2023 ACC Championship - Louisville v Florida State
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With the arrival of bowl season comes an increased spotlight on the four teams -- Michigan, Washington, Texas and Alabama -- set to compete in the College Football Playoff. Still, the playoff participants account for merely a fraction of the bowl season field. Seventy-eight other schools will participate in non-CFP bowls over the next few weeks, and even if a national championship isn't on the table for the rest of the pack, those games are far from meaningless. 

Whether it be the pursuit of a program milestone, a quest to silence critics or merely the desire to ring in the new year with some momentum, just about every team in the bowl season lineup faces some degree of urgency as they prepare to take the field one last time this season. Granted, that feeling is far more pronounced for some than others, especially those who feel as if they may have something to prove to a nation of onlookers. 

Here are some of the non-CFP teams that have the most to gain from a victory during the 2023 bowl season. 

No. 5 Florida State

Orange Bowl vs. No. 6 Georgia: Nothing can completely erase the sting and heartache that Florida State experienced when it finished No. 5 in the final College Football Playoff Rankings, becoming the first undefeated Power Five champion to miss the CFP field. However, the Seminoles have a chance to make a resounding statement -- and silence their loudest critics -- as they gear up to face two-time reigning national champion Georgia in the Orange Bowl. 

Should FSU upset the Bulldogs as a 14-point underdog, it would end the season a perfect 14-0 complete with three wins over SEC opponents. It would also mark FSU's second SEC win and second ranked win this season since losing star quarterback Jordan Travis to injury in Week 12, an ailment that largely factored into the controversial CFP omission. Good luck arguing that FSU wasn't capable of hanging with the best of the best if it gets the job done in Miami. 

No. 11 Ole Miss

Peach Bowl vs. No. 10 Penn State: Regular-season losses to Alabama and Georgia squashed any SEC championship and College Football Playoff hopes for Ole Miss in 2023. Still, the Rebels are bound for a New Year's Six bowl after a 10-2 finish for the second time in four seasons under coach Lane Kiffin, and there's a chance to make history against Penn State in the Peach Bowl. An Ole Miss victory would signal the winningest season in program history (11 wins) after the Rebels finished with 10 wins on eight previous occasions. Of course, that will require Kiffin to buck a trend of coming up short in marquee contests. Ole Miss is a mere 1-6 against top-10 opponents since Kiffin's arrival as coach in 2020. 

No. 18 NC State

Pop-Tarts Bowl vs. No. 25 Kansas State: NC State enters bowl season with a chance to join the 2002 Wolfpack squad (11-3) as the just the second team in program history to finish with double-digit victories. NC State has flirted with 10 wins on multiple occasions in recent years but has been unable to get over the hump, finishing with nine victories three times since 2017. That included a 2021 campaign in which the Wolfpack went 9-3 in the regular season, only for their Holiday Bowl matchup against UCLA to be canceled due to COVID-19 protocols. Considering the Wolfpack began 2023 a pedestrian 4-3 before rattling off five straight wins, it would be quite the testament to coach Dave Doeren if this year's NC State team is finally the one to clear that hurdle for the first time in 21 years.  

No. 19 Oregon State

Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl vs. No. 16 Notre DameIt goes without saying that Oregon State, one of just two schools left to fend for itself following the Pac-12's collapse, could use a momentum boost. The Beavers ended the regular season with consecutive losses to Washington and Oregon before watching coach Jonathan Smith bolt for Michigan State, taking touted freshman quarterback Aidan Chiles with him via the transfer portal. Kicking off the Trent Bray era with a bowl win against a shorthanded Notre Dame squad may only provide a fleeting moment of joy for Oregon State, but that and a 9-4 finish is far preferred to a three-game losing streak as the Beavers enter a stretch that is full of uncertainty concerning their place in the sport's landscape. 

No. 23 Liberty 

Fiesta Bowl vs. No. 8 Oregon: It's been nothing short of a dream start to the Jamey Chadwell era at Liberty. The No. 23 Flames already won a program-record 13 games en route to capturing their first Conference USA championship and finishing as the highest-ranked Group of Five team in the College Football Playoff Rankings. Now comes the chance to make even more history against Pac-12 runner-up Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl. A Flames win would tie a bow on the program's first undefeated season while improving the single-season win record to 14 victories. It would also curb questions concerning Liberty's underwhelming strength of schedule, and given the stage one would be hard-pressed to find a bigger win for the Flames in school history. Short of a CFP berth, the opportunities don't often come much greater than this for a team of Liberty's stature. 

No. 24 SMU

Fenway Bowl vs. Boston CollegeAlready enjoying its best season since the infamous NCAA death penalty in 1987, SMU doesn't have to wait until 2024 to get a taste of life in the ACC. The Mustangs end the year against future conference-mate Boston College in the Fenway Bowl. After already winning the AAC championship for the program's first league title of any kind since 1984, SMU is now a bowl game victory away from matching the program's single-season win record (12 wins in 1935). As if that wasn't enough motivation, the Mustangs also have a bit of a chip on their shoulder after narrowly missing out on a New Year's Six berth as the Group of Five champion. SMU has every reason to go out and make a statement in this one as the program prepares for its long-awaited return to a power conference. 

James Madison

Armed Forces Bowl vs. Air ForceIt's a milestone matchup for the Dukes, who are bowling for the first time in program history in just their second season competing at the FBS level. Under normal circumstances, James Madison would not have been eligible to play in a bowl game until 2024 due to the NCAA's mandated two-year transition period for FBS newcomers, but the Dukes were granted an exemption after not enough teams were eligible to fill all the bowl game slots. The prospect of JMU (11-1) being banned from the postseason spawned plenty of controversy during the regular season, so don't be surprised if the Dukes play with some extra fire against the Falcons. The Armed Forces Bowl will be the first look at JMU since coach Curt Cignetti left for Indiana; Bob Chesney has since been selected as his replacement.