Matt Charboneau and Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News break down the best and worst of the college bowl season.
Alabama vs. Oklahoma
8 p.m., Dec. 29, ESPN
As much fun as it would have been to pick some random game like, say, the Alamo Bowl between Iowa State and Washington State, it’s pretty tough to avoid how good this national semifinal between No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Oklahoma might be. The oddsmakers aren’t giving the Sooners much of a shot to pull the upset, but that was to be expected. Just the Heisman winner/runner-up battle between quarterbacks Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa will be fun enough to watch, but if there’s an offense that can make the Crimson Tide defense look ordinary, it might be Oklahoma’s. Whichever team wins this game could either be worn out or riding a wave of momentum by the time it gets to the national title game a week later, so we’ll just enjoy what should be a classic matchup.
Louisiana Tech vs. Hawaii
10:30 p.m., Dec. 22, ESPN
There’s plenty of candidates for this one, and we really wanted to pick the Cheez-It Bowl because, well, why not? And it’s not like a couple of state teams – Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan – aren’t playing in a couple doozies. But we’re going with the Hawaii Bowl matchup between Louisiana Tech and Hawaii because, of course, how is this any different than just another game for the Rainbows? Shouldn’t they want to go to Detroit or New York? No? OK, maybe not, but also throw in the fact the game is played at 10:30 p.m. between two five-loss teams and it’s probably not gonna be seen by many folks. Unless, of course, it’s the game on the TV at the bar and it gets close late and a few folks gather around to see what happens, only to look at each other at some points and say, “What game is this?”
Best NFL prospect
Another tough one with some likely high picks not playing, including Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa, who shut things down months ago. Obviously, there’s plenty of draft prospects playing in both the semifinal games on Dec. 29. But we’ll try and give this a local spin as Allen is a player who could find himself drafted by the Lions next spring. He and his Wildcats teammates will face Penn State in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 from Orlando, Fla., and while the matchup will be an intriguing one, keep close attention on Allen. The 6-foot-5, 260-pounder led the Wildcats with 84 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks this season. He also had six quarterback hurries and five forced fumbles.
Coach on the hot seat
A year ago, the Tigers coach had finished a season where his team had beaten both Alabama and Georgia, leading to a new seven-year, $49 million contract. But, apparently, buying that out would not be an obstacle if the powers that be decide they need to move on after Auburn had a disappointing 7-5 season after entering the year in the top 15 in the nation with designs on fighting Alabama for the SEC West title. The Tigers will take on upstart Purdue in the Music City Bowl in Nashville on Dec. 28, and while it looks like Malzahn will make it at least another season, it’s worth watching to see if another flop could change that course.
Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
3:45 p.m, Dec. 31, ESPN
This matchup of former Big 12 foes Missouri and Oklahoma State should be an entertaining affair and a good way to get your New Year’s Eve festivities started. The Cowboys are just 6-6 but have the nation’s No. 10 offense at 500 yards per game at the No. 14 scoring offense (38.4 points). Taylor Cornelius has thrown for 3,642 yards and 28 TD, and has rushed for 385 yards and 10 TD. The Tigers are 8-4 but enter the bowl on a roll with four straight wins, including 38-17 over Florida, 50-17 over Tennessee and 38-0 over Arkansas. They are No. 18 in the nation in total offense (468.8 yards) and also 18th in scoring (36.9).
Western Michigan got back to a bowl game after missing out last season and has now played in a bowl game in four of the last five seasons. The Broncos will take on BYU in the Idaho Potato Bowl on Dec. 21, and that will be good for their fans. But the bigger story continues to be the way Chris Creighton has slowly been getting the Eagles back to relevancy by making their second bowl game in three years. EMU will take on Georgia Southern in the Camelia Bowl on Saturday and will look to cap a season that included an early-season win at Purdue.
Close to home
Quick Lane Bowl
Minnesota vs. Georgia Tech
5:15 p.m., Dec. 26, ESPN
It will be interesting to see which Minnesota team shows up at Ford Field. Perhaps the better way to phrase this is: How much of the Minnesota team will show up? According to the Star-Tribune, at least six Gophers players have been disciplined and have not participated in bowl practices for violations of team rules. The violations reportedly are for disciplinary action and not anything involving violence. The suspensions affect six to eight players. Minnesota is 6-6 and earned bowl-eligibility by defeating Wisconsin in the regular-season finale, 37-15. The violations reportedly occurred after that game.
Two years ago under then-coach Tracy Claeys, 10 Minnesota players were suspended before the Holiday Bowl in connection with an alleged sexual assault that happened earlier that season. One player Minnesota definitely will be without is senior linebacker Blake Cashman, who has announced he will skip the bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft.
Ohio State vs. Washington
5 p.m., Jan. 1, ESPN
So long, farewell … wait, that’s the Sound of Music, and this is the holiday bowl season. Urban Meyer will be heading off into football coaching retirement after the Rose Bowl, but while there will be time for tears and sentiment, he wants to win this sendoff. Meyer announced his retirement on Dec. 5 and offensive coordinator Ryan Day will take over as head coach. Meyer struggled this season with headaches from a cyst in his brain. He also began the season serving a three-game suspension as a result of how he handled assistant coach Zach Smith and his numerous domestic abuse allegations. Smith was fired before the season.
OSU players say Meyer has been all-in during bowl prep and he is determined to have the Buckeyes prepared to win. He also, reportedly, seems to be having a good time during practices.
“Usually coach Meyer is really tough on us, but it brings the best out of us,” running back Mike Weber, a Detroit native, told reporters. “But lately it is good to just see him smile and joke around and everything is not always about football. You get to enjoy him kind of like a father figure, just enjoy having normal conversations and see a different side of him.”
Best of the Big Ten
Northwestern, after losing to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, is heading to the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 31 to face Utah with an opportunity to win a third straight bowl game. That would be a Northwestern record after going 0-9 in bowls from 1997-2011. It hasn’t been difficult for coach Pat Fitzgerald to get his players motivated for bowl practices, but the Wildcats are also dealing with rumors that the Green Bay Packers might be interested in hiring Fitzgerald.
A couple other Big Ten bowl games to keep an eye on involve local teams – Michigan facing Florida in the Peach Bowl and Michigan State playing Oregon in the Redbox Bowl. Both teams have major questions to answer. Can Michigan find motivation after the brutal loss at Ohio State and reach that 11th win while snapping a two-bowl losing streak? Can the Spartans get their offense to click against the Ducks, because everyone knows the defense is more than ready to face the challenge?
Penn State should have an interesting game against Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl. The Wildcats have a top linebacker in Josh Allen. The Nittany Lions have plenty of motivation, as well, setting out to reach 10 wins, their third straight season with double-digit victories. Kentucky is 9-3 and was a bit of a surprise in the SEC. The Wildcats also are looking for their first bowl victory since 2009.
Look no further than Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence, the 6-foot-6, 215-pounder who threw for 2,606 yards and 24 touchdowns against four interceptions after replacing Kelly Bryant as starter. It’s hard to believe he’s only a freshman.
Penn State doesn’t make a habit of playing freshmen on defense, but Micah Parsons has been an exception. He was a defensive end in high school moved to linebacker at Penn State in the spring. He earned Big Ten honorable mention honors and led the team in tackles with 69.
You probably know Howard Griffith for his work as an analyst on the Big Ten Network. His son, Houston Griffith, has the headlines these days as a freshman at Notre Dame. The 6-0, 205-pounder out of IMG Academy has been a bright spot in the secondary for the Irish this season.