Bowl Season doesn’t have to be just about the College Football Playoff.
There are 42 bowls that will cap off the 2021-22 college football season, and there is more than enough meaning in some of those under-the-radar matchups.
Sporting News looks at 10 of those matchups outside the College Football Playoff that are worth watching:
Boca Raton Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Appalachian State
Dec. 18, 11 a.m., ESPN
Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe (5,570 passing yards, 56 TDs) needs 263 yards and four TDs to tie the FBS single-season passing record in both departments. The Hilltoppers are second in the FBS with 43.1 points per game. Appalachian State is 6-0 all time in bowl games, and two-time transfer Chase Brice will try to keep that streak going. This bowl game is tied for the highest under/over at 67.5.
Gasparilla Bowl: Florida vs. UCF
Dec. 23, 7 p.m., ESPN
The Gators and Knights have a 2-for-1 series coming in 2024, but this will be an interesting in-state matchup. UCF won five of its last six games under first-year coach Gus Malzahn, who is up against an SEC school for the first time since leaving Auburn. Florida lost four of its last six games, and this could be the time to unleash Anthony Richardson once and for all.
Quick Lane Bowl: Western Michigan vs. Nevada
Dec. 27, 11 a.m., ESPN
Will Nevada quarterback Carson Strong play? We’re still waiting on the answer for the Wolf Pack quarterback who has attracted attention for the 2021 NFL Draft. Strong passed for 4,186 yards, 36 TDs and eight interceptions this season. Western Michigan is close to home in Detroit, and Kaleb Elleby has 3,115 yards, 21 TDs and five interceptions. Both teams average more than 30 points per game. Have it on while you are putting away the Christmas decorations.
Liberty Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Mississippi State
Dec. 28, 6:45 p.m., ESPN
Mike Leach will be in the spotlight here. He coached at Texas Tech from 2000 to 2009 before being fired. He’s 11-12 in two seasons with Mississippi State with the same old pass-happy offense. Mississippi State is third in the FBS with 385.7 yards per game, and there is no question that Leach is going to keep on the attack if the Bulldogs are in control. Sonny Cumbie, one of Leach’s former quarterbacks, will be the interim coach for the Red Raiders before taking the job at Louisiana Tech. Expect more than 100 passes in this game.
Music City Bowl: Tennessee vs. Purdue
Dec. 30, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Purdue is looking for a nine-win season with a pass offense that averages 340.4 yards per game. Boilermakers standout George Karlaftis has yet to decide whether he will play in this game, but their presence will be welcome. Tennessee averaged 41.8 points in its last four games, and Josh Heupel stayed in Knoxville through a wild turn of the coaching carousel. Tennessee can get to eight wins here. Both teams will be invested.
Outback Bowl: No. 21 Arkansas vs. Penn State
Jan. 1, 12 p.m., ESPN
Penn State and Arkansas each had three losses to teams that made either the New Year’s Day Six or the College Football Playoff. The Razorbacks are trying to complete a nine-win season under second-year coach Sam Pittman, one that would be especially sweet if it is completed against a Big Ten team. The Nittany Lions are committed to coach James Franklin for the long haul, and he’s 3-3 in bowl games at Penn State. This feels like a tight game that will have a wild finish.
Peach Bowl: No. 10 Michigan State vs. No. 12 Pitt
Dec. 30, 7 p.m., ESPN
Two overachievers meet in Atlanta, and it’s a showcase game for Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett and Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III. Mel Tucker has a chance to cap an 11-win season, and the Spartans are 6-0-1 all time against the Panthers. Of course, Pat Narduzzi knows Michigan State well from his time as a defensive coordinator from 2007 to 2014.
Sugar Bowl: No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 8 Ole Miss
Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m., ESPN
Baylor is back in the Sugar Bowl for the second time in three years, and second-year coach Dave Aranda has the Big 12 champions on a roll. The Bears win with a strong running game and defense, and that will pose a challenge for Ole Miss’ high-powered offense. Matt Corral is expected to play. Can Lane Kiffin deliver an 11-win season in his second year for the Rebels?
Rose Bowl: No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 Utah
Jan. 1, 5 p.m., ESPN
The Utes were one of the hottest teams in the FBS at the end of the season, and they have a tough defense and strong running game around Tavion Thomas, who had 20 rushing TDs this season. Ohio State has the nation’s top offense at 551.4 yards per game, and Heisman Trophy finalist C.J. Stroud will have another chance to put up huge numbers. The Buckeyes are making their 16th Rose Bowl appearance. The Utes are making their first. Expect both to play with appreciation for the value of the game.
Fiesta Bowl: No. 5 Notre Dame vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State
Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ESPN
Marcus Freeman will make his debut at Notre Dame, and that is going to create a ton of buzz. The Irish were the first team out of the CFP, and here is where he can make an instant impact. The Irish are 0-7 in BCS and New Year’s Day Six bowls, and Oklahoma State is a worthy opponent with a tough defense. Will the Cowboys be in a fog after the Big 12 championship game loss?