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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Pat Forde

Forde-Yard Dash: Breaking Down Every Bowl Game

Forty-plus names, games, teams and minutiae this college football bowl season, where it’s mind over matter—if you don’t mind, the opt-outs don’t matter:

Welcome to the Crapshoot

There are 42 bowl games because our television overlords know one immutable truth: we’re going to watch. Doesn’t matter who plays or doesn’t play. Doesn’t matter who coaches or doesn’t coach. Doesn’t matter how much 6–6 debris litters the landscape. (Not to mention one special 5–7 bunch of Minnesota Gophers.)

Not only are we going to watch, but many of us are going to wager, via bowl pools or bookies or legal betting establishments. (The Dash recommends adhering to the law in your place of residence, for the record.) The certainty of complete uncertainty will not deter them. For many, it’s as much a part of the holiday season as mall traffic and Flo From Progressive commercials.

So, by gosh and by golly, if there is mistletoe and holly—and bowl pools—there will be a Bowl Dash that picks every game. And gets them all right. Guaranteed. (Your results may vary.)

All times Eastern unless otherwise noted.

Former USC coach Clay Helton will try to avoid falling to 6–7 for the second straight year with another bowl loss at Georgia Southern.

Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports


Matchup: Georgia Southern (6–6) vs. Ohio (9–3)

When: Dec. 16, 11 a.m. ET
Where: Conway, S.C.
Line: Georgia Southern by 3.5

Watchability ranking: 37th out of 42. You can’t see them all if you don’t watch the first one. The teal turf at Coastal Carolina’s Brooks Stadium is an added wrinkle.

Mascot fight: Georgia Southern flies an actual eagle around its stadium before kickoff, a la Auburn. And an eagle would easily maul a bobcat. Advantage Eagles.

Dash pick: Georgia Southern 23, Ohio 16. Why is a 6–6 team that lost its last four games going to win? Because almost all of Ohio’s offense is in the portal—starting QB Kurtis Rourke and top two rushers Sieh Bangura and O’Shaan Allison.


Matchup: Howard (6–5) vs. Florida A&M (11–1)

When: Dec. 16, noon
Where: Atlanta 
Line: No line

Watchability ranking: 21st out of 42. This is a bowl game that means something, matching champions of HBCU conferences and with FCS No. 5 FAMU having a shot at the Black national championship. It also goes without saying that the halftime show will be elite.

Mascot fight: Two dangerous animals here, a bison vs. a rattlesnake. In the costume version, the rattler looks too much like an alligator with a tongue. Go with the Bison.

Dash pick: FAMU 28, Howard 14. The Rattlers have won their last six games by double digits, playing stout defense all season.


Matchup: Jacksonville State (8–4) vs. Louisiana (6–6)

When: Dec. 16, 2:15 p.m.
Where: New Orleans, believe it or not.
Line: Jacksonville State by three

Watchability ranking: 35th out of 42. If you’ve wondered whatever happened to Rich Rodriguez, this is your chance to find out.

Mascot fight: You simply cannot beat Cayenne, the Ragin’ Cajun mascot dressed as a hot pepper. Inspired work by Louisiana.

Dash pick: Jax State 34, Louisiana 28. When in doubt, let ball security be your guide. The Gamecocks are tied for third nationally in takeaways with 25. The Ragin’ Cajuns are tied for 107th in giveaways with 21.


Matchup: Miami (Ohio) (11–2) vs. Appalachian State (8–5)

When: Dec. 16, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Orlando
Line: Appalachian State by six

Watchability ranking: 27th out of 42. The MAC champion RedHawks have had their best season since Ben Roethlisberger was the quarterback. The Mountaineers play a ton of close games. It’s worth a look.

Mascot fight: App State’s “Yosef” Mountaineer mascot is every bit as culturally and regionally pitch-perfect as Louisiana’s hot pepper. Miami’s RedHawk is just a bird costume.

Dash pick: App State 24, Miami 14. The situation for the RedHawks is this: starting quarterback Brett Gabbert is out with an injury. His backup who started the last five games, Aveon Smith, is in the portal. New man atop the depth chart is Henry Hesson, who last threw a pass on Sept. 10, 2022. All that said, the RedHawks have a disruptive defensive front seven that could make things difficult for the Mountaineers.


Matchup: New Mexico State (10–4) vs. Fresno State (8–4)

When: Dec. 16, 5:45 p.m.
Where: Albuquerque, N.M.
Line: New Mexico State by 3.5

Watchability ranking: 24th out of 42. This game would match two of the most under-appreciated coaches in the country in Jerry Kill of NMSU and Jeff Tedford of Fresno, but Tedford will miss the bowl due to health concerns. Nevertheless, you’ll want to tune in just for the sight of Kill arriving at the stadium in a serape. And Aggies QB Diego Pavia is fun to watch.

Mascot fight: Solid matchup here of New Mexico State’s desert cowboy and Fresno’s live Bulldog, Victor E. When in doubt, always go with the live bulldog.

Dash pick: NMSU 25, Fresno State 19. The Bulldogs’ offense stalled in the final three games of the regular season, all losses. The Aggies’ defense has been strong when playing anyone other than Liberty (0–2 against the Flames). Put the two together and New Mexico State should record its first back-to-back bowl wins since 1959-60.


Matchup: UCLA (7–5) vs. Boise State (8–5)

When: Dec. 16, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Inglewood, Calif.
Line: UCLA by 2.5.

Watchability ranking: 22nd out of 42. Rob Gronkowski is involved in hosting the game, so things should get suitably goofy. Plus this is a good uniform matchup in a fantastic stadium.

Mascot fight: Boise runs a live horse out onto the blue turf before every home game, but the steed will not be in SoFi Stadium Saturday. Still, Boise will have a live animal on its sideline: Blitz the dog who retrieves the kicking tee after every kickoff. That beats UCLA’s costume bear.

Dash pick: UCLA 20, Boise State 16. In terms of continuity, this game is a mess. The Broncos do not have a quarterback on the depth chart who has attempted a college pass, though star running back Ashton Jeanty will play. The Bruins have seen an exodus to the portal, at least one key opt-out (edge rusher Laiatu Latu) and both coordinators have taken other jobs. If you bet this game, you’re a lunatic.


Matchup: California (6–6) vs. Texas Tech (6–6)

When: Dec. 16, 9:15 p.m.
Where: Shreveport, La.
Line: Texas Tech by 2.5

Watchability ranking: 32nd out of 42. It’s Shreveport in December; pray for sleet.

Mascot fight: Tech’s Masked Raider rides on horseback at home games. The school also has a caricature Raider dude. Cal has Oski the bear, which has been around since 1941. Tech wins.

Dash pick: Cal 35, Texas Tech 33. The Golden Bears ended the season with three rousing wins, as what has been the worst defense of the Justin Wilcox Era finally got serious. Meanwhile the Red Raiders ended the season with a 50-point loss to Texas. Cal is second nationally in takeaways with 26, while Tech has had issues in that area with 21 giveaways.

Corley has caught 11 touchdowns for Western Kentucky in each of the past two seasons and is expected to be selected on Day 2 of the NFL draft.

Alberto Silva Fernandez/USA TODAY Network


Matchup: Western Kentucky (7–5) vs. Old Dominion (6–6)

When: Dec. 18, 2:30 p.m.
Where: Charlotte
Line: Old Dominion by 2.5

Watchability ranking: 42nd out of 42. It’s a week before Christmas; go finish your shopping.

Mascot fight: Few, if any, mascots can defeat the power and majesty of WKU’s red blob. It is a force unto its own amorphous self. ODU’s current take on a Monarch—a costume lion with a crown—certainly is not beating the blob.

Dash pick: Old Dominion 28, Western Kentucky 24. This is another portal massacre of a game, with three-fifths of WKU’s starting offensive line gone and ODU missing key players on both sides of the ball. However, Hilltoppers receiver Malachi Corley, an NFL prospect, is expected to log one more game catching passes from Austin Reed. The pick is based off conference strength: Sun Belt over C-USA.


Matchup: UTSA (8–4) vs. Marshall (6–6)

When: Dec. 19, 9 p.m.
Where: Frisco, Texas
Line: UTSA by 9.5

Watchability ranking: 33rd out of 42. UTSA is a quality team; Marshall is not without talent. And, really, who doesn’t need a late-night Frisco Bowl keeping them up past midnight ET?

Mascot fight: In a rather humdrum battle of humans in costumes, take Marshall’s buffalo over the UTSA roadrunner. In the real animal world, do the same.

Dash pick: UTSA 31, Marshall 14. The Roadrunners might have lost focus before the AAC championship game loss to Tulane with coach Jeff Traylor involved in other job searches. Traylor hasn’t gone anywhere, so perhaps the team that won seven straight before then will reappear. The Thundering Herd, meanwhile, saw QB Cam Fancher transfer, which hands the reins to freshman Cole Pennington. He’s the son of former Marshall great Chad Pennington, but the learning curve has been steep—he’s thrown six interceptions in 79 attempts this season.


Matchup: South Florida (6–6) vs. Syracuse (6–6)

When: Dec. 21, 8 p.m.
Where: Boca Raton, Fla.
Line: Syracuse by 3.5

Watchability ranking: 31st out of 42. Hopefully there is plenty of ocean and palm tree B-roll in the broadcast. Also, the opportunity to see a couple of productive dual-threat QBs: Byrum Brown of USF, who has more than 3,800 yards total offense in his first full season of playing time, and Garrett Shrader of Syracuse, who produced more than 2,000 yards despite injuries.

Mascot fight: An orange would, of course, be easily squashed by a bull. But in terms of actual mascots, Otto the Orange is so bad that it’s good, whereas USF’s Rocky the Bull is just another animal costume.

Dash pick: Syracuse 34, South Florida 28. The post–Dino Babers Era begins with an opportunity to go up and down the field against the No. 13 defense in the 14-team AAC. Orange running back LeQuint Allen should extend his streak of four straight 100-yard rushing games.


Matchup: Georgia Tech (6–6) vs. Central Florida (6–6)

When: Dec. 22, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Tampa, Fla.
Line: UCF by 4.5

Watchability ranking: 34th out of 42. Two power-conference teams has to count for something … right? Maybe not much when they’re both 6–6. Anyway, it’s the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, so presumably there will be some folks in pirate get-ups.

Mascot fight: In the battle of Yellow Jacket vs. Knight, The Dash is going with the insect. Credit the underrated Bee Movie for being the deciding factor.

Dash pick: UCF 42, Georgia Tech 35. Knights running back RJ Harvey finished the regular season with six 100-yard rushing efforts in UCF’s last seven games. He’ll enjoy slashing through the worst rushing defense in the ACC.


Matchup: Troy (11–2) vs. Duke (7–5)

When: Dec. 23, noon
Where: Birmingham, sure enough.
Line: Troy by 7.5

Watchability ranking: 24th out of 42. This is a good matchup that may or may not withstand the loss of both head coaches and extensive portal departures from the Blue Devils. Regardless, it’s noon on Dec. 23; time to wrap a couple of presents while watching a bowl game.

Mascot fight: A Trojan vs. a Blue Devil is a solid battle in premise, but Troy’s costumed Trojans are far too benign. The Duke Blue Devil has some menace to him, not to mention the white tape “headband” that’s customized for every game.

Dash pick: Troy 21, Duke 17. The Trojans are in less tumult than the Blue Devils, but the touchdown-plus spread is too large. All-American Troy running back Kimani Vidal is the man Duke needs to stop, and that hasn’t been easy for anyone this year (1,582 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns).


Matchup: Arkansas State (6–6) vs. Northern Illinois (6–6)

When: Dec. 23, noon
Where: Montgomery, Ala.
Line: Arkansas State by one

Watchability ranking: 38th out of 42. If you’re wondering whatever became of Butch Jones and Rocky Lombardi, this is your chance to find out. Otherwise, 6–6 Sun Belt vs. 6–6 MAC doesn’t fill The Dash with holiday cheer.

Mascot fight: NIU has a live Huskie named Mission III, who can be booked for event appearances at $125 an hour, but it doesn’t appear that the pooch does road games. Regardless, he’s vastly superior to the Red Wolf costume at A-State.

Dash pick: Arkansas State 29, Northern Illinois 26. The Huskies have lost seven straight bowl games dating back to 2012, when they beat none other than Arkansas State. The losing streak will continue—NIU is extremely thin at receiver after transfer/injury attrition, leaving Lombardi few options in the passing game.


Matchup: James Madison (11–1) vs. Air Force (8–4)

When: Dec. 23, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Fort Worth, Texas
Line: James Madison by three

Watchability ranking: 20th out of 42. These are two teams that had very good seasons but ended on sour notes: the Dukes lost an undefeated season in their home finale against Appalachian State, then lost their coach to Indiana; the Falcons lost their final four games after starting 8–0.

Mascot fight: This is not close. Air Force has a live falcon who circles the stadium before home games, and has a long history of falconry at the Academy. James Madison has someone in a dog costume with a crown and a cape.

Dash pick: James Madison 23, Air Force 14. This is the Dukes’ first bowl game, so even with a skeleton interim coaching staff expect maximum motivation, In fact, even the several players in the portal have said they will play in the bowl. (Check closer to kickoff to see if that holds up.) The Falcons are a one-dimensional running team taking on the No. 1 rushing defense in the nation.


Matchup: Georgia State (6–6) vs. Utah State (6–6)

When: Dec. 23, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Boise, Idaho
Line: Utah State by one

Watchability ranking: 39th out of 42. The only redeeming values are in the surroundings: blue turf, maybe some snow, and a french-fry dump on the winning coach.

Mascot fight: Humans in costumes, one Panther and one bull chosen to represent Utah State’s vaguely nicknamed Aggies. But give USU the edge for mascot history—the school used to use a real bull that was painted blue before every home game. That included basketball games. However, when the current arena was built they outfitted the bull with red boots to avoid scuffing the floor. As the school’s website puts it, “This was a disaster.” Hard to imagine that putting boots on a bull wouldn’t end well.

Dash pick: Utah State 34, Georgia State 24. The Panthers are on a five-game losing streak, took a hit in the portal, are traveling a long way and are laying in what figures to be adverse weather for a team from Atlanta. That’s enough reason to take the Aggies in a battle steeped in mediocrity.


Matchup: South Alabama (6–6) vs. Eastern Michigan (6–6)

When: Dec. 23, 7 p.m.
Where: Mobile, Ala.
Line: South Alabama by 15.5

Watchability ranking: 41st out of 42. Rates a slight edge over the Famous Toastery Bowl because it’s the evening of Dec. 23rd, so this game pairs well with egg nog. But feel free to change channels when the Las Vegas Bowl comes on.

Mascot fight: A real-life battle between a jaguar and an eagle would be something. However, in this instance we’re talking about two people in costumes. At least credit South Alabama for naming its Jaguar mascot South Paw.

Dash pick: South Alabama 38, Eastern Michigan 24. The spread on this game is strange. The Jaguars might be the best 6–6 team from the Group of 5, and the Eagles have beaten nobody on their way to .500. But USA’s star receiver is in the portal and its star running back has opted out of the game. Of course, this also is a South Alabama home game, and the Jags theoretically will be highly motivated to atone for the massive egg they laid in their bowl game last year against Western Kentucky.

Utah QB Bryson Barnes is expected to continue to play for the Utes in the absence of injured starter Cameron Rising.

Jeff Swinger/USA TODAY Sports


Matchup: Utah (8–4) vs. Northwestern (7–5)

When: Dec. 23, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Las Vegas, shockingly.
Line: Utah by seven

Watchability ranking: 17th out of 42. The first matchup of bowl season pairing Power 5 teams with winning records. Come feel the magic.

Mascot fight: The Ute mascot is someone in a red-tailed hawk costume, which has nothing to do with the actual Ute nickname. The Wildcat mascot is another in a series of Wildcat mascots.

Dash pick: Utah 21, Northwestern 10. Words to live by this bowl season: fade the Big Ten West. The Utes’ four losses this season all came to ranked opponents. As impressive as Northwestern has been pulling its season together and making a bowl, the Wildcats in no way resemble a ranked opponent.


Matchup: Coastal Carolina (7–5) vs. San Jose State (7–5)

When: Dec. 23, 10:30 p.m.
Where: Honolulu, Hawaii
Line: San Jose State by 10

Watchability ranking: 24th out of 42. The Dash has been a sucker for the late-night, Christmas-adjacent bowl game from paradise since 1982, when the Aloha Bowl came into existence. It subsequently was replaced in 2000 by the Hawai‘i Bowl. Even if the trash no longer blows across the field like at the old Aloha Stadium, the winter glimpses of the tropics are always welcome.

Mascot fight: Coastal is probably not flying its live rooster mascot halfway across the globe for this game. However, the fact that the school has a live rooster mascot of any kind gives it an edge over the Person In A Spartan Costume—and over its own Person In A Rooster Costume.

Dash pick: San Jose State 45, Coastal Carolina 31. The Spartans finished the season on a six-game winning streak. The Chanticleers saw their top two quarterbacks—including the program’s foundational player, Grayson McCall—hit the portal. (That said, third-stringer Ethan Vasko has shown he can play.)


Matchup: Bowling Green (7–5) vs. Minnesota (5–7)

When: Dec. 26, 2 p.m.
Where: Detroit, Mich.
Line: Minnesota by four

Watchability ranking: 36th out of 42. It’s the day after Christmas. You might need a break from all that family togetherness. The Falcons and Gophers are here for you.

Mascot fight: Goldy Gopher defeats Freddy Falcon in this costume animal throwdown. Goldy’s primary selling points: 70 years on the job and massive buck teeth.

Dash pick: Bowling Green 20, Minnesota 19. Fade the Big Ten West, Part II. The Falcons have won five of their last six games, with the only loss by a point to 11–2 Toledo. They also beat Georgia Tech in September. The Gophers, meanwhile, figure to be low on motivation and might start a quarterback who has thrown one pass this season—and it was intercepted.


Matchup: Texas State (7–5) vs. Rice (6–6)

When: Dec. 26, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Dallas, Texas
Line: Texas State by 4.5

Watchability ranking: 40th out of 42. On one hand, Texas State is playing in its first-ever bowl and Rice has had its best season since 2014. On the other hand, it’s still Texas State vs. Rice.

Mascot fight: Per Rice’s website, the school has had live great horned owls in its past as a mascot. The current rendition is the usual person in a costume. Texas State’s bobcat mascot is named Boko, which was picked as the winning entry in a student contest in 1964 and earned the winner $5. The school that once had a live owl wins.

Dash pick: Texas State 30, Rice 23. The Bobcats seem to have an edge in the trenches and should feed Rice a steady diet of running back Ismail Mahdi (1,200 yards this year). They also have talented quarterback TJ Finley. Rice counters with Luke McCaffrey—Ed’s son—in something of a slash role.


Matchup: Kansas (8–4) vs. UNLV (9–4)

When: Dec. 26, 9 p.m.
Where: Phoenix, Ariz.
Line: Kansas by 12.5

Watchability ranking: 15th out of 42. We’re getting to the good stuff. Two potent and creative offenses face off here, with enthusiastic fan bases in tow. UNLV is playing in its first bowl in a decade, and the Jayhawks are still close enough to their years of extreme futility to be excited about going bowling.

Mascot fight: A costumed fake bird vs. a costumed guy with a monstrous white mustache. Not the stuff of greatness here. UNLV has struggled with the iconography that came with being the Rebels, so edge goes to the fake bird.

Dash pick: Kansas 42, UNLV 34. Crank up Jason Bean and Devin Neal, and the Jayhawks could score all day. But UNLV might have the best skill-position player in the game in wideout Ricky White (1,386 receiving yards, 17.1 yards per catch).


Matchup: Virginia Tech (6–6) vs. Tulane (11–2)

When: Dec. 27, 2 p.m.
Where: Annapolis, Md.
Line: Virginia Tech by 7.5

Watchability ranking: 28th out of 42. An improving power-conference program (Virginia Tech) against an established Group of Five program (Tulane) that is in transition, with coach Willie Fritz making an almost-lateral move to Houston.

Mascot fight: Riptide the pelican represents Tulane. HokieBird, the costumed turkey, represents Virginia Tech. Out of respect for two schools that have embraced un-glamorous birds as mascots, call it a draw. (Tulane would win if it could personify the Angry Wave.)

Dash pick: Virginia Tech 24, Tulane 22. This is a dartboard throw as long as Green Wave quarterback Michael Pratt’s status is undecided. If he plays, Tulane can win outright. If not, the Hokies should prevail—though perhaps not by the touchdown-plus spread.


Matchup: North Carolina (8–4) vs. West Virginia (8–4)

When: Dec. 27, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Charlotte, N.C.
Line: West Virginia by 3.5

Watchability ranking: 14th out of 42. Beyond the postgame mayonnaise bath, this is an interesting matchup of a program thrilled to be there (West Virginia) and one that is probably less enthused (North Carolina, sans star QB Drake Maye). Mountaineers coach Neal Brown pulled the Hot Seat Escape of the Year in college football.

Mascot fight: Not close. North Carolina’s costumed ram better not get within firing range of West Virginia’s armed mountaineer.

Dash pick: West Virginia 35, North Carolina 24. The Tar Heels have given up 31 or more points to their last six FBS opponents, and the Mountaineers have a hot quarterback in Garrett Greene. He accounted for 736 yards and eight touchdowns in WVU’s last two games. Without Maye, UNC’s offense is in the untested hands of freshman Conner Harrell.


Matchup: Louisville (10–3) vs. USC (7–5)

When: Dec. 27, 8 p.m.
Where: San Diego, Calif.
Line: Louisville by 7.5

Watchability ranking: 9th out of 42. First-ever matchup between the two schools provides a peek into the Trojans’ life after Caleb Williams, and an appraisal of where Louisville could be heading after its 10-win breakthrough in year one under Jeff Brohm. Plus, it’s San Diego.

Mascot fight: Tommy Trojan carves up Louisville’s bird costume.

Dash pick: Louisville 38, USC 28. USC’s power-conference opponents scored a touchdown more against the Trojans than their season average. The Cardinals averaged 31 points this season, so there’s the math on that. We’ll see whether USC can look like USC without Williams, and whether the players still actually care after a bust of a regular season. (Last time Louisville went out West for a bowl game was the game that put the program on the map: Howard Schnellenberger’s Cardinals blew out Alabama in the 1991 Fiesta Bowl.)

Gordon has racked up 1,614 rushing yards on 6.3 yards per carry with 20 touchdowns this season while leading Oklahoma State to a Big 12 championship appearance.

Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports


Matchup: Texas A&M (7–5) vs. Oklahoma State (9–4)

When: Dec. 27, 9 p.m.
Where: Houston
Line: Texas A&M by three

Watchability ranking: 19th out of 42. The SEC’s first appearance of bowl season matches the Aggies with a team that made the Big 12 championship game. There is no telling what The Mullet, Mike Gundy, will come up with in this game.

Mascot fight: Pistol Pete defeats A&M’s collie. Yeah, it’s a guy (or woman) in a costume—clearly not The Dash’s thing—but the serious face and seriously large head and weaponry provide an aura of menace.

Dash pick: Oklahoma State 25, Texas A&M 24. Last one out of College Station, turn out the lights. The Aggies have had a coaching change, an exodus to the portal and at least one bowl opt-out. The Cowboys are more stable, though perhaps less able—that largely depends on what star running back Ollie Gordon II does.


Matchup: SMU (11–2) vs. Boston College (6–6)

When: Dec. 28, 11 a.m.
Where: Boston
Line: SMU by 11

Watchability ranking: 11th out of 42. This is a midweek morning kickoff—the kind of game scheduled with the hardcore hooky audience in mind. It’s also a 2024 ACC game being played a year early. The fascination here is the trap door that swung open under the AAC champion Mustangs when the College Football Playoff selection committee chose Liberty for the Fiesta Bowl instead. That plummeted SMU from a high-profile shot at Oregon to this game, an off-brand bowl in a baseball stadium against a 6–6 team playing a de facto home game.

Mascot fight: SMU has had a 90-year run of live horse mascots, though it also has the costume version. We’ll see whether the real Peruna makes the trip to Boston. BC has the stereotype bird costume. Advantage Mustangs.

Dash pick: SMU 24, Boston College 17. The Eagles limp in on a three-game losing streak but will have a home-field advantage against an opponent that probably doesn’t want to be there after the New Year’s Six bowl snub. The Mustangs are playing backup QB Kevin Jennings, who showed promise in the AAC championship victory over Tulane, but still threw two interceptions in that game.


Matchup: Rutgers (6–6) vs. Miami (7–5)

When: Dec. 28, 2:15 p.m.
Where: New York
Line: Miami by 1.5

Watchability ranking: 26th out of 42. It’s Baseball Stadium Bowl Day on ESPN. Are the Miami players sitting around shivering in Yankee Stadium, or do they want to play in what will be a de facto Rutgers home game? Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano was just rewarded with a new contract, securing the program’s future.

Mascot fight: An actual hurricane would kill an actual knight. But this matchup involves a costumed bird vs. a costumed knight. Give the edge to Sebastian the Ibis on originality; nobody else would think an ibis mascot is a good idea.

Dash pick: Rutgers 16, Miami 14. The Hurricanes are 1–10 in their last 11 bowl games and winless outside the state of Florida in bowls since 2006. They’re also starting a quarterback who last threw a pass in ’22. Rutgers ain’t much offensively, but the Knights should have enough to earn their first bowl victory since ’14.


Matchup: North Carolina State (9–3) vs. Kansas State (8–4)

When: Dec. 28, 5:45 p.m.
Where: Orlando, Fla.
Line: Kansas State by three

Watchability ranking: 12th out of 42. Good matchup of solid programs that probably view their seasons differently—the Wolfpack having overachieved, the Wildcats slight underachievers (all four losses by eight points or fewer).

Mascot fight: This is a complicated one. Kansas State’s Willie the Wildcat is simply a wildcat head on the body of a guy wearing a football uniform. Which should strongly favor the North Carolina State Wolfpack, which has a live mascot. However, the live mascot—Tuffy III—is a Tamaskan dog, not a wolf. It makes sense not to have a live wolf on the sideline, of course, so the edge goes to N.C. State for making do under (slightly) false pretense.

Dash pick: North Carolina State 28, Kansas State 26. K-State quarterback Will Howard hit the portal, which turns the position over to Avery Johnson—a talented freshman who still has some proving to do. The Wolfpack have navigated their way through plenty of QB drama to finish the season on a roll, winning their last five games. Keep an eye on ACC Defensive Player of the Year Payton Wilson’s status for this game.


Matchup: Arizona (9–3) vs. Oklahoma (10–2)

When: Dec. 28, 9:15 p.m.
Where: San Antonio
Line: Arizona by three

Watchability ranking: 6th out of 42. This should be a very fun game, matching quality teams with explosive offenses—even without a star QB and offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. Can the Wildcats continue their meteoric rise with what would be, from a ranking standpoint at least, their biggest win in nine years? How does OU heir apparent QB Jackson Arnold look?

Mascot fight: Stop The Dash if you’ve heard this before—Arizona has a person in a wildcat costume. Oklahoma breaks the mold with a covered wagon pulled by two horses, Boomer and Sooner. Clear Oklahoma win here.

Dash pick: Arizona 34, Oklahoma 30. Hard to go against a hot team that has had fewer postseason disruptions than its opponent. The Sooners could struggle to slow down Wildcats quarterback Noah Fifita, who didn’t start until the fifth game of the season but has thrown for 2,515 yards and 23 touchdowns.


Matchup: Clemson (8-4) vs. Kentucky (7–5)

When: Dec. 29, 12 p.m.
Where: Jacksonville
Line: Clemson by 5.5

Watchability ranking: 13th out of 42. Disappointing seasons for both, but still a solid matchup to start an excellent four-bowl Friday. This is the fourth bowl matchup of the two programs, and the previous three all were one-score games (Clemson won two, Kentucky one). It’s also the 30th anniversary of star Wildcats linebacker Marty Moore fumbling away the game-sealing interception when he tried to run it back, resulting in Clemson getting another chance and winning at the end.

Mascot fight: Humans in costumes. Nobody wins.

Dash pick: Clemson 27, Kentucky 21. The status of the Clemson defense is unknown, with multiple opt-outs and potential additional opt-outs. But it’s hard to go against the Tigers’ mojo: since Tyler from Spartanburg called in to rip Dabo Swinney on his radio show, Clemson is undefeated in football, undefeated in men’s basketball and won the men’s soccer national championship. Tyler awakened a sleeping giant.


Matchup: Oregon State (8–4) vs. Notre Dame (9–3)

When: Dec. 29, 2 p.m.
Where: El Paso
Line: Notre Dame by 6.5

Watchability ranking: 10th out of 42. The quarterbacks are gone. The coach of the Beavers is gone. Many, many other key players on both sides are gone. But it’s our duty as Americans to watch a hardy desert bowl game that has been played annually since 1935.

Mascot fight: The live leprechaun defeats the costumed beaver. But if Oregon State ever goes with a live beaver, all bets are off. Those are some serious animals.

Dash pick: Notre Dame 24, Oregon State 16. The Dash hunch is that the Fighting Irish program is better built to withstand postseason roster churn—not to mention still having their coach and full staff in place.


Matchup: Memphis (9–3) vs. Iowa State (7–5)

When: Dec. 29, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Memphis, Tenn.
Line: Iowa State by 8.5

Watchability ranking: 18th out of 42. Snubbed Big 12 vs. Big 12 is a solid storyline, especially when it’s a home game for Snubbed Big 12. All the better if the broadcast B-roll includes rib footage from Rendezvous.

Mascot fight: In a classic case of college sports nonsense, Memphis is still claiming a live tiger mascot even though the tiger (Tom IV) stays at the Memphis Zoo and makes no appearances at games. There is, of course, a human in a costume at games. Iowa State counters with not a real cyclone (that would be problematic) but instead has Cy the Cardinal. The Dash rules Memphis the winner via history, and at least having a costume of the actual mascot instead of an unaffiliated bird.

Dash pick: Iowa State 34, Memphis 24. The Cyclones will pray for snow after averaging 14 yards per play in the regular season finale in a blizzard at Kansas State. Even without it, Iowa State has played superior competition and should have success against a Memphis defense that has surrendered more than six yards per play in eight of 12 games.

Schrader became the first back in SEC history to record 200 rushing yards and 100 receiving yards in a game against Tennessee earlier this season.

Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports


Matchup: Missouri (10–2) vs. Ohio State (11–1)

When: Dec. 29, 8 p.m.
Where: Arlington, Texas
Line: Missouri by 2.5

Watchability ranking: 4th out of 42. The first of six SEC-Big Ten showdowns this bowl season. This is shaping up to be a great game, with a significant number of star players on both teams opting to play. At least one Heisman Trophy top-10 vote getter (Mizzou running back Cody Schrader) will play; getting Marvin Harrison Jr. to sign on might be too much to ask. There will be QB curiosity for Ohio State with Kyle McCord in the portal. How does Devin Brown look when finally handed the reins?

Mascot fight: Costume tiger vs. giant-headed nut. Ohio State wins for uniqueness.

Dash pick: Missouri 28, Ohio State 24. This is Mizzou’s biggest bowl game in more than half a century. For the Buckeyes, it’s a letdown. So there could be a wide variance in motivation. The Tigers also possess the best wide receivers Ohio State has faced this season.


Matchup: Mississippi (10–2) vs. Penn State (10–2)

When: Dec. 30, 12 p.m.
Where: Atlanta
Line: Penn State by 3.5

Watchability ranking: 5th out of 42. Call this the Glass Ceiling Bowl between two good programs that cannot break through to shove the heavyweights within their leagues out of the way. This is also an appealing offense-defense matchup, pitting the high-octane Rebels against the staunch Nittany Lions. Still some big potential opt-out decisions to come here.

Mascot fight: Ole Miss’s tortured mascot history after the Confederacy-hearkening Colonel Reb led it to a black bear and now a “landshark,” which is a shark costume within a football uniform. Penn State has the stereotypical feline predator costume. Nobody wins.

Dash pick: Penn State 31, Mississippi 23. Unless the opponent is Michigan or Ohio State, the Nittany Lions have enough to beat anyone in their path. An offense that looked hopeless against those two opponents should enjoy facing an Ole Miss defense that ranked 10th in the SEC in yards allowed per game and third-down conversion percentage allowed.


Matchup: Auburn (6–6) vs. Maryland (7–5)

When: Dec. 30, 2 p.m.
Where: Nashville
Line: Auburn by 2.5

Watchability ranking: 29th out of 42. This ranks last among the six SEC-Big Ten matchups. Each team defeated one bowl-bound opponent: Auburn beat 6–6 California and Maryland beat 6–6 Rutgers. At least now one of them will beat a second.

Mascot fight: The pregame eagle flight at Auburn home games is cool, and the school has taken the bird on the road this season for appearances at Philadelphia Eagles games. Will it make an appearance in Nashville? All credit to Maryland for having a turtle as a mascot, but a live sideline animal would be more interesting—albeit less kinetic—than the costumed human.

Dash pick: Maryland 27, Auburn 24. Have the Tigers gotten over fourth-and-31? Because the rest of us haven’t. Taulia Tagovailoa is—for now—expected to play, so that gives the Terrapins an edge against a team that simply cannot throw the ball.


Matchup: Georgia (12-1) vs. Florida State (13–0)

When: Dec, 30, 4 p.m.
Where: Miami Gardens, Fla.
Line: Georgia by 14

Watchability ranking: 3rd out of 42. How are we feeling, non-playoff participants? Enraged? Depressed? Motivated? Opting out? Digging in? These are two talented teams that had great seasons but went unrewarded in a flawed, four-team system. Gauging their level of interest in this game will be fascinating. For Florida State, this is a chance to rekindle an old college football favorite—win the game and unilaterally declare yourselves alternate national champs. Maybe even one of the polls would vote that way. (Of note, this is a rare daytime kickoff for a game The Dash has always associated with night. The 2015 CFP Orange Bowl also kicked off in late afternoon, but you have to go back a long way from there to find another one.)

Mascot fight: UGA wins. As stated elsewhere in this missive, live bulldog mascots always win. And no live bulldog mascot is as iconic as Georgia’s.

Dash pick: Georgia 21, Florida State 14. Admitted guesswork here. There are a ton of opt-out decisions that are not yet in for this game, so stay tuned. The Bulldogs’ motivation level is undefined after chasing a national championship three-peat bid into December. FSU may be crushed or may be mad, we’ll see. The Seminoles boycotting the bowl—which has been randomly speculated upon, with no verifiable insight—seems like the dumbest idea in human history.


Matchup: Toledo (11–2) vs. Wyoming (8–4)

When: Dec. 30, 4:30 p.m.
Where: Tucson, Ariz.
Line: Wyoming by three

Watchability ranking: 30th out of 42. Slotting this opposite a Georgia-Florida State Orange Bowl is an excellent way for the game to disappear—but the matchup itself isn’t bad. The game is Wyoming coach Craig Bohl’s last roundup before retirement.

Mascot fight: The Dash favors Toledo’s Rocket Man character because Wyoming could simply have a human dressed as a cowboy instead of inside an oversized head. (There is an over-proliferation of mascot characters whose large heads feature extra-large mustaches.)

Dash pick: Wyoming 26, Toledo 17. Assuming Rockets quarterback DeQuan Finn doesn’t play after entering the portal, it’s hard to see Toledo winning. The Cowboys had two of their best offensive games of the year to end the regular season and may be able to carry that over to the bowl.


Matchup: Wisconsin (7–5) vs. LSU (9–3)

When: Jan. 1, 12 p.m.
Where: Tampa
Line: LSU by 10.5

Watchability ranking: 8th out of 42. The game features brand names from brand leagues. And if the Heisman Trophy winner plays, it will feature the biggest star in the sport. This is also an elite matchup of drinking fan bases—Tampa, you have been warned.

Mascot fight: This one is easy. Mike the Tiger kills all rival mascots, including the costumed Wisconsin Bucky Badger.

Dash pick: LSU 33, Wisconsin 21. As previously stated, the operative strategy here is to fade the Big Ten West—but let’s keep an eye on that point spread if Jayden Daniels opts out. The Badgers have a grand total of zero victories over teams with winning records, and threw in losses to a pair of teams with losing records as well (Indiana, Washington State). Their offense wasn’t good, and that was before opt-outs and transfers.


Matchup: Oregon (11–2) vs. Liberty (13–0)

When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m.
Where: Glendale, Ariz.
Line: Oregon by 18.5

Watchability ranking: 7th out of 42. There is curiosity about Liberty’s ability to match up on the big stage with a top-10 opponent in the biggest game the program has played. But there is not optimism that the Flames can do it. Fortunately there is alternative programming if this gets out of hand—which might depend on how many Oregon Ducks are present, accounted for and excited to play. They’ve had a couple of big opt-outs already.

Mascot fight: College sports groupthink dictates that if your nickname is problematic in terms of choosing a mascot, go with a bird. Thus the Flames have a person in an eagle costume. Oregon, of course, has its duck. Far more fowl than fair here, but Oregon wins.

Dash pick: Oregon 52, Liberty 31. The Flames haven’t played anyone remotely comparable to what they’ll see from the Ducks, even if Oregon sends out its second string.


Matchup: Iowa (10–3) vs. Tennessee (8–4)

When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m.
Where: Orlando
Line: Tennessee by 7.5

Watchability ranking: 16th out of 42. Iowa is the most weirdly compelling team of our times—so bad offensively you cannot look away and so good defensively that it takes an elite team to blow them out. Tennessee, while certainly competent, is not an elite team.

Mascot fight: Smokey the Bluetick Hound certainly defeats Herky the costumed Hawkeye.

Dash pick: Tennessee 17, Iowa 7. Give the Hawkeyes a defensive touchdown to keep it relatively competitive, then send Brian Ferentz into unemployment. For the Volunteers, this will be an exercise in offensive patience and consistent execution against a defense that doesn’t give up big plays.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy, left, and running back Blake Corum have led the Wolverines through turmoil to an undefeated regular season. Can they win Michigan’s first title since 1997?

AJ Mast/AP


Matchup: Alabama (12–1) vs. Michigan (13–0)

When: Jan. 1, 5 p.m.
Where: Pasadena, Calif.
Line: Michigan by 1.5

Watchability ranking: 1st out of 42. Playoff matchups don’t get much blue-bloodier than this. The Wolverines are No. 1 all-time in victories, the Crimson Tide is No. 2. Michigan has the longest active streak of CFP appearances with three, Alabama has the most CFP appearances with eight. The Tide has the best coach in college football history, Michigan has the current most controversial coach. So many story lines, so many angles, so many good players.

Mascot fight: Alabama’s elephant wins by default against a team with no mascot. On second thought, having no mascot might be the best move of all—nobody wants to see a costumed wolverine.

Dash pick: Michigan 19, Alabama 16. This feels like such a classic trench game where whichever team runs the ball better wins. The Wolverines have the better run defense and better pass protection. If they can avoid turnovers—which they’ve excelled at this season, with just seven of them—they have the better chance of budging into scoring range more often and converting. This may not be an explosive game, but it will be close and physical.


Matchup: Texas (12–1) vs. Washington (13–0)

When: Jan 1, 8:45 p.m.
Where: New Orleans
Line: Texas by four

Watchability ranking: 2nd out of 42. Texas is back! That will bring in the viewers, both the fans and the hate-watchers. And Washington is an absolute blast to watch. This is even a good uniform matchup. Nothing not to love here.

Mascot fight: In a high-quality matchup, Bevo defeats the Alaskan malamute.

Dash pick: Washington 28, Texas 27. If Baylor, Houston, Kansas State, TCU and Iowa State can throw for 300 yards on the Longhorns, so can the Huskies. Washington leads the nation in scrimmage plays of 10-plus yards and is second in plays of 20-plus and 30-plus yards—the Huskies are a big-play machine. The Longhorns certainly do not lack for muscle and talent, but they might be susceptible defensively—especially against a team that protects the quarterback (just 11 sacks allowed).

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