5 Storylines to Follow During College Football’s Bowl Season

5 Storylines to Follow During College Football’s Bowl Season

We have just over three weeks.

Three weeks to revel in all the pageantry and all the absurdity. All the perfectly executed plays and all the butterfinger fumbles. All the Hail Mary touchdown passes and all the last-second goal-line stands.

Bowl season is upon us, starting on Saturday, December 16 and carrying us through the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T on Monday, January 8.

Three weeks of college football before we have to settle in for nearly nine months without it. 

The good news?

We can enjoy more than 40 bowl games between now and then, even if we may not be able to keep track of all the names of the bowl games anymore.

Looking at you, “Starco Brands LA Bowl Hosted by Gronk.” And you, too, “Avocados from Mexico Cure Bowl.”

Every bowl game we watch brings us closer to the big ones. By New Year’s Day, we’ll be ready to watch Michigan vs. Alabama and Texas vs.Washington as the top four teams in the country square off in the College Football Playoffs.

As much fun as watching the games themselves is, keeping tabs on the drama that has been building over the last three months of the college football season can be even more entertaining.

So here are five storylines we’ll be watching throughout college football bowl season.

Can Florida State Prove the Playoff Selection Committee Wrong?

You know how many teams have ever gone undefeated, won a Power 5 conference championship and not made the College Football Playoffs?


The Florida State Seminoles finished 13-0, capping it off with a 16-6 victory over No. 14 Louisville in the ACC championship game. Less than 24 hours later, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee deemed the Seminoles the No. 5 team in the country, despite their seemingly flawless season.

A major factor was the season-ending injury that quarterback Jordan Travis suffered in November. The injury to his lower left leg ended the senior’s college career and, apparently, ended FSU’s championship aspirations.

The Seminoles, though disappointed, can make a statement in the Capital One Orange Bowl when they play the defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs.

Georgia began the season 12-0, but slipped out of playoff consideration when they lost to Alabama in the SEC championship game.

A Seminoles victory, especially a decisive one, would send a firm message that the committee made a mistake.

Harbaugh vs. Saban in a Battle of Elite Coaches

Looking for a premier coaching matchup? 

Look no further than the Rose Bowl on January 1. In the first semifinal game, Jim Harbaugh and top-seeded Michigan will take on Nick Saban and No. 4 Alabama. 

Saban has seven national championships on his resume. Harbaugh is hunting his first.

Both are among the most high-profile, polarizing coaches in the nation. They’ve faced each other only once. Saban’s Crimson Tide handed Harbaugh and Michigan a 35-16 defeat in the 2019 Citrus Bowl.

This time, the 13-0 Wolverines are the favorite. They’ve navigated accusations of illegal sign-stealing that resulted in a 3-game suspension for Harbaugh. Alabama overcame an early-season loss to win the SEC title and earn a spot in the playoff.

Which Star Players Are Skipping Bowl Games?

Star players opting not to participate in their school’s bowl games is a relatively recent trend across college football. 

Some players choose not to risk injury if they expect to be selected in next year’s NFL draft.

Others won’t play because they’re entering the transfer portal in search of a new school and team to join. 

It means we’re missing out on seeing one more college game from star quarterbacks like USC’s Caleb Williams, Notre Dame’s Sam Hartman and North Carolina’s Drake Maye. Not to mention other standouts like Penn State defensive end Chop Robinson or Clemson cornerback Nate Wiggins.

As the start of bowl season approached, we were still awaiting decisions from other key players, including LSU quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Jalen Daniels. 

Which Stars Could Shine in Bowl Games?

The four teams still in the mix for the national championship will take the field with their full, stacked lineups. 

Look out for Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy, running back Blake Corum or defensive tackle Kris Jenkins. Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was a Heisman finalist and running back Dillon Johnson racked up over 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns this year.

Texas is led by quarterback Quinn Ewers and linebacker Jaylen Ford. Alabama sophomore quarterback Jalen Milroe has improved throughout the season. The Tide’s defense is led by ball-hawking defensive backs Caleb Downs and Terrion Arnold.

Outside of the playoff teams, Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart will look to lead the Rebels past Penn State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. was still undecided about playing in the Cotton Bowl against Missouri, but if he takes the field, he’s always a threat to find the end zone.

Of course, bowl games are always filled with new names taking their star turns, and unlikely heroes leading their teams to victory. 

Can James Madison End its First FBS Season with a Bowl Victory?

No one expected this type of season from James Madison University.

The Harrisonburg, Virginia school made the leap this year from competing in the NCAA’s second-tier Football Championship Subdivision to the top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision. The Dukes joined the Sun Belt Conference along with schools like Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina that have been making waves in college football in recent years.

While the Dukes demonstrated success at the FCS level, no one anticipated them starting the season 10-0 and climbing as high as No. 18 in the AP rankings. 

Their success raised an issue.

Under NCAA rules, teams are not eligible to play in a bowl game during their first year at the FBS level. That prompted the university to seek a waiver, asking the NCAA to reconsider the rule and ultimately throw it out.

The university’s requests were denied multiple times. The air was further taken out of the Dukes’ sails when they lost to Appalachian State 26-23 in Week 11. 

Then came the reprieve.

The NCAA did not have enough teams earn the requisite six victories to qualify for a bowl berth. Thus, through a loophole, JMU received an invitation to compete in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl against the Air Force Academy.

The Dukes’ first bowl game is sure to be an exciting one. Except one key person won’t be there. JMU’s coach, Curt Cignetti, left to take over at the University of Indiana on November 30.

Those are just some of the storylines that are adding extra levels of interest beyond the X’s and O’s on the field. Bowl season kicks off on Saturday.

Let the drama begin.