10. Texas vs. Oregon St. – Alamo Bowl – Dec 29th
Texas struggled in bunches this season, and at the end of the day probably had just two quality wins (@Oklahoma St. and @Texas Tech), but losses to West Virginia and TCU at home were bad, and the inability to beat Kansas State and Oklahoma left them out of the Big 12 hunt. A win over Oregon St. would really help their stock going into next season. It would seem that Mack Brown’s job is safe at this point, but he probably won’t survive another 4-loss season without a Big 12 title. Meanwhile Oregon St. started the season unranked and finished the regular season ranked #13 despite a pretty abysmal running game. Losses to Stanford and Oregon kept them from making noise in the Pac 12 title race, but it was really a solid season for them. This game anchors an otherwise weak December 29th slate.
9. Michigan vs. South Carolina – Outback Bowl – Jan 1
Two big time programs meet on a crowded New Year’s Day slate. My personal bias likely has me ranking this game too high, but the New Year’s Day slate isn’t great. And it’s possible this could be the best game, but the games that look good on paper are rarely the ones that end up best. Denard Robinson will be playing his final game, and you are have a big time South Carolina program. But to be honest, I don’t like Michigan’s chances.
8. Baylor vs. UCLA – Holiday Bowl – Dec 27th
Jim L. Mora put together a great first season at UCLA. Winning the Pac 12 South and going to the Pac 12 championship before losing to Stanford. Their QB Brett Hundley is just a freshman, and they did a lot of things well. There were rumors of him leaving for other jobs, but that seems crazy since UCLA could be a destination job. Art Briles didn’t mean expectations in Waco this year, going 4-5 in the Big 12. Without Robert Griffin III he struggled a bit. His name came up in coaching rumors, but so far he is staying put. This one could be high scoring, and that’s why it is so worth watching.
7. Mississippi St. vs. Northwestern – Gator Bowl – Jan 1
One of the two earliest kickoffs on New Year’s Day. Northwestern hasn’t won a bowl game since 1949. Mississippi St. dropped 4 of their last 5, including a dismal loss to in-state rival Ole Miss to close out the season. They got killed by the meat of the SEC, and their best win is either Arkansas or Tennessee. I like Northwestern’s chances to end their bowl futility, but this won’t be a cakewalk. If Northwestern get’s off the winless streak, this will be a big one.
6. Georgia vs. Nebraska – Capital One Bowl – Jan 1st
Not sure what to make of this one. It’s another one that might be rated to high because after both teams lost their conference championship games, it’s hard to bounce back. But it’s the Rose Bowl, the “grandaddy of them all”. Georgia is unquestionably the better team, and Aaron Murray has been pretty under the radar this season. This will be a big chance for him to raise his draft stock, particularly if he plays the way Wisconsin did against Nebraska. Taylor Martinez has had a rocky career at Nebraska so far, but because he will enter his fourth year as a starter, and is a dynamic runner, he could get some Heisman buzz next season. This one should see a lot of points scored. This would be a huge win for the Big Ten if they could pull it off, but this is another one that could be ugly.
5. Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma – Cotton Bowl – Jan 4th
Texas A&M get’s their former Big 12 mate on a night all to themselves. Texas A&M finished the season strong, with their last loss coming to LSU on October 20th. But at the same time, save their win over Alabama, they don’t have a ton of quality wins. Johnny Manziel could be the Heisman winner by then though, and he is one of the most exciting players to watch in college football. Meanwhile Oklahoma comes in ranked 11th with their only losses coming against Kansas St. and Notre Dame. None of Oklahoma’s late season wins came with big margins, but this game should be really good, and will be a nice bridge to Monday’s National Championship.
4. LSU vs. Clemson – Chick-fil-A Bowl – Dec 31st
There is usually one good New Year’s Eve game, and this one definitely fits the bill. Two top 15 teams, and plenty of time for LSU to come up with some great trickeration. LSU quietly went 10-2 because after losing to Alabama everyone forgot about them, and they never looked that dominating. They really struggled to throw the ball, and relied on a strong defense to carry them. Clemson’s offense was very good. They put up 40 or more points 8 times in 12 games, and their only losses were at Florida St. and to South Carolina. Of course, all of that with an ACC schedule that doesn’t leave any real quality wins. Tajh Boyd put together a really good season and could be a Heisman frontrunner if he decides to return. Star receiver Sammy Watkins missed some games early, and ended with just an OK season. Clemson is likely going to get some buzz going into next season so this is a huge game. Something has to give here as there is a good defense and a good offense.
3. NIU vs. Florida St. – Orange Bowl – Jan 1st
There was quite a bit of outrage about Northern Illinois getting into a BCS bowl. Of course, some of these same people were the ones who used to argue that Boise St. deserved better. So the rules were modified, and this is the result. If NIU coach Dave Doeren had stuck around, NIU would have a much better chance, but this one could be really ugly now. Florida St. didn’t get where they thought they would, but still had a solid season. They either enter this game feeling down about who they have to play, or determined to prove a point and destroy NIU. This game is ranked so so high if, for nothing else, because a win by NIU, like Boise St. and Utah before them, would prove that they belong. Also, because NIU QB Jordan Lynch is one of the most underrated players in the country.
2. Oregon vs. Kansas St. – Fiesta Bowl – Jan 3rd
A couple of weeks ago, this looked like it would be National Championship matchup. Bowl teams lost since then, and Oregon didn’t even win their division. This should be a great game, and a chance for one team to really show who the 2nd or 3rd best team in the country it. There will be a lot of points scored for sure. This game also features a few of the most exciting players in the country, Collin Klein, Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. Oregon could earn a preseason #1 with a big win here. This could end up being the best of the big bowl games.
1. Alabama vs. Notre Dame – National Championship – Jan 7th
This game is obviously the only one that actually means something. It’s extra significant because Notre Dame is playing in it. They are the most famous college football team in the country, and anytime they are good, it’s good for the game itself. A win would make Notre Dame fans insufferable for the next year. A win would put Notre Dame back on the map. A win for Alabama would cement Nick Saban’s status as the greatest college football coach of the last 50 years, and maybe more.