Tis the season for bowl games.
Tons of bowl games.
Counting everything from the Celebration Bowl to the CFP National Championship Game, from way out in Hawaii to way over in The Bahamas, there are a total of 41 postseason contests spread out over the next three weeks. That’s actually one less than last year, which will make those “There are too many bowls” folks somewhat happy.
For the rest of us, there’s no such thing as too much college football. By the time it’s all over on Jan. 8, with the national champion raising the golden CFP trophy on the floor of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, we’ll all be saying, “When does next season begin?”
Let’s get this party started
We open Saturday with a six pack of the 40 bowl games, starting with the Celebration Bowl between Grambling and North Carolina A&T (11 a.m., ABC) from Atlanta. To be technical, the first Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) contest is the New Orleans Bowl between Troy and North Texas in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (noon, ESPN). Those are followed by the Cure, Las Vegas, New Mexico and Camellia bowls. The best of the lot: the Las Vegas (2:30 p.m., ABC) between Oregon and No. 25 Boise State. In another year, this might be a CFP showdown.
Back to the beginning
The CFP semifinal rotation swings back to the Sugar and Rose bowls this year, where this whole thing started back in January 2015. It’s No. 1 Clemson against No. 4 Alabama in the Sugar after these two met the last two years in the CFP championship game, while No. 2 Oklahoma faces No. 3 Georgia in the Rose.
Along with the first repeat semifinal hosts of the CFP era, this is the first time one conference has advanced two of the four participants. Kind of an odd year for that achievement in the Southeastern Conference, which saw five of its schools change coaches and four (plus NCAA banned Ole Miss) fail to reach bowl eligibility.
On your marks …
Does UCF running back Adrian Killins really want to go there? Killins said in an interview this week that Auburn is in for a rude awakening Jan. 1 in the Peach Bowl (11:30 a.m., ESPN).
“In SEC football they don’t have a lot of speed, honestly,” Killins said. “Auburn hasn’t seen any speed like we have here.”
No speed in the SEC? Apparently, Killins’ dorm doesn’t get the SEC Network.
Back and better than ever
Remember when UAB’s administration tried to kill off the school’s football program in 2014 even though it was turning a profit? The program was shuttered for two seasons but not returned to the field this season and thrived. The Blazers went 8-4, their most wins ever, and now are heading to the Bahamas Bowl on Dec. 22 (11:30 a.m., ESPN) to face Ohio.
What’s in a name?
It would be tough to find a better name/player among the 80 bowl teams than Washington State defensive end Hercules Mata’afa. Recently named college football’s Polynesian player of the year, Mata’afa, whose Cougars take on Michigan State on Dec. 28 in the Holliday Bowl (8 p.m., FS1) will be suspended the first half for targeting in Wazzu’s regular-season finale. Despite missing two earlier games, Mata’afa ranks fifth nationally with 21.5 tackles for loss (including 9.5 sacks). The Spartans better enjoy that first half of peace and quiet while it lasts.
We’ll take our bowl to go
In March 2016, the Sun Belt Conference decided to send two of its less successful football-playing members, New Mexico State and Idaho, packing after the 2017 season. New Mexico State will go marching out with a bowl trip, taking on Utah State on Dec. 29 in the Arizona Bowl (4:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network) in Tucson. It’s the Aggies’ first bowl appearance since the last of three Sun Bowl appearances in 1960.
New Mexico State is 2-0-1 in those Sun Bowls, so the Aggies are putting their unbeaten bowl history on the line here. Take that, Sun Belt.
The CFP National Championship Game in Atlanta (7 p.m., ESPN) will be followed trips to Santa Clara, California, in 2019 and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in 2020. Ultimately, the championship will visit 10 different cities in the first decade of the CFP. … LSU is playing in its 18th straight bowl game, the second-longest active streak in the Southeastern Conference behind only Georgia (21). … There are no teams with losing records in bowl games this year, although there are 15 teams at 6-6.
The Final Four
Breaking down the College Football Playoff national semifinals
No. 1 Clemson (12-1) vs. No. 4 Alabama (11-1)
When: 7:45 p.m., Jan. 1
What to watch: The Tigers and Crimson Tide aren’t meeting in the CFP Championship Game for a change, but the stakes are still enormous: the winner keeps alive hopes of a second national title in the last three years, while the loser has to watch. Bama hasn’t been as dominant as in years past, but new Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant has to prove he can be as effective against the stingy Tide defense as predecessor Deshaun Watson.
No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1) vs. No. 3 Georgia (12-1)
When: 3 p.m., Jan. 1
What to watch: This game offers some tantalizing contrasts, starting with Heisman Trophy-winning Sooners QB Baker Mayfield against a most un-Big 12 like Bulldogs defense. Can Georgia QB Jake Fromm can keep pace? Most of all, though, can Oklahoma’s porous defense contain Georgia’s incredible running back duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel? This isn’t Oklahoma’s first CFP rodeo — the Sooners lost to Clemson in the semifinals two years ago. Will the setting leave the Bulldogs starry eyed?
Five bowls (other than the playoffs) fans need to make time to watch
LSU (9-3) vs. Notre Dame (9-3)
When: Noon, Jan. 1
What to watch: You don’t have to root for the Fighting Tigers or the Fighting Irish to want to keep a close eye on this New Year’s Day clash, the fourth bowl meeting between the programs and second in four years. The game as a showdown between two of the nation’s best running backs: LSU’s Derrius Guice and Notre Dame’s Josh Adams. Which team is better able to slow down the other will likely come out on top.
Ohio State (11-2) vs. Southern California (11-2)
When: 7:30 p.m., Dec. 29
What to watch: They once played a Rose Bowl at Duke because of World War II. This time, the classic Rose Bowl-like matchup comes to Texas as the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions square off. It’s a duel of highly regarded quarterbacks: Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett against USC’s Sam Darnold. Both the Buckeyes and Trojans probably think they should be in the playoff. Which teams does a better job of sending a message to the CFP committee?
Auburn (10-3) vs. UCF (12-0)
When: 11:30 a.m., Jan. 1
What to watch: The last undefeated team in the FBS, UCF tries to complete its dream season in this farewell game under coach Scott Frost (he’s heading to alma mater Nebraska). Auburn had a playoff berth in its grasp after beating then CFP No. 1s Georgia and Alabama, but lost the rematch to the Bulldogs. The Tigers are favored but banged up in the backfield: Kamron Pettway remains out and Kerryon Johnson (shoulder) is questionable.
Stanford (9-4) vs. TCU (10-3)
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 28
What to watch: The Alamo is often overshadowed by the bigger bowls, but this one is a dandy. This is the highest-ranked matchup outside the New Year’s Six: CFP No. 13 Stanford against No. 15 TCU. Stanford RB Bryce Love needs 27 yards for a 2,000-yard season, but he’ll have to do it against TCU’s fourth-ranked rushing defense. Will TCU QB Kenny Hill give the Horned Frogs the winning edge? You’ll remember the Alamo, indeed.
Camping World Bowl
Oklahoma State (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (9-3)
When: 4:15 p.m., Dec. 28
What to watch: This tasty Orlando appetizer rivals the grander Citrus Bowl which will be played on the same Camping World Stadium field four days later. The Cowboys are loaded for bear with arguably the nation’s top pass-and-catch duo: quarterback Mason Rudolph and top-ranked FBS receiver James Washington (1,423 yards). Don’t sleep on Marcell Ateman (1,049 yards) either. The Hokies play better defense, and their Cam Phillips (964 yards) is sure to surpass 1,000 receiving yards, too.