College football bowl season is synonymous with the most wonderful time of the year for many reasons. The matchups are always great and there’s a ton on the line.
Bowl games can also be pretty unpredictable, though. Both teams have a lot to play for, and no matter who is favored heading into the contest just about anything can happen.
And that’s the fun of it, right? Well, unless you’re rooting for the school that gets upset.
Either way, we’re feeling good about these underdogs.
Hawai’i (Hawai’i Bowl)
It’s rare for a team to have a true home field advantage in a bowl game because most bowls are played at neutral sites. This gives fans of both schools a travel/vacation opportunity and evens out the playing field a bit.
For fans of Middle Tennessee (8-4), the Hawai’i bowl is certainly a chance for a vacation. But fans of Rainbow Warrior football won’t have that opportunity, and perhaps that’s a good thing.
There aren’t many point spreads out for this game yet, but the Blue Raiders do have the better record (Hawai’i is 6-7) and they did beat a SEC opponent this season, toppling Missouri, 51-45. MTSU should be favored heading into this matchup, but Hawai’i has some advantages that play in its favor.
The biggest is the aforementioned home field advantage.
The game will be played at Aloha Stadium, which is literally the Rainbow Warriors’ home field. Middle Tennessee will obviously get to town with plenty of time to spare, but there’s a great chance Hawai’i fans will vastly outnumber Blue Raider fans, and we’re counting on that to swing the game.
Boston College (Quick Lane Bowl)
The Quick Lane Bowl features two 6-6 teams, so it could really go either way. With that said, all of the oddsmakers consider Maryland the favorite, though it is by a small, one-point margin.
That’s enough to consider BC the underdogs for our purposes, and there is a reason the Eagles should feel confident heading into this contest.
It’s often said that defense wins championships, and it also wins bowl games.
Boston College and Maryland will be battling strength vs. strength on the turf of Ford Field, with BC’s highly-ranked run defense taking on Maryland’s rushing attack.
The Terrapins have rushed for 205.50 yards per game this season, with sophomore running back Ty Johnson leading the way (845 yards and four touchdowns). Maryland has averaged 4.94 yards per carry and 41.58 attempts per game.
Meanwhile, Boston College enters this contest with one of the best run defenses in the country, allowing only 106.92 yards per game on the ground and just 13 rushing touchdowns. Opponents were able to get only 3.31 yards per game against the Eagles, and BC was so good against the run that it actually ranked No. 8 nationally in run defense. For comparison’s sake, consider that Michigan and Ohio State were No. 13 and No. 14 respectively in that metric.
Against a good rushing attack, look for Boston College’s defense to flex its muscle one more time.
Baylor (Cactus Bowl)
After a tumultuous season that saw the program come under a sexual assault scandal (it was bad enough that Art Briles lost his job and multiple players left), it’s rather incredible that Baylor is in a bowl this season.
As a reward for its 6-6 season, the Bears will take on 10-2 Boise State in the Cactus Bowl, a matchup in which Baylor is a 7.5 point underdog, according to most sources.
Boise averaged 479.8 yards per game and 35.6 points per contest in 2016. Baylor averaged 523.3 yards and 34.9 points. Boise State’s top win in 2016 was likely its 31-28 victory over Washington State, which was unranked at the time of the game. Baylor’s biggest win was undoubtedly over Oklahoma State, a game that the Bears won 35-24. This while Baylor was ranked No. 16 and OSU was unranked.
Yes, the Bears finished the 2016 season on a six-game losing streak, but winning mojo may be on its way back to Waco. The Bears were able to steal Matt Rhule away from Temple, and though he won’t have an impact in this matchup, it does seem like Baylor is poised to end this season on a positive note.
South Carolina (Birmingham Bowl)
The Gamecocks head into the Birmingham Bowl with a 6-6 record, while South Florida is 10-2. On the surface, the Bulls would appear to be the heavy favorites in this contest, but this is a bowl game in which a surface look just doesn’t tell the whole story.
First, consider South Carolina’s 2016 season. The Gamecocks haven’t been tremendous in Will Muschamp’s first season as head coach, but they have beaten some good teams. Notably, South Carolina had a three-game winning streak towards the tail-end of the season that saw the team follow up a win over UMass by beating No. 18 Tennessee and then Missouri.
The win over the Vols is enough to inspire confidence in Muschamp and his crew, especially when considering that true freshman quarterback Jake Bentley threw for two touchdowns against the one-time College Football Playoff contender.
Second, consider USF. The Bulls had a great season even though they didn’t make it to the AAC title game. Then head coach Willie Taggart was offered an opportunity he could refuse — to be the head coach at Oregon — and that good mojo the Bulls built up this season was completely lost.
South Carolina seems primed for an upset in this one.
Oklahoma State (Alamo Bowl)
It’s somewhat funny to consider 9-3 Oklahoma State an underdog, especially when considering the Cowboys are ranked No. 12 nationally heading into the Alamo Bowl. Their opponent, Colorado, is ranked No. 10, though, and the Buffaloes do have one more win on their record, as they check in at 10-3.
So let’s consider the ‘Pokes for the upset bid in this one, and they do have a good case.
First and foremost is quarterback Mason Rudolph, who’s one of the best in the country. He threw for 3,777 yards and 25 touchdowns this season (compared to just four interceptions), so look for him to come up big in the bowl game.
The Buffaloes do bring Sefo Liufau to the table on the other side — a dangerous and explosive dual-threat quarterback — so what’s the X-factor?
Mike MacIntyre has done a tremendous job with Colorado this season, but it’s worth noting that last year he was 4-9 and the year before that his team went 2-8. The Buffaloes were 4-8 in his first season as head coach, so this will be his first bowl game with Colorado.
Mike Gundy on the other-hand? He’s been there and done that.
Gundy has been at Oklahoma State since 2005 and has racked up a 103-50 overall record. He’s 6-4 in bowl games and is used to getting his team prepared for big-time matchups.
Advantage: Oklahoma State.
North Carolina (Sun Bowl)
The 8-4 Tar Heels head into the Sun Bowl against a No. 18 Stanford team that went 9-3 and enters the postseason on a five-game win streak. UNC, on the other-hand, lost two of its last three.
Stanford may have been a popular pick heading into this week, but recent news definitely swings the momentum in North Carolina’s favor.
All-everything running back Christian McCaffrey announced that in an effort to prepare himself for the 2017 NFL Draft, he’ll be skipping Stanford’s bowl game.
McCaffrey is not just Stanford’s best overall player, but he’s one of the most explosive and dynamic players in college football. He’s on his way to the NFL, though, so look for North Carolina to jump all over the Cardinal and lean on fellow draft hopeful Mitch Trubisky to pick up the win.
Florida State (Orange Bowl)
Michigan gets a lot of hype for a lot of reasons. Case in point? The Wolverines head into the Orange bowl as the higher ranked team over FSU. Michigan (10-2) is No. 6 while Florida State (9-3) is No. 11.
Yes, Jim Harbaugh’s squad has the better record. It was also a CFP favorite for much of the season, but consider the circumstances.
Michigan’s two losses this season came in its final three games. The Wolverines dropped a shocker to unranked Iowa in Iowa City and then lost to No. 2 Ohio State in double overtime. It was a controversial loss, but a loss nonetheless.
FSU, on the other-hand, won its last four games, and that included a 31-13 beatdown of No. 15 Florida, which went on to play in the SEC Championship against Alabama.
Running back Dalvin Cook is likely playing in his last game for the ‘Noles, and he’s come on in a big way since late October, scoring 11 touchdowns in FSU’s last five games (including two four-touchdown performances).
We’re going with the Seminoles in this one.
Iowa (Outback Bowl)
Much like in the Orange Bowl, the Outback Bowl is a matchup that could come down to momentum, and the Hawkeyes have it.
Iowa, which enters this game unranked at 8-4, will take on the aforementioned Florida Gators, who are ranked No. 17 in the nation.
Florida struggled at the end of the season. The Gators lost to FSU, 31-13, and then were beat down by Alabama in the SEC championship game, losing, 54-16. Throw in a 31-10 loss at Arkansas in early November and the Gators have lost three of their last five.
And sure, it wasn’t a great season for Iowa — the Hawkeyes lost to NDSU, after all — but Kirk Ferentz and his team are riding high on a three-game wining streak that includes a 14-13 win over No. 3 Michigan and a 40-10 win over No. 16 Nebraska.
In a matchup of two 8-4 teams, we’ll take the one with momentum.
Nebraska (Music City Bowl)
The Cornhuskers enter this game at 9-3, having lost three of their last five. Tennessee is 8-4, but the Vols are still ranked No. 21 nationally.
Both teams lost their last game of the season, but Nebraska lost to a red-hot Iowa team on the road while the Vol lost to a five-win Vanderbilt team, 45-34.
In a season that started with national championship aspirations, Butch Jones and the Volunteers once again failed to live up to expectations. Mike Riley and the Huskers, though? Well, they actually exceeded them.
Call it a gut feeling, but Tennessee isn’t walking away from this contest with a win.
Ohio State (Fiesta Bowl) *CFP
Clemson wasn’t the superpower that many expected this season (it did lose to Pitt, after all), and Deshaun Watson wasn’t the Heisman winner.
It was an “off year” for the Tigers, and even still, Dabo Swinney and his bunch find themselves back in the playoffs after a 12-1 season and a win in the ACC Championship game. Clemson is ranked No. 2, only looking up to Nick Saban and Alabama — the defending national champions.
No. 3 Ohio State wasn’t perfect this year (the Buckeyes lost at Penn State in a shocker) and they didn’t even make the Big Ten championship game. But Urban Meyer’s bunch is undoubtedly one of the best teams in the nation. OSU beat No. 14 Oklahoma, No. 8 Wisconsin, No. 10 Nebraska and No. 3 Michigan.
Technically, OSU is the underdog in this game, but don’t bet against Meyer and the Buckeyes.
Led by J.T. Barrett, Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel, Ohio State can be extremely explosive on offense. The Buckeyes led the Big Ten with 42.7 points per game, so that’s a unit that should have no problem hanging with Watson and the Tigers.
It’s Meyer’s defense that has championship potential, though.
OSU ranked No. 4 nationally in total defense, giving up just 281.6 yards and 14.2 points per game. The Buckeyes are extremely opportunistic on defense, finishing the year with 19 interceptions and seven touchdowns. They have the potential to slow down even the most dynamic of quarterbacks, Watson included.
This game will live up to the hype, but look for Ohio State to pull off the upset.