November is approaching and soon we will see the initial College Football Playoff rankings. Yet, we might have a good idea -- or at least think we do -- of what the 2021-22 bowl season will look like soon.
So, here's a look at our midseason bowl predictions. All statistics and records are current as the week of October 26.
** Denotes New Year's Six bowl games
Entering the final weekend of October, Marshall is one of four teams tied for the East Division lead in Conference USA. Sitting at 4-3 overall, the Thundering Herd are poised for a fifth consecutive bowl appearance. A trip to the Bahamas would be a just reward. Meanwhile, Eastern Michigan, out of the Mid-American Conference, is 5-3 and looking for its third bowl trip in four seasons. The Eagles' last bowl victory came at the 1987 California Bowl.
Middle Tennessee still needs three wins to reach bowl eligibility but has three 1-6 teams left on the schedule. After opening-day starter Bailey Hockman quit the team, quarterback Chase Cunningham has played well for MTSU, throwing for 1,270 yards with 16 touchdowns and two interceptions. Out of the Sun Belt, 4-3 UL-Monroe upset Liberty and will try for a third straight victory when it faces a tough test at Appalachian State on Oct. 30.
Toledo has been wildly inconsistent this season and sits 4-4. The Rockets nearly upset then-No. 8 Notre Dame at South Bend, but also fell 22-6 at home to Colorado State. Toledo is trying to return to bowl action for the first time since 2018. Meanwhile, Florida Atlantic is one of those four teams tied for the East Division lead in Conference USA. The Owls, looking for a third straight bowl appearance, made a solid statement with their recent 38-9 loss at Charlotte.
Wyoming went 4-0 during non-conference play but dropped its first three Mountain West contests while totaling 17 points over that span. Still, we think the Cowboys, and a defense that's yielded more than 24 points once this season, can find two more victories. Buffalo is a .500 squad that won two straight heading into the final weekend of October. Bulls' running back Dylan McDuffie has averaged 113.7 yards and scored three touchdowns in his last three games.
At 6-2, BYU has a good shot at posting back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since a four-year run from 2006-'09. Army, meanwhile, has lost three straight following a 4-0 start, so there's work to be done for a bowl bid. Yet, it's still quite possible that happens. If this indeed turns out to be a bowl matchup in 2021, it would mark the first meeting between these storied football programs.
This would be a stellar Group of Five matchup. And, also a rematch of the 2019 New Orleans Bowl, which Appalachian State won 31-17. Sure, it might not be fair for these two to meet after they recently did, but these are projections and meant for intrigue. App State pulled out a 30-27 win over then-No. 14 Coastal Carolina for its season highlight -- so far. UAB is looking to qualify for a bowl in its fifth consecutive season.
At the beginning of the season, this probably was not the Los Angeles-area-based bowl USC expected to earn an invite. And, at 3-4, the Trojans aren't guaranteed to even go bowling. It's been a rough season for USC, so it should be happy with any bowl. Fresno State is already bowl eligible, thanks to the arm of Jake Haener (2,582 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, six interceptions). The last time the Bulldogs beat USC came at the 1992 Freedom Bowl.
Entering Week 9, Texas-San Antonio is one of nine unbeaten teams in the FBS. Who would have thought that? The class of Conference USA, the Roadrunners rank among the national leaders averaging 39.4 points. Not to be completely overshadowed, but Louisiana allows an average of 22.0 points, and just might be the best team in the Sun Belt before it's said and done.
Coastal lost its second game in two seasons at Sun Belt foe Appalachian State on Oct. 20. If the Chanticleers don't regroup and find a way to at least reach the league title game, they could be staying at home come bowl season. That could also mean a matchup with another Carolina-based program in Charlotte, guided by promising head coach Will Healy. The 49ers lost their first-ever bowl appearance in 2019.
One can never get too much MACtion. Miami is playing better of late and enters the final weekend of October needing two wins to qualify for a bowl. However, should this be the RedHawks destination, playing on the blue turf is never easy for opponents. Especially against the host school. That said, the Broncos are 3-4 and need to finish strong in order to reach a bowl. Prior to the unpredictable 2020 season, Boise had made 18 straight bowl appearances.
At 4-3, Kansas State is still in the bowl hunt. And, quarterback Skylar Thompson (1,062 yards, six touchdowns, three interceptions) is healthy. The Wildcats failed to reach a bowl in two of the previous three seasons. Over to the Mountain West, where Utah State is in the hunt for a Mountain Division title while boasting one of the nation's top receivers in Deven Thompkins (56 receptions, 923 yards, six touchdowns).
One of the better stories of the 2021 season is UTEP. The Miners went 5-39 the past four seasons, but are 6-1 and headed to their first bowl since 2014. That was also the last season UTEP posted a winning record. The Miners have allowed 50 points during a four-game winning streak from Sept. 25-Oct. 16. Air Force, meanwhile, has also reached the six-win mark thanks to its option attack that averages 318.4 rushing yards.
Liberty is headed to a third consecutive bowl appearance, but the concern for the Flames is the status of budding NFL prospect Malik Willis (1,684 passing yards; 647 rushing yards, 26 combined TDs), who recently suffered a foot injury. Western Michigan remains a perennial MAC power and once eligible, will try to avoid losing a fourth straight bowl game. The Broncos' most recent such victory came in 2015.
Memphis' final four games of the regular season could be pretty tough with SMU and Houston on the slate. The Tigers are 1-4 after winning their first three games of the season. They snapped a five-game bowl losing streak with last season's 25-10 victory over FAU in the Montgomery Bowl. Hawaii is two wins away from bowl eligibility and should it qualify, likely won't have to leave home for its postseason contest.
No better way to spend Christmas day than in Alabama watching a sparsely attended bowl between two Group of Five participants. Still, it's a big deal for the teams involved. Reigning Mid-American champion Ball State appears in good shape to make back-to-back bowl trips for the first time since 2012-'13. Out of the Sun Belt, Troy is two wins away from becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2018. Four of the Trojans' last five bowl opponents have hailed from the MAC.
Northern Illinois went 0-6 during its abbreviated 2020 season, Now, the Huskies, behind a rushing attack among the best in the nation averaging 232.9 yards, are 6-2 and the only undefeated team in Mid-American Conference play. WKU, meanwhile, is one of the nation's highest-scoring teams at 40 points per game, but the Hilltoppers are 3-4 and don't have an easy task in becoming bowl eligible.
A loser of three straight heading into Halloween weekend, Boston College still has some business to take care of when it comes to reaching bowl eligibility. The Eagles' last bowl victory came in 2016, but they need to get going an offense that total 34 points in its first three October games if that slide is to end. Gus Malzahn's first season in charge of UCF has had its moments, but a sixth consecutive bowl bid for the program seems in the making.
East Carolina's most recent bowl appearance came in 2014 -- at the Birmingham Bowl. Should the Pirates earn three more victories and they could very well make their return to the bowl scene at the same place. It was 2016, the last time South Alabama played in a bowl. The Jaguars opened this season with three consecutive victories, but are 1-3 since, and need to right the ship in order to earn a postseason berth.
Entering the final weekend of October, San Diego State and SMU are each still without a loss through seven games this season. The Mustangs would have to get through fellow undefeated Cincinnati in order to stay perfect, which seems like a tall order. SDSU, meanwhile, is the team to beat in the Mountain West, at the moment. This would be an intriguing matchup since SMU averages 42.7 points and the Aztecs give up just 15.7 per contest.
Iowa State has been an enigma of sorts in recent years. A good amount of talent to contend for a Big 12 title, but perhaps not enough drive and focus to actually get it done. Still, the Cyclones are headed for a fifth straight bowl appearance. Mississippi State is poised to make a 12th consecutive bowl trip. The Bulldogs are 4-3 with wins over North Carolina State and at then-No. 15 North Carolina State this season.
The Hurricanes have been one of the country's bigger disappointments this season, but they are coming off a needed win over then-No. 18 North Carolina State. That leaves Miami 3-4, but three victories are possible from its remaining schedule. In the mix for the Pac-12 South Division title, Arizona State is paced by one of the nation's top dual-threat quarterbacks Jayden Daniels (1,506 passing yards; 401 rushing yards).
Maryland is 4-3 but has been outscored 151-47 during a three-game losing streak entering the Halloween weekend. Injuries haven't helped the cause, either. The Terps last made a bowl game in 2016. Texas Tech is 2-3 since winning its first three games of the season and rather shockingly fired coach Matt Wells. But, the Red Raiders boast a pretty balanced offense that's deep and brimming with talent that seems ready to break out down the road.
It would be fun to see two of this season's biggest surprises -- for different reasons -- met up during bowl season. Houston is 6-0 since opening the season with a 17-point loss to Texas Tech. The Cougars have allowed an average of 13.8 points during that winning streak. North Carolina, on the other hand, is 4-3 and underachieving even for a team that had several key holes to fill. Tar Heels' preseason Heisman Trophy contender Sam Howell is completing just 61.1-percent of his passes for 1,851 yards with 18 touchdowns, six interceptions and has been sacked 27 times,
From Fenway Park to Yankee Stadium. On the same day, nonetheless. Purdue pulled off one of the biggest shockers of the season, winning 24-7 at then-No. 2 Iowa. However, the Boilermakers need two wins down the stretch to secure their first bowl bid since 2018. Bowl-bound and surging Virginia might be the second-best team in the ACC's Coastal Division. Quarterback Brennan Armstrong has made a name for himself while throwing 3,220 yards with 23 touchdowns and six interceptions.
So if asked who the ACC's lone undefeated team heading into the final weekend of October, Wake Forest probably wouldn't be the choice. But, it's the correct one. The Deacons are another big surprise on the national scene, mostly because of an offense that averages 43.1 points. When it comes to Texas, blowing a big lead to Red River rival Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl may haunt the Longhorns for some time. They are 4-3 and should be able to record two more wins. As long as Bijan Robinson (924 rushing yards, 10 TDs) continues to tear things up on the ground.
Don't look now, but one season after going 2-7, Baylor could find itself in the Big 12 Championship game. The Bears' lone defeat at moment came at then-No. 19 Oklahoma State in early October. Over in the Pac-12, Oregon State might also play its way into that league's title contest. The Beavers are on the verge of becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2013 and have beaten the likes of USC, Washington, and Utah.
It was less than two years ago that these perennial powers were duking it out for a national championship. How the mighty have fallen. Entering Halloween, Clemson is 4-3, has scored more than 21 points once this season, and has quarterback issues. LSU, meanwhile, is 4-4, ready to say goodbye to coach Ed Orgeron and still needs to win twice to be in the bowl conversion. A mid-week, daytime middling bowl matchup between these two would be something to see -- or, maybe not.
Wherever Tennessee ends up come bowl season, let's hope we don't see any more disturbing fan incidents like its home game versus Mississippi this season. The Vols' four losses have come to currently-ranked Pittsburgh, then-No. 11 Florida, the aforementioned then-No. 13 Rebels, and an Alabama squad ranked fourth at the time. Minnesota has won three in a row to find itself a contender in the Big Ten West Division despite its rash of injuries at the running back position.
The last time these two programs met on the gridiron came at the 1996 Copper Bowl. The Badgers have won three in a row following its 1-3 start, and they still find themselves in the mix for a Big Ten West Division title. Should they fall short, we know Wisconsin's dedicated fan base probably wouldn't mind spending some time in Vegas. Utah is also trying for a division title within the Pac-12, but it continues to struggle on the road, where it is 1-3.
This could be Florida's second trip to Jacksonville this season after facing rival Georgia the day before Halloween. The 4-3 Gators have not won back-to-back games since Sept. 4 and 11. They have quarterback issues and the faithful think coach Dan Mullen no longer cares about his job. North Carolina State was rolling until it slipped up against Miami, Fla. The Wolfpack are 5-3 and still have a shot at the league title, but their margin of error in that quest seems rather small.
The Sun Bowl is simply classic. An old-school bowl contest, with that mountain in the background. Not the mention, the chance for snow is always an added bonus. Inconsistency has plagued the 5-3 Bruins, but the bigger immediate concern should be the health of injured quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1,639 passing yards, 14 TDs, three INTs; six rushing TDs). At 4-3, Louisville has flown under the radar and seems to remain headed in the right direction for improvement under coach Scott Satterfield.
Kent State is vying for a MAC East Division title and led by a solid pass thrower in Dustin Crum, who has thrown for nearly 6,000 yards with 44 touchdowns and just eight interceptions in five seasons with the Golden Flashes. Kent State has been to just two bowls since the start of the 1980 season. Nevada, by the way, has its own stud quarterback in Carson Strong (7,659 career passing yards, 58 touchdowns, 15 interceptions in three seasons).
Remember when Penn State was 5-0 and thinking about a spot in the College Football Playoff? Yeah, those were the days. Then the Nittany Lions blew their lead in a loss at then-No. 3 Iowa. Even more disturbing was the 20-18 home loss to lowly Illinois in nine overtimes that followed. Ohio State is up next for Penn State on Halloween weekend. A Jan. 1 bowl date should now be the Nittany Lions' goal. Arkansas is 1-3 since its 4-0 start, but while the Razorbacks have made strides in 2021, they might still be a year or two away from truly making noise in the SEC.
Michigan State fans might think differently about this choice. The Spartans are undefeated, but Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State are still on the docket, So, they have plenty to prove before the new year. Knowing that Michigan State might be on the outside looking in at the New Year's Six. Auburn is 5-2, but 1-2 against ranked opponents in 2021. Still, first-year Tigers coach Bryan Harsin appears to have the program in good hands amid this new era.
Oklahoma State's loss to Iowa State's on Oct. 23, was its first of the season. That said, the Cowboys could still find themselves in the Big 12 Championship game. Running back Jaylen Warren (781 rushing yards, six touchdowns) is certainly someone to keep an eye on going forward. Texas A&M, meanwhile, seemed to turn its season around with that home upset of then-No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 2. The Aggies won their two games that followed by a combined 51 points.
Now it's time to venture into the New Year's Six slate of bowl games. In the case of the Peach Bowl, it seems likely the Big Ten Championship game loser could end up here. Especially if it's not Ohio State or Michigan. Iowa held College Football Playoff thoughts at one point this season, but this seems like a more logical bowl landing ground in the end. Kentucky has proven to be the next-best team to Georgia in the SEC East Division, and should justly be rewarded.
Not many college football pundits predicted Pitt to win the ACCC, but that could very much be the case As mentioned, though, Wake Forest could possibly slide in this spot if it wins the ACC. Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett (2,236 passing yards, 23 TDs, one INT) is starting to see some rightful Heisman love. Notre Dame has just one loss heading into Halloween weekend but isn't a CFP-caliber squad like last season. The Irish is 18-5 against Pitt since the start of the 1988 season.
The thinking here is that Oregon wins the Pac-12, but even it does with one loss, will not be included in the College Football Playoff. That leaves the Rose Bowl as an obvious choice for the Ducks. Would star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux play? Even if Michigan does not reach the Big Ten title game, the Wolverines could be an attractive Rose Bowl draw over the West Division winner should that team lose to Ohio State in the league title game. That's the road we're going down here.
Yes, heading into the final weekend of October, Oklahoma is undefeated and a top-four ranked team. Still, the Sooners had to rally for a win at Kansas, and have Baylor, Iowa State, and Bedlam rival Oklahoma State, plus a potential spot in the Big 12 title game to worry about. We see a slip up at some point during all that going forward. Ole Miss, meanwhile, has been fun to watch all season while averaging 41.9 points.
Now, for the good stuff. Assuming Georgia is undefeated heading into the SEC Championship Game, and say it loses, to perhaps Alabama, in that contest, it should still have a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Bulldogs' defense has allowed just 46 points in seven games and pitched two shutouts. Talk about a championship-caliber squad. On the other side of this national semifinal matchup, Cincinnati has been clamoring to receive its due respect for two seasons. The Bearcats are 16-1 since the start of the 2020 campaign, and if they win the American Athletic Conference title without a loss, this spot should rightfully be theirs.
Here's where the real fun begins. As mentioned, undefeated Oklahoma could be in this spot, potentially replacing either Ohio State or Alabama -- both one-loss teams. That said, at the moment, the Buckeyes are Crimson Tide are the better teams when Oklahoma is added to the mix. This would be a rematch of last season's national championship game. These are the top-two scoring teams in the nation -- Ohio State averaging 49.3 points and Alabama 45.9. The difference could be a Buckeyes' defense that's regrouped from a rough start to allow 64 total points during their five-game winning streak.
A bold prediction, perhaps. But at the moment, these are arguably the two best teams in the nation. It would also be a fun matchup between the country's top offense against the best defense in the nation. The Bulldogs' most recent national championship came in the 1980 season, so to say the program and its devoted fan base have been waiting for this moment would be an understatement. Especially after they let the title slip away during the championship game of the 2017 season.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.