Your Final Viewing Guide for 2016

By Vico on December 29, 2016 at 1:30 pm
Nov 26, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh reacts during the third quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State won 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

It's time to begin our goodbyes to the college football season. It will start tomorrow with the Liberty Bowl at 12 p.m. and, importantly, the first New Year's Six game in Miami. Michigan-vs.-Florida State promises to be a barn burner. It will continue on Saturday with the College Football Playoff semi-finals in Atlanta and Glendale. It concludes with the remaining New Year's Six games on Monday.

This preview will start with tomorrow's bowl games and continue through the playoff and end with the Sugar Bowl contest between Auburn and Oklahoma. Here's your final viewing guide for 2016.


Georgia vs. TCU [Liberty Bowl] (ESPN, 12 p.m.). Kirby Smart's 7-5 debut in Georgia ends with a trip to Memphis to play 6-6 TCU.

Both Kirby Smart and Gary Patterson are defensive-minded coaches. Smart will hope to parlay that into a low-scoring game. TCU, for all its problems, is the No. 22 total offense in the country. Georgia is No. 89.

TCU is a two-point favorite.

Nov 19, 2016; Berkeley, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) holds the Stanford Axe after a win over the California Golden Bears at Memorial Stadium. Stanford defeated California 45-31. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Christian McCaffrey's college football swan song will be holding an axe. (Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)

Stanford vs. North Carolina [Sun Bowl] (CBS, 2 p.m.). Stanford will begin life without Christian McCaffrey in El Paso.

McCaffrey's departure may cast a shadow over this game. His decision to forgo an ultimately meaningless exhibition to train for the NFL Draft is the most conspicuous among a few other decisions to do the same. This might become a trend in college football with McCaffrey as one of the first players to go this route.

North Carolina will be without its star tailback as well. Elijah Hood is sitting out this game for medical reasons but intends to return to Chapel Hill for a senior season.

Stanford is a three-point favorite.

Nebraska vs. Tennessee [Music City Bowl] (ESPN, 3:30 p.m.). Two teams meet in a game that would've been a lot more compelling 20 years ago. Fans will better remember this matchup as the 1998 Orange Bowl, in which Scott Frost's Cornhuskers manhandled Peyton Manning's Volunteers en route to Nebraska's third national championship in four years.

This will be a far different Nebraska team than the last one coached by Tom Osborne. For one, everyone of importance on the offense is hurt. Tommy Armstrong has not practiced since the Iowa game and it seems unlikely he'll play. Jordan Westerkamp will definitely not play. He injured his knee in a pre-Christmas workout. Running back Tre Bryant is doubtful.

South Alabama vs. Air Force [Arizona Bowl] (ASN, 5:30 p.m.). This game has an unusual broadcast for a bowl game. It will air on the American Sports Network, which you likely do not have. Failing that, find it on Facebook or Twitter.

Air Force is 9-3 while South Alabama is 6-6 and looking for its first ever bowl win. It will need to do it as 14-point underdogs against a red hot Air Force team, though.

Michigan vs. Florida State [Orange Bowl] (ESPN, 8 p.m.). This is the first of the New Year's Six games and, for this writer, maybe the most interesting matchup of those games.

Both programs should've been playoff teams, at least per their pre-season expectations. Most analysts in the pre-season had Ohio State winning the Big Ten with Michigan possibly as an "at-large" playoff selection because it had no other conceivable loss on its schedule beyond Ohio State. It turns out neither happened. Penn State won the Big Ten and Ohio State got an "at-large." Michigan screwing the pooch in Iowa turned out to be fatal.

Nov 26, 2016; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher with running back Dalvin Cook celebrate after the game against the Florida Gators at Doak Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
The season isn't what Fisher or Cook thought it'd be, but it could still end on a positive note. (Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports)

Florida State was the other pick in the pre-season to win the ACC (i.e. for those who thought Clemson would not beat the Seminoles in Tallahassee). Then, the Seminoles plain forgot how to play football to begin the season. It started with a disastrous first half against Ole Miss and continued with a beatdown in Louisville. FSU later lost at home to North Carolina and then-No. 3 Clemson. It's any wonder the 9-3 Seminoles are a New Year's Six selection.

The bowl preparation for both has been interesting. Florida State's players have partaken in the creature comforts of Miami. Michigan players have not. Jim Harbaugh wants the kill as a seven-point favorite against the home-state Seminoles.


LSU vs. Louisville [Citrus Bowl] (ABC, 11 a.m.). Can you "backdoor" into what are otherwise major milestones in a more obvious way than Louisville is doing to end its season? The Cardinals are playing in their fifth January bowl game in program history and Lamar Jackson won the program's first Heisman. Still, Louisville is riding a two-game losing streak that includes a beatdown in Houston and a loss to in-state rival Kentucky.

Louisville will be a four-point underdog against 7-4 LSU. A season that started so brilliantly for Louisville may ultimately end with a protracted whimper.

Georgia Tech vs. Kentucky [Taxslayer Bowl] (ESPN, 11 a.m.). I'm all too happy to see the Taxslayer Bowl taken off the Big Ten's bowl rotation. It had some charm as the old "Gator Bowl" but has none now.

The counterfactual for this game would be what we'd be saying about Kentucky if it were not in this game. Another losing season for Kentucky might have been the end of the road for Mark Stoops. No matter his recruiting prowess, the results have just not come. This will be his first winning season in four years in Lexington. The upset win over Louisville will be a nice feather in his cap no matter this game's outcome.

The same holds for Paul Johnson's Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech is 8-4 this season even with that three-game slide against Clemson, Miami, and at Pittsburgh. Yet, the regular season ended with a win over Georgia in Athens. Wins over its in-state rival are few and far between.

December 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Washington Huskies head coach Chris Petersen hoists the championship trophy after the Pac-12 championship against the Colorado Buffaloes at Levi's Stadium. The Huskies defeated the Buffaloes 41-10. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
It is highly unlikely we see a similar celebration in Atlanta. (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Washington vs. Alabama [Peach Bowl] (ESPN, 3 p.m.). This is the first of the College Football Playoff semifinals and a game in which we seem to be humoring ourselves that Washington has any chance. Both have one mutual opponent this season. Alabama smashed USC 52-6 in Arlington. USC later manhandled Washington in Seattle. It's Washington's only loss this season.

Alabama is a 14-point favorite, in Atlanta, which seems awfully charitable for Washington. Washington will need to find a running game and solid pass protection to beat Alabama. It lacked that against USC.

Ohio State vs. Clemson [Fiesta Bowl] (ESPN, 7 p.m.). This is your game of the week. Stay tuned to Eleven Warriors as Ohio State football will look to ring in the new year on a high note.


Florida vs. Iowa [Outback Bowl] (ABC, 1 p.m.). Sunday is the pros' day so the action resumes on Monday as the Outback Bowl starts the college football new year.

Both teams are 8-4 but Florida as just a field goal favorite will likely elicit some curious eyebrows, even from the Iowa fans. Florida, for its myriad of problems, still out-recruits Iowa by a large margin.

Iowa will hope that talent disparity won't manifest on offense. It's unlikely Iowa wins a high-scoring affair. It's good for Iowa that seems unlikely. Iowa and Florida have the No. 10 and No. 11 scoring defenses. They also have the No. 110 and No. 77 scoring offenses.

Western Michigan vs. Wisconsin [Cotton Bowl] (ESPN, 1 p.m.). Barring a Washington upset of Alabama or an Ohio State national championship, the Cotton Bowl will be my favorite thing about the post-season. It's not even important who wins. It's just the nature of this game that makes the Cotton Bowl's situation both hilarious and tragic.

Dec 2, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Western Michigan Broncos celebrate after defeating the Ohio Bobcats for the Mac Championship 29-23 at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Western Michigan couldn't sell out Detroit. It won't sell out Arlington. (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

Let's review. Every year, the highest-ranked Group of Five team gets a token invite to the New Year's Six. However, the game in which it participates is limited every year because of various arrangements that bowl games have with different conferences (e.g. the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl). That means every year some conference without those arrangements (i.e. Fiesta, Peach, or Cotton) has to fall on the Group of Five grenade. That was the Cotton Bowl this year.

In practice, this has not been a problem. Boise State is a regular challenger for this invite and first got it in 2014. Houston got it last year. Other programs from a talented American Athletic Conference—like Memphis, Navy, South Florida, or Temple—are credible challengers. This year, the MAC champion got it because no other Group of Five program was worthy. 

Western Michigan may be undefeated, but its path to undefeated included a non-conference schedule of Illinois and Northwestern. That's not exactly murderer's row. Further, the MAC can be fun and exciting but no analyst or fan will argue with a straight face that the conference is any good. Unsurprisingly, the MAC is 0-5 so far in its bowl schedule.

The Cotton Bowl compounded its own situation by inviting Wisconsin to play Western Michigan. This means the Cotton Bowl, the South's second-most prestigious bowl game and one with an illustrious history, will be a September Big Ten non-conference game you would otherwise watch on Big Ten Network. That's amazing.

It should be unsurprising that this September Big Ten non-conference game, to be played in Jerry World, is not exactly a hot ticket. Interested fans could still get into the game for $6.

Note what that means. A stadium beer in the Cotton Bowl will cost you more than a ticket to the game itself.

USC vs. Penn State [Rose Bowl] (ESPN, 5 p.m.). It's USC's first trip to the Rose Bowl since the 2009 contest in which it also played Penn State. USC routed the Nittany Lions in that game.

Nov 26, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans head coach Clay Helton (left) and Southern California Trojans defensive back Marvell Tell III (7) embrace during a NCAA football game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. USC defeated Notre Dame 45-27. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Clay Helton's Trojans started 1-3 but could be the hottest team in the country right now. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

This game should be a lot different. Pete Carroll is in the NFL and Joe Paterno is long gone from Penn State's sidelines. The two coaches manning both programs are both young and, for the most part, unproven. Clay Helton is in his first full year. James Franklin has a better track record but is still a young coach on the rise.

Incidentally, Wisconsin took a lot of the shine off the Trojans last year. The Trojans were previously riding a 15-game winning streak against current Big Ten teams since losing the 1996 Kickoff Classic to, of all teams, Penn State. Wisconsin ended that last year in the Holiday Bowl.

USC may be a seven-point favorite but it does not look as daunting as it used to be.

Auburn vs. Oklahoma [Sugar Bowl] (ESPN, 8:30 p.m.). Treating the championship game as a separate class of encounter, the bowl season ends with the Sugar Bowl between the Big XII champion and an SEC also-ran in New Orleans.

Auburn-vs.-Oklahoma is not a bad game on paper. Both programs have winning histories, even if Auburn pales in comparison to its in-state rival. It's still a name-brand program. An Auburn tilt against Oklahoma should still excite.

However, Joe Mixon's presence looms large in the build to this game. released video footage of his assault of a woman at a Norman restaurant. The footage highlights how bad the incident is and how ethnically dubious it was for the football program, local law enforcement, and even the court system to conceal the nature of the incident.

Mixon has since apologized for the incident, but that was more than two years after the fact. It's also unsatisfactory. Public institutions in Norman have more explaining to do.

Amid this backdrop, Oklahoma is a three-point favorite. The bowl season ends with the winner of this game holding up a trophy in a confetti storm.

View 13 Comments