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2018 Illuminati Bowlstravaganza




Saturday, December 15

Cure Bowl: Tulane Green Wave vs. Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns

Bowl season kicks off with two teams from Cajun country duking it out in our country’s theme park capital. Louisiana is happy to be playing in a bowl that’s not the New Orleans, and Tulane is happy to be bowling for the first time since 2013.... when they were defeated by Louisiana in the New Orleans Bowl. That makes for a lot of excited south Louisianans. Does this mean we’re getting air boats sailing down the waterfront at Universal Studios? I can only hope so. The local alligator population better be on the lookout, too.

Illuminati pick: Louisiana

New Mexico Bowl: North Texas Mean Green vs. Utah State Aggies

What a year it’s been for the Mean Green — at 9-3 they’re the best football team in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, and Kansas State fumbled their way out of hiring Seth Littrell, so he’s sticking around in Denton. The same coaching fortune has not befallen Utah State, who saw Matt Wells successfully poached by a Big 12 program. Still, with two top 25 scoring offenses, you should at least tune in to see all the points in the Land of Enchantment.

Illuminati pick: UNT

Las Vegas Bowl: #21 Fresno State Bulldogs vs. Arizona State Sun Devils

Fresno enacted their revenge on Boise State for last year’s Mountain West championship game and thus have claimed their rightful spot in the Las Vegas Bowl. Facing them is none other than the Herm Edwards-led Arizona State. We all laughed when the Sun Devils announced this hiring. Oh, how we laughed. But they played to win the game, and they won enough. Just don’t remind him Las Vegas’ nickname is “Sin City” — he is a Christian, after all.

Illuminati pick: Fresno State

Camellia Bowl: Georgia Southern Eagles vs. Eastern Michigan Eagles

Pour one out for good ol’ Raycom, the sponsor of the Camellia Bowl. With the incoming arrival of the ACC Network, Raycom Sports is set to go the way of the dodo. And Raycom Media? They’re getting bought out. Truly, it is the end of an era. God speed, Raycom. Your horrid production values will be missed.

Illuminati pick: Georgia Southern

New Orleans Bowl: Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. Appalachian State Mountaineers

This is the first time Middle Tennessee and Appalachian state will meet as FBS teams; no doubt the Mountaineers are looking to avenge first round I-AA playoff losses to the Blue Raiders from 1989 and 1992. App State coach Scott Satterfield is off to Louisville’s bourbon-soaked pastures, but that doesn’t mean the Mountaineers aren’t still really good. Middle Tennessee better hope they’re not suffering a conference title loss hangover — or even a regular hangover from spending too much (any) time on Bourbon Street — or they’re going to be in for a bad time.

Illuminati pick: App State

Tuesday, December 18

Boca Raton Bowl: UAB Blazers vs. Northern Illinois Huskies

The Boca Raton Bowl is on the second day of bowl season in a small stadium, but it’s still, you know, in Boca Raton, and it’s the only non-New Year’s Six bowl pitting two conference champions against each other. UAB was dead and in the grave two years ago, and now they’re 10-3 and C-USA champions. NIU seemed an unlikely MAC champion at 8-5, but three of those five were to Iowa, Utah, and FSU (okay, that last one isn’t great), and they were good enough to upset Buffalo in the championship game. They’re looking to win their first bowl game since 2011, UAB is looking for their first bowl game ever. So sit, back, relax..... and look out for any unscheduled LANE TRAIN appearances.

Illuminati pick: UAB

Wednesday, December 19

Frisco Bowl: San Diego State Aztecs vs. Ohio Bobcats

Man, what happened to San Diego State? They were one of the hottest teams in the country after three straight 10+ win seasons and were on their way to a fourth when they just stopped in the middle of the season and suffered a 1-4 finish. This is potentially great news for Rocky Long, who seems to want nothing more than for his team to be ignored. Meanwhile, Frank Solich has quietly remained Very Good in his 14th year leading the Bobcats. You know, this game is played way too early. The FCS Championship is also played in Toyota Stadium; they should play this one before it as the undercard. Are you listening, NCAA?

Illuminati pick: Ohio

Thursday, December 20

Gasparilla Bowl: Marshall Thundering Herd vs. South Florida Bulls

Having previously shed the “St. Petersburg Bowl” moniker, the Gasparilla Bowl has now shed the city of St. Petersburg itself, departing the unfriendly confines of Tropicana Field for an actual football stadium. Raymond James Stadium also has a giant pirate ship which — while some decry as sillyactually fits in perfectly with the game’s namesake. It’s also, uh, the home field for USF, which seems suspicious, but the Bulls did lose five straight to end the season after starting 7-0, so it’s probably nothing to worry about, unlike the status of starting quarterback Blake Barnett.

Illuminati pick: USF

Friday, December 21

Bahamas Bowl: Toledo Rockets vs. FIU Panthers

For its first three years, the Bahamas Bowl — the best, most important bowl played outside these United States — was sponsored by Popeye’s, the most American of chicken joints. But new corporate overlords took over and took the name off the bowl after 2016. Now, after a one year gap, the bowl again has a sponsor: an actual village in Illinois. Elk Grove Village is next to Chicago O’Hare Airport and is home to North America’s largest.... industrial park. Yep, that’s a thing, and apparently that brings in enough money for the village to be the sponsor title of a bowl game. No, I don’t know how that works, and no, I have no idea what they’ll be advertising in their bowl ads. Industrial parks don’t strike me as a “fun for the family” kind of trip.

Illuminati pick: Toledo

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Western Michigan Broncos vs. BYU Cougars

Many years ago, Brent Musburger declared the fate of the BCS National Championship to be “for all the Tostitos”. That wasn’t even the first time he’d used the phrase, but I think he was really on to something there. All bowl games should have such gravitas. The winning play in this game should be for all the Famous Idaho Potatoes. Otherwise, what is this? Just another December game on the blue Boise turf, and we long ago figured out we couldn’t call something like that “Humanitarian”.

Illuminati pick: BYU

Saturday, December 22

Birmingham Bowl: Memphis Tigers vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

With the announcement of a new stadium being built in Birmingham, it would seem like Legion Field’s days are numbered. However, if you read the fine print, you’ll see it’s not expected to be completed until 2021, so that means we’ve got two more years’ worth of games here, suckers! Anyway, the things you need to know about this year’s Birmingham bowl are 1) Pitt is not in it, and 2) there’s going to be a lot of points, because Memphis and Wake are pretty good on offense and reallllllly suck on defense. So bring your lawn chair, and enjoy the fireworks. And don’t stick around once it’s over.

Illuminati pick: Memphis

Armed Forces Bowl: Houston Cougars vs. Army Black Knights

Jeff Monken is doing things up in West Point. The Black Knights just defeated Navy to win 10 games for the second time ever; the first came in 1996, and between, things have been.... a bit forgettable. Now they’ll get to play for a program-best 11 wins, which may be easier now than it was a few weeks ago. Houston lost quarterback D’eriq King to a knee injury in November, and many thought a combination of knee injury and whatever this was had ended his career back then too. It didn’t, but he clearly wasn’t back to 100% on the last weekend of the season and he’s about to get that NFL first rounder money. Still, Houston’s a good team, and oh yeah, did y’all forget Army took OU to overtime?

Illuminati pick: Army

Dollar General Bowl: Buffalo Bulls vs. Troy Trojans

It’s hard to count this season as anything other than a complete success for Buffalo. The Bulls won ten games for the first time in their history, and they’re led by Lance Leipold, previously of Division III megapower Wisconsin-Whitewater. But man, losing the MAC championship brings a pretty harsh demotion from Boca to Montgomery, in addition to, you know, losing your conference championship game. But that doesn’t mean they’re getting an easier opponent than UAB, who they would have gotten, nope — it’s Neal Brown’s Troy Trojans. This G5 matchup is more fun than a lot of P5 matchups, so put off your Christmas shopping and watch this instead. (Also, why don’t you do your Christmas shopping online? It’s 2018, for goodness’ sake.)

Illuminati pick: Buffalo

Hawai’i Bowl: Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors vs. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

What is this? The Hawai’i Bowl, not on Christmas Eve?? This is an outrage! I demand to see a manager! The worst part about this I couldn’t even figure out why they moved the game. Christmas Eve is on a Monday, were they afraid of going up against Monday Night RAW Football? Ugh, now this means you’ll have to spend the evening seeing family friends you never see the other 364 days of the year. Anyway, Hawai’i’s here, because they stay home when they go bowling. They raced out to a 6-1 start before having a November to forget, but it’ll be fun to see the ‘Bows and Cole McDonald attempt to pass for 600 yards again. Louisiana Tech skidded to a 1-3 finish but it’s hard to complain because, hey, it’s Hawai’i.

Illuminati pick: Hawai’i

Wednesday, December 26

First Responder Bowl: Boston College Eagles vs. #25 Boise State Broncos

It’s a long drop if you lose the Mountain West championship game, as Boise State is finding out, again. The thing is, you take away the championships, late season snow, and blue field, and they’re still Boise State. Yeah, the Eagles still have A.J. Dillion, but that’s probably not enough guys being dudes to put down the Broncos. But hey, maybe it is.

Illuminati pick: Boise State

Quick Lane Bowl: Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Paul Johnson’s going out for one last ride as Georgia Tech’s head coach, so fittingly, the ACC shipped him out to Detroit the day after Christmas. Somewhere, in lair constructed deep underneath Charlotte, John Swofford leans back in his command center chair and grins. “I win,” he says to himself, “I always win.” But if Georgia Tech wins, Johnson’s going to fashion the trophy into a shiv and stab Swofford when he least expects it. Then he’ll disappear into the woods of western North Carolina, never to be seen again.

Illuminati pick: Georgia Tech

Cheez-It™ Bowl: California Golden Bears vs. TCU Horned Frogs

There are a lot of bowl games simply named for their sponsor these days, and we’ve gotten used to a lot of them. “Outback Bowl” just sounds right at this point, you know? But I can’t say “Cheez-It™ Bowl and not reflexively laugh. The Cheez-It™ Bowl is the one you fill full of Cheez-Its™ at a party. Anyway, the bowl previously known as Cactus features two teams with bad offenses and, if asked, I would have sworn were not bowl eligible. (Seriously, TCU lost to Kansas. To Kansas.) Look, if you need to take this time to return presents or something, I won’t tell anyone. You can come back tomorrow.

Illuminati pick: Cal

Thursday, December 27

Independence Bowl: Temple Owls vs. Duke Blue Devils

It seems like ages ago when Temple football was in its dark age, but successive successful hires have kept the Owls in the upper tier of the AAC. Of course, that means those coaches keep getting hired away.... like Geoff Collins just was. Still, they’re in a good spot and they can definitely keep it going. Their reward for such a successful season is... a trip to Shreveport to face Duke. Probably shouldn’t have opened with a loss to Villanova. Falling behind early in your Big 5 games like that is never good.

Illuminati pick: Temple

Pinstripe Bowl: Miami Hurricanes vs. Wisconsin Badgers

Oh, look: a rematch of last year’s Orange Bowl! Just what exactly nobody wanted! When these two met in Miami last year, at least one of them was red hot, and both were playoff contenders until losing their conference championship games. This year, they’re cold, and they’re playing somewhere cold. Watch it if only to see what terrible things Paul Chryst has to say about Miami’s turnover chain this year.

Illuminati pick: Wisconsin

Texas Bowl: Baylor Bears vs. Vanderbilt Commodores

Everything’s bigger in Texas, and when it comes to this year’s Texas Bowl, pitting Baylor against Vanderbilt, it’s the smug sense of superiority. The Bears bounced back from last year’s 1-11 campaign thanks to the work of Matt Rhule, while Vanderbilt continues to plug away at rougly .500 with next to no support from the university, and yet still continues to best their in-state rivals from Knoxville. Both clinched bowl eligibility on the last day of the season, denying it to their opponents in the process. Just another example of the upper crust trying to keep the lower classes down, maaaaaaaan.

Illuminati pick: Vandy

Friday, December 28

Music City Bowl: Purdue Boilermakers vs. Auburn Tigers

What a contrast in styles between this year’s Music City Bowl participants: Auburn can’t seem to get rid of their coach, as hard as they try, and Purdue can’t believe their coach didn’t leave them! Purdue did exactly one notable thing this year, and that was to beat the ever loving [Soundgarden] out of Ohio State, a result that kept the Buckeyes out of the playoff and without which the Boilermakers wouldn’t be bowl eligible. Auburn..... well, it’s an even year, so we got the bad Auburn. Remember when they beat Washington and we all thought they were a playoff contender? That’s a lifetime ago, and while it remained a good win, it’s basically all they had this year. This game’s gonna get weird, and I’m guessing not in the fun way.

Illuminati pick: Auburn

Camping World Bowl: #16 West Virginia Mountaineers vs. #20 Syracuse Orange

The advent of the playoff has bumped the bowl once known as Blockbuster to “almost major” status, and it’s delivered more often than not. Who can forget Cole Stoudt lighting up OU’s defense, or Baylor dropping 49 on UNC without an actual quarterback? Both WVU and Syracuse are carrying some frustration with them into this game — they were both a couple of decisions away from making a major bowl, but a date in Orlando is a pretty fine consolation. And what makes this matchup more enticing than it being the renewal of an old Big East rivalry? Nothing. Let’s not pretend you’re still doing any work at this point in the year. Cut out a little early so you can watch this game from start to finish. Yes, Will Grier announced he was sitting out the game as I was writing this. Watch it anyway.

Illuminati pick: Syracuse

Alamo Bowl: #24 Iowa State Cyclones vs. #13 Washington State Cougars

The Alamo Bowl is another that got upgraded to “almost major” bowl status when the playoff started, and this Big 12-Pac 12 match up has been pretty uniformly awesome this whole time, except in 2016 when Colorado stunk up the joint. This year’s edition features two teams caught on the outside looking in to their conference championship, but that’s fine, because 1) it features Gardner Minchew and Mike Leach’s searing air raid vs. Iowa State and their ability to reach up and knock someone off when they feel like it, and 2) seriously, who wanted Utah here? Start your last weekend of 2018 right by watching this until it’s Saturday. You won’t regret it.

Illuminati pick: Wazzu

Saturday, December 29

Peach Bowl: #10 Florida Gators vs. #7 Michigan Wolverines

Hey, look! Florida and Michigan are playing each other.... in a bowl.... again. They just played in a Citrus Bowl like three years ago; Michigan wiped the floor with the Gators. You know, we could have had UF vs. UCF for MAXIMUM SALT FACTOR, and that would have left us with Michigan vs. LSU, which..... actually, that would have been awesome. They’ve never met before, either. Who’s in charge of picking this crap? This was an easy decision and you messed it up!

Illuminati pick: Michigan

Belk Bowl: South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Virginia Cavaliers

The Belk Bowl is the best bowl. I mean, that’s what their Twitter name indicates, and we all know people can’t lie on the internet. Personally, I can’t think of a better match-up than a moribund Virginia vs. a tepid South Carolina, can you? They definitely made the right choice, and it will be the most watched, most attended bowl game in Charlotte.

Illuminati pick: South Carolina

Arizona Bowl: Arkansas State Red Wolves vs. Nevada Wolf Pack

The first couple of Arizona Bowls weren’t available on television for the vast majority of Americans, so it seems fitting this one would be on CBS Sports Network, a different network that still isn’t, and is going up against the first half of the New Year’s Six. But look on the bright side, Wolves and Pack: at least it’s a bowl game, even if it is in the Arizona desert in December. Hmm, that sounded better in my head.

Illuminati pick: Arkansas State

Cotton Bowl: #3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. #2 Clemson Tigers

Thanks to calendar quirks, NFL scheduling, and the Sugar Bowl just having to be on New Year’s Day, our semifinal action kicks off way early this year. First up is Clemson and Notre Dame, who’ve only faced each other three times... but the last one was in a hurricane in 2015, and it was awesome, and these two are going to see a lot more of each other in the near future. Both have devastating defenses and young, talented quarterbacks. Both also haven’t been truly tested in a while. What happens when these two (especially Clemson) have to be completely serious? It’s going to be fun to find out.

Illuminati pick: Clemson

Orange Bowl: #4 Oklahoma Sooners vs. #1 Alabama Crimson Tide

Semifinal #2 pits Heisman winner vs. Heisman runner-up, as Kyler Murray and OU’s high-octane offense take on Tua Tagovailoa and Bama’s high-octane.... well, everything. The Tide have not traditionally been known for their prolific offenses, but they steamrolled everyone on their schedule before squeaking by a Georgia team that just missed the playoff in the SEC championship. That might prove to be a huge problem for the Sooners, who.... have a defense, supposedly? Murray’s going to have to dig extra deep if he wants to get his team its first playoff victory — this being his final game before that sweet, sweet MLB money starts rolling in might prove to be the needed motivation.

Illuminati pick: Alabama

Monday, December 31

Military Bowl: Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Virginia Tech Hokies

Ten years (minus a day) since the Hokies defeated their Big East replacements in the Orange Bowl, they’ll meet again in Maryland for the Military Bowl. Which, actually, they just did four years ago. Could have had Paul Johnson retire in the stadium where he rose to FBS fame, but no, I get it. Virginia Tech had to claw and scrape their way to preserving the nation’s longest bowl streak, so they deserve it. But I’m just gonna let you know, Hokies: that Cincy team? They’re mean, and they’re angry, and Desmond Ridder is kiiiiinda scary. Good luck!

Illuminati pick: Cincy

Sun Bowl: Stanford Cardinal vs. Pittsburgh Panthers

It’s the ten year anniversary of the greatest Sun Bowl of all time, and look: one of the participants is making their long-awaited return! Yes, it’s ACC runner-up Pitt, hoping to improve upon their last Sun Bowl experience by just, you know, scoring at all. Stanford’s the more worrying team — not just because it’s a talented team that’s been stunningly inconsistent, but because the Stanford Band is dangerously close to the Mexican border, and I’m seriously worried about what activities they may be plotting so close to Juarez.

Illuminati pick: Stanford

RedBox Bowl: Michigan State Spartans vs. Oregon Ducks

Okay, I know bowl game sponsors have gotten a bit out of hand these days, but this one’s pretty crazy. I can only imagine what the TV ads are gonna be like for..... oh, that says RedBox Bowl. Never mind. Mario Cristobal and his Ducks are ahead of schedule in year one, but that could change, as Johnny NCAA is bringing the hammer down on them for.... uh, posting recruit information during official visits. Yeah. The Ducks stumbled a bit down the stretch, but you know who really stumbled, fell, rolled down a hill, and landed in a rose bush? Michigan State, who’s scored 26 total points in its last three games, two of which were Nebraska and Rutgers. They might be in for a bad time.

Illuminati pick: Oregon

Liberty Bowl: #23 Missouri Tigers vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys

The Liberty has the potential to get really weird, because it features Mizzou, who was sneakily pretty good this year, and Oklahoma State, who beat or almost beat a bunch of good teams (including pasting Boise State, which no one does).... and losing to a bunch of crappy ones. So which OSU will we get in Memphis? The pattern would suggest the good one.... but it’s bowl season, so who knows. Of course, the high weirdness potential is equaled by its high lameness potential, so this might be one of the more fun games.... or it might get really boring. We’ll find out!

Illuminati pick: Oklahoma State

Holiday Bowl: #22 Northwestern Wildcats vs. #17 Utah Utes

Happy holidays: it’s the loser’s Rose Bowl. No, really: it’s a day before, two hours away, and features the losers of the games that sent their winners to the Rose. It still sounds pretty good (and really, what in San Diego other than the cost of living isn’t), until you remember the Big Ten and Pac-12 still have better teams that went elsewhere. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to watch; Utah’s defense is still suffocating and Northwestern..... is purple, but oh man, we really were this close to switching the matchup here for the one in the Rose and that’s too tragically hilarious for me to deal with right now.

Illuminati pick: Utah

Gator Bowl: North Carolina State Wolfpack vs. Texas A&M Aggies

Nothing is more appropriate for a bowl that’s just a few away from being top-tier than hosting two teams that are this close to busting out some hugely successful runs. Ryan Finley is looking for the perfect cap to his college career in Jacksonville before starting his pro career there, bringing the number of active Wolfpack quarterbacks in the NFL to at least 27*. The Aggies might want to keep the number of overtimes they play down from their last game — although if they don’t, they might be able to say they played in January.

*it’s actually five, but still.

Illuminati pick: NC State

Tuesday, January 1

Outback Bowl: #18 Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. Iowa Hawkeyes

If you scan the list of teams playing today, you’ll notice one stands out just a bit: yep, it’s the 8-4 Iowa Hawkeyes, playing in their eleventh January bowl under the unfireable Kirk Firentz, and the only unranked team playing today. Why? Probably because the Big Ten gets three guaranteed January bowl slots, while the ACC gets zero, and no, I’m not at all salty about that, thanks for asking. The Hawkeyes are an okay B1G team going against one of football’s stingiest defenses in Mississippi state, so.... yeah, good luck with that.

This game will sadly not feature SB Nation contributing writer Ryan Nanni reprising his role as the Bloomin’ Onion, and I just don’t know if I can bring myself watch it knowing this. #JUSTICE4NANNI

Illuminati pick: Mississippi State

Citrus Bowl: #14 Kentucky Wildcats vs. #12 Penn State Nittany Lions

You know, the regular season is over, and I’m still mad about Penn State running a damn zone read on the last play against Ohio State. You could have changed the playoff landscape, James Franklin! Instead we had to hear way too much about Ohio State overcoming adversity. Your punishment is playing opposite the Fiesta Bowl. Such that it is a punishment; I mean, it is a January bowl game in Orlando, and the opponent is a bafflingly still top-15 Kentucky. The Wildcats haven’t won a bowl game in a decade, and haven’t notched ten wins in four, but hey, new year, new you, go crazy, Kentucky.

Illuminati pick: Penn State

Fiesta Bowl: #11 LSU Tigers vs. #8 UCF Knights

Once again, UCF has defeated all that stand before them, and once again, the playoff committee leaves them oh so close but just outside of the college football playoff. They’ve drawn an SEC West opponent again, and this year it’s the LSU Tigers, who may or may not still be playing overtime against Texas A&M as of this writing. McKenzie Milton is set to have his knee put back together around this time, so it’ll be up to Darriel Mack, Jr. to repeat his heroics from the AAC championship. Win, and they’re national champions again, and you can’t prove they aren’t. Lose, and LSU will eat them. Literally. But they’ll at least be deliciously prepared.

Illuminati pick: LSU

Rose Bowl: #9 Washington Huskies vs. #6 Ohio State Buckeyes

Finally, the Rose Bowl once again pits the Big Ten champion against the Pac-12 champion. It’s the first time in the playoff era that’s actually happened! Should we ignore the Pac has been medium-key garbage for the second straight year? Probably! Let’s talk about Urban Meyer. It’s his last game before he retires, before coming back in two years to replace a retiring Nick Saban at Alabama, although I really wish he wouldn’t. People will talk about how much adversity he’s had to overcome to get to this game. Don’t let them do that!

Illuminati pick: Ohio State

Sugar Bowl: #15 Texas Longhorns vs. #5 Georgia Bulldogs

It really is a shame Georgia dropped out of the top 4 after losing to Alabama in the SEC championship. Just a shame. Instead of a rematch, they have to settle for the last bowl on the slate against the Big 12 runner up. The cruelty! The injustice! Why can nothing ever go right for the poor Georgia Bulldogs? They’ve fallen so far after a decade of massive success.

Oh, yeah, Texas. They’re.... back? Sure, they lost to OU in the Big 12 championship, but they made the championship! And they’d already beaten OU earlier, so in a way they’re better than the champion. And they’re back in a major bowl for the first time since the 2009 season. (What happened in that game? Noooo one knoooooows.) So, yeah, the Horns’ back status? Confirmed.

Illuminati pick: Georgia

Monday, January 7

CFP National Championship game: Orange Bowl winner vs. Cotton Bowl winner

When it comes right down to it, there is no greater college football cathedral — and thus, no better location for a college football championship — than Levi’s Stadium. The match-ups here do intrigue: Alabama-Clemson IV. A 2012 BCS title rematch. A revenge game for OU against the Tigers. Or OU-Notre Dame, which, okay, that one’s easily the least intriguing. So hope for not that, but whatever happens, you’re going to hold on to it as long as you can before we enter the cold harsh winter of the offseason.

Illuminati pick: Clemson

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