Ultimate Guide to 2020-21 College Football Bowl Season

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 22, 2020

Ultimate Guide to 2020-21 College Football Bowl Season

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    We made it.

    Perhaps your optimism and excitement level is much higher. If so, awesome! But for many involved in college footballfrom casual and diehards fans to writers and photographers to the players and coaches themselvesthat's a common feeling.

    Four months ago, the 2020 campaign was in jeopardy. While the Big Ten, MAC, Mountain West and Pac-12 initially decided not to play, the other six conferencesthe AAC, ACC, Big 12, C-USA, SEC and Sun Belttried to stick it out. They did. And at various points in the fall, the quartet of opt-out leagues opted in.

    Even if bowl season arrived, what would it look like? Games have been slowly canceled for months. Then, in recent days, more than a dozen programs announced they wouldn't accept a bid anyway.

    Nevertheless, we made it.

    And after Appalachian State's rout over North Texas in the Myrtle Beach Bowl, we're already started, too.

    Exactly 29 games are on the postseason slate, including 28 bowls and the College Football Playoff National Championship. Take a breath, flex your football-watching muscles and be prepared to enjoy a flurry of bowls to close the 2020 season.

Rose Bowl (in Texas!): No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Notre Dame

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    When: Friday, Jan. 1, at 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Line (via DraftKings): Alabama -19.5

    Since spectators would not be allowed at the traditional venue in Pasadena, California, the College Football Playoff moved the semifinal to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The 14,000-person capacity offers a slight edge for Alabama.

    Comparatively, though, it's a very small one.

    No matter which program landed the No. 4 seedNotre Dame, Texas A&M or Cincinnatithe Crimson Tide would've been a heavy favorite because of their incredible offense. Either quarterback Mac Jones or wide receiver DeVonta Smith will win the Heisman Trophy, and running back Najee Harris should be a top-five finisher.

    Prior to championship week, it seemed Notre Dame boasted one of the few defenses even capable of limiting that powerful attack. Now, however, that's a big concern.

    Clemson just smashed the Irish in the ACC Championship Game, racking up 541 yards in a 34-10 win. Even worse, the offense mustered only 263 yards. To legitimately compete with Alabama, Notre Dame needs to completely flip those performances.

    Notre Dame has enough talent to put together one perfect performance. But anything less than perfect is a loss to Alabama.

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

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    When: Friday, Jan. 1, at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Line (via DraftKings): Clemson -7.5

    This is becoming a familiar matchup, wouldn't you say?

    During the 2016 and 2019 seasons, Clemson and Ohio State met in the CFP semifinalsboth at the Fiesta Bowl. Clemson smashed the Buckeyes 31-0 in 2016 and clipped them 29-23 last year as Justin Fields threw a late interception.

    In the coming days, Ohio State players and coaches will fulfill requirements to speak with the media. And, most likely, they'll minimize the talks of "revenge" and how Clemson is simply the next obstacle on the path to the national championship.

    Let's be serious: This is a revenge game.

    Ohio State jumped out to an early lead before a controversial targeting call on Shaun Wade swung the game. The Buckeyes had every chance to win afterward, so that penalty cannot be solely blamed. Still, there's no question it served as the turning point in Clemson fighting back from a 16-0 deficit.

    Clemson enters the Sugar Bowl as the hefty favorite, which is no surprise. The Tigers annihilated Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game and are undefeated with Trevor Lawrence available. Ohio State struggled to put away Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game and hasn't had a great 60-minute performance so far.

    The Buckeyes, however, have a chance to reverse that trend at the perfect moment. Or, well, Clemson's reign will continue.

Remaining New Year's Six Bowls

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Cotton Bowl: No. 7 Florida vs. No. 6 Oklahoma

    When: Dec. 30 at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    The major question for Florida is whether quarterback Kyle Trask will play. Star tight end Kyle Pitts has already said he's heading to the NFL and not suiting up for the Cotton Bowl. But as long as Trask is available, the high-scoring UF offense is a massive test for Oklahoma's much-improved, 20th-ranked defense.

               

    Peach Bowl: No. 9 Georgia vs. No. 8 Cincinnati

    When: Jan. 1 at noon ET (ESPN)

    Boasting a 9-0 record with five victories over six-win teams, Cincinnati deserved better than a final No. 8 ranking. Whether the Bearcats should be ahead of Notre Dame and Texas A&M is worth a debate, but there's no good reason Cincinnati is eighth. (Steps off soapbox.) Fun game here! Georgia's offense has looked more dangerous since USC transfer JT Daniels took over at quarterback. Cincinnati, though, has the nation's most efficient defense.

                

    Fiesta Bowl: No. 25 Oregon vs. No. 10 Iowa State

    When: Jan. 2 at 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Which offense makes fewer mistakes? Oregon lost 12 turnovers in six games, and Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy tossed three dreadful interceptions in the Big 12 Championship Game. Expect moderate scoring, good defense and a bit of ugliness when the Ducks and Cyclones square off.

               

    Orange Bowl: No. 5 Texas A&M vs. No. 13 North Carolina

    When: Jan. 2 at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Edged out of the CFP semifinals, Texas A&M heads to South Florida with a decent offense and surging defense. But the Tar Heels should be comfortable returning to a stadium where they walloped Miami for 778 yards and 62 points last time out. Whether the Aggies can slow UNC's offense will determine the game, because it's highly unlikely A&M can keep up otherwise.

Best of the Rest

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Boca Raton Bowl: UCF vs. No. 16 BYU

    When: Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Do you like offense? Great! Check out the Boca Raton Bowl. UCF and BYU are both ranked in the top 10 nationally for yards and points per game. UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel and BYU signal-caller Zach Wilsona potential first-round NFL draft pickhave each thrown 30 touchdowns this season.

               

    Cure Bowl: Liberty vs. No. 12 Coastal Carolina

    When: Dec. 26 at noon ET (ESPN)

    The thrilling last-minute game between Coastal Carolina and BYU happened because Liberty needed to pause its schedule and handle COVID-19 issues. Otherwise, an undefeated Liberty would've taken on undefeated Coastal Carolina. The circumstances are a little different, but we get the matchup anyway.

                

    Cheez-It Bowl: No. 21 Oklahoma State vs. No. 18 Miami

    When: Dec. 29 at 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Oklahoma State and Miami have a similar profile. Both offenses push the tempo but are inconsistent, largely as a result of poor blocking. Also, both defenses are generally good but stunk in an important regular-season game. True to Cheez-It Bowl formthough the 2020 sponsorship is technically for a different gamethis showdown may be a little messy and a lot of fun.

               

    Alamo Bowl: No. 20 Texas vs. Colorado

    When: Dec. 29 at 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Ah, nostalgia. Before realignment altered many conferences, Texas and Colorado were Big 12 adversaries. But they haven't met since Colorado left for the Pac-12 in the summer of 2010. The stakes are much differentread: minimalbut the matchup is a reminder of the good ol' days.

              

    Outback Bowl: Mississippi vs. No. 11 Indiana

    When: Jan. 2 at 12:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

    Indiana hoped for a trip to a New Year's Six Bowl but instead takes on Ole Miss in the Outback Bowl. However, the Hoosiers must be careful not to overlook Lane Kiffin's team, because the Rebels have one of the nation's most explosive offenses.

Watchability Rankings

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Tier 6: Go, Sports Teams!

    28. LendingTree Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Georgia State; Dec. 26, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    27. New Orleans Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. Georgia Southern; Dec. 23, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    26. New Mexico Bowl (in Texas!): Hawaii vs. Houston; Dec. 24, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    25. Gasparilla Bowl: South Carolina vs. UAB; Dec. 26, noon ET (ABC)

    24. Potato Bowl: Tulane vs. Nevada; Dec. 22, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

               

    Tier 5: Ordinary Power-Conference Games

    23. Texas Bowl: Arkansas vs. TCU; Dec. 31, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    22. Mayo Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Wisconsin; Dec. 30, noon ET (ESPN)

    21. Gator Bowl: NC State vs. Kentucky; Jan. 2, noon ET (ESPN)

               

    Tier 4: Notable Group of Five Teams

    20. Myrtle Beach Bowl: Appalachian State vs. North Texas; Dec. 21, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    19. Armed Forces Bowl: Tulsa vs. Mississippi State; Dec. 31, noon ET (ESPN)

    18. Montgomery Bowl: Memphis vs. Florida Atlantic; Dec. 23, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    17. First Responder Bowl: Louisiana vs. UTSA; Dec. 26, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

             

    Tier 3: You Have My Attention, Mostly

    16. Music City Bowl: Iowa vs. Missouri; Dec. 30, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    15. Liberty Bowl: West Virginia vs. Army; Dec. 31, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    14. Camellia Bowl: Marshall vs. Buffalo; Dec. 25, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    13. Arizona Bowl: Ball State vs. San Jose State; Dec. 31, 2 p.m. ET (CBS)

    12. Citrus Bowl: Auburn vs. Northwestern; Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET (ABC)

    11. Alamo Bowl: Texas vs. Colorado; Dec. 29, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    10. Cheez-It Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Miami; Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

            

    Tier 2: You Have My Attention, Fully

    9. Fiesta Bowl: Oregon vs. Iowa State; Jan. 2, 4 p.m. ET (ABC)

    8. Boca Raton Bowl: UCF vs. BYU; Dec. 22, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    7. Cure Bowl: Liberty vs. Coastal Carolina; Dec. 26, noon ET (ESPN)

    6. Outback Bowl: Ole Miss vs, Indiana; Jan. 2, 12:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

    5. Orange Bowl: Texas A&M vs. North Carolina; Jan. 2, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    4. Peach Bowl: Georgia vs. Cincinnati; Jan. 1, noon ET (ESPN)

    3. Cotton Bowl: Florida vs. Oklahoma; Dec. 30, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

                 

    Tier 1: Appointment Viewing

    2. Rose Bowl: Alabama vs. Notre Dame; Jan. 1, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    1. Sugar Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State; Jan. 1, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

                 

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