It’s that time of year again. As we near Thanksgiving, the college football season is working its way towards the postseason. It’s time to start projecting how the bowl season is going to shake out. Obviously, this continues to be a moving target, but that’s half the fun.
This is the second year of the new bowl contract cycle, which has many of the lower-end ESPN-owned games as part of a pool, where the match-ups can vary within a select group of conferences. This can throw a potential wrinkle into predicting where teams might go because ESPN can and has juggled teams around before.
Here are the bowl games tied to the American Athletic Conference either directly or via a pool:
New Year’s Six Bowl
FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl - December 17 - G5 Pool (AAC, C-USA, MAC, SBC, Army)
RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl - December 28 - G5 Pool (AAC, C-USA, MAC, SBC, Army)
New Mexico Bowl - December 18 - G5 Pool (AAC, C-USA, MWC)
Myrtle Beach Bowl - December 20 - G5 Pool (AAC, MAC, SBC)
Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl - December 21 - G5 pool (AAC, MAC, C-USA, MWC, SBC)
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl - December 22 - G5 Pool (AAC, C-USA, Army)
Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl - December 23 - Pool (AAC, ACC, SEC)
EasyPost Hawaii Bowl - December 24 - AAC vs. MWC
Military Bowl - December 27 - AAC vs ACC
TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl - January 28 - AAC vs SEC
SERVPRO First Responder Bowl - December 28 - Pool (AAC, ACC, Big XII)
Wasabi Fenway Bowl - December 29 - AAC vs AAC/Notre Dame
The American ended up with seven bowl-eligible teams with both Memphis and Tulsa winning their sixth game to wrap up the season. Here is a look at each school and our predictions:
Andrew: Birmingham Bowl vs. Auburn Tigers
There are two major trains of thought here: UCF ends up in Tampa against Florida or in Birmingham. I think Birmingham is more likely. What makes going to Birmingham even better is that the game is located in the brand-new Protective Stadium. Low and mid-tier bowls need a good story to help sell the game and there is no better story than Gus Malzahn going up against his old team. With Auburn finishing 6-6 after a wild Iron Bowl, they create an immediate buzz-worthy matchup. UCF could also end up in Fenway if the AAC decides to continue to send their runner-up to Birmingham.
Eric: Gasparilla Bowl vs. Florida Gators
The big question here is does Gasparilla want UCF vs Florida, Miami vs Florida, or just one of them vs school from outside the state? Keep in mind this is likely the last chance the Gasparilla Bowl will have to get UCF to play in their game before departing for the Big 12. Next season, the Knights will end the regular season in the same stadium versus South Florida, so I do not see UCF being interested in finishing 2022 with back-to-back games in the same stadium.
Can the bowl game create Florida-UCF? Does TV want it? If UCF does not end up in Tampa, the Fenway Bowl may be a fallback plan. Also, if UCF does not end up playing Florida here, perhaps South Carolina, Missouri, or even LSU could possibly be an option.
Cincinnati is close to breaking the glass ceiling. While Michigan will jump them after defeating Ohio State, Cincinnati should remain in the top four with Oklahoma State nipping at their heels. An Oklahoma State loss to Baylor and a Michigan loss to Iowa this weekend would certainly help. Obviously, the Bearcats need to win against Houston in the AAC championship game. It’s winner-take-all as it is likely that Houston will jump up and become the Group of Five representative in the NY6 should they win.
Eric: Orange Bowl vs. Georgia Bulldogs
Cincinnati’s win over Houston on Saturday along with a Georgia win over Alabama in the SEC title game locks up the spot for Bearcats. Things could get interesting IF Alabama beats Georgia with the possibility of two SEC teams in the playoff. Would Cincinnati hold off a potential Big 12 champion Oklahoma State who would have back-to-back top ten wins?
East Carolina Pirates
Andrew: Military Bowl vs. Louisville Cardinals
I switched from my preseason pick of UCF to ECU last week and it made too much sense for this not to happen. The Pirates make their first bowl game since 2014. That’s seven long years of buildup. It’s not a far trek for them and pairing them with Louisville is also a good regional matchup between two former Conference USA mates.
Eric: Military Bowl vs. Louisville Cardinals
I agree with Andrew 100%
Andrew: Fenway Bowl vs. Boston College Eagles
This is a new bowl and the AAC is trying to prop it up. It’s a toss-up between Fenway and Birmingham where the AAC runner-up will go. While it’s a long trip for them, their opponent is right around the corner and it should help create some local buzz.
Eric: Birmingham Bowl vs. LSU Tigers
I am thinking the loser of Houston-Cincinnati American Conference title game on Saturdays settles for Birmingham Bowl against an SEC team.
Andrew: Hawaii Bowl vs. Wyoming Cowboys
This is one I had since our first prediction. Once UCF defeated Memphis, UCF wasn’t in play anymore. After East Carolina defeated Memphis, they were all but a lock for Hawaii. The stadium they’re playing the game in only seats 9,000, so attendance isn’t a concern. Wyoming also finished 6-6 despite going 2-6 Mountain West conference play.
Eric: Hawaii Bowl vs. Wyoming Cowboys
Good notes by Andrew. We are on same page on this one.
Andrew: First Responder Bowl vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders
SMU losing their head coach makes them not as desirable, but an old Southwest Conference showdown on SMU’s home turf might help. Playing in your home stadium for a bowl game does happen from time to time, but it’s rare. There could be a bowl game trade to move SMU away from their home. The Gasparilla Bowl against Miami would be a very intriguing matchup as Rhett Lashlee is leaving his offensive coordinator position at Miami to become the new head coach at SMU.
Eric: Fenway Bowl vs Boston College Eagles
It’s hard to figure out where SMU’s head is at with Sonny Dykes now at TCU. Do the players want to stay close to home and play a bowl game in Texas or leave the state? I can see the American giving SMU the Fenway Bowl considering the Mustangs are not leaving the conference, but this could also be a landing spot for UCF if SMU decides it would rather play closer to home.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Andrew: Frisco Bowl vs. North Texas Mean Green
Tulsa becoming bowl eligible was a bit of a surprise as they had to upset SMU to do so in their final game. Well, they did it, so they’re in. Because they squeaked in, they’re at the bottom of the conference pecking order and I don’t see any mid-tier bowl reaching for them. They’ll stay out west and with the Frisco Bowl being a good location. North Texas makes it a matchup both fan bases can travel to. The New Mexico Bowl could also be a possibility.
Eric: Frisco Bowl vs. North Texas Mean Green
Tulsa became eligible with a win over SMU on Saturday. Bowl reps from the Frisco Bowl were in attendance. I say pair them up with North Texas and you have a future AAC conference game in where both fan bases can travel to.
The Frisco Bowl boss was at the game last night. We spoke with him. I’d say it’s Frisco Bowl.— Bob Campbell (@bc4652) November 29, 2021