The bowl season trudges on, and we move closer to the New Year's Six and College Football Playoff bowls. But first, here are our previews and predictions (point spreads courtesy of DraftKings, and subject to change) for those bowl games leading up to the aforementioned big ones.
All times Eastern. Rankings reflect those of the College Football Playoff selection committee. Statistics in parenthesis are from the 2021 season unless noted otherwise.
Nothing better than celebrating Christmas with a middling bowl matchup between two Group of Five teams. Actually, there's reason to believe this could be an entertaining pre-Christmas dinner matchup. Georgia State has won three straight and six of seven following a 1-4 start. Ball State went 2-3 down the final stretch of the regular season, but quarterback Drew Plitt (2,248 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, five interceptions) is worth watching.
Prediction: Georgia State (-4 1/2)
Nevada is making a fourth consecutive bowl appearance, but coach Jay Norvell, who took the Colorado State job, and NFL-bound quarterback Carson Strong (9,379 career passing yards, 74 touchdowns) would be there for the fun. That could bode well for Western Michigan, which boasts one of the nation's top receivers in Skyy Moore (90 receptions, 1,247 yards, 10 touchdowns) and defensive ends with Ali Fayad (11 1/2 sacks).
Prediction: Western Michigan (-6)
Remember when Boston College was 4-0 and feeling good about itself? That was a long time ago. The Eagles went 2-6 in the ACC, but quarterback Phil Jurkovec is healthy and looking to end a difficult season on a positive note before he returns to school next season. He'll also be facing an ECU defense that's allowed 99 points of its final three regular-season games. The Pirates, however, average almost 30 points on the season.
Prediction: East Carolina (+3)
Houston's regular-season bookended with an opening loss to Texas Tech and American Athletic Association title-game defeat to Cincinnati. In between were those 11 victories during which the Cougars averaged 40.4 points. That might not bode well for Auburn, which enters this contest on a four-game losing streak, The Tigers have a defense that's yielded an average of 277.6 passing yards in the last five games and an uncertain quarterback situation.
Prediction: Houston (+3)
Don't let the name fool you, as any true college football fan knows, Air Force is all about the ground game. The Falcons' option attack leads the nation averaging 341.4 rushing yards. The program is also trying to win at least 10 games for the fourth time since 2014. Louisville just allowed 362 yards on the ground during its 52-21 loss to rival Kentucky on Nov. 27. However, Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham (2,734 passing yards, 18 touchdowns; 968 rushing yards, 19 touchdowns) is one of the most exciting players in the country.
Prediction: Air Force (+1 1/2)
Sit the grandkids down by the fireplace and tell them about the good old days when Mike Leach coached at Texas Tech. Then parted ways and eventually landed at Mississippi State. Where, his Bulldogs won at Texas A&M and Auburn this season, and have a star in quarterback Will Rogers (4,449 yards, 46 touchdowns, 15 interceptions). Leach old's program at Texas Tech, meanwhile, will have a new coach in former Baylor assistant Joey McGuire. The Red Raiders also aim to avoid a third straight defeat.
Prediction: Mississippi State (-9 1/2)
This could be a fun one between a pair of teams that appear to be on the rise. UCLA has outscored its opponents 148-67 during a current three-game winning streak. N.C. State, meanwhile, has won two in a row and is averaging 39.0 points over its last three contests. The Holiday Bowl tends to provide late-night bowl fun for those hardcore college football fans who can't get enough of bowl season. This could turn out to be another instant classic.
Prediction: North Carolina State (-1)
West Virginia takes hit with running back Leddie Brown (1,065 yards, 13 touchdowns) opting out of this contest. However, the Mountaineers will be looking to secure a mediocre, but winning season with a third straight victory. Minnesota, meanwhile, should feel pretty confident after spoiling Wisconsin's Big Ten title hopes with a 23-12 victory in its regular-season finale. The Gophers have allowed an average of 14.8 points in their last 10 contests.
Prediction: Minnesota (-4)
A bowl game at historic Fenway Park. Why not? Of course, neither participant has played like a bowl team of late. SMU started 7-0, then played the meat of its schedule in the American Athletic Conference and went 1-4 down stretch -- allowing an average of 36.4 points during the rut. Virginia, meanwhile, has lost four in a row and yielded an average of 42.2 over its final five games of the regular season. Perhaps most noteworthy, this will be Bronco Mendenhall's last game as Cavaliers' coach.
Prediction: Virginia (-2)
More football on a baseball field. And, another pedestrian matchup between a pair of teams that are lucky to be bowling. Maryland started 4-0, then won two games the rest of the regular season, highlighted by a 40-16 victory at Rutgers on Nov. 27 to secure this bowl bid. For Virginia Tech, it came down to a 29-24 victory at aforementioned rival Virginia in its final regular-season contest. At least both squads will have some momentum coming into this one.
Prediction: Virginia Tech (+2 1/2)
Nine wins and a five-game winning streak to end the regular season, and, yet, most Clemson die-hards consider this a disappointing campaign. But, there's hope moving forward, especially after averaging 36.4 points over those five games and boasting a defense that's allowing an average of 15 points this season. And, likely won't need to worry about Iowa State star Breece Hall (3,941 career rushing yards, 50 touchdowns in 36 games), who declared for the 2022 NFL Draft . However, Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (11,966 career passing yards, 80 touchdowns, 32 interceptions in 47 games) isn't done, yet.
Prediction: Clemson (-1)
At one point during the 2021 season, this could have been a CFP matchup. Now, it's all about finishing the season on a positive note and building something positive for the future -- for each team with a new coach. That's down the road, on the field the Sooners have a potent offensive pair in quarterback Caleb Williams (1,673 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, four interceptions; six rushing touchdowns) and Kennedy Brooks (1,107 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns). Meanwhile, the potentially short-handed Ducks should just be glad they don't need to see Utah (0-2 in 2021) anymore this season.
Prediction: Oklahoma (-4 1/2)
These state-line rivals last met in 2019, when North Carolina snapped a three-game series losing streak with a 24-20 loss. Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell threw for 245 yards with two touchdowns in that contest. South Carolina has allowed 30 or more points on five occasions this season. Regardless, it's a nice way for these rivals to close out what they'd both consider disappointing seasons.
Prediction: North Carolina (-9)
This could end up being one of those sneaky good bowl games that's on in the background, only to grab one's attention. Why? Because both Tennessee and Purdue might be on the path to brighter days in their respective conferences. Purdue beat Iowa and Michigan State -- each a top-5 team at the time. However, won't have opt-out stars David Bell and George Karlaftis around for this one. The Vols, meanwhile, won at Kentucky and nearly pulled off upsets against Pittsburgh and Ole.
Prediction: Tennessee (-4 1/2)
Wisconsin looked headed for a Big Ten West Division title before ending the regular season with a 23-12 loss at Minnesota. That setback left the Badgers with a trip to Vegas. Not all bad, but just how motivated will they be? Maybe enough for budding star running Braelon Allen (1,109 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns) to be a factor. Arizona State has a pretty good running back of its own in Rachaad White (1,006 yards, 15 touchdowns), but he's reportedly opting out. The Sun Devils lost both previous appearances at the Las Vegas Bowl.
Prediction: Wisconsin (-7)
COVID-19 reared its ugly head on the bowl season in the form of Texas A&M's roster being too depleted to participate in the Gator Bowl. That's a shame since this would have been a relatively competitive matchup. Now, Wake, which has lost three of five following an 8-0 start and lost by 24 to Pittsburgh in the ACC title game, is a big favorite against a replacement squad with a losing record. Rutgers, which went 2-7 in the Big Ten and was outscored 68-16 while losing its final two regular-season contests to Penn State and Maryland, gets the call based on having the highest Academic Performance Rate among 5-7 programs. The Scarlet Knights last made a bowl appearance in 2014. The Demon Deacons, meanwhile, now seem to have a better chance at matching the school record of 11 wins.
Prediction: Wake Forest (-13 1/2)
A matchup of two teams whose coaching situations were the highlight of their respective seasons. However, Nick Rolovich's dismissal from Washington State for shunning the COVID-19 vaccine and Miami's Manny Diaz getting the boot in favor of Mario Cristobal should not be the focal point of this matchup. What could, however, is the number of opt-outs for the Cougars. Meanwhile, Miami went 5-1 down the stretch but will be looking to halt a four-game bowl losing streak.
Prediction: Miami (-2 1/2)
For those not in the know, Central Michigan boasts the nation's leading rusher in Lew Nichols (1,706 yards). He's averaged a ridiculous 196.2 yards with 12 touchdowns over CMU's most recent five games, the last four of which it won. Boise, meanwhile, has allowed an average of 103.0 yards on the ground over its last five games, four of which it won before falling at San Diego State on Nov. 26. Broncos quarterback Hank Bachmeier has thrown for 3,080 yards with 20 touchdowns and two interceptions this season.
Prediction: Boise State (-8)
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.