Bowl Game Schedule 2019-20: Best Matchups Before the New Year

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 28, 2019

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 30:  Quarterback Book #12 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish attempts a pass in an NCAA football game against the Stanford Cardinal on November 30, 2019 at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)
David Madison/Getty Images

College football's bowl season is bigger than the College Football Playoff and National Championship.

And, no, we don't just mean in quantity.

The quality of contests in non-playoff clashes can often rival those marquee matchups. So, we'll look at two of the best non-playoff tilts to be played before the calendar flips.


2019-20 Bowl Game Schedule

Saturday, Dec. 28

Camping World Bowl: No. 15 Notre Dame vs. Iowa State, 12 p.m. ET on ABC

Cotton Bowl: No. 10 Penn State vs. No. 17 Memphis, 12 p.m. ET on ESPN

Peach Bowl (Playoff Semifinal): No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Oklahoma, 4 p.m. ET on ESPN

Fiesta Bowl (Playoff Semifinal): No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN


Monday, Dec. 30

First Responder Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Western Michigan, 12:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

Music City Bowl: Louisville vs. Mississippi State, 4 p.m. ET on ESPN

Redbox Bowl: California vs. Illinois, 4 p.m. ET on FOX

Orange Bowl: No. 9 Florida vs. No. 24 Virginia, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN


Tuesday, Dec. 31

Belk Bowl: Kentucky vs. Virginia Tech, 12 p.m. ET on ESPN

Sun Bowl: Arizona State vs. Florida State, 2 p.m. ET on CBS

Liberty Bowl: Kansas State vs. Navy, 3:45 p.m. ET on ESPN

Arizona Bowl: Georgia State vs. Wyoming, 4:30 p.m. ET on CBSSN

Alamo Bowl: No. 11 Utah vs. Texas, 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN


Wednesday, Jan. 1

Citrus Bowl: No. 13 Alabama vs. No. 14 Michigan, 1 p.m. ET on ABC

Outback Bowl: No. 12 Auburn vs. No. 18 Minnesota, 1 p.m. ET on ESPN

Rose Bowl: No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 8 Wisconsin, 5 p.m. ET on ESPN

Sugar Bowl: No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 7 Baylor, 8:45 p.m. ET on ESPN


Thursday, Jan. 2

Birmingham Bowl: No. 21 Cincinnati vs. Boston College, 3 p.m. ET on ESPN

Gator Bowl: Indiana vs. Tennessee, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN


Friday, Jan. 3

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Nevada vs. Ohio, 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN


Saturday, Jan. 4

Armed Forces Bowl: Southern Miss vs. Tulane, 11:30 a.m. ET on ESPN


Monday, Jan. 6

LendingTree Bowl: Louisiana vs. Miami (Ohio), 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN


Monday, Jan. 13

National Championship Game: LSU-Oklahoma winner vs. Ohio State-Clemson winner, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN


Best Matchups Before the New Year

Camping World Bowl: No. 15 Notre Dame vs. Iowa State

When: Saturday, Dec. 28, at 12 p.m. ET

Where: Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida

Why it Could Be Special: Because Notre Dame is Notre Dame, and Iowa State is better than you think.

The Fighting Irish probably had grander ambitions than the Camping World Bowl, but with as many losses as wins over ranked opponents (two each), they're off to Orlando for a sneaky-good matchup with the Cyclones.

Notre Dame's defense is stingy, ranking 15th in points and third in passing yards per game. Iowa State's offense is inconsistent, but it has flame-throwing potential when it's clicking. Sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy had this season's 20th-best quarterback rating, and that's actually a step back from last year's sixth-placed finish.

"Many people don't know how good this football team is," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly told reporters, "but I can tell you, [with] my 30 years of coaching football, I know how good it is."

Iowa State might only be 7-5, but almost every loss was a nail-biter. The Clones dropped one-point losses to Iowa and Oklahoma, plus a two-pointer to Baylor.

Granted, Notre Dame is objectively better. Senior quarterback Ian Book is a big play waiting to happen, and those can come through the air or on the ground. Senior wideout Chase Claypool knows how to find an end zone, after doubling his touchdown count from his first three seasons with 12 scores. Notre Dame's pass rush is disruptive, even after the loss of preseason All-American Julian Okwara to a fractured fibula.

But Iowa State has weapons, too.

Purdy can be electric, especially when he's willing to run (eight rushing scores this season). It took some time for the running game to replace current Chicago Bear David Montgomery, but freshman Breece Hall gave this offense life (and 10 total scores) after securing the job. Sophomore tight end Charlie Kolar is a tough cover as a 6'6", 252-pound pass-catcher (team-high seven touchdown receptions).

Despite the Irish sitting 15th in the country and the Cylones being unranked, Caesars Sportsbook only has Notre Dame as 3.5-point favorites. This is likely coming down to the wire, and it will be fascinating to watch these two passers try to outdo the other.


Cotton Bowl: No. 12 Penn State vs. No. 15 Memphis

When: Saturday, Dec. 28, at 12 p.m. ET

Where: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas

Why it Could Be Special: Because Memphis' offense is explosive, and Penn State's defense can dominate.

Well, hopefully none of you have plans during Saturday's 12 p.m. ET time slot. If you can slot two viewing devices alongside one another, that's your best plan of attack to soak up this fantastic football. If you can't, you might consider heading over to the nearest watering hole that will.

The Tigers head to Arlington representing their Group of Five brethren. They can thank their fiery offense for that.

They have a 3,560-yard passer in junior quarterback Brady White. They have a 1,425-yard rusher in freshman Kenneth Gainwell. They have a 1,144-yard receiver in junior Damonte Coxie. White threw 33 touchdown passes. Gainwell contributed 12 rushing touchdowns and three more through the air. Coxie had nine touchdown receptions, while senior Antonio Gibson hauled in another eight.

Scoring is not an issue, in other words. Only seven teams put up more points per game. This isn't all about volume, either. ESPN slots the Tigers 11th in offensive efficiency.

"They just find ways to manufacture yards and points," Penn State coach James Franklin told reporters. "They're very good at the skill positions. The quarterback has got a really good feel and understanding of how to run the offense and how to take what the defense is giving. Their running backs and their receivers are as good as we have seen this year."

Of course, the Tigers would also say the Lions defense is better than any they've faced.

Penn State sits seventh in scoring defense at 14.1 points per game. The stingiest defense Memphis faced belonged to Cincinnati, which surrendered an average of 21.7 points.

The Nittany Lions basically live in their opponents' backfield. The trio of sophomore linebacker Micah Parsons and junior defensive ends junior Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney alone contributed 17.5 sacks and 32.5 tackles for loss. Penn State paces the country in yards allowed per rush (2.6), which sets up a hugely compelling matchup for Gainwell, who's only 43 scrimmage yards shy of 2,000.

Penn State's offense is more about function than flash.

Sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford had as many games with one or fewer touchdown passes as ones with three-plus (five each), but outside of a three-pick performance against Minnesota, he usually avoided disaster. Sophomore wideout KJ Hamler was the favorite target with 54 catches for 858 yards and eight touchdowns. Sophomore rusher Journey Brown led the backfield with 688 yards and 10 scores.

The Nittany Lions probably have enough offensive firepower to exploit a Tigers defense that ESPN ranks 71st in efficiency. But maybe knowing the potential for defensive leaks will put an extra pep in the step of Memphis' offense.