It’s that time of year again. As we near Thanksgiving, the college football season is working its way toward 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 fourth 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 (most likely the Cotton Bowl in 2022)
- Duluth Trading Cure Bowl - December 16 - G5 Pool (AAC, C-USA, MAC, SBC, Army)
- Wasabi Fenway Bowl - December 17 - AAC vs AAC/Notre Dame
- New Mexico Bowl - December 17 - AAC/CUSA vs MWC
- Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl - December 17 - G5 pool (AAC, MAC, C-USA, MWC, SBC)
- Myrtle Beach Bowl - December 19 - G5 Pool (AAC, MAC, SBC)
- RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl - December 20 - G5 Pool (AAC, C-USA, MAC, SBC, Army)
- Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl - December 22 - G5 Pool (AAC, C-USA, Army)
- Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl - December 23 - Pool (AAC, ACC, SEC)
- Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl - December 23 - AAC vs Army (BYU or other)
- SERVPRO First Responder Bowl - December 27 - Pool (AAC, ACC, Big XII)
- TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl - December 27 - AAC vs SEC
- Military Bowl - December 28 - AAC vs ACC
The American will have seven teams that are bowl eligible this bowl season. Here is a look at each school and our predictions:
NOTE: These predictions were written and published before the CFP rankings have been released.
UCF blew their chance to lock up a spot in the AAC Championship Game with a loss to Navy. Now they need help to not only make the AACCG, but even if they do, they need help making a New Year Six bowl. It’s not likely they make the NY6, so they will end up elsewhere.
Eric: Military Bowl - UCF Knights vs. North Carolina State Wolfpack
UCF drops them to the Military Bowl, and they may stay here even if they were to win the AAC championship, depending on the CFP rankings. Fenway Bowl could be the other option.
After last year, anything short of the NY6 is a disappointment. The Military Bowl is one of the AAC exclusives and it would make sense to have one of the big three(UCF, Cincinnati, Tulane) who doesn’t win the conference end up here. Cincinnati is closer, so they’ll stay north. With Tennessee losing and knocking themselves out of the CFP, there will be three SEC teams in the other NY6 bowls with the Sugar getting LSU and the Orange taking Alabama, which leaves Tennessee.
Eric: Cotton Bowl - Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Tennessee Volunteers
Fickell vs. Heupel? I’m projecting Cincinnati to win the AAC and the Vols to still get into a NY6 Bowl.
The Fenway Bowl is an AAC exclusive, so ECU going would make sense more so than some of the southern schools. The ACC runs the risk of running out of bowl slots, but Syracuse should be able to squeeze in.
Eric: Fenway Bowl - East Carolina Pirates vs. Syracuse Orange
ECU goes to Fenway. It works from a geography standpoint if the Military Bowl is not an option.
Houston gets to stay in the state of Texas after a disappointing year of high expectations. Syracuse is stuck in a logjam of ACC bowl-eligible teams. Someone is going to get the short end of the stick and bumped out of the rotation and at the moment, it could be them.
Eric: Frisco Bowl - Houston Cougars vs. Air Force Falcons
I agree. Houston stays in Texas but plays in a lesser Bowl.
Memphis clinched bowl eligibility this past weekend and are likely to end up in a pool game. UConn is one of the feel-good stories of the year. After becoming bowl eligible, they join the at-large pool of teams and should be able to land a spot in an early-season game.
Eric: Birmingham Bowl - Memphis Tigers vs. South Alabama Jaguars
I don’t think the SEC gets a team here, so Memphis ends up here against either a Sun Belt team to help sell tickets.
This has been a disappointing year for SMU under new head coach Rhett Lashlee. They showed flashes of greatness, but could not consistently put things together. At least they’re bowl eligible and should stay in the south. South Alabama has had a good season and is close to home.
Eric: Armed Forces Bowl - SMU Mustangs vs. Kansas Jayhawks
SMU stays in state and gets big 12 opponent.
Is the Independence Bowl closer to New Orleans? Yes. Is the Birmingham Bowl a higher-profile game? Yes. Nuff said. The Green Wave is one of the top three in The American and is still in the hunt for a conference championship game appearance. It’s likely that Kentucky will finish 6-6 on the season and be relegated to Birmingham.
Eric: Independence Bowl - Tulane Green Wave vs. Louisiana Ragin Cajuns
Tulane likely would get to pick which bowl they prefer, and the Independence Bowl is a high-profile bowl for the AAC this year.