Gotta bowl: Picking every winner, including the champion

ByAdam Rittenberg ESPN logo
Thursday, January 17, 2019

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!

(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.

: North Carolina A&T 27, Alcorn State 20

: North Carolina A&T 24, Alcorn State 22

(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.

: Utah State 38, North Texas 29

: Utah State 52, North Texas 13

(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.

: Louisiana 31, Tulane 27

Tulane 41, Louisiana 24

(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.

: Fresno State 36, Arizona State 24

: Fresno State 31, Arizona State 20

(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.

: Georgia Southern 34, Eastern Michigan 27

Georgia Southern 23, Eastern Michigan 21

( Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans)

With Scott Satterfield at his alma mater Louisville when the game kicks off, App State will be helmed by interim coach Mark Ivey, who was the assistant head coach and defensive line coach. Appalachian State is an excellent team, but the coaching change 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.

: Middle Tennessee 29, Appalachian State 27

: Appalachian State 45, Middle Tennessee 13

(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.

: UAB 26, Northern Illinois 13

: UAB 37, Northern Illinois 13

(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).

: Ohio 31, San Diego State 20

: Ohio 27, San Diego State 0

(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.

: Marshall 38, South Florida 30

: Marshall 38, South Florida 20

(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.

: Toledo 42, Florida International 38

Score:FIU 35, Toledo 32

(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.

: BYU 36, Western Michigan 27

: BYU 49, Western Michigan 18

(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 quarterbackJamie Newmanto a late rally.

n: Wake Forest 42, Memphis 38

: Wake Forest 37, Memphis 34

(Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas)

No Ed Oliver or D'Eriq Kingfor 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.

: Army 35, Houston 24

Army 70, Houston 14

(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.

: Troy 28, Buffalo 25

Troy 42, Buffalo 32

(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.

: Hawai'i 36, Louisiana Tech 26

Louisiana Tech 31, Hawaii 14

(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.

: Boise State 31, Boston College 28

Game was canceled because of severe weather

(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.

: Georgia Tech 42, Minnesota 34

(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.

: TCU 23, Cal 10

(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.

: Temple 34, Duke 17

Duke 56, Temple 27

(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.

: Vanderbilt 37, Baylor 24

Baylor 45, Vanderbilt 38

(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.

: Wisconsin 24, Miami 21

Wisconsin 35, Miami 3

(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.

: Purdue 35, Auburn 31

: Auburn 63, Purdue 14

(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.

: West Virginia 48, Syracuse 45

: Syracuse 34, West Virginia 18

(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.

: Washington State 41, Iowa State 34

: Washington State 28, Iowa State 26

(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.

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

Bronco Mendenhall will really need his defense to step up againstJake Bentley, Deebo Samuel, Bryan Edwardsand 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.

: South Carolina 37, Virginia 21

(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).

: Arkansas State 33, Nevada 28

(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.

: Clemson 35, Notre Dame 27

: Clemson 30, Notre Dame 3

(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.

: Alabama 55, Oklahoma 37

Alabama 45, Oklahoma 34

(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.

: Cincinnati 30, Virginia Tech 17

: Cincinnati 35, Virginia Tech 31

(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.

: Stanford 37, Pitt 27

Stanford 14, Pitt 13

(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.

: Oregon 23, Michigan State 20

Oregon 7, Michigan State 6

(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.

: Missouri 41, Oklahoma State 27

: Oklahoma State 38, Missouri 33

(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.

: Utah 21, Northwestern 14

: Northwestern 31, Utah 20

(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.

: Texas A&M 38, NC State 28

Texas A&M 52, NC State 13

(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.

: Mississippi State 28, Iowa 17

: Iowa 27, Mississippi State 22

(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.

: Penn State 28, Kentucky 23

: Kentucky 27, Penn State 24

(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.

: LSU 40, UCF 33

: LSU 40, UCF 32

(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.

: Ohio State 34, Washington 21

Ohio State 28, Washington 23

(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.

: Georgia 38, Texas 27

Texas 28, Georgia 21

(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.

: Alabama 41, Clemson 31

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