Happy bowl season.

Before one of the best times of the year officially begins next week, we wanted to jump the gun and get you our TRACR projections to help with those ESPN Bowl Mania picks. Our model has calculated them for every bowl game before Dec. 29 here, and we reveal the rest of our projections – including the College Football Playoff – in our Part II.

TRACR (Team Rating Adjusted for Conference and Roster) is a net efficiency metric that evaluates how well a team performs based on who they play. The model, which is trained on over 10 years of college football data, rewards big wins over good teams and punishes losses to bad ones or even wins that are closer than expected.

We’ve also added the SmartRating for each game. SmartRatings is an AI-based platform that provides excitement ratings for sporting events, teams and players. The excitement scale, ranging from 0-100, is powered by complex algorithms that are predicated upon six primary variables: pace, parity, novelty, momentum, context and social buzz.

The weight of each variable is dynamic and adapts as a season progresses. The excitement scale translates to the following general sub-ranges: 0-39 (Dull Game), 40-64 (OK Game), 65-84 (Good Game) and 85-100 (Great Game).

Bowl Projections, Dec. 16-28

Bahamas Bowl, Dec. 16: UAB (83rd) vs. Miami, OH (110th)

  • SmartRating: 61
  • Winner: UAB
  • Win Probability: 70.2%
  • Data Points: UAB has lost four of its last six, though three of those losses were decided by a touchdown. The Blazers also just put up 406 rushing yards against Louisiana Tech and now face a Miami team that has allowed an average of 219.7 rush yards over its last three games. If the RedHawks cannot stop the run, this could be a blowout.

Cure Bowl, Dec. 16: UTSA (55th) vs. Troy (50th)

  • SmartRating: 69
  • Winner: Troy
  • Win Probability: 56.5%
  • Data Points: In what might be one of the best bowl games of the year, both UTSA and Troy head to Orlando on 10-game winning streaks. UTSA’s offense averaged 38.7 points, while Troy’s defense allowed 17.5 points per game. TRACR gives a slight edge to Troy, which ranked 32nd in defensive TRACR.

Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 17: Oregon State (30th) vs. Florida (27th)

  • SmartRating: 65
  • Winner: Florida
  • Win Probability: 56.7%
  • Data Points: Oregon State is a 9.5-point favorite in this one, though Florida has been a more efficient team in a better conference. The loss to Vanderbilt on Nov. 19 looks bad for the Gators, but the seven-point loss to Florida State does not look terrible right now. This is a Gators squad that also beat Utah at the start of the season. If they can get even half of that fanbase that was loud for the season opener, the Gators can pull this off.

LendingTree Bowl, Dec. 17: Rice (123rd) vs. Southern Miss (89th)

  • SmartRating: 62
  • Winner: Southern Miss
  • Win Probability: 81.6%
  • Data Points: Southern Miss was able to get its sixth win in its final game after losing its previous three. Rice has lost its last three games, two of which were blowouts. But hey, it’s the Owls’ first bowl appearance since 2014, so that’s fun. But the Golden Eagles might run all over them.

LA Bowl, Dec. 17: Washington State (49th) vs. Fresno State (62nd)

  • SmartRating: 66
  • Winner: Washington State
  • Win Probability: 62.7%
  • Data Points: Fresno State, which gets to stay in California for this one, was my team to watch out for at the start of the season. I thought the Bulldogs might have a chance for an NY6 if they were able to beat Oregon State and UConn. Well, they did not and they started 1-4. However, they have had an impressive turnaround that included a conference championship win and a 7-1 record in the Mountain West. Washington State had a key win over Wisconsin in Madison in September, though that does not look as valuable now. The Cougars nearly beat Oregon, but other than that, they’ve been good against bad teams and bad against good teams. Given how well Fresno State has played in the second half, this one could be a toss-up.

New Mexico Bowl, Dec. 17: BYU (82nd) vs. SMU (48th)

  • SmartRating: 71
  • Winner: SMU
  • Win Probability: 77.4%
  • Data Points: TRACR has not been a fan of BYU all season, even with its win over Baylor in September. October proved TRACR right. Still, the Cougars have won their last three games with a nice win on the road against Stanford to finish off the regular season. In its last five games, SMU has averaged 44.2 points while allowing 42.0 points per game, including a crazy 77-63 win over Houston in early November. The over is 71.5 at the moment.

Fenway Bowl, Dec. 17: Louisville (39th) vs. Cincinnati (41st)

  • SmartRating: 64
  • Winner: Louisville
  • Win Probability: 53.0%
  • Data Points: Cincinnati lost head coach Luke Fickell and replaced him with Louisville’s Scott Satterfield. And now the Cardinals get Jeff Brohm from Purdue. What a coaching carousel! These two teams are almost next to each other in the TRACR rankings, but Louisville has a slightly better offense. Louisville’s 8.5 TRACR and Cincinnati’s 7.5 TRACR imply that the Cardinals would, on average, outscore the Bearcats by about one point. It will be close in Boston.

Frisco Bowl, Dec. 17: North Texas (100th) vs. Boise State (67th)

  • SmartRating: 61
  • Winner: Boise State
  • Win Probability: 70.6%
  • Data Points: North Texas fired head coach Seth Littrell despite making it to the Conference USA Championship and a bowl appearance for the sixth time in seven years. The Mean Green went 1-11 the year before hiring him. Boise State has put up over 300 total yards in each of its last nine games and at least 400 total yards in six of those contests. This is a well-balanced team that is not as strong as it has been in the past, but could get to 10 wins yet again.

Myrtle Beach Bowl, Dec. 19: Connecticut (107th) vs. Marshall (70th)

  • SmartRating: 59
  • Winner: Marshall
  • Win Probability: 79.6%
  • Data Points: Congrats to Jim Mora and the Huskies for making their first bowl appearance since 2015 after they had a combined four wins from 2018-21. A win over No. 19 Liberty sealed the deal. Unfortunately, the Huskies get to play Marshall, a poor team offensively but a great team defensively. The Thundering Herd rank 10th in defensive TRACR at minus-9.6. The offense ranks 124th. Connecticut’s offense has been subpar as well, giving Marshall the edge. TRACR projects a low-scoring game.
defensive TRACR leaders

Potato Bowl, Dec. 20: San Jose State (87th) vs. Eastern Michigan (106th)

  • SmartRating: 64
  • Winner: San Jose State
  • Win Probability: 68.1%
  • Data Points: San Jose State seemed to have no running game until rushing for 191 yards against Hawaii to end the season. Eastern Michigan comes in having won three straight while putting up at least 30 in all three. Still, the Spartans have the edge thanks to playing close in almost every game this season.

Boca Raton Bowl, Dec. 20: Liberty (98th) vs. Toledo (88th)

  • SmartRating: 63
  • Winner: Toledo
  • Win Probability: 56.9%
  • Data Points: Toledo had an impressive conference championship game, holding Ohio to just seven points and 262 yards. Liberty has seemed to just collapse, losing three straight after starting 8-1. Toledo can win this if Liberty’s defense gives up big plays like it did in a blowout loss to New Mexico State.

New Orleans Bowl, Dec. 21: Western Kentucky (64th) vs. South Alabama (66th)

  • SmartRating: 63
  • Winner: Western Kentucky
  • Win Probability: 50.8%
  • Data Points: Of all the college football bowl games, TRACR indicates this will be the closest. Both teams are neck-and-neck in the ratings, with Western Kentucky getting a slight edge. South Alabama has won five straight, though three of those were decided by seven points. This is also a Jaguars team that lost by just one point on the road to UCLA in September. Western Kentucky has had two dominant wins – a 73-0 over FIU and a 59-7 at Charlotte. The Hilltoppers also had two 30-point wins against Hawaii and Rice. They went 0-2 against weak Power 5 schools Indiana and Auburn.

Armed Forces Bowl, Dec. 22: Air Force (59th) vs. Baylor (17th)

  • SmartRating: 63
  • Winner: Baylor
  • Win Probability: 81.8%
  • Data Points: Baylor’s record has not shown it this year, but the 2021 Big 12 champs still rank high in TRACR thanks to staying close in most games while playing a really tough schedule. The Bears lost their final three games, but those were against Kansas State (No. 8 in TRACR), TCU (No. 7) on a last-second field goal and Texas (No. 6). Yeah, three games in a row against TRACR’s top 10 does not sound fun. Baylor did a decent job stopping the run in nonconference games, which will help Air Force. I don’t see this one being too close.

Independence Bowl, Dec. 23: Louisiana (86th) vs. Houston (56th)

  • SmartRating: 64
  • Winner: Houston
  • Win Probability: 71.2%
  • Data Points: Of Houston’s five losses this season, three came against teams that were better than people thought – Texas Tech (23rd in TRACR), Kansas (54th) and Tulane (30th). The Cougars also put up 710 yards in their loss to SMU. The offense is good and goes up against a subpar team in Louisiana. The Ragin’ Cajuns may make it close though – three of their losses came by six or fewer points.

Gasparilla Bowl, Dec. 23: Missouri (43rd) vs. Wake Forest (29th)

  • SmartRating: 69
  • Winner: Wake Forest
  • Win Probability: 62.2%
  • Data Points: Wake Forest has been shaky lately, coming up short in places where it mattered. Still, the loses have been close in all but one game (Louisville) and the passing game is too good. Sam Hartman has already cemented himself as Wake Forest’s all-time best quarterback, but this one could be special in what might be his final game as a Demon Deacon.

Hawai’i Bowl, Dec. 24: San Diego State (94th) vs. Middle Tennessee (101st)

  • SmartRating: 61
  • Winner: San Diego State
  • Win Probability: 57.0%
  • Data Points: San Diego State’s offense is much weaker this season, highlighted by its loss to Air Force to end the regular season in which the Aztecs finished with minus-1 rushing yards. Still, while Middle Tennessee is trending upwards with four wins in its last five, SDSU can win in Honolulu through the air. The Blue Raiders are allowing 291.3 pass yards per game – the third most in the FBS.

Quick Lane Bowl, Dec. 26: New Mexico State (122nd) vs. Bowling Green (114th)

  • SmartRating: 63
  • Winner: Bowling Green
  • Win Probability: 59.9%
  • Data Points: Bowling Green has shown potential defensively, holding Miami (OH) to 13 points in October and Western Michigan to nine points in November. It might be enough against New Mexico State, which crushed Liberty and has played better in the second half of the season. The Falcons will need to figure out their running game first.

Birmingham Bowl, Dec. 27: East Carolina (61st) vs. Coastal Carolina (104th)

  • SmartRating: 66
  • Winner: East Carolina
  • Win Probability: 78.2%
  • Data Points: Coastal seemed in line for a possible NY6 bowl, but two bad losses in its last two games put into question how good the Chanticleers really are. East Carolina has been tested, having impressive wins over UCF and Memphis while also barely losing to NC State at the start of the season (that was a heartbreaking ending). The Pirates seem more prepared to face a team like Coastal Carolina than vice versa, but they will have to improve their pass defense that is currently allowing the most pass yards per game in the FBS (299.5).

First Responder Bowl, Dec. 27: Utah State (108th) vs. Memphis (65th)

  • SmartRating: 68
  • Winner: Memphis
  • Win Probability: 81.3%
  • Data Points: Memphis is one of the best 6-6 teams in the nation, as three of its losses were decided by three or fewer points. Meanwhile, four of Utah State’s six wins were decided by seven or fewer. The Tigers are the better team, especially on offense.

Camellia Bowl, Dec. 27: Buffalo (90th) vs. Georgia Southern (76th)

  • SmartRating: 70
  • Winner: Georgia Southern
  • Win Probability: 60.2%
  • Data Points: Georgia Southern squeaked into a bowl game by winning in double overtime against App State to close out the regular season. Buffalo did the same, winning its sixth game on a touchdown pass with less than two minutes remaining. Buffalo will have to find consistency in its running game to win.

Guaranteed Rate Bowl, Dec. 27: Oklahoma State (42nd) vs. Wisconsin (26th)

  • SmartRating: 67
  • Winner: Wisconsin
  • Win Probability: 63.3%
  • Data Points: It was a disappointing season for both teams. Oklahoma State got off to a great start (and was even quite high in TRACR) before getting blindsided by Kansas State 48-0. It has not gotten any better since. Wisconsin, meanwhile, parted ways with head coach Paul Chryst, lost interim head coach and former defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard (who will still coach the bowl game) and quarterback Graham Mertz is transferring. The one positive is getting a home-run hire in Luke Fickell, who just might be the only person to lead the Badgers back into a perennial Rose Bowl contender. Wisconsin also hired UNC’s Phil Longo as offensive coordinator, which may move the team away from RB University and into an air raid offense. Weird. It will be interesting to see how Fickell handles Wisconsin’s sluggish offense and sliding defense, and if Mike Gundy can put the pieces back together for at least a bowl win. This game starts at 10:15 p.m. ET, so make sure to take a nap.

Liberty Bowl, Dec. 28: Arkansas (18th) vs. Kansas (54th)

  • SmartRating: 70
  • Winner: Arkansas
  • Win Probability: 75.5%
  • Data Points: With all respect to Connecticut, Kansas making a bowl game might be the biggest shocker of the year. The Jayhawks began the season 5-0 before going 1-6 the rest of the way. However, they played close in most of those losses. Who knows what this team could have done with a healthy QB, though Jason Bean was an excellent sub for Jalon Daniels. Kansas, though, got one of the toughest draws in Arkansas, which is 6-6 with four losses decided by a field goal or less. In fact, the Texas A&M loss quite literally came down to a missed field goal at the end. The Hogs also had impressive wins against Ole Miss, South Carolina and at BYU. The defense will need to step up, though. Arkansas allowed 703 yards of total offense against Ole Miss three weeks ago and still somehow won.

Military Bowl, Dec. 28: Duke (45th) vs. UCF (47th)

  • SmartRating: 70
  • Winner: Duke
  • Win Probability: 51.1%
  • Data Points: Mike Elko did a fantastic job coaching Duke into a bowl appearance and his accomplishments were rightfully recognized when he was named the ACC Coach of the Year. A comeback win against Wake Forest after a tough loss to Pittsburgh made this season a little more special. Riley Leonard even had his best game against the Demon Deacons. Duke is only a slight favorite against UCF, which has secured close wins to close in on a 10-win season. Defense has been an issue, however. The Knights have allowed at least 200 rushing yards in three straight games and gave up 648 total yards in the AAC Championship game to Tulane. Duke averaged 184.8 rush yards in the regular season.

Holiday Bowl, Dec. 28: Oregon (24th) vs. North Carolina (58th)

  • SmartRating: 64
  • Winner: Oregon
  • Win Probability: 74.0%
  • Data Points: North Carolina loses offensive coordinator Phil Longo, but Drake Maye plans on staying with the program. The freshman has thrown for 4,115 yards with 35 TDs and seven interceptions this season. He and the rest of the offense slid in UNC’s last three games, however, losing all three while Maye threw just one touchdown and four picks. Despite the last three games, the offense can still be dominant. The defense, though, still has flaws. Oregon ranks higher in offensive TRACR (16th vs. 23rd) and defensive TRACR (48th vs. 109th). This may not be like the 63-61 outcome like App State and UNC had in September, but it will be high scoring.

Texas Bowl, Dec. 28: Ole Miss (36th) vs. Texas Tech (23rd)

  • SmartRating: 70
  • Winner: Texas Tech
  • Win Probability: 57.8%
  • Data Points: Ole Miss had dreams of the CFP and a New Year’s Day game during a 7-0 start, but it has always been ranked around 25-40 in TRACR. Wins are wins, but the schedule was much easier at the start of the season. The win over Kentucky was strong, but the Wildcats were another team that TRACR did not favor as highly as the AP Poll. Still, the Rebels lost close to Alabama and Mississippi State and could easily be 10-2. This is essentially a road game and two of their worst losses came at LSU and at Arkansas. Texas Tech has a slight edge thanks to the offense and defense leading the way in its most recent two wins – 14-10 at Iowa State and 51-48 over Oklahoma. Of the Red Raiders’ five losses, four were on the road to ranked opponents. The rush defense has been quite bad, however, and Ole Miss can take advantage of that and easily win.

Enjoy this? Subscribe to our newsletter to receive five stories each Friday. It’s free. And don’t forget to check out our College Football Data Day video and podcast.