Who said the College Football Playoff would be the death of the bowl system? There are 38 bowl games over the next three weeks, plus the new CFP National Championship Game on Jan. 12. Some will be meaningful, others magical, and a few will be blowouts. But, seriously, would you prefer less college football?
The CFP semifinals
Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State [4 p.m. Jan. 1, ESPN]
For just the fourth time, two Heisman winners — 2013’s Jameis Winston of Florida State and 2014’s Marcus Mariota of Oregon — will face off against each other. They both might be tempted to give back their trophy if it means they can win the Rose Bowl and move on to the inaugural CFP National Championship Game.
The Seminoles are 13-0 but have slithered out of more tight spots than James Bond, winning seven games by six points or fewer (including a breathless four straight). The Ducks rebounded from an early loss to Arizona to cruise to the Pac-12 title with Mariota (38 TD passes, two interceptions) carving up the competition. Can FSU pull another escape trick, or does the Quack Attack advance?
Advocate says: Oregon 36, Florida State 29
Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State [7:30 p.m. Jan. 1, ESPN]
When preseason practice began, no one knew Blake Sims would be Alabama’s starting quarterback and lead the Crimson Tide to a CFP berth. Child’s play, say the Buckeyes.
Urban Meyer’s Ohio State squad is on its third QB: Cardale Jones, who led OSU to a 59-0 trouncing of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.
Bama isn’t as dominant as perhaps any of its national champs under Nick Saban, but the Tide may be more explosive with Heisman finalist WR Amari Cooper and RB T.J. Yeldon.
Alabama is vulnerable to the long pass but hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher, an ominous statistic for Ezekiel Elliott (1,402 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns) and the run-heavy Buckeyes. SEC prestige is on the line.
Advocate says: Alabama 34, Ohio State 17
Five games you just can’t miss
Music City Bowl: LSU vs. Notre Dame
WHEN: 2 p.m. Dec. 30
The skinny: What, you didn’t think LSU’s bowl game would be in the must-watch department? A Tigers bowl has never been more about next year than this one — the QB position, specifically. Here’s another opportunity for Anthony Jennings to clinch his grip on the starting gig for 2014. And what if freshman Brandon Harris plays? He must take the opportunity and perform better than he did at Auburn in his first career start.
Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Wisconsin
WHEN: 11 a.m. Jan. 1
The skinny: Auburn’s offense is always fun, right? And so is its defense — for the opponent (in this case, Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon and his nation-leading 2,336 yards). AU fired defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson after it allowed 130 points in its final three SEC games. Wisconsin will be coached by athletic director (and former coach) Barry Alvarez after Gary Andersen split for Oregon State. Memo to Coach Barry: Run Gordon.
Orange Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech
WHEN: 7 p.m. Dec. 31
The skinny: If you enjoy warm weather and coaches who run on third-and-7, you’ll love this. The Yellow Jackets and Bulldogs rank third and 20th nationally in rushing yards per game, and both are in the top 17 in rushing attempts per game. It’s Dan Mullen’s spread, run-heavy style — led by QB Dak Prescott — against Paul Johnson’s triple option. Tech lost three games by a combined 13 points, and the Bulldogs fell to the No. 1 and No. 9 teams. Who will run all the way to a victory?
Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Florida State
WHEN: 4 p.m. Jan. 1
The skinny: West meets East. Marcus Mariota meets Jameis Winston. Pac-12 meets ACC. The Seminoles have proved this season that they can win the close game. They’ve won seven one-score games, and that doesn’t include a game at Louisville in which FSU trailed 21-0 ... or the one at N.C. State in which the Noles fell behind 24-7. A poor start against the Ducks, and Jimbo Fisher’s team may see its quest for back-to-back national titles disappear.
Fiesta Bowl: Boise State vs. Arizona
WHEN: 3 p.m. Dec. 31
The skinny: Any time Boise State is in a major bowl, you should watch. The Broncos are 5-2 since 2006 in bowl games against Power Five teams. They’re averaging 39 points this season behind Grant Hedrick’s 3,387 yards. They meet an Arizona team that also has little trouble scoring. The Wildcats have a 3,000-yard passer (Anu Solomon) and a 1,000-yard rusher (Nick Wilson).
Three players you’ve just got to see
Colorado State QB Garrett Grayson
The game: Las Vegas Bowl vs. Utah (2:30 p.m. Dec. 20, ABC)
The skinny: Who? You’ll see. Grayson is sixth in the nation in passing yards per game (315), seventh in touchdown passes (32) and second in QB rating (171). He has thrown for at least 300 yards in six games. Grayson was a two-star prospect out of high school in 2010.
Alabama WR Amari Cooper
The game: Sugar Bowl vs. Ohio State (7:30 p.m. Jan. 1, ESPN)
The skinny: The Biletnikoff Award winner is one of the best receivers you’ll see this bowl season — or this season, period. He’s a quick and crisp route runner who has speed to make defenders miss after the catch. His 1,656 receiving yards led the nation.
Missouri DE Shane Ray
The game: Citrus Bowl vs. Minnesota (Noon Jan 1, ABC)
The skinny: Ray is projected as a top-10 selection in this year’s NFL draft. He’s big, strong and fast. His 12.5 sacks are sixth nationally, and he’s third with 21 tackles for loss. He was ejected early in the SEC title-game loss to Alabama, so he’ll be hungry on New Year’s Day.
Three storylines you won’t forget
THE GAME: Sugar Bowl, Alabama vs. Ohio State
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 1 (ESPN)
THE SKINNY: When Nick Saban and Urban Meyer meet, there’s usually something big at stake. That will be true again when Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide takes on Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl, the second of the CFP semifinal games. Between them, they’ve won 11 conference titles, six national championships and 15 bowl games. Whoever wins No. 16 will get to play for another national championship. The rich get richer.
THE GAME: Texas Bowl, Arkansas vs. Texas
WHEN: 8 p.m. Dec. 29 (ESPN)
THE SKINNY: Arkansas and Texas go way back to the days of the Southwest Conference, of Darrell Royal and Frank Broyles, of Razorbacks linebacker Dan Hampton trying to bring down Longhorns tailback Earl Campbell. In 1969, No. 1 Texas won 15-14 at No. 2 Arkansas in the “Game of the Century,” with President Nixon proclaiming the Longhorns national champions. The Texas Bowl won’t be anywhere near that big, but it will stir up memories.
THE GAMES: Peach Bowl, TCU vs. Ole Miss; Cotton Bowl, Baylor vs. Michigan St.
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. Dec. 31 (ESPN); 11:30 a.m. Jan. 1 (ESPN)
THE SKINNY: TCU and Baylor obviously don’t play each other; TCU plays Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl and Baylor takes on Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl. But both teams will be looking to take out their snubbed frustrations on their bowl opponent and prove the CFP committee wrong for picking Ohio State instead of them.
The bowl menu
New Orleans Bowl
Who: Nevada vs. UL-Lafayette
When/Where: 10 a.m., Mercedes-Benz Superdome
Why Watch? The Cajuns (8-4) are trying to win the same bowl four years in a row, which has never been done. Nevada (7-5) has one of the most versatile QBs in the country in Cody Fajardo (2,374 yards passing, 997 rushing).
ADVOCATE SAYS: Nevada 34-31
New Mexico Bowl
Who: Utah State vs. UTEP
When/Where: 1:20 p.m., Albuquerque, N.M.
Why Watch? UTEP (7-5), the team the “Bottom Ten” once called Texas at El-Intercepted Paso, was 2-10 just a year ago and is bowling for the first time since 2005. LB Zach Vigil is No. 3 nationally in total tackles (145) for Utah State (9-4).
ADVOCATE SAYS: Utah State 27-10
Las Vegas Bowl
Who: Utah vs. Colorado State
When/Where: 2:30 p.m., Las Vegas
Why Watch? The Utes (8-4) had one of the best wins of any four-loss team, beating UCLA. The Rams (10-2) and QB Garrett Grayson (sixth nationally in passing yards per game) will be led by interim coach Dave Baldwin after Jim McElwain left for Florida.
ADVOCATE SAYS: Utah 27-14
Who: Western Michigan vs. Air Force
When/Where: 4:45 p.m., Boise, Idaho
Why Watch? Air Force (9-3) and Western Michigan (8-4) were a combined 3-21 last season, and both like to pound the rock. WMU’s Jarvion Franklin is 10th nationally with 1,525 rushing yards. Expect these two to run, run, run up the score.
ADVOCATE SAYS: WMU 34-31
Who: South Alabama vs. Bowling Green
When/Where: 8:15 p.m., Montgomery, Ala.
Why Watch? No idea. The Jaguars (6-6), at least, are bowling for the first time. But both squads enter on a skid. Bowling Green (7-6) has lost three straight; USA has lost four of five.
ADVOCATE SAYS: USA 21-17
Miami Beach Bowl
Who: BYU vs. Memphis
When/Where: 1 p.m., Miami
Why Watch? It’s been a renaissance season for Memphis, going from 3-9 to 9-3 and winning a share of its first conference title since 1971. BYU agreed to play in this bowl in April and overcame a plague of injuries to get to 8-4.
ADVOCATE SAYS: Memphis 26-19
Boca Raton Bowl
Who: Marshall vs. Northern Illinois
When/Where: 5 p.m., Boca Raton, Florida
Why Watch? Two of the best rushing teams in the nation clash in this first-year bowl. Winners of its first 11 games, the Herd (12-1) has the seventh-best rushing attack in the nation led by Devon Johnson’s 1,636 yards. Champions of the MAC, the Huskies (11-2) run for 250 per game.
ADVOCATE SAYS: Marshall 41-31
Who: San Diego State vs. Navy
When/Where: 8:30 p.m., San Diego
Why Watch? It will be late, but it should be quick. Both teams like to run wild. Navy (7-5) leads the FBS at 345.1 yards per game. The Aztecs (7-5), playing at home in Qualcomm Stadium, are led by Donnel Pumphrey, third nationally with 1,755 yards rushing.
ADVOCATE SAYS: SDSU 37-23
Who: Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky
When/Where: 11 a.m., Nassau, Bahamas
Why Watch? Bobby Petrino’s old team — how many squads could you say that about? — takes on RB Thomas Rawls and the Chippewas (7-5). Rawls has run for more than 1,100 yards and scored 10 times. WKU (7-5) has QB Brandon Doughty and his nation-leading 4,433 passing yards.
ADVOCATE SAYS: WKU 37-31
Who: Rice vs. Fresno State
When/Where: 7 p.m., Honolulu
Why Watch? So you can ask yourself, “Why am I not there in person?” And “Why is a 6-7 Fresno State team in a bowl?” The Bulldogs were 6-6 and lost the Mountain West title game to Boise State. From loophole to leis and a matchup with the Owls (7-5).
ADVOCATE SAYS: Fresno 33-28
Heart of Dallas Bowl
Who: Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech
When/Where: Noon, Dallas
Why Watch? The Illini (6-6) are in their first bowl since 2011, coach Ron Zook’s last season. The Bulldogs (8-5) hit the 40-point mark six times, including a 76-point outburst against Rice.
ADVOCATE SAYS: La. Tech 33-30
Quick Lane Bowl
Who: Rutgers vs. North Carolina
When/Where: 3:30 p.m., Detroit
Why Watch? It should be pedal to the metal in the Motor City; neither team plays a lick of defense. North Carolina (6-6) allows 39 points per game, while Rutgers (7-5) checks in at 31. Sounds like a good score to us.
ADVOCATE SAYS: Rutgers 39-31
St. Petersburg Bowl
Who: N.C. State vs. Central Florida
When/Where: 7 p.m., St. Petersburg, Fla.
Why Watch? Remember Jacoby Brissett, the former Florida QB? He now plays for the Wolfpack (7-5). Brissett has run for 498 yards and thrown for 2,344. He’ll face a Golden Knights (9-3) defense that has allowed 17 ppg, ninth nationally.
ADVOCATE SAYS: N.C. State 17-14
Who: Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech
When/Where: Noon, Annapolis, Md.
Why Watch? Admit it: You want to see Gunner Kiel’s chest take on the Hokies (6-6). The one-time LSU commitment has thrown for 3,010 yards and 30 TDs this season for Cincinnati (9-3). Then again, considering how badly the Tigers struggle to pass, maybe you don’t want to look.
ADVOCATE SAYS: Cincinnati 28-23
Who: Arizona State vs. Duke
When/Where: 1 p.m., El Paso, Texas
Why Watch? Both of these squads were 8-1 heading into the final three games and then poof! went any chance of a league title. The Sun Devils (9-3) and Blue Devils (9-3) — devilish matchup, huh? — both score 32 or more points per game.
ADVOCATE SAYS: Arizona St. 28-21
Who: South Carolina vs. Miami
When/Where: 2:30 p.m., Shreveport
Why Watch? From start to finish, the Gamecocks (6-6) haven’t been able to stop anyone this season, allowing 31.2 points per game. The Hurricanes (6-6) have lost three straight, but RB Duke Johnson averages 7 yards per carry — a stat likely to improve.
ADVOCATE SAYS: Miami 30-20
Who: Boston College vs. Penn State
When/Where: 3:30 p.m., New York
Why Watch? Because it’s at Yankee Stadium, for one. The Nittany Lions (6-6) hate scoring. Their 20 points per game rank 115th nationally, but they do have the No. 8 defense. The Eagles (7-5) aren’t much different: They have a defense ranked 18th.
ADVOCATE SAYS: Penn State 17-13
Who: Nebraska vs. Southern California
When/Where: 7 p.m., San Diego
Why Watch? Bo Pelini led the Cornhuskers to a 2003 Alamo Bowl win as interim coach. Now it’s Barney Cotton’s turn before handing the keys to Mike Riley. The Huskers (9-4) will have a time trying to stop Cody Kessler and Javorius Allen of USC (8-4).
ADVOCATE SAYS: USC 41-18
Who: Texas A&M vs. West Virginia
When/Where: 1 p.m., Memphis, Tenn.
Why Watch? Because you can’t get enough spread football. Kevin Sumlin and his Aggies (7-5) and Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers (7-5) will shotgun it up in Memphis. West Virginia has a win over Baylor and lost by one to TCU.
ADVOCATE SAYS: WVU 31-24
Russell Athletic Bowl
Who: Clemson vs. Oklahoma
When/Where: 4:30 p.m., Orlando, Fla.
Why Watch? Clemson (9-3) is without QB Deshaun Watson, who tore his ACL on Nov. 15 against Georgia Tech, and offensive coordinator Chad Morris, now head coach at SMU. For Oklahoma (8-4), RB Samaje Perine rushed for an FBS-record 429 yards Nov. 22 vs. Kansas.
ADVOCATE SAYS: Oklahoma 31-17
Who: Arkansas vs. Texas
When/Where: 8 p.m., Houston
Why Watch? Grab your 10-gallon hat and call the hogs, the Southwest Conference is back! At least for one night. Two once proud and ancient rivals (who both went a forgettable 6-6 this year) will try to steal the other’s momentum — and maybe some of the other school’s livestock.
ADVOCATE SAYS: Arkansas 24-17
Music City Bowl
Who: LSU vs. Notre Dame
When/Where: 2 p.m., Nashville, Tenn.
Why Watch? Because you love average-to-bad QB play. The Tigers (8-4) and Irish (7-5) both have issues at the most important position on the field. This one could turn into a defensive battle, and that’s exactly what LSU wants to play.
ADVOCATE SAYS: LSU 24-17
Who: Georgia vs. Louisville
When/Where: 5:30 p.m., Charlotte, N.C.
Why Watch? The Bulldogs (9-3) have maybe the nation’s best freshman running back in Nick Chubb. He rolled up 1,281 yards with Todd Gurley out. The Cardinals (9-3) were one of many teams that let Florida State slip through.
ADVOCATE SAYS: Georgia 27-20
Foster Farms Bowl
Who: Stanford vs. Maryland
When/Where: 9 p.m., Santa Clara, Calif.
Why Watch? Hey, Rose Bowl, we’ve got your, Pac-12 vs. Big Ten right here. Maryland (7-5) ventures into Stanford’s backyard looking for a big statement win. It won’t be easy. The Cardinal (7-5) ranks No. 2 in points allowed (16.0), right between Ole Miss and LSU.
ADVOCATE SAYS: Stanford 17-13
Who: Ole Miss vs. TCU
When/Where: 11:30 a.m., Atlanta
Why Watch? Here’s your first shot to watch one of the two one-loss teams that were left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff. The Horned Frogs (11-1) aren’t happy, and they’ll try to show it against the Rebels (9-3) and I-Just-Got-A-Big-Raise coach Hugh Freeze.
ADVOCATE SAYS: TCU 28-24
Who: Arizona vs. Boise State
When/Where: 3 p.m., Glendale, Ariz.
Why Watch? Scooby Wright, where are you? Still in Arizona (10-3), as the Lombardi Trophy-winning LB leads the resurgent Wildcats past an Old West power (of sorts) in Boise State (11-2). Broncos QB Grant Hedrick (3,387 yards passing) will test Arizona with his arm.
ADVOCATE SAYS: Arizona 31-30
Who: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech
When/Where: 7 p.m., Miami
Why Watch? The Bulldogs (10-2) are led by one of the nation’s most entertaining QBs in Dak Prescott, a Heisman favorite until early November. The Yellow Jackets (10-3) and their triple-option offense will have a fight against a sturdy State front seven. These teams combine to average about 280 rushing yards per game.
ADVOCATE SAYS: State 34-31
Who: Auburn vs. Wisconsin
When/Where: 11 a.m., Tampa, Fla.
Why Watch? If you’re an LSU fan, you know both teams. Both have big, run-oriented offenses, Auburn (8-4) led by QB Nick Marshall, Wisconsin (10-3) by Heisman runner-up Melvin Gordon at RB. Surely there will be a shot of Will Muschamp watching and taking notes.
ADVOCATE SAYS: Auburn 42-29
Who: Michigan State vs. Baylor
When/Where: 11:30 a.m., Arlington, Texas
Why Watch? The second of two top one-loss teams to get left out of the CFP, the Bears (11-1) and their high-flying offense will be tested against a Michigan State defense that allows just 20 points per game. The only losses for the Spartans (10-2) came to Ohio State and Oregon. Not too bad.
ADVOCATE SAYS: Michigan St. 23-20
Who: Missouri vs. Minnesota
When/Where: Noon, Orlando, Fla.
Why Watch? Missouri (10-3) played in its second straight SEC title game. Minnesota (8-4) nearly won the Big Ten West. The key will be whether Gophers QB Mitch Leidner can survive the pass rush of Shane Ray and Markus Golden. Could be a close one.
ADVOCATE SAYS: Missouri 24-23
Armed Forces Bowl
Who: Houston vs. Pittsburgh
When/Where: 11 a.m., Fort Worth, Texas
Why Watch? Pittsburgh (6-6), which just lost coach Paul Chryst to Wisconsin, is led by RB James Conner (1,675 rushing yards), the ACC player of the year. Houston (7-5), led by LB Efrem Oliphant, plays some stout defense, 11th in scoring, giving up 19.5 ppg.
ADVOCATE SAYS: Pittsburgh 19-14
Who: Iowa vs. Tennessee
When/Where: 2:20 p.m., Jacksonville, Fla.
Why Watch? The Volunteers (6-6) had to win three of their last four to reach bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010, and coach Butch Jones seems to have the program moving forward. Will that continue against the Hawkeyes (7-5), who seem to be slipping?
ADVOCATE SAYS: Tennessee 20-17
Who: Kansas State vs. UCLA
When/Where: 5:45 p.m., San Antonio
Why Watch? The 9-3 team that gets to 10 wins will be the more efficient one. UCLA QB Brett Hundley has completed more than 70 percent of his passes this season. K-State makes its two-star talent play with discipline and toughness.
ADVOCATE SAYS: K-State 27-23
Who: Washington vs. Oklahoma State
When/Where: 9:15 p.m., Tempe, Ariz.
Why Watch? The Cowboys (6-6) are coming off a rousing overtime win at rival Oklahoma to clinch a ninth straight bowl berth. The Huskies (8-5) had a somewhat disappointing year in Chris Petersen’s first season leading the program, but QB Cyler Miles has been efficient. He has thrown 16 TDs to three picks.
ADVOCATE SAYS: OSU 37-35
Who: East Carolina vs. Florida
When/Where: 11 a.m., Birmingham, Ala.
Why Watch? Interim D.J. Durkin will do the coaching for Florida (6-5) while new coach Jim McElwain is recruiting. ECU (8-4), which was once a trendy pick for a CFP bowl berth, will test the Gators defense with QB Shane Carden (359.1 passing ypg).
ADVOCATE SAYS: ECU 23-16
Who: Toledo vs. Arkansas State
When/Where: 8 p.m., Mobile, Ala.
Why Watch? Les Miles would looooove this game. These teams average 240 rushing yards per game. The Rockets (8-4) have Kareem Hunt and his 1,360 yards, and the Red Wolves (7-5) have Michael Gordon’s 1,064.
ADVOCATE SAYS: Toledo 28-27