College Football Bowl Projections | December 28-January 10
Which teams will be bringing the college football season home in style?
Birmingham Bowl – SMU vs. Kentucky
Despite losing quarterback Shane Buechele, expectations are high once again for SMU. The Mustangs are our third-ranked AAC team, and they’re enjoying a particularly fruitful recruiting period right now. They should prove too strong for a Kentucky team ranked 60th overall in our college football power rankings. The Mustangs won the only previous contest between the two teams back in 1949.
First Responder Bowl – Kansas State vs. Wake Forest
Whoever wins this projected college football bowl matchup will take an overall lead in the series. They’re currently tied at 1-1 after splitting games in consecutive years in the mid-1970s. Kansas State had one of the best passing defenses in the nation last season. Can they stymie Sam Harman and the Wake Forest offense?
Liberty Bowl – West Virginia vs. Arkansas
The Liberty Bowl will host a Big 12 versus SEC clash this winter. Therefore, our college football bowl projections see West Virginia and Arkansas squaring off in Memphis. The two teams have never met before. However, according to our college football power rankings, the Mountaineers should have an advantage over an Arkansas team that replaces starting QB Feleipe Franks.
Holiday Bowl – Utah vs. North Carolina State
Utah was one of the most active college football teams in the transfer portal this spring. As a result, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them mount a challenge in the Pac-12. That said, we currently have them ranked as the fifth-best team in the conference, earning them a spot in the Holiday Bowl. They’ll face NC State, who has one of the most exciting running backs in the ACC in Zonovan “Bam” Knight.
Guaranteed Rate Bowl – Texas Tech vs. Northwestern
A traditionally high-powered offense meets a normally impenetrable defense in what could make for an interesting matchup. Their only previous encounter resulted in a 45-38 win for the Red Raiders. Northwestern safety Brandon Joseph‘s ability to contain Texas Tech quarterback Tyler Shough and the Red Raiders’ passing game could be a difference-maker.
Fenway Bowl – Notre Dame vs. UCF
Last year should have been the first Fenway Bowl, held at the home of the Boston Red Sox. However, after being canceled in 2020, it should be hosting the inaugural event on December 29. In our college football bowl projections, we have Notre Dame replacing the ACC representative to take on UCF. Although we appear to be lower on Notre Dame than the consensus (21st in our power rankings), this clash should be one of the more entertaining games of bowl season.
Pinstripe Bowl – Louisville vs. Minnesota
Back-to-back bowl games in baseball stadiums see Louisville and Minnesota travel to Yankee Stadium. This would represent something of a bounce-back for two teams who had a dismal 2020 campaign. Although both teams should be evenly matched, our power rankings have the Golden Gophers ranked slightly higher than the Cardinals. However, that is dependent on Tanner Morgan regaining his 2019 form.
Cheez-It Bowl – Miami (FL) vs. Oklahoma State
The Cheez-It Bowl: Part II! These two teams faced off in this bowl game at the end of last season and produced an entertaining shootout. Although Oklahoma State won last year, the Hurricanes are ranked significantly higher than them in our college football power rankings. D’Eriq King has a new pass-catching weapon in Charleston Rambo, and they have an intriguing running back trio as they look to challenge in the ACC.
Alamo Bowl – Texas vs. Arizona State
The Alamo Bowl takes two of the best teams in the Big 12 and Pac-12 and throws them into the Alamodome. If our college football bowl projections hold true, it would be the sixth appearance for the Longhorns in the Alamo Bowl. Furthermore, they’ve won four of their five appearances to date. Texas won the only previous matchup against an Arizona State side facing some uncertainty this year with ongoing NCAA investigations.
Duke’s Mayo Bowl – Pittsburgh vs. Tennessee
Pittsburgh won the only two previous games against Tennessee, with the two teams’ last meeting in 1983. It would be unwise to bet against Kenny Pickett and his Panthers in a college football bowl projection against a Tennessee team in turmoil and transition. The Panthers are some 20 places above the Vols in our power rankings.
Music City Bowl – Michigan vs. Missouri
Missouri was scheduled to play the 2020 edition of the Music City Bowl against Iowa until it was canceled. They get their chance again. However, this time they take on the Michigan Wolverines. The two teams are currently tied with two wins each, with Michigan winning the last game between the two. Despite that, it would be unwise to bet against a Missouri team that could be a surprise package in 2021.
Peach Bowl – Indiana vs. USC
In our college football bowl projections, the Peach Bowl is made up of our 11th-ranked Indiana Hoosiers and the 12th-ranked USC Trojans. There are intriguing matchups all over the field with potential 2022 NFL Draft connotations if players don’t opt out. Michael Penix Jr. and Kedon Slovis going toe to toe would be an exciting battle if both can return to their best form. In Ty Fryfogle and Drake London, there could be two of the best pass catchers in the nation on show.
Las Vegas Bowl – Washington vs. Iowa
Having scheduled some high-octane offensive matchups, the Las Vegas Bowl could be a cagy, defensive affair if this clash comes true. Both teams were ranked in the top 30 last season for total defense. Although Iowa lost some talent to the draft, they historically are a well-coached defensive unit, as are the Huskies. Could running back Tyler Goodson be the offensive spark that gives the Hawkeyes a shock win?
Cotton Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal) – Alabama vs. Texas A&M
The Cotton Bowl is currently projected to be the earlier kickoff of the two College Football Playoffs. Last year, the first of the two games contained the first and fourth-ranked teams. As per our college football rankings, that would see Alabama and Texas A&M face each other for the second time in the 2021 season. As much as I think the Aggies could be a surprise contender this season, Alabama will once again stand in their path to a national championship.
Orange Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal) – Clemson vs. Oklahoma
The second College Football Playoff sees our second-ranked Clemson Tigers take on third-ranked Oklahoma. With Spencer Rattler under center and a host of surrounding talent, the Sooners should make it to the final four this season. However, standing in their way will be a Clemson team that is loaded on defense. This Tigers team has the makings of the unit that won the national championship, with D.J. Uiagalelei a worthy replacement for Trevor Lawrence.
Gator Bowl – Boston College vs. LSU
The Boston College Eagles have the potential to be one of the surprises of the 2021 college football season. They return their entire starting offensive line, quarterback, and star wide receiver. Their reward comes with a trip to the Gator Bowl to face LSU. Although some people are predicting a bounce-back year for the Tigers, we currently have them ranked as the sixth-best SEC team. The cornerback duo of Derek Stingley Jr. and Eli Ricks could prove too strong for the Boston College passing attack.
Sun Bowl – UCLA vs. Virginia
Since Chip Kelly took the reigns in 2018, UCLA has failed to record a single winning season. Is this the year they turn it around? With some strong pieces on both sides of the ball, we currently have them ranked as the 37th-overall team in the nation. As a result, they secure a Sun Bowl slot against Virginia, who currently ranks as our sixth-best team in the ACC. The Bruins won the only two previous matchups between the sides.
Outback Bowl – Florida vs. Penn State
11 years to the day that these two teams last met, the sequel to the 2001 Outback Bowl sees Penn State try and record their first-ever win against the Gators. Last time out, Florida won comfortably 37-24, but this could be a much tighter affair. The Gators are retooling on offense, most notably replacing the trio of Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts, and Kadarius Toney. That’s just one of the reasons they’re ranked just 22nd in our college football power rankings. Jahan Dotson gives the Nittany Lions reason to believe they can go toe to toe with the team from the SEC.
Citrus Bowl – Wisconsin vs. Ole Miss
If the Citrus Bowl lineup mirrors our college football bowl projections, it will be a fascinating matchup. Wisconsin and Ole Miss have never met before but play the game with incredibly contrasting styles. Will the Badgers ground game and ferocious defense be able to outlast an Ole Miss offense that, in the hands of Matt Corral, may be one of the most explosive in the nation?
Rose Bowl – Ohio State vs. Oregon
With Ohio State ranking fifth and Oregon sitting seventh in our power rankings, the Big Ten and the Pac-12 miss out on the playoffs in our college football bowl projections. However, that makes the Rose Bowl one of the best matchups of bowl season. They’ve contested the Rose Bowl game twice, with the Buckeyes winning both times. Despite this, the Ducks have a formidable defense and could contend for victory.
Sugar Bowl – Iowa State vs. Georgia
With Oklahoma reaching the College Football Playoffs, Iowa State head to the Sugar Bowl as the highest-ranked Big 12 team. As a result of Alabama and Texas A&M also making the final four, the SEC is represented by our third-ranked team from the conference (Georgia). The Bulldogs loaded up in the transfer portal, and while Matt Campbell has worked wonders with the Cyclones, Georgia would be the favorites in this first-ever meeting between the two sides.
Fiesta Bowl – North Carolina vs. Cincinnati
For the second consecutive season, we project that the Cincinnati Bearcats land a “New Year’s Six” spot as the nation’s top Group of Five team. They’ll take on a North Carolina team ranked 10th overall in our college football power rankings. Cincinnati proved they could mix it with the big boys last fall, only narrowly suffering defeat to Georgia. Will they be able to hold Sam Howell and the Tar Heels’ offense?
Texas Bowl – TCU vs. Auburn
Although Auburn has beaten TCU in all three of their past matchups, the only game played in Texas was a close-fought affair in 1980. Could the Texas Bowl provide the setting for the Horned Frogs’ first victory over the Tigers? TCU returns a dynamic pass-rushing duo, they (once again) have NFL Draft level quality in the secondary, and in Max Duggan, they have an intriguing playmaker set to break out at QB. We currently have TCU ranked at 30th in our power rankings. Meanwhile. Auburn ranks a little lower at 45.
College Football Playoffs National Championship – Alabama vs. Clemson
Although college football is one of the most unpredictable sports in the world, some things are just that little bit more inevitable than others. Dabo Swinney vs. Nick Saban in the College Football National Championship is one of them. Despite the Crimson Tide holding a 14-5 head-to-head record over the Tigers, recent history is with Clemson. Furthermore, of the three national championship clashes between the two, Clemson holds the advantage. Will Alabama even the score in January? Only time will tell.
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Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.