Ultimate Guide to 2019-20 College Football Bowl Season

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 10, 2019

Ultimate Guide to 2019-20 College Football Bowl Season

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    Conference championships are won, the College Football Playoff field is set, and bowl season has finally arrived.

    While most of the national conversation will be focused on the CFP semifinals, the 40-game schedule is full of interesting matchups, compelling storylines and a bunch of awesome giveaways. Win or lose, players won't be returning home empty-handed.

    Now that everything is official, we'll break down the Fiesta and Peach Bowls and highlight some other notable parts of the postseason.

    Before we dive headfirst into the fun, though, we'd like to apologize to Toledo. The program is the only of 79 bowl-eligible teams—excluding Missouri, which has a one-year ban—without a destination in the postseason. There aren't enough bowls, indeed.

    Otherwise, this is the most wonderful time of the year.

Peach Bowl: No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 LSU

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    When: Saturday, Dec. 28, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Line: LSU -12 (Caesars)

    Not only is the Peach Bowl a national semifinal, it's also the most likely candidate for a "First to 50" type of matchup.

    LSU and Oklahoma boast two of the most productive offenses in the country, both averaging more than 550 yards per game. While LSU is third nationally at 47.8 points per game, Oklahoma is fifth at 43.2. The winner will likely surpass those numbers in Atlanta.

    And both the betting line and consensus opinion favor LSU.

    Oklahoma has a much-improved defense compared to 2018during which it allowed 551 yards and 43.5 points per game over the last six contests. This season, though, the Sooners have surrendered just 330.6 yards and 24.5 points on average.

    The problem for Oklahoma is LSU has shredded every defense anyway. Joe Burrow and Co. topped 500 yards against Florida, Auburn and Alabama and collected 481 opposite Georgia.

    Can the Sooners force and capitalize on a couple of turnovers to spring the upset? Otherwise, the pressure will be on Jalen Hurts, CeeDee Lamb and the OU offense to play a near-perfect gamesomething that hasn't happened since mid-October, really.

Fiesta Bowl: No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 2 Ohio State

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    When: Saturday, Dec. 28, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Line: Clemson -2 (Caesars)

    Six years ago, a 13-0 team would've been left out of the championship picture. Fortunately, the four-team CFP ensures LSU, Ohio State and Clemson all have a chance to celebrate the national title.

    And it provides a massive semifinal for us to enjoy!

    Other than an outlier or two, both programs have completely overwhelmed their competition this season.

    Ohio State won every game by double digits, including 11 margins of 24-plus points. Clemson has cruised to eight straight 30-plus-point victories since a scare at North Carolina, and only UNC (20) and Virginia (17) scored more than 14 points against the Tigers.

    Both offenses are averaging more than seven yards per snap. Both defenses are surrendering fewer than four. This is, on paper, about as even a matchup as possible.

    Will a giveaway shape the game? Maybe instead it's a blunder on special teams orlike Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Gamea trick play that is the turning point.

    Although a blowout similar to the 2016 semifinal when Clemson crushed OSU 31-0 is possible, the more likely result is a hugely entertaining game decided in the fourth quarter.

Best of the Non-CFP Bowls

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press

    Remember when Nick Saban and Jim Harbaugh started a national debate over satellite camps? Ah, yes, 2016: a simpler time. Now, their respective programs are slated to meet in the Citrus Bowl.

    We already know Alabama will be without star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (hip), but the Crimson Tide are in uncharted territory too. Since the program has reached the CFP in five straight years, Alabama hasn't dealt with players skipping bowl games.

    Given the massive amount of NFL-caliber talent on this roster, could the Tide need to replace five players? Maybe even 10?

    No matter who's available, the Saban vs. Harbaugh storyline will draw attention before an interesting New Year's Day clash.

    Also on the first day of 2020, upstart Minnesota will challenge a resurgent Auburn in the Outback Bowl. The contest is especially important for Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, who could use a victory over a premier SEC team as a recruiting tool for the budding program.

    "The level of our bowl game has completely changed," Fleck said, per Zack Pierce of The Athletic. "No disrespect to who we played last year, it's just now you're playing one of the Top 12 teams in the country in Auburn and you know what they bring to the table, and one of the best bowl games you can possibly go to that's not a New Year's Six bowl."

    And lastly, the Alamo Bowl features Texas and Utah.

    Texas is, most decidedly, not back. However, if the Longhorns manage a win over the 11-2 Pac-12 runner-up, they'll at least steady the narrative headed into a key offseason. On the other hand, Utah is seeking the third 12-win campaign in program history.

Under-the-Radar Bowls to Watch

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    Bryan Woolston/Associated Press

    So many bowls, so many good ones. Let's go rapid fire.

    Boca Raton Bowl: SMU ranks sixth nationally with 43 points per game, and Florida Atlantic is 17th at 35.2. Lane Kiffin accepted the job at Ole Miss, but if he returns to FAU and coaches the bowl, it should be a lovely high-scoring clash.

    Texas Bowl: Once a yearly matchup in the Big 12, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M haven't played since 2011. The Aggies then departed for the SEC. Oklahoma State won the last four meetings, though Texas A&M holds the all-time series edge.

    Cheez-It Bowl: Last season, the Cheez-It Bowl was a delightfully awful contest that featured nine interceptions, 3.9 yards per play and 17 combined points in a 10-7 TCU win over Cal. This year, it's Air Force's 57.2 rushes per game against Washington State's 55.7 pass attempts per game. Let's get weird.

    Belk Bowl: The viral clip of a punter shaking eleventy-seven tacklers is Lynn Bowden Jr. as a sophomore in high school. Circumstances have pushed Bowden into the "emergency quarterback" role for Kentucky, and he's responded with 1,235 yards and 11 touchdowns as a runner. Hopefully he decides to play in the Belk Bowl, which will be longtime Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster's final game.

    Armed Forces Bowl: For the first time in a decade, it's the Battle for the Bell! Conference realignment ended the annual matchup when both played in Conference USA, and the last matchup happened in 2009. That ends Jan. 4 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Watchability Rankings

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    Tier 6: Well, I Like Football

    39. Frisco Bowl: Utah State vs. Kent State; Dec. 20, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

    38. Quick Lane Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. Pitt; Dec. 26, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    37. Arizona Bowl: Wyoming vs. Georgia State; Dec. 31, 4:30 p.m. ET (CBSSN)

    36. Potato Bowl: Nevada vs. Ohio; Jan. 3, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    35. Cure Bowl: Liberty vs. Georgia Southern; Dec. 21, 2:30 p.m. ET (CBSSN)

    34. Camellia Bowl: Arkansas State vs. FIU; Dec. 21, 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)


    Tier 5: Suitable Background Noise

    33. Bahamas Bowl: Charlotte vs. Buffalo; Dec. 20, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    32. RedBox Bowl: Cal vs. Illinois; Dec. 30, 4 p.m. ET (Fox)

    31. LendingTree Bowl: Louisiana vs. Miami (Ohio); Jan. 6, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    30. New Mexico Bowl: San Diego State vs. Central Michigan; Dec. 21, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    29. Independence Bowl: Miami vs. Louisiana Tech; Dec. 26, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    28. First Responder Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Western Michigan; Dec. 30, 12:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    27. Birmingham Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Boston College; Jan. 2, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    26. Pinstripe Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Michigan State; Dec. 27, 3:20 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    25. Military Bowl: North Carolina vs. Temple; Dec. 27, Noon ET (ESPN)


    Tier 4: I'm Not Doing Anything Else Anyway

    24. Music City Bowl: Louisville vs. Mississippi State; Dec. 30, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    23. Sun Bowl: Florida State vs. Arizona State; Dec. 31, 2 p.m. ET (CBS)

    22. Armed Forces Bowl: Tulane vs. Southern Miss; Jan. 4, 11:30 a.m. ET (ESPN)

    21. Hawaii Bowl: BYU vs. Hawaii; Dec. 24; 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    20. Gasparilla Bowl: UCF vs. Marshall; Dec. 23, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    19. New Orleans Bowl: Appalachian State vs. UAB; Dec. 21, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    18. Gator Bowl: Tennessee vs. Indiana; Jan. 2, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    17. Liberty Bowl: Kansas State vs. Navy; Dec. 31, 3:45 p.m. ET (ESPN)


    Tier 3: This Is Supposed to be Fun!

    16. Las Vegas Bowl: Washington vs. Boise State; Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

    15. Texas Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M; Dec. 27, 6:45 p.m ET (ESPN)

    14. Cheez-It Bowl: Air Force vs. Washington State; Dec. 27, 10:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    13. Holiday Bowl: USC vs. Iowa; Dec. 27, 8 p.m. ET (FS1)

    12. Boca Raton Bowl: SMU vs. Florida Atlantic; Dec. 21, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

    11. Belk Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Kentucky; Dec. 31, Noon ET (ESPN)


    Tier 2: I'll Take Care of That Later

    10. Orange Bowl: Virginia vs. Florida; Dec. 30, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    9. Camping World Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Iowa State; Dec. 28, Noon ET (ABC)

    8. Alamo Bowl: Texas vs. Utah; Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    7. Outback Bowl: Minnesota vs. Auburn; Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    6. Sugar Bowl: Georgia vs. Baylor; Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    5. Citrus Bowl: Michigan vs. Alabama; Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET (ABC)

    4. Cotton Bowl: Memphis vs. Penn State; Dec. 28, Noon ET (ESPN)

    3. Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Wisconsin; Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)


    Tier 1: Not Missing This Game

    2. Peach Bowl: Oklahoma vs. LSU; Dec. 28, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    1. Fiesta Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State; Dec. 28, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)