Preseason bowl projections: Matchups for every game and the CFP

by Ricardo Gutierrez - It's never too early to think about bowl season, so we offer our predictions for all the matchups, including the College Football Playoff.

7:00 AM ET Kyle Bonagura Close Kyle Bonagura ESPN Staff Writer Covers the Pac-12. Joined ESPN in 2014. Attended Washington State University. Mark Schlabach Close Mark Schlabach ESPN Senior Writer Senior college football writer Author of seven books on college football Graduate of the University of Georgia The 2022 college football season kicks off Saturday with 11 FBS games and shifts into high gear Sept. 1, with the start of the full Week 1 schedule. While there will be a whole lot of action between then and December, it's never too early to dream about bowl season and the College Football Playoff. To that end, ESPN college football reporters Kyle Bonagura and Mark Schlabach present their preseason bowl projections, and they'll have new ones every week as the season rolls along. They'll also provide analysis in explaining their CFP picks and offer other insights about their predictions. All times Eastern College Football Playoff CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T SoFi Stadium (Inglewood, California) Jan. 9, Time TBD, ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Alabama vs. Ohio State Schlabach: Alabama vs. Ohio State CFP Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta) Dec. 31, 4 or 8 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Alabama vs. Clemson Schlabach: Alabama vs. Clemson CFP Semifinal at the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl State Farm Stadium (Glendale, Arizona) Dec. 31, 4 or 8 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Ohio State vs. Georgia Schlabach: Ohio State vs. Georgia CFP breakdown Bonagura: Georgia and Alabama are machines. It doesn't matter how many NFL players departed from their rosters, they've earned the benefit of the doubt and -- as meaningless as preseason predictions are -- deserve to begin the season in the top four. After that, it's less straightforward. Ohio State's dominance over Michigan ended last season, but with what the Buckeyes have coming back -- including prolific passer C.J. Stroud -- they're the favorites in the Big Ten. That distinction is enough for top-four status just about every year. Utah and Oklahoma received strong consideration for the final spot, but ultimately Dabo Swinney's track record over the past decade was the justification for putting the Tigers in. Quarterback C.J. Stroud and Ohio State begin the season as a favorite to make the four-team College Football Playoff. John Cordes/Icon Sportswire Schlabach: I think Alabama and Ohio State are head and shoulders above the other CFP contenders heading into the season, but defending national champion Georgia could get to that level by season's end. The Bulldogs have to replace 15 players who were selected in the NFL draft and helped them win their first national title in 41 years. The losses are especially heavy on defense. Under Kirby Smart, Georgia has reached a level where it simply reloads, but there might be some early growing pains. Still, it would be difficult to find a regular-season opponent that can beat the Bulldogs. I considered the same three teams as Kyle did for my final CFP spot -- Clemson, Oklahoma and Utah -- and ended up going with the Tigers for now. Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei is going to have to dramatically improve for Clemson to get to the top four. New Year's Six Dec. 30 Capital One Orange Bowl Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, Florida) Time TBD, ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Pittsburgh vs. Baylor Schlabach: NC State vs. Notre Dame Dec. 31 Allstate Sugar Bowl Caesars Superdome (New Orleans) Noon, ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma Schlabach: Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma Team ready to make the leap to an NY6 bowl Bonagura: Texas A&M was an NY6 team in 2020, but the COVID-modified schedule cast a shadow over everything that happened that year. So, while it hasn't technically been a long absence for the Aggies, this feels like the year where an unqualified breakthrough is possible. They have everything they need to reach the NY6 (including not having to play Georgia in the regular season). Schlabach: Remarkably, NC State has won 10 games in a season just once in its 117-year history of playing football. It happened under Chuck Amato in 2002, when the Wolfpack went 11-3 and won the Gator Bowl. NC State might have won 10 contests last season, but UCLA pulled out of the Holiday Bowl because of COVID-19 issues. With eight starters, including quarterback Devin Leary coming back on offense and nine returning on defense, the Wolfpack could challenge for the ACC title if things bounce their way. Jan. 2 Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas) 1 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Notre Dame vs. Cincinnati Schlabach: Baylor vs. Houston Rose Bowl Game Rose Bowl (Pasadena, California) 5 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Michigan vs. Utah Schlabach: Michigan vs. Utah Bowl season Dec. 16 HomeTown Lenders Bahamas Bowl Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium (Nassau, Bahamas) 11:30 a.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: UAB vs. Toledo Schlabach: Florida Atlantic vs. Miami (Ohio) Duluth Trading Cure Bowl Exploria Stadium (Orlando, Florida) 3 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Coastal Carolina vs. Northern Illinois Schlabach: Tulane vs. Central Michigan Dec. 17 Wasabi Fenway Bowl Fenway Park (Boston) 11 a.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Boston College vs. Houston Schlabach: Boston College vs. UCF Editor's Picks How to get the most fun out of the 2022 college football season 3d Bill Connelly College football final SP+ 2022 preseason projections 1d Bill Connelly 2 Related Cricket Celebration Bowl Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta) Noon, ABC and the ESPN App Bonagura: South Carolina State vs. Jackson State Schlabach: South Carolina State vs. Jackson State New Mexico Bowl University Stadium (Albuquerque, New Mexico) 2:15 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Fresno State vs. BYU Schlabach: North Texas vs. Air Force Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl Presented by Stifel SoFi Stadium (Inglewood, California) 3:30 p.m., ABC and the ESPN App Bonagura: Oregon State vs. Boise State Schlabach: Washington State vs. Fresno State LendingTree Bowl Hancock Whitney Stadium (Mobile, Alabama) 5:45 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: North Texas vs. Troy Schlabach: Coastal Carolina vs. BYU SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl Allegiant Stadium (Las Vegas) 7:30 p.m., ABC and the ESPN App Bonagura: UCLA vs. Ole Miss Schlabach: UCLA vs. Tennessee Frisco Bowl Toyota Stadium (Frisco, Texas) 9:15 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Louisiana vs. Louisiana Tech Schlabach: Colorado State vs. Washington Dec. 19 Myrtle Beach Bowl Brooks Stadium (Conway, South Carolina) 2:30 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Florida Atlantic vs. Tulsa Schlabach: UTEP vs. Louisiana Dec. 20 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Albertsons Stadium (Boise, Idaho) 3:30 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Air Force vs. Buffalo Schlabach: Boise State vs. Northern Illinois RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl FAU Stadium (Boca Raton, Florida) 7:30 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: East Carolina vs. Marshall Schlabach: East Carolina vs. Marshall Dec. 21 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl Caesars Superdome (New Orleans) 9 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Western Kentucky vs. Appalachian State Schlabach: UTSA vs. Appalachian State Dec. 22 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl Amon G. Carter Stadium (Fort Worth, Texas) 7:30 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Texas Tech vs. Memphis Schlabach: West Virginia vs. Cincinnati 2022 College Football Preview Dec. 23 Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl Independence Stadium (Shreveport, Louisiana) 3 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Army vs. SMU Schlabach: Army vs. Arizona State Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Florida) 6:30 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Virginia Tech vs. South Carolina Schlabach: Virginia Tech vs. UAB Dec. 24 EasyPost Hawai'i Bowl Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex (Honolulu) 8 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: UTSA vs. San Jose State Schlabach: Western Kentucky vs. Utah State Dec. 26 Quick Lane Bowl Ford Field (Detroit) 2:30 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Iowa vs. Miami (Ohio) Schlabach: Maryland vs. Toledo Dec. 27 Camellia Bowl Cramton Bowl (Montgomery, Alabama) Noon, ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Western Michigan vs. Middle Tennessee Schlabach: Buffalo vs. Troy SERVPRO First Responder Bowl Gerald J. Ford Stadium (Dallas) Time TBD, ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Tulane vs. Utah State Schlabach: Memphis vs. Liberty TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl Protective Life Stadium (Birmingham, Alabama) Time TBD, ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Washington State vs. Mississippi State Schlabach: Charlotte vs. Mississippi State Guaranteed Rate Bowl Chase Field (Phoenix) 10:15 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Kansas State vs. Purdue Schlabach: TCU vs. Purdue Dec. 28 Military Bowl presented by Peraton Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (Annapolis, Maryland) 2 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Louisville vs. UCF Schlabach: Virginia vs. SMU AutoZone Liberty Bowl Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (Memphis, Tennessee) 5:30 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: TCU vs. Arkansas Schlabach: Kansas State vs. Florida San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl Petco Park (San Diego) 8 p.m., Fox Bonagura: North Carolina vs. Oregon Schlabach: North Carolina vs. Oregon TaxAct Texas Bowl NRG Stadium (Houston) 9 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Iowa State vs. Tennessee Schlabach: Iowa State vs. Ole Miss Dec. 29 Bad Boy Mowers Pinstripe Bowl Yankee Stadium (New York) 2 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Virginia vs. Nebraska Schlabach: Pittsburgh vs. Iowa School/coach that most needs to make a bowl Bonagura: While most of the country smirks at the idea that Nebraska can return to prominence as a national power in modern college football, it's still hard to comprehend how, after reaching 48 bowl games in 50 seasons, the Cornhuskers haven't gone bowling the past five years. If that streak reaches six, it's hard to imagine coach Scott Frost would remain with the program. Schlabach: Geoff Collins faced a monumental rebuilding job at Georgia Tech when he was hired to replace Paul Johnson after the 2018 season. Collins and his staff had to rebuild much of the roster on offense, going from Johnson's triple-option spread attack to a more pro-style system. The early results haven't been good. Collins' teams went 9-25 in his first three seasons, including 7-18 in the ACC. Worse, the Yellow Jackets have been pummeled by rival Georgia by a combined score of 97-7 the past two seasons. It might be make-or-break time for Collins. Unfortunately for him, Tech's schedule is very difficult with nonconference road games at UCF and Georgia and a contest against Ole Miss in Atlanta. Cheez-It Bowl Camping World Stadium (Orlando, Florida) 5:30 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Wake Forest vs. Texas Schlabach : Miami vs. Texas Valero Alamo Bowl Alamodome (San Antonio) 9 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Oklahoma State vs. USC Schlabach: Oklahoma State vs. USC Dec. 30 Duke's Mayo Bowl Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, North Carolina) Noon, ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: NC State vs. Minnesota Schlabach: Wake Forest vs. Michigan State Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl Sun Bowl Stadium (El Paso, Texas) 2 p.m., CBS Bonagura: Florida State vs. California Schlabach: Florida State vs. Oregon State TaxSlayer Gator Bowl TIAA Bank Field (Jacksonville, Florida) 3:30 p.m., ESPN and the ESPN App Bonagura: Miami vs. Florida Schlabach: Louisville vs. LSU Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl Arizona Stadium (Tucson, Arizona) 4:30 p.m. Bonagura: San Diego State vs. Central Michigan Schlabach: San Diego State vs. Kent State Dec. 31 TransPerfect Music City Bowl Nissan Stadium (Nashville, Tennessee) Noon, ABC and the ESPN App Bonagura: Penn State vs. Auburn Schlabach: Minnesota vs. South Carolina Jan. 2 ReliaQuest Bowl Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Florida) Noon, ESPN2 and the ESPN App Bonagura: Michigan State vs. LSU Schlabach: Wisconsin vs. Arkansas Citrus Bowl Camping World Stadium (Orlando, Florida) 1 p.m., ABC and the ESPN App Bonagura: Wisconsin vs. Kentucky Schlabach: Penn State vs. Kentucky