This marks the third consecutive season in which Horned Frog fanatics aren’t able to base their holiday travel around a bowl matchup for their hometown team. It’s almost becoming a routine to relegate ourselves to visiting family and watching other teams on television. #sad But since this is our reality, I’ve taken it upon myself to share a focused list of bowl matchups — not including the big-name bowls — with either local or Big 12 affiliations, so you can plan your viewing/family-avoiding accordingly.
No. 24 UTSA (12-1) vs. San Diego State (11-2)
6:30pm Tue, Dec 21, ESPN
Formerly the Miami Beach Bowl (but that, like seemingly everything else, has moved to Frisco), the Aztecs against the Roadrunners should be an exciting early-week matchup between mid-major frontrunners who have both held AP rankings this season. UT-San Antonio was undefeated before a last-game blunder in Denton against North Texas, who spoiled an otherwise perfect season. SDSU is Jekyll and Hyde, winning their third matchup of the season against Pac-12 champion Utah but dropping head scratchers against Fresno and Utah states. Most of SDSU’s conference wins were by single digits. I feel comfortable betting on defenses in bowl games, and the Aztecs have a much better one. Toyota Stadium in Frisco isn’t much of a hike for Fort Worthians, and you can probably attend this game for cheaper than a trip to Main Event. Just show up near kickoff with an expired fruitcake, and some scalper will eventually yield his unsold bounty.
Armed Forces Bowl (Amon G. Carter Stadium)
Missouri (6-6) vs. Army (8-4)
7pm Wed ESPN
A homecoming game for former TCU quarterback Shawn Robinson, who now plays defensive back for the Tigers. Mizzou is an obvious favorite, having played much stiffer competition throughout the season. That said, the Black Knights have acquitted themselves well against their tougher opponents —losing to Wake Forest by 14 and Wisconsin by 7 — and beating Air Force. Army will play their typical ball-control offense and force the Tigers to adapt to defending their run-heavy style. The weather should be ideal to attend our hometown bowl, and you can probably score tickets in exchange for a box of candy canes.
Frisco Football Classic
Miami of Ohio (6-6) vs. North Texas (6-6)
2:30pm Thu ESPN
Act II of the duo of bowls in the Dallas annex is the battle of the barely eligible. North Texas pulled off a tremendous upset to fight their way 20 miles east for an extra game. No telling who might come out on top as the teams have no common opponents and similar win-loss margins. Still, the Mean Green play in the better conference, so I’d put my pennies on the Dentonites from the tip of the Golden Triangle as they try to maintain their momentum from their UTSA win.
No. 21 Houston (11-2) vs. Auburn (6-6)
11am Tue, Dec 28, ESPN
The Cougars are the second-best ranked team in Texas — weird times we’re living in. Houston lost to Texas Tech in their season opener and to the playoff-qualifying Bearcats from Cincinnati. Auburn, despite being ranked second to last in their division, has two victories over ranked opponents (Ole Miss and Arkansas) and dropped an overtime contest against Alabama in the Iron Bowl by two points. Houston should be overmatched in talent, but Auburn probably isn’t excited about visiting Birmingham. Who really is? Tune in to watch the Cougars represent our state, but don’t expect them to win unless the Tigers collectively abstain from the game.
Texas Tech (6-6) vs. Mississippi State (7-5)
5:45pm Tue, Dec 28, ESPN
The Raiders were second-to-last place in the Big 12 but are bowl eligible unlike TCU and Texas. This matchup, despite being against non-notables in their respective conferences, should be entertaining as noted pirate coach Mike Leach returns to try and embarrass the team who canned him. Leach, who coached at Washington State before heading to the SEC, is, in my opinion, one of the most innovative and underrated coaches in college football. His opponent is interim head coach Sonny Cumbie, former TCU offensive — and I use that word loosely — coordinator and quarterback under Leach during his playing days in Lubbock. Despite similar records, the Bulldogs have a much tidier resume, and the Red Raiders were bad enough this season to dismiss their head coach. State will score at least 35 points, and I don’t envision the Techies keeping pace.
Virginia (6-6) vs. SMU (8-4)
10am Wed, Dec 29, ESPN
The Mustangs won eight consecutive games before an ill-fated decision by now-TCU head coach Sonny Dykes to kick the ball deep against Houston with only seconds remaining surrendered their first loss. Dykes, who was presumably busy negotiating his next job, then lost three of the Ponies’ next four games. The Cavaliers lost big to most of their quality competition, and they squeaked out conference victories by the skin of their teeth to win eligibility. I’m putting faith in the Methodists that they’re rip-pissed about losing their coach to TCU and eager to prove Dykes was wrong to head west. SMU’s superior offense should be able to prolifically run and pass against Virginia for a relatively quiet win.
No. 14 Oregon (10-3) vs. No. 16 Oklahoma (10-2)
8:15pm Wed, Dec 29, ESPN
Oddball matchup of two perennial powers who didn’t win their conferences and both lost their head coaches this season. Neither conference has a team in the playoff this season. Bryan McClendon, Oregon’s wide receivers coach, is preparing the Ducks, while Bob Stoops returns to reclaim the luxury car gifted to Lincoln Riley which missed oil changes before subsequently being sold on Facebook Marketplace. Stoops — who is essentially being paid $325K to prepare and coach this one game — should be able to wrangle these superior athletes who struggled down the stretch against Baylor and Oklahoma State. Oregon fans still have PTSD from their 31-point meltdown against the Frogs in San Antonio, and I don’t expect the Pacific Coasters to win this time, either.
No. 17 Wake Forest (10-3) vs. No. 25 Texas A&M (8-4)
10am Fri, Dec 31, ESPN
The Demon Deacons benefited from a prolific offense and an uncharacteristically poor ACC this season. Wake lost to almost every decent opponent excepting North Carolina State this season. Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies were up and down in the competitive SEC and possess a more balanced offense and defense complement. Count on the Aggies exposing Wake again. Fisher is still far from achieving the fanfare that College Station predicted, but a victory over Alabama this season and a nine-win season in the SEC are probably better than any other Texas school could pull off right now.
This non-exhaustive guide should give locals plenty of viewing and attending options before the more coveted New Year’s Eve and Day bowls. Navigate back next week as we preview Baylor’s Sugar Bowl contest against Ole Miss and the first round of the College Football Playoff.