It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Once again (and hopefully fully this time), we are going to preview each and every bowl game team by team, conference by conference. This year, there are 41 bowl games and the CFP National Championship on deck. There are 11 brand-new matchups with three programs making their bowl debuts. No bowl-eligible teams were left home. In fact, two technically ineligible FCS-to-FBS teams and a 5-7 team made it! When breaking the teams down, we will look at what certain players did.
The bowl opt-outs and transfers are too hectic to keep track of so we certainly apologize!
2023 ACC Bowls Preview (Plus Notre Dame)
Boca Raton Bowl (December 21, 8:00 P.M. ESPN)
Syracuse vs South Florida
Head-to-head: Syracuse 2-8 South Florida
Bowl Record: 16-10-1
After starting off 4-0, the Orange fell off the face of the Earth, unfortunately. They lost five straight and ended up firing Dino Babers with a week to go. Under the interim head coach, the Orange won their final game to salvage the year and earn a bow berth. None of their wins came against bowl-bound teams.
Despite being an offensive-minded coach, Syracuse struggled to move the ball. They accounted for 358.7 yards per game, one of the fewest marks among bowl-bound teams. Quarterback Garrett Shrader led the way on offense with 1,686 yards and 13 touchdowns but they’re run-first. He was also the second-leading rusher with 469 yards and eight touchdowns. Alongside him is running back LeQuint Allen and his 1,062 yards and nine scores.
They lost one major piece on defense to the Portal but most of the productivity will play in this one. The leader was Marlow Wax and his 101 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, four sacks, four forced fumbles, and one interception. This is an opportunistic defense as a whole. They forced 15 fumbles as a unit.
There are a number of reasons to bet against the Orange here but USF also struggled this year. Look for Syracuse to keep riding the interim coach wave in this one.
Gasparilla Bowl (December 22, 6:30 P.M., ESPN)
Georgia Tech vs UCF
Head-to-head: Georgia Tech 3-2 UCF
Bowl Record: 25-20
Georgia Tech had a difficult road this year. They went 3-6 against bowl-bound teams with an impressive win over Miami (FL) but they also lost at home to Bowling Green. To start the year, they traded wins and losses until finally winning three of their final five games to earn bowl eligibility.
If you did not watch Georgia Tech, you missed out on Haynes King. The talented dual-threat quarterback threw for 2,755 yards and 26 touchdowns and added 648 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. With him in the backfield is Jamal Haynes who amassed 1,082 yards and eight touchdowns from scrimmage. The biggest issue with the offense was King’s proclivity to turn the ball over. He ended up with 15 interceptions on the year.
Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, their best defender is off to the Transfer Portal. Thankfully, they will still have best secondary piece, Jaylon King and his four interceptions. Overall, this unit struggled against the run to the tune of 225.7 yards per game allowed. Their best defensive effort in the realm was holding 3-9 Virginia to 119 yards.
While this may not be the UCF offenses of recent years, they can still move the ball well. Georgia Tech’s defense struggled all year and the Knights averaged nearly 500 yards per game. Notch one up for the new Big 12 program.
Birmingham Bowl (December 23, 12:00 P.M., ABC)
Duke vs Troy
Head-to-head: Duke 2-0 Troy
Bowl Record: 7-8
Duke took the college football season by storm with a massive Week 1 win over a then-top-10 Clemson team en route to a four-game win streak. Before taking down Pitt in the final game, Duke dropped four of five, mostly to bowl-bound teams. With a solid quarterback at the helm, 7-5 was certainly a disappointing result even for Duke.
Well, the offense WAS led by the likes of Riley Leonard, Jordan Waters, and Jaquez Moore but each has jumped into the Portal. Even with those three, this offense only managed 350 yards per game. Now, for an offense that runs the ball about 35 times a game, the leading rusher will be fifth-year running back, Jaylen Coleman. Last year, he ran the ball over 100 times, so he’s capable of carrying the offense.
Defensively, the Blue Devils will be without four, potentially five, starters on defense. Leading tackler Tre Freeman will be back, however, as he contributed 97 tackles, five tackles for loss, and a sack on the year. Overall, the defense was not too bad but losing all of that talent is going to hurt for a program that is not exactly known for reloading with top talent.
Losing Leonard, Mike Elko (head coach, to Texas A&M), top running backs, and all those defensive players will hurt. It would not be as bad if they weren’t playing a top Group of 5 team who, objectively, should be ranked. Troy wins this one.
Military Bowl (December 27, 2:00 P.M., ESPN)
Virginia Tech vs Tulane
Head-to-head: Virginia Tech 5-4 Tulane
Bowl Record: 13-21
This wasn’t the best season for Virginia Tech. After beating Old Dominion, the Hokies dropped three non-conference games in a row. After winning a few ACC matchups, it came down to the wire as VT faced off against its rival. They won their way to bowl eligibility with a resounding win and ended up drawing one of the best Group of 5 programs after going 6-6.
The Hokies have a few playmakers on offense with Bhayshul Tuten leading the way at running back. Tuten amassed 947 scrimmage yards and 10 total touchdowns on the year with Kyron Drones at quarterback. In total, Drones threw for 1,994 yards and 15 scores while adding 642 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
Defensively, Virginia Tech wasn’t too bad. They allowed a grand total of 322.2 yards per game with just 179.2 yards per game through the air. Antwuan Powell was a force, leading the way with 13.5 TFLs, and 9.5 sacks in his first season in town after transferring from Florida. In the secondary, Dorian Strong hauled in three interceptions and broke up eight other passes.
All in all, Tulane is a very good team. They were very nearly the NY6 participant before falling in the AAC Championship. Ride the Green Wave in this one.
Duke’s Mayo Bowl (December 27, 5:30 P.M., ESPN)
North Carolina vs West Virginia
Head-to-head: North Carolina 1-1 West Virginia
Bowl Record: 15-22
This one feels like it could be a regional rivalry but this will be just the third time the pair face off. With a potential top-three pick in next year’s NFL draft, expectations were higher than the 8-4 the Tar Heels ended up with (of course, they weren’t as disappointing as the other team with a top-three quarterback…). They started off 6-0 with wins over four bowl-bound teams. After that? They lost four of the final six, losing to a bad Virginia team and their rival in the final week.
This offense will be missing a number of players like that quarterback, Drake Maye, receiver Tez Walker (only played in eight games and ended up leading the team in yards and touchdowns), tight end John Copenhaver, receiver Bryson Nesbit, and center Corey Gaynor. They still have stud running back Omarion Hampton and his 1,442 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Tar Heels weren’t great, allowing over 405 yards per game. They’ll be without stud linebacker Cedric Gray as he’s off to the NFL but Kaimon Rucker will still suit up. He dominated to the tune of 14 TFLs and 8.5 sacks this year. Aside from the opening win against South Carolina, this UNC defense was regularly gashed on the ground.
At full strength, this matchup would have been quite enticing. As it is, UNC is missing too many pieces and West Virginia has its best offensive weapons. Take the Mountaineers here.
Holiday Bowl (December 27, 8:00 P.M., FOX)
Louisville vs USC
Bowl Record: 11-12-1
Impressively enough, despite the long and successful history of USC, this will be the first time these two face off. Perhaps one of the more surprising teams of the year, the Louisville Cardinals won 10 games for the first time since their lone year in the American Athletic Conference in 2013. After starting off 6-0 with a statement win over Notre Dame, the Cardinals dropped a head-scratcher to Pitt. Then they rattled off four straight wins before losing to rival Kentucky and then an ugly ACC Championship Game against Florida State.
Louisville isn’t losing much to the Portal, so they’ll be at full strength. Quarterback Jack Plummer led the way with 3,063 yards and 21 touchdowns but he has a solid two-headed rushing attack beside him with Jawhar Jordan (1,374 scrimmage yards, 14 total touchdowns) and Isaac Guerendo (841 scrimmage yards, eight touchdowns). That Florida State was such an ugly outlier as they managed 188 total yards when their average heading into the game was 438.6.
At the same time, their defense held that same FSU team to 55 passing yards. On the year, Louisville hauled in 12 interceptions, led by senior safety and former Baylor Bear, Devin Neal’s four. Up front, junior Ashton Gillotte backed up a solid 2022 with a breakout 2023 with 14.5 TFLs and 11 sacks.
At full strength, this would be an incredibly fun matchup. Given that most of USC’s playmakers are out and their defense is legitimately incapable of stopping anyone, Louisville should come out on top here.
Fenway Bowl (December 28, 11:00 P.M., ESPN)
Boston College vs SMU
Head-to-head: Boston College 0-1 SMU
Bowl Record: 14-13
This team was hit hard by injuries down the stretch to fall to 6-6 on the year. It was a season of runs. To start the year, the Eagles lost three of their first four. Then, they rattled off five in a row. To end the year, Boston College dropped its final three. Overall, they managed two wins over bowl-bound teams.
No ifs, and, or, buts, this offense runs through Thomas Castellanos. You could say there’s a drive to deep left field with how many yards he put up this year with 2,146 passing and 957 rushing with a grand total of 26 touchdowns. Baseball allusions aside (although, this game is being played at Fenway…), the Eagles went as Castellanos went. Next to him in the backfield was Kye Robichaux and his 691 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.
This wasn’t a terrible defense but it wasn’t one to write home about. They’ll be without star corner, Elijah Jones and his five interceptions in 10 games played prior to his injury. Their pass rush has been lacking all year as well. They only managed 12 sacks all year and no player earned more than two.
The second-best Group of 5 team vs. a barely bowl-eligible team? SMU wins.
Pinstripe Bowl (December 28, 2:15 P.M., ESPN)
Miami (FL) vs Rutgers
Head-to-head: Miami (FL) 11-0 Rutgers
Bowl Record: 19-22
From one baseball-based bowl to another, The U faces off against former Big East mate Rutgers. The Canes started off 4-0 before dropping five of their next seven in a very underwhelming season for a program that recruits as well as it does. Given, their final two losses were to the two ACC Championship teams and they closed out with a win over Boston College.
Tyler Van Dyke, a dark horse preseason Heisman candidate, led this team all year but has stince jumped ship to Wisconsin. Overall, this offense is balanced in terms of usage (33.8 passes per game, 34 rushes). They had three running backs with legitimate run and it’ll be worth keeping an eye on because with Van Dyke gone and Emory Williams injured, Miami (FL) will have to play a quarterback who hasn’t attempted a pass all year.
Defensively, the Hurricanes were not too bad. They were stout against the run, allowing just 97.1 yards a game, ranking 11th in FBS. While Kamren Kitchen (five interceptions) has elected to sit this one out, junior linebacker and former Washington State transfer Francisco Mauigoa should suit up. He led the way with 17 TFLs and 7.5 sacks on the year. He even added an interception on the year.
It should actually be a solid game between these two. They are evenly matched, statistically, but someone has to come out on top. Coin flip landed on Rutgers.
Pop-Tarts Bowl (December 28, 5:45 P.M., ESPN)
NC State vs Kansas State
Bowl Record: 17-16-1
It’s not often you get two Power 5 programs who haven’t faced off but that’s what we have here! The Wolfpack started off a bit rough, winning just four of their first seven games. After that, they got hot and ran through their final five games to finish the year 9-3.
After losing Devin Leary to the Portal, the Wolfpack dipped back in and poached Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong. NC State utilized him mostly as a runner, amassing 544 yards and six scores off of 126 carries. Through the air, he only managed 1,621 yards and 11 touchdowns. MJ Morris actually took the job for a few games but elected to transfer out after four appearances. Overall, this was not a good offense.
The defense is led by All-American and Bednarik Award winner, Payton Wilson. The stud linebacker led the way with 138 tackles, 17.5 TFLs, six sacks, a forced fumble, and three interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. He led a defense that likely won games with the 17 interceptions they pulled down.
This will be a solid matchup of two P5 teams who fell short of expectations. The biggest difference will likely be Kansas State will be without quarterback Will Howard as he is Portal hopping. Wolfpack win this one for the ACC.
Gator Bowl (December 29, 12:00 P.M., ESPN)
Clemson vs Kentucky
Head-to-head: Clemson 5-8 Kentucky
Bowl Record: 26-23
How the mighty have fallen. From consistent CFP berths to the Gator Bowl, Clemson’s decision to not embrace NIL and the Transfer Portal is rearing its ugly head. They kicked off the year with a demoralizing loss to Duke but ended up a perfect 4-0 in non-conference games including wins over Notre Dame and rival South Carolina.
Cade Klubnic quarterbacked this offense but it’s the two-headed rushing attack that led the way. Phil Mafah (999 scrimmage yards, nine total touchdowns) and Will Shipley (1,033 yards, seven scores) accounted for 324 carries and 48 receptions out of the backfield. They’ll be without second-leading receiver Beaux Collins as he will be Portal hopping.
Unfortunately, freak of nature Jeremiah Trotter, Jr. Elected to opt out of this one but, overall, this Clemson defense is its strength. They scored five times as a defense and forced 14 interceptions on the year. They’re coming off their best performance against an FBS team as they thoroughly dominated South Carolina and only allowed 169 offensive yards.
This feels like a battle of two programs heading in different directions. Kentucky will be close to full strength here. They’ll have a harder time running the ball but if there is anyone who can gash this defense, it’ll be Ray Davis. ‘Cats win this one.
Sun Bowl (December 29, 2:00 P.M., CBS)
Notre Dame vs Oregon State
Head-to-head: Notre Dame 0-2 Oregon State
Bowl Record: 20-21
We lumped Notre Dame with the ACC for two reasons. First, they’re the only FBS Independent team to end up in a bowl and we are not going to publish an article with just them. Second, they already play a pseudo-ACC schedule. They got off to a 4-0 start and a top-10 ranking before losing at the last second at home against Ohio State. Then, they had three more ranked foes lined up where they beat Duke, lost to Louisville, and then destroyed USC. The Irish ended up winning three of the final four games, only losing to Clemson.
Home of the eight-best scoring offense, Notre Dame will be without quarterback Sam Hartman and both tackles. As of the publishing of this article, Audric Estime is set to play. On the year, he dominated to the tune of 1,381 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground. Three of the Irish’s four leading receivers have hit the Portal. The one returning is actually tight end, Mitchell Evans.
In addition to being a top-10 offense, Notre Dame possesses a top-10 defense. They held opponents to 282.9 yards and 16.6 points per game. Nagurski Award-winning safety Xavier Watts said he’ll suit up for this game. He led the nation with his seven interceptions on the year. On the edge, Javontae Jean-Baptiste transferred in from Ohio State and led the way with 9.5 TFLs and four sacks.
This game is going to be a poster child for those who hate the Portal and opt-outs. Both teams will be without crucial playmakers on both sides of the ball. It’ll all boil down to the talent in the depth and you’d like to think Notre Dame is better suited. The Irish close out this disappointing season with a win.
NY6 Orange Bowl (December 30, 4:00 P.M., ESPN)
Florida State vs Georgia
Head-to-head: Florida State 4-1-6 Georgia
Bowl Record: 29-17-2
Well, here we are. Florida State, the first undefeated Power 5 champion to be left out of the College Football Playoff. Obviously, there are a number of reasons to justify it but the Seminole faithful have every right to be miffed. All they did is win. Only three games were decided by one score. They dominated…but lost their star quarterback.
That quarterback could have garnered more Heisman hype had he not got hurt against the local high school team Florida State scheduled a week before Florida. He was magical all year, but it will be Tate Rodemaker to lead the way. As of writing, stud running back Trey Benson and receiver Keon Coleman are set to play. Benson led the way with 905 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground with Coleman contributing 658 yards and 11 scores after transferring in from Michigan State.
FSU also sported a top defense on the year. If he plays, keep an eye on potential first-round talent, Jared Verse on the edge. He contributed 12.5 TFLs and nine sacks, paired up with Patrick Payton’s 13.5 TFLs and six sacks. On the year, they allowed a fair bit of yardage but kept scores down. Against Louisville on the biggest stage, they did both.
First inclination is to pick Georgia here. However, let’s root for some chaos. Florida State wins this one thanks to Georgia opt-outs and finishes a perfect 14-0 and raises a 2017 UCF-like banner.
The All-Coast Conference
The ACC is among those who are expanding next year with their decision to absorb Cal and Stanford from the dying Pac-12 and poaching SMU from the American. Once again, it wasn’t one of the stronger conferences, overall, which may have played into the Florida State question.
What happened to the Seminoles was awful. They were certainly one of the most deserving teams but you can understand why the question of whether or not they were among the four best teams was raised. Either way, with the playoffs expanding next year, we won’t have to worry about this debate moving forward.
Main Image: Alicia Devine / USA TODAY NETWORK