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Our Annual Bowl Viewing Guide: The Games to Watch

Today marks the start of Bowl season, always an exciting time for fans who like to gorge on college football.

But no matter how big a fan you are, it’s impossible to watch all 40 post-season games. There are gifts to buy, presents to wrap, trees to decorate, parties to attend, and family members eager to pull you off the couch.

So, as a service to our subscribers, we’re going to help navigate the post-season lineup with our annual “Bowl Viewing Guide” for 2019-20.

Unfortunately, the recent trend of top players skipping bowl games to prepare for the NFL Draft—and avoid possible injury—has continued this year. Among the high-profile defections: Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin and receiver/kick returner Brandon Aiyuk, which is why the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl matching ASU and Florida State won’t appear on our list of must-see games (although we could’ve disqualified it on the basis of name alone).

Sweet 17: Here are the 17 bowls worth watching, in our opinion, listed in chronological order for ease of planning, leading up to the national championship game on Jan. 13 in New Orleans.

Dec. 21—Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl, SMU vs. Florida Atlantic, ABC

Sonny Dykes’ SMU team stormed to a 10-2 season with one of the highest scoring teams in the country (43ppg). Lane Kiffin’s FAU team was in the same vein, averaging 35 points en route to a 10-3 record. Dykes built his team on transfers, headed by former Texas QB Shane Buechele. FAU will be without the well-travelled Kiffin, who left for greener pastures at Mississippi.

Dec. 21—Mitsubishi Las Vegas Bowl, No. 19 Boise State vs. Washington, ABC

One of the more interesting story lines as retiring Washington coach Chris Petersen faces the school where he rose to prominence, Boise State. Emotions will be high on both sides, and the 12-1 Broncos would love nothing better than to beat their old coach.

Dec. 24—SoFi Hawaii Bowl, Hawaii vs. BYU, ESPN

Favored BYU will have its hands full with a Hawaii offense that averages 469 yards and 34 points per game. Rainbow Warriors’ quarterback Cole McDonald has four big-play receivers, so this one will be fun to watch.

Dec. 27—Cheez-It Bowl, Air Force vs. Washington State, ESPN

If you like contrasting styles, this is the game for you. Air Force likes to run the ball and Washington State likes to throw it. The Falcons had the nation’s No. 3 ranked rushing offense (292 yards per game) and threw the ball only 114 times all season, while WSU had the nation’s top passing offense (444 ypg) and threw 55 passes a game. This should be a huge improvement over last year’s TCU-Cal debacle.

Dec. 27—Academy Sports+ Texas Bowl, No. 25 Oklahoma St. vs. Texas A&M, ESPN

One of the most under-publicized players in college football this year was Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard (yes, that’s his real name), who leads the nation with 1,936 yards rushing. He’s the real deal. This game also represents a reunion of sorts, as Texas A&M (which fled the Big 12 for more money and prestige in the SEC) must face a highly-motivated team from its old conference.

Dec. 27—San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl, No. 22 USC vs. No. 16 Iowa, FS1

Lots of storylines here as USC coach Clay Helton, surprisingly retained by Athletic Director Mike Bohn, tries to impress his new boss and springboard into a successful 2020. The old “student body right” Trojans have become a pass happy team, with freshman QB Kedon Slovis and a bevy of great receivers, while Iowa brings its typical strong defense and run game.

Dec. 28—Camping World Bowl, No. 15 Notre Dame vs. Iowa State, ABC

The Fighting Irish had playoff aspirations, so a Camping World Bowl matchup with 7-5 Iowa State might seem like a letdown. The Cyclones are better than their record indicates, having lost to Iowa and Oklahoma by one point and Baylor by two, and should give Notre Dame all it can handle.

Dec. 28—Goodyear Cotton Bowl, No. 10 Penn State vs. No. 17 Memphis, ESPN

Memphis, the top ranked Group of Five team, takes on Penn State from the Big Ten. The “little guys” have won three of the last five New Year’s Six bowl matchups (UCF over Auburn, Boise State over Arizona and Houston over Florida State), and it could happen again in what promises to be an entertaining, high-scoring affair.

Dec. 28—National Semi-Final

Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl, No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Oklahoma, ESPN

A dream matchup between arguably the two best quarterbacks in the country. Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow (4,715 passing yards, 48 touchdowns) leads LSU against Oklahoma, led by Heisman runner-up Jalen Hurts (4,914 total yards and 50 touchdowns). Both players wanted exactly this type of national stage when they transferred to their current schools (Burrow from Ohio State, Hurts from Alabama).

Dec. 28—National Semi-Final

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl—No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson, ESPN

To me, the best game on the schedule. Clemson’s defending national champions, a team that has won 28 straight games, are only ranked No. 3, and I’m sure Dabo Swinney will use that slight to his advantage. Both teams are loaded with great players and NFL prospects, including the quarterbacks (Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields) and the running backs (Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins and Clemson’s Travis Etienne). Clemson beat Ohio State 31-0 the last time the teams met. That won’t happen this time.

Dec. 30—Redbox Bowl, Cal vs. Illinois, Fox

Coach Justin Wilcox has done a brilliant job turning the Cal program around. This year, despite losing their quarterback for half the season, the Bears went 7-5, including huge wins at Mississippi, Washington and Stanford. Linebacker Evan Weaver might be the best defensive player in the country. Illinois coach Lovie Smith, the former Chicago Bears’ head man, was on the hot seat early, but turned things around with an upset of then No. 6 Wisconsin.

Dec. 31—AutoZone Liberty Bowl, No. 23 Navy vs. Kansas State, ESPN

Coach Ken Niumatalolo’s Navy team is legit, winning 10 games, with its only losses coming on the road against Memphis and Notre Dame. The Midshipmen ranked No. 1 nationally in rushing (364 yards per game), led by lightning quick quarterback Malcolm Perry, who is worth the price of admission alone. Perry rushed for over 300 yards last week against Army.

Dec. 31—Valero Alamo Bowl, No. 11 Utah vs. Texas, ESPN

Will Utah have a letdown in this one? The Utes were one game away from the College Football Playoff, lost to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game and fell all the way to the Alamo Bowl. Texas, meanwhile, had a disappointing year and a win here could make their season. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has an 11-2 record in bowl games.

Jan. 1—Outback Bowl, No. 12 Auburn vs. No. 18 Minnesota, ESPN

This should be a tight game between two very good teams. Minnesota (10-2) was one of the Cinderellas in college football this season, while Auburn (9-3) had huge wins over Oregon and Alabama and gave No. 1 LSU all it could handle. The game will be decided in the trenches: Minnesota has a mammoth offensive line averaging 6-6, 340 pounds. Auburn has one of the nations’ best defensive fronts.

Jan. 1—Vrbo Citrus Bowl, No. 13 Alabama vs. No. 14 Michigan, ABC

Two iconic programs and two high-profile coaches meet in what promises to be one of the most watched bowl games on the schedule. Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide didn’t make the playoff for the first time, so he’ll be even more grouchy than usual. Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines still haven’t beaten Ohio State. I pity the poor Citrus Bowl PR guy who has to work with these two gentlemen.

Jan. 1—Allstate Sugar Bowl, No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 5 Georgia, ESPN

Two tough defenses square off in this battle of Big 12 and SEC runners-up. Baylor has been resurrected from the dumpster pile by coach Matt Ruhle, under whose leadership the Bears went from 11 losses to 11 wins in two seasons. This is their chance to prove they belong with the nation’s best, and a chance for the under-appreciated Big 12 to upset an SEC titan.

Jan. 1—Rose Bowl, No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 8 Wisconsin. ESPN

An intriguing matchup. Oregon is coming off a brilliant performance against Utah in the Pac-12 Championship game. If the Ducks had held a late two-touchdown lead against Auburn in the season opener, they’d be in the playoff. Wisconsin had an early lead over Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game, but fell to a late Buckeye rally. Oregon is more explosive with quarterback Justin Herbert and breakaway threat C.J. Verdell, but Wisconsin counters with the best running back in the country, Jonathan Taylor.

Happy Holidays: The Inside Track will be on vacation next week. Merry Christmas to all!

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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