As we continue into November, the college football season has passed the midway point and is working its way towards the postseason. It’s time to start projecting how the bowl season is going to shake out. Obviously, this is a moving target, but that’s half the fun.
We have a few challenges when it comes to bowl predictions:
1) COVID-19 has more than once thrown a monkey wrench into a number of schools’ seasons. We assume no further games are postponed or canceled as a result of COVID-19.
2) This is the first year of the new bowl contract cycle, which has many of the lower end ESPN owned games as part of a pool, where the matchups can vary within a select group of conferences. This is definitely a new thing in college football. It was common for a third conference to have a backup tie-in to a game, but that’s not what this is. This is multiple primary conferences that will juggle bids.
3) Based on the above, we also assume that no new bowl games will be canceled. The Hawaii Bowl has already been canceled and that the AAC was one of the conferences potentially involved. Also, the Fenway Bowl won’t happen in 2020. Because of that, the Montgomery Bowl exists as a one year stand-in.
4) For 2020, having a winning record is not a prerequisite for being eligible.
Andrew Gluchov and Eric Lopez give their takes regarding the bowl games tied to the American Athletic Conference.
New Years Six/College Football Playoff
The NY6 spot is Cincinnati’s to lose. With Notre Dame upsetting Clemson, it all but takes the Bearcats out of contention for the CFP. It’s expected that Clemson and Notre Dame should win the rest of their games and meet again in the ACC conference championship game with Clemson having the benefit of having quarterback Trevor Lawrence back. It’s too bad because the Bearcats have been humiliating stronger AAC programs like SMU and Memphis. Their biggest remaining test will be in Orlando on November 21st against UCF. Florida had a big win against Georgia to take control of the SEC East. They do have a loss already and still have to face the SEC West champion, presumably Alabama.
Cincinnati’s chances to make the College Football Playoff took a hit Saturday with Notre Dame’s win against Clemson. I think the ACC is now in play for two spots in the playoff. So the Bearcats will instead go to the Peach Bowl and take on Georgia, as I think Florida will end up in Miami for Orange Bowl.
Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl
December 19 - G5 pool (AAC, MAC, C-USA, MWC)
Andrew: Houston Cougars vs. UTSA Roadrunners
This match-up is a no-brainer. Houston and UTSA both are a few hour bus ride away from Frisco, which is a bit north of Dallas. UTSA is having a decent year at 4-4 and are still in the hunt for the C-USA West Division title. Houston has been a disappointment since Dana Holgorsen was hired as head coach. They currently sit at 2-3 and could play themselves out of a bowl game totally if they are not careful. This game kicks off bowl season and while SMU is closer, they deserve better.
Eric: Houston Cougars vs UTSA Roadrunners
This makes sense. Andrew nailed this 100%
Boca Raton Bowl
December 22 - G5 Pool (AAC, C-USA, MAC)
Andrew: UCF Knights vs. FAU Owls
This is a game based on location and finances. Obviously, FAU does not have to travel anywhere and are a quiet 3-1 on the season. For UCF, they’re the easiest second team to get to Boca Raton. UCF has been to the Gasparilla and Cure Bowls before, so this is the third lower tier Florida bowl and the only they haven’t been to. Why isn’t UCF in the Cure Bowl? It’s easier for another school to fly into Orlando.
Eric: UCF Knights vs. FAU Owls
I think this is a very highly likely scenario, since the Boca Raton or Cure Bowls are the likeliest destinations for both of these programs. I say we get a WIllie Taggart vs. UCF storyline.
December 23 - AAC vs. ACC
This was a tough one. Picking Tulane is easy. The Green Wave are a regional pick, but are having a satisfactory season at 4-4. Picking Virginia, not so much. The drop off after Pitt is steep and you get into weaker team territory loaded with two wins or less. Out of the two win team, the Cavaliers have the best winning percentage due to being 2-4 and everyone else being worse. This bowl is a stand-in for the Fenway Bowl, which was postponed to begin in 2021.
Eric: Tulane Green Wave vs. Troy Trojans
I think ACC will not end up here and a team from Sun Belt ends up here as teams like Troy or Georgia Southern makes more sense to play in Montgomery. I go with Troy which is easy bus ride vs Tulane which makes tons of sense here.
New Mexico Bowl
December 24 - G5 Pool (AAC, C-USA, MWC)
This one will probably change from the opponent side. The Mountain West’s season is still quite young compared to The American or Conference USA’s. Right now, San Diego State is fifth in the conference. The conference does suffer from the Hawai’i Bowl being canceled. They didn’t have many bowl opportunities to begin with. Tulsa is a good defensive team and in the driver’s seat for one of the AAC Championship Game spots. At 3-1, the Golden Hurricane has been on the short end of games being postponed or canceled due to COVID-19 as they have already had three games hit this season.
Eric: No AAC team.
I think we will end up with Mountain West vs C-USA here as the AAC has better options from a location stand point than New Mexico.
Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl
December 26 - Pool (AAC, ACC, SEC)
Andrew: No AAC team.
This year, it’s about regional match-ups and accessibility. With the AAC taking a spot in the First Responder Bowl, they give up a spot in the Gasparilla Bowl. UCF did play in this bowl last year, but it isn’t going to be the same with Bad Boy Mowers no longer as a sponsor.
Eric: No AAC Team.
I agree with Andrew. USF is struggling and UCF will not go back there for a second year in a row.
December 26 - G5 Pool (AAC, MAC, Sun Belt)
Andrew: No AAC team.
They’ll take advantage of Orlando’s ease of travel to bring in a couple of non-Florida, non-AAC schools.
Eric: No AAC team.
I think this is the only other bowl I can see UCF playing in because it’s in their backyard. But I agree with Andrew. The Cure Bowl had Tulane last year. I think they end up with a Sun Belt vs. MAC or C-USA. I would not be surprised if FAU ended up here.
SERVPRO First Responder Bowl
December 26 - Pool (AAC, ACC, Big XII)
While the AAC is a backup conference, this is a location-based move. Right now, the goal is to limit travel when it isn’t necessary and SMU playing in their home stadium makes perfect sense. The First Responder Bowl has the eighth selection with the Big XII, so while they will miss out on TCU, they will end up with the 2-5 Red Raiders. It’s also a second tier bowl for the ACC, so they will make up for it with the Gasparilla.
Eric: Tulsa Golden Hurricane vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders
I do not disagree with Andrew’s thinking here, but I will go with Tulsa to be different, which can get to Dallas via a bus ride as well.
Military Bowl presented by Perspecta
December 28 - AAC vs ACC
Just like the Boca Raton and First Responder Bowls, this is a match-up based on location with one team playing on their home turf. Navy gets the advantage of playing in their home stadium despite only being 3-4. They face a resurgent 5-3 Boston College squad who continues to improve under head coach Jeff Hafley. BC was just a second half touchdown away from upsetting a Trevor Lawrence-less Clemson team.
I agree with Andrew. Navy stays in their backyard to play at home against Virginia Tec,h which is not far from Annapolis.
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
December 31 - Big XII vs G5 Pool
Andrew: No AAC team.
The American will probably not have more than eight bowl teams even with the slacked eligibility requirements. They’re all playing elsewhere.
Eric: TCU Horned Frogs vs SMU Mustangs
TCU and SMU play every season. They were supposed to play this season but COVID scrapped it. I think both sides will try to play at a bowl game and with this bowl game being held at Ft. Worth, it makes too much sense, as we must give out the Iron Skillet to the winner.
TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl
January 1 - Pool (AAC, ACC, SEC)
There is a weird feeling with this game being played on New Year’s, as it is not a traditional January 1st game. This isn’t a traditional year though. Memphis makes for a great regional opponent. While the Tigers have not had the season they had hoped, they’re still 4-2 and have an outside shot at the conference championship game. On the other side is Arkansas, which was a bad call away from being 4-2, but alas, they’re 3-3. Considering they went multiple seasons without a conference win, this season has already been a success. To make the matchup even more regional, Mississippi State could replace Arkansas depending on how the season progresses.
Eric: Memphis Tigers vs Ole Miss Rebels
I think Memphis is close to a lock for this bowl game. The opponent is interesting. Arkansas may end up being too good for this bowl game, so I think it be a Mississippi school. I say Ole Miss to set up the Lane Train on New Year’s Day vs. Memphis and lots of points.