The bowl games that happen from Christmas to before New Year's Eve tend to be the most fun. The locales are interesting, the matchups more exciting and you get to see some of the teams that had really good seasons but may have been lost as people tend to focus on the playoff race.
Some of the players featured will be names to know in the NFL draft next spring, while some will be names to remember as they continue their collegiate careers. We have several gun-slingin' quarterbacks, silky-smooth receivers, and a few running backs who are starting to make a name for themselves. What better way to show off your skills than to have a huge game in a bowl on the national stage?
So as you relax after the holiday and gear up for 2022, here are 20 players to watch in the pre-New Year's Eve bowl games.
Addison has been one of the best receivers in the nation this season. He's caught 93 passes for 1,479 yards and 17 touchdowns -- the last two statistics lead the ACC. He's gained at least 126 yards in four of his last six games and has seven 100-yard games this season. Quarterback Kenny Pickett opted out of Pitt's bowl game but that doesn't mean Addison won't be able to have another monster game.
Pittsburgh faces Michigan State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on December 30th.
It is no coincidence that Wisconsin's season turned around once Allen became the guy at running back. The freshman from Fond Du Lac got his chance after the Badgers' 1-3 start and cemented the job as the featured back by piling up 7 straight 100-yard performances that ended in Wisconsin's finale against Minnesota. He's not just your typical pounding Badger back -- he's averaging 7.1 yards per carry and has the ability to break off huge gains (he's had a pair of 70-yard bursts this season). Now he gets to play inside on turf in a climate-controlled atmosphere. Look out!
Wisconsin faces Arizona State in the SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl on December 30th.
The Cavaliers have been up and down this season but Armstong has put up some sensational performances this season. His best performance was his 554-yards and 4 touchdowns in a loss to North Carolina back in September. That was one of the southpaw's six 400-yard games this season. Oh, and he's rushed for nine TDs this season and has twice rushed for at least 90 yards. If anything, expect Virginia to put up an entertaining performance in the Fenway Bowl in what looks to be a shootout.
Virginia faces SMU in the Wasabi Fenway Bowl on December 29th.
Things haven't gone well for Auburn over the last month or so. A promising season ended with four straight losses and a meager 6-6 record. The Tigers have watched several starters put their names in the transfer portal, including quarterback Bo Nix, and there's a feeling of uneasiness surrounding the program. Bigsby, who rushed for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, was toying with the idea of also bolting the school but has since announced he intends to stay in Auburn for the time being. Bigsby was on the sidelines during key moments down the stretch of the season which led to rumors of his unhappiness. As Bryan Harsin tries to piece together the future of the offense (which starts against Houston in the Birmingham Bowl), look for Bigsby to be a focal part of their offensive attack.
Auburn faces Houston in the TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl on December 28th.
Things happened that we could never have imagined occurring with Oklahoma when the season started. Head coach Lincoln Riley has left for USC. Former head coach Bob Stoops will coach the Sooners once again, this time in a one-time-only show in the Alamo Bowl. Preseason Heisman frontrunner Spencer Rattler was benched and has now transferred to South Carolina. One thing that could've been counted on was running Kennedy Brooks having another fine season. Three years, three 1,000 yard rushing seasons. When the offense runs through Brooks, he delivers. His top four rushing performances -- all 100+ yard games -- came in games with his top four amounts of touches. He was big in the Red River Rivalry and was big in Bedlam, so expect him to be big in OU's bowl game.
Oklahoma faces Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl on December 29th.
Cunningham is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. He threw for 2,734 yards and 18 touchdowns while rushing for 968 yards and an amazing 19 TDs. He's rushed for a touchdown in 10 of the Cardinals' 12 games ... including 8 games of multiple rushing scores. Look for him to rebound from an awful showing against rival Kentucky in the season finale.
Louisville faces Air Force in the SERVPRO First Responder Bowl on December 28th.
Dell has been one of the AAC's top receivers this season, catching 80 passes for 1,179 yards and 12 touchdowns. He's also been of fire over the last six weeks -- four 100-yard games with three of them for at least 150 yards. He's also scored in six of his last seven games and had a great game in Houston's loss to Cincinnati in the AAC title game (9 catches, 152 yards, TD).
Houston faces Auburn in the TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl on December 28th.
With Kayvon Thibodeaux already announcing that he was skipping the Ducks' bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft, the biggest star from Eugene won't be on the field. That gives some shine to running back Travis Dye, who took advantage of his opportunity when he came knocking. When veteran CJ Verdell was lost for the season, Dye stepped up and became a weapon as a runner and receiver. He rushed for over 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns and was a nice outlet in the passing game.
Oregon faces Oklahoma in the Valero Alamo Bowl on December 29th.
Eleby has been one of the best quarterbacks in the MAC this season. He led the conference in passing yards (3,115) and third in touchdown passes (21). He also rushed for five touchdowns this season, mainly on quarterback sneaks. He also takes care of the ball -- the last two seasons he's thrown 39 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions The last time he saw the field, he threw for 338 yards and 5 TDs against Northern Illinois.
Western Michigan faces Nevada in the Quick Lane Bowl on December 27th.
Foster is second nationally with five interceptions, has two sacks, and forced two fumbles. He also led the Gamecocks in tackles this season as one of the most active defenders you'll see. He's also one of the great stories in college football -- he came to South Carolina as a transfer walk-on from Gardner-Webb and worked his way to a scholarship last year. Next year he'll be on an NFL roster.
South Carolina faces North Carolina in the Duke's Mayo Bowl on December 30th.
Iowa State will play Clemson in the Cheez-It Bowl, matching two programs that fell far short of preseason expectations. This may be the last hurrah for a pair of Cyclones legends, Brock Purdy and Breece Hall. Hall set an FBS record by scoring a touchdown in his 24th consecutive game and is the school's career leader in touchdowns and scoring. Provided he doesn't opt out, Hall could be making his final appearance for the 'Clones as he contemplates going pro, but his legacy in Ames is secure.
Iowa State faces Clemson in the Cheez-It Bowl on December 29th.
North Carolina and Sam Howell fell short of their lofty goals and expectations this season, but the junior quarterback showed his evolution over his three years in Chapel Hill. While his passing numbers dipped (that can happen when you lose your stable of receivers and two 1,000-yard rushers from last year), he showed his athleticism and became a running threat. His 825 rushing yards are 7th in the ACC and his 11 rushing touchdowns are 5th in the league. Howell's Tar Heel career began with a win over South Carolina in Charlotte -- it could end the same way.
North Carolina faces South Carolina in the Duke's Mayo Bowl on December 30th.
The ACC has had so many good quarterbacks this season that guys like NC State's Devin Leary (and the aforementioned Malik Cunningham) seem to get lost in the shuffle. Leary has been great, throwing for over 3,400 yards, 35 touchdowns, and just 5 interceptions, and was simply brilliant in the Wolfpack's stunning comeback win over North Carolina in their season finale. He's thrown for four TDs in four of his last five games and is playing with immense confidence.
North Carolina State faces UCLA in the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl on December 28th.
Mitchell had a huge stretch of games in September and early October: three straight 100-yard games, including 222 yards against Tulane. He's been known to break off huge runs (in that three-game streak, he popped off runs of 88, 74, and 68 yards. He's been a major part of ECU's potent offense ... averaging over six yards per carry. He struggled in the finale against Cincinnati but he's had a great season.
East Carolina faces Boston College in the Military Bowl Presented by Peraton on December 27th.
Mordecai, like the Mustangs, is limping into the Fenway Bowl. The Mustangs' quarterback has thrown at least one interception in four of his last five games (and eight games this season) and put up a stinker in SMU's showdown with Cincinnati on November 20th. He was slinging it during the team's 7-0 start, though he was getting loose with the ball. Mordecai was a backup to Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts, and Spencer Rattler over three years at Oklahoma before transferring to SMU and blossoming this season.
SMU faces Virginia in the Wasabi Fenway Bowl on December 29th.
O'Connell has been big in the Boilermakers' most important games. He threw for 375 yards and totaled 3 touchdowns in an upset over Iowa in October. O'Connell completed 40 of 54 passes for 536 yards and 3 TDs in a win over then-No. 3 Michigan State in November. The following week, he completed 40 passes again, this time for 390 yards and 4 touchdowns in a loss to Ohio State. He's also taken care of the ball of late -- after tossing 8 interceptions in his first 6 games, he hasn't thrown one in his last five.
Purdue faces Tennessee in the TransPerfect Music City Bowl on December 30th.
Rogers led the SEC in passing yards and trailed only Heisman winner Bryce Young in passing touchdowns this season. He's become the latest face of Mike Leach's pass-heavy attack and enters their bowl game confident in his control of the offense. That's good because you can look for Leach to unload his arsenal against his former stomping grounds, Texas Tech. Look for Rogers to put up a ton of passes (he's attempted at least 50 passes in eight of the last ten games).
Mississippi State faces Texas Tech in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on December 28th.
This has not been an ordinary season for Clemson. The team struggled out of the gate and there were some issues that went beyond the field. As the season wore on, running back Will Shipley emerged from a crowded backfield and began to assert himself to become a focal point of the offense. The freshman has rushed for over 100 yards in three of the Tigers' final four games -- all wins -- and has laid the foundation for the next era of Clemson football.
Clemson faces Iowa State in the Cheez-It Bowl on December 29th.
Strong was named the Mountain West Player of the Year for the second straight season. He threw for 4,186 yards and 36 touchdowns (both led the league) and has been on fire of late with 11 TDs and just one pick over the last three games. I featured Strong in last year's bowl preview and my faith was rewarded with his 22-of-28 passing for 271 yards and 5 touchdowns in a 38-27 victory over Tulane in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. I'm strong on Strong again.
Nevada faces Western Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl on December 27th.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson has had a fine career at UCLA and he (maybe) ending it with his first bowl game. DTR has led the Bruins to five wins in his last six starts. During that run, he's rushed for a touchdown seven times and even put up a 349-yard passing game against USC (where he ran for a TD and then signed a hat). Look for Thompson-Robinson to have some more fun down the coast in San Diego in the Holiday Bowl.
UCLA faces North Carolina State in the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl on December 28th.