Bowl Games 2021: Playoffs?!?

By the time this post goes up, I should have updated the main bowl webpage with the latest stats and bowl re-shuffling. If not, well, the previews for New Year’s Eve-Eve and New Year’s Eve are below. Enjoy!

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Thursday, December 30

11:30: North Carolina vs. South Carolina (Mayo Bowl @ Charlotte, NC; ESPN): These occasional rivals meet in the most Carolina bowl of them all. I kinda feel for South Carolina in some ways because they were having a swimmingly good season under Shane Beamer, beat Auburn, rolled in with some momentum into the Palmetto Bowl, and then… got completely waxed 45-0 by Clemson. Same old same old. I like UNC here.
SP+ line: UNC by 7.1
Vegas line: UNC by 6.5
Watchability tier: II
Previous meetings: These two were tied at the hip in the Southern Conference and ACC for a time. Their first meeting was in 1913, a 17-0 UNC win. Starting in 1922, they were conference-mates, up until South Carolina’s departure from the ACC after 1971. They most recently met in an out-of-conference game in 2019, a 24-20 UNC win. The Tar Heels lead the overall series 33-19-4.
Last bowl game: The Tar Heels are currently on a three game bowl streak. In 2019, they beat Temple 55-13 in the Military Bowl, and last season they lost 41-27 to Texas A&M in the Orange Bowl. The last bowl appearance for the Gamecocks was a 28-0 loss to Virginia in the 2018 Belk Bowl.
Announcers: Anish Shroff and Mike Golic Jr

3:00: Purdue vs. Tennessee (Music City Bowl @ Nashville, TN; ESPN): I thought Purdue kind of had a somewhat better season, but the Vols are solid favorite here. The Vols mostly won and lost the games they should’ve. Overall, I view this as fairly even with a slight lean toward the Vols.
SP+ line: Vols by 9.2
Vegas line: Vols by 4.5
Watchability tier: II
Previous meetings: Just one. The Boilermakers won the 1979 Bluebonnet Bowl 27-22.
Last bowl game: Purdue’s last bowl game was the 2018 Music City Bowl, a 63-14 loss to Auburn. Tennessee’s last appearance was the 2019-20 Gator Bowl, a 23-22 win over Indiana.
Announcers: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers, and Cole Cubelic

7:00: Michigan State vs. Pittsburgh (Peach Bowl @ Atlanta, GA; ESPN): My enthusiasm for this game is somewhat tempered by the fact Kenneth Walker and Kenny Pickett won’t play, but this should still a sold, physical matchup. However, without Pickett I really worry about Pitt’s ability to generate offense, and if it’s really a war of attrition, I think that favors Sparty.
SP+ line: Pitt by 8.3
Vegas line: Sparty by 1.5
Watchability tier: II
Previous meetings: There’s been 7 meetings between these teams, and it’s been all Sparty. They won the first game in 1945 12-7. The most recent was a 2007 regular season meeting, where a Pitt team that would later become famous for other reasons lost 17-13. Michigan State leads the overall series 6-0-1 (the tie was 7-7 in 1960).
Last bowl game: Sparty’s last bowl game was a 27-21 win over Wake Forest in the 2019 Pinstripe Bowl. Pitt didn’t play in a bowl game last year, so their last appearance was the 2019 Quick Lane Bowl, a 34-30 win over Eastern Michigan.
Announcers: Mark Jones, Robert Griffin III, and Quint Kassenich

10:30: Wisconsin vs. Arizona State (Las Vegas Bowl @ Las Vegas, NV; ESPN): Welcome to the shiny, upgraded Las Vegas Bowl, which swapped a Mountain West team for a Big Ten team. Unlike some other bowl destinations, Wisky won’t be able to drain Vegas of its booze, and they are solid favorites here in my mind.
SP+ line: Wisky by 6.3
Vegas line: Wisky by 6.5
Watchability tier: III
Previous meetings: The Badgers have considered Arizona State in four previous regular season matchups. The first was a 42-16 Sun Devils win in 1967. The most recent was a 32-30 Arizona State win in 2013, giving them a 3-1 series lead.
Last bowl game: The Sun Devils last appeared in the 2019 Sun Bowl, a 20-14 win over Florida State. Wisky has been to 20 straight bowl games, going all the way back to 2002 Alamo Bowl, where they defeated Colorado 31-28. Last season the Badgers pasted Wake in the Mayo Bowl, 42-28.
Announcers: Beth Mowins and Kirk Morrison

Friday, December 31

11:00: Wake Forest vs. Rutgers (Gator Bowl @ Jacksonville, FL; ESPN): Rutgers got called in as a replacement last week, and while I’m sure they’re happy to make a bowl again, I can’t imagine they’re all that excited about facing one of college football’s wackiest offenses on a week’s notice. I like Wake big here.
SP+ line: Wake by 11.6
Vegas line: Wake by 12.5
Watchability tier: I
Previous meetings: Just two. The first was in 1997, a 28-14 Wake Forest win. The next was in 1999, a 17-10 Wake Forest win.
Last bowl game: Rutgers makes their first bowl game since the 2014 Quick Lane Bowl, a 40-21 win over North Carolina. Wake has made six straight bowl games, going back to 34-26 win over Temple in the 2016 Military Bowl. Last season they lost 42-28 to Wisconsin in the Mayo Bowl.
Announcers: Taylor Zarzour and Matt Stinchcomb

12:30: Central Michigan vs. Washington State (Sun Bowl @ El Paso, TX; CBS): Similarly, CMU replaced Miami here. If Wazzu shows up for this, they’ll be big favorites.
SP+ line: Wazzu by 8.1
Vegas line: Wazzu by 8
Watchability tier: I
Previous meetings: This is the first meeting between these two teams.
Last bowl game: The Chips were last seen in the postseason in the 2019 New Mexico Bowl where they lost 48-11 to San Diego State. Wazzu had a mini-streak interrupted by the pandemic, so they were last in a bowl game in the 2019 Cheez-It Bowl (Arizona version), where they lost 31-21 to Air Force.
Announcers: Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson

3:30: Alabama vs. Cincinnati (Cotton Bowl @ Arlington, TX; ESPN): And here we go. Bama-Cincy being the early game was a decision for sure, but honesty I’m here for both of these matchups. I think Cincy’s defense can hang with Bama, but I just can’t intellectually convince myself of taking the upset. I do think it’ll be closer to the SP+ margin below than the Vegas margin.
SP+ line: Bama by 4.2
Vegas line: Bama by 13.5
Watchability tier: IV
Previous meetings: There’s been four previous meetings between these teams, and you get no bonus points for guessing that Bama is 4-0 in those games. The first one was a 21-3 win in 1982, and the most recent was a 45-7 win in 1990.
Last bowl game: Cincy has made four straight bowl games, dating to the 2018 Military Bowl, where they beat Virginia Tech 35-31. They lost 24-21 to Georgia in last season’s Peach Bowl. Bama has made 18 straight bowl games, dating to the 2004 Music City Bowl, where they lost 20-16 to Minnesota. Last season they beat Notre Dame 31-24 in the “”Rose”” Bowl and beat Ohio State 52-24 in the national championship game.
Announcers: Sean McDonough and Todd Blackledge

7:30: Michigan vs. Georgia (Orange Bowl @ Miami Gardens, FL; ESPN): I watched Michigan-Ohio State, Michigan-Iowa, and Georgia-Bama in the last two weeks of the season. (I did also watch Georgia-Georgia Tech, but unfortunately we’re not good enough for that to be instructive in any way, shape, or form.) What I saw does not convince me that Georgia has the offensive capability to overcome Michigan’s defense, and I don’t think the opposite is true. I have Michigan in what is technically an upset.
SP+ line: UGA by 5.8
Vegas line: UGA by 7.5
Watchability tier: IV
Previous meetings: There’s been two previous meetings, and they were both in the Big House. Michigan won 26-0 in 1957, but #10 UGA edged out #7 Michigan 15-7 in 1965.
Last bowl game: Michigan’s last bowl game was the 2019 Citrus Bowl, a 35-16 loss to Alabama. UGA now owns the country’s longest bowl streak after Virginia Tech didn’t go to a bowl last season, which is now 25 straight seasons. (VPI went 5-6 last season, so I’ll count that as interrupting the streak.) The UGA streak began with a 33-6 win over Wisconsin in the 1997-98 Outback Bowl. Last season they beat Cincinnati 24-21 in the Peach Bowl.
Announcers: Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit