The New Year’s Six bowl games and especially the College Football Playoff matchups are going to get all the hype this bowl season. So it can be easy to forget that the Peach, Fiesta, Cotton, Orange, Rose and Sugar Bowls are actually the main event to a huge and exciting undercard.
There are at least two obvious awesome non-NY6 bowl games. The Citrus Bowl between No. 13 Louisville and No. 20 LSU comes to mind. So does the Alamo Bowl between No. 12 Oklahoma State and No. 10 Colorado.
Other bowl games may not stand out as intriguing to the average fan. That’s because they lack big-game, on-paper appeal. Believe you me, the bowl committee put these matchups together for a reason. That’s because they offer plenty of intrigue and plenty to watch for those looking to tune in to college football in December — arguably the best time of the year for CFB.
With that in mind, here are ten of the most intriguing non-NY6 bowl games.
Las Vegas Bowl: Houston vs. San Diego State
Houston (9-3) was a disappointment this season. The Cougars will also be coming into this contest without head coach Tom Herman, who’s now the head coach at Texas. Once thought of as a College Football Playoff team, Houston’s players will undoubtedly be looking to end 2016 on a strong note. And they may even want to send a message to Herman that leaving the #HTownTakeover for Austin was a bad idea.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the field is the Aztecs, winners of the Mountain West. They are riding high after a 27-24 win over Wyoming to lock up the conference championship. After two straight losses to end the season, San Diego State will also be looking to make a statement by following up the MWC title win with a bowl game win over a pretty notable opponent.
Off field storylines aside, Houston scores 38 points per game (459.2 yards per contest) while the Aztecs have put up 35.3 yards per game (419.1 per). This is a game that could end up creating some major fireworks.
National Funding Holiday Bowl: Minnesota vs. Washington State
The Holiday Bowl matchup between the Gophers and Wazzu can be best described as a clash of styles, perhaps even a clash of cultures.
On one side of the field is Minnesota, a ground-and-pound Big Ten program known for its physicality. On the other side is Washington State, known for putting up a ton of points and doing so in style thanks to Mike Leach’s air-raid offense.
For fans of X’s and O’s, this is going to be an interesting matchup. Will ball control and physicality win over, or will “new school” high-octane offense overpower the Golden Gophers?
Minnesota scores 30.3 points per game, averaging 363.8 yards per contest (186.4 of which is on the ground). Wazzu scores 40.3 points a contest, averaging 497.6 yards per game (370.8 of which is through the air).
Motel 6 Cactus Bowl: Boise State vs. Baylor
This is a matchup that could end up being explosive, though it’s well worth noting that Boise State enters the contest with a much better record. The Broncos check in at 10-2, their only two losses coming in Mountain West play, which kept them out of the conference title game.
Baylor is only 6-6 heading into this game, but the Bears can still score a ton and move the ball with the best of them. Baylor scored 34.9 points per game this season and put up 523.3 yards per game (273.1 through the air and 250.3 on the ground).
The storyline outside of the game here is new Baylor head coach Matt Rhule, who the Bears stole away from Temple. His presence will undoubtedly be felt on the Bears’ sideline, whether he chooses to attend the game or not.
Outback Bowl: Iowa vs. Florida
This is a game that features Big Ten staple Iowa — on a three-game winning streak with wins over No. 3 Michigan and No. 16 Nebraska — and SEC staple Florida, which was trounced by Alabama in the SEC Title game and lost to FSU the week before.
On paper these are two teams trending in different directions, but it would be wise to throw out all expectations heading into this matchup.
Iowa is hot, but keep in mind this is a team that lost to North Dakota State at home earlier this season and for much of 2016 the Hawkeyes were underwhelming.
Yes, Florida is coming off two very tough losses — a 31-13 loss to FSU and the 54-16 beat down at the hands of No. 1 Alabama — but the Gators are still ranked No. 17 nationally. Jim McElwain’s team also beat Georgia (21-10) and No. 16 LSU (16-10) this season.
The Gators are nowhere near elite, but Iowa is nowhere near predictable.
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Stanford vs. North Carolina
Heading into the 2016 season, both Stanford and North Carolina were considered potential CFP teams. This is a matchup that should not disappoint.
And sure, speaking of disappointing, both the Cardinal and Tar Heels didn’t necessarily live up to expectations this season. But this is still a matchup between the No. 18 team in the nation in Stanford (9-3) and an eight-win UNC team.
Matchups aside, this game is worth tuning in to for one reason in particular: It will be all-everything back Christian McCaffrey’s final college contest. It was recently reported that he’s going to be entering the 2017 NFL Draft.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Tennessee vs. Nebraska
This is a matchup with some interesting storylines, both on and off the field.
No. 21 Tennessee (8-4) was once considered a potential CFP dark horse contender. So the fact that the Volunteers are playing in the Music City Bowl has to be a bit disappointing to Tennessee faithful. This game will be the culmination of yet another season that has seen Butch Jones and his team not live up to expectations.
Nebraska, conversely, far exceeded expectations in 2016. The Huskers were one of the best teams in the nation for much of the season.
The Cornhuskers fell back to earth with a rough last quarter of the season that saw them lose to No. 11 Wisconsin, No. 6 Ohio State and at Iowa in a big rivalry game. Thar said, Mike Riley still had Nebraska looking pretty darn good in only his second season as head coach in Lincoln.
Birmingham Bowl: South Carolina vs. South Florida
It’s not often that a team in the AAC has a legitimate shot at beating an SEC opponent, but in the Birmingham bowl, it’s a definite possibility.
USF disappointed a bit this season by not making the AAC title game (this is despite a 10-2 overall record), but Willie Taggart’s team can end 2016 on a very high note by taking out 6-6 South Carolina.
In just his first season at the helm, Will Muschamp did some nice things with the Gamecocks. But this is a matchup that could end up being tough for the Gamecocks to win. The Bulls are scoring 43.6 points per game while putting up 515.1 yards per game. South Carolina, on the other-hand, has only scored 19.3 points per game while averaging 336.4 yards per contest.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Georgia vs. TCU
On the surface, this would appear to be an underwhelming matchup between 7-5 UGA and 6-6 TCU. Doesn’t seem like much, right?
Looking at their records, sure, but this is a game that’s more about names than it is about what happened during the season.
If you want a reason to tune in to watch Georgia, here are a few:
- This is Kirby Smart’s first bowl game, so let’s see how he does.
- This is the final game of Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason’s freshman season. He came into this year with a ton of expectations, and at times, he has looked like the superstar many expect him to ultimately be.
- Running back Nick Chubb, who appears to be back in stride.
TCU had a down season, but the Horned Frogs are still an explosive bunch. They’re worth watching if only to check out junior running back Kyle Hicks (954 yards, 12 touchdowns) and junior wideout Taj Williams (702 yards and five touchdowns).
Russell Athletic Bowl: West Virginia vs. Miami
The Russell Athletic Bowl features two high profile football programs that each had respectable seasons.
West Virginia finished the season ranked No. 16 nationally with a 10-2 record. The Mountaineers tied for second in the Big 12 with Oklahoma State and picked up nice wins over BYU, Texas and Baylor.
Miami finished with only an 8-4 record, but context is key. Former Georgia head coach Mark Richt took over the Miami program this season and got the Hurricanes bowl eligible in his first try.
Miami has lost its last six bowl games, and that’s not mentioning seasons in 2011 and 2012 in which the Hurricanes weren’t even bowl eligible. Getting back on the winning track in a bowl game — especially in Richt’s first year — would be huge for The U.
Camping World Independence Bowl: Vanderbilt vs. NC State
The Independence bowl features two teams that can be really interesting, but the main draw here is Vanderbilt.
The 2016 season was Vandy head coach Derek Mason’s third campaign with the team. After 3-9 and 4-8 seasons respectively in 2014 and 2015, this season was do-or-die for the Commodores. Anything less than bowl eligible may have gotten Mason fired, so the fact that Vanderbilt (6-6) is in this game is a big deal. The fact that the Commodores ended the season on a two game winning streak with wins over Ole Miss and No. 17 was huge, but putting a bowl win on top of that would be the icing on the cake.
NC State is also 6-6, squeaking into bowl eligibility with a 28-21 win over rival North Carolina.
This matchup could go either way, with a plus-500 final record on the line for both teams.