By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Friday, Dec. 27
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman
North Carolina vs. Temple (+5). Expectations were low for Mack Brown’s first season back in Chapel Hill, but his Tar Heels exceeded them and finished 6-6. Brown had a very successful tenure during his first stint at North Carolina and parlayed that success into the University of Texas position. Brown will finish his career in Chapel Hill this time around and is off to a terrific start. Temple is in a bowl game for the fifth straight year, as Rod Carey led the Owls to eight wins in his inaugural season. Prediction: North Carolina 24, Temple 20.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Michigan State vs. Wake Forest (+5). Mark Dantonio and the Spartans had another down year, which has led to speculations as to whether he will return for another season in East Lansing. It seems likely that Dantonio will be back in 2020, but the Spartans are trending in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, Dave Clawson has done a terrific job at Wake Forest, and the Blue Demons are in a bowl game for the fourth straight year. Clawson has led Wake Forestn to three consecutive bowl wins. Prediction: Wake Forest 31, Michigan State 27.
Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl
Oklahoma State vs. Tex-as A&M (-7). The Aggies are the first SEC team to play this bowl season, and Jimbo Fisher really needs a win heading into the offseason. Texas A&M currently is 7-5, and the Aggies played a very difficult schedule in 2019. However, A&M did not win any of its marquee matchups and have not turned the corner in Fisher’s second year. The Aggies will have a plethora of talent returning next season, but a win over Oklahoma State would be a good start heading into 2020. Prediction: Texas A&M 38, Oklahoma State 34.
San Diego Co. Credit Union Holiday Bowl
USC vs. Iowa (-2). On paper, this is one of the best matchups of the bowl season. The Trojans finished the regular season 8-4, which was good enough for administration to bring back Clay Helton for another season. USC has a dynamic offense that could be a pro-blem for the Hawkeyes. Iowa and Kirk Ferentz had another solid season, and Ferentz is searching for his sixth 10-win season in his tenure. Prediction: USC 31, Iowa 24.
Air Force vs. Washington State (+3). This matchup features a major contrast in styles. The Cougars throw the ball almost every snap, while the Falcons run the triple option. Mike Leach has experienced plenty of success during the regular season in Pullman, but that has not translated to the postseason in recent years. Washington State won its bowl game last year but lost the previous two bowls trips. Prediction: Air Force 34, Washington State 20.
Saturday, Dec. 28
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Memphis vs. Penn State (-7). Memphis, which is in a New Year’s Day Bowl as the top Group of Five program, enjoyed a terrific season. However, that success led head coach Mike Norvell to take the Florida State position. Offensive line coach Ryan Silverfield was promoted to head coach, and his first game comes against a very talented Penn State squad. James Franklin’s team is searching for an 11th victory for the third time in the last four seasons. Prediction: Penn State 45, Memphis 27.
Camping World Bowl
Notre Dame vs. Iowa State (+4). The Fighting Irish have won at least 10 games in four of the last five seasons, including last year’s 12-win campaign that ended with a playoff berth. Brian Kelly has turned the Irish into an annual contender, though they lost marquee matchups this season against Michigan and Georgia. Matt Campbell has Iowa State competing with the top programs in the Big 12, and he will be back in Ames next year despite receiving interest from other high-profile jobs. Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Iowa State 22.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl CFP Semifinal
No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 LSU (-13.5). Ed Orgeron’s team is right back where it won the SEC title three weeks ago. Oklahoma is no stranger to the playoffs, and neither is Jalen Hurts. Hurts has had big moments in Mercedes-Benz Stadium during his college career, and he’ll need plenty more to keep up with Joe Burrow and the LSU offense. Burrow was recently awarded the Heis-man Trophy and likely will be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft in the spring. The only thing missing from his trophy case is a national title, and they’re only two wins away from securing a championship at LSU for the first time since 2007. Both offenses are explosive, but it will be the Tiger defense that makes the difference in this matchup. Prediction: LSU 48, Oklahoma 34.
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl CFP Semifinal
No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 2 Ohio State (+2.5). Ohio State had a case to be the top-ranked team in the playoff rankings, and getting the second spot earned them a matchup with the defending national champion. In fact, Clemson is favored in this matchup despite the Buckeyes dominating every opponent they faced this year. Ohio State really doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. Justin Fields and J.K. Dobbins might be the best quarterback/running back tandem in the country, and Chase Young is the best defensive player in all of college football. Trevor Lawrence didn’t have a Heisman-level campaign in 2019, but he and Travis Etienne are electric playmakers, and Lawrence has numerous weapons to throw to on the outside. Ryan Day has not lost as a head coach, but he’s up against two-time champion Dabo Swinney. Swinney is the biggest advantage Clemson has heading into this matchup, and this game has the potential to be the best semifinal pairing in the playoff’s short history. Prediction: Clemson 41, Ohio State 38.
Monday, Dec. 30
SERVPRO First Responder Bowl
Western Kentucky vs. Western Michigan (+3.5). Western Kentucky was not expected to make a bowl game, but the Hilltoppers won eight games and nearly made it to the Conference USA title game. Tyson Helton, the younger brother of Clay, guided the Hilltoppers to a winning season in his first year as head coach after back-to-back losing seasons. Western Michigan has only won one bowl game in school history and are 1-8 all time in bowls. Prediction: Western Kentucky 23, Western Michigan 20.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Mississippi State vs. Louisville (+4). MSU defeated Lamar Jackson’s Louisville squad in the Gator Bowl two seasons ago, but the Bulldogs also submitted a lackluster performance last year against Iowa in Joe Moorhead’s first bowl game. Mississippi State was a bit of a disappointment this year but held off Ole Miss to earn a bowl bid. Louisville was a pleasant surprise in the ACC in Scott Satterfield’s first season, and the Cardinals will provide a difficult test for the Bulldogs. Prediction: Louisville 33, Mississippi State 24.
Cal vs. Illinois (+6.5). Lovie Smith surprised everyone by guiding the Illini to a bowl game – and the midseason upset over Wisconsin was the difference-maker. Entering the season, Smith presumably was on the hot seat, but he accomplished more than enough to earn at least another season. Justin Wilcox has Cal on the cusp of contending in the Pac-12, and the Golden Bears might win the conference’s North Division next season. Prediction: Cal 23, Illinois 10.
Capital One Orange Bowl
Florida vs. Virginia (+15). The Gators are playing in a New Year’s Six bowl for the second straight year under Dan Mullen, so he has the program trending in the right direction. The Gators last year demolished Michigan in the Peach Bowl, 41-15, and now they are a heavy favorite against an overachieving Virginia squad. The Cavaliers can present some problems for Florida on defense with dual-threat quarterback Bryce Perkins, but the Gators should run away with this one in the second half. Prediction: Florida 37, Virginia 20.