NCAAF Teams
Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer 9d

Gotta bowl: Picking every winner, including the champion

College Football, North Carolina A&T Aggies, Alcorn State Braves, North Texas Mean Green, Utah State Aggies, Tulane Green Wave, Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns, Fresno State Bulldogs, Arizona State Sun Devils, Georgia Southern Eagles, Eastern Michigan Eagles, Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, Appalachian State Mountaineers, UAB Blazers, Northern Illinois Huskies, San Diego State Aztecs, Ohio Bobcats, Marshall Thundering Herd, South Florida Bulls, Florida Intl Golden Panthers, Toledo Rockets, Western Michigan Broncos, BYU Cougars, Memphis Tigers, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Houston Cougars, Army Knights, Buffalo Bulls, Troy Trojans, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors, Boston College Eagles, Boise State Broncos, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, California Golden Bears, TCU Horned Frogs, Temple Owls, Duke Blue Devils, Baylor Bears, Vanderbilt Commodores, Miami Hurricanes, Wisconsin Badgers, Purdue Boilermakers, Auburn Tigers, West Virginia Mountaineers, Syracuse Orange, Iowa State Cyclones, Washington State Cougars, South Carolina Gamecocks, Virginia Cavaliers, Arkansas State Red Wolves, Nevada Wolf Pack, Cincinnati Bearcats, Virginia Tech Hokies, Stanford Cardinal, Pittsburgh Panthers, Oregon Ducks, Michigan State Spartans, Missouri Tigers, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Northwestern Wildcats, Utah Utes, NC State Wolfpack, Texas A&M Aggies, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Iowa Hawkeyes, Kentucky Wildcats, Penn State Nittany Lions

Full transparency: I had a bad year last year.

Seriously. I went 19-22, which included a national championship prediction of Clemson beating Oklahoma (how'd that turn out?), only one correct New Year's Six prediction (Wisconsin over Miami) and gems such as SMU over Louisiana Tech (Louisiana Tech won 51-10) and Toledo over Appalachian State (Appalachian State won 34-0). I don't even pick against the spread. Imagine the horror if I did.

But redemption is in the air. Myriad factors contribute to a win or loss in football, and trying to factor in external factors (coaching changes), motivation (was it a disappointing season?), players (will they play? Skip?), statistics and a ton of other things can make the selection of a winner be a more daunting task than one would think.

I hope my predictions are better this year, but college football can be a fickle thing.

Ready, set, bowl!

Dec. 15

Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl: North Carolina A&T vs. Alcorn State

(Noon ET on ABC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta)

I can't go against North Carolina A&T and my man Sam Washington, whose "tell them to bring me my money" remains one of the quotes of the year in college football. This game is always close, and Noah Johnson keeps Alcorn State close, but Darryl Johnson and the A&T defense will swarm down the stretch.

Prediction: North Carolina A&T 27, Alcorn State 20

New Mexico Bowl: North Texas vs. Utah State

(2 p.m. ET on ESPN at Dreamstyle Stadium in Albuquerque, New Mexico)

Utah State already has lost its coach (Matt Wells) and North Texas might, if Seth Littrell lands the Kansas State job. Expect plenty of points with two dynamic quarterbacks in Utah State's Jordan Love and North Texas' Mason Fine, but I like the Aggies to prevail.

Prediction: Utah State 38, North Texas 29

AutoNation Cure Bowl: Tulane vs. Louisiana

(2:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida)

It's an all-Louisiana matchup in central Florida between two teams that finished the season well. The Ragin' Cajuns return home happy, as productive running tandem Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell find gaps in the Tulane defense.

Prediction: Louisiana 31, Tulane 27

Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl: Fresno State vs. Arizona State

(3:30 p.m. ET on ABC at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada)

I love what Jeff Tedford has done at Fresno State, which won the Mountain West because of disciplined defense and efficient offense. Herm Edwards did a solid job at ASU, but with wide receiver N'Keal Harry entering the draft and uncertain to play, Fresno State will buckle down and Marcus McMaryion throws two second-half touchdowns.

Prediction: Fresno State 36, Arizona State 24

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Georgia Southern vs. Eastern Michigan

(5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama)

Eastern Michigan's incredible bowl plea paid off as the Eagles are headed to their second bowl in the past three seasons. Both teams defend well but Georgia Southern's option attack, behind quarterback Shai Werts and running back Wesley Fields, is the difference.

Prediction: Georgia Southern 34, Eastern Michigan 27

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Appalachian State

(9 p.m. ET on ESPN at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans)

The big factor here is Scott Satterfield and whether he's still coaching his alma mater or Louisville when this game kicks off. Appalachian State is an excellent team, but the coaching uncertainty leads me to go with Middle Tennessee and the stable Stockstills (coach Rick and quarterback Brent). Brent Stockstill throws two late touchdown passes in his final college game to rally the Blue Raiders to victory.

Prediction: Middle Tennessee 29, Appalachian State 27

Dec. 18

Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl: UAB vs. Northern Illinois

(7 p.m. ET on ESPN at FAU Football Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida)

Two Group of 5 conference champions meet at the house Lane Kiffin built (well, not exactly). Both defenses are extremely talented, so expect a low-scoring game with highlights from star defenders such as UAB's Jamell Garcia-Williams and NIU's Sutton Smith. It's hard to go against the Blazers and coach Bill Clark, especially given NIU's bowl struggles under Rod Carey.

Prediction: UAB 26, Northern Illinois 13

Dec. 19

DXL Frisco Bowl: San Diego State vs. Ohio

(8 p.m. ET on ESPN at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas)

The game pits two older coaches who repeatedly show they haven't lost their touch in San Diego State's Rocky Long (68) and Ohio's Frank Solich (74). While the Aztecs' defense is stingy as usual, their poor finish seems tough to ignore, especially when Ohio won five of its final six behind surging running back A.J. Ouellette (739 rushing yards, seven touchdowns in the final five games).

Prediction: Ohio 31, San Diego State 20

Dec. 20

Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: Marshall vs. South Florida

(8 p.m. ET on ESPN at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida)

USF is at home and boasts superior athletic talent, but this Bulls team has been thoroughly unimpressive, dropping its last five regular-season games after an inflated start. Marshall has a talented defense that will cause enough trouble for USF and get a big game from wide receiver Tyre Brady and other native Floridians in their return to familiar ground.

Prediction: Marshall 38, South Florida 30

Dec. 21

Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl: Florida International vs. Toledo

(12:30 p.m. ET on ESPN at Thomas Robinson Stadium in Nassau, Bahamas)

Toledo burned me in last year's predictions, but I'm a loyal guy. The Rockets scored 45 points or more in four of their last five games, and emerging running back Bryant Koback helps his team outlast James Morgan and FIU in a high-scoring game in the islands.

Prediction: Toledo 42, Florida International 38

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Western Michigan vs. BYU

(4 p.m. ET on ESPN at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho)

The teams have a common opponent in Northern Illinois -- Western Michigan won, BYU lost -- but the Cougars' offense showed improvement down the stretch, and I don't buy that the Broncos' defense has turned things around. BYU is more talented and physical, and gets Kalani Sitake his second bowl win.

Prediction: BYU 36, Western Michigan 27

Dec. 22

Jared Birmingham Bowl: Memphis vs. Wake Forest

(Noon ET on ESPN at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama)

Both offenses are capable of scoring in bunches, and Memphis running back Darrell Henderson and Wake Forest wide receiver Greg Dortch are two underrated national stars. Tulane is a common opponent (Wake Forest squeaked by while Memphis lost). This is a tough one but Wake Forest rides young quarterback Jamie Newman to a late rally.

Prediction: Wake Forest 42, Memphis 38

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Houston vs. Army

(3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas)

No Ed Oliver or D'Eriq King for Houston. Army's relentless triple-option offense and underrated defense (which held Oklahoma to 21 points in regulation). A military-themed bowl game. It all works in Army's favor, and Jeff Monken's team frustrates the Cougars for three hours.

Prediction: Army 35, Houston 24

Dollar General Bowl: Buffalo vs. Troy

(7 p.m. ET on ESPN at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama)

Buffalo didn't have the finish it wanted, squandering a 19-point lead in the second half against Northern Illinois in the MAC title game. I love Lance Leipold and the Bulls' talent and experience, but they'll be playing a virtual road game against a Troy team equally well-coached by Neal Brown. Troy's bowl experience under Brown (2-0) pays off in this one.

Prediction: Troy 28, Buffalo 25

Hawai'i Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. Hawai'i

(10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu)

Both teams went through swoons this season but Hawai'i finished stronger with a win at San Diego State, and I like Cole McDonald (35 touchdown passes) and coach Nick Rolovich's team to defend its home turf.

Prediction: Hawai'i 36, Louisiana Tech 26

Dec. 26

SERVPRO First Responder Bowl: Boston College vs. Boise State

(1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN at Cotton Bowl in Dallas)

Both defenses are very solid, but Boston College's offense really ran out of gas late in the season. Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien, meanwhile, can spread the ball around to four or five receivers and stress a talented Eagles secondary. I like Rypien and Boise State to follow Syracuse's game plan to outlast the Eagles.

Prediction: Boise State 31, Boston College 28

Quick Lane Bowl: Minnesota vs. Georgia Tech

(5:15 ET on ESPN at Ford Field in Detroit)

I like where Minnesota is going under P.J. Fleck, whose late-season defensive coordinator switch paid off as the Gophers dominated Purdue and Wisconsin. But Georgia Tech wants to send coach Paul Johnson out with a win, and the triple option clicks in the second half as the Yellow Jackets rally for CPJ.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 42, Minnesota 34

Cheez-It Bowl: Cal vs. TCU

(9 p.m. ET on ESPN at Chase Field in Phoenix)

Two defense-minded coaches (Cal's Justin Wilcox and TCU's Gary Patterson) will have their respective units ready. But Patterson's bowl track record (10-6) and Cal's woeful offense -- tied for 119th in offensive points scored (19.2) and 118th in yards per play (4.96) -- make TCU the pick here.

Prediction: TCU 23, Cal 10

Dec. 27

Walk-On's Independence Bowl: Temple vs. Duke

(1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, Louisiana)

I loved what I saw from Temple down the stretch. Geoff Collins' team showed it could win points fests (59-49 over Houston) and grinders (24-17 over Cincinnati). Duke, meanwhile, dropped four of its final six contests. Temple's balanced offense surges while Duke's offensive slump continues.

Prediction: Temple 34, Duke 17

Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: Baylor vs. Vanderbilt

(9 p.m. ET on ESPN at NRG Stadium in Houston)

Both coaches (Matt Rhule and Derek Mason) deserve a lot of credit for getting their teams bowl-eligible. Vanderbilt was better down the stretch, though, winning three of its last four and pushing Kentucky and Missouri in losses. Kyle Shurmur displays his trademark efficiency against a vulnerable Baylor defense, and Vanderbilt limits familiar face Jalen Hurd and the Bears' offense.

Prediction: Vanderbilt 37, Baylor 24

New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Miami vs. Wisconsin

(5:15 p.m. ET on ESPN at Yankee Stadium in New York)

They should call this the Disappointment Bowl as two preseason top-10 teams fell massively short of expectations. The environment should favor Wisconsin, but Miami is clearly the superior defensive team. In a game someone has to win, I'll go with the Badgers behind running back Jonathan Taylor.

Prediction: Wisconsin 24, Miami 21

Dec. 28

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Purdue vs. Auburn

(1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee)

Motivation should be a factor here. Purdue is energized with coach Jeff Brohm staying at the school to keep building with stars like wide receiver Rondale Moore. Auburn, a preseason top-10 team, envisioned much grander goals and has plenty of tension swirling around its coaches. Brohm calls an aggressive game, Moore scores three times and quarterback David Blough sparkles in his final college game.

Prediction: Purdue 35, Auburn 31

Camping World Bowl: West Virginia vs. Syracuse

(5:15 p.m. ET on ESPN at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida)

A Big East rivalry is renewed with two fun-loving coaches -- Dana Holgorsen and Dino Babers -- who love to sling the ball around. Senior quarterbacks Will Grier (WVU) and Eric Dungey (Syracuse) both put up big numbers but Grier and his receivers will be the difference in a high-scoring game.

Prediction: West Virginia 48, Syracuse 45

Valero Alamo Bowl: Iowa State at Washington State

(9 p.m. ET on ESPN at Alamodome in San Antonio)

It would have been great to see Uncle Rico (Gardner Minshew) and the Pirate (Mike Leach) in the New Year's Six, but this isn't a bad consolation. Iowa State is extremely well-coached and boasts a solid defense led by lineman Ray Lima and others. But after struggling in a snowy Apple Cup, Minshew shines in the dome as the Cougars finish 11-2.

Prediction: Washington State 41, Iowa State 34

Dec. 29

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Florida vs. Michigan

(Noon ET on ESPN at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta)

The Wolverines are better, but will they be motivated after the Ohio State meltdown? While Michigan will be without several draft-eligible defensive standouts, the offense steps up as Shea Patterson and Karan Higdon each account for two touchdowns and the Wolverines avoid a second straight bowl face-plant.

Prediction: Michigan 31, Florida 21

Belk Bowl: South Carolina vs. Virginia

(Noon ET on ABC at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina)

Bronco Mendenhall will really need his defense to step up against Jake Bentley, Deebo Samuel, Bryan Edwards and a South Carolina offense that looked very productive down the stretch. After two brutal Virginia losses to end the regular season, it's hard to see the Cavaliers keeping up with Will Muschamp's team.

Prediction: South Carolina 37, Virginia 21

NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Nevada

(5:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Arizona)

Only two spots separate these teams in FPI (Nevada is 85th, Arkansas State is 87th). Jay Norvell has done an excellent job getting Nevada on track in Year 2, but Arkansas State played really well down the stretch and boasts the superior quarterback in Justice Hansen (27 touchdowns, 67 percent completions, one interception in his past six games).

Prediction: Arkansas State 33, Nevada 28

College Football Playoff semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: Notre Dame vs. Clemson

(4 p.m. ET on ESPN at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas)

Notre Dame's defense and Ian Book's arm will make this game competitive, but the Irish haven't faced a team with as many elite-level athletes as Clemson. Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne shine in the second half, and the front four shuts down Dexter Williams and pressures Book, as Clemson advances.

Prediction: Clemson 35, Notre Dame 27

College Football Playoff semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Alabama

(8 p.m. ET on ESPN at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami)

Kyler Murray will give Alabama's defense by far more trouble than any quarterback Quinnen Williams and the Tide have seen all season. The problem for OU: Alabama might score on every single possession. I'm still not buying the Sooners' defense against Tua Tagovailoa & Co.

Prediction: Alabama 55, Oklahoma 37

Dec. 31

Military Bowl Presented By Northrop Grumman: Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech

(Noon ET on ESPN at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland)

One of these teams is extremely fortunate to be in a bowl. The other had a breakthrough season behind a versatile and talented defense, and a surprise star in freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder. Virginia Tech's future is still bright with Justin Fuente but Cincinnati wins this one.

Prediction: Cincinnati 30, Virginia Tech 17

Hyundai Sun Bowl: Stanford vs. Pittsburgh

(2 p.m. ET on CBS at Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas)

Both of these offenses are unbalanced -- Pitt is a heavy run team, while Stanford can stretch the field with its big receivers and tight ends -- and both teams lost at Notre Dame (Pitt played better). Still, I like how Stanford responded from a really rough October. Expect a big game from K.J. Costello and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in El Paso.

Prediction: Stanford 37, Pitt 27

Redbox Bowl: Oregon vs. Michigan State

(3 p.m. ET on Fox at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California)

Oregon's Justin Herbert, who some think will be the first quarterback drafted in 2019, faces a ferocious Michigan State defense led by end Kenny Willekes. It's just hard to believe in the Spartans' offense, though, and Herbert leads a late touchdown drive to lift his team to victory.

Prediction: Oregon 23, Michigan State 20

AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State

(3:45 p.m. ET at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee)

Oklahoma State might be the weirdest team in the country this season, with wins over Texas and West Virginia, a one-point loss to Oklahoma and blowout losses to both Texas Tech and Kansas State. Give me the more consistent team in Missouri, which finished really well down the stretch and gets a big performance from quarterback Drew Lock.

Prediction: Missouri 41, Oklahoma State 27

San Diego Credit Union Holiday Bowl: Northwestern vs. Utah

(7 p.m. ET on FS1 at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego)

Two league title game losers meet in a game where points will be in short supply. Northwestern has the more experienced quarterback (Clayton Thorson, playing his final college game), a roster that should be getting healthy and better recent bowl performances. But you just can't bet against the bowl king Kyle Whittingham (11-1). Chase Hansen and the Utes' defense rises in the end.

Prediction: Utah 21, Northwestern 14

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: NC State vs. Texas A&M

(7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida)

Clemson is a common opponent and Texas A&M fared much better in defeat to the Tigers than NC State did. The Aggies also have two top-15 wins (LSU, Kentucky), while NC State's record came against mostly weak competition. Quarterbacks Kellen Mond (Texas A&M) and Ryan Finley (NC State) both perform well, but coach Jimbo Fisher's team owns the fourth quarter to finish 9-4.

Prediction: Texas A&M 38, NC State 28

Jan. 1

Outback Bowl: Mississippi St. vs. Iowa

(Noon ET on ESPN2 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida)

Both of these teams underachieved a bit this season. Both are talented at the line of scrimmage and can shut down opposing offenses. Mississippi State is the pick because of defensive line tandem Montez Sweat and Jeffrey Simmons, who force Iowa's Nathan Stanley into some mistakes. Tight end Noah Fant's absence also hurts the Hawkeyes in this one.

Prediction: Mississippi State 28, Iowa 17

VRBO Citrus Bowl: Kentucky vs. Penn State

(1 p.m. ET on ABC at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida)

Record-setting Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley takes on national awards candidate Josh Allen and a ferocious Kentucky defense. Expect a very tight game, but the Lions are a more complete team and McSorley goes out a winner after a highlight-reel touchdown scamper in the final minute.

Prediction: Penn State 28, Kentucky 23

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: LSU vs. UCF

(1 p.m. ET on ESPN at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona)

I love the way UCF rallied behind new quarterback Darriel Mack to win another AAC title and post another perfect regular season, honoring injured QB McKenzie Milton in the process. But the streak ends in the desert as an LSU team, more motivated than Auburn was last year, uses its running game and defense to hold the Knights down just enough.

Prediction: LSU 40, UCF 33

Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual: Washington vs. Ohio State

(5 p.m. ET on ESPN at Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California)

Jimmy Lake's defense vs. Ryan Day's offense will be fun to watch, but Buckeyes quarterback Dwayne Haskins and his receivers make enough plays to outpace Jake Browning and the Huskies in coach Urban Meyer's Rose Bowl debut. Haskins throws for three scores on the talented Washington secondary in what likely will be his final college game.

Prediction: Ohio State 34, Washington 21

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Texas vs. Georgia

(8:45 p.m. ET on ESPN at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans)

Texas might be the more motivated team and Sam Ehlinger and his gifted receivers will test Georgia's talented secondary. But Bulldogs backfield tandem D'Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield, along with a bullying offensive line, overwhelm the Longhorns in the second half.

Prediction: Georgia 38, Texas 27

Jan. 7

College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T: Clemson vs. Alabama

(8 p.m. ET on ESPN at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California)

Some may be tired of this pairing, but the young quarterbacks, Tagovailoa and Lawrence, add a unique element. Expect both to put on a show along with their respective supporting casts, but Alabama's passing game will be the difference against a leaky Clemson secondary.

Prediction: Alabama 41, Clemson 31

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