It’s the most wonderful time of the year! As I did in 2019, I will preview each of the 2020 AAC bowls as well as every other conference (plus the FBS Independents). Bowl games will likely look different this year. Many states have their own restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so we will likely see even fewer fans than normal. Additionally, a number of bowl-eligible teams elected to opt-out of the post-season, so there will be fewer matchups this year.
Seven teams with losing records made bowls this year (four from the SEC; imagine that). This year, one team will be making its bowl debut. Plus, this season will feature ten first-time matchups. Strap in, it’s time for 29 bowl games!
2020 AAC Bowls Preview
Idaho Potato Bowl (December 22, 3:30 p.m., ESPN)
Tulane vs Nevada
Head-to-head: Tulane 1-0 Nevada
Tulane bowl record: 6-7
The first of the 2020 AAC bowls schedule pits the Green Wave against the Wolf Pack. Tulane is a physical team that is willing to look you in the eye, tell you what they’re doing and dares you to stop it. Home of some of the best unis in college football, Tulane will look to end a disappointing 2020 with a win.
Offensively, Tulane is run-first. They average 219. 5 yards per game on the ground thanks to running backs Stephon Huderson and Cameron Carroll. Huderson leads the team in rushing yards with 716 and four touchdowns, whereas Carroll leads the team with seven touchdowns off of 621 yards. Pick your poison, here.
Even if you contain these backs, freshman quarterback Michael Pratt is good enough to make you pay. He threw for 1,638 yards and 18 touchdowns in nine games. Not to mention he added 212 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. He has a pair of twins as his favorite receivers in Duece Watts (team-leading 512 yards, six touchdowns) and Phat Watts (216 yards).
This Tulane defense has had some strong games as well as some duds. They allow an average of 27.2 points per game and a total of 417.4 yards. On three occasions, the defense allowed 581, 689, and 522 yards.
Initially, I believed that Tulane would win this matchup. However, their defense is a bit suspect and Nevada is no pushover. Nevada (who, coincidentally, has the same fight song as my high school) is a very solid team and will even the all-time series with the Green Wave.
Boca Raton Bowl (December 22, 7:00 p.m., ESPN)
UCF vs BYU
Head-to-head: UCF 1-1 BYU
UCF bowls record: 5-6
Quite possibly a top-five non-CFP or NY6 bowl will be the Boca Raton Bowl. UCF has turned into an AAC power and will have all it can handle against a very potent BYU squad. At 6-3, UCF will finish 2020 with fewer than ten wins for the first time since 2016, the year before their National Championship*.
Despite getting shut down by the eventual AAC champion, UCF is fifth in the nation in scoring with a whopping 44.3 points per game. The Dillon Gabriel-to-Marlon Williams connection has been lethal all year. The true sophomore southpaw has thrown for an impressive 3,353 yards (third in the nation) and 30 touchdowns (also third in the nation). That’s one more than last year in four fewer games.
Williams, who went for 1,039 yards and ten touchdowns, opted out of the bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft. So, they’ll turn to second-leading receiver Jaylon Robinson. Robinson transferred from Oklahoma and made his presence known, earning 935 yards and five touchdowns. All this passing, don’t think they are one-dimensional. They still run for 212.6 yards per game behind studs Greg McCrae and Otis Anderson. Anderson may not suit up for this game, however, as he is dealing with an undisclosed injury.
The defense is not the greatest, overall. They are led by senior defensive back Richie Grant but are often gashed. This unit allows 473.7 yards per game.
For as great as this UCF offense is, it will likely not be enough to keep up with the high-flying offense of BYU. The Cougars have a first-round quarterback and throw for 322 yards per game. BYU wins this one in a shootout.
Also, shoutout to former Golden Knight quarterback McKenzie Milton. Good luck at Florida State!
Montgomery Bowl (December 23, 7:00 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2)
Memphis vs FAU
Head-to-head: Memphis 0-1 FAU
Memphis bowl record: 4-8
Another 2020 AAC bowls matchup that could result in a shootout is the Montgomery bowl. Memphis has been lighting up the scoreboard all year. When you have a full AAC slate, you have to be able to keep up with the other crazy offenses, and Memphis can.
In what will likely be the final game of his illustrious Memphis career, Brady White will look to light it up one more time. In a shortened year, White threw for 3,096 yards and 28 touchdowns. Even before this game, he has amassed over 10,000 passing yards. He will leave Memphis as the career leader in yards and touchdowns.
Leading the way outside is junior receiver Calvin Austin III. His 1,025 yards are good for almost double the next-best receiver. At ten touchdowns, his big-play ability will be showcased in this game.
The Memphis defense, like UCF’s, is pretty porous. In three consecutive weeks, the Tigers allowed 474, 601 (!), and 387 yards through the air. Not to mention the fact that they allow nearly four yards per carry on the ground.
Despite the defensive woes, Memphis should win this game. The connection of White and Austin is just too good to pass up. The Tigers will secure the first win of the 2020 AAC bowls.
New Mexico Bowl (December 24, 3:30 p.m., ESPN)
Houston vs Hawai’i
Head-to-head: Houston 0-1 Hawai’i
Houston bowl record: 11-15-1
At 4-5, Houston is one of eight teams making a bowl game with a losing record. They draw the pacific islands of Hawai’i who have been homeless for a while now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This should be a solid matchup of two underperforming teams.
The Cougars’ offense isn’t the most inspiring in the AAC, but it can still move the all. In six of their seven games, the offense garnered more than 400 yards. That one, naturally, was against the stifling defense of the AAC Champ. Junior quarterback Clayton Tune started off hot, passing for more than 300 yards in each of his first three games. In the following four games, he didn’t manage more than 270 yards. 2020 was nearly identical to 2019 for Tune, statistically.
As it seems is tradition thus far, the defense is not the greatest. They allow 32.6 points per game off of 417.3 yards. They will be without their stud defensive lineman Payton Turner as he decided to opt-out of the remainder of the season two weeks ago.
In a normal season, there would be a concern that Hawai’i would not be physically prepared for the bowl game in the Continental 48. Considering that they have been stateside nearly all season, that concern is moot. Give me the Rainbow Warriors in this game.
Armed Forces Bowl (December 31, 12:00 p.m., ESPN)
Tulsa vs Mississippi State
Tulsa bowl record: 10-11
In another disrespectful bowl selection, 6-2 AAC runner-up Tulsa faces off against 3-7 basement-dweller Mississippi State. At 24th in the final CFP rankings, Tulsa has something to prove. Their two losses were to Big XII Oklahoma State and then the AAC Championship Game. This is a sneaky-good team.
Baylor transfer Zach Smith leads the way on offense. He took a significant step back in terms of productivity, but still earned 1,601 passing yards and 12 touchdowns in 2020. Let’s blame it on the fact that so many of their games got postponed or canceled, so they couldn’t generate momentum. Regardless, he had a solid four-game run before getting injured. He hasn’t been the same since.
If you watched the AAC Championship game, this Tulsa defense epitomized bend-but-don’t-break. They gave up 400+ yards, but it sure didn’t feel like it. Maybe it was the weather, who knows, but they frustrated the Bearcats’ offense and just would not go away.
The Golden Hurricanes lost the AAC Championship game by a last-second field goal. There were numerous chances to take control of the game, but they could not close it out. They’ll come into this game motivated and ready to prove that this team is here to stay. Look for Tulsa to win this one.
Peach Bowl (January 1, 12:30 p.m., ESPN)
Cincinnati vs Georgia
Head-to-head: Cincinnati 0-1 Georgia
Cincinnati bowl record: 8-8
In a just world, Cincinnati would be gearing up to play for a CFP title. Alas, we do not live in a just world and Group of Five programs do not have a legitimate path to the crown. Luke Fickell is building something truly special in the 513 and this Peach Bowl is only the start. This NY6 invite is the crown jewel of the 2020 AAC bowls slate. There are only two teams in the nation that rank in the top 15 in scoring offense and defense and the Bearcats are one.
Junior quarterback Desmond Ridder has taken yet another step forward in his development and is getting legitimate NFL draft hype. He has accounted for 2,090 yards and 19 touchdowns through the air and is the second-leading rusher with 609 yards and 12 touchdowns. Michael Young, Tre Tucker, Josh Whyle, and Alec Pierce are all exciting weapons that tear up defenses.
Even if you think you can contain the passing attack, Gerrid Doaks (673 yards, seven touchdowns) and Alabama transfer Jerome Ford (386 yards, seven touchdowns) will run you over. This unit has score five touchdowns in two separate games and four touchdowns in three others. These playmakers, as well as the offensive line, are severely underrated.
The Bearcats’ defense allows 314.4 yards per game, but only 16 points (eighth in the nation). They have forced seven fumbles and 15 interceptions this year. They are a fast, physical bunch and shut down nearly every offense they’ve played. As you may have noticed above, the AAC is home to some truly dynamic offenses, so that’s saying something.
Cincinnati was disrespected yet again. In two consecutive weeks, teams with two losses jumped them in the CFP rankings. Not to mention there’s a three-loss team above them! They will be out to prove the nation wrong. Georgia has finally found a good quarterback, but Cincinnati is significantly better than the three teams he’s played to this point. When Cincy wins, I hope they pull a 2017 UCF and claim a National Title.
Time To Earn Some Respect
The Pow6r Conference has had legitimate gripes with the CFP process since its inception, it seems. Between Houston in 2016, UCF in 2017 and 2018, Memphis in 2019, and now Cincinnati, the AAC has shown it can play. Honestly, this conference has done more to generate respect than the PAC 12. If you are a fan of high-powered offenses, tune in to these 2020 AAC bowls.