10 potential college football bowl game upsets
The college football regular season is now officially a thing of the past and the ultra competitive bowl season is upon us. Like the year-end holidays, it’s a wonderful time for college football fans to kick back, relax and enjoy some football in an unparalleled atmosphere.
Of course, with the bowl games come the potential for surprises. Some teams will be motivated to play their best, while others are happy to finally end their seasons, leading to plenty of upsets.
Here’s a look at 10 potential college bowl games upsets based on the point spread.
10. Army (-3.0) vs. Houston – Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, Dec. 22
Army is coming off a win over Navy and will be squaring off against Houston come December 22. And while they may be early favorites on a neutral field, the Black Knights haven’t faced an explosive offense similar to Houston’s this season. Yes, they held their own in an overtime loss to Oklahoma earlier in the year, but Houston averages nearly 50 points — yes, 50 — per game. Army is a team that dominates on the ground, eats the clock and wins in the trenches, and their defensive coordinator has already accepted a new job at North Carolina. If they find themselves behind early or in a shootout, they don’t have the necessary firepower to battle back. Needless to say, the Cougars could walk away with an upset early in bowl season so long as they prevent Army from dominating time of possession.
9. Florida vs. Michigan (-7.5) – Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, Dec. 29
A potential upset here all boils down to one thing: Michigan and Jim Harbaugh’s inability rise to the occasion in a big game, which we’ve already seen this season when they were drubbed by an Ohio State team that put up 62 points. Moreover, Harbaugh & Co. have lost their last two bowl games, including a defeat at the hands of South Carolina a season ago — the only bowl loss by a Big Ten team. The Wolverines will also be short on pass rushers come December 29 as defensive end Rashan Gary, who has recorded 18 sacks in the previous two seasons, will not play as he prepares instead for the 2019 NFL Draft. All of that benefits a Florida team that has played well throughout the season despite their three losses, which all came at the hands of powerful SEC teams. If nothing else, the Gators should beat the spread.
8. LSU (-7.5) vs. UCF – Playstation Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 1
UCF, which hasn’t lost a single game in two straight seasons, have been thriving off of what they perceive to be relentless disrespect. And a year after declaring themselves national champions, they again find themselves in a similar situation, sitting out the College Football Playoff and being listed as a substantial underdogs against an SEC team. As they say, history repeats itself, and a year removed from beating Auburn in the Peach Bowl, they now go head-to-head with LSU. And while LSU is a very talented team — one that let a chance at the CFP slip through their fingers — they are prone to some letdowns. They fell to Florida, Alabama and Texas A&M this season, and barely hung onto wins over Auburn and Arkansas. They’re a flawed team and until UCF actually loses, they’re the ideal gamble for anyone looking to pick an upset.
7. Auburn (-3.5) vs. Purdue – Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Dec. 28
A year ago, SEC cheerleaders (of which I am one) said Auburn fell flat against UCF because they weren’t emotionally invested in an otherwise irrelevant bowl game. With that in mind, why expect these under-performing Tigers to take a different approach against Purdue? Comparatively, the Music City Bowl is less relevant than the Peach Bowl, so why would anyone believe Auburn will somehow find more emotion, more motivation and a greater desire to win this time around? Meanwhile, Purdue is riding a wave of emotion in the aftermath of coach Jeff Brohm turning down Louisville to stay with the Boilermakers.
6. Miami (-4) vs. Wisconsin – New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 27
It wasn’t all that long ago both Miami and Wisconsin were considered potential College Football Playoff contenders, but that’s why they play the game. All of them. Instead, the two are headed for a 2017 bowl rematch — a game the Badgers embarrassed the Hurricanes, 34-24, in the Orange Bowl. Despite an ugly looking schedule that included four straight losses to unranked teams, the Hurricanes still open this one as favorites over the Badgers. Wisconsin fared only slightly better, scattering five losses — two to ranked team and one to a once-ranked team — and ultimately finishing second in the Big Ten West. Based on strength of schedule and strength of wins alone, an upset could most certainly be brewing here.
5. Duke vs. Temple (-3.5) – Walk-On’s Independence Bowl, Dec. 27
It may have taken David Cutcliffe a little while to get going, but there’s no denying that he’s turned the Blue Devils into a legitimate contender that is no longer completely overshadowed by the school’s basketball program. And while they didn’t have the sort of year many expected or hoped, they clawed their way to a 7-5 record and a second consecutive bowl game. Led by quarterback Daniel Jones, a legitimate NFL prospect, they’re never quite out of a game — or at least they weren’t until the final two weeks of the season. Temple went the other way to end the season, finishing strong after starting slow, but their main issue continues to be a lackluster defense. Nearly every game they’ve played has been a shootout, which may give Jones and Duke a little advantage come December 27.
4. Arizona State vs. Fresno State (-4.5) – Mitsubishi Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 15
When Arizona State hired Herm Edwards, many scoffed and some even laughed. Yet here we are, the Sun Devils have a winning record, very nearly won the Pac-12 South (even beating 14th ranked Utah) and are in a bowl game in Herm’s first season. The 7-5 record may not blow many away, but each loss was within one score — four of which came on the road. They also beat two top-15 teams along the way, while Fresno State mopped up with an easy schedule, not even sniffing a Top 25 opponent until the Mountain West Championship, where they were barely able to squeak out a win over Boise State. And while it’s easy to see why the Bulldogs are favorite, it would be unwise to write off Arizona State.
3. Ohio State (-6.5) vs. Washington – Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual, Jan. 1
A case could have been made for Ohio State in the College Football Playoff, but in the end, their one loss to Purdue earlier in the season did them in. From a numbers standpoint, the Buckeyes also failed to come away with a huge marquee win, barely beating teams like Penn State, Nebraska and Maryland before a blowout victory over Michigan. Similarly, Washington had played well this season, but had a few close losses to Auburn, Oregon and California (three losses by a combined 10 points) that cost them. Ultimately, the Huskies have been consistent even with a 10-3 record and have been in every game they’ve played this season, so the Rose Bowl should be no different. The game will likely come down to the final possession and if Washington has the ball, they will win.
2. Syracuse vs. West Virginia (-2.0) – Camping World Bowl, Dec. 28
In their third season under head coach Dino Babers, Syracuse had a real opportunity to thrust themselves into a national conversation before being brought down by Notre Dame. That loss set the Orange back slightly, but they rebounded in the final week of the season with a 42-21 victory over Boston College. Syracuse is a team ascending, while West Virginia, who lost their last two and three of their last six, appear to be heading in a different direction. They’ll also be playing without star QB Will Grier. They fight, they battle and they are in most games, but they have not quite learned how to win them all yet. And as favorites, they’ve been a letdown at times, whereas the Orange have thrived in several games where many expected a choke job. Why should the Camping World Bowl be any different?
1. Alabama (-14) vs. Oklahoma – Capital One Orange Bowl, Dec. 29
Alabama is the largest point spread favorite of any team this bowl season, and it’s easy to understand why. They have completely dominated from the first day of the season, blowing out most opponents with ease. In fact, the Crimson Tide seemed to be on cruise control until it came to the SEC Championship Game against Georgia, and then a dose of reality struck. Alabama was vulnerable against quality talent. Oklahoma, despite a mid-season loss to Texas by three points, had also cruised through the season with relative ease. And while their defense may be suspect, they have the offensive firepower to keep up with Alabama every stretch of the way. It may not be pretty in the end, but don’t overlook the Sooners come December 29.