Ultimate Guide to 2021-22 College Football Bowl Season

Morgan MoriartyFeatured Columnist IDecember 9, 2021

Ultimate Guide to 2021-22 College Football Bowl Season

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    It's the most wonderful time of the year, folks! Bowl season is finally upon us. This year, we have a whopping 44 bowl games—18 more than we had a year ago—including the College Football Playoff semifinal games and national championship. 

    There is the unpopular opinion out there that there are somehow "too many bowl games." But after a 2020 college football season that had so many games canceled because of COVID-19, I think we'll take all the bowls we can get this year. 

    Given the number of games, it may be hard to pick which ones might be for you. That's why we're here with the ultimate bowl guide so you can tackle the multitude of glorious bowl games we'll get over the next month or so.

Cotton Bowl: No. 4 Cincinnati vs. No. 1 Alabama

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    When: Friday, Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Line via DraftKings: Alabama (-13.5)

    For the first time in the history of the playoff, the Group of Five will finally have representation. Cincinnati rightfully earned the No. 4 spot after finishing its season undefeated with a 35-20 win over Houston in the AAC Championship. Cincy's signature win came Oct. 2, with a 24-13 win over then-No. 9 Notre Dame on the road. 

    Unfortunately for this year's playoff Cinderella team, Cincinnati gets to face the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. Yes, the same Alabama team that looked mortal throughout the majority of the regular season but went against Georgia in the SEC Championship game and hung 41 points on the Dawgs' top-ranked defense. Not exactly the most ideal first-round matchup for the Bearcats, to say the least. 

    It's not too hard to see that Cincinnati has its hands full against Nick Saban and this Tide team. Alabama's offense, featuring the likes of Heisman finalist Bryce Young at quarterback, receiver Jameson Williams and running back Brian Robinson Jr., will be the best offense the Bearcats defense has faced all year. While Cincinnati is tied for fourth in scoring defense nationally, allowing just 16.1 points per game, this is the most talented personnel the Bearcats have matched up against all season long. 

    Cincinnati's offense, led by quarterback Desmond Ridder, receivers Alec Pierce and Tyler Scott and former-Alabama running back Jerome Ford are ranked eighth in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 39.2 points per game. The Tide's defense should match up well against the Bearcats' offense, but make no mistake about it—Cincinnati can score. 

    There's also the experience factor to consider here. This is head coach Luke Fickell and Cincinnati's first-ever playoff appearance. Saban's Alabama are 5-1 all-time in playoff semifinal games. 

    It would be incredibly cool if Cincy's magical season could continue with an upset over Alabama, and this game feels like it might be close. But that's a tall task for any team in a playoff semifinal facing 'Bama, let alone a Group of Five team. 

Orange Bowl: No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 2 Michigan

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    When: Friday, Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Line via DraftKings: Georgia (-7)

    The second semifinal of the day should be a great matchup in the Orange Bowl in Miami. The Michigan Wolverines vaulted into the playoff top four after dismantling Ohio State 42-27 in The Game on Rivalry Weekend. The Wolverines kept the No. 2 spot after taking care of No. 13 Iowa with ease in the Big Ten Championship 42-3. 

    Georgia, meanwhile, was the top-ranked team in the country for most of the season, never allowing more than 17 points in a game all season. But the Crimson Tide somehow gashed the Dawgs' defense and put up 41 points and 536 yards on the unit. But suffering your first-ever loss in a conference championship game isn't enough to keep you out of the playoff. 

    Georgia may have a little extra motivation in this one. But it's not like Michigan won't be up for this game, either—this is Jim Harbaugh's first-ever playoff appearance as a head coach, and the Wolverines will be looking to prove they belong. 

    Both of these offenses bring plenty of firepower, too. Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett, along with running backs Zamir White and James Cook have the Dawgs' offense humming, putting up 39.4 points per game. Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara, along with running backs Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum, are one of the most explosive and complete offenses Harbaugh has had in Ann Arbor. 

    As fun as a shootout would be for this game, both of these defenses don't give up a ton of points, so it could be low-scoring. Both defenses are ranked inside the top four in scoring defense, Georgia No. 1 and Michigan No. 4, whereas Georgia is second in total defense, the Wolverines are 12th nationally. 

    DraftKings puts the over/under at 43.5, and given how good both of these defenses are, that sounds about right. We're in for a treat for the second semifinal matchup of the day. 

Remaining New Year's Six Bowls

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    Peach Bowl: No. 10 Michigan State vs. No. 12 Pitt
    When: Dec. 30, 7 p.m ET

    If you like offenses that can put up points, then this one's for you. Heisman finalist Kenny Pickett and the Panthers' offense will face off against Kenneth Walker III and the Michigan State Spartans. Fun fact: Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi was MSU's defensive coordinator the last time Sparty played in a NY6 bowl, against Baylor in 2015.

          

    Fiesta Bowl: No. 9 Oklahoma State vs. No. 5 Notre Dame 
    When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET

    Two teams that were left out of the playoff square off with the Fiesta Bowl as a consolation prize. For the first time in 11 years, the Fighting Irish will be without head coach Brian Kelly on the sidelines, now led by elevated defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, is looking to rebound from a flop in the Big 12 Championship game that cost the Pokes a playoff bid. We'll see if Cowboys quarterback Spencer Sanders can shake off his four-interception outing against Baylor.

           

    Rose Bowl: No. 11 Utah vs. No. 6 Ohio State
    When: Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET

    The Grandaddy of Them All this year looks like one of the best bowl games of the season. Utah finished the season 10-3 with a Pac-12 title complete with a drubbing of Oregon twice in the same season. Ohio State, meanwhile, fell to Oregon earlier in the year, which ultimately cost the Bucks' a playoff spot after its loss to Michigan. Both of these offenses can score some points, so the Rose Bowl this year could be a fun as hell shootout. Can't wait for this one.

            

    Sugar Bowl: No. 8 Ole Miss vs. No. 7 Baylor
    When: Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m. ET

    Oh man, what a nightcap we get on a glorious day of New Year's Day football. The Lane Kiffin Train and Ole Miss' high-flying offense, led by quarterback Matt Corral, faces Baylor and Dave Aranda's stifling defense. This is the last we'll see of Corral in an Ole Miss uniform, where he's had an illustrious career (and was snubbed from a Heisman invite, in my opinion), so he'll be looking to go out on a high note. If the Rebels go out with a win, it'll be Ole Miss' first-ever 11-win season in program history. 

Best of the Rest

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    Gasparilla Bowl: UCF vs. Florida 
    When: Dec. 23, 7 p.m. ET

    The only intriguing thing about this matchup is state bragging rights. Although these two teams have just played each other twice, in 1999 and 2006, things got heated between these two programs back in 2018. That was when former Knights AD Danny White reportedly refused an offer to play Florida, which offered to host two home games and one at UCF's stadium. 

    When new Knights' AD Terry Mohajir arrived at UCF this summer, Florida and UCF agreed to a 2-for-1 series after all. If UCF upsets Florida, the Knights can rightfully claim they're the best team in the state this season.

         

    Liberty Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Mississippi State 
    When: Dec. 28, 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

    You might as well call this one the Mike Leach Bowl, folks. Leach is in his second season as MSU's head coach, but in case you forgot, Leach was the head coach at Tech from 2000-09. While his time in Lubbock was quite the success, leading the Red Raiders to nine straight bowl appearances and a 84-43 record, his tenure ended on a low note. In Dec. 2009, Leach was fired days after the school suspended him as it investigated abuse allegations of one of his players, the son of former ESPN broadcaster Craig James. 

    Tech, meanwhile hasn't had a successful head coaching hire since Leach left, so yeah, this game should be interesting!

          

    Duke's Mayo Bowl: North Carolina vs. South Carolina
    When: Dec. 30, 11:30 a.m. ET, ESPN

    This game is played in Charlotte, North Carolina, so it's pretty cool that two schools with huge fanbases in the Carolinas will meet for this one. But hands down the best part of this game is that there is a real possibility that there will be a Duke's Mayonnaise bath—in lieu of a Gatorade bath—for the winning head coach of this game. 

    The bowl game's executive director, Danny Morrison, said for this year's game, the bowl is offering $10,000 to the winning team's charity of choice if the team opts to dump mayo on the coach after the win. Count me in. 

    Mayo aside, this should be a pretty decent matchup. South Carolina first-year head coach Shane Beamer is leading the Gamecocks to their first bowl since 2018. UNC's Mack Brown, meanwhile, will look to close the season on a high note. His Tar Heel team was preseason ranked 10th in the country with ACC title hopes, but finished 6-6.

         

    Cheez-It Bowl: Clemson vs. Iowa State 
    When: Dec. 29, 6:45 p.m. ET

    It's pretty remarkable that Clemson, a preseason playoff contender, will be playing at the Cheez-It Bowl this year. In fact, this marks the first CFP without the Tigers since 2014. But there's no doubt Dabo Swinney will want to end the season on a high note, and defeating Iowa State would give the Tigers a 10-3 finish to a very down year.

          

    Gator Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Wake Forest
    When: Dec. 31, 11 a.m. ET

    Did you know that Texas A&M is paying Jimbo Fisher $9 million a year to coach the Aggies in the Gator Bowl? And LSU reportedly wanted to offer him $13 million a year? Numbers are fun! 

    Yeah, this likely isn't how Aggie fans envisioned the season ending, especially after upsetting top-ranked Alabama earlier in the season, but here they are. Wake Forest, meanwhile, can reach just its second 11-win season in school history, and the first since Jim Grobe did so in 2006.

         

    Outback Bowl: Penn State vs. Arkansas
    When: Jan. 1, Noon (ESPN2) 

    James Franklin and Penn State's defense facing off against Arkansas' KJ Jefferson and the Hogs' relentless offense? Sign me up. 

Watchability Rankings

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    It's football so sure, put these on

    • Bahamas Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Toledo; Dec. 17, Noon ET (ESPN)
    • Lending Tree Bowl: Liberty vs. Eastern Michigan; Dec. 18, 5:45 p.m. 
    • ET (ESPN) 
    • Armed Forces Bowl: Army vs. Missouri; Dec. 22, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    • Frisco Football Classic: Miami (OH) vs. North Texas; Dec. 23, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    • Hawai'i Bowl: Memphis vs. Hawai'i; Dec. 24, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
    • Camellia Bowl: Ball State vs. Georgia State; Dec. 25, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    • Military Bowl: ECU vs. Boston College; Dec. 27, 2:30 p.m ET (ESPN)
    • First Responder Bowl: Louisville vs. Air Force; Dec. 28, 3:15 p.m. ET
    • Fenway Bowl: Virginia vs. SMU; Dec. 29, 11 a.m. ET (ESPN)

    You can probably just have these on as background noise, to be honest

    • New Mexico Bowl: UTEP vs. Fresno State, Dec. 18, 2:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
    • Myrtle Beach Bowl: Tulsa vs. Old Dominion; Dec. 20, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    • Potato Bowl: Kent State vs. Wyoming; Dec. 21, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    • Gasparilla Bowl: Florida vs. UCF; Dec. 23, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
    • Quick Lane Bowl: Western Michigan vs. Nevada; Dec. 27, 11 a.m. ET (ESPN) 
    • Arizona Bowl: Central Michigan vs. Boise State; Dec. 31, 4:30 p.m. ET (Barstool Sports)

    Mid-major/independent bowl teams' games to watch

    • Frisco Bowl: UTSA vs. San Diego State; Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m ET (ESPN)
    • Cure Bowl: Coastal Carolina vs. Northern Illinois; Dec. 17, 6 p.m. ET (ESPN2) 
    • Boca Raton Bowl: App State vs. Western Kentucky; Dec. 18, 11 a.m. ET (ESPN)
    • Independence Bowl: BYU vs. UAB; Dec. 18, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC) 
    • L.A. Bowl: Utah State vs. Oregon State; Dec. 18, 7:30 p.m. ET (ABC) 
    • New Orleans Bowl: Marshall vs. Louisiana; Dec. 18, 9:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    • Birmingham Bowl: Houston vs. Auburn; Dec. 28, Noon ET (ESPN)

    These Power Five vs. Power Five games should be fine 

    • Liberty Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Mississippi State; Dec. 28, 6:45 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    • Guaranteed Rate Bowl: Minnesota vs. WVU; Dec. 28, 10:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    • Pinstripe Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Maryland; Dec. 29, 2:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
    • Music City Bowl: Purdue vs. Tennessee; Dec. 30, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    • Las Vegas Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Arizona State; Dec. 30, 10: 30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
    • Sun Bowl: Miami vs. Washington State; Dec. 31, 12:30 p.m. ET (CBS) 
    • Texas Bowl: Kansas State vs. LSU; Jan. 4, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    • Citrus Bowl: Kentucky vs. Iowa; Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET (ABC) 

     Games that should be fun/have your attention 

    • Holiday Bowl: UCLA vs. NC State; Dec. 28, 5 p.m. ET (Fox)
    • Cheez-It Bowl: Clemson vs. Iowa State; Dec. 29, 5:45 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    • Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Oregon; Dec. 29, 9:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    • Duke's Mayo Bowl: South Carolina vs. UNC; Dec. 30, 11:30 a.m. ET (ESPN) 
    • Gator Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Wake Forest; Dec. 31, 11 a.m. ET (ESPN) 

     Must-watch bowl games

    • Peach Bowl: Michigan State vs. Pitt; Dec. 30, 7 p.m ET (ESPN)
    • Outback Bowl: Penn State vs. Arkansas; Jan. 1, Noon ET (ESPN) 
    • Rose Bowl: Utah vs. Ohio State; Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET
    • Sugar Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Baylor; Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m. ET (ESPN)
    • Cotton Bowl Semifinal: Alabama vs. Cincinnati; Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) 
    • Orange Bowl Semifinal: Michigan vs. Georgia; Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
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