Our staff at Contest General takes aim at the 2017 college football bowl season, making picks for each of the 40 games over the course of the season. When you’re ready to take on our College Football Bowl Contests, check back to this page to see what our team of expert college football handicappers thinks will happen in each affair!
This should be the most anticipated Celebration Bowl yet. North Carolina A&T won the inaugural Celebration Bowl back in 2015 while Grambling won it last year. The Aggies were one of two FCS teams to finish the regular season undefeated and could have made a deep run if they went to the FCS Playoffs. Grambling’s only loss on the season came to Tulane, and the Tigers more or less dominated in SWAC play. The winner of this game will lay claim to the HBCU national championship.
North Texas has one of the most explosive offenses in the country and has looked really good this season. The Mean Green are averaging 467 yards per game and were able to get past every team except Florida Atlantic in Conference USA play. Troy doesn’t have a good offense, but it boasts one of the best defenses amongst Group of Five teams in the nation. The Trojans used that defense to upset LSU in Baton Rouge earlier this season and have not allowed more than 25 points in any game this year.
The Panthers have been one of the weirdest teams in college football this season. Georgia State was written off after it lost to Tennessee State in its opener, and it went just 1-4 at home this year. However, the Panthers went 5-1 on the road, and that helped lead them to bowl eligibility. Western Kentucky was expected to take a step back after Jeff Brohm left for Purdue, but Mike Sanford did a good job in his first season at the helm. The Hilltoppers returned Mike White, but lost a ton of other starters from last year. A 6-6 record should be considered a successful season.
There’s a lot of moving parts at Oregon right now. Willie Taggart left to take the Florida State job less than two weeks ago, and Mario Cristobal was only recently named the new coach. Cristobal has spent a lot of time trying to salvage a recruiting class that would have been the best in school history and probably has not spent nearly as much time on this game as he would have wanted to. The Broncos aren’t the powerhouse you think they might be though. Despite winning the Mountain West, this team was far from dominant, and Oregon has a chance even despite all the things going on in Eugene.
Kudos to Doc Holliday for turning things around quickly at Marshall. Holliday led the Herd to three straight 10-win seasons from 2013 to 2015, but they collapsed last season, going 3-9. There were calls for Holliday’s head if he didn’t have a winning record this year. Colorado State is a pretty tough opponent, though. The Rams have a superstar receiver in Michael Gallup and Dalyn Dawkins was one of the most underrated running backs in the country.
This is the second battle between a current Sun Belt team and a former Sun Belt team on the opening day of bowl season. The Blue Raiders were a surprise to be selected for this bowl over UTSA but are happy to be here. They stand a good chance of winning it, too, with Brent Stockstill healthy again. He was the quarterback when the team beat Syracuse on the road in Week 2. Arkansas State has a very talented quarterback of its own. Justice Hansen was tabbed the Sun Belt’s Offensive Player of the Year and will have the Red Wolves’ offense humming.
Lane Kiffin can coach; there’s no question about that. The Owls had one of the best offenses in the country this season, and he turned Devin Singletary into one of the nation’s top runners. They won all but one of their conference games by at least 18 points, and Vegas has them as one of the biggest favorites we’ve ever seen for a bowl game. Akron has been one of the most fortunate teams in college football this season. The Zips finished the year getting outgained by their opponents by an average of more than 100 yards per game.
Sonny Dykes is the new man in charge at SMU and will be coaching this game after Chad Morris took most of his staff with him to Arkansas. Dykes has announced that graduate assistant and former Tulsa quarterback, G.J. Kinne will be calling the plays in this game with quarterback Ben Hicks having a lot of freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage. The Mustangs will be taking on a Louisiana Tech team that was pretty unlucky to finish 6-6. Three of its losses were by one point, while another loss came in double overtime.
The Golden Panthers’ resurgence under Butch Davis has been largely overlooked this season because of the success of arch rival Florida Atlantic. Getting FIU to eight wins is no easy feat though, and Davis can cement the best season in school history with a win in St. Pete. However, Temple is a seven-point favorite based on how the Owls closed out the season. It took a while for the program to get going under Geoff Collins, but he really turned it around in November and the Owls won three of their last four to make it here.
No team has a better story than the Blazers this season. In their first year of having football back, UAB has surpassed all expectations. Not only was the program competitive, it nearly won the West Division of Conference USA. The Blazers will be rewarded with a trip to the lovely Bahamas where they will take on the Ohio Bobcats. Ohio had probably its most talented team ever under Frank Solich, but a loss to Akron kept the team out of the MAC Championship Game. The Bobcats are touchdown favorites here, but the Blazers are live dogs.
Josh Allen has not had the season that he was hoping for. Wyoming’s quarterback was pegged as a potential first-round pick in the NFL Draft heading into this year, but he was unable to find much success. Allen only threw for 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns and might not play in this game because of a shoulder injury. Central Michigan quietly had one of the better offenses in the MAC this season and should have a 3,000-yard passer and a 1,000-yard rusher by the time this game is over.
South Florida’s first season under Charlie Strong went pretty well. The Bulls finished the season at 9-2 and nearly won the AAC East, but fell just short after a thrilling shootout against UCF in their season finale. However, the defense was not as good as you’d expect, and Quinton Flowers was not as explosive as he was in 2016 either. As for Texas Tech, if not for a come-from-behind win over Texas in its season finale, there’s a good chance Kliff Kingsbury would have been fired after failing to make a bowl. He will have the Red Raiders motivated in this one.
This will be a battle of two of the nation’s leading rushers who play in two very different offenses. Rashaad Penny ran for over 2,000 yards for the Aztecs this season and helped lead them to another very successful year. He was the workhorse back that Rocky Long loves, and San Diego State was 10-0 when he ran for at least 100 yards. Army’s Ahmad Bradshaw is the signal caller for the academy’s triple option attack and has more rushing yards than any other quarterback this year. He isn’t much of a passer, but ran for 240-plus yards twice in his last four games.
If somebody tells you that there are too many bowls and these smaller schools don’t care about their teams, point to this game. The Dollar General Bowl is already a sellout, and this is now one of the more expensive tickets you will find on resale sites. Both Appalachian State and Toledo fans are flocking to the Azalea City to see their teams square off in what should be a good game. The Mountaineers won a share of the Sun Belt this year, while the Rockets won their first MAC Championship in over a decade. These are two of the best Group of Five teams in the nation, particularly if you take out the AAC.
Jeff Tedford completely turned around the Bulldogs in his first year in Fresno. The program went just 1-11 last season, but he led the team to a MWC Championship Game appearance thanks to a standout defense that shut down conference foes all year. Major Applewhite had a much tougher task in his first season as the head coach of Houston. Applewhite had to replace Tom Herman, and although it was a good year for the Cougars, Herman’s two years pushed expectations for the program into the stratosphere. A win in this game would help Applewhite greatly going into his second season at the helm.
We still don’t know whether or not Will Grier will be able to suit up for the Mountaineers in this one. Grier broke the middle finger on his throwing hand at the tail end of the regular season and has been considered questionable for this game since then. If he can’t go, it will be Chris Chugunov leading the way for WVU. Utah has a star wide receiver in Darren Carrington, and he will be Tyler Huntley’s main target throughout this one. Carrington had almost double the yards of any other receiver on the team.
The Huskies have been paced by their defense this season. Northern Illinois was in the top-20 in the nation in total defense, and that helped this team get to an 8-4 record despite not being very good on the other side of the ball. David Cutcliffe is known as a quarterback guru, but Daniel Jones took a step back in his second season as the signal caller of the Blue Devils. He averaged less than six yards per pass, and the Blue Devils have had to turn to their ground game in order to move the chains this season.
Josh Rosen may or may not be playing in this game, and that would have a huge effect on your Cactus Bowl picks. Rosen is one of the best quarterbacks in football, and without him, UCLA would have a very tough time winning this game. The Bruins’ defense has been continually blasted in games outside of Los Angeles this season and has had a very hard time stopping the run. Kansas State may be losing its offensive coordinator to UTEP, but Dana Dimel will be calling the plays, and his Wildcats will look to send him off with a big win.
Long-time assistant Odell Haggins will be the Seminoles coach in this one as Willie Taggart is still recruiting and trying to put together his coaching staff. Haggins was able to get FSU to respond in a big way in its regular season finale, coaching the team to a blowout win over Louisiana-Monroe in order to become bowl eligible for the 36th straight season. Southern Miss was competitive against both Kentucky and Tennessee this season and will be looking to show it can hang with the Seminoles, too. The Golden Eagles have a very underrated wide receiver in Korey Robertson, and he will be looking to make some plays against this secondary.
If you like old school, smash-mouth football, you’ll love this game. Neither one of these teams is too keen to air it out, and both play very good defense. Boston College has had a much better ground game this season than Iowa, though. A.J. Dillon was awarded first-team All-ACC honors and should finish the year with over 1,500 rushing yards. Steve Addazio will run him into Iowa’s front often in this one. Iowa does not have a good punting game, so if it can’t move the ball Boston College will slowly win the field position battle.
Khalil Tate was one of the most exciting players in college football over the last two months of the season. Tate ran for over 130 yards in six straight games and finished the year with 12 rushing touchdowns. Oregon and Arizona State did find ways to shut him down, but Rich Rodriguez will have something up his sleeve for this one. Purdue’s hire of Jeff Brohm might just be what the Boilermakers needed to turn around a moribund program. Brohm made Purdue into a legitimately feisty team this season, and now he is looking to lead the Boilermakers to their first winning season since 2011.
It will be interesting to see what Drew Lock can do without Josh Heupel calling the plays for this offense. Missouri’s offense came on like a ball of fire at the end of the season, and Lock was able to throw to wide open guys downfield often in Heupel’s scheme. Heupel will not be calling the plays in this one, and Lock will have to move the ball through the air against a very good Texas defense. The Longhorns did a great job of slowing down some of the high-powered offenses in the Big 12 and won’t be phased by Missouri’s hurry-up.
Both of these teams started the year strong but faded as the season wore on. Navy’s triple option attack got snuffed out in the second half of the season, and the offense was not able to have as much success as it did in the early part of the year. Virginia turned some heads by going into Boise State and knocking off the Broncos in September, but it lost five of its last six to finish the year. Bronco Mendenhall is familiar with the triple option from his time coaching in the Mountain West out at BYU, and Navy might find it tough to move the chains.
Mason Rudolph and James Washington are looking to go out with a bang. This will be the last game for one of the most prolific duos in school history, and they will look to make it memorable. Rudolph was the nation’s leading passer this season while Washington was one of the best receivers at the collegiate level. Bud Foster has been coming up with a game plan to stop them all month, but Virginia Tech has had trouble with up-tempo offenses. The Hokies lost to Syracuse on the road last season and got blitzed at home by Clemson this year.
The Cardinal are led by superstar running back Bryce Love. Love finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting earlier this month and has been Stanford’s go-to guy all year long. He looks set to finish the year with more than 2,000 yards and averaged an incredible 8.3 yards per carry in the regular season. TCU has one of the better defenses in the nation, and the Horned Frogs have been good against the run. However, they have not played a team that likes to line up and run the ball with power like Stanford does.
This season, it’s been the defense that has led the way for the Cougars. Mike Leach’s offense has put up some points to be sure, but Washington State defensive coordinator Alex Grinch is one of the hottest coaches in the country for what he has gotten out of this unit this season. On the other side of the ball, the Cougars have not been as efficient in the passing game as in years past and now have to take on one of the better pass defenses in the country. Washington State’s offense has struggled to get much going in its last two bowl games, and this looks like it will be another low scoring game.
There’s a whole lot of shaking going on right now in College Station. It would be hard to say that the Aggies are fully locked into this game after everything that has happened in the last few weeks. Texas A&M paid a king’s ransom to lure Jimbo Fisher away from Florida State, and the Aggies have been focused more on landing a dynamite recruiting class and good assistant coaches rather than prepping for this one. This will be John Wolford’s last game as quarterback for the Demon Deacons, and Wake Forest is going to be ready for it. Dave Clawson was able to lead his team to an outright win despite being a 13-point underdog to Temple last year in a bowl game, and he’ll have his guys motivated here.
It’s been a wacky offseason for Arizona State. The Sun Devils hired Herm Edwards to replace Todd Graham even though Edwards hasn’t coached a team in a decade. The plan was to leave the rest of the coaching staff in place, but both coordinators left to take other jobs. Arizona State is left scrambling. North Carolina State’s season hasn’t worked out quite the way people in Raleigh were hoping, but 8-4 is still a successful year. The Wolfpack have one of the best defensive linemen in the country in Bradley Chubb and a very efficient offense that is good at moving the chains.
Give Pat Fitzgerald credit for continually being able to get the best out of his talent at Northwestern. The Wildcats finished the year at 9-3, and the school looks like it is about to send another quarterback to the pros. Clayton Thorson might decide to declare for the NFL Draft after this game, and early indications are that he would go in the first three rounds of the draft. Although Kentucky still hasn’t gotten past Florida, it was a good year for the Wildcats. They went 7-5 with wins over South Carolina and Missouri, and Benny Snell Jr. emerged as a running back to watch for at the tail end of the year.
New Mexico State is going to a bowl for the first time since 1960, and that’s cause for celebration. The school managed to finish 6-6 and got a local bowl bid that it was able to accept, much to the delight of a success-starved program. Interestingly enough, New Mexico State will be taking on the same school it faced in the 1960 Sun Bowl, Utah State. USU’s best win all year came against a 5-7 UNLV team, and this team had a hard time moving the ball against quality opponents.
For the first time in the College Football Playoff era, we will have two power conference champions squaring off in a New Year’s Six Bowl. The Trojans looked like a different team after getting blitzed by Notre Dame and finished the season strong, winning its last five games and knocking off Stanford for the Pac-12 Championship. USC has the possible No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft in Sam Darnold and a great running back in Ronald Jones II. Ohio State was the first team out of the CFP but has only itself to blame after getting hammered by both Iowa and Oklahoma. The Buckeyes are still considered big favorites to win this one. Urban Meyer is 10-3 all-time in bowl games.
This is probably the last time we will see Lamar Jackson at the collegiate level. Jackson has been the best player in college football for the last two seasons. He is the best dual-threat quarterback in the game and has made exhilarating plays during his time at Louisville. Jackson was held in check in Louisville’s bowl game last season against LSU, but he should be able to have more success against Mississippi State. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is joining Dan Mullen in Gainesville, and the Bulldogs have not done a good job of stopping dual-threat quarterbacks this season.
If not for UCF, Memphis would have likely been the champion of the AAC this season. Both of the Tigers’ two losses came at the hands of the Knights in Orlando. Memphis was able to blow out opponents other than UCF and scored 40 or more points in nine of its 12 games. Iowa State knocked off two of the top teams in the Big 12, but the team lost three of its last four to end the season. The Cyclones have found a way to be competitive in every game this year and won’t be afraid of Memphis’ offense.
Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley have been quite the combination this season. McSorley threw for over 3,000 yards, and Barkley ran for over 1,000 yards. Penn State quietly had the seventh-best offense in the country. Washington is a school that prides itself on its defense. The Huskies allowed just 14.5 PPG this season, and only three teams scored 20 or more points against this unit. Special teams may be the difference here. Washington has the best return man in the country in Dante Pettis, and he will be the one to keep an eye on.
At one point, it looked like the Hurricanes were going to be in the College Football Playoff. Miami knocked off Virginia Tech and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks, and all it had to do was beat Pittsburgh to finish the regular season undefeated. Of course, Miami stumbled against Pitt then got hammered by Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. It’s still been a successful season for the Canes, and a win over Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl would make their fans elated. Wisconsin boasts the best freshman running back in the country in Jonathan Taylor as well as a standout defense.
It’s a shame the Knights won’t at least get a chance to play for the national title. UCF finished the season as the only undefeated team in the country, but the current system is so prejudiced against non-power conference teams that the Knights didn’t even make it into the committee’s top-10. Scott Frost is going to coach the team in the bowl game, but he has surely been distracted with his new duties as head coach of Nebraska. As long as Auburn is motivated heading into this one, the Tigers surely have the talent advantage. They also have had less distractions than their counterparts. This one could get ugly.
These two teams squared off in the Outback Bowl four years ago, and it gave us one of the most memorable plays in the bowl game’s history. Trailing by one midway through the fourth quarter, Jadeveon Clowney exploded through the line of scrimmage and destroyed running back Vincent Smith, forcing a turnover that led to the Gamecocks taking the lead on the Wolverines. This game doesn’t have the star power that that tilt did, but there will be two fiery coaches patrolling the sidelines. Jim Harbaugh and Will Muschamp aren’t the type of coaches to take it easy during bowl season, and it will show here.
Although it got off to a rocky start, LSU’s first full season under Ed Orgeron turned out to be a success. The Tigers did lose to Troy, but that team ended up winning 11 games and crushed North Texas in the New Orleans Bowl. At one point, Notre Dame was seen as a potential participant in the College Football Playoff. The Fighting Irish were favored to beat Miami on the road, a win that would have solidified their spot as one of the top teams in the country. Instead, they got crushed but can end their season the right way with a win over LSU here.
These are two of the blue bloods of college football, but this will be the first time they ever meet. Georgia got here on the strength of three great running backs and an amazing defense. The Bulldogs rode those two factors to a big win over Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. Oklahoma is all about one man, Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. Mayfield has been the best quarterback in the country this season. He has had success against every defense he has faced and will be looking to carve up the Georgia secondary. The Bulldogs have been susceptible to the pass this year, and Mayfield could have a big game.
For the third year in a row, Alabama and Clemson will meet in the College Football Playoff. The last two meetings between these two schools were for all the marbles, but this game will be for the right to take on the winner of the Rose Bowl for the title. Neither team has looked as dominant offensively as it did last year, so the defenses have carried their teams to this point. Clemson boasts one of the best defensive lines in the country while Alabama’s secondary is second to none. This game won’t be as high scoring as either of the last two meetings.