This year we will have 40 bowl games involving FBS teams for the second straight year. 20 Of those games will feature a team from the Group of 5 but 10 of those games are what I believe to be must-watch TV. Here is my ranking of the 10 best bowl matchups with G5 teams.
10. Bahamas Bowl (12/27, ESPN): Eastern Michigan vs Old Dominion
I’m a sucker for novelty and Eastern Michigan in a bowl game fits that bill. EMU has been one of the stories of the year in the college football world as they will be making their second bowl appearance in school history (1987 was the year of their other appearance). At 9-3 Old Dominion has a great story too as this will be their first ever bowl game in school history.
The past two Bahamas Bowls have featured some high scoring contest and this year should be no different as both schools try and finish their season in school history with a bowl win.
9. New Mexico Bowl (12/17, ESPN): UTSA vs New Mexico
The New Mexico Bowl will kick off the start of bowl season once again so this should be must-watch TV for that in itself. History will be made as UTSA will play their first bowl game ever.
The Lobos have home-field advantage and has one of the best rushing attacks in the country as Bob Davie’s offense uses a hybrid triple-option. UTSA’s Josiah Tauaefa is a beast of a linebacker and it’ll be a joy watching him chase New Mexico’s running backs all over the field.
The one thing I look forward to is if the game will feature a good crowd and given that New Mexico is hosting the game and UTSA fans have been waiting for years to see the schools first bowl game the stadium should be packed.
8. Camellia Bowl (12/17, ESPN): Toledo vs Appalachian State
Both teams are 9-3 and were a few breaks away from a conference title. Joseph Candle’s first season at Toledo has gone pretty well. Candle made his debut in the Boca Bowl last year and won the game. This year he’ll try to go 2-0 in bowl games.
App St. won this bowl game on a game-winning field goal last year. The Mountaineers have a solid defense and will be up against a great running back in Kareem Hunt. This is just a solid bowl matchup that should reward viewers with a close game down the stretch.
7. Poinsettia Bowl: (12/21, ESPN): BYU vs Wyoming
The former Mountain West Conference members will play in San Diego which should be a well attended game as both fan bases are known to travel well. BYU and Wyoming have played in six one-possession games each this year and this one has all the makings of another close one. The color clash in uniforms will be amazing to see as BYU’s powder blue against Wyoming’s brown and gold will be a sight to see.
After a loss to Wyoming in a snowstorm BYU’s best coach in school history LaVell Edwards said "I'd rather lose and live in Provo than win and live in Laramie.” We’ll see if the hatred is still there between these former conference mates.
6. Birmingham Bowl (12/29, ESPN): South Carolina vs USF
This is one of the most winnable games for the G5 over a P5 team and I know this matchup doesn’t scream exciting but Will Muschamp’s defense against USF’s explosive offense in Quinton Flowers is a draw for me. Motivation could be a question for USF after the loss of Willie Taggart but after hiring Charlie Strong I see an exited USF football team taking the field.
South Carolina’s true freshman quarterback Jake Bentley is supposed to be the next great quarterback in the SEC and with how bad the Bulls’ defense has performed this year we could see the start of his hype for next season.
5. Boca Raton Bowl (12/20, ESPN): Memphis vs Western Kentucky
Points, points, points! This one has lost some luster due to Jeff Brohm leaving for the Purdue gig but the Boca Raton Bowl should still be entertaining. WKU hasn’t scored less than 40 points since September and against potent offenses in Middle Tennessee and Louisiana Tech they allowed at least 40.
Mike White, Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris against Riley Ferguson, Anthony Miller and Phil Mayhue will be must watch TV. Memphis has been under the radar this year but went 8-4 in Mike Norvell’s first season. They made a statement against Houston to close the season and has an opportunity to make another one against the C-USA champs.
4. Armed Forces Bowl (12/23, ESPN): Louisiana Tech vs Navy
Navy’s triple option attack had been unstoppable before their last two games against Army and Temple. Louisiana Tech’s offense looked unstoppable before their last two games against Southern Miss and Western Kentucky.
Both teams enter the game on two game losing streaks so I’m expecting two desperate teams to pull out all the stops to end their season on a high note. Given Navy’s defense has struggled all season to defend explosive passing attacks we could see Ryan Higgins, Carlos Henderson or Trent Taylor break a few records in this one.
3. New Orleans Bowl (12/17, ESPN): Southern Miss vs Louisiana-Lafayette
Every bowl season I make an effort to watch the New Orleans Bowl as it’s usually a game between regional G5 schools that are happy as hell to be in NOLA and put on a show in front of a national audience. The fan bases who travel make it a great bowl environment and this year will be no different as the Cajun faithful are going to be out in full force to paint the city red as they have done in their recent trips.
Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens has been the face of Golden Eagle football and in his last game I expect him and Ito Smith to put on a show. Elijah McGuire is one of the best running backs in the G5 and should have a field day against one of the worst rushing defenses in the nation. Points, points, points!
2. Las Vegas Bowl (12/17, ABC): Houston vs San Diego State
The opening day of bowl season features three games on this list as the best one will be the Las Vegas Bowl. Vegas always seems to have great bowl matchups featuring the MWC and the Pac 12 but since the Pac 12 didn’t have enough bowl teams they scooped up the best G5 team available.
Houston and San Diego State are two of the best five teams in the G5 with recognizable names across the board. Donnel Pumphrey is one of the best running backs in the country. Ed Oliver is one of the best interior linemen in the country. This is going to be one of the better played bowls this season. Throw in the fact that Major Applewhite will be making his coaching debut and this has the makings of must-see TV.
1. Cotton Bowl (1/2, ESPN): Wisconsin vs Western Michigan
Western Michigan will play their biggest game in school history with surprisingly the coach who has led them here as PJ Fleck will still be the head coach. Seeing Fleck and the Broncos Row The Boat onto the field to start the game will be a sight to see.
The Broncos have already defeated two Big Ten teams this season (Northwestern and Illinois). Wisconsin will be a tougher giant to slay but one that isn’t unbeatable. Every year the G5 has a chance to stick it to the P5 on a big stage to prove that they are just as good. The underdogs have had success since the New Year’s Six bowl model has been implemented. The G5 has gone 2-0 in the New Year’s Six Bowl and Western Michigan has a chance to make it three straight.