Bowl Season 2019-20 Preview

Jack Meyer, News Editor

Another season full of ups and downs has passed in college football. From the rise of Joe Burrow in Death Valley to the fall of the Miami Hurricanes in Marlins Park, this season contained lots of twists and turns that most fans did not see coming. Now these fans have turned their attention to one of the best parts of the season: bowl games and the College Football Playoff. Here is a look at the bowl games that some notable Florida college football programs will be playing in, as well as a preview of this year’s playoffs. 

FAU (Florida Atlantic University): Boca Raton Bowl vs. SMU (Southern Methodist University), Dec. 21

After a disappointing 5-7 campaign in 2018, the FAU Owls put forth an impressive campaign this year, racking up a 10-3 record in 2019 along with winning the Conference USA (C-USA) championship. In only their fourth bowl game in program history, the Owls will face off against the Southern Methodist University Mustangs in the Boca Raton Bowl. While the Owls will have the advantage of playing on their home field, the program recently sustained a difficult blow when head coach Lane Kiffin — who helped the program win two of their three conference championships —  announced his resignation so he could become the next coach of Ole Miss. In what looks to be an interesting game, SMU is currently favored over FAU by a line of -3, meaning SMU is projected to beat FAU by three points. Regardless, it will likely be a highly contested game that will feature both teams fighting until the final whistle. 

FIU (Florida International University): Camellia Bowl vs. Arkansas State, Dec. 21

The FIU Panthers have had moderate success under head coach Butch Davis during his three years at the program. In his first two seasons, the Panthers won eight and nine games, respectively, and made two bowl game appearances, winning one of them in 2018. However, this streak almost ended in 2019, with the Panthers sitting at 5-5 near the end of season and their remaining schedule featuring two of their toughest opponents yet: the Miami Hurricanes and the Marshall Thundering Herd. The Panthers responded by doing the unthinkable: they secured their first win against a team in a Power 5 Conference and defeated the Miami Hurricanes 30-24 (more on that later). Despite a loss to Marshall, the Panthers hope to cap off a turbulent, yet exciting season with a win against Arkansas State despite the Red Wolves being favored to win by a line of -3. 

UCF (University of Central Florida): Gasparilla Bowl vs. Marshall, Dec. 23

After sitting at the top of the college football world for two seasons (or at least pretending to), the UCF Knights took a hard stumble this season. After only losing one game in their previous two seasons combined, the Knights lost three games this year, which led to a quick exit from the AP Poll Rankings and caused some serious damage to their reputation. The Knights failed to secure a spot in the American Athletic Conference championship, but since they managed to secure nine wins, they still received an invitation to a bowl game. They will be squaring off against the Marshall Thundering Herd, who had a moderately successful season and secured eight wins, although they did not play any major competition (similarly to the Knights). Due to their reputation still remaining partly intact, UCF is a major favorite to win this game; they are currently projected to win by a line of -17.5. 

Miami: Independence Bowl vs. Louisiana Tech, Dec. 26

What started out as a year full of promise for the Hurricanes quickly turned into a messy situation similar to the 2018 season. Fans had hope entering this season, with a new coach in former defensive coordinator and fan favorite Manny Diaz, and a new quarterback in redshirt freshman Jarren Williams. The Hurricanes dropped their first game to the Florida Gators, but the team did not worry, as they put up a good fight against a ranked opponent. However, after a loss to North Carolina in their next game, fans began to worry about the team. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, several parallels to last season that fans wish they could forget were evident, including constant switches at the starting quarterback position, players taking extended leaves of absences and a level of cockiness off the field that failed to produce results on the field. The program also hit a new low after a brutal loss to FIU, which led several fans to call for the coaching staff to be shaken up once again. The Hurricanes will look to drown out these concerns and finish off a rocky season in a strong manner, despite playing in a less than ideal bowl game against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. While the Hurricanes are currently favored to win by a line of -6.5, the Hurricanes have been favored to win several games this season that they surprisingly lost (i.e. FIU, Georgia Tech and Duke), so anything can happen in this game. 

Florida State: Sun Bowl vs. Arizona State, Dec. 31

The Seminoles also had a rough season, yet they technically did improve from last season. After finishing 5-7 in 2018 and failing to secure a berth in a bowl game, the Seminoles did manage to win six games this year, but the season is far from being considered a success. The Seminoles lost games to their interstate rivals, the Florida Gators and Miami Hurricanes; FSU fired their head coach Willie Taggart after the loss to the Hurricanes. Additionally, the Seminoles went 1-5 in games against teams with a winning record. The Seminoles will face off against the Arizona State Sundevils, who recently defeated #6 Oregon in a shocking upset that has given them momentum to finish off their season strong. The Sun Devils are currently favored by a line of -4.5. 

#9 Florida: Orange Bowl vs. #24 Virginia, Dec. 30

As one of the only elite college football programs in Florida that met their expectations entering the season, the Florida Gators have enjoyed a relatively successful year. After narrowly defeating the Hurricanes in the first game of the season, the Gators went on to win ten games this season, most notably against the now #12 Auburn Tigers. Despite tough losses to LSU and Georgia, who are both currently top five teams in the country, the Gators were able to string together a successful season and earned a berth in the highly coveted Orange Bowl. As the #9 team in the country, the Gators will be facing off against the #24 Virginia Cavaliers; the Cavaliers are coming off of a brutal 62-17 loss to #3 Clemson in the ACC Championship game. Due to the clear disparity in their respective rankings, the Gators are heavy favorites to win the game, as they are currently favored by a line of -13.5. 

Fiesta Bowl (CFP Semifinal): #2 Ohio State vs. #3 Clemson, Dec. 28

In what may unfold as one of the most exciting games of the year, the Ohio State Buckeyes and Clemson Tigers will face off for a spot in the national championship. Both teams had incredible seasons, finishing with 13-0 records and several decisive victories that helped them build their season. Ohio State, led by junior defensive end Chase Young and sophomore quarterback Justin Fields (both of whom were finalists for the Heisman trophy) have beaten four teams that are currently in the top 25, including the Wisconsin Badgers, who they beat in both the regular season and the conference championship (although the latter game was closer than most expected). Clemson, on the other hand, came of a 2018 National Championship and got off to a somewhat shaky start, highlighted by a narrow 21-20 victory over unranked North Carolina after a failed two-point conversion. However, the Tigers — led by sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence —  bounced back and played arguably as well as their 2018 championship roster, capping off their season with a dominating 62-17 win over #24 Virginia in the ACC Championship. While Clemson is currently favored to win by a line of -2, this game could easily go either way and will likely go down in the history books as a legendary game. 

Peach Bowl (CFP Semifinal): #1 LSU vs. #4 Oklahoma, Dec. 28

Clemson will not be the only Tiger team fighting for a spot, as the LSU Tigers will square off against the Oklahoma Sooners for the other spot in this year’s national championship. LSU has had an outstanding year from start to finish; LSU has beaten several recognizable names in their journey to the top of the country, knocking off the Alabama Crimson Tide (ranked #3 in the country at the time) and later dismantling #5 Georgia in the SEC Championship. LSU has been successful this season due to several key factors and people, including coach of the year Ed Orgeron, Biletnikoff Award winner and sophomore wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, and Jim Thorpe Award winner and junior safety Grant Delpit. However, the biggest factor in LSU’s success this season was the emergence of redshirt senior quarterback Joe Burrow. Burrow transferred to LSU from Ohio State in 2018 and ended up winning the Heisman trophy in his second season with the Tigers. The Sooners also have a star quarterback in senior quarterback Jalen Hurts. Hurts previously played at Alabama before transferring to Oklahoma due to the emergence of star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Hurts thrived with the Sooners, coming in second place for the Heisman trophy behind Burrow. While the Sooners had a solid season, finishing with a 12-1 record after defeating Baylor in the Big 12 championship, LSU is still heavily favored to advance to the national championship; the Tigers are currently favored to win by a line of -13. 

This year’s college football playoffs will hold plenty of surprises and exciting matchups. This will be the first time three undefeated teams will be competing to win the championship since the NCAA expanded the playoffs to four teams. Until then, college football fans will get to enjoy watching their favorite teams in this year’s bowl season. While several South Florida teams have struggled so far this season, they now have a chance to close out their season on a high note.