College football bowl guide: The good, the meh and the maybe

Bowl season starts Saturday and we've got you covered from "can't miss" to "why, just why."
Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin (3) in the second half during an NCAA college football game against Arizona, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018, in Tucson, Ariz. Arizona State defeated Arizona 41-40 to claim the Territorial Cup. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin (3) in the second half during an NCAA college football game against Arizona, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018, in Tucson, Ariz. Arizona State defeated Arizona 41-40 to claim the Territorial Cup. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Published December 14 2018
Updated December 14 2018

With the help of nary a corporate sponsor, our staff has dissected every bowl matchup from Boise to Boca, intent on providing as many stakes, story lines and snarky comments as one could hope to glean. Now, on the eve of bowl season's opening day, we're ready to roll out our handy-dandy overview. We hope it elicits cries of cowabunga, not to be mistaken with Cheribundi (title sponsor of the venerable Boca Raton Bowl).

Three sleepers

Underrated matchups

Las Vegas Bowl, Fresno State vs. Arizona State, Saturday
Sun Devils first-year coach Herm Edwards' astounding career resuscitation continues against Mountain West champ Fresno, whose coach (one-time Bucs assistant Jeff Tedford) is enjoying quite a resurgence of his own. Watch for ASU 1,500-yard rusher Eno Benjamin.

New Mexico Bowl, North Texas vs. Utah State, Saturday
Both offenses rank among the top 15 in Division I-A, averaging a combined 965.3 yards per game. The Aggies will have an interim coach with Matt Wells leaving (for Texas Tech) and Gary Andersen recently being hired for his second go-round at USU.

Armed Forces Bowl, Houston vs. Army, Dec. 22
The Cougars, according to cfbanalytics.com, run the fastest offense in the country (3.11 plays per minute). Army? It runs the second-slowest in the nation (1.84).

Tulane running back Amare Jones (11) runs for a touchdown past USF defensive back Bentlee Sanders on Nov. 3. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)
Tulane running back Amare Jones (11) runs for a touchdown past USF defensive back Bentlee Sanders on Nov. 3. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)

Three snoozers

Underwhelming matchups

Tulane vs. Louisiana, Cure Bowl, Saturday
Perhaps the aroma of Cajun-spiced cuisine emanating from the tailgate areas will mask the stench of this matchup. Tulane needed a dramatic one-point win against 3-10 Navy in its regular-season finale to earn its first bowl berth in five years.

Independence Bowl, Temple vs. Duke, Dec. 27
Duke has lost four of its past six, and Temple will have an interim coach now that Geoff Collins has bolted for Georgia Tech. Frankly, we'd rather watch these schools play hoops.

Belk Bowl, Virginia vs. South Carolina, Dec. 29
Two 7-5 teams. Cavaliers dropped three of their past four, Gamecocks had one two-game win streak all year.

In this Nov. 24, 2018, file photo, Purdue coach Jeff Brohm watches his team play Indiana. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)
In this Nov. 24, 2018, file photo, Purdue coach Jeff Brohm watches his team play Indiana. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

Four stories to watch

Music City Bowl, Purdue vs. Auburn, Dec. 28
The Boilermakers might have pulled off the biggest coup of the coaching carousel when they kept Louisville from poaching native son Jeff Brohm. That only means he'll be the hottest name in next year's cycle, where one of the biggest openings could be … Auburn.

Camping World Bowl, West Virginia vs. Syracuse, Dec. 28
Former Gators quarterback Will Grier is choosing to prepare for the NFL instead of playing for the Mountaineers. His potential replacement is another state transfer, Jack Allison (a Palmetto native and former backup at Miami).

Gator Bowl, Texas A&M vs. N.C. State, Dec. 31
We wonder how the Jacksonville crowd will greet former Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher in his first game back in the state since bolting for College Station.

Rose Bowl, Ohio State vs. Washington, Jan. 1
How will Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer end his career — if this is indeed his final game as a head coach, that is?

Miami quarterback Malik Rosier is intercepted by Wisconsin’s Andrew van Ginkel (17) in the second quarter of last year’s Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS) 1219877
Miami quarterback Malik Rosier is intercepted by Wisconsin’s Andrew van Ginkel (17) in the second quarter of last year’s Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS) 1219877

Godfather II or Caddyshack 2?

Breaking down the bowl sequels

Bahamas Bowl, FIU vs. Toledo, Dec. 21
These teams will be hard-pressed to top the mini-classic their predecessors waged in the 2010 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Toledo held a 17-point second-half lead in that one, but FIU rallied for a 34-32 triumph on a field goal as time expired.

Pinstripe Bowl, Miami vs. Wisconsin, Dec. 27
After meeting in last season's Orange Bowl, these woefully under-achieving teams trudged their way to 7-5 records. With apologies to the spirit of the Bronx Bombers: No Murderers' Row lineups here.

Peach Bowl, Florida vs. Michigan, Dec. 29
In lieu of the showdown for which we all craved (Gators-UCF), we get the third Gators-Wolverines meeting in as many calendar years. The Wolverines embarrassed the Gators, 41-7, in the 2016 Citrus Bowl and administered a 33-17 thumping in the '17 season opener in Arlington, Texas.

Outback Bowl, Iowa vs. Mississippi State, Jan. 1
It's not technically a sequel, but the Hawkeyes have been here enough (six times in 16 seasons) that it feels like Groundhog Day. At least Mississippi State is a newcomer, with a new, interesting coach (Joe Moorhead) and some defensive stars (end Montez Sweat, tackle Jeffery Simmons).

Beardall Bowl

Gasparilla Bowl, USF vs. Marshall, Thursday
Though he's redshirting for USF this season and hasn't appeared in a game, Bulls LS Andrew Beardall is destined for some ESPN airtime during Gasparilla Bowl coverage. A freshman from Merritt Island, Beardall's older brother, Matthew, is Marshall's long snapper. But that's just the start of this quirky story line. The siblings' older cousin, James Smith, made 53 starts as a long-snapper and earned two national titles at Florida the previous decade, when USF coach Charlie Strong and Marshall counterpart Doc Holliday were on Urban Meyer's staff. Smith's holder for many of those snaps was Holliday's son, Cade.

Bowl for the ageless

Frisco Bowl, San Diego State vs. Ohio, Wednesday
San Diego State's Rocky Long and Ohio's Frank Solich are a combined 142 years old. Perhaps they should've called this the Metamucil Bowl (we kid, we kid).

Toledo’s Diontae Johnson (3) scores against Miami on a 40-yard pass play during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Toledo, Ohio. Miami defeated Toledo 49-24. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
Toledo’s Diontae Johnson (3) scores against Miami on a 40-yard pass play during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Toledo, Ohio. Miami defeated Toledo 49-24. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Tampa Bay ties

New Orleans Bowl, Appalachian State vs. Middle Tennessee, Saturday
We're dubbing this one the Largo Bowl. It's no surprise that App State's Logan Doublin has seen time in all 12 games as a true freshman linebacker; he set the school record for tackles at Largo. Another former Packer, Cordell Hudson, is playing his final college game. The grad transfer from Syracuse has started six games at defensive back for Middle Tennessee.

Bahamas Bowl, FIU vs. Toledo, Dec. 21
Lennard's Diontae Johnson (Toledo) is the MAC's special teams player of the year, with a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to his credit. Admiral Farragut's Napolean Maxwell, who missed two seasons with knee injuries, is the comeback kid and Florida International's leading rusher (673 yards). This could be a fun one.

Independence Bowl, Temple vs. Duke, Dec. 27
Ventell Bryant (Jefferson) has had a tumultuous tenure at Temple, going from the team's leading receiver as a sophomore, to being dismissed from the team as a junior. His teammates rallied around him, he was reinstated and again is the top receiver (659 yards). Duke junior Julian Santos (East Lake) has played on the offensive line since freshman year, logging time in 34 games.

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