The College Football Playoff field is set, along with the rest of the bowl matchups, so let's not waste any time and get picky.
That's right, I'm predicting all 41 bowl matchups just hours after the matchups were finalized. There are several factors to consider: motivation level, coaching changes, location and style of play. While several NFL draft declarations have been made, the availability of key players for games is still to be determined.
This is my third or fourth year of instant bowl predictions (I tend to block out traumatic experiences). After several dreadful records, I went 23-17 last year with some strong efforts, like Wake Forest beating Memphis 42-38 in the Birmingham Bowl (the Demon Deacons won 37-34). Then again, there were some total whiffs -- Purdue over Auburn (Tigers won 63-14), Temple over Duke (Blue Devils won 56-27) and Middle Tennessee over Appalachian State (Mountaineers won 45-13).
As a reminder, these predictions are straight up, not against the spread.
Bowl tickets can be found here. All times Eastern. Predictions in chronological order.
Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl: Buffalo vs. Charlotte
(2 p.m. on ESPN at Thomas A. Robinson Stadium Stadium in Nassau)
Will Healy has done an incredible job instantly generating momentum for Charlotte, appearing in its first bowl game as an FBS program. Both teams come in hot -- Charlotte has won five straight, Buffalo has won five of six -- but Buffalo has a coaching edge with veteran Lance Leipold and prevails behind running back Jaret Patterson and a stout defense featuring Khalil Mack's younger brother, Ledarius.
Prediction: Buffalo 31, Charlotte 24
Final score: Buffalo 31, Charlotte 9
Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl: Utah State vs. Kent State
(7:30 p.m. on ESPN2 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas)
Second-year coach Sean Lewis did an incredible job getting Kent State to its first bowl game since 2012 and just the fourth in team history. Dual-threat quarterback Dustin Crum is fun to watch at the helm of Lewis' offense. The Golden Flashes keep this close for a while, but Utah State quarterback Jordan Love finishes an up-and-down junior season on a strong note, throwing two fourth-quarter touchdown passes.
Prediction: Utah State 36, Kent State 28
Final score: Kent State 51, Utah State 41
Celebration Bowl: Alcorn State vs. North Carolina A&T
(Noon on ABC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta)
The teams meet in a bowl for the second consecutive season after North Carolina A&T prevailed 24-22 last year. Expect another close game, but North Carolina A&T is a bit more balanced overall, as a dynamic pass rush featuring end Devin Harrell and many others pressures talented Braves quarterback Felix Harper into some mistakes. Jah-Maine Martin rushes for three touchdowns as the Aggies triumph.
Prediction: North Carolina A&T 28, Alcorn State 20
Final score: North Carolina A&T 64, Alcorn State 44
New Mexico Bowl: Central Michigan vs. San Diego State
(2 p.m. on ESPN at Dreamstyle Stadium in Albuquerque, New Mexico)
CMU coach Jim McElwain has a mini Mountain West reunion against Rocky Long, who coached New Mexico from 1998 to 2008 and is 1-1 in this game. McElwain's offense is diverse and dynamic, but San Diego State's defense poses a major challenge. The Aztecs force a lot of mistakes and make very few of their own, and they'll grind out a win behind linebacker Kyahva Tezino and an excellent front seven.
Prediction: San Diego State 21, Central Michigan 16
Final score: San Diego State 48, Central Michigan 11
FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl: Liberty vs. Georgia Southern
(2:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida)
Hugh Freeze is back in the postseason for the first time since the 2016 Sugar Bowl, as he leads Liberty into its first bowl game. Although the teams have identical records, Georgia Southern's profile is stronger, as the Eagles handed Appalachian State its only loss and beat Georgia State by 18 in the regular-season finale. Liberty won't have enough to stop J.D. King, Wesley Kennedy III, Shai Werts and the nation's No. 8 rushing offense.
Prediction: Georgia Southern 37, Liberty 27
Final score: Liberty 23, Georgia Southern 16
Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl: SMU vs. Florida Atlantic
(3:30 p.m. on ABC at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida)
A revived SMU team celebrating its first 10-win season visits Lane-less Florida Atlantic in what amounts to a road game. Both offenses are impressive, and the quarterback matchup of SMU's Shane Buechele and FAU's Chris Robison will provide some fireworks. The teams are very close on paper, and while Kiffin's absence could hurt the Owls, star linebacker Akileis Leroy and the defense generate enough stops down the stretch.
Prediction: Florida Atlantic 37, SMU 35
Final score: Florida Atlantic 52, SMU 28
Camellia Bowl: Florida International vs. Arkansas State
(5:30 p.m. on ESPN at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama)
These teams are very close in FPI -- Arkansas State ranks 91st, while Florida International checks in at 99th -- and neither has been overwhelming on either side of the ball. Arkansas State has looked better away from home, though, as FIU is 0-5 outside of Miami. Even though Panthers coach Butch Davis is 6-3 in bowls, I'm going with the Red Wolves, who get a big game from star wide receiver Omar Bayless in the win.
Prediction: Arkansas State 35, Florida International 27
Final score: Arkansas State 34, Florida International 26
Bonagura: Petersen leaving Washington is a bombshell
ESPN college sports reporter Kyle Bonagura explains that Chris Petersen stepped down as head football coach at Washington in order to recharge, and adds that Jimmy Lake is a suitable replacement.
Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State vs. Washington
(7:30 p.m. on ABC at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas)
Chris Petersen's final game as Huskies coach comes against the program he built into a national sensation. At least one team uses the Statue of Liberty play in a game that includes so many Boise State coaching connections on the Washington staff -- Petersen, new head coach Jimmy Lake, offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan. Boise State has been the better team, but expect Washington to play hard for both Petersen and Lake. The Huskies' defense is the difference in a close one.
Prediction: Washington 24, Boise State 21
Final score: Washington 38, Boise State 7
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Appalachian State vs. UAB
(9 p.m. on ESPN at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans)
I've made the mistake of picking against Appalachian State the past two years. I've learned my lesson. While it would have been nice to see the Mountaineers aim for their third Power 5 victory in a bowl game, they shouldn't be too upset about a trip to New Orleans. Bill Clark does a great job at UAB, but Appalachian State is much better and puts up big numbers behind quarterback Zac Thomas and running back Darrynton Evans. One key question also remains: App State coach Eliah Drinkwitz's availability is unknown after his hiring as Missouri's head coach.
Prediction: Appalachian State 37, UAB 20
Final score: Appalachian State 31, UAB 17
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: UCF vs. Marshall
(2:30 p.m. on ESPN at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida)
Bowl motivation level for Group of 5 teams usually isn't a problem, but UCF will be appearing in a non-New Year's Six bowl for the first time since 2016. This looks like a mismatch, as UCF could put up a ton of points behind quarterback Dillon Gabriel, wide receiver Gabriel Davis and a bevy of ball carriers. Marshall's defense keeps things close for a half before the Knights pull away.
Prediction: UCF 41, Marshall 27
Final score: UCF 48, Marshall 25
SoFi Hawai'i Bowl: Hawai'i vs. BYU
(8 p.m. on ESPN at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu)
BYU faced a much tougher schedule, finished the season fairly strong and boasts more high-level talent. But Hawai'i is playing at its home stadium and will challenge the Cougars with quarterback Cole McDonald and a balanced offense. McDonald's recent inconsistency concerns me, though, and I like Zach Wilson and BYU to generate enough points and yards against the Warriors' defense.
Prediction: BYU 37, Hawai'i 31
Final score: Hawai'i 38, BYU 34
Walk-On's Independence Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. Miami (Fla.)
(4 p.m. on ESPN at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, Louisiana)
Miami fell apart down the stretch and seems in need of a reset. The Hurricanes also often don't get up for bowl games, dropping eight of their past nine, including a 35-3 no-show last year against Wisconsin. Louisiana Tech, meanwhile, will be motivated, playing before essentially a home crowd in Shreveport. The Bulldogs are a different team with J'Mar Smith at quarterback. Smith and running back Justin Henderson stand out for Skip Holtz's team.
Prediction: Louisiana Tech 35, Miami 24
Final score: Louisiana Tech 14, Miami 0
Quick Lane Bowl: Pitt vs. Eastern Michigan
(8 p.m. on ESPN at Ford Field in Detroit)
After a poor finish, Pitt makes what amounts to a bowl road trip, as Eastern Michigan will take a short trip from Ypsilanti to Ford Field for the game. EMU is making its third bowl appearance in four seasons under Chris Creighton, who was hired by current Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke. The Panthers should win this game fairly easily if they're motivated to play. Coach Pat Narduzzi's defense has 49 sacks and 98 tackles for loss, which should help against talented Eagles quarterback Mike Glass III.
Prediction: Pitt 27, Eastern Michigan 20
Final score: Pitt 34, Eastern Michigan 30
Mack Brown dances with team after UNC gets bowl eligibility
After North Carolina's win against rival NC State, Mack Brown shows off his dance moves in the locker room.
Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman: North Carolina vs. Temple
(Noon on ESPN at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland)
North Carolina expected a bowl trip to Annapolis, but rather than playing a true road game against Navy, the Tar Heels get a Temple team led by a very strong defense. This should be another good test for UNC freshman quarterback Sam Howell, who has 3,347 passing yards and 35 touchdowns. Temple coach Rod Carey went 0-6 in bowl games at Northern Illinois, so give me Mack Brown (13-8 in bowls) and the Heels.
Prediction: North Carolina 30, Temple 21
Final score: North Carolina 55, Temple 13
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Michigan State vs. Wake Forest
(3:20 p.m. on ESPN at Yankee Stadium in New York)
Big Ten teams have won three consecutive Pinstripe Bowls and four of the past five, capitalizing on the rare postseason environment that favors teams from the Midwest. To continue the streak, Michigan State's defense will need one of its better performances to contain Jamie Newman and Wake Forest's RPO-based offense. Both teams struggled down the stretch, but Wake Forest has won three straight bowls and will make it four.
Prediction: Wake Forest 24, Michigan State 21
Final score: Michigan State 27, Wake Forest 21
Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M
(6:45 p.m. on ESPN at NRG Stadium in Houston)
An old Big 12 matchup is renewed -- Texas A&M leads the series 17-10 -- as both teams try to finish strong and set up bigger seasons in 2020. This seems particularly important for Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies, who played a brutal schedule but also looked noncompetitive against LSU (50-7 loss). Oklahoma State gets the nod here behind an improving defense and dynamic running back Chuba Hubbard, who eclipses the 2,000-yard mark with his 12th 100-yard rushing performance.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 33, Texas A&M 27
Final score: Texas A&M 24, Oklahoma State 21
San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: USC vs. Iowa
(8 p.m. on FS1 at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego)
Clay Helton is coming back and USC tries to springboard toward a critical 2020 season with its first Holiday Bowl win since 2014. The game features strength against strength as USC's pass offense (fifth nationally) faces Iowa's pass defense (10th nationally). USC has more overall talent, but Iowa boasts more balance and gets just enough offense from Nate Stanley, Tyler Goodson and others. The Hawkeyes win on, what else, a Keith Duncan field goal.
Prediction: Iowa 33, USC 31
Final score: Iowa 49, USC 24
Cheez-It Bowl: Air Force vs. Washington State
(10:15 p.m. on ESPN at Chase Field in Phoenix)
The pre-playoff bowl game that captured America's hearts and minds is back. This time, we get Mike Leach, a resurgent Air Force team and, of course, Cheez-Its. The teams won't combine for nine interceptions again, and should score more than two touchdowns, but there will be drama right down to the end. Anthony Gordon and his receivers challenge Air Force, but everyone knows defense wins Cheez-It Bowl championships, and Air Force has the edge there.
Prediction: Air Force 37, Washington State 31
Final score: Air Force 31, Washington State 21
Camping World Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Iowa State
(Noon on ABC at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida)
The coaching matchups here are fascinating, as Brian Kelly leads Notre Dame against Iowa State and Matt Campbell, who would be on the short list to succeed Kelly in South Bend. Defensive coordinators Jon Heacock (Iowa State) and Clark Lea (Notre Dame) are both excellent tacticians. Notre Dame's offense is a little more reliable, though, and gets the win behind the Ian Book-Chase Claypool passing connection.
Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Iowa State 23
Final score: Notre Dame 33, Iowa State 9
AAC can earn some respect in Cotton Bowl
Joey Galloway says Memphis can raise the profile of the AAC by putting on a good performance vs. Penn State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: Memphis vs. Penn State
(Noon on ESPN at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas)
Memphis' incredible season culminates in its first New Year's Six bowl appearance. Coach Mike Norvell is Florida State-bound but still could work his final game on the Tigers' sideline. Damonte Coxie and Memphis' big-play passing game will create some problems for Penn State's secondary, but the Lions have too much on offense with Sean Clifford, KJ Hamler, Journey Brown, Pat Freiermuth and others. Penn State pulls away in the fourth quarter, setting up a potentially huge 2020 season.
Prediction: Penn State 40, Memphis 31
Final score: Penn State 53, Memphis 39
Riley confident in Hurts to fuel victory
Lincoln Riley discusses the defensive improvements the Sooners have made throughout the season and expresses his confidence in Jalen Hurts.
College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Oklahoma vs. LSU
(4 p.m. on ESPN at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta)
Few players define the CFP era like Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, who returns to the big stage (while his former team, Alabama, watches) at a stadium where he celebrated a national title and helped Alabama to the SEC championship just last year. Hurts and an improved Sooners defense make this interesting for a quarter or so, but there's no slowing Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the nation's most exciting offense.
Prediction: LSU 42, Oklahoma 27
Final score: LSU 63, Oklahoma 28
College Football Playoff Semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State
(8 p.m. on ESPN at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona)
The Buckeyes return to the scene of their last CFP appearance (2016) and face the opponent that held them scoreless in an embarrassing loss. Ohio State will score this time, as Justin Fields and J.K. Dobbins find some gaps in Clemson's defense. But Ohio State's recent struggles against the pass don't bode well against Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and wide receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross. The defending champs use a big fourth quarter to advance to the national title game.
Prediction: Clemson 34, Ohio State 30
Final score: Clemson 29, Ohio State 23
SERVPRO First Responder Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Western Michigan
(12:30 p.m. on ESPN at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas)
I had doubts about the Tyson Helton hire at Western Kentucky, but he did an excellent job in Year 1, as the Hilltoppers recorded wins over four bowl-bound teams and crushed Arkansas 45-19 in Fayetteville. Western Michigan has some solid wins, too, beating MAC champ Miami (Ohio) and runner-up Central Michigan. Which Western prevails? Although I like the Hilltoppers' defense, especially on third down (No. 6 nationally), dynamic Broncos running back LeVante Bellamy (23 rushing touchdowns) leads his team to victory.
Prediction: Western Michigan 35, Western Kentucky 31
Final score: Western Kentucky 23, Western Michigan 20
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Louisville
(4 p.m. on ESPN at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee)
Louisville's future is bright with Scott Satterfield, who won ACC Coach of the Year honors in his first season. But the Cardinals' defense still needs a lot of work, especially after surrendering 517 rushing yards and six touchdowns to Lynn Bowden and Kentucky in the regular-season finale. Mississippi State can run it with Kylin Hill (1,347 rush yards) and quarterback Garrett Shrader (587 rushing yards), and the Bulldogs control the ball and do enough to limit Louisville's big-play offense.
Prediction: Mississippi State 34, Louisville 27
Final score: Louisville 38, Mississippi State 28
Redbox Bowl: California vs. Illinois
(4 p.m. on Fox at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California)
The Illini make their first bowl appearance under Lovie Smith and their first overall since 2014. But unless Cal can't take care of the ball, Illinois will have a tough time in this one. Linebacker Dele Harding leads an Illini defense with 28 takeaways. Chase Garbers, the Bears' run game and prolific linebacker Evan Weaver carry the day as Cal records its first bowl victory since 2015 after the Cheez-It Bowl heartbreak a year ago.
Prediction: Cal 27, Illinois 17
Final score: Cal 35, Illinois 20
Galloway: ACC can make a statement in Orange Bowl
Florida will take on Virginia in the Capital One Orange Bowl, a game in which Joey Galloway says the ACC can make a statement.
Capital One Orange Bowl: Florida vs. Virginia
(8 p.m. on ESPN at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida)
Virginia had a breakthrough season, winning its first ACC Coastal Division title and reaching the Orange Bowl for the first time. But Florida is significantly more talented. A ferocious Gators defense makes life difficult for Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins, while Kyle Trask and his wide receivers connect for four touchdowns. Dan Mullen's team records its second straight New Year's Six bowl victory.
Prediction: Florida 37, Virginia 16
Final score: Florida 36, Virginia 28
Belk Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Kentucky
(Noon on ESPN at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina)
Longtime Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster faces a big test in his final game: slowing down Lynn Bowden and the nation's No. 4 rushing offense (274.4 YPG). Virginia Tech has held up well against the run (27th nationally) but might need to get its own ground game going against a Kentucky defense that can pressure the quarterback and defend the pass. Ultimately, it's Bowden over Bud as the Kentucky star leads his team to a second straight bowl win.
Prediction: Kentucky 29, Virginia Tech 24
Final score: Kentucky 37, Virginia Tech 30
Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl: Florida State vs. Arizona State
(2 p.m. on CBS at Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas)
New Seminoles coach Mike Norvell will soon have FSU competing for championships again. But this roster still needs work, and Arizona State is building some real momentum for 2020. Quarterback Jayden Daniels finishes a strong freshman season with a big performance, getting help from running back Eno Benjamin and wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Frank Darby against FSU's defense. The Sun Devils contain Cam Akers and pull away in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Arizona State 34, Florida State 24
Final score: Arizona State 20, Florida State 15
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Navy vs. Kansas State
(3:45 p.m. on ESPN at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee)
Both coaches did outstanding jobs this season, as Chris Klieman led Kansas State to eight wins in his first season, and Navy's Ken Niumatalolo rebounded from a 3-10 clunker with nine wins entering the Army game. Expect a very quick game, as both teams love to run the ball and control the clock. Navy's edge in run defense -- Mids are 17th nationally, Wildcats are 62nd -- is the difference as Jacob Springer leads the charge.
Prediction: Navy 27, Kansas State 24
Final score: Navy 20, Kansas State 17
NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Wyoming vs. Georgia State
(4:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Arizona)
Both teams have wins against SEC opponents, as Wyoming beat Missouri and Georgia State stunned Tennessee in Knoxville. Wyoming has a clear edge on defense and at the line of scrimmage, ranking sixth nationally in rushing yards allowed and 27th in rushing offense. Craig Bohl's team gets a lift from 1,000-yard rusher Xazavian Valladay against the nation's 116th-ranked run defense. Wyoming's defense contains quarterback Dan Ellington in the win.
Prediction: Wyoming 37, Georgia State 20
Final score: Wyoming 38, Georgia State 17
Valero Alamo Bowl: Utah vs. Texas
(7:30 p.m. on ESPN at the Alamodome in San Antonio)
Utah's no-show in the Pac-12 championship game cost it a likely playoff spot and knocked the Utes out of a New Year's Six bowl. This game is all about Utah's motivation level. If a prideful group of seniors show up, they'll handle Texas, which ranks 127th nationally against the pass and will struggle to match the Utes at the line of scrimmage. If not, Utah will lose a virtual road game and have a ton of regrets. I expect the Utah we saw for most of the season.
Prediction: Utah 30, Texas 23
Final score: Texas 38, Utah 10
Herbstreit: Alabama players should be fired up for Michigan
Kirk Herbstreit and the crew preview Michigan vs. Alabama in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl.
Vrbo Citrus Bowl: Michigan vs. Alabama
(1 p.m. on ABC at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida)
This is one of the tougher quick-picks, as we don't know which top-level Alabama players will sit out and prepare for the NFL draft. The Tide crushed Michigan State 49-7 in their last Citrus Bowl (then Capital One Bowl) appearance, but they also have endured motivation lapses when left out of the national title race. Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis sees his former Crimson Tide wide receivers, and Wolverines quarterback Shea Patterson faces Alabama for the first time since 2017. I think Alabama shows up ticked off, and Jim Harbaugh's bowl blues continue.
Prediction: Alabama 44, Michigan 31
Final score: Alabama 35, Michigan 16
Outback Bowl: Minnesota vs. Auburn
(1 p.m. on ESPN at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida)
I picked a Big Ten West team over Auburn last year and paid the price in humiliation. The availability of Derrick Brown and Auburn's defensive linemen is a question, and Minnesota could neutralize them with its RPO-based offense. But Auburn has played a much tougher schedule and boasts key talent advantages. Minnesota leads early behind big plays from Rashod Bateman, but Bo Nix and Auburn take control in the second half.
Prediction: Auburn 31, Minnesota 20
Final score: Minnesota 31, Auburn 24
Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual: Oregon vs. Wisconsin
(5 p.m. on ESPN at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California)
These are similarly constructed teams, bolstered by elite-level offensive lines and well-coached defenses that rarely give up big plays. Wisconsin has an edge at running back with Jonathan Taylor, while Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert is a high-level NFL prospect. Both teams will be highly motivated, but I like Wisconsin's running game a little more, as Taylor finishes a historic career on a strong note.
Prediction: Wisconsin 30, Oregon 27
Final score: Oregon 28, Wisconsin 27
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Georgia vs. Baylor
(8:45 p.m. on ESPN at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans)
A disappointed Georgia team heads to New Orleans for the second straight year to face a Big 12 foe from the state of Texas. Will Kirby Smart's team recharge better this time around? Both defenses are excellent and both can run the ball with multiple backs. Georgia's defense is prideful, though, and Smart will challenge the group after the LSU debacle. Linebacker Monty Rice and the Bulldogs stifle Charlie Brewer and the Bears to end this season on a better note.
Prediction: Georgia 26, Baylor 17
Final score: Georgia 26, Baylor 14
TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl: Boston College vs. Cincinnati
(3 p.m. on ESPN at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama)
Boston College would love Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell to switch sidelines, but it's not going to happen. After falling just short of an AAC title, the Bearcats take out their frustrations. Cincinnati's defense contains AJ Dillon and a one-dimensional BC offense, and Desmond Ridder takes aim at a defense allowing 299.6 passing yards per game (126th nationally). After a close first half, the Bearcats take control in the third quarter and post their second straight 11-win season.
Prediction: Cincinnati 34, Boston College 24
Final score: Cincinnati 38, Boston College 6
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: Indiana vs. Tennessee
(7 p.m. on ESPN at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida)
The advanced metrics (SP+, FPI) see the teams comparably, as Indiana's talent level has gone up under coach Tom Allen. Tennessee looked really good down the stretch, winning its final five games behind an improved defense. Vols top receiver Jauan Jennings is suspended for the first half of the game, which gives Whop Philyor, Stevie Scott and Indiana's offense an opportunity for the early lead. Indiana's struggles against teams with winning records are a concern, though, and Tennessee will rally for a close win.
Prediction: Tennessee 37, Indiana 34
Final score: Tennessee 23, Indiana 22
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Ohio vs. Nevada
(3:30 p.m. on ESPN at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho)
Ohio wasn't far away from a much better season than its record indicated, going 2-5 in games decided by 10 points or fewer. Nathan Rourke is a talented dual-threat quarterback who should be able to have success against Nevada's defense. Nevada coach Jay Norvell did a good job getting his team to seven wins, but the Wolf Pack are really banged up and limited on both sides of the ball. Frank Solich wins his third straight bowl game.
Prediction: Ohio 28, Nevada 17
Final score: Ohio 30, Nevada 21
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Southern Mississippi vs. Tulane
(11:30 a.m. on ESPN at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas)
Tulane is the better team but also stumbled down the stretch, losing its final three games and five of its last six. Then again, I picked against the Green Wave in last year's bowl and paid the price. The key here is whether Southern Miss' run defense (18th nationally) can contain Tulane's strong rushing attack (13th nationally). I'll give Willie Fritz, Justin McMillan and the Green Wave another chance.
Prediction: Tulane 29, Southern Miss 27
Final score: Tulane 30, Southern Miss 13
LendingTree Bowl: Louisiana vs. Miami (Ohio)
(7:30 p.m. on ESPN at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama)
Although Miami won its conference championship game and Louisiana fell short, the Ragin' Cajuns have geographic and matchup advantages here. Louisiana is much better on offense, and efficient quarterback Levi Lewis makes enough plays against a strong Miami defense. The RedHawks get a bit of everything from their freshman quarterback, Brett Gabbert, but Billy Napier's team pulls away in the second half.
Prediction: Louisiana 38, Miami (Ohio) 20
Final score: Louisiana 27, Miami (Ohio) 17
Dabo jokes about Clemson's No. 3 ranking
Dabo Swinney congratulates his team for being the first team since 1966 to start the season No. 1, go undefeated and finish third in the rankings.
College Football Playoff National Championship: Clemson vs. LSU
(8 p.m. on ESPN at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans)
This game has it all: elite quarterbacks, incredible wide receivers, dynamic defenders, charismatic head coaches and a party atmosphere that will be unrivaled during the bowl season. Clemson returns to the site of its last loss, a 24-6 defeat to Jalen Hurts and Alabama in the 2017 CFP semifinal at the Sugar Bowl. The Tigers give an improving LSU defense all it can handle, but Joe Burrow rallies the Tigers to complete a dream season where everything lined up perfectly. Burrow throws two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, including the game winner to Justin Jefferson in the final minute.
Prediction: LSU 38, Clemson 37
Final score: LSU 42, Clemson 25