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 is likely to have six teams bowl eligible by the end of the season. Five are eligible so far with Memphis being one win away. Here is a look at each school and our predictions:
I said before the season started that UCF was going to end up in the Military Bowl and I’m sticking to it. If you’re nitpicking, I had a Gabriel-led team at 9-2 and playing Florida State in the bowl game. Obviously, the season was turned on its side and all bets are off. UNC has some work to do to become bowl eligible, but the ACC currently has five teams at 5-5. One of them will end up here. This is a matchup that has been derailed by one calamity after another and we will finally see the two play. The question is whether we get the Dillon Gabriel vs Sam Howell matchup we’ve all wanted?
Eric: Gasparilla Bowl - UCF Knights vs Virginia Tech Hokies
UCF wants to play a P5 opponent. If an ACC team like the Hokies end up in Tampa, Look for UCF to pounce there. Plus from a recruiting standpoint, you get to spend some time in the Tampa area. Plus, it is friendlier for fans to travel. I think the Military, Birmingham and the Hawaii bowls are also in play for Knights if they do not end up in Tampa.
The NY6 spot is Cincinnati’s to lose. They should end up meeting Houston in the AAC championship game. Notre Dame shares the ACC’s bowl games except the Orange Bowl, but barring a loss, they will be in the New Year’s Six. What gets interesting is what will happen if Cincinnati stumbles.
Cincinnati got help with Oklahoma losing to Baylor this past Saturday. As of now, the Bearcats are in the mix for the playoffs. If Cincinnati wins out, the Bearcats will get into the playoff as long as Georgia wins the SEC Championship Game and the SEC only gets one bid or Oregon loses another game. For now, I project them in Fiesta Bowl against Michigan.
A good way to get people to go to a new game is to get a local team involved. BC is already eligible and ECU gets away from Hawaii by defeating Memphis. With Wasabi Technologies being the title sponsor, they need to do something spicy.
Eric: Military Bowl - East Carolina Pirates vs. Louisville Cardinals
ECU is making their first bowl in many years. I expect teams like the Pirates that are remaining in the AAC and not leaving for the Big 12 to get the preference on where they want to play.
Andrew: Birmingham Bowl - Houston Cougars vs. Tennessee Volunteers
This bowl has on more than one occasion, brought in the conference runner-up. The expectation is that Cincinnati wins out and gets the NY6 slot, so Houston would end up here. The SEC has four 5-5 teams in the East and one will end here. Tennessee has the softest remaining schedule.
Eric: Armed Forces Bowl - Houston Cougars vs. Air Force Falcons
As much as Houston going to Birmingham as a runner-up from AAC makes sense, I don't think AAC ends up with a slot in Birmingham. The matchup would be fun. I think the Cougars settle for playing Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Andrew: Hawaii Bowl - Memphis Tigers vs. Nevada Wolfpack
This is an AAC exclusive bowl this year. With Memphis losing to both UCF and East Carolina, they’ll find themselves on the short end of the stick. With Aloha Stadium being rebuilt, this game is at the 9,000 seat temporary home for Hawaii football. They aren’t expecting many people. If San Jose State can get eligible, they might slide in on the Mountain West side.
Eric: Birmingham Bowl - Memphis Tigers vs UAB Blazers
I don't think the SEC has a team here if Alabama and Georgia both make the College Football Playoff. I think Memphis gets the slot here against UAB
An old Southwest Conference showdown on SMU’s home turf. Playing in your home stadium for a bowl game does happen from time to time, but it’s rare. The Gasparilla could be an option for SMU.
Eric: Fenway Bowl - SMU Mustangs vs Boston College Eagles
I think SMU ends up here if they want to play outside of Texas. I think the AAC will want this game to be a success and will put a team that will be staying in the league. I think North Carolina could be an option here but I put the local team that buys tickets for the game.