NOTE: This article was updated on 1/1/18.
By now, everyone knows the Final Four is set with Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Oklahoma. But while everybody seems to focus almost exclusively on those four teams, we make it a point to hype all of the interesting facts of the bowl season. And indeed, the undercard, if I may call it that, has a great lineup of games.
The number of bowl games is actually reduced by one this year after the San Diego County Credit Union opted to bail-out of operating the Poinsettia Bowl and focus all of its efforts on the Holiday Bowl. That made it easier for the bowls to fill all slots, In fact, Buffalo (6-6), UTSA (6-5) and Western Michigan (6-6) were left out, despite bowl eligible records. Still, the bowl schedule is full with 39 traditional bowl games, plus the 4th College Football Playoff Championship game.
Last year, Alabama was trying win consecutive national titles, just as it had done in 2011 and 2012. But Clemson put a halt to that.
A wild fourth quarter finish saw Clemson post 21 points against an Alabama team that had allowed 32 fourth quarter points all year. Hunter Renfrow caught the game-winning 2-yard TD pass with 1 second remaining in the game, then in true Dabo style, recovered an onside kick to prevent 'Bama from having any last-second chance at a miracle win.
Renfrow's final TD was his second of the game, and came just 2 minutes and 6 seconds after Alabama QB Jalen Hurts rumbled 30 yards to put 'Bama ahead 31-28. The touchdown by Hurts came only 2 minutes and 31 seconds after Wayne Gallman's 1-yard run gave Clemson its first lead of the game and put Alabama behind in the 4th quarter for the first time all season. That's 3 touchdowns and 3 lead changes, all in the last 4:38 of the game.
It was the second straight Alabama-Clemson finale after the Tide prevailed the previous year when a hard-fought, extremely competitive football game came down to two special teams plays by Alabama. After tying the game at 24 with a field goal early in the 4th quarter, Alabama recovered an onside kick that led to a 31-24 lead just two plays later. The Tide defense held Clemson to a field goal on its next drive, after which Kenyan Drake returned the kickoff 95 yards for a 38-27 Alabama lead.
Clemson never quit and responded with a touchdown drive to make it 38-33 with 4:30 left. Alabama showed its own determination by answering with an 8-play drive to stretch the lead to 45-33 with 1:07 to go. With players anxiously waiting to dump the Gatorade bucket on Nick Saban, Clemson put another pause on the celebration with a touchdown at the 12-second mark. Alas, an onside kick bounced too high, and too late to be recovered in-bounds, and a 45-40 win was finally secured for the Tide.
This year, Alabama and Clemson will renew their playoff rivalry in a semifinal game when they clash in the Sugar Bowl. That will be the late game on New Year's day, and will follow the Georgia-Oklahoma showdown in the Rose Bowl. The winners will meet in Atlanta on January 8 to determine the champion.
Clemson is trying to repeat as champs, while Alabama is shooting for its fifth title since the 2009 season. Oklahoma last won the national championship in 2000 and Georgia's only title came in 1980.
Georgia and Oklahoma will be meeting for the first time at the Rose Bowl.
SEC teams have taken 8 of the last 11 national championships, but ACC schools have won 2 of the last 3. Ohio State captured one for the Big Ten in 2014.
The Congrove Computer Rankings say the Tide are a thin 0.58-point favorite over Clemson, and Georgia has a microscopic 0.07 edge on Oklahoma. That leaves us with an all-SEC final where the computer takes Alabama by 3.10 points.
The bowl season kicks off on Saturday, December 16 with five games.
An hour-and-a-half after the New Orleans Bowl launches the 2017 bowl season, the third Cure Bowl kicks off in Orlando. It's the first of three bowl games at Camping World Stadium and proof that there is one too many. On the very good side, the bowl will announce during this year’s game that it has raised a collective 3.3 million dollars to benefit breast cancer research. On the very bad side, 85th-ranked Georgia State is the lowest-ranked team to get a bowl bid and 79th-ranked Western Kentucky is the 6th-lowest team in the postseason . The Panthers lost to FCS member Tennessee State and picked up their six wins against schools that were a cumulative 14-53 vs. FBS teams and 2-3 vs. FCS squads. At least the Hilltoppers defeated their FCS opponent, but the 5 FBS wins came against schools with cumulative records of 12-45 vs. FBS teams and 2-1 vs. FCS squads. WKU is an 8.51-point computer pick.
With the NFL Draft pending as the next step in their lives, Christian McCaffrey (Stanford) and Leonard Fournette (LSU) both skipped their respective bowl games last year.
Were they missed? Nope.
Stanford still defeated North Carolina 25-23 in the Sun Bowl, and LSU still clobbered Louisville 29-9 in the Citrus Bowl. Bryce Love covered for McCaffrey and had 180 total yards that included a 59-yard run and a 49-yard TD catch. Derrius Guice took Fournette's spot and responded with 138 yards and a TD rushing, plus a TD reception.
Among the sit-outs this year - Florida State DB Derwin James. James announced on Instagram that he's sitting out the Independence Bowl game vs. Southern Miss and declaring for the NFL Draft as a junior (red-shirt sophomore.as it relates to collegiate playing status). James is widely considered to be an early first-round draft pick. That brings us to the....
Florida State was a preseason consensus top 3 team. The computer had the 'Noles winning it all. Recruiting had been off the charts. Jimbo was the king of Tallahassee.
Fast-forward four months.
Jimbo is gone. Florida State made it to 6-6 under interim head coach Odell Haggins with a victory in a make-up game over Louisiana-Monroe on the same weekend they were expected to play in, and win, the ACC Championship.
It all brings the words of a Thomas Rhett song to mind. "A slammin' door and a lesson learned, I let another love Crash and Burn."
Nonetheless - even with James sitting out and Haggins leading the team again as the interim head coach - Florida State is an 18.61-point computer favorite over Southern Miss in the Independence Bowl.
Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Florida State were the four teams destined to make the Final Four this year, according to the preseason projections based on the Congrove Computer Rankings. The Tide and Sooners are in, and that means the computer has predicted half the field three times since the playoff format began. Last year has been the only season in which only one correct team (Alabama) was projected.
The 2017 preseason rankings correctly forecasted the champions in 5 of the 10 conferences. Those include the Sun Belt's tie for first between Appalachian State and Troy, as well as the outright champs in the Big Ten, Big 12 and MAC, plus Army's tie with Notre Dame for best record among independents. It pegged both division winners in the PAC-12 and the Big Ten.
The computer also nailed the exact final regular season record of 23 teams, and came within 1 win or loss on 56 teams.
At this time last year, Fresno State was on a 13-game losing streak to FBS schools. This year, the Bulldogs played in the Mountain West championship game, finished 9-4, and are headed to the Hawaii Bowl to face Houston a 6.02-point computer underdog.
New Mexico State is bowling for the first time since 1960. Ironically, their opponent in the Arizona Bowl is the same team they beat in 1960 - Utah State. The computer thinks the all-Aggies bowl will go the way of Utah State with a 4.28-point advantage.
In its first season under Lane Kiffin as head coach, FAU won 10 games and the Conference USA title. Unfortunately, the Owls didn't get a juicy bowl game as they play in their own stadium as a hefty favorite over Akron. This is one of the worst bowl matchups of the season as FAU could easily win by 40, though the computer has it at 11.82 points
UAB, which didn't field a team for two years, went 8-4 this season and will play Ohio in the Bahamas Bowl. It is only the second bowl that the Blazers have ever played in, so it's a bit of a shame that they couldn't be slotted into a bowl that didn't require a passport for travel. The computer has Ohio rolling by 21.48, but has undervalued UAB all year. The computer's trend line favors the Bobcats by 4.83.
Four schools are literally playing home games - Navy, FAU, Memphis and Miami. The Midshipmen will host Virginia in the Military Bowl, while Florida Atlantic welcomes Akron to the Boca Raton Bowl, and Memphis hosts Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl. The Miami Hurricanes get the best gig of all by hosting Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl. The computer likes all of the home teams except Miami as it takes Wisconsin by 5.16, Navy by 12.24, FAU by 11.82, and Memphis by 11.30.
The other four games among the New Year's Six Bowls - Peach, Orange, Fiesta and Cotton - all offer intriguing matchups.
UCF, the only team to enter the bowl season undefeated at 12-0, gets to play Auburn in the Peach Bowl on New Year's Day. Scott Frost took over a program that went 0-12 two years ago and got the Knights bowl qualified in 2016 at 6-6. This year, the program came full circle with a perfect record. Unfortunately for UCF, all that success, combined with Mike Riley's failures at Nebraska, created a scenario in which the school lost its head coach to his alma mater, but Frost and his staff will lead UCF one last time in the bowl game where the Knights are an 8.36-point computer underdog.
The Cotton Bowl gives us the marquee pairing of USC and Ohio State. The Trojans lead the all-time series 13-9-1, but they haven't met since 2009. USC won the last seven meetings that all took place between the 1974 season-ending Rose Bowl and the 2009 regular season. That means Ohio State hasn't defeated USC since the 1973 season Rose Bowl played on Jan. 1, 1974, so they should be happy in Buckeye-land that the computer likes that futility streak to end as it picks The Ohio State University by a surprisingly hefty 11.16 points.
On December 30, the Fiesta Bowl pits Penn State against Washington in their first meeting since the 1983 Aloha Bowl. Their only other meeting came in 1921. Penn State gets the computer's nod by 5.95 points.
Also on December 30, the Orange Bowl sends Wisconsin to Miami to battle the Hurricanes. These teams have split their four previous meetings with the last occurring in 2009 when the Badgers prevailed 20-14 in the Champs Sports Bowl (now the Camping World Bowl) in Orlando. As mentioned earlier, the computer takes the Badgers by 5.16.
Speaking of the Camping World Bowl, a 9-3 Oklahoma State team will put one of college football's top offenses up against one of the top defenses when Mike Gundy's team battles Virginia Tech on December 28. The Cowboys averaged 575 yards (2nd nationally) and 46 points (3rd) per game. Bud Foster's defense allowed 305 yards (12th nationally) and 13.5 (5th) points per game. The only previous meetings between these teams came in a home-and-home arrangement in 1971-1972 when Don Strock was the Virginia Tech quarterback. His brother, Dave, kicked the game-winning field goal with 12 seconds left to give the Hokies a 34-32 upset win over the 19th-ranked Cowboys in the '72 game. This time around, the computer has Oklahoma State State by 0.32 points.
Oregon and Boise State will square off in the Las Vegas Bowl on the opening day of bowl season. BSU won both previous meetings versus Oregon in 2008 and 2009, and the Broncos are 12-4 versus the current PAC-12 lineup. Boise State had won 4 straight over the PAC-12 before Washington State's triple-overtime 47-44 win at the start of this season (September 9). The computer likes Bryan Harsin's Broncos to make it 3-0 vs. Oregon with an upset by 1.31 over the Willie Taggart-less Ducks. Taggart, of course, is off to Florida State. Co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal is interim head coach through the bowl season.
Toledo and Appalachian State could make for a fun Dollar General Bowl in Mobil on December 23. The 11-2 Rockets are MAC Champs and the 8-4 Mountaineers are co-champs of the Sun Belt. The computer likes Toledo by 6.43.
Missouri and Texas will clash in the December 27 Texas Bowl. These teams haven't met since 2011 when Mizzou stopped a 6-game losing streak to the Longhorns with a 17-5 win in a Big 12 conference affair. The Tigers joined the SEC the following year. The 2017 Missouri team began the season 1-5, then took advantage of a super soft backend schedule to reel off 6 straight wins. The 2017 Texas team has played Jekyll and Hyde all year - never winning or losing more than 2 in-a-row. The Longhorns lead the all-time series 17-6 and the computer takes the 'Horns in this one by a mere 0.88 points.
Other games to watch include Stanford-TCU in the Alamo Bowl, and LSU-Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl. The computer sides with Stanford by 2.93, and LSU by 1.48.
Only one game is a repeat matchup of a 2016 bowl game.
Toledo vs. Appalachian State (Dollar General) - Appalachian State won the first and only other meeting between these two schools, 31-28, in last year's Camellia Bowl.
There are 11 first-time matchups this year, same as in 2015. Last year, there were only 7 and 3 of those have a first-time matchup again this year. The Belk Bowl has a first-time matchup for the third time in four years.
Colorado State vs. Marshall (New Mexico)
Akron at FAU (Boca Raton) - Last year, this bowl also featured a first-time meeting when Western Kentucky beat Memphis 51-31.
FIU vs. Temple (Gasparilla) - Last year, this bowl also featured a first-time meeting when Mississippi State edge Miami (O.) 17-16.
Ohio vs. UAB (Bahamas)
South Florida vs. Texas Tech (Birmingham)
Houston vs. Fresno State (Hawaii)
Duke vs. Northern Illinois (Quick Lane)
Iowa vs. Boston College (Pinstripe)
Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M (Belk) - Last year, this bowl also featured a first-time meeting when Virginia Tech rallied past Arkansas 35-24. And in 2014, this bowl matched Louisville and Georgia for the first time (Georgia won 37-14)
Memphis vs. Iowa State (Liberty)
Georgia vs. Oklahoma (Rose Bowl - playoff semifinal)
Of the teams that made it this year, these had the longest wait to get back to a bowl game (last season of a bowl appearance in parenthesis):
New Mexico State, 1960
Iowa State, 2012
This teams have the longest continuing current streak of bowl absence (last season of a bowl appearance in parenthesis)::
Kent State, 2012
Ball State, 2013
Oregon State, 2013
These teams have the longest continuing current streaks of bowl appearances:
Florida State, 36
Virginia Tech, 25
These teams have the most consecutive bowl victories (last season of a bowl loss in parenthesis):
Clemson, 5 (2011)
Marshall, 5 (2004)
San Jose State, 4 (1987) - Failed to qualify for the bowl season
Utah, 4 (2010)
Georgia, 3 (2013)
Idaho, 3 (Never)
Kansas, 3 (2003) - Hasn't appeared in a bowl game since 2008
Louisiana Tech, 3 (2011)
Missouri, 3 (2010)
Stanford, 3 (2013)
Syracuse, 3 (2004) - Failed to qualify for the bowl season
Tennessee, 3 (2010)
Virginia Tech, 3 (2013)
Western Kentucky, 3 (2012)
Wisconsin, 3 (2013)
NOTE: Last season, Louisiana-Lafayette had a 4-bowl winning streak snapped, and lost for the first time ever in a bowl game, 28-21 to Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl. All 5 UL-L bowl trips have been to the New Orleans Bowl.
Last season, Navy had a 3-bowl winning streak snapped with a 48-45 loss to Louisiana Tech in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Last season, Arkansas had a 3-bowl winning streak snapped with a 35-24 loss to Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl.
Last season, South Carolina had a 4-bowl winning streak snapped with a 46-39 loss to USF in the Birmingham Bowl.
These teams have the most consecutive bowl losses (last season of a bowl win in parenthesis):
Ball State, 7 (Never) - Failed to qualify for the bowl season
Fresno State, 6 (2007)
UTEP, 6 (1967) - Failed to qualify for the bowl season
Iowa, 5 (2010)
Indiana, 4 (1991) - Failed to qualify for the bowl season
Middle Tennessee, 4 (2009)
Northern Illinois, 4 (2011)
NOTE: Last season, Boston College snapped a 5-bowl losing streak dating back to 2007 with a 36-30 win over Maryland in the Quick Lane Bowl.
Last season, Miami ended a 6-bowl losing streak with a 31-14 win over West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Ball State, 0-7 - Failed to qualify for the bowl season
Buffalo, 0-2 - Was bowl eligible at 6-6, but was not invited to a game
Kent State, 0-2 - Failed to qualify for the bowl season
South Alabama, 0-2 - Failed to qualify for the bowl season
Georgia State, 0-1 - Plays Western Kentucky in the Cure Bowl, which is the same bowl GSU went to in 2015.
UAB, 0-1 - After a 2-year hiatus from football, UAB faces Ohio in the Bahamas Bowl
UTSA, 0-1 - Failed to qualify for the bowl season
(Minimum 20 appearances)
Utah, 17-4 (.810)
USC, 35-18 (.660)
Mississippi, 24-13 (.649) - Bowl ineligible this season
Oklahoma State, 17-10 (.630)
Syracuse, 15-9-1 (.620) - Failed to qualify for the bowl season
Penn State, 28-17-2 (.617)
Florida State, 27-16-2 (.614)
Georgia, 30-19-3 (.606)
Alabama, 37-24-3 (.602)
Mississippi State, 12-8 (.600)
Penn State, 28
Tennessee, 28 - Failed to qualify for the bowl season
Florida State, 27
Nebraska, 26 - Failed to qualify for the bowl season
Georgia Tech, 25 - Failed to qualify for the bowl season
Mississippi, 24 - Bowl ineligible this season
Florida, 22 - Failed to qualify for the bowl season
Ohio State, 22
98 FBS teams played 98 games vs. FCS members this year, down substantially from the 110 FBS schools that played 113 games vs. FCS squads last year. FBS teams finished 89-9 (.908) vs. the FCS this season, and are now 1,219-117 (.912) since 2003.
These are the FCS victories in 2017:
September 23: Western Illinois 52, Coastal Carolina 10
September 16: North Carolina A&T 35, Charlotte 31
September 16: Idaho State 30, Nevada 28
September 9: South Dakota 35. Bowling Green 27
September 9: New Hampshire 22, Georgia Southern 12
September 2: Liberty 48, Baylor 45
September 2: Howard 43, UNLV 40
September 2: James Madison 34, East Carolina 14
August 31: Tennessee State 17, Georgia State 10.
UCF - Won 12 straight overall (FBS longest). Faces Auburn in the Peach Bowl on January 1.
UCF and FAU - Each has 9 straight conference wins (tied for FBS longest). FAU hosts Akron in The Boca Raton Bowl on December 19.
Alabama - Won 39 straight regular season games (FBS longest). Won 19 straight home games (FBS longest). Faces Clemson in the Sugar Bowl (playoff semifinal) on January 1.
Oklahoma - Won 16 straight road games (FBS longest). Faces Georgia in the Rose Bowl (playoff semifinal on January 1).
UTEP - Lost 12 straight overall (FBS longest). Season complete.
Ball State - Lost 13 straight conference games (FBS longest). Season complete.
Kansas - Lost 46 straight road games (FBS longest). Season complete.