Ten months from now, on Dec. 21, the 2019 bowl season will begin. Go ahead, set a reminder in your phone, I’ll wait. Since we’re “only” 10 months away, it’s never too early to crank out some bowl projections.
The official dates for all 39 bowl games won’t be determined until May, but on Dec. 21, you can expect five bowls to kick off bowl season: Las Vegas, Camellia, New Orleans, Cure and New Mexico.
First, the ground rules: These are my projections (guesses). If your school is not included it’s probably because (a) I hate your team, (b) I hate your team or (c) I have them being bowl eligible, but there are no open spots left from your conference.
For this year’s bowl lineup, keep in mind:
*The Fiesta and Peach bowls will host the College Football Playoff semifinals on Dec. 28. The College Football Playoff championship is Jan. 13 in New Orleans.
*The conferences tied into the New Year’s 6 bowls are already determined (with the exception of the Cotton Bowl). After the top four teams ranked by the selection committee are placed in the College Football Playoff, the remaining highest-ranked teams from the following leagues will determine the New Year’s 6 bowls as follows:
Rose Bowl: Big Ten vs. Pac-12.
Sugar Bowl: Big 12 vs. SEC.
Orange Bowl: ACC vs. highest-ranked team (after Rose and Sugar bowls are filled) from SEC, Big Ten or Notre Dame.
Cotton Bowl: Next highest-ranked team after the playoff field and three bowls above are filled vs. the highest-ranked Group of 5 champion.
Other bowl affiliation changes for 2019:
Hawaii Bowl – Mountain West and Conference USA out; American and BYU in. BYU, if bowl eligible, is guaranteed a spot in the Hawaii Bowl against a team from the American.
Gasparilla Bowl – ACC out, C-USA in.
First Responder Bowl – Big Ten out, Big 12 in.
Armed Forces Bowl – Big 12 and American out, Big Ten and Mountain West in.
Boca Raton Bowl – C-USA out, MAC in.
Frisco Bowl – MAC out, no specific conference as the replacement.
Like last year, the Sun Belt champion will automatically play in the New Orleans Bowl. It has not been determined yet where the runner-up will be assigned.
Finally, here are the guaranteed minimum bowl tie-ins per conference for 2019 (not including teams in the College Football Playoff):
SEC – 10
ACC, Big Ten – 9
Big 12, Pac-12, AAC – 7
C-USA, MAC, MWC, Sun Belt – 5
Onto the projections (and don’t forget the ground rules):
College Football Playoff
Championship – Jan. 13 (CFP semifinal winners)
Projection: Clemson vs. Georgia
Can Clemson repeat as national champions? Absolutely. The Tigers are currently the odds-on favorite to win the 2019 title and likely won’t be challenged in ACC play. Their biggest test out of conference is a home game with Texas A&M and they are projected to be nearly a three-TD favorite against the Aggies. QB Trevor Lawrence and RB Travis Etienne will put up some huge numbers all year.
Georgia? Really? Sure, why not? The Bulldogs return 15 starters – 11 were only freshmen and sophomores last season, including QB Jake Fromm and RB D’Andre Swift. Eight defensive starters return on a unit that was second in the SEC in total defense. To get to this point, Georgia is finally going to have to beat Alabama in the SEC title game. After coming up painfully short the past two seasons, they’ll break through this year.
Peach Bowl – Dec. 28 (CFP semifinal)
Projection: Clemson (CFP No. 1) vs. Alabama (CFP No. 4)
Yes, another Clemson-Alabama matchup. Stop fighting it and just accept it’s going to happen. They will meet again in the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season and I’m going with the semifinals in 2019. Because of Alabama’s personnel losses (a school-record seven players left early for the NFL) and coaching turnover (Nick Saban has lost 13 assistants in the past two seasons, including both coordinators each of the last two years), I think the Tide will regress slightly and won’t win the SEC. They should still dominate in the regular season and roll to the SEC title game, where they will lose to Georgia, but still earn a berth in the playoff. Because Clemson is the No. 1 seed, the Tigers will play their semifinal in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
Fiesta Bowl – Dec. 28 (CFP semifinal)
Projection: Georgia (CFP No. 2) vs. Oklahoma (CFP No. 3)
Oklahoma bids for a third consecutive playoff bid with a third different starting quarterback. The last two – Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield – were coming off their Heisman Trophy-winning ceremonies a few weeks earlier. Can Alabama graduate transfer Jalen Hurts make it a 3-peat on Heisman winners and College Football Playoff appearances for Oklahoma?
On winning the Heisman? No. Heisman voters will have Oklahoma QB fatigue, and I don’t see Hurts hoisting the Heisman in December. On getting to the playoff? Yes. OU shouldn’t be challenged out of conference and will be favored in all 12 regular season games. The Sooners enter 2019 having been favored in 46 of their last 47 Big 12 contests.
New Year’s 6 Bowls
Rose Bowl – Jan. 1 (Big Ten vs. Pac-12)
Projection: Ohio State vs. Utah
Until last year, Ohio State hadn’t played in the Rose Bowl in nine seasons. But now, the Buckeyes can make back-to-back trips to Pasadena for the first time since four straight from 1972-75. With Georgia transfer Justin Fields replacing Dwayne Haskins at quarterback, Ohio State will be the most talented team in the Big Ten.
Somewhere, somehow, the Buckeyes will lose one game along the way that they’re not supposed to, which will keep them out of the playoff. Instead they’ll return to the Rose Bowl, which isn’t the worst consolation prize, to face Utah. Utah? Yes, Utah. Someone has to win the Pac-12, right? I’m going with the Utes, who suffered a ton of injuries last season to quarterback Tyler Huntley, running back Zack Moss and wide receiver Britain Covey, but still managed to win the Pac-12 South. They’ll all be back to work with new/old offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who returns to Utah after serving as the Utes’ OC from 2005-08.
Sugar Bowl – Jan. 1 (Big 12 vs. SEC)
Projection: Texas vs. Florida
As Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger said after last year’s win against Georgia, “Longhorn Nation, we’re baaccckkkk.” But I’m projecting Texas will be back in the Sugar Bowl again. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just means they will finish behind Oklahoma again. With OU in the playoff, Texas would be next in line to take the Big 12’s invite to the Sugar.
The SEC representative will be Florida. The Gators would be next in line from the SEC since I have Georgia and Alabama making the College Football Playoff. If I’m right – and when have I ever been wrong projecting bowls 10 months ahead of time? – it will be the Gators’ first trip to the Sugar Bowl since Jan. 1, 2013.
Orange Bowl – Jan. 1 (ACC vs. SEC/Big Ten/Notre Dame)
Projection: Syracuse vs. LSU
Since Clemson will be in the playoff after winning a fifth consecutive ACC title, the next highest-ranked team will head to the Orange Bowl. And I can’t think of a more fitting pairing than the Orange in the Orange. Syracuse will build off last year’s 10-win season under coach Dino Babers with its first Orange Bowl appearance since 1998, when it was in the Big East.
Syracuse’s opponent will be LSU, as the highest-ranked team from the SEC, Big Ten or Notre Dame after the playoff and Rose and Sugar bowls are filled. The Tigers are no strangers to bowl games, having gone to a bowl the past 19 consecutive years, the second-longest current streak in the SEC. If they end up in Miami, it would be their first trip to the Orange Bowl since 1982.
Cotton Bowl – Dec. 28 (At-large vs. Group of 5*)
Projection: Notre Dame vs. UCF*
After the other New Year’s 6 bowls are filled, the highest-ranked team, regardless of conference, will be the at-large team against the highest-ranked champion from a Group of 5 conference. Even though this would be a second consecutive trip to Arlington for Notre Dame, with the Irish being the highest available ranked team, this is where the Irish would have to end up.
For UCF, this would mean a third consecutive New Year’s 6 bowl trip and, oh the irony, if the Knights are led by Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush at quarterback.
One other note about the Group of 5 representative. Keep in mind: If Army upsets Michigan in Week 2 and finishes 13-0 as some folks have mentioned (OK, so I’m the only one who is suggesting this), the Black Knights, as an independent, are not eligible for the Group of 5 bowl bid because they are not in a conference – even if they rank higher than the Group of 5 champion. Army would be eligible for the College Football Playoff if it ranks in the top four, or as an at-large team to the Cotton Bowl, but most likely would need to finish ranked among the top eight or nine teams.
Citrus Bowl – (Big Ten vs. SEC)
Projection: Michigan vs. Texas A&M
Outback Bowl – (Big Ten vs. SEC)
Projection: Wisconsin vs. Ole Miss
Gator Bowl – (Big Ten/ACC vs. SEC)
Projection: Nebraska vs. South Carolina
Holiday Bowl – (Big Ten vs. Pac-12)
Projection: Iowa vs. Oregon
Liberty Bowl – (Big 12 vs. SEC)
Projection: Baylor vs. Kentucky
Redbox Bowl – (Big Ten vs. Pac-12)
Projection: Northwestern vs. Washington State
Sun Bowl – (ACC vs. Pac-12)
Projection: Virginia Tech vs. USC
Military Bowl – (ACC vs. American)
Projection: Boston College vs. Navy
Arizona Bowl – (Mountain West vs. Sun Belt)
Projection: Fresno State vs. Troy
Belk Bowl – (ACC vs. SEC)
Projection: Pitt vs. Tennessee
Alamo Bowl – (Big 12 vs. Pac-12)
Projection: Iowa State vs. Washington
Camping World Bowl – (ACC vs. Big 12)
Projection: Virginia vs. Oklahoma State
Music City Bowl – (ACC/Big Ten vs. SEC)
Projection: Miami vs. Mississippi State
Texas Bowl – (Big 12 vs. SEC)
Projection: Texas Tech vs. Auburn
Pinstripe Bowl – (ACC vs. Big Ten)
Projection: North Carolina vs. Penn State
Independence Bowl – (ACC vs. SEC)
Projection: NC State vs. TCU**
Cheez-It Bowl – (Big 12 vs. Pac-12)
Projection: Kansas State vs. Arizona
Quick Lane Bowl – (ACC vs. Big Ten)
Projection: Florida State vs. Michigan State
First Responder Bowl – (Big 12 vs. C-USA)
Projection: West Virginia vs. Marshall
Hawaii Bowl – (AAC vs. BYU)
Projection: Memphis vs. BYU
Dollar General Bowl – (MAC vs. Sun Belt)
Projection: Eastern Michigan vs. Arkansas State
Armed Forces Bowl – (Big Ten vs. MWC)
Projection: Purdue vs. Air Force
Birmingham Bowl – (American vs. SEC)
Projection: Houston vs. Arizona State**
Idaho Potato Bowl – (MAC vs. Mountain West)
Projection: Toledo vs. Utah State
Bahamas Bowl – C-USA vs. MAC
Projection: Southern Miss vs. Buffalo
Gasparilla Bowl – (American vs. C-USA)
Projection: Cincinnati vs. North Texas
Frisco Bowl – (American vs. Open)
Projection: Temple vs. Army
Boca Raton Bowl – (American vs. MAC)
Projection: Tulane vs. Ohio
New Orleans Bowl – (C-USA vs. Sun Belt)
Projection: Louisiana Tech vs. Appalachian State
Camellia Bowl – (MAC vs. Sun Belt)
Projection: Western Michigan vs. Louisiana
Las Vegas Bowl – (Mountain West vs. Pac-12)
Projection: Boise State vs. Stanford
Cure Bowl – (American vs. Sun Belt)
Projection: SMU vs. Georgia Southern
New Mexico Bowl – (C-USA vs. Mountain West)
Projection: Florida International vs. San Diego State
*The highest-rated champion from the Group of Five conferences (American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt) will play in the Cotton Bowl.
**Replaces team from league that can’t fill bowl.