The College Football Playoff field is set, along with the rest of the bowl matchups, so let's not waste any time and get picky.
That's right, I'm predicting all 41 bowl matchups just hours after the matchups were finalized. There are several factors to consider: motivation level, coaching changes, location and style of play. While several NFL draft declarations have been made, the availability of key players for games is still to be determined.
This is my third or fourth year of instant bowl predictions (I tend to block out traumatic experiences). After several dreadful records, I went 23-17 last year with some strong efforts, like Wake Forest beating Memphis 42-38 in the Birmingham Bowl (the Demon Deacons won 37-34). Then again, there were some total whiffs -- Purdue over Auburn (Tigers won 63-14), Temple over Duke (Blue Devils won 56-27) and Middle Tennessee over Appalachian State (Mountaineers won 45-13).
As a reminder, these predictions are straight up, not against the spread.
Bowl tickets can be found here. All times Eastern. Predictions in chronological order.
Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl: Buffalo vs. Charlotte
(2 p.m. on ESPN at Thomas A. Robinson Stadium Stadium in Nassau)
Will Healy has done an incredible job instantly generating momentum for Charlotte, appearing in its first bowl game as an FBS program. Both teams come in hot -- Charlotte has won five straight, Buffalo has won five of six -- but Buffalo has a coaching edge with veteran Lance Leipold and prevails behind running back Jaret Patterson and a stout defense featuring Khalil Mack's younger brother, Ledarius.
Prediction: Buffalo 31, Charlotte 24
Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl: Utah State vs. Kent State
(7:30 p.m. on ESPN2 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas)
Second-year coach Sean Lewis did an incredible job getting Kent State to its first bowl game since 2012 and just the fourth in team history. Dual-threat quarterback Dustin Crum is fun to watch at the helm of Lewis' offense. The Golden Flashes keep this close for a while, but Utah State quarterback Jordan Love finishes an up-and-down junior season on a strong note, throwing two fourth-quarter touchdown passes.
Prediction: Utah State 36, Kent State 28
Celebration Bowl: Alcorn State vs. North Carolina A&T
(Noon on ABC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta)
The teams meet in a bowl for the second consecutive season after North Carolina A&T prevailed 24-22 last year. Expect another close game, but North Carolina A&T is a bit more balanced overall, as a dynamic pass rush featuring end Devin Harrell and many others pressures talented Braves quarterback Felix Harper into some mistakes. Jah-Maine Martin rushes for three touchdowns as the Aggies triumph.
Prediction: North Carolina A&T 28, Alcorn State 20
New Mexico Bowl: Central Michigan vs. San Diego State
(2 p.m. on ESPN at Dreamstyle Stadium in Albuquerque, New Mexico)
CMU coach Jim McElwain has a mini Mountain West reunion against Rocky Long, who coached New Mexico from 1998 to 2008 and is 1-1 in this game. McElwain's offense is diverse and dynamic, but San Diego State's defense poses a major challenge. The Aztecs force a lot of mistakes and make very few of their own, and they'll grind out a win behind linebacker Kyahva Tezino and an excellent front seven.
Prediction: San Diego State 21, Central Michigan 16
Cure Bowl: Liberty vs. Georgia Southern
(2:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida)
Hugh Freeze is back in the postseason for the first time since the 2016 Sugar Bowl, as he leads Liberty into its first bowl game. Although the teams have identical records, Georgia Southern's profile is stronger, as the Eagles handed Appalachian State its only loss and beat Georgia State by 18 in the regular-season finale. Liberty won't have enough to stop J.D. King, Wesley Kennedy III, Shai Werts and the nation's No. 8 rushing offense.
Prediction: Georgia Southern 37, Liberty 27
Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl: SMU vs. Florida Atlantic
(3:30 p.m. on ABC at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida)
A revived SMU team celebrating its first 10-win season visits Lane-less Florida Atlantic in what amounts to a road game. Both offenses are impressive, and the quarterback matchup of SMU's Shane Buechele and FAU's Chris Robison will provide some fireworks. The teams are very close on paper, and while Kiffin's absence could hurt the Owls, star linebacker Akileis Leroy and the defense generate enough stops down the stretch.
Prediction: Florida Atlantic 37, SMU 35
Camellia Bowl: Florida International vs. Arkansas State
(5:30 p.m. on ESPN at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama)
These teams are very close in FPI -- Arkansas State ranks 91st, while Florida International checks in at 99th -- and neither has been overwhelming on either side of the ball. Arkansas State has looked better away from home, though, as FIU is 0-5 outside of Miami. Even though Panthers coach Butch Davis is 6-3 in bowls, I'm going with the Red Wolves, who get a big game from star wide receiver Omar Bayless in the win.
Prediction: Arkansas State 35, Florida International 27
Bonagura: Petersen leaving Washington is a bombshell
ESPN college sports reporter Kyle Bonagura explains that Chris Petersen stepped down as head football coach at Washington in order to recharge, and adds that Jimmy Lake is a suitable replacement.
Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State vs. Washington
(7:30 p.m. on ABC at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas)
Chris Petersen's final game as Huskies coach comes against the program he built into a national sensation. At least one team uses the Statue of Liberty play in a game that includes so many Boise State coaching connections on the Washington staff -- Petersen, new head coach Jimmy Lake, offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan. Boise State has been the better team, but expect Washington to play hard for both Petersen and Lake. The Huskies' defense is the difference in a close one.
Prediction: Washington 24, Boise State 21
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Appalachian State vs. UAB
(9 p.m. on ESPN at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans)
I've made the mistake of picking against Appalachian State the past two years. I've learned my lesson. While it would have been nice to see the Mountaineers aim for their third Power 5 victory in a bowl game, they shouldn't be too upset about a trip to New Orleans. Bill Clark does a great job at UAB, but Appalachian State is much better and puts up big numbers behind quarterback Zac Thomas and running back Darrynton Evans. One key question also remains: App State coach Eliah Drinkwitz's availability is unknown after his hiring as Missouri's head coach.
Prediction: Appalachian State 37, UAB 20
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: UCF vs. Marshall
(2:30 p.m. on ESPN at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida)
Bowl motivation level for Group of 5 teams usually isn't a problem, but UCF will be appearing in a non-New Year's Six bowl for the first time since 2016. This looks like a mismatch, as UCF could put up a ton of points behind quarterback Dillon Gabriel, wide receiver Gabriel Davis and a bevy of ball carriers. Marshall's defense keeps things close for a half before the Knights pull away.
Prediction: UCF 41, Marshall 27
SoFi Hawai'i Bowl: Hawai'i vs. BYU
(8 p.m. on ESPN at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu)
BYU faced a much tougher schedule, finished the season fairly strong and boasts more high-level talent. But Hawai'i is playing at its home stadium and will challenge the Cougars with quarterback Cole McDonald and a balanced offense. McDonald's recent inconsistency concerns me, though, and I like Zach Wilson and BYU to generate enough points and yards against the Warriors' defense.
Prediction: BYU 37, Hawai'i 31
Walk-On's Independence Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. Miami (Fla.)
(4 p.m. on ESPN at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, Louisiana)
Miami fell apart down the stretch and seems in need of a reset. The Hurricanes also often don't get up for bowl games, dropping eight of their past nine, including a 35-3 no-show last year against Wisconsin. Louisiana Tech, meanwhile, will be motivated, playing before essentially a home crowd in Shreveport. The Bulldogs are a different team with J'Mar Smith at quarterback. Smith and running back Justin Henderson stand out for Skip Holtz's team.
Prediction: Louisiana Tech 35, Miami 24
Quick Lane Bowl: Pittsburgh vs. Eastern Michigan
(8 p.m. on ESPN at Ford Field in Detroit)
After a poor finish, Pitt makes what amounts to a bowl road trip, as Eastern Michigan will take a short trip from Ypsilanti to Ford Field for the game. EMU is making its third bowl appearance in four seasons under Chris Creighton, who was hired by current Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke. The Panthers should win this game fairly easily if they're motivated to play. Coach Pat Narduzzi's defense has 49 sacks and 98 tackles for loss, which should help against talented Eagles quarterback Mike Glass III.
Prediction: Pitt 27, Eastern Michigan 20
Mack Brown dances with team after UNC gets bowl eligibility
After North Carolina's win against rival NC State, Mack Brown shows off his dance moves in the locker room.
Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman: North Carolina vs. Temple
(Noon on ESPN at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland)
North Carolina expected a bowl trip to Annapolis, but rather than playing a true road game against Navy, the Tar Heels get a Temple team led by a very strong defense. This should be another good test for UNC freshman quarterback Sam Howell, who has 3,347 passing yards and 35 touchdowns. Temple coach Rod Carey went 0-6 in bowl games at Northern Illinois, so give me Mack Brown (13-8 in bowls) and the Heels.
Prediction: North Carolina 30, Temple 21
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Michigan State vs. Wake Forest
(3:20 p.m. on ESPN at Yankee Stadium in New York)
Big Ten teams have won three consecutive Pinstripe Bowls and four of the past five, capitalizing on the rare postseason environment that favors teams from the Midwest. To continue the streak, Michigan State's defense will need one of its better performances to contain Jamie Newman and Wake Forest's RPO-based offense. Both teams struggled down the stretch, but Wake Forest has won three straight bowls and will make it four.
Prediction: Wake Forest 24, Michigan State 21
Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M
(6:45 p.m. on ESPN at NRG Stadium in Houston)
An old Big 12 matchup is renewed -- Texas A&M leads the series 17-10 -- as both teams try to finish strong and set up bigger seasons in 2020. This seems particularly important for Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies, who played a brutal schedule but also looked noncompetitive against LSU (50-7 loss). Oklahoma State gets the nod here behind an improving defense and dynamic running back Chuba Hubbard, who eclipses the 2,000-yard mark with his 12th 100-yard rushing performance.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 33, Texas A&M 27
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: USC vs. Iowa
(8 p.m. on FS1 at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego)
Clay Helton is coming back and USC tries to springboard toward a critical 2020 season with its first Holiday Bowl win since 2014. The game features strength against strength as USC's pass offense (fifth nationally) faces Iowa's pass defense (10th nationally). USC has more overall talent, but Iowa boasts more balance and gets just enough offense from Nate Stanley, Tyler Goodson and others. The Hawkeyes win on, what else, a Keith Duncan field goal.
Prediction: Iowa 33, USC 31
Cheez-It Bowl: Air Force vs. Washington State
(10:15 p.m. on ESPN at Chase Field in Phoenix)
The pre-playoff bowl game that captured America's hearts and minds is back. This time, we get Mike Leach, a resurgent Air Force team and, of course, Cheez-Its. The teams won't combine for nine interceptions again, and should score more than two touchdowns, but there will be drama right down to the end. Anthony Gordon and his receivers challenge Air Force, but everyone knows defense wins Cheez-It Bowl championships, and Air Force has the edge there.
Prediction: Air Force 37, Washington State 31
Camping World Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Iowa State
(Noon on ABC at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida)
The coaching matchups here are fascinating, as Brian Kelly leads Notre Dame against Iowa State and Matt Campbell, who would be on the short list to succeed Kelly in South Bend. Defensive coordinators Jon Heacock (Iowa State) and Clark Lea (Notre Dame) are both excellent tacticians. Notre Dame's offense is a little more reliable, though, and gets the win behind the Ian Book-Chase Claypool passing connection.
Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Iowa State 23
AAC can earn some respect in Cotton Bowl
Joey Galloway says Memphis can raise the profile of the AAC by putting on a good performance vs. Penn State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: Memphis vs. Penn State
(Noon on ESPN at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas)
Memphis' incredible season culminates in its first New Year's Six bowl appearance. Coach Mike Norvell is Florida State-bound but still could work his final game on the Tigers' sideline. Damonte Coxie and Memphis' big-play passing game will create some problems for Penn State's secondary, but the Lions have too much on offense with Sean Clifford, KJ Hamler, Journey Brown, Pat Freiermuth and others. Penn State pulls away in the fourth quarter, setting up a potentially huge 2020 season.
Prediction: Penn State 40, Memphis 31
Riley confident in Hurts to fuel victory
Lincoln Riley discusses the defensive improvements the Sooners have made throughout the season and expresses his confidence in Jalen Hurts.
College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Oklahoma vs. LSU
(4 p.m. on ESPN at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta)
Few players define the CFP era like Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, who returns to the big stage (while his former team, Alabama, watches) at a stadium where he celebrated a national title and helped Alabama to the SEC championship just last year. Hurts and an improved Sooners defense make this interesting for a quarter or so, but there's no slowing Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the nation's most exciting offense.
Prediction: LSU 42, Oklahoma 27
College Football Playoff Semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State
(8 p.m. on ESPN at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona)
The Buckeyes return to the scene of their last CFP appearance (2016) and face the opponent that held them scoreless in an embarrassing loss. Ohio State will score this time, as Justin Fields and J.K. Dobbins find some gaps in Clemson's defense. But Ohio State's recent struggles against the pass don't bode well against Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and wide receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross. The defending champs use a big fourth quarter to advance to the national title game.
Prediction: Clemson 34, Ohio State 30
SERVPRO First Responder Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Western Michigan
(12:30 p.m. on ESPN at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas)
I had doubts about the Tyson Helton hire at Western Kentucky, but he did an excellent job in Year 1, as the Hilltoppers recorded wins over four bowl-bound teams and crushed Arkansas 45-19 in Fayetteville. Western Michigan has some solid wins, too, beating MAC champ Miami (Ohio) and runner-up Central Michigan. Which Western prevails? Although I like the Hilltoppers' defense, especially on third down (No. 6 nationally), dynamic Broncos running back LeVante Bellamy (23 rushing touchdowns) leads his team to victory.
Prediction: Western Michigan 35, Western Kentucky 31
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Louisville
(4 p.m. on ESPN at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee)
Louisville's future is bright with Scott Satterfield, who won ACC Coach of the Year honors in his first season. But the Cardinals' defense still needs a lot of work, especially after surrendering 517 rushing yards and six touchdowns to Lynn Bowden and Kentucky in the regular-season finale. Mississippi State can run it with Kylin Hill (1,347 rush yards) and quarterback Garrett Shrader (587 rushing yards), and the Bulldogs control the ball and do enough to limit Louisville's big-play offense.
Prediction: Mississippi State 34, Louisville 27
Redbox Bowl: California vs. Illinois
(4 p.m. on Fox at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California)
The Illini make their first bowl appearance under Lovie Smith and their first overall since 2014. But unless Cal can't take care of the ball, Illinois will have a tough time in this one. Linebacker Dele Harding leads an Illini defense with 28 takeaways. Chase Garbers, the Bears' run game and prolific linebacker Evan Weaver carry the day as Cal records its first bowl victory since 2015 after the Cheez-It Bowl heartbreak a year ago.
Prediction: Cal 27, Illinois 17
Galloway: ACC can make a statement in Orange Bowl
Florida will take on Virginia in the Capital One Orange Bowl, a game in which Joey Galloway says the ACC can make a statement.
Capital One Orange Bowl: Florida vs. Virginia
(8 p.m. on ESPN at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida)
Virginia had a breakthrough season, winning its first ACC Coastal Division title and reaching the Orange Bowl for the first time. But Florida is significantly more talented. A ferocious Gators defense makes life difficult for Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins, while Kyle Trask and his wide receivers connect for four touchdowns. Dan Mullen's team records its second straight New Year's Six bowl victory.
Prediction: Florida 37, Virginia 16
Belk Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Kentucky
(Noon on ESPN at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina)
Longtime Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster faces a big test in his final game: slowing down Lynn Bowden and the nation's No. 4 rushing offense (274.4 YPG). Virginia Tech has held up well against the run (27th nationally) but might need to get its own ground game going against a Kentucky defense that can pressure the quarterback and defend the pass. Ultimately, it's Bowden over Bud as the Kentucky star leads his team to a second straight bowl win.
Prediction: Kentucky 29, Virginia Tech 24
Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl: Florida State vs. Arizona State
(2 p.m. on CBS at Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas)
New Seminoles coach Mike Norvell will soon have FSU competing for championships again. But this roster still needs work, and Arizona State is building some real momentum for 2020. Quarterback Jayden Daniels finishes a strong freshman season with a big performance, getting help from running back Eno Benjamin and wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Frank Darby against FSU's defense. The Sun Devils contain Cam Akers and pull away in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Arizona State 34, Florida State 24
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Navy vs. Kansas State
(3:45 p.m. on ESPN at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee)
Both coaches did outstanding jobs this season, as Chris Klieman led Kansas State to eight wins in his first season, and Navy's Ken Niumatalolo rebounded from a 3-10 clunker with nine wins entering the Army game. Expect a very quick game, as both teams love to run the ball and control the clock. Navy's edge in run defense -- Mids are 17th nationally, Wildcats are 62nd -- is the difference as Jacob Springer leads the charge.
Prediction: Navy 27, Kansas State 24
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Wyoming vs. Georgia State
(4:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Arizona)
Both teams have wins against SEC opponents, as Wyoming beat Missouri and Georgia State stunned Tennessee in Knoxville. Wyoming has a clear edge on defense and at the line of scrimmage, ranking sixth nationally in rushing yards allowed and 27th in rushing offense. Craig Bohl's team gets a lift from 1,000-yard rusher Xazavian Valladay against the nation's 116th-ranked run defense. Wyoming's defense contains quarterback Dan Ellington in the win.
Prediction: Wyoming 37, Georgia State 20
Valero Alamo Bowl: Utah vs. Texas
(7:30 p.m. on ESPN at the Alamodome in San Antonio)
Utah's no-show in the Pac-12 championship game cost it a likely playoff spot and knocked the Utes out of a New Year's Six bowl. This game is all about Utah's motivation level. If a prideful group of seniors show up, they'll handle Texas, which ranks 127th nationally against the pass and will struggle to match the Utes at the line of scrimmage. If not, Utah will lose a virtual road game and have a ton of regrets. I expect the Utah we saw for most of the season.
Prediction: Utah 30, Texas 23
Herbstreit: Alabama players should be fired up for Michigan
Kirk Herbstreit and the crew preview Michigan vs. Alabama in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl.
Vrbo Citrus Bowl: Michigan vs. Alabama
(1 p.m. on ABC at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida)
This is one of the tougher quick-picks, as we don't know which top-level Alabama players will sit out and prepare for the NFL draft. The Tide crushed Michigan State 49-7 in their last Citrus Bowl (then Capital One Bowl) appearance, but they also have endured motivation lapses when left out of the national title race. Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis sees his former Crimson Tide wide receivers, and Wolverines quarterback Shea Patterson faces Alabama for the first time since 2017. I think Alabama shows up ticked off, and Jim Harbaugh's bowl blues continue.
Prediction: Alabama 44, Michigan 31
Outback Bowl: Minnesota vs. Auburn
(1 p.m. on ESPN at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida)
I picked a Big Ten West team over Auburn last year and paid the price in humiliation. The availability of Derrick Brown and Auburn's defensive linemen is a question, and Minnesota could neutralize them with its RPO-based offense. But Auburn has played a much tougher schedule and boasts key talent advantages. Minnesota leads early behind big plays from Rashod Bateman, but Bo Nix and Auburn take control in the second half.
Prediction: Auburn 31, Minnesota 20
Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual: Oregon vs. Wisconsin
(5 p.m. on ESPN at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California)
These are similarly constructed teams, bolstered by elite-level offensive lines and well-coached defenses that rarely give up big plays. Wisconsin has an edge at running back with Jonathan Taylor, while Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert is a high-level NFL prospect. Both teams will be highly motivated, but I like Wisconsin's running game a little more, as Taylor finishes a historic career on a strong note.
Prediction: Wisconsin 30, Oregon 27
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Georgia vs. Baylor
(8:45 p.m. on ESPN at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans)
A disappointed Georgia team heads to New Orleans for the second straight year to face a Big 12 foe from the state of Texas. Will Kirby Smart's team recharge better this time around? Both defenses are excellent and both can run the ball with multiple backs. Georgia's defense is prideful, though, and Smart will challenge the group after the LSU debacle. Linebacker Monty Rice and the Bulldogs stifle Charlie Brewer and the Bears to end this season on a better note.
Prediction: Georgia 26, Baylor 17
TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl: Boston College vs. Cincinnati
(3 p.m. on ESPN at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama)
Boston College would love Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell to switch sidelines, but it's not going to happen. After falling just short of an AAC title, the Bearcats take out their frustrations. Cincinnati's defense contains AJ Dillon and a one-dimensional BC offense, and Desmond Ridder takes aim at a defense allowing 299.6 passing yards per game (126th nationally). After a close first half, the Bearcats take control in the third quarter and post their second straight 11-win season.
Prediction: Cincinnati 34, Boston College 24
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: Indiana vs. Tennessee
(7 p.m. on ESPN at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida)
The advanced metrics (SP+, FPI) see the teams comparably, as Indiana's talent level has gone up under coach Tom Allen. Tennessee looked really good down the stretch, winning its final five games behind an improved defense. Vols top receiver Jauan Jennings is suspended for the first half of the game, which gives Whop Philyor, Stevie Scott and Indiana's offense an opportunity for the early lead. Indiana's struggles against teams with winning records are a concern, though, and Tennessee will rally for a close win.
Prediction: Tennessee 37, Indiana 34
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Ohio vs. Nevada
(3:30 p.m. on ESPN at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho)
Ohio wasn't far away from a much better season than its record indicated, going 2-5 in games decided by 10 points or fewer. Nathan Rourke is a talented dual-threat quarterback who should be able to have success against Nevada's defense. Nevada coach Jay Norvell did a good job getting his team to seven wins, but the Wolf Pack are really banged up and limited on both sides of the ball. Frank Solich wins his third straight bowl game.
Prediction: Ohio 28, Nevada 17
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Southern Mississippi vs. Tulane
(11:30 a.m. on ESPN at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas)
Tulane is the better team but also stumbled down the stretch, losing its final three games and five of its last six. Then again, I picked against the Green Wave in last year's bowl and paid the price. The key here is whether Southern Miss' run defense (18th nationally) can contain Tulane's strong rushing attack (13th nationally). I'll give Willie Fritz, Justin McMillan and the Green Wave another chance.
Prediction: Tulane 29, Southern Miss 27
LendingTree Bowl: Louisiana vs. Miami (Ohio)
(7:30 p.m. on ESPN at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama)
Although Miami won its conference championship game and Louisiana fell short, the Ragin' Cajuns have geographic and matchup advantages here. Louisiana is much better on offense, and efficient quarterback Levi Lewis makes enough plays against a strong Miami defense. The RedHawks get a bit of everything from their freshman quarterback, Brett Gabbert, but Billy Napier's team pulls away in the second half.
Prediction: Louisiana 38, Miami (Ohio) 20
Dabo jokes about Clemson's No. 3 ranking
Dabo Swinney congratulates his team for being the first team since 1966 to start the season No. 1, go undefeated and finish third in the rankings.
College Football Playoff National Championship: Clemson vs. LSU
(8 p.m. on ESPN at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans)
This game has it all: elite quarterbacks, incredible wide receivers, dynamic defenders, charismatic head coaches and a party atmosphere that will be unrivaled during the bowl season. Clemson returns to the site of its last loss, a 24-6 defeat to Jalen Hurts and Alabama in the 2017 CFP semifinal at the Sugar Bowl. The Tigers give an improving LSU defense all it can handle, but Joe Burrow rallies the Tigers to complete a dream season where everything lined up perfectly. Burrow throws two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, including the game winner to Justin Jefferson in the final minute.
Prediction: LSU 38, Clemson 37
Here's a breakdown of the key players and storylines for every team in a bowl game. (All times Eastern.)
College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Oklahoma
Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019
4 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Key player: It's easy to get swept up by Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase and the rest of the LSU passing game. But don't sleep on running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who is tough between the tackles and gives this offense real balance, rushing for more than 1,200 yards this season.
Storyline to watch: Burrow and the offense has carried LSU, but can the defense provide a little help? A potential late resurgence starts with everyone's preseason All-American, safety Grant Delpit, returning to form after an up-and-down season plagued by nagging injuries.
Key player: CeeDee Lamb is one of the best receivers in college football and is the key to OU's downfield passing. The Biletnikoff finalist has 14 touchdown catches, putting him in the top five nationally.
Storyline to watch: Can the Sooners finally break through and win a playoff game? They've been to the playoff three times but are 0-3. The Sooners' improved defense under coordinator Alex Grinch gives them more balance and, they hope, a better chance to advance.
College Football Playoff Semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson
Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019
State Farm Stadium
8 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Ohio State (13-0)
Key player: The easy answer here is quarterback Justin Fields, but in Ohio State's key games so far this season, the offense has relied on running back J.K. Dobbins. In games against Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan, Dobbins ran for 531 yards and eight touchdowns altogether.
Storyline to watch: Fields suffered a sprained MCL against Penn State and has been able to play with a brace on his knee. He took a bad hit against Michigan, however, and will be required to wear a bigger, more restrictive brace. How that injury progresses and how he performs in the conference championship game and beyond is something to watch.
Key player: LB Isaiah Simmons is Clemson's do-it-all defender, and he's a matchup nightmare for opposing coaches. He can work off the edge as a pass-rusher, spy mobile QBs, tail a running back sideline to sideline and match up with a speedy slot receiver. He has been the fulcrum for Brent Venables' defensive scheme this year, as Clemson has once again been one of the top defenses in the nation.
Storyline to watch: No team has repeated as national champ since Alabama in 2011 and 2012, but that's Clemson's task now. The question is whether the Tigers have been tested enough throughout a regular season in which they didn't play a genuine contender all year and won all but one game by at least 14 points. The challenge gets a lot harder in the postseason.
Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl
Buffalo vs. Charlotte
Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium
2 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Key player: RB Jaret Patterson set single-season team records for both rushing yards (1,626) and rushing touchdowns (17), including a MAC-record six scores in the regular-season finale against Bowling Green. After earning MAC freshman of the year honors in 2018, Patterson eclipsed 140 rush yards in each of his final five games.
Storyline to watch: The Bulls are making consecutive bowl appearances for the first time and have reached the postseason four times since 2008, but they're still searching for their first win. Despite losing several key pieces from a 10-win team, Buffalo had a record 12 players named to the All-MAC teams. The Bulls are extremely balanced, leading the MAC in both average yards rushing (254.2) and average total allowed (293.1).
Key player: Once a walk-on, defensive end Alex Highsmith is now one of the country's most effective pass-rushers. He finished the regular season with 14 sacks -- tied for second nationally -- and 21.5 tackles for loss to go with eight QB hurries. He's the key to Charlotte's defensive game plan and a terror for opposing O-linemen.
Storyline to watch: No team seems to be having more fun with winning than Charlotte, which stocks its post-victory locker room with strobe lights and a DJ. The fun has been a great motivator, as Charlotte made its first bowl game in program history, and coach Will Healy plans to bring the show on the road to the Bahamas.
Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl
Utah State vs. Kent State
7:30 p.m., ESPN2/ESPN App/p>
Utah State (7-5)
Key player: Quarterback Jordan Love took a step back after his standout sophomore year, but he's still among the most talented quarterbacks in the country.
Storyline to watch: A win would give Utah State back-to-back seasons with at least eight wins for just the third time in the past 45 years. The two other times came during a three-year stretch with at least nine wins from 2012 to 2014.
Kent State (6-6)
Key player: QB Dustin Crum. Crum does it all, attempting over 25 passes and nearly 10 rushes per game. He threw for 369 yards and rushed for 101 in a key, late upset of Ball State.
Storyline to watch: Any bowl bid is a huge deal in Kent. This is the school's third bid ever (the others: the 2012 GoDaddy.com Bowl and 1972 Tangerine Bowl), and a win would be its first.
Alcorn State vs. North Carolina A&T
Noon, ABC/ESPN App
Alcorn State (9-3)
Key player: Linebacker Solomon Muhammad led the team with 81 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and recorded a pair of sacks to go with two interceptions.
Storyline to watch: After winning eight of nine games to close the regular season, the Braves are making their third trip to the Celebration Bowl, where they have yet to win - losing both previous matchups with North Carolina A&T.
North Carolina A&T (8-3)
Key player: Running back Jah-Maine Martin averaged a ridiculous 8.4 yards per carry while rushing for 1,136 yards and 18 touchdowns during the regular season.
Storyline to watch: Since the Celebration Bowl was created for the 2015 season, the Aggies have been the preeminent HBCU power and are looking for their fourth win in the bowl's five years.
New Mexico Bowl
Central Michigan vs. San Diego State
Albuquerque, New Mexico
2 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Central Michigan (8-5)
Key player: Quarterback Quinten Dormady has been in big games before and can help this team stay confident under pressure. Dormady transferred to CMU from Tennessee and has thrown for 1,916 yards with 13 touchdowns this season.
Storyline to watch: First-year coach Jim McElwain won Coach of the Year in the conference and has helped orchestrate the turnaround from last season's 1-11 record. McElwain would love to get this team to nine wins, capping off one of the biggest turnarounds in college football.
San Diego State (9-3)
Key player: If you didn't know Kyahva Tezino's name before, you should know it now. After earning first-team All-Mountain West honors last season, he came back as a senior and leads the team with 96 (check) tackles, three sacks and a pair of forced fumbles.
Storyline to watch: The Aztecs got a glimpse of the future when freshman quarterback Carson Baker stepped in for senior Ryan Agnew and led the team to a 13-3 win over BYU to end the regular season. Might coach Rocky Long look ahead and look to play Baker more regardless of Agnew's health in the bowl game?
Liberty vs. Georgia Southern
2:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Key player: WR Antonio Gandy-Golden. The 6-4, 220-pound senior ended the regular season ranked third nationally with 1,333 receiving yards and needs only 47 receiving yards in the bowl game to set the single-season school record. Gandy-Golden is at his best going up and getting the football and has made some spectacular catches. He and Liberty quarterback Stephen "Buckshot" Calvert have combined to form one of the most underrated pass-catch combos in the country. Calvert has thrown 26 TD passes this season, nine of those to Gandy-Golden.
Storyline to watch: In his first season at Liberty, Hugh Freeze has the Flames in their first FBS bowl game in their first year of eligibility. For Freeze, it has been a bumpy road to get here. He was fired as Ole Miss head coach before the 2017 season when school officials discovered calls to an escort service on his cellphone. And to start this season, Freeze coached the first few games from a hospital bed and then an examination chair after undergoing surgery in August when a potentially life-threatening strand of staph infection entered his bloodstream and exacerbated severe pain he was experiencing from a herniated disc.
Georgia Southern (7-5)
Key player: OLB Randy Wade Jr. GS has one of college football's most active linebacking corps, and Wade, with 12 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 12.5 run stuffs and 4 batted passes, is its leader.
Storyline to watch: The Eagles rebounded from a 1-3 start, and a win would give Chad Lunsford his 20th victory, to just 12 losses, since taking over an 0-6 squad midway through the 2017 season.
Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl
SMU vs. Florida Atlantic
Boca Raton, Florida
3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN App
Key player: Receiver James Proche led the American in receptions (102), touchdown receptions (14) and was second in receiving yards (1,139)
Storyline to watch: Only twice in their history have the Mustangs won more than 10 games in a season: 1982 and 1935. A win here would make it a third time, an impressive feat for a team that hasn't won more than eight since the mid-1980s.
Florida Atlantic (10-3)
Key player: TE Harrison Bryant. One of the best tight ends in college football, Bryant leads Florida Atlantic in receptions (65), receiving yards (1,004) and touchdown receptions (seven). The 6-5, 240-pound senior enters the bowl game on a roll. He has caught all seven of his TD passes in the past six games, including a three-touchdown performance two weeks ago in the win over Southern Miss.
Storyline to watch: The good news for FAU is that Lane Kiffin came in and transformed the program with two Conference USA championships in his three seasons in Boca Raton, Florida. The bad news is that he had enough success that Ole Miss came in and scooped him up as the Rebels' new head coach. The Owls closed the regular season by winning six straight games and 10 of their past 11, but it will be interesting to see how Kiffin's move to Ole Miss will impact them in the bowl game.
Florida International vs. Arkansas State
5:30 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Florida International (6-6)
Key player: QB James Morgan. The redshirt senior, who started his career at Bowling Green, has thrown 39 touchdown passes in his two seasons at Florida International, which places him three TD passes shy of tying the career mark at FIU. Morgan has passed for 2,273 yards with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions this season. That's after he set a school record with 26 TD passes a year ago. This will be Morgan's first bowl game with the Panthers. A shoulder injury caused him to miss the Bahamas Bowl a year ago.
Storyline to watch: Butch Davis, in his third season at Florida International, has taken the Panthers to a bowl game all three seasons. Not bad when you consider that FIU had suffered through five straight losing seasons before he arrived. It will be interesting to see which version of FIU shows up for the bowl, the one that upset Miami on Nov. 23 in what was the most significant win in school history or the one that lost three of its last five games, including blowout losses to Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee. FIU was 0-5 away from home this season.
Arkansas State (7-5)
Player to watch: There's a case to be made the best player in the country who isn't widely known is Arkansas State's Omar Bayless, who led the country in receiving through 12 games at 1,473 yards to go with 16 touchdowns. He's long and athletic and has his share of highlight reel grabs that make him a tough matchup for any DB.
Storyline to watch: The season started on the lowest possible note for the Red Wolves, with the death of Wendy Anderson, wife of head coach Blake Anderson. He took a leave of absence from the program through the first week, but he has returned to find some solace in football, and the team has rebounded to win seven games.
Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl
Boise State vs. Washington
Sam Boyd Stadium
7:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN App
Boise State (12-1)
Key player: Defensive end Curtis Weaver is the best NFL prospect in the Mountain West and finished fifth in the country with 13.5 sacks during the regular season.
Storyline to watch: Since entering the Mountain West in 2011, Boise State has never won 13 games in a season. A win here would be the fifth time it has reached that milestone in program history.
Storyline to watch: Following the surprising announcement that he will step down after the season, this will stand as Chris Petersen's final game as the Huskies' coach. It stands to reason that the 55-year-old coach will eventually return to the sidelines, but this marks the end of an impressive six-year run in Seattle.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Appalachian State vs. UAB
9 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Appalachian State (12-1)
Player to watch: Zac Thomas and Darrynton Evans form one of the country's top QB-RB duos, combining to account for 55 touchdowns this season. Thomas has blossomed into the Sun Belt's most dangerous weapon, compiling just shy of 3,000 yards of offense to go with 33 touchdowns, while Evans averaged better than 5.6 yards per carry en route to 1,323 yards on the ground.
Storyline to watch: App State felt it deserved a shot at a New Year's Six bowl after hanging around the top 25 most of the year and winning the Sun Belt on the back of an explosive offense. Now that the Mountaineers didn't get the big prize for Group of 5 teams, will this group still have the juice it needs to finish the season strong?
Key player: Everyone wants balance in their running game, but the Blazers actually have it with a trio of backs in Spencer Brown, Lucious Stanley and Jermaine Brown Jr. All three have more than 400 rushing yards this season, and have combined for 14 rushing touchdowns.
Storyline to watch: Starting quarterback Tyler Johnston III's knee injury could have derailed this team, but Dylan Hopkins held down the fort and helped the Blazers end the regular season on a three-game winning streak. But now that Johnston is available again, how much will he play?
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl
UCF vs. Marshall
Raymond James Stadium
2:30 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Key player: WR Gabriel Davis. Davis has already declared that he would leave school early for the NFL draft, but says as of now he plans to play in the bowl game. If he does, folks who tune in will see the biggest playmaker on the UCF offense. Davis set the school single-season receiving record with 1,241 yards and had 12 touchdown catches.
Storyline to watch: UCF stopped being a national story as soon as the Knights lost to Pitt, and a loss to Cincinnati ended any shot at making a New Year's Six game. Still, UCF has a chance to finish with double-digit wins for the third straight season.
Key player: RB Brenden Knox. A bruising runner, the redshirt sophomore had a breakout season with 1,284 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. The 6-foot, 220-pound Knox averaged 5.3 yards per carry and was the player Marshall leaned on all season. His 244 rushing attempts ranked ninth nationally. Knox carried the ball 32 times in the regular-season finale, a 30-27 win over FIU in overtime. Knox's 1-yard touchdown run was the difference.
Storyline to watch: One of Conference USA's hottest teams at season's end, Marshall missed the conference championship game because of a 24-13 road loss at Charlotte on Nov. 23. The Thundering Herd won six of their last seven games to close the regular season, so they should be plenty motivated in the postseason and looking to win their third straight bowl game. Marshall faced a challenging nonconference schedule with losses to Boise State and Cincinnati, both listed in the latest College Football Playoff rankings.
SoFi Hawai'i Bowl
Hawai'i vs. BYU
8 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Key player: Quarterback Cole McDonald threw for 3,401 yards during the regular season, which ranked No. 8 nationally and No. 1 in the Mountain West.
Storyline to watch: Hawai'I is looking for its first 10-win season since 2010 -- when it was still a member of the WAC -- just two years after winning three games in coach Nick Rolovich's second season.
Key player: Athletic linebacker Kavika Fonua is the Cougars' leading tackler (78 tackles) and has a pair of interceptions.
Storyline to watch: The Cougars have three quarterbacks who could be in the mix to see at least some playing time in the bowl game. Sophomore Zach Wilson figures to remain the starter, but redshirt freshmen Baylor Romney and Jaren Hall could play if the correct scenarios arise.
Walk-On's Independence Bowl
Louisiana Tech vs. Miami
4 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Louisiana Tech (9-3)
Key player: CB Amik Robertson. One of the best corners in the country, Robertson has amassed five interceptions, 16 breakups and eight tackles for loss. He is an absurdly active anchor for a fantastic passing-downs defense.
Storyline to watch: The Bulldogs have won bowls in five consecutive seasons, and a sixth in a row would give them their first 10-win season at the FBS level. Skip Holtz's list of accomplishments in Ruston is growing.
Key player: DE Gregory Rousseau. The redshirt freshman wasn't even a starter when the season began, but he played his way into the starting lineup as soon as coaches recognized he was virtually unstoppable. The ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year had 14 sacks, second only to Chase Young. He had one sack in at least eight games.
Storyline to watch: Where is the motivation for this Miami team? The Hurricanes could not have finished the season any worse, with consecutive losses to FIU and Duke. They looked lethargic and uninspired throughout both, and first-year coach Manny Diaz has to figure out a way to fix what's broken -- and fast.
Quick Lane Bowl
Pittsburgh vs. Eastern Michigan
8 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Key player: DT Jaylen Twyman. Pitt put together a terrific defensive effort this season, and it all started up front. In his first year as a starter, Twyman established himself as one of the best interior pass-rushers in the country, with 10.5 sacks, the most by a Pitt defensive tackle since Aaron Donald in 2013.
Storyline to watch: Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi will tell you he was disappointed with the way the season ended for the Panthers, who were in the hunt for the ACC's Coastal Division until consecutive losses to Virginia Tech and Boston College. A bowl win would be their first since 2013.
Eastern Michigan (6-6)
Key player: Linebacker Kobie Beltram leads the defense with 116 total tackles this season. Beltram also has six tackles for loss, five pass breakups and two fumble recoveries.
Storyline to watch: Finishing the regular season at 6-6 with a loss in the final game of the regular season, Eastern Michigan wasn't sure it would end up getting one of the final bowl spots. Landing in a bowl and showing that this program is on a rise with an emphatic win is at the forefront for this team.
Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman
North Carolina vs. Temple
Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium
Noon, ESPN/ESPN App
North Carolina (6-6)
Key player: He's just a freshman, but QB Sam Howell looks like he's already one of the nation's elite passers. For the year, Howell completed better than 60% of his throws with 35 TDs and just seven picks, and he was the spark that ignited UNC's resurgence from a program with five wins over the previous two years back to a bowl game.
Storyline to watch: Mack Brown's return to Chapel Hill has gone about as well as anyone could've expected, and a bowl win would be the cherry on top. He last won a bowl game in 2012, but back then, Texas was a program going in the wrong direction. This year's bowl is an opportunity for North Carolina to finish better than .500 and set the stage for a potential run at the Coastal Division and much bigger things in 2020.
Key player: DE Quincy Roche. The Owls' pass defense is among the Group of 5's best, and Roche and the Temple pass rush are big reasons for its success. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound junior has 18 tackles for loss and 13 sacks.
Storyline to watch: Despite three coaching changes in a two-year span, the Owls are on their way to a fifth straight bowl and have won at least eight games for the fourth time in five years. That's a remarkable accomplishment.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Michigan State vs. Wake Forest
3:20 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Michigan State (6-6)
Key player: The offense has struggled this season and it starts with quarterback Brian Lewerke. His performance has dictated much of the season for the Spartans and it will again in this game.
Storyline to watch: Michigan State barely made it to bowl eligibility this season, but head coach Mark Dantonio said he would be the head coach next season. Whether or not there will be staff changes with his assistants is yet to be seen and something that is being monitored closely by Spartans fans.
Wake Forest (8-4)
Key player: DE Carlos "Boogie" Basham Jr. Yes, he has a nickname everyone can get behind, but Basham's play this season drew raves, too. He ranks No. 3 in the ACC with 10 sacks and No. 2 with 17 tackles for loss on his way to first-team All-ACC honors and has been the stalwart on defense.
Storyline to watch: Wake Forest endured a fair share of injuries throughout the season, including to its top two receivers, starting quarterback and top linebacker. Ending the regular season with losses in three of their last four games put a damper on November, but the Deacs have a chance for their first nine-win season since 2007.
Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl
Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M
6:45 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Oklahoma State (8-4)
Key player: Running back Chuba Hubbard led the nation in rushing, was second in carries and is as reliable as they come. The Pokes were able to lean on Hubbard when young QB Spencer Sanders had his ups and downs or when star WR Tylan Wallace went down.
Storyline to watch: Will Hubbard play in the bowl? He's a third-year sophomore so he's NFL draft-eligible. He hasn't said definitively what he'll do. If he doesn't play, the Cowboys will be without their starting QB, RB and WR (Sanders and Wallace are both out for the year with injuries).
Texas A&M (7-5)
Key player: Defensive tackle Justin Madubuike is a force on the defensive interior, leading the team in tackles for loss (11.5) and sacks (5.5).
Storyline to watch: This is the Aggies' chance to beat a team of at least some consequence, which they haven't this season. None of their wins have come against FBS teams with a winning record and they went winless against ranked opponents.
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl
USC vs. Iowa
8 p.m., Fox Sports 1
Key player: As USC looks to the future, quarterback Kedon Slovis is a main reason for optimism. He appeared in 11 games, but in nine full games he threw for 3,168 yards (352 yards per game) with 28 touchdown passes.
Storyline to watch: Coach Clay Helton received a vote of confidence for the second year in a row -- this time from new AD Mike Bohn -- yet has few believers left in the fan base. Can a win here do anything to change that?
Key player: DE A.J. Epenesa didn't get as much attention as Ohio State's Chase Young, but he was just as dominant at times, especially down the stretch. Epenesa recorded 5.5 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles in Iowa's final four regular-season games. Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Epenesa at No. 20 on his latest Big Board and as the nation's No. 2 defensive end behind Young.
Storyline to watch: Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz has been streaky in bowl games. After splitting his first two bowls, he won consecutive games, lost consecutive games, won three in a row and then lost five straight. Iowa scored a mini upset over No. 18 Mississippi State in the 2019 Outback Bowl. A victory would give Iowa its first 10-win season under Ferentz since 2015.
Air Force vs. Washington State
10:15 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Air Force (10-2)
Key player: QB Donald Hammond III. The junior from Georgia distributes the ball perfectly in Air Force's attack, and about four times per game, he hits a deep ball. This offense is dynamite under his command.
Storyline to watch: Seven of the past eight Air Force seasons have produced either 10 wins or a losing record. All or nothing! But a bowl win would provide something new: the first 11-win season of Troy Calhoun's tenure.
Washington State (6-6)
Key player: Quarterback Anthony Gordon enters the game with 5,228 yards passing and needs 605 to break the single-season FBS record (5,833) that B.J. Symons set while playing for Mike Leach at Texas Tech in 2003.
Storyline to watch: A win would make for some interesting history. Despite having existed since 1894, the Washington State football team has never won bowl games in back-to-back seasons
Camping World Bowl
Notre Dame vs. Iowa State
Camping World Stadium
Noon, ABC/ESPN App
Notre Dame (10-2)
Key player: WR Chase Claypool is Notre Dame's most consistent offensive threat, recording seven touchdown catches in his last three games and a team-high 12 this season. Claypool, who had only six touchdown catches before this season, eclipsed 2,000 career receiving yards in the regular-season finale against Stanford.
Storyline to watch: It's rare to see a 10-2 Notre Dame team receive so little attention, but the playoff era and road losses to Georgia and Michigan put the Fighting Irish well outside the national spotlight. Notre Dame lacks star power or signature moments, which makes the bowl against Iowa State the last chance for the Irish to grab some of the spotlight that they're accustomed to.
Iowa State (7-5)
Key player: TE Charlie Kolar is a matchup nightmare for just about any defense. The first-team All-Big 12 selection led Big 12 tight ends in receptions (48), receiving yards (675) and touchdown catches (7). He set a single-season team record for receiving yards by a tight end and had five games with at least 70 receiving yards.
Storyline to watch: Picked third in the Big 12 before the season, Iowa State fell short of expectations with five losses, including four by a total of 11 points. Coach Matt Campbell reaffirmed his commitment to ISU with another contract extension, but the bowl is important to build momentum for 2020. The Cyclones haven't recorded three consecutive eight-win seasons since 1976 to 1978.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
Penn State vs. Memphis
Noon, ESPN/ESPN App
Penn State (10-2)
Key player: Running back Journey Brown has rushed for 391 yards and seven touchdowns over the past four games. Brown has been relied on a little more because of injuries, but he has been a big part of the offense and will need to continue that momentum going forward.
Storyline to watch: One reason Brown has been a bigger focus is the injury sustained by quarterback Sean Clifford against Ohio State that kept him out of the final game of the regular season. That could have just been precautionary as coach James Franklin said Clifford was a game-time decision. Clifford getting back to 100% is something to watch for the Nittany Lions.
Key player: RB Kenneth Gainwell. The leading playmaker in a skill stable full of them, Gainwell has nearly 1,500 rushing yards and over 500 receiving yards. He is a matchup nightmare ... and only a redshirt freshman.
Storyline to watch: A decade that began with a 1-11 Memphis season ends with the Tigers at 12-1. And with a win in their biggest game ever, they could usher in the new decade with their first top-10 finish
SERVPRO First Responder Bowl
Western Kentucky vs. Western Michigan
Gerald J. Ford Stadium
12:30 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Western Kentucky (8-4)
Key player: DE DeAngelo Malone. WKU's defense ignited in Tyson Helton's first year as head coach, and the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Malone, with 17.5 TFLs and 20 run stuffs, was a primary cause of the turnaround.
Storyline to watch: It's been a roller coaster in Bowling Green. After falling from 11 wins in 2016 to nine losses in 2018, the Hilltoppers could bounce right back to nine wins with a victory.
Western Michigan (7-5)
Key player: Running back LeVante Bellamy won the Verne Smith Leadership award, which is given to the best player in the MAC. Bellamy ran 1,412 yards and 23 touchdowns this season, and is going to be sorely missed next season.
Storyline to watch: The Broncos missed out on their chance at the MAC championship game by losing the final game of the regular season. The players will have a sour taste in their mouths after missing a chance at playing for the conference and will want to finish this season with a win.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Mississippi State vs. Louisville
4 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Mississippi State (6-6)
Key player: The offense has gone up and down this season, but running back Kylin Hill has been a consistent driving force. The junior finished the regular season with the most rushing yards in the SEC (1,347), ran for 10 touchdowns and earned a spot as a finalist for the Doak Walker Award.
Storyline to watch: Would coach Joe Moorhead dare bench quarterback Garrett Shrader after winning the Egg Bowl? He's a freshman and the team's future, but what about its past? Tommy Stevens came to Starkville to reunite with Moorhead and will be itching to play his final game as a redshirt senior.
Key player: He's just 5-9 and 153 pounds, but receiver Tutu Atwell plays much bigger than his size suggests. Atwell leads the ACC in receiving (1,129 yards) and his 12 touchdowns have paved the way for Louisville's offensive resurgence this year. Atwell finished with at least 100 receiving yards in six of his 12 games this season.
Storyline to watch: A year ago, Louisville was one of the worst teams in the country. Scott Satterfield's rebuild is far from complete, but the progress made in Year 1 has been exceptional, and a bowl win would be another memorable step forward.
California vs. Illinois
Santa Clara, California
4 p.m., FOX
Key player: With quarterback Chase Garbers in the lineup for the entire game, Cal is 6-0. The Bears were just 1-3 in games he didn't start and 0-2 in games he started but left due to injury.
Storyline to watch: Linebacker Evan Weaver has an outside shot at setting the single-season NCAA tackles record. He's averaging 14.4 per game and needs 19 to break Luke Kuechly's record (191) from 2011.
Key player: LB Dele Harding is an integral part of an Illinois defense that ranks tied for third nationally in takeaways with 28. Harding, a first-team All-Big Ten selection by the media, has three interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and three forced fumbles to go along with team highs in both total tackles (147) and tackles for loss (13).
Storyline to watch: Illinois appears in its first bowl since 2014, and a win would be significant after the team dropped its final two games. Coach Lovie Smith and the Illini need momentum entering 2020, and a 6-7 final record would put a damper on a season that included a stunning upset of Wisconsin and a historic rally at Michigan State.
Capital One Orange Bowl
Florida vs. Virginia
Hard Rock Stadium
Miami Gardens, Florida
8 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Key player: LB Jonathan Greenard. To truly appreciate just how much adding Greenard to the defense meant to the Gators this season, just look what happened when he was out or limited against LSU and Georgia. Florida simply wasn't the same defensively without its team leader in sacks (nine) and tackles for loss (15).
Storyline to watch: Florida ended last season with an emphatic win over Michigan in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl and used it as a springboard into its offseason workouts and then a 10-win regular season. An 11-win season would be its first since 2012 and signal definitively that what Dan Mullen has done there in two years is no fluke.
Player to watch: Safe to say no player on Virginia's roster means more to the team's success than QB Bryce Perkins. He's a stellar passer, but his mobility as a runner adds an explosive dynamic to the Cavaliers' attack that frustrates defenses and turned the Hoos into one of the ACC's best offenses.
Storyline to watch: Can Virginia's defense get better before the bowl? Bronco Mendenhall summed up the problems on the back end succinctly, noting it all started with the loss of star corner Bryce Hall. But Virginia does have some talent on D, particularly at linebacker, and that unit provided one of the true surprises of last year's bowl season by shutting out South Carolina.
Virginia Tech vs. Kentucky
Bank of America Stadium
Charlotte, North Carolina
Noon, ESPN/ESPN App
Virginia Tech (8-4)
Key player: QB Hendon Hooker. Virginia Tech was a vastly different team with Hooker, who helped lead the Hokies' turnaround from 2-2 to 8-4. Hooker threw for 1,445 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions and ran for five more scores to lead the resurgence.
Storyline to watch: The Hokies clawed their way back into Coastal Division contention only to lose a heartbreaker to Virginia to close the regular season. Still, this is a talented Virginia Tech team that seems to have found its footing, and with a young group set to return a majority of its starters next year, a bowl win would give this team momentum headed into the offseason.
Key player: QB Lynn Bowden Jr. It's difficult to assign Bowden a position. He started the season as a wide receiver and kick returner, but moved over to quarterback after starting QB Sawyer Smith was injured. Since then, Bowden has been the main cog in the Wildcats' running game, and they are 5-2 with him at QB. He has rushed for 1,235 yards, including 284 yards and four touchdowns in the regular-season finale against Louisville. Bowden is the only player in the nation leading his team in both rushing and pass receiving.
Storyline to watch: Mark Stoops, in his seventh season as Kentucky's head coach, has done a super job of keeping the Wildcats relevant in the SEC and has been especially adept at developing players. A win in the bowl game would give Kentucky 32 wins in the past four seasons, which would be the highest win total in a four-year stretch in school history since Bear Bryant won 34 games from 1949 to 1952.
Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl
Florida State vs. Arizona State
Sun Bowl Stadium
El Paso, Texas
2 p.m., CBS
Florida State (6-6)
Key player: RB Cam Akers. Despite playing behind a shaky offensive line, Akers did a terrific job finding yards and making plays, rushing for 1,144 yards and 14 touchdowns in what proved to be yet another up-and-down season for the Seminoles and their offense. He will have a decision to make about his NFL future, and whether or not to play in the bowl game.
Storyline to watch: Interim head coach Odell Haggins has done a great job in his two separate stints with the interim tag, getting the Seminoles bowl eligible twice. Though they finished the regular season with a blowout loss to Florida, getting another bowl win for Haggins will be hugely important.
Arizona State (7-5)
Key player: Receiver Brandon Aiyuk has quietly developed into one of the best receivers in college football and is ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s No. 8-ranked receiver.
Storyline to watch: Dating back to his playing career that started at Cal in 1972, ASU coach Herm Edwards has never been on the winning side in a college bowl game. Will this be the first?
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Navy vs. Kansas State
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium
3:45 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Key player: QB Malcolm Perry. Take away sacks, and the senior has rushed for over 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns. Plus, he has improved his passing enough to make sure this option attack features the requisite big-play threat.
Storyline to watch: Perry's improvement, plus a dynamite defensive coordinator hire have Ken Niumatalolo's Midshipmen poised to flip from 10 losses in 2018 to 10 wins (11, if they also beat Army this Saturday) in a single season.
Kansas State (8-4)
Key player: Receiver Joshua Youngblood is a dynamo in the return game, with a nation's-best three kickoff returns for touchdowns this year. He was the Big 12's special teams player of the year.
Storyline to watch: A bowl win would give the Wildcats nine wins for the season, the third time they would reach that mark since 2014. It would be a strong way for Chris Klieman to finish his debut season as K-State coach.
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl
Wyoming vs. Georgia State
4:30, CBS Sports Network
Key player: Running back Xazavian Valladay is one of the rare players in college football with more rushing yards (1,061) than any quarterback on his team's roster has passing yards.
Storyline to watch: Coach Craig Bohl is looking to become the first in program history to coach Wyoming to multiple bowl wins. He led the Cowboys to a win against Central Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in 2017.
Georgia State (7-5)
Key player: RB Tra Barnett. The senior from Elberton, Georgia, rushed for 1,389 yards this year and averaged 6.3 yards per carry and 125 yards per game in GSU's seven wins. He's the Panthers' linchpin.
Storyline to watch: Senior QB Dan Ellington tore his ACL in a Nov. 9 loss to ULM ... and just kept playing. His production predictably slipped, but he has a chance to finish his career with an eighth win.
Valero Alamo Bowl
Utah vs. Texas
7:30 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Key player: Running back Zack Moss has the type of NFL future that makes sitting out a bowl game seems possible, but after losing the Pac-12 championship game, he immediately pointed to how attention had shifted to the bowl game.
Storyline to watch: Utah came within touching distance of the College Football Playoff, so it's fair to wonder how excited the Utes will be in the wake of their poor showing against Oregon.
Key player: QB Sam Ehlinger has been the straw who stirs the drink. He was second in the Big 12 in passing yards (3,462) and touchdown passes (29) and is a consistent running threat, too.
Storyline to watch: A win is critical for Tom Herman because a second 7-6 campaign in three years -- with this one following a 10-win 2018 -- would only add fuel to the fire he'll be under heading into next season. It's only one game, but 8-5 would look a lot better.
Jan. 1, 2020
Vrbo Citrus Bowl
Michigan vs. Alabama
Camping World Stadium
1 p.m., ABC/ESPN App
Key player: Quarterback Shea Patterson has been playing his best football in the latter half of this season for the Wolverines. Patterson has thrown for 1,055 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions over the past three games and will be integral in the offense's success for the bowl game.
Storyline to watch: Despite the success Patterson and the offense saw in the final game of the season against Ohio State, the defense gave up 56 points. How will that unit bounce back from a poor performance, and can the Wolverines prevent a two-game loss streak to end the season?
Key player: If Mac Jones is auditioning to be Alabama's starting quarterback next season, he's nailing it so far, playing well in his three starts against Arkansas, Western Carolina and Auburn. Should he play well in this game, he'll enter the spring as the favorite should Tua Tagovailoa not return.
Storyline to watch: After having its worst season under coach Nick Saban, giving up 40-plus points to LSU and Auburn, the Alabama defense needs a bounce-back postseason. All those freshmen -- Shane Lee, Christian Harris, DJ Dale, Justin Eboigbe, etc. -- aren't really freshmen anymore and need to start playing like it to feel better about next year.
Minnesota vs. Auburn
Raymond James Stadium
1 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Key player: WR Rashod Bateman won the Big Ten's receiver of the year award after a breakout sophomore season, in which he recorded 57 receptions for 1,170 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Biletnikoff Award semifinalist broke the single-season team record set in 2018 by teammate Tyler Johnson, another player to watch in this matchup.
Storyline to watch: The Gophers have had a season of milestones, but they can reach another with a bowl win. Minnesota hasn't eclipsed 10 wins since 1904, when it finished 13-0 and captured the school's first national title. The Gophers' win over No. 4 Penn State on Oct. 26 made them 9-0 for the first time since 1904.
Key player: Auburn might not get another defensive lineman like Derrick Brown. The big fella does it all, stuffing the run just as well as he rushes the passer at tackle. It's why he's up for the Bednarik, Nagurski, Outland and Maxwell awards, and is a virtual lock to be a first-round pick.
Storyline to watch: We've seen flashes of brilliance from true freshman quarterback Bo Nix, but we haven't seen the full package yet. With a bunch of extra time and practices to develop, might we get a preview of what steps he'll take next season as a sophomore?
Oregon-Wisconsin set for Rose Bowl
Rece Davis and the crew discuss Oregon playing Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual on January 1.
Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual
Oregon vs. Wisconsin
5 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Key player: Over the past two years, quarterback Justin Herbert has been floated as a potential top-five pick in the NFL draft and has a chance to put a stamp on his legacy with a win in Pasadena, California.
Storyline to watch: The Ducks have turned into a recruiting juggernaut under Mario Cristobal and a top-10 finish will only help the team gain separation from the rest of the conference in terms of talent.
Key player: In Wisconsin's two losses this season, running back Jonathan Taylor was held to a combined 182 yards rushing and one touchdown. When the Badgers get Taylor going, the team usually has success.
Storyline to watch: The season started out as well as Wisconsin could have hoped, but eventually turned sour with losses to Illinois and Ohio State in the regular season. Finishing the season on the right foot with a win in the bowl game could give this team some confidence headed into next season.
Allstate Sugar Bowl
Georgia vs. Baylor
8:45 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Key player: With a lack of weapons at receiver, a lot of the offensive workload falls on D'Andre Swift's shoulders. He's not just a threat as a runner, rushing for more than 1,200 yards this season. He's also an adept pass-catcher, hauling in 70 passes for 648 yards in three seasons.
Storyline to watch: Wide receiver Lawrence Cager needs to be healthy for this offense to have a chance. The former Miami transfer is clearly quarterback Jake Fromm's favorite target -- and by far his most reliable -- working the back-shoulder pass over and over again.
Key player: Defensive end James Lynch was the Big 12's sack leader and the league's defensive player of the year. The fierce Lynch leads a loaded Baylor defensive line.
Storyline to watch: Baylor is looking for its first 12-win season in school history. The last time the Bears won a bowl that is currently in the New Year's Six was more than 30 years ago: the 1979 Peach Bowl.
TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl
Boston College vs. Cincinnati
3 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Boston College (6-6)
Key player: RB AJ Dillon. Dillon has been a workhorse since he set foot on campus, and this might be the last time to watch him in college should he decide to leave school for the NFL draft. The all-time leading rusher in school history with 4,382 yards, Dillon ranks third nationally in rushing yards (1,685) and is 227 yards away from setting the ACC record for career rushing yards.
Storyline to watch: Boston College fired Steve Addazio after the season ended, leaving interim coach Rich Gunnell in charge for the bowl game. There might be some extra motivation aside from winning for him. Last season, BC qualified for the Servpro First Responder Bowl in Dallas against Boise State, but the game was canceled because of lightning
Key player: LB Bryan Wright. The Cincy front seven is Power 5-caliber, and Wright, a senior from Delaware, is its anchor. The Bearcats' No. 2 tackler has made 10.5 tackles for loss and broken up four passes.
Storyline to watch: Cincy's dreams of an AAC title and New Year's Six bid fell short with a loss to Memphis, but the Bearcats are still one win from back-to-back 11-win seasons and ranked finishes. A solid consolation prize.
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl
Indiana vs. Tennessee
TIAA Bank Field
7 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Key player: WR Whop Philyor, in addition to having one of the better names in college football, sparks an Indiana offense that tied a team record with nine games of 30 points or more. Philyor ranks among the Big Ten leaders in receptions (6.3 per game) and receiving yards (91 yards per game). He's the seventh Indiana player to record 1,000 receiving yards in a season and leads the Big Ten with 489 yards after the catch.
Storyline to watch: Indiana can complete a historic season with more milestones. The Hoosiers aim for only their third nine-win season and first since 1967, when they shared the Big Ten title with Minnesota and Purdue. Indiana is in a bowl for the third time since 2015 -- after only one bowl appearance in the previous 21 seasons. IU hasn't won a bowl game since 1991 (Copper).
Key player: OG Trey Smith. In so many ways, Tennessee's turnaround this season after an 0-2 start has been keyed by the veterans. Smith, who has come back from blood clots in his lungs, has been a rock for the Vols on the field and in the locker room. He has been a beast from his left guard position and a big reason why the Vols have improved so dramatically in the offensive line. He was the No. 1 prospect in the country when he came out of high school and has played that way for much of this season.
Storyline to watch: The Vols will be without senior Jauan Jennings, a top receiver and one of their best players and best leaders, for the first half of the game. Jennings was suspended by the SEC after video showed him stepping on the head of a Vanderbilt player on the sideline after getting up from a tackle in Tennessee's regular-season finale. Jennings has been a catalyst for the Vols all season, and not having him as a target in the first half could be tricky for Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Ohio vs. Nevada
3:30 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Key player: QB Nathan Rourke. The senior from Ontario, Canada, has done a little bit of everything for Ohio this season. He has passed for 2,676 yards and 20 touchdowns and is also the Bobcats' second-leading rusher with 780 yards and 12 touchdowns. Rourke ranks 21st nationally in total offense with an average of 288 yards per game.
Storyline to watch: Few programs have been as consistent as Ohio has been under veteran coach Frank Solich. The Bobcats are bowl eligible for the 11th straight year under Solich and played some of their best football down the stretch to keep that streak alive. They won four of their last six games, and the only two losses during that stretch were a couple of three-point setbacks, including an overtime loss to Western Michigan.
Key player: Dom Peterson has defensive tackleish dimensions (6 feet, 300 pounds) but plays defensive end like a dream. The first-team All-Mountain West pick was second in the league in sacks (eight) and third in tackles for loss (13.5).
Storyline to watch: A win in the bowl would give the Wolf Pack bowl victories in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. Nevada coach Jay Norvell has his team on the right path.
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
Southern Mississippi vs. Tulane
Amon G. Carter Stadium
Fort Worth, Texas
11:30 a.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Southern Mississippi (7-5)
Key player: Terry Whittington has already had a spectacular senior season, and now it's time to see if he can go out on a high note. The linebacker ranks seventh in Conference USA in sacks (7.5) and ninth in total pressures (25), to go along with 32 tackles and five quarterback hurries.
Storyline to watch: How will Jack Abraham bounce back? The quarterback picked a bad time to have his worst game this season, ending the regular season by throwing no touchdowns and four interceptions against Florida Atlantic, and the last thing he can do is dwell on it.
Key player: QB Justin McMillan, a transfer from LSU, is responsible for 26 touchdowns this season (14 passing, 12 rushing). He's third nationally among QBs in rushing scores.
Storyline to watch: A win would give the Green Wave seven or more in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1997-98.
Louisiana vs. Miami (Ohio)
7:30 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App
Key player: OG Kevin Dotson. The 6-4, 321-pound redshirt senior has been the centerpiece (and enforcer) of a Louisiana offense that ranks eighth nationally in total offense (501.3 yards per game). The Ragin' Cajuns have been equally effective running and throwing the football, and a big reason has been Dotson's presence in the middle of that offensive line.
Storyline to watch: The Ragin' Cajuns had won six straight games before losing to Appalachian State in the Sun Belt Conference championship game. Billy Napier, in his second season in Lafayette, was being mentioned in connection with several Power 5 head-coaching vacancies.
Miami (Ohio) (8-5)
Key player: DT Doug Costin is a load in the interior line, racking up 12 tackles for loss, four sacks and six quarterback hurries. The first-team All-MAC selection is very active with his hands, recording three pass breakups, a blocked kick and a forced fumble. Costin helps a pass rush that recorded 38 sacks this season, tied for the league lead.
Storyline to watch: The RedHawks were outscored 367-321 this season but still managed to win their conference. They likely will rely on their defense against Louisiana, but true freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert (Blaine's younger brother) needs an efficient performance. Gabbert earned MAC freshman of the year honors but completes only 53.7% of his passes with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions