The schedule for the 42 FBS bowl games is ready to go. There's likely something for every college football fan. Whether we like it or not.
Yes, the slate can be overwhelming, so here are our rankings of each bowl to help determine your interest level. All statistics in parenthesis are from the 2021 season, unless noted otherwise.
** Denotes New Year's Six Bowl
Talk about getting hot at the right time. Old Dominion lost six of its first seven games, then won its five final -- all within Conference USA -- to become bowl eligible. Running back Blake Watson (1,039 rushing yards) averaged 124.0 on the ground over his last seven games. That said, Tulsa won its final three contests to earn this bowl bid. The Golden Hurricane's Josh Johnson ranks among the American Athletic Conference leaders with 75 receptions for 985 yards.
Toledo last won a bowl game in 2015, but it will take a three-game winning streak into its second consecutive trip to the Bahamas Bowl. Rockets running back Bryant Koback has rushed for 3,915 yards with 52 overall touchdowns during 43 career college games. At Middle Tennessee, it overcame a 1-3 start to become bowl eligible. The Blue Raiders are deep and have won four games by at least 25 points.
Nothing better than some Christmas Day bowl fun. This might not be the sexiest matchup on the overall bowl slate, especially on Christmas. However, it could be entertaining before the holiday meal is served. Georgia State has won three straight and six of its final seven contests. Ball State is trying to win back-to-back bowl games, but it's been held to 20 or fewer points in three of its last five games.
This might end up being the most controversial bowl on the 2021-22 docket. With the addition of a new bowl game in Texas (more on that in a bit) that exhausted all bowl-eligible squads, Hawai'i was granted a spot in its usual postseason stop, despite owning a losing record. Regardless of what critics think about that, the Rainbow Warriors will be looking for a third straight bowl victory. Memphis, meanwhile, needed a 33-28 regular-season win over Tulane to secure bowl eligibility.
The storyline surrounding this matchup is whether Nevada star junior quarterback Carson Strong (4,186 yards, 36 touchdowns, eight interceptions), a highly touted NFL prospect but dealing with a knee injury, will play or not. We know Wolf Pack coach Jay Norvell won't be there after he took the Colorado State job . That said, Western Michigan has a star of its own in Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year Ali Fayad, who ranks among the national leaders with 11 1/2 sacks and 15 tackles for loss.
As is the case with the Quick Lane Bowl, it's worth wondering if the LendingTree Bowl will be without its own marquee attraction. It's uncertain what the immediate future holds for Liberty quarterback Malik Willis (2,626 yards, 24 touchdowns, 12 interceptions; 11 rushing TDs), an expected first-round NFL pick if he chooses to declare. Across the field, Eastern Michigan will try to snap a three-game bowl losing streak. The Eagles' most recent bowl victory came in 1987.
Wyoming will look to go 3-0 against Mid-American Conference opponents this season after beating Northern Illinois and Ball State. However, went 206 after opening with four consecutive victories. Meanwhile, Kent State was the MAC runner-up in 2021 and is paced by experienced quarterback Dustin Crum, who has thrown for 7,155 yards, 51 touchdowns, and just 12 interceptions spanning 50 games over five seasons.
Mike Houston has done a nice job at East Carolina, which has secured its first winning season since 2014. That was the same year the Pirates made their most recent bowl appearances. Running back Keaton Mitchell ranked second in the American Athletic Conference with 1,132 rushing yards. ECU draws a Boston College squad that started 4-0 but won just twice in the ACC. The Golden Eagles also have a solid runner of their own in Pat Garwo III.
The site is Yankee Stadium for a matchup between teams that expected more from themselves in 2021. The Hokies opened the season with a win over then-No. 10 North Carolina, but were inconsistent enough that embattled coach Justin Fuente didn't survive the season. Meanwhile, Maryland started 4-0 but didn't win its sixth game until beating Rutgers 40-16 in its regular-season finale. This is the Terps' first bowl trip since 2016.
Quick, who leads the nation in rushing yards? For those who said Central Michigan's Lew Nichols with 1,706, that would be correct. And, impressive with such deep knowledge. Nichols has totaled 2,3103 rushing yards and 22 overall touchdowns in 22 career games spanning three seasons at CMU. He could be in for a special performance against a Boise defense that ranks 79th in the country allowing an average of 158.6 rushing yards,
UTEP is bowling for the first time since 2014 after recording two fewer victories than it did over the previous five seasons. Miners sophomore Jacob Cowing is among the nation's top receivers with 67 catches for 1,330 yards and seven touchdowns. However, Fresno State has held four opponents to nine or fewer points and recorded two shutouts this season. But Bulldogs quarterback Jake Haener (3,810 yards, 32 touchdowns, nine interceptions) entered the transfer portal and coach Kalen DeBoer took the Washington job.
To guarantee that all 83 bowl-eligible teams for the season, the NCAA, with help from ESPN, added another bowl in suburban Dallas . That means North Texas won't have to travel far for an attempt to cap its season with a sixth straight win. The Mean Green's opponent is a Miami squad that's looking for its first bowl victory since 2010. Miami quarterback Brett Gabbert has thrown for 2,418 yards with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Air Force's three losses this season have come by a combined 17 points -- against Mountain West finalists Utah State and San Diego, and also Army. The Falcons' option offensive attack leads the nation averaging 341.4 rushing yards. That might not bode well for Louisville, which is giving up 156.7 yards on the ground per game. The Cardinals do have one of the most nation's most versatile quarterbacks in Malik Cunningham (2,734 passing yards, 18 touchdowns; 968 rushing yards, 19 TDs).
It has been a season of streaks for Army, which opened 4-0, then lost three straight before it allowed a total of 57 points during a four-game winning run heading into the annual clash with Navy. Missouri, on the other hand, has averaged 34.7 points this season but lost only back-to-back games once in 2021. Then again, the Tigers won consecutive contests just once, but one of those victories came against Florida.
This matchup features a pair of conference title-game runners-up. WKU fell short of the Conference USA crown with a 49-41 loss to UTSA. However, quarterback Bailey Zappe (5,545 passing yards, 56 touchdowns, 11 interceptions) is someone to keep an eye on this bowl season. App State, meanwhile, saw its late rally fail in a 24-16 loss to Louisiana in the Sun Belt Conference Championship Game. The Mountaineers have allowed just 55 points over the last five games.
Coastal Carolina wasn't able to recapture the glory of its 11-1 2020, but then they did record back-to-back double-digit victory seasons for the first time on the FBS level. Chanticleers quarterback Grayson McCall has thrown for 5,046 yards with 49 touchdowns and 16 interceptions while rushing for 819 and 11 TDs over the last two seasons. NIU, meanwhile, went from 0-6 in 2020 to Mid-American Conference champions. The Huskies rank fifth in the nation averaging 234.4 rushing yards and have also benefited from the experience of ex-Michigan State quarterback Rocky Lombardi (2,388 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, eight interceptions; eight rushing TDs).
Louisiana's special season now includes a Sun Belt Conference championship. Part of the College Football Playoff rankings, the Ragin' Cajuns, winners of 12 straight, will now try for a third consecutive bowl victory. From 2011 to 2016, Louisiana was 4-1 in the New Orleans Bowl. Its opponent, however, is Marshall, which is 5-2 since losing three straight from Sept. 18-Oct. 2. The Thundering Herd will try to avoid a third straight bowl loss after winning seven in a row.
A couple of western teams will hook up in a bowl sponsored by funnyman Jimmy Kimmel . Oregon State beat Pac-12 champ Utah and Arizona State en route to securing its first bowl bid since 2013. Meanwhile, Utah State has won seven of eight after rolling to a 46-13 upset of San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference title game. Aggies running back Calvin Tyler Jr., who's gained a team-high 764 rushing yards, played his first three seasons at Oregon State.
Now, this is the way to draw interest for a bowl matchup between 6-6 teams. It will be just the fifth time since 1991 that these neighboring programs have met. North Carolina snapped a three-game series losing streak with its 24-20 win over Gamecocks in 2019. The Tar Heels also got good news when touted NFL prospect Sam Howell (10,078 career passing yards, 91 TDs, 23 INTs in 36 all-time games) announced he will play in this contest.
Reports of West Virginia assistant Kirk Ciarrocca becoming the offensive coordinator at Minnesota adds a bit of juice to this contest. Otherwise, it pits two teams that had a chance for big seasons in 2021. The Gophers won four straight and were in contention for the Big West Division title when they were stunned at home by Illinois on Nov. 6. West Virginia, meanwhile, dropped its first two Big 12 games against Oklahoma and Texas Tech by three points each.
Expect Brian Kelly to be spoken of early and often as LSU tries to close a middling season with its third consecutive victory. Then, it will be time to move onto a new era for the football program with the former Notre Dame boss at the helm. On the opposite sideline, Kansas State will be trying to avoid a third consecutive loss. This will be the first meeting between these two schools since 1980 when the Tigers won 21-0 over Kansas State.
The unique venue won't be the only pertinent storyline for this bowl. Yes, playing a football game at historic Fenway Park will be special, but this will be the final game at Virginia for coach Bronco Mendenhall, who recently announced his resignation after six seasons in charge of the program. The Cavaliers boast one of the ACC's top offensive performers in Brennan Armstrong (4,449 passing yards, 31 TDs, 10 INTs), but they've dropped four straight. SMU also has a top-notch passer in Tanner Mordecai (3,628 yards, 38 TDs, 12 INTs), but his squad is 1-4 following a 7-0 start.
It's been quite the two-year run for BYU, which is 21-3 since the start of the 2020 season. Yet, for a second consecutive season, the Cougars are left with a non-New Year's Six bowl game that likely won't even be on the casual college football fans' radar. UAB, though, is no slouch. Winning at least eight games for the fourth time in five seasons. The Blazers, however, are 0-7 against opponents ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 since winning at then-No. 22 Southern Miss in September 2011.
This has the potential to be a good one. UTSA capped its historic regular season with the program's first Conference USA title, outlasting Western Kentucky 49-41. The Roadrunners boast one of the nation's top offenses, averaging 37.9 points. Though San Diego State was throttled 46-13 by Utah State in the Mountain West title game, it allowed an average of 17.3 points prior to that contest.
The Gators are excited about the future under new coach Billy Napier, but first, the Gators aim to end a massively disappointing season on a high note. Florida won just two SEC games this season, but this contest pits them against a program that should be eager for a shot at one of the state's top programs. A winner of two straight and five of six, UCF has a chance to finally take down the Gators after losing the previous two meetings by a combined 73 points.
Riding a seven-game winning streak and owning an inside track to the Big Ten Championship Game, Wisconsin was stunned 23-13 at Minnesota to end the regular season. That left the Badgers with a trip to Las Vegas, which isn't that bad. Wisconsin has lost five of its last six against Pac-12 schools. That included a 32-30 defeat to Arizona State from 2013. This version of the Sun Devils won three of its final four games and boasts a pair of stars in quarterback Jayden Daniels (2,221 passing yards; 670 rushing yards) and running back Rachaad White (1,006 yards, 15 TDs).
The story here is about two teams whose 2021 seasons will be remembered for their respective coaching situations. Washington State finished second in the Pac-12 North despite the ousting of coach Nick Rolovich for refusing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, Miami essentially stole Mario Cristobal from Oregon to be its next head coach -- even before officially canning current boss Manny Diaz. Let's hope the play on the field between these two will be as entertaining as their off-field drama.
At the moment, it would not be a stretch to say that these teams are on the rise in their respective conferences. Purdue posted its most victories since going 8-5 in 2007, but it's uncertain if NFL-bound receiver David Bell (93 receptions, 1,286 yards, six TDs) or defensive end George Karlaftis (14 1/2 career sacks) will play in this contest. For Tennessee, coach Josh Heupel appears to have the program headed in the right direction after going 4-4 in the SEC and winning at Kentucky.
Sometimes bowl matchups bring up a bit of nostalgia. That's certainly the case here , where Mississippi State's Mike Leach will face Texas Tech for the first time since he left his Red Raiders' coaching gig in 2009. Sonny Cumbie, who will coach his final game as interim Texas Tech coach before starting his new job at Louisiana Tech, played for Leach and was also on his staff in Lubbock. Funny how things work out, sometimes.
Amid a 5-0 start at Penn State, there was serious College Football Playoff talk. Fast forward two months later, and the Nittany Lions are just hoping to end this campaign on a positive note after losing five of their final seven regular-season contests. A strong finish might be a tall task against Arkansas, which has recorded its first winning season since 2016. Under coach Sam Pittman, the Razorbacks went 4-4 in the SEC, beat the top-10 Texas A&M squad at the time, and lost at Alabama by seven points -- for their lone defeat over the final four games of the regular season.
Between a season-opening loss to Texas Tech and a 15-point setback to Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference games, Houston went undefeated. Now, the Cougars draw a team from SEC -- a league in which they are 5-11 against since the start of the 1995 season. However, Auburn enters this bowl on a four-game losing streak. That said, the last three of those contests were decided by a combined 15 points.
The Bruins are coming off their first winning regular season since 2015. This will also be their first bowl appearance since 2017. UCLA last played in the Holiday Bowl to conclude the 2012 campaign. It lost to Baylor in that contest and will face a stiff test versus N.C. State, which is aiming for its first 10-win season since going 11-3 in 2002. The Wolfpack have one of the nation's most potent offenses, averaging 33.1 points.
It was quite an interesting season for the Iowa program. On three occasions, the Hawkeyes were held to seven or fewer points, including versus Michigan in the Big Ten title game. Yet, they won 10 games and a division crown. It was a similar ordeal for Kentucky, which started 6-0, then dropped three straight before finishing with three consecutive victories. Each school is also riding a three-game bowl winning streak.
For the first time since the 2014 season, Clemson will not be part of the College Football Playoff. However, the Tigers' fate in that department was determined following a 3-3 start. Since then, they've won five straight while averaging 36.4 points during that stretch. Iowa State presents a nice matchup for Clemson, which must stop Breece Hall, who ran for 242 of his 1,472 yards and three of his 20 touchdowns against TCU in the Cyclones regular-season finale.
The Aggies will go bowling in Florida, bringing coach Jimbo Fisher back to the state that made him famous. After losing two of its final three games, Texas A&M is poised to finish the season on a positive note. That could be very much possible against Wake, which opened the season 8-0 before giving up 40.6 points per game while losing three of the last five, including 45-21 to Pittsburgh in the ACC Championship Game.
When the dust settled in the Big 12, Baylor was conference champion following some impressive defensive red-zone work against Oklahoma State. The Bears have won four in a row, but none by more than 13 points. Ole Miss, meanwhile, is certainly a program on the rise with its first 10-win season since 2015, and coach Lane Kiffin is poised to stick around for a while. The Rebels have won four straight, each by at least 10 or more points.
Not too long ago, these programs were part of the College Football Playoff conversation. However. Oklahoma couldn't beat Baylor or Oklahoma State and Oregon was outscored 76-16 in losing twice to Utah over a three-week span. However, the intrigue involving this fallback bowl for both squads will be their respective coaching situations. The Sooners just hired ex-Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables as coach while the Ducks move on after Mario Cristobal was poached by Miami. Oklahoma and Oregon last met in September 2006 -- a 34-33 Ducks' victory.
One Heisman Trophy finalist and another that could have been highlighted this New Year's Six bowl matchup. Michigan State's Kenneth Walker III ranks second in the nation in rushing (1,636 yards) and average rushing yards per game (136.3), and he's scored 18 times on the ground. Meanwhile, Pitt veteran Kenny Pickett is fifth in the country with 4.319 passing yards, his 42 touchdown passes rank third and he just led the Panthers to an ACC title.
Amid the whole Brian Kelly departure was the fact that Notre Dame remains an elite program. Sure, the Irish faced just two bowl teams over their final six games, but they were good enough to almost squeak into the College Football Playoff. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State's inability to score from inside the 5-yard line on multiple occasions during that rather surreal loss to Baylor in the Big 12 title game ended any of its CFP hopes and might even linger in the team's collective psyche.
This is not where Ohio State hoped to be, but the end of its dominance against archrival Michigan also crushed those hopes of a national title. That said, the Buckeyes will be looking for a fourth consecutive Rose Bowl victory. But, it extending that streak likely won't be easy against the Pac-12 champs. Utah makes its Rose Bowl after romping Oregon 38-10 in the league championship game. The Utes have won six straight by an average margin of 24.7 points.
So, maybe it's not best to write off the reigning national champions. Why? Because of Heisman Trophy favorite Bryce Young (4,322 passing yards, 43 TDs, four INTs), who thew for 421 yards and three touchdowns during the Crimson Tide's win over Georgia in the SEC title game. He'll be the focal point of a Cincinnati defense that's allowed 16.1 points. The Bearcats, 23-1 since the start of 2020, are amid a special season and have done all they needed to do to reach the College Football Playoff. Now, it's time to see if they are truly worthy of the spot.
This would be a worthy national championship contest. Michigan ranks 10th in the country averaging 223.8 rushing yards while the Bulldogs are fourth in run defense, allowing an average of 82.2 on the ground. Of course, the Wolverines are also a top-five defense when it comes to points allowed (16.1 ppg), like Georgia (9.5). However, the Bulldogs were just throttled by Alabama, while Michigan rolled past Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game and has won five straight by an average of 24.2 points.
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.