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Everything you need to know to enjoy college football bowl season, from A to Z

NC State’s Doeren says the Wolfpack deserves to be in an elite bowl game

NC State coach Dave Doeren talked about the Wolfpack's record, fan support and bowls after the victory over East Carolina University at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018.
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NC State coach Dave Doeren talked about the Wolfpack's record, fan support and bowls after the victory over East Carolina University at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018.

One-hundred and thirty teams play major Division I college football and 80 of them will be in a bowl game between Saturday and the College Football Playoff championship game on Jan. 7 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

Will we get another round of Clemson-Alabama? Will the ACC win more bowl games than it loses, after going 4-6 last year? Does it matter if pro prospects continue to skip a relatively meaningless game?

As long as the lights are on at ESPN, there will be a home for the bowl system. There might not be a need for the ensuing knowledge but it is yours to dispense during the holiday season.

The 2018 bowls, from A to Z:

A is for Aggies and Alcorn State. North Carolina A&T (9-2) won at East Carolina early in the season and would like to close out 2018 with a late win over Alcorn State (9-3) in the Celebration Bowl on Saturday in Atlanta.

B is for “because.” Why are there so many bowls? Because more people (3.98 million) watched the Pinstripe Bowl last year, between Boston College and Iowa, than either of the Duke-North Carolina regular-season basketball games in 2018. TV, specifically ESPN, needs what is called “inventory” and bowl games are the lowest hanging fruit.

C is for Coach Paul Johnson. The Georgia Tech coach’s cantankerous personality and Jurassic run-scheme are not for everyone but his success is undeniable. Johnson makes his farewell appearance with the Yellow Jackets (7-5) against Minnesota (6-6) in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit on Dec. 26

D is for “Dat Boy” Swinney, better known as Dabo, so dubbed by his older brother, Tripp. The 49-year-old coach has Clemson in the CFP for the fourth straight year.

Swinney has a 3-2 mark in the playoff. Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly is the only coach Swinney has ever faced in the playoff without a national title on his resume.

E is for Emeka “It ain’t easy being” Emezie. With star receiver Kelvin Harmon off for NFL draft prep, Texas A&M (8-4) is going to get a healthy dose of the N.C. State (9-3) sophomore receiver in the Gator Bowl on Dec. 31.

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N.C. State wide receiver Emeka Emezie (86) pulls in a reception as Virginia safety Brenton Nelson (28) defends during the first half of N.C. State’s game against Virginia at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

Emezie had 580 receiving yards and five touchdowns in a tertiary role this season. He will be a focal part of the Wolfpack offense next season.

F is for Foley, Ed. We are prone to exaggeration and presentism in the Social Media Age but it’s not hyperbole to say that no one, in the history of ever, has been so excited about a trip to Shreveport, La., as the interim Temple coach.

“We’re going to find out about Duke!” Foley proclaimed at his now infamous press conference. “We’re going to find out about Temple! And we’re going to find out about which one of those football clubs wants to hit each other harder longer!”

It didn’t make any sense when he said it, and doesn’t now, but you have to admire the conviction with which he said it. The Owls (8-4) take on Duke (7-5) in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 27.

G is for Gardner Minshew. Scottie Montgomery never quite settled on a quarterback at East Carolina. He should have stuck with Minshew, who transferred to Washington State (10-2) and led the country in passing yards (4,477) and the Pac-12 in touchdown passes (36). Montgomery’s gone from ECU. Minshew gets one more go with Wazzou in the Alamo Bowl against Iowa State (8-4) on Dec. 28.

H is for Human Biology, the major of Stanford running back Bryce Love. This wasn’t the senior encore (739 yards) the Wake Forest native wanted but his future has always been in medicine. Love’s last game with the Cardinal (8-4) will be against ACC foe Pittsburgh (7-6) in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31.

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Stanford running back Bryce Love (20) stiff-arms UCLA defensive back Quentin Lake (37) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. Marcio Jose Sanchez AP

I is for Insight or insight.com Bowl, which was originally the Copper Bowl and is now the Cheez-It Bowl. N.C. State actually played in the first iteration of this game in 1989 (and lost to host Arizona).

Cal (7-5) and TCU (6-6) get to make some memories in this classic on Dec. 26 in Phoenix.

J is for Jordan, actually Lil’Jordan Humphrey, the captain of this year’s All-Name Bowl team. The Texas (9-4) receiver just might be a household name after the Longhorns’ matchup with Georgia (11-2) in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1.

Memphis linebacker DQ (short for DQuarius D’Juan) Thomas is the defensive captain and Stanford kicker Jet Toner returns as the All-Name specialist.

K is for Kyler Murray. In his first year as the Oklahoma starter, the junior quarterback threw for 4,053 yards with 40 touchdowns and ran for another 892 yards and 11 touchdowns. He won the Heisman Trophy and led the Sooners back to the CFP. Not bad for the No. 9 pick in the Major League Baseball draft.

L is for Lea, Clark. The former Wake Forest assistant, and current Notre Dame defensive coordinator, has one of the best defenses in the country. If the Fighting Irish (12-0) are going to derail Clemson-Alabama Part IV, it will be with their defense.

What the Irish lacks in skill players on offense, they make up for with defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, linebacker Te’von Coney and cornerback Julian Love. Lea, a rising star in the business, gets a chance to shine in the Cotton Bowl vs. Clemson (13-0) on Dec. 29.

M is for Military Bowl in Maryland. Virginia Tech pulled a rabbit from a hat and extended its bowl streak to 26 years. The Hokies (6-6) will take on Cincinnati (10-2) on Dec. 31 in Annapolis.

N is for No, Nebraska and Noles. This is the first postseason since 1961 without either the Cornhuskers (4-8) or Florida State (5-7). The Noles’ unofficial record bowl streak was snapped at 36 years. Not exactly an encouraging start for first-year FSU coach Willie Taggart.

O is for Otto the Orange. Syracuse (9-3) returns to the postseason for the first time since 2013. Dino Babers’ team gets a reunion with old Big East foe West Virginia (8-3) in the Camping World Bowl in Orlando on Dec. 28. The Mountaineers will be without quarterback Will Grier, who is sitting this one to prep for the NFL draft.

P is Pinstripe and preseason disappointments. Miami (7-5) gets another crack at Wisconsin (7-5) on Dec. 27 at Yankee Stadium in sure-to-be freezing conditions in the Bronx. The Badgers beat Miami in the Orange Bowl last year. Both teams started the season ranked in the top 10. Neither is there now.

Q is for Quinnen Williams. Alabama has a lot of good players but the junior defensive tackle might be the best. His 18 tackles for loss don’t really give the full picture of his dominance. The top-ranked Crimson Tide (13-0) open the CFP with No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) on Dec. 29 in the Orange Bowl.

R is for Riley, Lincoln. In two years as head coach at Oklahoma, the former ECU assistant has produced two Heisman Trophy winners (Murray and Baker Mayfield), a pair of Big 12 titles and two trips to the College Football Playoff. Not bad.

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Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley, left, greets quarterback Kyler Murray (1) as he comes back to the sidelines following a touchdown in the second half of an NCAA college football game against UCLA in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. Oklahoma won 49-21. Sue Ogrocki AP

S is for “State Champs.” Wake Forest (6-6) didn’t exactly blast through the regular season but the Deacs spoiled N.C. State’s major bowl plans and then shellacked Duke (59-7) to claim the mythical state title. As a reward, the Deacs get Memphis (8-5), sans star running back Darrell Henderson, in the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 22.

T is for The Ohio State. The Buckeyes (12-1) finish off another season with a Big Ten title but no seat at the playoff table. That will change soon, if Barry Alvarez and the Big Ten powerbrokers get their way.

As a consolation prize, Ohio State faces Washington (10-3) in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. The game is secondary to the swan song for coach Urban Meyer, who is leaving after a tumultuous season.

U is for “undefeated.” Appalachian State is a perfect 3-0 in bowl games in its brief Division I-A history (since 2014). The Mountaineers (10-2), with interim coach Mark Ivey, take on Middle Tennessee (8-5) in the R+L Carriers Bowl on Saturday.

V is for Vegas. There’s an actual game in Las Vegas between Fresno State (11-2) and Arizona State (7-5) on Saturday and then there are the gambling games in Vegas.

If you’re in a bowl pool, remember the primary rules of the late great Caulton Tudor: 1) Take the points; 2) never bet against the military academies.

W is for “What could have been” for Duke. The Blue Devils (7-5) opened the season with a 34-14 win over Army (the 10-2 Black Knights only other loss was in overtime to Oklahoma) and then beat Northwestern 21-7 on the road the next week.

Injuries, across the board and notably to cornerback Mark Gilbert, cost the Devils a real shot at a 10-win season.

X is for “X out” or excluded (come on, need a little leeway on this one). Central Florida (11-0) is unbeaten once again and on the outside looking in, once again. The Golden Knights can’t catch much of a break from the powers-that-be. They did hammer Pittsburgh, which is more than Notre Dame can say.

Instead of a shot at Alabama, UCF gets LSU (9-3) in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1.

Y is for Young, Brigham. Back in the day, the only team that used to sling it around the yard was BYU and the only time to really see the Cougars play was in a bowl game. Ty Detmer’s 576 passing yards in a 1989 Holiday Bowl loss to Penn State, remains an all-timer.

This year’s version of BYU (6-6) takes on Western Michigan (7-5) in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Dec. 21.

Z is for Zaxby’s, former sponsor of the “Heart of Dallas” Bowl, which has been re-branded as the First Responder Bowl. Just to make it more confusing, this is the bowl game that is actually played in the Cotton Bowl stadium in Dallas. The Cotton Bowl game is now played in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Follow all of that? Anyway, this is where Boston College (7-5) landed and will take on Boise State (10-3) on the day after Christmas.

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Joe Giglio covers N.C. State and has worked at The N&O since 1995. He has regularly reported on the ACC since 2005.


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