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Our Annual Bowl Viewing Guide; Wilcox Stays Put

It’s that time of year! No, not that time. We’re talking sports here.

College football’s bowl season has arrived! The first of 42 bowl games (not including the national championship) will be played this Friday, with the Bahamas Bowl pitting Middle Tennessee vs. Toledo.

There are plenty of good matchups and—with 84 teams competing—plenty of “I’d rather be putting up Christmas lights” games, so we hereby present our annual viewing guide to help you navigate through the crowded bowl schedule

First a few words about names. As someone who ran a bowl that went through several name changes—Diamond Walnut, Emerald, Kraft Fight Hunger, and Foster Farms—I’m familiar with the ever-changing landscape of title sponsorship.

This year, we have some real doozies, with bowls named after a company that does extravagant tailgates (Tailgreeter Cure Bowl), a roofing contractor ( Boca Raton Bowl), a “battle royal mobile game” (PubG Mobile New Mexico Bowl), late night talk show host (Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl), shipping software (EasyPost Hawaii Bowl), tax preparer (TaxAct Camellia Bowl), secondary ticket seller (Ticketsmarter Birmingham Bowl), cloud storage company (Wasabi Fenway Bowl), and provider of translation services (TransPerfect Music City Bowl).

As for the games themselves, here are the ones to watch (all times Pacific):

December 17

Cure Bowl—Northern Illinois (9-4) vs. Coastal Carolina (10-2), 3pm, ESPN2

We don’t often recommend games between MAC and Sun Belt teams, but NIU is a very solid outfit and Coastal has a very productive quarterback in Grayson McCall.

December 18

New Mexico Bowl—Fresno State (9-3) vs. UTEP (7-5), 11:15, ESPN

Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener alone is worth the price of admission, as anyone who saw his performance against UCLA will attest. Haener had entered the transfer portal, planning to follow his coach (Kalen DeBoer) to Washington, but apparently changed his mind when former Cal coach Jeff Tedford agreed to return to Fresno State, where he’d enjoyed two outstanding seasons before being forced to resign because of health reasons.

LA Bowl—Utah State (10-3) vs. Oregon State (7-5), 4:30, ABC

A matchup between the two biggest surprise teams in the Western part of the country. Utah State, under first year coach Blake Anderson, shocked San Diego State 46-13 to win the Mountain West championship. Quarterback Logan Bonner and receiver Brandon Bowling, both transfers from Arkansas State, combined for two touchdowns to pace the Aggies. Oregon State this year continued its climb back to respectability under coach Jonathan Smith, notching wins over USC, Washington, Stanford and Pac-12 champ Utah.

December 21

Frisco Bowl—UTSA (12-1) vs. San Diego State (11-2), 4:30, ESPN

UTSA (University of Texas San Antonio) beat some good teams this year, including a 37-30 thriller over Illinois and two track meets against Western Kentucky (52-46 and 49-41), The Roadrunners feature a stud running back with one of the great names in college football, Sincere McCormick, and the Aztecs have the best punter in the country, Matt Araiza, whose kicks are something to behold.

December 28

Liberty Bowl—Mississippi State (7-5) vs. Texas Tech (6-6), 3:45, ESPN

In one of the more delicious bowl matchups, Mississippi State coach Mike Leach is pitted against Texas Tech, the school that fired him for allegedly locking one of his players (Craig James’ son, Adam) in an electrical shed for hours. Leach denied the accusations, sued the school for $2.4 million and said he would fight Texas Tech “until he dies.”

December 29

Cheez-it Bowl—Clemson (9-3) vs. Iowa State (7-5), 2:45, ESPN

I have to admit it’ll be satisfying to see Clemson’s Dabo Swinney down among the non-playoff crowd. He might have to get used to it, as both his coordinators have left for head coaching jobs, and Mario Cristobal’s arrival at Miami will complicate his recruiting dominance. Surprisingly, Iowa State coach Matt Campbell, rumored to be on the short list for virtually every open job this year, is still with the Cyclones.

Alamo Bowl—Oregon (10-2) vs. Oklahoma (10-2), 6:15, ESPN

Both teams were disappointed in their seasons, despite winning 10 games, and would gain some solace with a bowl victory against a “name” opponent. This one could be renamed the “big-name coaches flew the coop bowl”. Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley left for a bigger payday and better championship opportunities at USC, and Oregon’s Cristobal did the same in bolting for Miami. Ironically, Riley’s arrival at USC was no doubt a factor in Cristobal’s departure from the Pac-12, which suddenly got a lot tougher.

December 30

Peach Bowl—Michigan State (10-2) vs. Pittsburgh (11-2), 4pm, ESPN

This should be one of the best games of the season, featuring two surprise teams led by two of the best players in college football—Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III and Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett. Walker rushed for 1636 yards and 18 TDs and finished sixth in the Heisman voting. Pickett passed for 4,319 yards and 42 TDs, with only 7 interceptions, and was third in Heisman voting.

December 31

Cotton Bowl (CFP Semi-final)—No. 1 Alabama (12-1) vs. No. 4 Cincinnati (13-0), 12:30, ESPN

Seven-time national champion Nick Saban is back in his familiar spot as the top seed in the playoff, and most pundits expect Alabama to make quick work of Cincinnati, the first non-Power Five Conference team to make the Final Four. The Crimson Tide is overflowing with NFL-bound talent and favored by 13 ½ points. The outmanned Bearcats might be competitive for the first half, but expect Heisman winner Bryce Young and his cohorts to pull away after the intermission.

Orange Bowl (CFP Semi-final)—No. 2 Michigan (12-1) vs. No. 3 Georgia (12-1), 4:30, ESPN

In our mind, Michigan should be the No. 1 seed after blowing out Ohio State in the regular season finale and crushing Iowa 42-3 in the Big Ten championship. Jim Harbaugh’s bunch combines a stout defense anchored by Heisman runner up Aidan Hutchinson and a power running game featuring backs Hassan Hawkins and Blake Corum. Former No. 1 Georgia had the nation’s stingiest defense until Alabama took it apart in the SEC title game. The Bulldogs are favored by 7½ points, but we like Michigan not only to cover the spread, but to win the game.

January 1

Fiesta Bowl—Notre Dame (10-2) vs. Oklahoma State (11-2), 10am ESPN

A matchup between two teams that just missed making the playoff. Notre Dame finished No. 5, while Oklahoma State was denied the Big 12 championship and a likely playoff berth by Baylor’s goal line stand in the closing seconds. The Irish will be eager to prove they can win with new head coach Marcus Freeman, who took over when Brian Kelly left them high and dry for LSU.

Rose Bowl—Utah (10-3) vs. Ohio State (10-2), 2pm, ESPN

Ohio State features stud quarterback CJ Stroud and the best group of receivers in the country. Utah has shown an ability to stop explosive offenses, as proven in almost identical demolitions of the Oregon Ducks (38-10 and 38-7). Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who has an 11-3 record in bowl games, gets his first shot at the Rose Bowl, where a win over Ohio State would give him the national recognition he deserves.

Sugar Bowl—Baylor (11-2) vs. Ole Miss (10-2), 5:45, ESPN

Perhaps the most intriguing matchup on the entire bowl schedule pits offensive guru Lane Kiffin of Mississippi against defensive guru Dave Aranda of Baylor. Kiffin’s quarterback, Matt Corral, was the second best in the SEC behind Alabama’s Bryce Young. Baylor’s defense is led by safety Jalen Pitre, the Big 12 defensive player of the year, and mammoth 351 pound lineman Siaki Ika, a transfer from LSU.

The CFP National Championship game will be played Monday night, Jan. 10 at 5pm Pacific on ESPN.

Wilcox Declines Ducks’ Offer: According to Sports Illustrated and Oregon Live, Cal coach Justin Wilcox turned down the Oregon football coaching job last week. Instead, the Ducks ended up hiring Georgia assistant coach Dan Lanning, a man who played at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, and whose only experience in the West consists of two years on the staff at Arizona State as a graduate assistant and recruiting coordinator.

From our standpoint, Wilcox would’ve given Oregon exactly what it needed—an accomplished coach with strong ties to the Pac-12 and the University of Oregon—to replace the departed Mario Cristobal, an excellent recruiter and mediocre coach who left for greener pastures at Miami, his alma mater.

Wilcox, an Oregon alum, certainly fit the bill. And Oregon offered numerous advantages over Cal—the ability to recruit a bigger pool of athletes, due to lower admissions standards; a bigger commitment from the university; a huge donor base, led by Mr. Nike, Phil Knight; and much better facilities.

But Wilcox apparently said no Friday night, and again on Saturday.

Perhaps there is still a place for loyalty in college football. Perhaps Wilcox felt he had unfinished business at Cal and didn't want to abandon the people who gave him his first head coaching opportunity and the players he had recruited.

Or maybe he just didn't like those uniforms.


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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