It’s the most wonderful time of the year! As I did in 2019, I will preview each of the 2020 FBS Independent bowls as well as every conference. 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 FBS Independent Bowls Preview
Head-to-head: BYU 1-1 UCF
BYU bowl record: 15-21-1
Quite possibly the most underrated team in College Football is BYU. At 10-1, the Cougars have beaten nearly everyone on their schedule. Even in that loss, they were about three yards away from stealing a win from undefeated Coastal Carolina. It was the game of the year that wasn’t even supposed to happen. Major props to both programs for getting it done!
If there was a Heisman for non-Power Five players, quarterback Zach Wilson would likely win it unanimously. His 3,274 yards and 30 touchdowns are what propels this Cougar offense to the tune of 43 points and 512.2 yards per game. He has burst onto the scene and should be getting more national praise. Can you imagine him getting drafted by a team like the New England Patriots? Scary.
His favorite target is junior receiver Dax Milne. Milne has hauled in 62 passes for 1,099 yards and eight touchdowns. He is a massive big-play threat, averaging 17.7 yards per reception. Capitalizing on the prolific pass game is redshirt sophomore Tyler Allgeier. Interestingly enough, he’s also listed as a linebacker, though he hasn’t played a snap on defense.
Speaking of defense, BYU has a great one. Averaging only 309 yards per game and 14.6 points per game, the defense is third in the nation. They’ve forced 16 turnovers and have six different athletes with more than two sacks. They get to the ball and don’t let up. Even in their loss, they only gave up 85 passing yards.
BYU hasn’t faced an offense quite like UCF. UCF has faced offenses like BYU. But BYU is better than most of the AAC. The Cougars should win this one, though it will be a shootout. First one to 60 wins! This will be well worth the price of admission.
Cure Bowl (December 26, 12:00 p.m., ESPN)
Liberty vs Coastal Carolina
Head-to-head: 7-7 (FCS)
Liberty bowl record: 1-0
Head coach Hugh Freeze brought his exciting, high-flying offense to Liberty and it has worked. At 9-1, Liberty has blown away all expectations. Their only loss came at the hands of ACC foe NC State 14-13. Boy, between BYU (10-1), Liberty (9-1), and Army (9-2), the FBS Independents could have a legit conversation that they are the best “conference.” This game is a throwback to their FCS days when the two teams were in the Big South Conference
Auburn transfer Malik Willis leads the Flames in passing (2,040 yards, 20 touchdowns) as well as rushing (807 yards, ten touchdowns). Those 20 touchdowns are spread out between 11 different receivers, so the Flames are not lacking in firepower. He has three receivers over 300 yards in Demario Douglas, Kevin Shaa, and D.J. Stubbs, so good luck pinning one down.
The team averages more rushing yards per game thanks to the legs of Willis and senior running back Joshua Mack. The Flames will be able to attack from every which way and it’ll be on Coastal to gameplan effectively to snuff out the Flames.
Junior EDGE Durrell Johnson leads the Liberty defense in tackles for loss (10.0) and sacks (8.0). He commands the respect of opposing offenses. Just like with BYU, the overall defense is stout. They only all 19.2 points per game and just over 300 yards. They’ll make life difficult for the Chanticleers’ freshman quarterback.
Overall, you can’t complain about this matchup. Two very good small-program teams. They both have potent offenses and stout defenses. It’s going to be so much fun to watch this game, but I expect Coastal to come out on top. Watch out for Liberty in 2021. Don’t be surprised when they win ten games.
Liberty Bowl (December 31, 4:00 p.m., ESPN)
Army vs West Virginia
Head-to-head: Army 2-1 West Virginia
Army bowl record: 6-2
Justice has been served. 9-2 Army earned a bowl bid and have been given one. The Black Knights have continually been a model of consistency and toughness, so West Virginia has its work cut out for them. That triple-option attack is lethal.
You know it’s a service academy when you have multiple explosive rushers. Sophomore quarterback Tyhier Tyler leads the way. He leads the team with 115 carries for 502 yards, but only two touchdowns. Sophomore Jakobi Buchanan has 111 carries, 474 yards, and six scores. Finally, senior Sandon McCoy leads the team with ten touchdowns off of 78 carries and 250 yards.
This Army defense is legit. They are second in the nation only allowing 14.0 points per game. Opposing offenses average 271 yards against as well, so the Mountaineers are going to struggle. The difference-maker is the ridiculous 20 turnovers, which includes three defensive touchdowns. Sophomore defensive back Jabari Moore has two of those scores.
Army is a very good, very tough team. This will be the best defense that West Virginia will face this year. Their margin for error will be slim with how well the Knights run the ball. I’ll roll with Army in this one. They’ll reach ten wins for the third time in four years.
I’m A Stong, Independent Program, I Don’t Need No Conference
Thank you to Tennessee for backing out of the Liberty Bowl to pave way for a deserving team. Realistically, a 3-7 team should not be anywhere close to a bowl. Army was originally slated to play in the Independence Bowl, but the game got canceled.
As for BYU and Liberty, the 2020 FBS Independent bowls are in good hands. Each of these teams have an opportunity to win very exciting games. Tune in to both of these games, I promise it’ll be worth it