. But it's a de facto Sun Devils home game, so we'll give them the edge.
Projected Winner: Arizona State
College Football Playoff National Championship
Jan. 11; Glendale, Arizona (8:30 p.m. ET)
Matchup: No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 1 Clemson
It all comes down to this: The traditional power, Alabama, versus Clemson, the team some thought was a year away from competing for it all.
The Tigers have the edge at quarterback with Watson, and Alabama hasn't always performed well against quarterbacks capable of using their legs to pick up yards. However, the Tide's defensive front, as you no doubt know by now, is insanely good.
This could easily be one of those games in which Watson doesn't have the greatest stat line, but he makes just enough big plays to be the difference. Artavis Scott's reliability and Deon Cain's emergence as a deep threat should be huge for the passing game.
Clemson hasn't necessarily played like college football's best team over the past few weeks, but the Tigers are the most complete team. Head coach Dabo Swinney has shown the ability to win big games, too.
Projected Winner: Clemson