Post-Spring College Football Bowl Game Predictions for 2014
Let's go bowling!
Too soon, you say? Just because we're still about four months from the start of the 2014 college football season doesn't mean we can't start speculating on who might face whom in the 5,000—actually, it's only 39, but that's still three more than last year—bowl games set for late December and early January.
There were odds on who would win this upcoming season's national title available within hours of Florida State's victory over Auburn, so there's really no such thing as a prediction that's too early.
Nevertheless, our predictions for who will play in (and win) each of the 2014-15 bowl games must be taken with a few grains of salt.
First, we're still not entirely sure how the College Football Playoff selection committee is going to go about picking which four teams will get into the playoffs and which eight will get slotted into the other four bowls in the CFP rotation. Those participants will create a domino effect and thus will have an impact on nearly every bowl pairing on the schedule.
And second, as last year showed us, just because a bowl has affiliations with one or more conferences, doesn't mean that's something that will be set in stone. Some leagues (ahem, Big Ten) may not qualify enough teams to meet its commitments, while some bowls may trade tie-ins to ensure more marketable matchups.
There's also the fact that early predictions are destined to be way off, thanks to the uncertainty of sports. No one had the likes of Auburn, Central Florida and Duke among the top teams in the country at this point in 2013, and the odds are that similar surprise teams will pop up this fall.
Take a look at Bleacher Report's post-spring football predictions for the 39 bowls, including who will tussle in the first-ever playoffs. Then make sure to give us your guesses in the comments section.
(NOTE: Bowls are listed in alphabetical order, except for the six games associated with the College Football Playoff, which are listed last.)
When: Dec. 30
Where: San Antonio
Predicted matchup: Baylor vs. Stanford
The only thing that could stop Stanford's run of BCS bowl appearances (which stands at four) was the end of the BCS itself, but the Cardinal should be good enough to be in the mix for a CFP invitation. Alas, they will get left out and end up serving as the Pac-12's top non-playoff team a Baylor team that will meet a similar fate. The Bears will probably only lose once, but won't be able to get two teams into the big games.
Predicted winner: Stanford
Armed Forces Bowl
Where: Fort Worth, Texas
Predicted matchup: Northwestern vs. SMU
Northwestern seemed destined for a bowl game after its 4-0 start last season, then everything fell apart, and the Wildcats finished under .500. The 2014 schedule isn't much kinder, especially in the middle, but Northwestern should be able to cull together enough wins to face off with an SMU team that figures to fare better in the weakened American.
It would be like a home game for the Dallas-based Mustangs.
Predicted winner: SMU
Where: Nassau, Bahamas
Predicted matchup: Bowling Green vs. Marshall
The bowl-game explosion has spread to another set of islands, with a pair of non-power conference teams reaping the benefits with a holiday in the Bahamas. The game was originally set to pair the Mid-American and American conferences, but ESPN's Brett McMurphy reported Monday that the AAC gave up that spot in exchange for giving up its claim to a berth in the new Miami Beach Bowl.
Whatever the case, it means we'll get a nice battle between mid-major teams with great quarterbacks in Bowling Green junior Matt Johnson and Marshall senior Rakeem Cato.
Predicted winner: Marshall
Where: Charlotte, North Carolina
Predicted matchup: Duke vs. Mississippi State
The bowl that each year updates all of college football on the latest in "modern Southern style" has dropped its affiliation with the American Conference for the SEC, which is a significant upgrade regardless of who that league sends. Mississippi State is the likely choice, and that would be a record fifth straight bowl for the Bulldogs.
On the ACC side, it looks like Duke, which would be that program's unprecedented third straight bowl and second time in nearby Charlotte in the last three years.
Predicted winner: Mississippi State
Where: Birmingham, Alabama
Predicted matchup: Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt
The bowl most recently known as the BBVA Compass Bowl has no sponsor named at this time, but it still pits the American Conference against the SEC. There's a chance the same teams as last year (Houston and Vanderbilt) could be in line for this one, but based on how the AAC plans to distribute its teams makes Cincinnati a more viable candidate.
Vandy, on the other hand, should just be happy to make a bowl and will do so on the strength of eight home games and a super soft nonconference slate.
Predicted winner: Cincinnati
Boca Raton Bowl
Where: Boca Raton, Florida
Predicted matchup: Florida Atlantic vs. Ball State
Six bowls in Florida (including two just down the coast in Miami) are not enough, apparently, as Boca Raton joins the fray in 2014 with this matchup between Conference USA and Mid-American foes.
If the stars align right, that could mean bowl-host Florida Atlantic getting to play in its own stadium, while Ball State continues its tour of outpost bowls after playing in Toronto, St. Petersburg and Alabama (twice) since 2008.
Predicted winner: Florida Atlantic
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
Where: Tempe, Arizona
Predicted matchup: Kansas State vs. Oregon State
Kansas State was one of the hottest teams in the country toward the end of last year, and capped off the 2013 season with a runaway victory over Michigan in this same bowl game. Sadly, coming back to Tempe won't be as exciting this time around.
On the Pac-12 side, Oregon State would represent the league in a game that's been played in a Pac-12 venue for several years but hasn't included a school from that league since 2005.
Predicted winner: Oregon State
Where: Montgomery, Alabama
Predicted matchup: Northern Illinois vs. Arkansas State
The Mid-American and Sun Belt conferences are the big winners as a result of this new bowl, as it means each league has another place to send one of what seems to be an annual group of eligible teams with no place to play.
NIU doesn't have Jordan Lynch anymore, but it should be good enough to win at least eight games still, while Arkansas State will hopefully get to be led into its fourth straight bowl by its actual coach instead of an interim one.
Predicted winner: Arkansas State
Capital One Bowl
When: Jan. 1
Where: Orlando, Florida
Predicted matchup: Nebraska vs. South Carolina
Try as it may, Nebraska can't seem to avoid spending New Year's Day in Florida, as this would be the Cornhuskers' fourth straight trip to the Sunshine State to face an SEC opponent. It's kind of the same deal for South Carolina, meanwhile, which, after just missing out on one of the CFP side games, will play in Orlando for the third time in four years.
Predicted winner: Nebraska
When: Dec. 30
Predicted matchup: Indiana vs. Georgia Tech
While it's probably not directly related to somehow running out of pizza at its own bowl game last year, Little Caesars is no longer in the football sponsorship business in Detroit. Instead, this game is affiliated with the NFL's Detroit Lions. So in honor of that storied franchise, we'll get an ACC-Big Ten matchup of teams that probably won't finish better than 6-6.
Predicted winner: Indiana
Fight Hunger Bowl
Where: Santa Clara, California
Predicted matchup: Minnesota vs. Arizona State
No longer held in the outfield of a baseball stadium in San Francisco, this game moves over to the 49ers' new Levi's Stadium and also gets a new conference partner in the Big Ten.
Minnesota will be the lucky team to go from the extreme cold of the upper Midwest to the slightly less cold conditions of the Bay Area and will be in for a tough one against an Arizona State team that has Pac-12 South aspirations again but probably will finish third in its division.
Predicted winner: Arizona State
When: Jan. 2
Where: Jacksonville, Florida
Predicted matchup: Louisville vs. Florida
As it stands right now, the Gator Bowl is set to be the last game before the national championship game on Jan. 12, though odds are a couple of the 20-plus bowls yet to finalize their dates will pick a spot deeper into January.
Whatever the case, this ACC-SEC battle should be a fun one, especially if Florida is able to bounce back from last year and become eligible to play close to home against the ACC newcomer Cardinals.
Predicted winner: Louisville
Where: Mobile, Alabama
Predicted matchup: Toledo vs. South Alabama
Last year there were 79 bowl-eligible teams, but there was only room for 70 to play one extra game. Two of the schools shut out in 2013 will get to face off in this Mid-American/Sun Belt tussle that's traditionally been a quality pairing.
For South Alabama, it would be the program's first-ever bowl game, and there's the added bonus of getting to play in the Jaguars' hometown.
Predicted winner: South Alabama
Predicted matchup: Middle Tennessee vs. Colorado State
Pity the poor teams that have to spend the holidays—this game has traditionally been held on Christmas Eve—in Hawaii, but so it goes for mid-level teams from Conference USA and the Mountain West. Colorado State would probably rather go back to New Mexico because of proximity and for the fun of last year's amazing comeback, but someone's gotta bite the bullet and head to paradise.
Predicted winner: Colorado State
Heart of Dallas Bowl
Predicted matchup: Washington State vs. UTSA
The Big Ten and Big 12 share a spot in this game and in the Armed Forces Bowl, and while the B1G was able to fill that spot in Fort Worth the Big 12 won't get enough teams eligible to meet this commitment. That leaves room for an at-large team, and like in 2013 the Pac-12 figures to have more eligible squads than bowl allotments, so Washington State will get a trip to Dallas.
It'll face Conference USA's UTSA, which will make its first-ever bowl appearance in front of a decidedly pro-Roadrunners crowd.
Predicted winner: UTSA
Where: San Diego
Predicted matchup: Wisconsin vs. USC
With the Rose Bowl serving as one of the College Football Playoff semifinals this season, it can only have its traditional Big Ten/Pac-12 pairing if those teams finish first and fourth or second and third in the selection committee's eyes. Instead, with the B1G taking the Big 12's place in San Diego, we've got a chance for a Rose Bowl-like matchup between programs that haven't met since the 1960s.
Predicted winner: USC
Where: Shreveport, Louisiana
Predicted matchup: Pittsburgh vs. Tulane
Duck Commander took over sponsorship of the game formerly known as the mind-bogglingly named Advocare V100 Bowl, but despite the change to a more sensible name, it will still fail to get the predetermined pairing it had hoped for.
The ACC will be able to supply its team in Pittsburgh, but the SEC could have three teams in the College Football Playoff lineup and thus won't be able to make this commitment.
Instead, in-state upstart Tulane will come up from New Orleans and bring a bunch of fans to watch the Green Wave play in back-to-back bowls for the second time in school history.
Predicted winner: Tulane
Las Vegas Bowl
Where: Las Vegas
Predicted matchup: Utah State vs. Washington
The Mountain West and Pac-12 have met in this pre-Christmas game every year since 2001, and it's usually a good contest. The same should apply this time out, with Utah State representing the MWC in the slot reserved for its best team...assuming it didn't get one into the College Football Playoff as the top-rated "Group of Five" school.
For Washington, the game will be a familiar one in that many current Huskies played in it in 2012, and the Huskies' new coach, Chris Petersen, led Boise there three straight times from 2011 to 2013.
Predicted winner: Utah State
Where: Memphis, Tennessee
Predicted matchup: Texas Tech vs. Ole Miss
The Big 12 replaces the ACC in this game against an SEC opponent, and the projected matchup could challenge some Liberty Bowl records. Texas Tech's performance in last year's Holiday Bowl showed what it can do with a month to prepare, while Ole Miss' attack keeps getting better each year.
These programs last met in the 2009 Cotton Bowl and combined for 81 points, so we'll expect nothing less this time around.
Predicted winner: Texas Tech
Miami Beach Bowl
Predicted matchup: East Carolina vs. BYU
Yet another of the new bowl games for 2013, this one takes up shop in the Miami Marlins' new baseball stadium. After playing on another converted baseball diamond last year in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, BYU apparently enjoyed that experience enough (despite losing to Washington) to secure a deal to play in this game if it gets to six wins, according to a report by ESPN's Brett McMurphy.
The Cougars would face a foe from the American Conference, which looks to be league newcomer East Carolina. That would mean a matchup between two underrated quarterbacks in BYU's Taysom Hill and ECU's Shane Carden.
Predicted winner: East Carolina
Where: Annapolis, Maryland
Predicted matchup: Virginia Tech vs. Houston
Gone are the days when Virginia Tech was a regular contender for the upper-tier bowls, having gone from the Orange and Sugar in 2010 and 2011 to the Russell Athletic and Sun the last two seasons. Further slippage will result in this throwaway game against an American foe, likely Houston, but that could mean the Hokies will be able to pick up a win.
Predicted winner: Virginia Tech
Music City Bowl
Where: Nashville, Tennessee
Predicted matchup: Michigan vs. LSU
The SEC has been a part of this bowl since it was formed in 1998, but the game isn't usually high on the pick list until now. After SEC teams get taken for the College Football Playoff, the third-best remaining club would likely end up in Nashville and face a new partner now that the Big Ten and ACC have agreed to swap this and the Gator Bowl each year.
Who knew it would take such maneuvering to get our first-ever LSU-Michigan matchup.
Predicted winner: LSU
New Mexico Bowl
Where: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Predicted matchup: Rice vs. Fresno State
This game has gotten bowl season off to a bang the past two years, with Arizona in 2012 and then Colorado State last year executing massive last-minute comebacks for our viewing pleasure. The Pac-12 has moved on from Albuquerque, though. So instead, Conference USA will provide a team to face the Mountain West's entrant.
Our guess has a pair of old rivals from when the Western Athletic Conference was a massive 16-team league back in the early 2000s.
Predicted winner: Fresno State
New Orleans Bowl
Where: New Orleans
Predicted matchup: North Texas vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
If Louisiana-Lafayette keeps this up, they might need to rename this game the "Ragin' Cajuns Bowl." ULL has been here the previous three years, winning each time, and figures to be the favorite again this time against a North Texas team that won't be nearly as good as in 2013 but still strong enough for its second straight bowl bid after a 10-year absence.
Predicted winner: Louisiana-Lafayette
When: Jan. 1
Where: Tampa, Florida
Predicted matchup: Iowa vs. Missouri
Florida is a great place to spend the winter, especially if you're from a cold climate. And while most of the SEC teams that usually end up in this game have probably grown tired of New Year's trips to Tampa, it will be Missouri's first bowl game in Florida since 1981.
And with Iowa pegged as the likely Big Ten entrant, it will mark the second time in five years these schools from bordering states have met in a bowl game (the Hawkeyes beat the Tigers 27-24 in the 2010 Insight Bowl) despite not playing in a regular-season game since 1910.
Predicted winner: Missouri
Where: Bronx, New York
Predicted matchup: Syracuse vs. Maryland
Syracuse got to play Maryland only once as ACC foes, beating the Terrapins 20-3 last year, before Maryland bolted for the greener pastures of the Big Ten. But thanks to this ACC-B1G matchup, they get another chance to clash in yet another bowl game that co-opts a baseball stadium for football.
Either Syracuse or Rutgers has been in this game every year since it was founded in 2010, and the Orange are 2-0 in previous appearances.
Predicted winner: Syracuse
Where: San Diego
Predicted matchup: Navy vs. San Diego State
Navy's rotating arrangements with various bowls to steal a bid from another league sends it back to San Diego (assuming it gets to six wins, which shouldn't be a problem with Keenan Reynolds running the option) after previously playing there in 2005, 2007 and 2010. The Midshipmen are 1-2 in those games, losing the last one to the same team it could face this time around.
San Diego State is 1-1 in this game played at its home stadium, but more notable is this would be the Aztecs' school-record fifth straight bowl appearance.
Predicted winner: Navy
Where: Boise, Idaho
Predicted matchup: Akron vs. Wyoming
Bowl games aren't just for warm locales or tourist destinations, unless you happen to live somewhere that makes Boise in late December feel like a tropical resort. Either way, it's where a version of this oft-renamed bowl game has been held since 1997, and it's where a pair of teams that haven't bowled for a while will end up.
Akron would be making just its third bowl appearance, and first since 2005, while Wyoming and new coach Craig Bohl would be in a bowl again after missing out the last two years.
Predicted winner: Wyoming
Russell Athletic Bowl
Where: Orlando, Florida
Predicted matchup: Clemson vs. Oklahoma State
With the American Conference no longer holding enough clout to keep a spot in this surprisingly strong pre-New Year's bowl, the Big 12 has moved in to give us a nice matchup against a high-level ACC team. But as we see things panning out, this game might as well be called the Bright Orange Bowl for the amount of that hue that will be on display.
This would be Oklahoma State's first bowl game in Florida since 1985, while Clemson will be in the state for a bowl for the 22nd time overall and seventh time this century.
Predicted winner: Oklahoma State
St. Petersburg Bowl
Where: St. Petersburg, Florida
Predicted matchup: Western Kentucky vs. Central Florida
While bowl games like this one provide a great opportunity for teams that might not otherwise get an invitation elsewhere, it's a hard sell for fans unless the game involves a team with some connection to the area. That's why this matchup will feature a Florida team for the fifth time in seven years. Though for Central Florida, it will feel like a million miles from last season's rousing Fiesta Bowl win in Arizona.
As for Western Kentucky, after being shut out of the bowls last season, despite an 8-4 record, it will take what it can get.
Predicted winner: Central Florida
When: Dec. 27
Where: El Paso, Texas
Predicted matchup: Miami (Fla.) vs. Arizona
Arizona and Miami are not close to each other, so it's going to take some work on both ends to get their football teams to meet. And while El Paso isn't nearly close to being in the middle, it's where the Wildcats and Hurricanes should meet up for the first time since the 1994 Fiesta Bowl (won convincingly by Arizona).
Collectively, these teams are 1-3 all time in Sun Bowl games, though never against each other.
Predicted winner: Arizona
Predicted matchup: Texas vs. Texas A&M
While Texas athletic director Steve Patterson's public stance that he's not interested in making it happen, the powers that be with both the Big 12 and SEC (not to mention some likely ecstatic Texas Bowl organizers) would jump at the chance to renew the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry.
The game would probably draw well no matter where it's played, but having it in Houston's NRG Stadium would likely make it the quickest bowl to sell out on the 2014-15 slate.
Predicted winner: Texas A&M
When: Dec. 31
Where: Glendale, Arizona
Predicted matchup: Boise State vs. UCLA
Unlike the BCS, which only made it possible for a non-power conference team to get a spot each year, the new playoff system and its ancillary bowls guarantee a berth for the highest-rated team from the leagues currently referred to as the Group of Five. Based on our analysis of schedules, that honor goes to Boise State.
The Broncos have made the most of their two previous big-time games, both in the Fiesta Bowl, yet UCLA is probably much better than any bowl opponent they've faced in the past. The Bruins might squeak into the semifinals, but more likely, they will end up in Glendale.
Predicted winner: UCLA
When: Dec. 31
Predicted matchup: Alabama vs. North Carolina
After Alabama was knocked out of national-championship consideration last season, there was a lot of sentiment to try and get the Crimson Tide into the Orange Bowl. That didn't happen, but it will this time since the Sugar Bowl is occupied with national semifinal qualifiers that won't include 'Bama.
The matchup with North Carolina, projected as the second-best ACC team after a certain defending national championship team, might not seem like the most appealing. But after 'Bama has fared in previous non-title-game bowls, don't expect another sleepwalking performance.
Predicted winner: Alabama
When: Dec. 31
Predicted matchup: Georgia vs. Notre Dame
For years, the organizers of this well-regarded New Year's Eve game tried to get into the BCS, but that never happened. The plan now is to get the game, again bearing the Peach Bowl name, into the rotation for hosting the national championship, but for now it gets included as a College Football Playoff side game that will feature a local favorite against a nationally adored program.
The schools have only met once, in the 1981 Sugar Bowl—Georgia beat the Fighting Irish 17-10 to claim the last of its five national titles—and it would make for a great game in terms of on-field play, attendance and (most importantly) TV ratings.
Predicted winner: Georgia
When: Jan. 1
Where: Arlington, Texas
Predicted matchup: Oklahoma vs. Ohio State
While two of college football's most storied programs have only played twice before, and not since 1983, an upcoming home-and-home is scheduled for 2016 and 2017. That's too long for us to wait, so thankfully both the Sooners and Buckeyes will finish high enough in the College Football Playoff selection committee's rankings to get to face off to help ring in 2015.
Both teams have far loftier aspiration, but only four teams can make the first true FBS playoffs. Instead, these oh-so-close squads will give us a great game, one that should top the exciting Missouri-Oklahoma State edition we got in last year's Cotton Bowl.
Predicted winner: Oklahoma
Rose Bowl (Semifinal Game)
When: Jan. 1
Where: Pasadena, California
Predicted matchup: Auburn vs. Michigan State
When the final College Football Playoff rankings come out, SEC champion Auburn will sit as the No. 2 seed and Michigan State will earn the No. 3 seed. Neither would consider the Rose Bowl the ideal destination for this semifinal game, but at least it will allow for a more neutral location than the Sugar Bowl in the middle of SEC country.
Ironically, both of these teams had their seasons end in Pasadena back in January, though Michigan State won its Rose Bowl game over Stanford, while Auburn fell to Florida State a week later in the national championship game. It'll be more of the same, with the Spartans moving on to play for their first national title since 1966.
Predicted winner: Michigan State
Sugar Bowl (Semifinal Game)
When: Jan. 1
Where: New Orleans
Predicted matchup: Florida State vs. Oregon
Defending champ Florida State is our pick to be the No. 1 seed in the first-ever playoffs, while Oregon will end up as the No. 4 team. And the locale will be New Orleans, which isn't the best thing for Oregon but will still draw a great crowd to see if, what should be, a 13-0 Seminoles team can win a 28th straight game and reach a second consecutive title game.
Florida State will have faced far more tests during the regular season than it did a year ago, and having weathered each of those storms, it should be well-prepared for this extra round of title defense en route to the championship game 11 days later.
Predicted winner: Florida State
College Football Championship Game
When: Jan. 12
Where: Arlington, Texas
Predicted matchup: Florida State vs. Michigan State
Had a four-team playoff existed last year, we could have gotten this matchup for the title by taking the winner of both games played in Pasadena for a matchup. Who knew those same clubs would meet in AT&T Stadium for the first FBS championship ever determined by a bona fide elimination tournament.
When Alabama repeated as the championship team following the 2012 season, it did so with a lot of returning contributors from the first title. Florida State doesn't have as many, but it does have the most important one in reigning Heisman champion Jameis Winston. And while his moonlighting as the closer on the Seminoles' baseball team might be looked at as a sign he's become complacent, think again.
Michigan State will put up a good fight, but the inaugural College Football Playoff trophy will be awarded to the same team that claimed the final BCS-provided crystal pigskin.
Predicted winner: Florida State
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.