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 Big 12 Bowls Preview
Independence Bowl (December 16, 9:15 P.M., ESPN)
Texas Tech vs Cal
Head-to-head: Texas Tech 1-0 Cal
Bowl Record: 16-23-1
To kick off the Big 12 bowl slate, 6-6 Texas Tech takes on the dying Pac-12’s Cal. The season got off to a rough start at Texas Tech started 1-3 where they fell to all three FBS foes they faced. They then won five of the next seven while upsetting Kansas along the way. The Red Raiders come into this one after losing to rival Texas in the final week of the year.
This wasn’t a solid offense but they’re led by stud running back Tahj Brooks. Coming back next year, Brooks broke out for 1,443 yards and nine touchdowns. He was the brightest spot in an offense that did not manage 400 yards per game but he went over 100 yards eight times. All in all, the Red Raiders lost a good handful of players to the Portal, both starters and depth.
The Texas Tech defense allowed more yards per game than its offense worked for. In the secondary, Dadrion Taylor-Demerson led the way with a solid four interceptions on the year. With him, Malik Dunlap hauled in three interceptions. Overall, this is not a great nor is it a terrible defense.
With how disappointing Texas Tech may have been, Cal might’ve been worse. The Red Raiders should be able to kick off the Big 12 bowls with a win.
Gasparilla Bowl (December 22, 6:30 P.M., ESPN)
UCF vs Georgia Tech
Head-to-head: UCF 2-3 Georgia Tech
Bowl Record: 6-8
The 2017 National Champions* were a tad disappointing this year but they were anything but boring. UCF started off 3-0 but then dropped five in a row in a spiraling fashion. To close out the year, the Knights won three of four, earning bowl eligibility. It was the worst season in Orlando since 2013 but 6-6 in the American is not the same as 6-6 in the Big 12.
Despite losing six games, this UCF offense was still top-notch. B.J. Harvey led the way on the ground with his 1,296 yards and 16 touchdowns while both John Rhys Plumlee and Tommy McClain took snaps at quarterback. They had a pair of receivers in Javon Baker and Kobe Hudson so combined for 1,819 yards and 13 touchdowns in the passing game.
The UCF defense wasn’t great but it was led by stud Tre’mon Morris-Brash and his 18.5 TFLs and 8.5 sacks. Lee Hunter and Malachi Lawrence also added double-digit TFLs which is incredibly impressive for this defense.
In this one, UCF has a massive advantage. The Knights’ offense can move the ball incredibly well while Georgia Tech cannot stop anyone. UCF should get the win here.
Guaranteed Rate Bowl (December 26, 9:00 P.M., ESPN)
Kansas vs UNLV
Head-to-head: Kansas 1-1 UNLV
Bowl Record: 6-7
So, Lance Leipold has turned Kansas from a two-win program to an eight-win program. Will they get over the hump? That’s a question for later. The Jayhawks won each of its first four games before getting eviscerated by Texas. They won four of their final seven games including an impressive win against Oklahoma, sending them to the SEC with a big ole L.
As a whole, Kansas should be mostly intact in this one. Led by Jason Bean’s 1,681 yards and 12 touchdowns, Kansas’ passing attack was not fearsome. They were solid on the ground, however. Devin Neal had a monster year with 1,209 yards and 15 touchdowns with Daniel Hishaw Jr. Spelling him for 599 yards and eight scores.
There are a few playmakers on this Kansas defense led by defensive lineman, Austin Booker and his 56 tackles, 12 TFLs, eight sacks, and two forced fumbles. On the back end, Ra’Mello Dotson was a freak, hauling four interceptions while scoring twice.
UNLV has had a solid season. They beat the bad teams they needed to beat but got thwacked by the good teams they’ve faced. Kansas should be able to have a good day against the MWC team.
Duke’s Mayo Bowl (December 27, 5:30 P.M., ESPN)
West Virginia vs North Carolina
Head-to-head: West Virginia 1-1 North Carolina
Bowl Record: 16-23
It was a fairly successful year for WVU in terms of expectations. They started off the year with a loss to Penn State before rattling off four wins in a row. Then, back-to-back losses. To close out, they won four of their final five games with a grand total of two wins over bowl-bound teams. Meanwhile, three of their four losses were to bowl-bound teams.
This Mountaineers run the football. They have three players with at least 97 rushes with CJ Donaldson leading the way. Quarterback Garrett Greene is right behind with Jaheim While coming in third. Each player has over 700 yards on the ground and combined for 27 touchdowns. They ran the ball about 45 times per game.
West Virginia’s defense lacks a true stud but Beanie Bishop Jr. and his four interceptions is about as close as it gets. He earned First-Team All-Big 12 honors and was the lone Mountaineer defender to earn such an honor. As a whole, they allowed 27.5 points per game, good for being among the bottom half of FBS.
There are plenty of reasons to not feel confident in this team in this game. However, North Carolina is missing an obnoxious amount of talent while WVU is nearly at full strength. West Virginia gets the win.
Texas Bowl (December 27, 9:00 P.M., ESPN)
Oklahoma State vs Texas A&M
Head-to-head: Oklahoma State 10-18 Texas A&M
Bowl Record: 21-12
An old Big 12 matchup, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M haven’t faced off since 2019 and second time since 2011. This year was interesting to Mike Gundy’s squad. On one hand, they made it to the Big 12 Championship thanks to beating Oklahoma and Kansas. On the other, they got shellacked by Texas and lost earlier in the year to South Alabama.
This was a great offense behind Doak Walker Award winner, Ollie Gordon and perpetual journeyman, Alan Bowman. Gordon put together a great season with 1,940 scrimmage yards and 21 total touchdowns. Bowman, in his sixth season and third team, broke out with 3,058 yards and 13 touchdowns on the year.
Despite the offense going off for 421.2 yards per game, the defense allowed 441.5. However, they do have a couple of solid players in the front seven in Nickolas Martin and Collin Oliver. Martin led the way with 133 tackles, 16 TFLs, six sacks, and two interceptions. Oliver, a linebacker who could be off to the NFL, added 71 tackles, 15.5 TFLs, and six sacks.
Oklahoma State, normally, wouldn’t be a good bet against Texas A&M. However, the Aggies are without their coach and players are flocking to the Portal after their checks bounced. Cowboys get a crucial win here.
Pop-Tarts Bowl (December 28, 5:45 P.M., ESPN)
Kansas State vs NC State
Bowl Record: 10-14
At 8-4, it was a pretty decent year for the Kansas State Wildcats and they get to play NC State for the first time. Each of those four losses came by one loss to four bowl-bound teams. They were able to take down the Sun Belt champion as well as three other bowl-eligible teams. You don’t hang banners for moral victories but they took eventual Big 12 Champion and CFP participant Texas to within three.
Kansas State’s offense was very good this year but they’ll be without starting quarterback Will Howard as he jumped in the Portal. Running back DJ Giddens is their best offensive weapon with 1,361 scrimmage yards and 11 total touchdowns. The offense’s 28 passing touchdowns were spread out between 13 different receivers.
Defensively, the Wildcats were not the best but still were among the top 31 scoring defenses in the nation. They held opponents to under 400 yards in half of their games and under 300 in four. Austin Moore backed up a strong 2022 season with 59 tackles, 12 TFLs, and 1.5 sacks this year.
If KState were at full strength, this would have been a more compelling matchup. Missing out on Howard is going to be too much as NC State gets the win here.
Alamo Bowl (December 28, 9:15 P.M., ESPN)
Oklahoma vs Arizona
Head-to-head: Oklahoma 1-1 Arizona
Bowl Record: 31-24-1
Objectively, this was a solid year, albeit disappointing. The Sooners started off 7-0 with a massively impressive win over Texas in the Red River Shootout. Then, Oklahoma lost to Kansas in football. Then, they lost Bedlam. The Sooners ended up winning their final five games to get to 10 wins but those two disappointing losses loom large as they miss out on a NY6 Bowl.
Over 500 yards per game, 43.2 points per game (third in FBS), and this offense is legit, as expected. Brent Venables’ team looked a lot better this year but they’ll be without Dillon Gabriel, the incredibly talented southpaw. Talented true freshman Jackson Arnold should take the reins and he has just almost the entire arsenal of weapons. Star receiver Drake Stoops is one to keep an eye on. He went off for 880 yards and 10 receiving touchdowns.
Oklahoma got great news leading into the bowl game. Their two studs on defense, Billy Bowman and Danny Stutsman, will play and return in 2024. Stutsman let the way with 99 tackles, 16 TFLs, three sacks, two forced fumbles, and a pick-six. Bowman added a whopping six interceptions and three touchdowns.
With a strong performance in this game, the hype will be peaking for Oklahoma as they head to the SEC. Unfortunately for them, Arizona is an impressively good team this year and is on its way to replacing OU in the Big 12. This’ll be a good one with the Wildcats getting a close win.
Liberty Bowl (December 29, 3:30 P.M., ESPN)
Iowa State vs Memphis
Head-to-head: Iowa State 1-0 Memphis
Bowl Record: 5-12
At 7-5, the Cyclones were about as consistent as they’ve been. They dropped five games against bowl-bound teams including hated rival Iowa and MAC program, Ohio. Of their seven wins, only two were against bowl teams, so Iowa State beat who they should have and lost to the only good teams they faced.
This wasn’t a top offense if we’re honest. Leading rusher in terms of attempts, Eli Sanders, has jumped into the Portal. The leader in terms of yards and touchdowns that leader was Abu Sama with his ridiculous 8.5 yards per carry. The freshman is coming off of a 16-carry, 276-yard, three-touchdown game against Kansas State. They have a couple of solid receivers in Jaylin Noel and Jayden Higgins.
On the other side of the ball, the Cyclones will be missing Malik Vernon and TJ Tampa but leading interceptor Jeremiah Cooper and his five picks and one touchdown should be suiting up.
Overall, Iowa State was not the best Big 12 team but when are they? However, they should be good enough to get the win here over Memphis.
CFP Semifinal Sugar Bowl (January 1, 8:45 P.M., ESPN)
Texas vs Washington
Head-to-head: Texas 3-2
Bowl Record: 31-25-2
“We’re baaaaaacccckkkkkkkkkk!” Sure, it took a few years after Sam Ehlinger’s infamous declaration but Texas might be back. They kicked off the year with a big Week 2 win at Alabama. Their only blemish on the year is a last-second loss in the Red River Showdown. Even with that loss, Texas controlled its own destiny thanks to that big win at Alabama. Just for good measure, they went out to the Big 12 Championship and thoroughly destroyed Oklahoma State. For the first time in program history, Texas is off to the College Football Playoff.
Quinn Ewers had himself a breakout year with 3,161 yards and 21 touchdowns as he battled injuries. It looked like he lost his top receiver Xavier Worthy as he was seen on crutches at the end of the Big 12 Championship. Coach Sarkisian is confident the 969-yard, five-touchdown receiver will play. On the other side, Georgia transfer Adonai Mitchell has the opportunity to win this third consecutive CFP title. If he added to his 813 yards and 10 scores, it’s very possible. Leading rusher Jonathan Brooks was lost due to injury but CJ Baxter has the ability to lead the way on the ground.
If there’s going to be an area where Texas will be able to control Washington, it’ll be on the ground. The Longhorns allowed just 80.8 rushing yards per game. Leading the way was Jaylan Ford and his team-leading 91 tackles and 10.5 TFLs, and added a sack, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles.
This is by far the best Texas team fielded since that legendary Rose Bowl. The Longhorns can obviously play with anyone, any time. They already have one win over a CFP team…but Washington will prove to be too much. The Huskies get the win here for their first in the CFP era.
Big 12 Plus
Not going to be left behind, the Big 12 got in on all the fun by absorbing a handful of Pac-12 teams starting next year. This is the final year for the two biggest brands as Texas and Oklahoma will be SEC teams in 2024. It’s a crazy, crazy time.
Overall, this Big 12 bowls slate has a number of winnable games and Texas has the opportunity to go out on top. Who will be the top dogs moving forward?
Main Image: Jay Janner/American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK