Over the next month, college football fans will rejoice. Boring, week-long intervals between games will turn into a nightly dose of postseason action. Each game has the opportunity to turn into an all-time classic, whether it’s Kansas State-Oregon or Bowling Green-San Jose State. Get ready for some football with a breakdown of the BCS and other bowls.
BCS National Championship Game: Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Alabama Crimson Tide
If you’re a fan of hard-nosed, hard-tackling, grind-it-out football, then this a matchup made in heaven. The game will undoubtedly be a defensive struggle, as the Irish and Tide come into this game ranked numbers one and two, respectively, in scoring defense, with no other team within two points. Both are top 10 in yards allowed per game as well, and top five in rushing defense. While both teams like to run the ball, this game may come down to quarterback play. Notre Dame was shaky under center to begin the year, but once Head Coach Brian Kelly settled on sophomore Everett Gholson as their starter, Gholson finished the season strong and led the Irish to a 12-0 record. Alabama has stood behind A.J. McCarron all year, and he’s responded with clutch play against LSU late in the season and Georgia in the SEC championship. However, in the Tide’s sole loss to Texas A&M, he threw two interceptions and his comeback attempt fell short. Look for Manti Teo, the Irish’s star linebacker and the NCAA leader in interceptions at his position, to take charge of this game and lead the Irish in a defensive slugfest.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Oregon Ducks vs. Kansas State Wildcats
If you’d prefer a shootout, look no further. Oregon features perhaps the nation’s highest-powered offense, is second in the nation at 50.8 points per game, third in total yards per game, and is the proud owner of the nation’s longest streak of BCS bowl appearances at four. Kansas State has perhaps the most potent offensive player in Collin Klein, the powerful quarterback whose brutal running style is reminiscent of Tim Tebow in his glory days. These teams have over a month to prepare for each other, and both Bill Snyder and Chip Kelly will have their hands full devising plans to stop their counterpart’s potent scoring attacks. With both teams so strong on the offensive side, this matchup may come down to which defense steps up to the challenge, and which team makes the late-game stops that swing the outcome. The spotlight and pressure will be on Oregon redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota, who will look to exploit a Wildcat secondary that ranks 92nd in the nation against passing.
Vizio Rose Bowl: Stanford Cardinal vs. Wisconsin Badgers
Here we find the nation’s top running defense in Stanford, versus Wisconsin, a team that had 539 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns in the Big Ten Championship Game. Wisconsin takes the approach of a running back by committee, with three players––Melvin Gordon, James White and Montee Ball––that together power an offense that relies on the run. Ball, who finished fourth in last year’s Heisman voting, recently surpassed Travis Prentice as the NCAA’s all time leader in touchdowns scored, and has had a fantastic year. However, Stanford’s front seven is more than capable of stopping the run. They have given up just 65.8 yards per game, the top mark in the nation. Senior linebackers Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas, two players that epitomize Stanford’s tough style of play, lead the Cardinal defense. This is a game that will be won in the trenches, with the Badger’s monster offensive line being put to the test against a fierce Cardinal run defense.
Discover Orange Bowl: Northern Illinois Huskies vs. Florida State Seminoles
Whether or not you support the inclusion of the Mid-American Conference’s Huskies, this should provide football fans with the exciting possibility of a huge upset. It’s ironic that Northern Illinois won the bid over the Oklahoma Sooners, as those Sooners were the victims of BCS buster Boise State seven years ago. Florida State enters the game with a dominant defense, one that is second in the nation in total yards allowed and seventh in points allowed. However, they face a Huskies squad that features the multitalented Jordan Lynch at quarterback. Lynch, while fully capable as a passer, is also the nation’s leading rusher, and anchors a Northern Illinois offense that scores over 40 points per game. Lynch has had seven games this year with at least four total touchdowns, and will attempt an upset over a proud and storied Florida State. E.J. Manuel, the Seminoles’ senior quarterback, is no slouch, and will look to give the program its first BCS win since the national championship in 2000.
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Louisville Cardinals vs. Florida Gators
There is no team that has had to work as hard as Florida to get to where it is. The Gators have faced five of the top ten teams in the BCS and ended the season 11-1, with their sole loss being a single-possession game against Georgia, a team that was a time management mistake away from the national championship. Florida’s offense is a balanced attack, with Jeff Driskel and Mike Gillislee leading the passing and rushing attacks, respectively. However, their real strength is their defense, which is top five in both scoring and yards allowed. Louisville’s BCS hopes lie squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a Heisman dark horse who is among the best in the nation in passing efficiency. The Cardinals lost two straight games late in the season, but turned it around and clinched the Big East title with an exciting win over Rutgers. Florida’s defensive strength may prove to be too much for Bridgewater and his teammates, but it should be a close game either way.
The Best of the Rest
Not every bowl game can feature two top ten teams duking it out in primetime, but just because it’s not BCS doesn’t mean it won’t be fun to watch. Here are the top 15 other bowls in the days leading up to the big games.
1. AT&T Cotton Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma
This game features two top 15 teams: an angry Sooners team coming off a BCS snub, and a Heisman finalist in Johnny Manziel, the electrifying quarterback for the Aggies. They may be in different conferences now that A&M moved to the SEC, but the rivalry is still strong, and it should provide a great game.
2. Chick-Fil-A Bowl: LSU vs. Clemson
LSU is a talented team that just couldn’t overcome the inconsistent play of starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who finished the season with an unimpressive eleven to six touchdown to interception ratio. However, their defense is its typical fearsome self, and it faces two of the nation’s most talented offensive players in Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins.
3. Outback Bowl: South Carolina vs. Michigan
The Gamecocks suffered a midseason blow when running back Marcus Lattimore went down with another season-ending knee injury just a year after tearing a ligament in the same leg. However, they finished the season strong with four straight wins, and they will face a hungry Michigan team that wants to send senior star Denard Robinson out with a bang.
4. Valero Alamo Bowl: Texas vs. Oregon State
The Longhorns never quite seemed to figure it out during the regular season, and quarterback David Ash has been spectacular in wins and horrific in losses. The Texas defense still stands strong behind a monster defensive line, and they face a Beavers squad who played well to start the year but finished by winning just three of their last six games.
5. Capitol One Bowl: Georgia vs. Nebraska
Georgia, having lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship and subsequently losing their BCS dreams, has to settle for the Capitol One bowl, where they will face a Nebraska team that got hammered by Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, but is quietly getting a stellar season out of junior quarterback Taylor Martinez.
6. Hyundai Sun Bowl: USC vs. Georgia Tech
This USC team couldn’t quite live up to the lofty expectations set by a number one preseason ranking, and its quarterback, Matt Barkley, never fulfilled his Heisman dreams. However, it is still a very strong Trojans squad, and the emergence of sophomore wide receiver Marquise Lee has been spectacular. Georgia Tech barely qualified for the postseason with a 6-7 record that included a loss to Middle Tennessee, but their high-powered offense should make the game a shootout.
7. TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Northwestern
The Bulldogs were a bit of a disappointment in the SEC, after starting out 7-0 and then losing four out of their last five games. Northwestern, on the other hand, was one of few highlights in what was an otherwise dismal season for the Big Ten. They finished 8-3, losing one game in overtime and another by just one point.
8. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: TCU vs. Michigan State
Michigan State features one of the strongest runners in the country in Le’Veon Bell, who is sixth in the nation in rushing yards and has led all runners in carries throughout a brutal season. Though the Spartans finished the season at 6-6, only one of those losses was decided by more than three points, and that was to Notre Dame. TCU had one of their less spectacular seasons under Coach Gary Patterson, but should be up to the challenge against MSU.
9. Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl: UCLA vs. Baylor
When looking at Baylor’s statistics, two things become very clear: they love to play offense, and they are simply awful on the defensive end. They are fifth in the country in scoring, and 117th in the country in points against. UCLA will look to take advantage with a running game boosted by fifth-ranked rusher Johnathan Franklin.
10. New Era Pinstripe Bowl: West Virginia vs. Syracuse
Although the Mountaineer’s defense eventually proved to be as suspect as everyone thought it was, they still have Geno Smith––considered by many the best quarterback in the country––and a strong wide receiver corps in Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Syracuse started the season slow, but picked up late and won five of their last six games.
11. Maaco Las Vegas Bowl: Washington vs. Boise State
This year, perennial BCS-buster Boise State just couldn’t reload the way it usually does, but it still finished the season with a solid 10-2 record, with its two losses coming by a combined total of six points. The Huskies, thought by many to be a dark horse contender in the Pac-12 entering the season, started off just 3-4 before finishing 4-1 to receive a bowl bid.
12. S.D. Country Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: BYU vs. San Diego State
The Aztecs struggled early to a 2-3 record before rattling off seven straight wins. They are led by quarterback (and Oregon State transfer) Ryan Katz, and face an inconsistent BYU team that lost to Notre Dame by three points and lost to San Jose State by six.
13. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: NC State vs. Vanderbilt
Don’t look now, but the Commodores are quietly rising from their perennial seat in the SEC’s basement. They are a well-coached team under James Franklin, and finished the season with the school’s first six game win streak since 1955. North Carolina State underwent a coaching change at the end of the season, and brought in Dave Doeren as the new head guy.
14. AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl: Ohio vs. Louisiana-Monroe
Ohio began the season 7-0 and had BCS-buster written all over them before bowing out by losing four of their last five. Louisiana-Monroe upset Arkansas in the first game of the year, but had an unimpressive rest of the season. These two teams will try to turn it around come game time.
15. Russell Athletic Bowl: Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech
Rutgers was in position to play in a BCS game before losing their last two, one of which was to Louisville. Winning that game would have put the Scarlet Knights in the Sugar Bowl. Virginia Tech is less impressive than their 6-6 would lead you to believe, which is saying something. Two of the wins were in overtime, and two others were against Bowling Green and Austin Peay.