41 college football bowl games, 42 predictions

Fair to expect Michigan to play angry against Florida State? (1:53)

Danny Kanell and Mark May are expecting an angry Michigan team against Florida State in the Orange Bowl, while Todd McShay hints some Wolverines players will have their eyes already set on the NFL. (1:53)

The bowl matchups are set, and it's time to break down each one. Forty-one games. Forty-two predictions. Here's hoping for a better record than last year. (Don't ask.)

Ready, set, bowl!

Dec. 17

Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl: North Carolina Central vs. Grambling
(noon ET, ABC, Georgia Dome, Atlanta)
The bowl slate gets off to a competitive start in Atlanta as these teams have similar profiles, but it's impossible to go against Mr. Excitement, Grambling running back Martez Carter, whose big-play ability puts the Tigers over the top. Grambling 31, North Carolina Central 28.

Gildan New Mexico Bowl: New Mexico vs. Texas-San Antonio

(2 p.m., ESPN, University Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico)
Former LSU assistant Frank Wilson has done an excellent job in his first season at UTSA, but the Roadrunners will struggle against the nation's best rushing attack in New Mexico. Led by 1,200-yard back Teriyon Gipson, the Lobos get the win on their home field. New Mexico 38, UTSA 27.

Las Vegas Bowl presented by Geico: Houston vs. San Diego State
(3:30 p.m., ABC, Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas)
Houston brings the nation's No. 3 rushing defense to Sin City to face San Diego State's Donnel Pumphrey, a Las Vegas native who ranks second nationally in rushing yards (2,018). Who gets the edge? Houston's motivation level is a concern, and Pumphrey had a big day in his return home. San Diego State 34, Houston 28.

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Appalachian State vs. Toledo
(5:30 p.m., ESPN, Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama)
These teams are evenly matched -- Toledo is No. 55 in ESPN's FPI and Appalachian State is No. 58 -- and both have electrifying rushing threats in the Rockets' Kareem Hunt and the Mountaineers' Jalin Moore. Appalachian State's defense will be the big difference, as the Mountaineers are stingy, especially on third down (15th nationally in conversions). Appalachian State 28, Toledo 23.

AutoNation Cure Bowl: UCF vs. Arkansas State
(5:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network, Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida)
UCF is back in a bowl game under first-year coach Scott Frost after going 0-12 in 2015, while Arkansas State climbed out of an 0-4 hole to win seven of its final eight. Both teams will be motivated, but UCF is playing 25 minutes from campus and, led by the remarkable Shaquem Griffin, subdues the Red Wolves with defense. UCF 26, Arkansas State 21.

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Southern Mississippi vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
(9 p.m., ESPN, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans)
The matchup oozes with regional flavor, but Southern Miss has a decided edge on offense behind quarterback Nick Mullens, who has a big night against a middling Louisiana-Lafayette team that suffers its first (non-vacated) loss in five appearances in the New Orleans Bowl. Southern Miss 40, Louisiana-Lafayette 36.

Dec. 19

Miami Beach Bowl: Central Michigan vs. Tulsa
(2:30 p.m., ESPN, Marlins Park, Miami)
Tulsa quietly had one of the better seasons among Group of 5 teams, as quarterback Dane Evans led a fast and talented offense that eclipsed 30 points in all but one game (Ohio State). The Golden Hurricane keep it rolling against a Central Michigan team that faded considerably down the stretch. Tulsa 45, Central Michigan 21.

Dec. 20

Boca Raton Bowl: Memphis vs. Western Kentucky
(7 p.m., ESPN, FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida)
Take the over in this one. These teams combine to average 84.6 points per game. Western Kentucky has had four 50-point games, while Memphis scored 77 on Sept. 24. Memphis seems more battle-tested after playing in the AAC, and the uncertainty about coach Jeff Brohm's future makes me leery about the Hilltoppers. Memphis in a shootout. Memphis 45, Western Kentucky 40.

Dec. 21

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: BYU vs. Wyoming
(9 p.m., ESPN, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego)
There's a common opponent here, as Wyoming beat Boise State while BYU fell a point short. But Kalani Sitake's team played a much tougher overall schedule and held its own every time out. BYU's defense is deciding factor in a low-scoring affair. BYU 26, Wyoming 19.

Dec. 22

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Idaho vs. Colorado State
(7 p.m., ESPN, Albertsons Stadium, Boise, Idaho)
Idaho's Paul Petrino quietly did one of the best jobs in the Group of 5, especially with the Vandals soon dropping down a level, but Colorado State's powerful offense makes the difference. Nick Stevens is an emerging star, and the Rams quarterback has a big night in Boise. Colorado State 45, Idaho 34.

Dec. 23

Popeyes Bahamas Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. Old Dominion
(1 p.m., ESPN, Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas)
Chris Creighton did an incredible job coaching Eastern Michigan to seven wins, especially with a rash of injuries, but a balanced Old Dominion offense led by quarterback David Washington and running back Ray Lawry will be too much to handle. Old Dominion 45, Eastern Michigan 27.

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. No. 25 Navy
(4:30 p.m., ESPN, Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas)
Both teams dropped league championship games on Saturday, but Navy endured the more painful setback, losing quarterback Will Worth and slotback Toneo Gulley on the same play. Without Worth, Navy will have a hard time outlasting Ryan Higgins, Trent Taylor and the Louisiana Tech offense. Louisiana Tech 43, Navy 33.

Dollar General Bowl: Ohio vs. Troy
(8 p.m., ESPN, Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Alabama)
The age gap between Ohio coach Frank Solich (72) and Troy coach Neal Brown (36) will be a lot larger than the one on the scoreboard. Both teams had nice midseason stretches before fading late, but Troy has the edge at quarterback with Brandon Silvers, who puts up a big fourth quarter in the win. Troy 33, Ohio 27.

Dec. 24

Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii vs. Middle Tennessee
(8 p.m., ESPN, Aloha Stadium, Honolulu)
Hawaii has home-field advantage, and Middle Tennessee lost top quarterback Brent Stockstill to a broken collarbone in November. Still, it's hard not to pick the Blue Raiders, with an offense that scored 115 points in the final two games without Stockstill. Middle Tennessee 40, Hawaii 28.

Dec. 26

St. Petersburg Bowl: Miami (Ohio) vs. Mississippi State
(11 a.m., ESPN, Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida)
Mississippi State is 5-7 and Miami (Ohio) went from 0-6 to 6-6, so sizing up this one is tricky. But Bulldogs dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald will make the difference against a good Miami defense, as another 5-7 squad finishes with a bowl victory. Mississippi State 33, Miami (Ohio) 24.

Quick Lane Bowl: Maryland vs. Boston College
(2:30 p.m., ESPN, Ford Field, Detroit)
Maryland and BC are Nos. 75 and 76 in FPI, just above 3-9 Arizona, and both struggled mightily against the elite of their respective conferences. It comes down to which squad makes the most strides during bowl preparation. Boston College gets it done in Motown. Boston College 24, Maryland 21.

Camping World Independence Bowl: NC State vs. Vanderbilt
(5 p.m., ESPN2, Independence Stadium, Shreveport, Louisiana)
Two of the nation's best under-the-radar defenders share the field in Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham (16 tackles for loss) and NC State defensive end Bradley Chubb (21 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks). Neither offense gets much going, but NC State star Matthew Dayes reaches the end zone in the final minute for the win. NC State 20, Vanderbilt 17.

Dec. 27

Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl: Army vs. North Texas
(noon, ESPN, Cotton Bowl, Dallas)
What's exciting? Army is in its first bowl game since 2010. What's not so exciting? These teams played Oct. 22, a 17-point North Texas victory. It will be closer this time around, but the Mean Green continue the success of 5-7 teams in bowl games. North Texas 28, Army 22.

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman: No. 24 Temple vs. Wake Forest
(3:30 p.m., ESPN, Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Maryland)
Temple might be the Group of 5 version of USC: a team no one wants to play right now. Wake Forest struggled down the stretch and lacks the firepower to beat the remarkably balanced Owls, who outscored their opponents 427-224. Temple pulls away to secure its first bowl win since 2011 and just the second in team history. Temple 35, Wake Forest 17.

National Funding Holiday Bowl: Minnesota vs. Washington State
(7 p.m., ESPN, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego)
Both defenses are solid, but quarterback Luke Falk gives Washington State a major advantage over Minnesota, which simply hasn't seen the improvement it needed from veteran signal-caller Mitch Leidner. The Gophers hang around for a half before Falk and his wide receivers start stretching the field. Washington State 37, Minnesota 24.

Motel 6 Cactus Bowl: Boise State vs. Baylor
(10:15 p.m., ESPN, Chase Field, Phoenix)
Baylor's season can't end soon enough, while Boise State saw its New Year's Six hopes fade with two losses in its final five league contests. The Broncos have more quality wins and a decided edge on defense against Baylor, with its offense missing quarterback Seth Russell. Boise State pulls away in the fourth quarter behind running back Jeremy McNichols. Boise State 44, Baylor 31.

Dec. 28

New Era Pinstripe Bowl: No. 23 Pittsburgh vs. Northwestern
(2 p.m., ESPN, Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York)
Pitt has the strongest 8-4 record in the country -- wins over No. 2 Clemson and No. 5 Penn State -- and a coach (Pat Narduzzi) who faced Northwestern as a defensive coordinator on various teams for years. Northwestern's offense has improved enough to keep pace into the second half, but Pitt will be too much in the fourth as James Conner scores two touchdowns. Pitt 38, Northwestern 28.

Russell Athletic Bowl: No. 16 West Virginia vs. Miami
(5:30 p.m., ESPN, Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida)
A streaky Miami team ended the season on an upswing, but West Virginia has the experience and talent on both sides of the ball. WVU has the edge on the perimeter with cornerback Rasul Douglas and a receiving corps -- Dakiel Shorts Jr. and Shelton Gibson -- loaded with playmakers. The Mountaineers win a tight one. West Virginia 34, Miami 33.

Foster Farms Bowl: Indiana vs. No. 19 Utah
(8:30 p.m., Fox, Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California)
Despite Utah's late-season fade, it's hard to go against coach Kyle Whittingham, who is 9-1 in bowl games and brings the more talented squad to the Bay Area. New Indiana coach Tom Allen will have his Hoosiers ready to go, but Utah's defensive front, stocked with NFL-caliber talent, pushes the Utes over the top. Utah 37, Indiana 28.

AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Kansas State
(9 p.m., ESPN, NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas)
Texas A&M has more talent but limped to the finish, while Kansas State finished strong against mostly weak competition. The game site certainly favors Kevin Sumlin's Aggies, but Kansas State is the more energized and motivated team, and rides its defense to victory. Kansas State 35, Texas A&M 28.

Dec. 29

Birmingham Bowl: South Florida vs. South Carolina
(2 p.m., ESPN, Legion Field, Birmingham, Alabama)
Remember what Deshaun Watson did to South Carolina a few weeks ago? Expect a slightly less severe version of that with South Florida's Quinton Flowers, one of the nation's most underappreciated stars. Flowers accounts for four touchdowns in the Bulls' first bowl win since 2010. South Florida 41, South Carolina 24.

Belk Bowl: Arkansas vs. No. 22 Virginia Tech
(5:30 p.m., ESPN, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina)
Despite an ACC championship game loss, Virginia Tech is trending in the right direction under Justin Fuente. Arkansas is simply too inconsistent and surprisingly shaky along both lines. Hokies quarterback Jerod Evans accounts for four scores as Virginia Tech finishes with 10 wins in Fuente's first season. Virginia Tech 38, Arkansas 27.

Valero Alamo Bowl: No. 12 Oklahoma State vs. No. 10 Colorado
(9 p.m., ESPN, Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas)
San Antonio will host another entertaining and competitive game between two league runners-up, but Colorado's experience and balance will make the difference. Mason Rudolph and James Washington strike early, but Colorado rallies behind running back Phillip Lindsay to cap an improbable season under coach Mike MacIntyre. Colorado 38, Oklahoma State 35.

Dec. 30

AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Georgia vs. TCU
(noon, ESPN, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, Tennessee)
TCU's Gary Patterson is great in the postseason, winning eight of his past 10 bowl appearances. But Georgia is the team with greater urgency after a disappointing debut season for Kirby Smart. Freshman quarterback Jacob Eason and the Bulldogs make the necessary progress during bowl preparation and hand TCU another close loss in a season filled with inconsistency. Georgia 28, TCU 25.

Hyundai Sun Bowl: No. 18 Stanford vs. North Carolina
(2 p.m., CBS Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas)
There's no way Stanford's Christian McCaffrey replicates the 2016 Rose Bowl performance in El Paso ... or does he? McCaffrey quietly has been very productive for the Cardinal and North Carolina allows 235.5 rush yards per game. WildCaff runs wild in possibly his final college game as Stanford finishes with another 10-win season. Stanford 45, North Carolina 34.

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Nebraska vs. No. 21 Tennessee
(3:30 p.m., ESPN, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee)
Both teams faded down the stretch, and it's difficult to trust a Tennessee team that so rarely plays to its talent level. But the Vols will be playing a virtual home game, and Nebraska looked dreadful its last time out against Iowa. Tennessee ends a disappointing season on a feel-good note, but it's fleeting, as Butch Jones will be on the hot seat in 2017. Tennessee 36, Nebraska 28.

Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl: South Alabama vs. Air Force
(5:30 p.m., Campus Insiders, Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Arizona)
South Alabama had one of the stranger seasons in the FBS, beating an SEC team (Mississippi State) and a league champion (San Diego State) but struggling in most of its road games. Air Force endured an October slide but boasts wins against Boise State and Navy. Troy Calhoun's coaching future is a subplot here, but Air Force's defense subdues South Alabama. Air Force 31, South Alabama 21.

Capital One Orange Bowl: No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 11 Florida State
(8 p.m., ESPN, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida)
Michigan recorded 44 sacks under first-year defensive coordinator Don Brown aka "Dr. Blitz." Florida State freshman Deondre Francois spent most of his freshman season absorbing hits. This is an awful matchup for FSU's offensive line, and despite great talent on the Noles' roster, Michigan wins fairly easily. Michigan 34, Florida State 24.

Dec. 31

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: No. 20 LSU vs. No. 13 Louisville
(11 a.m., ABC, Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida)
Ed Orgeron draws Lamar Jackson, the likely Heisman Trophy winner, in his first game as LSU's permanent head coach. Motivation could be key here as Louisville looked like a lock for the New Year's Six three weeks ago, while LSU is energized by Coach O's hiring. Dave Aranda's defense limits Jackson, and LSU's run game steps up in crunch time. LSU 31, Louisville 27.

TaxSlayer Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Kentucky
(11 a.m., ESPN, EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Florida)
Both of these teams seemed to have several seasons packed into one, but Georgia Tech's strong finish, propelled by quarterback Justin Thomas, makes the difference in a shootout against a Kentucky defense allowing 225 rush yards per game. Georgia Tech 42, Kentucky 36.

Jan. 2

Outback Bowl: No. 17 Florida vs. Iowa
(1 p.m., ABC, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida)
The Gators' season will end the same way as last year -- SEC East division title, lopsided losses to Florida State and to Alabama in the SEC title game, and a bowl loss -- although their bowl performance will be better this time. Points will be scarce, but the current Big Ten quarterback (Iowa's C.J. Beathard) outplays the former Big Ten quarterback (Florida's Austin Appleby) as the Hawkeyes prevail. Iowa 17, Florida 14.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: No. 15 Western Michigan vs. No. 8 Wisconsin
(1 p.m., ESPN, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas)
P.J. Fleck's Boat Rowers are 2-0 against Big Ten teams this season, and star wide receiver Corey Davis will challenge a Wisconsin secondary that showed cracks against Penn State. But Wisconsin's run game and defensive front seven make the difference in the second half as Corey Clement eclipses 200 rush yards against WMU. Wisconsin 36, Western Michigan 24.

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual: No. 9 USC vs. No. 5 Penn State
(5 p.m., ESPN, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California)
No two coaches led better in-season turnarounds than USC's Clay Helton and PSU's James Franklin thanks in large part to quarterbacks Sam Darnold (USC) and Trace McSorley (PSU). Both teams and both quarterbacks are hot, and both have dynamic running backs (Saquon Barkley at Penn State and Justin Davis at USC) and receivers (USC's JuJu Smith-Schuster and Penn State's DaeSean Hamilton). Expect a shootout, but USC mounts a late drive for the win. USC 38, Penn State 36.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 14 Auburn vs. No. 7 Oklahoma
(8:30 p.m., ESPN, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans)
Auburn's defense gives the Tigers a real chance here, but Oklahoma simply has too much firepower, and its own defense made strides down the stretch. Both teams can run the ball effectively, but the Sooners have a massive edge at quarterback with Baker Mayfield, who channels predecessor Trevor Knight in outclassing an SEC team from Alabama in New Orleans. Oklahoma 34, Auburn 29.

Dec. 31

College Football Playoff semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
No. 4 Washington vs. No. 1 Alabama

(3 p.m., ESPN, Georgia Dome, Atlanta)
Washington actually has the type of defense and kicking game to keep pace with Alabama, but quarterback Jake Browning's struggles against top competition -- he completed just 38 of 80 passes against Utah, USC and Colorado -- don't bode well against a smothering Tide defense, which records another takeaway for points in the win. Alabama 31, Washington 20.

College Football Playoff semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl
No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Clemson

(7 p.m., ESPN, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona)
Clemson has the right talent mix to beat Alabama, but the Tigers have been too inconsistent. Urban Meyer has only two bowl losses -- one to Clemson three years ago -- but he elevates his young team, especially the passing game, in this one. Ohio State builds a lead and holds on against Deshaun Watson in an instant classic, winning on a field goal. Ohio State 31, Clemson 29.

Jan. 9

College Football Playoff National Championship
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 3 Ohio State

(8 p.m., ESPN, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida)
College football's pre-eminent coaches -- Alabama's Nick Saban and Ohio State's Urban Meyer -- finally meet to decide a national title, and the game lives up to expectations. Both defenses record touchdowns, and Ohio State, despite its youth, pushes Alabama to the brink. But the Tide defense proves too much against a mostly youthful Buckeyes offense in the second half, and Alabama repeats at a perfect 15-0. Alabama 30, Ohio State 24.