Dream Scenarios for Every 2016-17 College Football Bowl Matchup
It's never too early to talk about the postseason. This is the time of the year when playoff and even standard bowl projections are starting to be published online and in annual preview magazines. Everyone already has their eyes on the prizes.
Fans also talk about dream matchups between certain schools in the offseason. They have a list of which head coaches and powerhouse programs should square off for bragging rights, chances at revenge or chances at a national championship.
Let's take that exercise to its furthest point in terms of the 2016 college football season. I have gone through each FBS conference and sketched out a rough pecking order of teams projected to be bowl-eligible. Then, by using the 2016-17 bowl schedule and tie-ins from FBSchedules.com, I came up with dream matchups for every one of the 40 bowl games for the upcoming campaign.
Some dreams are bigger and better than others, as a team could only be used once. What would be the best-case bowl lineup using the teams that are expected to make it to the postseason in 2016? Past meetings, coach histories, location and program styles all factored into these selections.
To be clear: These aren't my projections for this year's bowls, but I tried to keep the landing spots as realistic as possible for the teams. Preseason Top 25 polls, such as this composite ranking, were good guides.
Which matchups would you want to see the most in this year's college football bowl season? Dream big, and let me hear them in the comments below.
New Mexico Bowl
MTSU vs. New Mexico
The opening FBS bowl of the 2016 season will be at New Mexico's home stadium, and the Lobos are coming off a surprising run to the postseason. Let's say Bob Davie gets his team bowl-eligible again.
New Mexico would get to play a virtual home game against a team from Conference USA. It's matched up with Middle Tennessee, a team that threw the ball all over the yard last season with Brent Stockstill—the son of MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill—and a deep group of wide receivers.
The Lobos, on the other hand, employ an offense that ran the ball the sixth-most times per game in college football last season. The matchup between New Mexico's Lamar Jordan and Stockstill at quarterback would make for an explosive start to the postseason in this clash of styles.
Las Vegas Bowl
Arizona vs. Boise State
The Mountain West's top bowl bid this year goes to Las Vegas, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Boise State get back to the peak of the conference following last season's disappointment. In Vegas, Boise would face a Pac-12 squad, and Arizona is the perfect matchup here.
The two teams squared off in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2014 season, with Boise State jumping out to a huge lead early and holding on to the 38-30 win in Glendale. The rematch would be quite fun, as both teams employ exciting offenses and already have a history with one another.
Another intriguing storyline to this game would be new Arizona defensive coordinator Marcel Yates, who left Boise State to join the Wildcats this past offseason. The Broncos would get a shot at their former coach, while the Wildcats would get a shot at some revenge for 2014.
ECU vs. Troy
The Sun Belt should have an interesting battle for the fourth and final bowl bid behind the contending trio of Appalachian State, Arkansas State and Georgia Southern. The pick here is Troy, a school that used to be the class of the conference and has a solid chance to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2010.
The Trojans match up here with East Carolina, which is entering its first season under new head coach Scottie Montgomery. The Pirates have been known in the past to sling the ball all over the field, making a potential matchup with Troy the battle of two pass-heavy mid-majors.
Both schools would be excited to get back into the postseason under their young head coaches, and a trip down to Orlando wouldn't be tough for either of these Southeastern fanbases.
Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois
If a pass-heavy matchup is not for you, the Camellia Bowl will be playing at the same time as the Cure Bowl on that first Saturday of bowl season. In this matchup, the pairing is Arkansas State and Northern Illinois—two teams that love to run the ball from a spread look.
Both of these teams finished in the top 20 nationally last season for rushing attempts per game. They met in 2012 at the GoDaddy Bowl, and a rematch between two of the better programs in the "Group of Five" would be quite entertaining.
Arkansas State and Northern Illinois would pound the ball right at each other and look to open things up for explosive plays downfield. This Camellia Bowl wouldn't dominate TV ratings by any stretch, but it would be a fun early-bowl season showdown.
New Orleans Bowl
Georgia Southern vs. Southern Miss
The Sun Belt champion traditionally heads to the New Orleans Bowl each season, and this could be the one in which Georgia Southern makes its big breakthrough. The Eagles have had a few great seasons since moving up to the FBS and could light up the league in 2016 with their ultratalented backfield.
The Conference USA team paired up with Georgia Southern here is Southern Miss, which has to rebound from the surprise departure of head coach Todd Monken to the NFL ranks. Still, the Golden Eagles have enough talent returning to be a solid bowl team, and the trip to New Orleans would be an easy one for Southern Miss fans.
This is a matchup between a tried-and-true option offense and an attack that created tons of big plays last season through the air. You can't go wrong with a fun clash of styles between two teams from the same region of the country.
Miami Beach Bowl
Cincinnati vs. Toledo
The entertaining Monday afternoon showdown at the Miami Beach Bowl will feature the American and the MAC this season, opening the door for a possible in-state matchup between Cincinnati and Toledo.
Both programs had fun offenses last season, and the star matchup to watch here would be Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel and Toledo running back Kareem Hunt. When they're on their game, they are among the best big-time playmakers in the Group of Five conferences.
These two teams met in 2012 and 2014, with Toledo winning the first matchup and Cincinnati taking the second. Consider this meeting of in-state foes a series decider—one they get to travel down to Miami to settle.
Boca Raton Bowl
FAU vs. Tulsa
This is straightforward. Florida Atlantic makes the leap it's looking for in its third year under head coach Charlie Partridge, and all of its returning experience—especially on the offensive side of the ball—leads to a bowl game in its home stadium in Boca Raton.
Tulsa gets back to the postseason for the second straight season under Phillip Montgomery, and he'll bring his uptempo spread attack to Boca Raton to face a team that loves to attack the quarterback. Last season, the Owls had 35 sacks as a team, with 13 of them coming from senior Trey Hendrickson, who will be back for his senior season in 2016.
These are two programs on the upswing, and Florida Atlantic would get rewarded for making its first bowl game since 2008 by playing at home. Tulsa would look to make the next step with a nationally televised victory early in the postseason.
BYU vs. San Diego State
San Diego State won the Mountain West last season and has a great chance to repeat in 2016. For these dream matchups, the Aztecs will fall just shy of the conference's biggest bowl tie-in and instead play at home in San Diego's Poinsettia Bowl.
The Poinsettia Bowl has a tie-in this season with BYU, which should safely get into bowl eligibility under first-year head coach Kalani Sitake. Both programs return a good number of starters on both sides of the ball and would match up well with one another in a postseason setting.
This should be a well-attended bowl game by early-season standards, with San Diego State playing in its home stadium and the trip an easier one for the BYU fanbase. That's a win-win for everyone involved.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Colorado State vs. Ohio
The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl matchup between the Mountain West and the MAC is usually one to keep an eye on every season, if only for the camera cuts to bowl mascot Spuddy Buddy. (Warning: Do not look directly into Spuddy Buddy's eyes.)
This matchup pairs one of college football's newer head coaches, former Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, with one of its most seasoned veterans. The 71-year-old Frank Solich started his college coaching career in 1979—when Bobo was five years old—and became the head coach at Nebraska in 1998. Solich has been at Ohio since 2005, leading the Bobcats to seven bowl games in his tenure.
These are two balanced programs looking to continue their climb after solid bowl seasons in 2015. Plus, all the green between the Rams and the Bobcats would help bring some normalcy to the blue field in Boise.
Bowling Green vs. UConn
The Bahamas Bowl won't be in the early Christmas Eve slot this season, but it still promises to be an entertaining affair on the island nation. After bringing a pair of offensive-minded teams in for the first two seasons of the bowl game, let's change it up a little bit.
Bowling Green will still try to go a mile a minute on offense after the departure of head coach Dino Babers, and its style is perfect for the points onslaught that has categorized the first two editions of this chicken-sponsored event. But with the American now getting a slot in this game, let's put UConn into the mix.
UConn is building the complete opposite of the normal offense-first Group of Five program, as Bob Diaco wants ball control and excellent defense. Besides, the Huskies deserve a trip to the Caribbean after playing most of their season in the frosty temperatures of Storrs, Connecticut.
Armed Forces Bowl
Kansas State vs. Navy
The Armed Forces Bowl changes up its tie-ins this season, with Navy getting an automatic bid in the Texas showdown if it doesn't make it to the "New Year's Six." The bowl also adds the Big 12, setting up for another chance at knocking off a power-conference foe for the Midshipmen.
This could be the last season for Bill Snyder at Kansas State, and he'll want to end it with his seventh straight trip to a bowl game with the Wildcats. Although K-State isn't expected to contend for the Big 12 title this season, bowl eligibility should be attainable for Snyder's Wildcats.
Both teams like running the ball with their quarterbacks—Navy more than Kansas State, of course—and the Wildcats would be quite familiar with having to play in Amon G. Carter Stadium. And just imagine all the great things Snyder would tweet about the armed forces in the buildup to this game.
Appalachian State vs. Western Michigan
Teams in the last two GoDaddy Bowls have combined for a total of 192 points. Things have a tendency to get weird in Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama, when it comes to offenses. So in this matchup, let's get two great attacks together.
Both Appalachian State and Western Michigan averaged 36 points per game last season, and they're returning a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball for 2016, including their ace quarterbacks. Over the last couple of seasons, few teams in the Group of Five have made bigger jumps than the Mountaineers and the Broncos.
The offensive potential of this matchup is quite combustible, and it would be a blast to see Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck on the sidelines for a game that could crack 100 combined points. That's a lot of boat-rowing.
Louisiana Tech vs. Utah State
The Hawaii Bowl is the only Christmas Eve bowl game this season, and it'll be played in its usual prime-time on the mainland slot. The early football present here would be Louisiana Tech against Utah State, two teams that had well-known quarterbacks at the start of last season but are moving into new eras now.
Judging by how they played last season, Louisiana Tech and Utah State both seem to fit the bill of entertaining for a standard bowl game.
The Bulldogs have to replace a ton from their ranks, but they are expected to get back into the postseason. Utah State quarterback Kent Myers could be due for a breakout campaign after filling in well for Chuckie Keeton last fall.
Granted, this isn't the sexiest "dream" matchup on this list, but it wouldn't be a bad game by any stretch. There's a lot of offense to go around here.
St. Petersburg Bowl
Syracuse vs. Temple
The ACC has a tie-in with the St. Petersburg Bowl this season, and while it's not clear just yet how it'll land in the pecking order with the conference, it should be one of its lower-tier ones. That would be just fine for Syracuse, a surprise pick to make a bowl game in Dino Babers' first campaign.
According to Bill Connelly of SBNation, only LSU and Central Florida return more production from their 2015 team than the Orange.
Syracuse made one of the best hires of the coaching carousel with Babers, and his uptempo offense should make some serious waves in the Carrier Dome with all that returning experience.
The Orange are matched up here with Temple, which would counter with its brand of man ball—stifling defense and traditional power offense.
This would be a regional matchup of sorts, although it would have to be played in Florida. Syracuse would feel right at home in a dome, and Temple would look to get a bowl win in the Sunshine State after last year's miss against Toledo.
Quick Lane Bowl
NC State vs. Wisconsin
The player in the above picture hasn't played college football since 2011, but he's the key to one of the best possible matchups on the entire card—North Carolina State versus Wisconsin. For those who might be completely unaware, Wilson started his college football career at NC State, left for a while to go play pro baseball and finished up his time as a quarterback at Wisconsin.
But the connection between the Wolfpack and the Badgers goes deeper than that after some recent events.
While speaking at Wisconsin's graduation last month, Wilson said former NC State coach Tom O'Brien told him he couldn't play football there again after spending a summer playing baseball. He also allegedly made up some details about a baseball game he used as an illustration in the speech, and Wolfpack fans were not happy.
So in this scenario, the Quick Lane Bowl would become the Russell Wilson Bowl, and there would be some added bad blood between the two fanbases for this one.
What more could you ask for in a December bowl game?
Duke vs. Mississippi State
Duke head coach David Cutcliffe was once the head coach at Mississippi State's hated rival, Ole Miss. During his time with the Rebels, he went 4-3 against the Bulldogs and had a few memorable meetings in the Egg Bowl rivalry.
With the Blue Devils, Cutcliffe has taken what was one of the worst power teams in the country and turned it into a consistent bowl team.
Mississippi State has also enjoyed some best-ever peaks under current head coach Dan Mullen, including a climb to No. 1 in the country in the 2014 season.
This year, both of these teams are looking to remain consistent in transition seasons following their recent revivals, and it would be interesting to see Cutcliffe take on an old foe in Mississippi State once again. The trip to Louisiana for the Independence Bowl would be an easy one for Bulldogs fans, too.
Foster Farms Bowl
Northwestern vs. Washington
These two programs could easily land at bigger bowl games by season's end.
Northwestern is coming off a 10-win season under Pat Fitzgerald and will be competing for a Big Ten West title. Washington was red-hot at the end of 2015—a season in which it lost a lot of close games—and is a serious dark horse in the Pac-12.
But with some higher-ranked teams in their own conferences taking bigger bowl slots in this countdown, the Wildcats and the Huskies each landed in this range.
A game between these two programs would be intriguing, especially the matchup in the middle between Washington running back Myles Gaskin and Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker.
Although I personally am much higher on Washington this year than a finish in the Foster Farms Bowl, it's still a good postseason spot for two power-conference foes.
Heart of Dallas Bowl
Indiana vs. Western Kentucky
Last season, the Conference USA champion got to pick which bowl game it wanted to attend, and Western Kentucky decided to go with the Miami Beach Bowl against South Florida. This time, I'll slot the Hilltoppers to pick the only bowl slot that matches them up against a Power Five foe—the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
The Heart of Dallas bowl flips toward the Big Ten this season, and Indiana is a perfect fit here. Both teams employ wide-open offenses, and they're located in neighboring states.
Last year, the Hoosiers and the Hilltoppers played a close game that finished 38-35.
Let's see another one between these two offensive-minded programs, shall we? Western Kentucky will be out for revenge and another scalp against a power-conference foe, and Indiana will be fighting for its first bowl win since 1991.
It would be a fun fireworks show in the Lone Star State.
Memphis vs. Virginia Tech
OK, this one is too easy. The Military Bowl matches up the American and the ACC, and there's already a built-in storyline between the two leagues. Justin Fuente put Memphis football on the map over the last two seasons and then made the move to Virginia Tech to replace the legendary Frank Beamer.
Now Fuente's new team and his old team would square off in a bowl game in Maryland that wouldn't be a long trip for the Hokie fans in Virginia.
The "Justin Fuente Bowl" would have quite a bit of offense, as Memphis hired former Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell to replace him.
In this matchup, Fuente would get to face off against the machine he built at Memphis while measuring the progress he made in his first season at Virginia Tech. The storyline here is too great to miss.
Oregon vs. Penn State
On one side, there's the most modern and flashiest program in college football in terms of style and appearances on the field.
On the other side, there's a tradition-soaked school that made headlines last year because it was removing last names again from the backs of its classic, no-frills uniforms.
One couldn't think of a bigger contrast in program styles than the one between Oregon and Penn State in this hypothetical Holiday Bowl, which matches up a pair of upper-tier Pac-12 and Big Ten teams each season.
However, Penn State would love to be more like Oregon on the offensive side of the ball, as it is switching to an uptempo scheme of its own in 2016.
The matchup between Oregon running back Royce Freeman and Penn State running back Saquon Barkley would be must-see TV. Penn State would love to see how far it's come on offense in this matchup, as would be the case with Oregon on the defensive side.
Washington State vs. West Virginia
West Virginia was in the Cactus Bowl last season, but we'll place the Mountaineers back there again to set up what would be one of the wildest matchups of bowl season—when WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen takes on his mentor, Washington State's Mike Leach.
Holgorsen was an assistant under Leach from 2000 to 2007 at Texas Tech and became schooled in the ways of his Air Raid offense. He's employed a similar pass-heavy style at West Virginia, where he's had four winning seasons in his first five years. Holgorsen is on the hot seat to start 2016, but a bowl should in within reach for the Mountaineers.
This Cactus Bowl would at least come close to setting a record for most pass attempts in a bowl game, and its 10:15 p.m. ET kickoff ensures that things wouldn't get finished until the morning.
Fans would need to get caffeinated for this late-night showdown as Leach sends out the deadly-efficient Luke Falk against his former assistant. Who wants to set an over/under for the number of hours in this one?
Nebraska vs. Pittsburgh
This Pinstripe Bowl would pit a former Big Ten defensive coordinator against an old conference foe. Both Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi, who came to the Panthers from Michigan State, and Nebraska head coach Mike Riley are heading into their second seasons in charge of their respective programs.
The Huskers and the Panthers have combined for 14 claimed national titles, yet they haven't played each other since 2004 and 2005, when Nebraska pulled out a pair of one-possession victories.
Both have the potential for breakout campaigns in 2016 with a majority of their starters back from teams that lost a few agonizingly close contests last fall.
This would be a matchup of hard-running programs looking to take the next step, and the backdrop of Yankee Stadium would be a cool one for two schools rich in history.
Russell Athletic Bowl
Louisville vs. Oklahoma State
One of the most entertaining matchups on the countdown, Louisville vs. Oklahoma State would put two of college football's best young quarterbacks—Lamar Jackson and Mason Rudolph—head-to-head. They both have supporting casts loaded with experience, so this showdown would feature two offenses that would most likely be firing on all cylinders by this point in December.
As a freshman last season, Jackson went on a run of games in which he had at least 100 passing yards and 100 rushing yards. With improved passing, he's a dark-horse Heisman Trophy contender.
On the other side, Rudolph quarterbacked Oklahoma State to a red-hot start in 2015 and finished his sophomore season with 21 touchdowns.
Louisville looks like the best ACC team not named Clemson or Florida State for 2016, so the Cardinals would fill the league's high-value Russell Athletic Bowl slot. Oklahoma State would bring the offensive fireworks as well, and both teams have impact defensive players to make this a potential barn-burner in Orlando.
Texas vs. Texas A&M
You probably predicted this matchup before you even clicked on the link, didn't you? It's the ultimate dream matchup in bowl predictions—Texas and Texas A&M, preferably in their home state.
There's no need to wait on a nonconference agreement that may or may not happen between two schools that should want to square off again.
In 2014, this game had a chance of happening as both schools were bowl-eligible. But according to Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle, there were concerns of Texas A&M ending its season in Houston and then starting the next one in the same stadium, as well as some potential recruiting ramifications.
Last season, Texas missed out on a bowl game at 5-7, ending any hopes of a showdown with the Aggies.
In a perfect, dream world, Texas makes a bowl game this season under Charlie Strong. The Longhorns are then paired up with the Aggies in Houston, creating what would be one of the biggest non-New Year's Six or BCS bowl games in recent college football history.
Let's make it happen, football gods.
Kentucky vs. USF
Kentucky is eyeing an end to its bowl drought this season as Mark Stoops looks for his big breakthrough season following a pair of 5-7 campaigns. If the Wildcats can get over the hump, a game such as the Birmingham Bowl would definitely be in reach.
The best possible matchup for the 'Cats in a Birmingham Bowl would most likely be USF, which could be in for a conference title push after a stronger-than-expected 2015.
The Bulls' head coach is Willie Taggart, who was formerly in Kentucky's backyard at WKU. In 2012, Taggart's Hilltoppers knocked off Kentucky in overtime at Commonwealth Stadium.
So this matchup has the history between Taggart and Kentucky as well as the draw of two programs looking to take a big stride forward in 2016. That would make for an intriguing showdown between the SEC and American Athletic Conference.
Auburn vs. North Carolina
Continuing the theme of former coaches facing old schools—and we'll get to the biggest one soon—let's match up Auburn with North Carolina in Charlotte's Belk Bowl.
The shared history between these two coaching staffs would make for an entertaining on-field dynamic.
Current North Carolina head coach Gene Chizik was the head coach at Auburn from 2009 to 2012, and current Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was his offensive coordinator for the first three seasons. They won a national title together with a guy named Cam Newton, who just so happens to play in the stadium in which the Belk Bowl is held.
Chizik was fired after his first season without Malzahn, and the Tigers hired Malzahn to replace him.
Last year, Chizik returned to college coaching as defensive coordinator at UNC and helped the Tar Heels make it to the ACC title game. Malzahn went to the national championship in his first season but has gone backwards since then.
If the two schools finish around where they're projected for 2016, they'll be perfect for an awkward family reunion.
Baylor vs. USC
Last year's Alamo Bowl between TCU and Oregon turned out to be one of the wildest bowl games of all time. The potential is there for some zaniness between Baylor and USC, two teams that have quite a bit of offensive firepower.
The Alamo Bowl is the top non-New Year's Six Bowl for both the Big 12 and Pac-12. That seems to fit these two programs well, depending on how much Baylor's roster stays intact for the fall.
The passing games would be worth highlighting here, with Baylor's deep group of receivers going up against the likes of Iman Marshall and Adoree' Jackson in the USC secondary. JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. an experienced Baylor secondary would also be a fun watch.
Baylor would draw a great crowd by playing in San Antonio, and USC is usually a big draw no matter where it goes. Two big-name programs going at it in prime time would be fantastic to see.
Arkansas vs. Texas Tech
If you're looking for some coaching bad blood, you've come to the right place. According to Sam Khan Jr. of ESPN.com, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema allegedly said at a coaching convention that "if you don't play with a fullback, we'll kick your ass. And if you throw it 70 times a game, we'll kick your ass."
Texas Tech, which attempted the second-most passes of any team in college football last season, went to Arkansas last September and beat Bielema's Razorbacks by a score of 35-24. In the postgame press conference, per Khan, Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Bielema "just got his ass kicked twice in a row," referring to Arkansas' loss the week beforehand to Toledo.
So the question now is, who wouldn't want to watch a rematch between Bielema and Kingsbury?
While Arkansas expanded its passing attack last season, its offense is still power football at its core, while Kingsbury will get Patrick Mahomes II to throw it a ton against any opponent. Ring the bell for Round 2.
Georgia Tech vs. UCLA
This hypothetical Sun Bowl would be another intriguing clash of style between UCLA, a team that has perhaps the best young pocket passer in the country in Josh Rosen, and a Georgia Tech team that will star veteran Justin Thomas in charge of a classic triple-option attack.
UCLA's new-look offense under Kennedy Polamalu is going to focus on pounding the ball at defenses with Soso Jamabo and Nate Starks while opening things up downfield for Rosen.
Georgia Tech, meanwhile, will stick to the tried-and-true option with the unchanging Paul Johnson.
Plus, it would be funny to watch UCLA head coach Jim Mora have to go up against a football team that plays in Atlanta. There would probably be more than a handful of angry Falcons fans among the Georgia Tech faithful who will want to see Mora go down in El Paso, Texas.
Air Force vs. Marshall
The Arizona Bowl pitted a pair of Mountain West teams against each other for its inaugural edition, but we'll make sure that doesn't happen again. Instead, we'll watch a pair of intriguing offenses go head-to-head in Tucson.
Air Force attempted more carries than any other team in college football last season, and it plays a tweaked version of the classic triple-option playbook most commonly seen at the service academies.
The Falcons employ one of the most attacking defenses in all of college football, as they ranked 13th nationally in sacks last season and 23rd in tackles for loss. Expect a lot of blitzes from a ton of angles.
That defense would make for a wild matchup against Marshall's offense, which has a bright young quarterback in Chase Litton and a deep cast of wide receivers and tight ends.
The Arizona Bowl is a weird shift from the Power Five bowl matchups around this time of the postseason, but this matchup would be one to keep an eye on that evening.
Music City Bowl
Georgia vs. Miami
Here's another dream matchup you could've probably predicted ahead of time. Georgia fired longtime head coach Mark Richt after years and years of nine- and 10-win seasons but not a lot of championship hopes. As Richt headed down to his alma mater of Miami, Georgia replaced him with first-time head coach Kirby Smart.
Both Georgia and Miami are projected to start the 2016 season in the second half of the Top 25, and both of them have potential to compete for their respective division titles.
But if they fall just short of crashing the major bowls, seeing the Bulldogs and the Hurricanes square off would be instant drama.
Richt would get a shot at revenge against his former employer with his alma mater, while Smart would get a chance to confirm that the Bulldogs made the right call in making him their new head coach.
LSU vs. Michigan State
In terms of power football and excellent line play, few potential matchups could come close to LSU against Michigan State. These two teams will fight for a conference title and a College Football Playoff bid this season, but both of their divisions are crowded neighborhoods when it comes to talent.
Superstar running back Leonard Fournette would go toe-to-toe with Michigan State's traditionally strong defensive front led by the excellent Malik McDowell. LJ Scott would get a crack at the defense of LSU coordinator Dave Aranda, who is familiar with the Spartans from his time as an assistant at Wisconsin.
There's also the fun subplot of LSU head coach Les Miles, a Michigan alumnus, going up against Sparty.
Both programs and their fans would be disappointed if they didn't land in the playoff or the New Year's Six this fall. But from a neutral perspective, this heavyweight collision would pack quite a punch.
Maryland vs. South Carolina
A second-tier bowl between the Big Ten and the SEC, the TaxSlayer Bowl could go in a lot of different directions.
For the sake of a hypothetical fun matchup, a reunion between the staffs at Maryland and South Carolina—both of which could compete for a bowl game under new head coaches this fall—would be great to see.
South Carolina head man Will Muschamp was formerly the head coach at Florida, where he had current Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin as his defensive coordinator for two seasons. Durkin coached Florida to a bowl win as an interim head coach in 2014 after Muschamp's firing, and he landed at Michigan in 2015.
Now Durkin is the head coach of a Maryland program with plenty of potential, and Muschamp is in charge again in the SEC East with a South Carolina team that was a consistent Top 25 club just a short time ago.
Seeing these two defensive-minded coaches battle it out with their reenergized teams would be quite the story.
Florida vs. Iowa
It's the battle of the 2015 season's two biggest surprises. Under first-year head coach Jim McElwain, Florida raced out to an incredible start and won the SEC East title.
Veteran Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz embraced changes to the Hawkeyes, went 12-0 in the regular season and came close to winning the Big Ten Championship Game.
Now the Gators and Hawkeyes are looking to prove they weren't flukes in 2015, and the Outback Bowl would be a good landing spot for both of them. An interesting storyline in this game would be the competition between Iowa cornerback Desmond King and Florida cornerback Jalen Tabor. Both players can stake their claims to be the best defensive back in college football.
These are two teams that had similar paths last season and are led by elite secondaries for 2016. Florida would get a bowl game in its home state, and Iowa fans would most likely travel well to this warmer destination.
Clemson vs. Ole Miss
Ole Miss has made it to a New Year's Six bowl game in each of the last two seasons, and there's enough talent in Oxford to make it happen again in 2016. For the most buzz-worthy matchup for the Rebels, let's turn to the program that once was home to their star quarterback.
Chad Kelly started his college career at Clemson but was kicked off the team in the spring of 2014. He rebounded in JUCO, landed at Ole Miss and led the Rebels to a fantastic 2015 campaign.
In this matchup, he'll face off against his former school, led by Heisman contender Deshaun Watson at his old position of signal-caller.
Both of these Southern schools have emerged as championship contenders over the last several seasons with their uptempo offenses, stingy defenses and excellent recruiting surges. If Clemson falls short of the playoff and Ole Miss is in the mix for a New Year's Six spot again, this game needs to happen.
Cotton Bowl and Rose Bowl
Houston vs. Ohio State (Cotton) and Stanford vs. TCU (Rose)
Houston vs. TCU (Cotton) and Ohio State vs. Stanford (Rose)
These two New Year's Six bowls share a slide for an important reason, and it all depends on if the Rose Bowl would get in the way of an even better matchup in the Cotton Bowl.
Houston is widely expected to be the Group of Five's representative in the New Year's Six bowl games this season. A game in the Cotton Bowl, an at-large matchup for 2016, makes the most sense for the Cougars. If TCU can keep its offense rolling with the right quarterback, it has the defense to challenge for another New Year's Six spot.
This is where the fun begins.
If a young and exciting Ohio State team gets into the New Year's Six but falls short of the playoff, a matchup between Urban Meyer and former offensive coordinator Tom Herman—now the head coach at Houston—would be nothing short of incredible.
TCU would slide into the Rose Bowl to face Pac-12 power Stanford and look to claim another scalp there after beating Wisconsin in 2011.
But if the Rose Bowl is dead set on going with the traditional Big Ten vs. Pac-12 game, Urban Meyer vs. David Shaw in what would most likely be Christian McCaffrey's college finale at the Rose Bowl would be perfectly fine. TCU would then go play in an all-Texas showdown at the Cotton Bowl against Houston.
One way is a better option, but both scenarios have potential dream matchups for college football fans.
Oklahoma vs. Tennessee
Oklahoma vs. Tennessee turned out to be one of the most exciting games of the 2015 college football season, as Baker Mayfield and the Sooners rallied to knock off the Volunteers in double overtime at Neyland Stadium.
So how about a rematch?
The Sooners should be in national title contention this season, but they play a tough schedule that includes nonconference matchups against Houston and Ohio State. If they fall short of a playoff bid, they'd be in line to get a New Year's Six spot in the Sugar Bowl against an SEC foe.
Tennessee, the projected SEC favorite, would land here and get a chance at revenge with what it feels will be a better team than the one that lost last September.
These teams have improved a good bit since their first meeting in Knoxville, and they would make for a fantastic matchup in a big environment like the Superdome in New Orleans. It would be a reasonable trip for both sets of fans and a fun non-playoff game all the way around.
Fiesta Bowl (CFP Semifinal)
Florida State vs. Notre Dame
Florida State has the talent to compete for the national championship again this season, and it'll face defending ACC champion Clemson on its own turf.
Notre Dame has a favorable schedule, an exciting offense and a lot of players who gained valuable experience after last year's rash of injuries.
The Seminoles and the Fighting Irish need to face off again after the controversial ending to their 2014 meeting. In the two previous meetings between Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher and Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, the final results have been decided by a combined eight points.
Florida State and Notre Dame are two of the biggest names in college football, and there's some history between the two sides. Of the possible matchups in the College Football Playoff this year, a rematch between Fisher and Kelly is one of the best.
Peach Bowl (CFP Semifinal)
Alabama vs. Michigan
But Florida State-Notre Dame is not the best dream matchup in the playoff. No, that distinction belongs to defending national champion Alabama against the most talked-about team of the offseason, Michigan.
Or, to put it in even simpler terms, Nick Saban vs. Jim Harbaugh.
Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee wrote the following last month:
Can you imagine what a pregame handshake would be like between the two?
Or that awkward photo teams take prior to bowl games with both head coaches standing next to the trophy?
We wouldn't get just one "What's your deal?" moment like the one that took place between Harbaugh and former USC head coach Pete Carroll while Harbaugh was with Stanford. We'd get many.
This potential playoff matchup explains itself. Saban and Harbaugh have had a war of words this offseason, and the Michigan head coach is trying to get his program to where Alabama is right now in the college football landscape.
This must happen sometime in the future, so why not this winter?
All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.
Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.