Best of the Rest: A Look At The Best Non-CFP Bowl Games

Bowl season is here once again, and all eyes are on the semi-final match-ups. However, dismissing the other bowl games would a disservice to those teams involved. While not all games are going to be nail-biters, some of the other major bowl games feature teams that were close to playing on New Years.  

Though the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl are perennially the best bowl games to watch, here are a few others for your viewing pleasure:

BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl  

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-2) vs Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1)

Facing against each other for the first time since the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame and Ohio State play in a bowl that seems to be a consolation prize for those that just missed out on glory. The Buckeyes had visions of a repeat visit to the CFP while the Irish blew their chance at a berth by losing to Stanford in their final game.  

The biggest matchup in this game will be the two juggernaut offenses against their respective opposing defenses. Both Ohio State and Notre Dame average over 34 points a game, but Ohio State has the definite edge on defense. The Buckeyes will most likely rely heavily on running back Ezekiel Elliott, especially since the Irish give up just over 166 rushing yards on the ground per game.  

Notre Dame will have a tough time moving the ball on Ohio State, who ranks in the Top 25 in both rushing and passing yards given up per game. Deshone Kizer has played very well at quarterback since Malik Zaire went down with an injury earlier in the season, but the Buckeyes will be the best defense Kizer will face all year. The Irish offense will have to have their best game of the year to have a shot at taking down the former champs.  

Valero Alamo Bowl  

Oregon Ducks (9-3) vs TCU Horned Frogs (10-2) 

Oregon and TCU have similar philosophies, which feature high octane offenses while sacrificing defense. TCU Quarterback Trevone Boykin started the season as the country's best QB and a Heisman front-runner, but fell off near the end due to injury and a tough Big 12 schedule. For the Ducks, Vernon Adams was the complete opposite. Injuring his thumb early in the season and struggling to win games raised the question if Adams was in over his head jumping from FCS Eastern Washington. However, Adams and the Ducks regrouped and finished the season strong at 9-3, a record which included a big win over conference champion Stanford.  

This match-up has all the signs of being a shootout. The Horned Frogs rank fourth in total offense with 6,772 yards and the Ducks are ninth with 6,578. Both squads also average over 40 points a game. As good as their offenses are, their defenses are equally as bad. Oregon gave up the 14th most yards at 5764. TCU on the other hand has given up 4,760 total yards, 66th most in the country. 

This game could be what TCU-Baylor was last season, and has all the potential of being one of the most exciting bowl games of the year.  

Russell Athletic Bowl  

Baylor Bears (9-3) vs UNC Tar Heels (11-2)

Talk about two teams that had completely different journeys on the way to their bowl game. Baylor was seen as a CFP contender from the start of the season. UNC on the other hand, fought their way to an 11-2 record and an appearance in the ACC Championship Game.  

All year, everyone expected Baylor to compete for a playoff spot. Quarterback Seth Russell was leading one of the best offenses in the country before he went down with a neck injury. Freshman Jarrett Stidham stepped in, but he also went down with an ankle injury. Chris Johnson then filled in, but in the final game against Texas, he left with a concussion. Despite this, Jake Trotter of ESPN announced earlier this week that Johnson will be the starter for the Athletic Bowl. We’ll have to see how Johnson leads such a high profile offense against a mediocre UNC defense.  

North Carolina has a stellar offense, ranked 11th with 6,330 yards, lead by quarterback Marquise Williams. The Tar Heels had won 11 games in a  row before a close loss to No. 1 ranked Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. That finale showed off the skill that the Tar Heels have and showed the rest of the country that UNC isn't just a basketball school. UNC has the skills on offense to compete with any team in the country, but their 100th ranked defense holds them back from being a dominant team. 

If Stidham were playing, this game could come out differently, but like fellow SQ writer Christopher Pashal wrote in his preview, a lot of Baylor’s success hinges on which quarterback in under center. Expect this game, like the Oregon-TCU match-up, to be a shootout. 

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