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5 Top Non-Playoff Bowl Games

Rob Joyce
December 12, 2019 - 9:16 am

Bowl season is here! Though only three of the 40 games really matter – the two playoff games (the Fiesta and Peach Bowls, this year) plus the national championship – it’s still a chance for 74 other teams to go somewhere fun for the holidays (unless you’re Florida Atlantic, and play a home game for your bowl).

With so many games to watch and so little time amidst the holiday season, which ones should you focus on? We haven’t yet had a flurry of players announce their intention to sit out – don’t worry, it’s coming – so for now assuming full health and participation, here are the five most intriguing bowl games:

5) Las Vegas Bowl – Boise State vs. Washington (12/21):

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The game on paper is… fine. Boise State had another phenomenal season – 12-1 with a Mountain West title – and a mediocre bowl to show for it, while 6-6 Washington was one of the most disappointing teams in the nation. But it’s the final game with the Huskies for head coach Chris Petersen, who stunningly announced he was walking away from coaching. Although he doesn’t like it, this otherwise random bowl will have lots of eyeballs on it as Coach Pete faces the program he built into the power it is today in the Broncos.

4) Outback Bowl – Minnesota vs. Auburn (1/1):

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This is the best season for the Golden Gophers since the 1940s, regardless of the outcome. And if you haven’t seen Rashod Bateman or Tyler Johnson catch footballs, you’re missing out. Auburn, meanwhile, ruined the playoff hopes of Oregon, Alabama and… well… Auburn with one of the nation’s most difficult schedules (their losses were to LSU, Florida and Georgia).

Most importantly, although Outback hasn’t announced which team is which, always remember: Team Bloomin’ Onion over Team Coconut Shrimp all day, every day.

3) Cotton Bowl – Penn State vs. Memphis (12/28):

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The Nittany Lions will be a trendy playoff sleeper pick come next fall, and beating a 12-win Tigers team would be a good start. But the Group of Five (as its now known) has beaten Power 5 opponents in bowls like this six of the past 10 times, going back to late in the BCS era. Mike Norvell capped the most successful three-year stretch in Memphis history with an American title and a New Year’s Six bowl game, and now he’s off to Florida State. Will the Tigers be ready?

2) Rose Bowl – Oregon vs. Wisconsin (1/1):

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The Ducks’ 2019 season is the reason that A) most Power 5 teams don’t schedule difficult road/neutral site non-conference games and B) the SEC doesn’t play a nine-game league slate. A season-opening loss to Auburn and a November slip-up at Arizona State ruined an otherwise Pac-12 championship season.

While Justin Herbert, a likely high first-round draft pick, leads the Oregon offense, it’s our last chance to see Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor, perhaps the nation’s best running back who in three years already has over 6,000 career rushing yards.

1) Citrus Bowl – Alabama vs. Michigan (1/1):

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Someone is going to have to answer a tough question after this one. If the Crimson Tide lose, it would be the first three-loss season in Tuscaloosa since 2010, and Nick Saban will be asking who can replace Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy and all the other NFL-bound offensive talent.

If the Wolverines lose, it will drop Jim Harbaugh’s record in Ann Arbor against top-10 teams to 2-11, and any goodwill he got with a solid November will go away.