The college football postseason is officially upon us.
A record 84 teams were bowl-eligible this season, and thanks to the creation of the Frisco Classic they’re all postseason-bound. This is the first time every team that finished 6-6 or better is in a bowl. The 2021-22 bowl season is historic for other reasons as well. Cincinnati became the first Group of 5 school to make the College Football Playoff while Michigan will be making its first appearance in the CFP.
Bowl season will also be a chance for some of the nation’s top overlooked players, such as Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe, to finally gain exposure and national prominence. With big-name players such as Kenny Pickett and Kenneth Walker opting out of New Year’s Six bowls, more emphasis will be placed on smaller bowls as they’ve become more compelling matchups.
BENDER: Picks, predictions for all bowl games in 2021-22
Beyond that, winning seasons are on the line, NCAA records on the line and reversals of fortune are at stake.
The College Football Playoff won’t be contested until the end of December and early January; in the meantime, you can get your college football fix with dozens of other bowls, starting this weekend.
College football schedule: What games are on today?
The full schedule for Friday and Saturday’s college football bowl games, plus final scores and how to watch every game live.
Friday, Dec. 17
Middle Tennessee vs. Toledo
This is the second appearance in the Bahamas Bowl for both squads in the seven editions of the game. Middle Tennessee is coming off a 6-6 regular season without a signature win, but it is playing in its first bowl game since 2018. The Blue Raiders’ six defensive touchdowns lead the nation. Toledo went 7-5, with four of the losses coming by three points or fewer and all to bowl-eligible teams, including to then-No. 8 Notre Dame. The Rockets have won four of their last five and three in a row heading into the game. They have committed just six turnovers all season.
Northern Illinois vs. Coastal Carolina
Northern Illinois has one of the best stories in college football this year. The Huskies went from 0-6 last season to 9-4 and a MAC conference title this season. They’re led by alum Thomas Hammock and propelled by one of the nation’s top running games, which averaged 234.2 yards per game and more than 5 yards per carry, good for fifth in the nation. The Chanticleers, who were ranked for much of the season, finished 10-2 after close losses to Georgia State and Appalachian State. The Chants are one of the nation’s most prolific offensive teams; they’re sixth in the nation in scoring offense and seventh in total offense.
Saturday, Dec. 18
Western Kentucky vs. Appalachian State
Western Kentucky probably has the two best players in the country you’ve never heard of. Quarterback QB Bailey Zappe is four touchdowns away from breaking Joe Burrow’s single-season mark; he conveniently averages four passing touchdowns per game. Most of his passes are to wide receiver Jerreth Sterns, the nation’s second-best pass catcher. App State is coming off an appearance in the Sun Belt title game, where it lost to Louisiana for the second time this season. The Mountaineers do have a ranked win; they upset then-No. 14 Coastal Carolina.
UTEP vs. Fresno State
UTEP is bowl-eligible for the first time since 2014 thanks to a turnaround orchestrated by coach Dana Dimel. The Miners started 6-1 but finished 1-4. One thing they have going for them is that they’re one of the top teams in the country at defending on third down, ranking ninth. Fresno State got a major boost when quarterback Jake Haener, one of the top passers in the Mountain West, withdrew from the transfer portal and returned to the Bulldogs. It also got Jeff Tedford to return as head coach, giving it a superb offensive mind at the helm. The Bulldogs have the ninth-best passing attack in the nation and rank in the top 20 in several other key offensive categories.
UAB vs. No. 13 BYU
The Blazers have been bowl-eligible every year since returning to the FBS from a two-year hiatus in 2017. This year, they finished 8-4, the fourth time in five years coach Bill Clark has reached the eight-win milestone. A win Saturday would be their first in a bowl since 2018. BYU had one of the best seasons with seemingly one of the least just outcomes. The Cougars went 10-2 with two separate five-game winning streaks. They beat five Pac-12 teams, including ranked Utah and Arizona State. Kalani Sitake’s squad probably would have had a compelling case for a New Year’s Six bowl had it been ranked a spot or two higher, which it seemingly should have been.
Eastern Michigan vs. Liberty
One of the more surprising teams in the MAC this year, the 7-5 Eagles are going bowling for the third time in four years. Chris Creighton’s squad was the most disciplined in the nation, with the fewest penalties and fewest penalty yards. That could be the key to Eastern Michigan reaching eight wins, something the program last did in 1987. Liberty boasts one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Mailk Willis, who is widely projected to be a first-round NFL Draft pick, but defense has been the Flames’ calling card this year. They rank 11th in the nation in total defense and in the top 20 in sacks. Liberty is a year removed from the best season in program history. It will move from independent to Conference USA in 2023.
Utah State vs. Oregon State
Another team with a great story is Utah State and its coach, Blake Anderson. Anderson built Arkansas State into a Sun Belt power before stepping down following the death of his wife. In his first season in Logan, the Aggies went 10-3 and won the Mountain West title while ranking in the top 20 in total offense and registering the third-most tackles for loss in the nation. Oregon State enjoyed a renaissance at 7-5, the Beavers’ first winning season since 2013 when Mike Riley was the coach. The Beavers went 5-4 in Pac-12 play while having the nation’s 12th-best ground game and ranking sixth in third-down conversion percentage.
No. 23 Louisiana vs. Marshall
The Ragin’ Cajuns have been one of, if not the top power in the Sun Belt for the past several years. They easily won the conference title this year and are ranked inside the top 25 for the second year in a row. Their efforts under Billy Napier impressed a lot of people, including a few at Florida. Last month, Napier left Lafayette to take the UF job. Louisiana ranked No. 11 nationally in scoring defense and had the second-best turnover margin. Marshall, led by first-year coach Charles Huff, went 5-3 in C-USA play and 7-5 overall. The Thundering Herd had the ninth-best red zone defense and the 12th-most sacks to go with the 10th-highest total offense in the country and a 34 points-per-game scoring average. They will be seeking their first bowl win since 2018.
How to watch, live stream college football games
The first slate of bowl games will be broadcast live on national TV, with games appearing on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC. Live streaming options include WatchESPN or fuboTV, which offers a seven-day free trial.
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