Forde-Yard Dash: Predictions for every game of 2018 college football bowl season

Pat Forde

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news this college football bowl season (interim coaches and non-participating players sold separately):

For the second half of the Bowl Dash, click here.


Your annual guide to bowl pool domination is here, dear friends. Or alternatively, throwing darts at the least predictable games of the season — missing players, missing coaches, questionable motivation, exotic locations, weeks since the last game, etc.

It’s all a crapshoot, but the pools must go on. So good luck.

But as an added bonus for your reading/guessing pleasure, The Dash has dug into the history books to find a trove of defunct bowl games. If you think there are a lot of bad games now, well, you should have seen the post-World War II bowl boom, and a lot of the dreck that followed.

The college football bowl season is upon us. (Yahoo Sports illustration)
The college football bowl season is upon us. (Yahoo Sports illustration)

The Dash has paired one defunct bowl with every current bowl. (Spoiler alert: some of the pairings are a bit forced. This was a more difficult exercise than expected. Don’t judge.) On to the picks:


Where: Atlanta
When: Dec. 15, noon ET
Who: North Carolina A&T vs. Alcorn State
Line: N.C. A&T by 7½

Why watch: If you miss the first one, you can’t see them all. And because the halftime show will be the best of the entire bowl season.

Dash pick: N.C. A&T 26, Alcorn State 14. The Aggies of the MEAC have won two of the three Celebrations Bowls, and beat the Braves of the SWAC in the inaugural game in 2015. They’ll make it three of four this year, thanks to a powerful defense. N.C. A&T upset East Carolina in September.

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Corresponding dead bowl: Prairie View Bowl, which was contested from 1929-61 and usually held on New Year’s Day in Houston. The game matched Prairie View A&M against another historically black college or university — except for that one time when Xavier showed up, in 1940, and there must be a heck of a story associated with that game.


Where: Albuquerque, New Mexico
When: Dec. 15, 2 p.m. ET
Who: North Texas vs. Utah State
Line: Utah State by 8½

Why watch: To see the most prolific scoring team not in the Orange Bowl — Utah State averaged 47.2 points per game this season, trailing only Oklahoma (49.5) and Alabama (47.9). And to see the impressive chin of North Texas coach Seth Littrell.

Dash pick: North Texas 35, Utah State 34. Aggies coach Matt Wells is now at Texas Tech, so it’s Interim City here. A lot of people thought Littrell would be gone by now from UNT, but he’s still there. Continuity advantage to the Mean Green. Should be a fun showdown between quarterbacks Jordan Love of Utah State and Mason Fine of North Texas.

Corresponding dead bowl: The Zia Bowl, played in Albuquerque in 1979 and ’80. The game was actually the Division II national championship, which was moved to McAllen, Texas, after an illustrious two-year run.


Where: Orlando
When: Dec. 15, 2:30 p.m. ET
Who: Tulane vs. Louisiana
Line: Tulane by 3½

Why watch: To see how many fans of two schools 135 miles apart in Louisiana relocate to the other side of the Gulf of Mexico for this game.

Dash pick: Tulane 34, Louisiana 30. The Green Wave has a top-30 rushing offense nationally. The Ragin’ Cajuns have a bottom-30 rushing defense. Do the math and take Tulane.

Corresponding dead bowl: The Boot Hill Bowl. Work with The Dash here — Tulane coach Willie Fritz went to Division II Pittsburg State, in Kansas, and Fritz played on the 1979 team that defeated Peru State 43-14 in the Boot Hill Bowl in scenic Dodge City, Kansas. The game existed from 1970-80.


Where: Las Vegas
When: Dec. 15, 3:30 p.m. ET
Who: Fresno State vs. Arizona State
Line: Fresno State by 4

Why watch: Because this is the best pre-Christmas bowl, matching a top-25 Mountain West champion against the surprise second-place finisher in the Pac-12 South.

Dash pick: Fresno State 23, Arizona State 17. The Bulldogs are second in the nation in scoring defense and don’t have to deal with star Sun Devils receiver N’Keal Harry, who is sitting this one out on his way to the draft. Nine of ASU’s 12 games have been decided by one score, and the last three by a total of six points, so expect another close one.

Corresponding dead bowl: The Charity Bowl of 1937 was Fresno State’s first bowl appearance. The game against Central Arkansas, played on Christmas day before an estimated 5,000 people in the cavernous Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, was a one-and-done.

Will Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards end his first year on the job with a win? (AP)
Will Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards end his first year on the job with a win? (AP)


Where: Montgomery, Alabama
When: Dec. 15, 5:30 p.m. ET
Who: Georgia Southern vs. Eastern Michigan
Line: Georgia Southern by 1

Why watch: Out of respect for our national bird. Both teams are the Eagles.

Dash pick: Eastern Michigan 27, Georgia Southern 24. The Eagles, Southern version, are the only team in America not to have thrown an interception this season — but they don’t throw it often or terribly well, with just 110 attempts and 994 yards. The Eagles, Upper Midwest version, come into the game on a three-game winning streak and having won five of their last six.

Corresponding dead bowl: The original Camellia Bowl of 1948. It was a one-and-done game in Lafayette, Louisiana, matching Hardin-Simmons against Wichita State. It was Hardin-Simmons’ third bowl game of the season, having previously played in the Grape Bowl and Shrine Bowl in California. The ambitious Cowboys routed the Shockers, 49-12.


Where: New Orleans
When: Dec. 15, 9 p.m. ET
Who: Middle Tennessee vs. Appalachian State
Line: Appalachian State by 7.

Why watch: To see Blue Raiders senior quarterback Brent Stockstill, a career 12,000-yard passer, sling it around one more time while playing for his dad, Rick. And because App State is pretty good.

Dash pick: Appalachian State 30, Middle Tennessee 24. The Mountaineers look considerably better on paper but are doing the interim-coach dance, so you never know what that will yield. App State has won five straight games coming into this one, all by 11 points or more. Middle has lost two of its last three.

Corresponding dead bowl: The Pelican Bowl, a matchup of MEAC and SWAC teams, was played in New Orleans in 1974-75, once at old Tulane Stadium and once at the Superdome. The 1973 and ’76 versions were canceled, and they quit trying to play it after the ’76 cancellation. A year after the bowl folded, the SWAC reportedly still owed Tulane $24,000 for use of its stadium in the ’74 game.

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Where: Boca Raton, Florida
When: Dec. 18, 8 p.m. ET
Who: UAB vs. Northern Illinois
Line: UAB by 2½

Why watch: To see whether the Blazers can score their first bowl victory in school history. And to see some palm trees.

Dash pick: Northern Illinois 17, UAB 16. Offensively punchless Huskies might have found something in their comeback upset victory over Buffalo in the MAC title game, with quarterback Marcus Childers having a career-best passing day (300 yards passing, four touchdowns). Both defenses rank in the top-25 nationally in yards allowed per play, so expect low scoring.

Corresponding dead bowl: Cherry Bowl … Cheribundi Bowl … close enough. The Cherry Bowl was played in the Pontiac Silverdome in 1984 and ’85, beginning the glum tradition of Christmas in Detroit. It was succeeded by the Motor City Bowl.


Where: Frisco, Texas
When: Dec. 19, 8 p.m. ET
Who: San Diego State vs. Ohio
Line: Ohio by 3

Why watch: To see two underappreciated old warhorses match coaching wits — 74-year-old Frank Solich of Ohio against 68-year-old Rocky Long of SDSU. And to see if both can stay awake until this one is over.

Dash pick: Ohio 35, San Diego State 31. Bobcats can score, ranking 10th nationally at 43.5 points per game. Aztecs have staggered through the second half of the season, losing their last three and four of their last five and stopping a streak of three straight seasons of double-digit wins.

Corresponding dead bowl: The Optimist Bowl was one of many fleeting postseason games in the state of Texas in the 1940s. In 1946, North Texas beat Pacific 14-13 in Houston in the one and only Optimist Bowl, with North Texas’ Billy Dinkle throwing the tying touchdown pass and then kicking the winning extra point with nine seconds left in the game.


Where: Tampa
When: Dec. 20, 8 p.m. ET
Who: Marshall vs. South Florida
Line: Marshall by 2½

Why watch: If you like the color green, this is your game. And maybe there will be some more absurd mower moments like last year.

Dash pick: Marshall 27, South Florida 23. The Bulls started 7-0 and then collapsed when the schedule got harder, losing five straight by an average of 19.6 points. The Thundering Herd has some Ty Chi going — Tyre Brady is the leading receiver (914 yards and nine touchdowns), and Ty Tyler is the leader in sacks with eight.

Corresponding dead bowl: The Cigar Bowl was played in Tampa from 1947-54, named after the booming local cigar industry. Florida State’s first bowl game in school history was this one, in 1950 — a 19-6 victory over Wofford.

Charlie Strong’s South Florida Bulls started off the season hot before trailing off and losing five straight. (AP)
Charlie Strong’s South Florida Bulls started off the season hot before trailing off and losing five straight. (AP)


Where: Nassau, Bahamas
When: Dec. 21, 12:30 p.m. ET
Who: Florida International vs. Toledo
Line: Toledo by 6

Why watch: It’s the first hookey game of bowl season, with an afternoon kickoff on a workday. And to find out why a suburban Chicago office park has its name on a bowl game.

Dash pick: Toledo 45, FIU 35. It’s been a disappointing year for the Rockets, who won their fewest games since 2013, but they’re still the better team here. That is, unless the players are so giddy about being in the Bahamas instead of Toledo that they completely lose focus. FIU’s defense has 17 interceptions, second-most in the nation, so the Rockets need to pass with care.

Corresponding dead bowl: The only other bowl played in the Caribbean was the Bacardi Bowl, contested in Havana, Cuba, seven times between 1907 and ’46. The first five matched American teams against Cuban clubs. In 1937, Auburn and Villanova played the first game between two American teams on foreign soil. On Dec. 7, 1946, the five-year anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Mississippi Southern beat the University of Havana in the final Bacardi Bowl.


Where: Boise, Idaho
When: Dec. 21, 4 p.m. ET
Who: Western Michigan vs. BYU
Line: BYU by 12

Why watch: Friday Happy Hour/holiday office party football. What’s not to like?

Dash pick: BYU 26, Western Michigan 20. Both teams are in the hands of freshmen quarterbacks who have shown some promise amid growing pains — Zach Wilson of BYU and Kaleb Eleby of WMU. The Cougars don’t score a lot, which makes the premise of covering a 12-point spread a bit daunting. Common opponent is Northern Illinois, which beat the Cougars by one and lost to the Broncos by seven.

Corresponding dead bowl: The Aluminum Bowl, for the NAIA championship, was played exactly once, in Little Rock, in 1956. The game between Montana State and St. Joseph’s of Indiana ended in a scoreless tie, with zero completed passes. The teams were declared NAIA co-champions. That game seems as watchable as the Potato Bowl will be.


Where: Birmingham, Alabama
When: Dec. 22, noon ET
Who: Memphis vs. Wake Forest
Line: Memphis by 5½

Why watch: Your other choice is mall shopping. And to see two of the most explosive all-purpose players in the country in Darrell Henderson of the Tigers and Greg Dortch of the Demon Deacons.

Dash pick: Memphis 56, Wake Forest 49. This is the nation’s No. 4 offense (Memphis) and No. 33 offense (Wake) against correspondingly weak defenses (Memphis is No. 84 and Wake is No. 116). So prepare for points. Tigers got a boost coming into bowl prep by keeping up-and-coming coach Mike Norvell from Power Five poachers.

Corresponding dead bowl: The Dixie Bowl was played at Birmingham’s legendary Legion Field on New Year’s Day 1948 and ’49, with ranked teams losing both games. Future SEC member Arkansas beat No. 14 William & Mary in the first game and Baylor beat No. 20 Wake Forest in the second.


Where: Fort Worth, Texas
When: Dec. 22, 3:30 p.m. ET
Who: Houston vs. Army
Line: Army by 3

Why watch: Still better than mall shopping. And for the wildly contrasting offensive styles — spread and throw vs. contract and run.

Dash pick: Army 34, Houston 28. This game matches the nation’s No. 1 team in time of possession (Army, at nearly 39 minutes per game) against the dead-last team in that category (Houston averages just 25 minutes). While the Cougars defense is accustomed to being on the field a lot, this might be extreme. Houston is without defensive tackle Ed Oliver (draft prep, fraying marriage with head coach Major Applewhite) and star QB D’Eriq King (injury). The Cadets are trying to lock up their first end-of-season top-25 ranking since 1996.

Corresponding dead bowl: The Fort Worth Classic was played exactly once, on New Year’s Day 1921. The Centre Praying Colonels — an unlikely powerhouse from Danville, Kentucky, that is now a Division III school — crushed TCU. The final score was either 63-7 or 77-7, depending on whose bookkeeping you go with.

One Houston player you won’t see at the Armed Forces Bowl is Ed Oliver, who has opted to sit out the game and focus on the NFL draft. (AP)
One Houston player you won’t see at the Armed Forces Bowl is Ed Oliver, who has opted to sit out the game and focus on the NFL draft. (AP)


Where: Mobile, Alabama
When: Dec. 22, 7 p.m. ET
Who: Buffalo vs. Troy
Line: Buffalo by 2½

Why watch: The Bulls have an intriguing NFL quarterback prospect in 6-foot-7, 245-pound junior Tyree Jackson — his numbers haven’t been outrageous this year, but the team has won big with him as its starter. Both coaches (Neal Brown at Troy and Lance Leipold at Buffalo) have done great work and likely will be on the radar of bigger programs in 2019.

Dash pick: Troy 31, Buffalo 28. Should be a virtual home game for the Trojans, whose campus is about 165 miles from Mobile. Troy’s offense ground to a halt at season’s end after an injury to leading receiver Damion Willis; he’s expected to play, which will be a big boost.

Corresponding dead bowl: The International Bowl, played in Toronto, was the first bowl in Buffalo history. The Bulls lost to Connecticut on Jan. 3, 2009, the third of four International Bowls. A MAC team lost all four.


Where: Honolulu, Hawaii
When: Dec. 22, 10:30 p.m. ET
Who: Louisiana Tech vs. Hawaii
Line: Hawaii by 1

Why watch: This is your last chance to stay up until 2 a.m. ET watching football. Don’t waste it.

Dash pick: Hawaii 42, Louisiana Tech 38. These are highly flawed, highly undependable teams, so who knows what will transpire. Warriors have a high-powered offense led by receiver John Ursua, but a weak defense and are a minus-nine turnover margin. Tech could probably exploit Hawaii’s porous run defense — except that the Bulldogs rank 113th nationally in rushing. As always, stay alert for that staple of Hawaiian home games — random bits of trash blowing across the field.

Corresponding dead bowl: The Poi Bowl, which was played from 1936-39 in Honolulu, then made a one-year reappearance in 1945 for a matchup of Air Force against Navy. It was succeeded by the Pineapple Bowl, which at least was named after something more tasty than poi.


Where: Dallas
When: Dec. 26, 1:30 p.m. ET
Who: Boston College vs. Boise State
Line: Boise State by 3

Why watch: To see a pair of top running backs — AJ Dillon of Boston College and Alexander Mattison of Boise State. Dillon ran for 1,100 yards despite missing two games, and Mattison ran for 1,400 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Dash pick: Boise State 30, Boston College 21. Eagles have their most productive offense in years — and also their weakest defense. Expect the balanced Broncos to take advantage of that. As long as Brett Rypien doesn’t throw it to the wrong team (BC has 18 interceptions on the season, tied for most in the nation), Boise should win and could win easily.

Corresponding dead bowl: Sporadic though it was, the Dixie Classic was the original Dallas bowl game. It was played in 1922, ’25 and ’34 before giving way to the Cotton Bowl. The first Dixie Classic, between Centre and Texas A&M, was the birth of the Aggies’ 12th-man tradition — coach Dana Bible called a basketball player named King Gill out of the stands to be ready to play in case of injury. He didn’t play in the game, but the tradition was born.

Boston College running back AJ Dillon (2) was a dark horse Heisman candidate early this season before tapering off. (AP)
Boston College running back AJ Dillon (2) was a dark horse Heisman candidate early this season before tapering off. (AP)


Where: Detroit
When: Dec. 26, 5:15 p.m. ET
Who: Minnesota vs. Georgia Tech
Line: Georgia Tech by 4

Why watch: It’s the day after Christmas, and there’s only so much family bonding you can take without a football recess. Plus it’s the first bowl matchup of Power Five teams.

Dash pick: Georgia Tech 41, Minnesota 28. The Golden Gophers played two teams that run the quarterback a lot, Nebraska and Illinois. They gave up more than 800 rushing yards in those games. Retiring Tech coach Paul Johnson is taking his option offense into the sunset with one last dominant running performance.

Corresponding dead bowl: The Great Lakes Bowl was played in Cleveland, not Detroit, but that’s just across Lake Erie so that’s close enough. It was a one-year bowl in December 1947, with Kentucky defeating Villanova 24-14. It was the first bowl win for a young coach named Paul “Bear” Bryant.


Where: Phoenix
When: Dec. 26, 9 p.m. ET
Who: California vs. TCU
Line: California by 1

Why watch: To see if the talking wheel of cheese makes an appearance.

Dash pick: TCU 20, California 17. The Horned Frogs picked up the pieces of a broken season at the end, beating Baylor and Oklahoma State to gain bowl eligibility. Fifth-year senior QB Grayson Muehlstein was an unlikely stabilizing force in those games while seeing the first significant action of his college career. Cal should be excited to play in its first bowl game since 2015, but the offensive struggles are real (six games scoring 17 or fewer points).

Corresponding dead bowl: The Pasadena Bowl. It was known as the “Junior Rose Bowl,” and for decades it pitted the California junior-college champion against another JUCO from out of state. Cal’s greatest quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, was a product of the California JUCO system. So there you have it.


Where: Shreveport, Louisiana
When: Dec. 27, 1:30 p.m. ET
Who: Temple vs. Duke
Line: Temple by 3

Why watch: To see what this ball of fire interim coach looks like coaching a game.

Dash pick: Temple 27, Duke 14. The Blue Devils flatlined to end the season, being crushed by Clemson (understandable) and Wake Forest (not so understandable). They were outgained and outscored for the season. Temple, on the other hand, finished strong and brings a three-game winning streak to Shreveport. If the Owls aren’t sulking or in disarray after coach Geoff Collins bolted for Georgia Tech, they should win this handily.

Corresponding dead bowl: Long before the Independence Bowl carved out its hardy niche in the sport, the Cajun Bowl was the original off-brand (non-Sugar) bowl played in Louisiana — Lake Charles, to be exact. McNeese State and Magnolia A&M (now Southern Arkansas University) tussled to a scoreless tie in 1947, and that was that.


Where: New York
When: Dec. 27, 5:15 p.m. ET
Who: Miami vs. Wisconsin
Line: Miami by 4

Why watch: Any battle of arguably the two biggest flops of 2018 should draw viewers. Jaded, critical viewers, but viewers nonetheless.

Dash pick: Miami 21, Wisconsin 16. It’s been a season-long quest for competent quarterback play for both teams, and the one that gets it — or at least limits mistakes at that position — in Yankee Stadium is probably your winner. The Hurricanes at least finished the regular season on a high note, handily defeating both Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh, while the Badgers were routed by Minnesota.

Corresponding dead bowl: The Gotham Bowl, which existed in New York from 1960-62. The bowl got off to an inauspicious start in ’60, when Oregon State was invited but no opponent could be found to take on the Beavers. The next two years were matchups of Baylor-Utah State and Nebraska-Miami, the latter of which would turn out to be a pretty swell matchup in later years and bigger bowls.

For the rest of the Bowl Dash, click here.

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