New Mexico Bowl
WHO: Washington State vs. Colorado State
WHEN/WHERE: 1 p.m., Albuquerque, N.M.
Why watch? Take time Saturday to see the bowl season kick off. Then check back later for what could be an exciting finish. Washington State (6-6) moves on the right arm of quarterback Connor Halliday (4,187 yards, 28 touchdowns), but the Cougars are last nationally at 58.6 rushing yards per game. The Rams (7-6) are the only FBS team with a 3,000-yard passer (Garrett Grayson) and a 1,500-yard rusher (Kapri Bibbs).
Prediction: Colorado State 42-37
Las Vegas Bowl
WHO: Fresno State vs. Southern California
WHEN/WHERE: 2:30 p.m., Las Vegas
WHY WATCH? The Trojans (9-4) are led by their third interim coach in less than three months. The Bulldogs (11-1) had their BCS bubble busted by a Nov. 29 loss to San Jose State. In short, there’s not much excitement around this one. But wait! USC offensive coordinator Clay Helton gets a stage to impress future suitors, and Fresno State has the opportunity to knock off big bad Southern Cal before new coach Steve Sarkisian begins sweeping up the mess.
Prediction: Southern Cal 41-35
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
WHO: Buffalo vs. San Diego State
WHEN/WHERE: 4:30 p.m., Boise, Idaho
WHY WATCH? It’s your only chance to watch a bowl game on blue turf. But even better, the Bulls (8-4) have perhaps the best defensive player you’ve never seen — unless you watch midweek MAC games. Linebacker Khalil Mack was his conference’s defensive player of the year. Tim Vizzi had two punt return TDs for the Aztecs (7-5).
Prediction: San Diego State 30-22
New Orleans Bowl
WHO: Tulane vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
WHEN/WHERE: 8 p.m. in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome
WHY WATCH? The Green Wave (7-5) ends a decade-long bowl drought. The Ragin’ Cajuns (8-4) are back for a third year in a row. Both fan bases win with a short commute. Tulane’s rush defense is stingy enough to check a strong Ragin’ Cajuns ground game that’s part of an offense putting up 35.1 points per game. The question is whether Tulane’s Nick Montana-led offense, which is No. 118 nationally, can get traction.
Prediction: Tulane 27-24
Beef O’Brady’s Bowl
WHO: East Carolina vs. Ohio
WHEN/WHERE: 1 p.m., St. Petersburg, Fla.
WHY WATCH? Around here, the main reason may be to get a sneak peek at Tropicana Field and dream of Leonard Fournette committing to LSU during the Jan. 2 Under Armour All-American Game. Ohio (7-5) will be challenged to keep Justin Hardy (105 catches, 1,218 yards, eight touchdowns) of the Pirates (9-3) under control. The Bobcats, who were routed in three straight late (including a 44-13 loss to LSU victim Kent State), probably can’t keep pace.
Prediction: East Carolina 34-16
WHO: Boise State vs. Oregon State
WHEN/WHERE: 7 p.m., Honolulu
WHY WATCH? To see two teams craving a win. The Beavers (6-6) are on a five-game losing streak. Boise State (8-4) hasn’t lost five in a season since 1998. The Broncos will take the field led by someone other than Chris Petersen for the first time in seven years. (He’s off to Washington to replace Steve Sarkisian.) The Oregon State tandem of QB Sean Mannion and the nation’s leader in receiving yards, Brandin Cooks, might save a duel between mediocre squads.
Prediction: Oregon State 34-30
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
WHO: Pittsburgh vs. Bowling Green
WHEN/WHERE: 5 p.m., Detroit
WHY WATCH? If you want a break from bowl games that showcase video game-like scoring, this one’s for you. The Falcons (10-3) have an outstanding defense (fifth in the country in points allowed) that slowed Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch in the MAC title game. The Panthers (6-6) have trouble scoring much on anyone but played good enough defense to get bowl eligible.
Prediction: Bowling Green 20-13
WHO: Utah State vs. Northern Illinois
WHEN/WHERE: 8:30 p.m., San Diego
WHY WATCH? Quarterback Jordan Lynch doesn’t get another BCS stage for NIU (12-1) but still should be reason enough to flip this one on. A stout defense from Utah State (8-5), ranked No. 12 nationally, features a talented linebacker duo in Jake Doughty and Zack Vigil that could wrangle the Heisman finalist. But the Utah State offense might not be able to provide enough support.
Prediction: Northern Illinois 28-20
WHO: Marshall vs. Maryland
WHEN/WHERE: 1:30 p.m., Annapolis, Md.
WHY WATCH? It’s one of the most even matchups: The Thundering Herd (9-4) is just a two- to three-point favorite against the ACC’s 10th-place team. The Terrapins (7-5) will have homefield advantage since the game is played at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Maryland and Marshall, which lost at Rice in the Conference USA title game, share an opponent: Virginia Tech. The Herd lost in triple overtime to VT, and the Terps beat the Hokies in OT.
Prediction: Maryland 28-24
WHO: Syracuse vs. Minnesota
WHEN/WHERE: 5 p.m., Houston
WHY WATCH? To see how long it takes one of these teams to score. The Golden Gophers (8-4) rank 116th in passing offense and 105th in total offense. The Orangemen (6-6) are 102nd in passing but can run the ball a little bit with Jerome Smith, who will try to avoid Gophers DT Ra’Shede Hageman. Minnesota and Texas Tech came up with a pretty entertaining performance in this bowl last year, when the Red Raiders prevailed 34-31.
Prediction: Syracuse 20, Minnesota 18
Fight Hunger Bowl
WHO: BYU vs. Washington
WHEN/WHERE: 8:30 p.m., San Francisco
WHY WATCH? Huskies running back Bishop Sankey is among the nation’s most productive with 1,775 yards and 18 touchdowns. UW (8-4) will be led by interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo after Steve Sarkisian left for USC. BYU (8-4) showcases running back Jamaal Williams and his 1,202 rushing yards.
Prediction: Washington 28-24
WHO: Rutgers vs. Notre Dame
WHEN/WHERE: 11 a.m., New York
WHY WATCH? To see a quasi-New York City team playing Notre Dame in Yankee Stadium. That could make for pretty good theatre, but it’s up to the teams to come through. The Scarlet Knights (6-6) finally showed some life on offense at the end of the season when Chas Dodd replaced Gary Nova at QB, but the Fighting Irish (8-4) rank 18th in pass defense. Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees is erratic, too, but he’s facing the 120th-ranked pass defense.
Prediction: Notre Dame 30-19
WHO: Cincinnati vs. North Carolina
WHEN/WHERE: 2:20 p.m., Charlotte, N.C.
WHY WATCH? Cincinnati’s season could have imploded when it lost QB Munchie Legaux (of Edna Karr High) with a knee injury in Week 2. But a top-10 defense, led by LB Nick Temple, kept the Bearcats (9-3) in the American Athletic Conference hunt till season’s end. North Carolina (6-6) lost QB Bryn Renner to a shoulder injury in November but got here by winning five of its final six games with a strong ground attack and solid play from QB Marquise Williams.
Prediction: Cincinnati 27-26
Russell Athletic Bowl
WHO: Louisville vs. Miami
WHEN/WHERE: 5:45 p.m., Orlando, Fla.
WHY WATCH? Two words: Teddy Bridgewater. The quarterback from Louisville (11-1) was overshadowed by Heisman winner Jameis Winston and the Cardinals’ BCS-busting loss to Central Florida, but the junior passed for 3,523 yards, 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He’ll likely be playing his final college game, and it comes against his hometown team. The Hurricanes (9-3) allow more than 230 passing yards per game, 71st nationally.
Prediction: Louisville 24-17
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
WHO: Michigan vs. Kansas State
WHEN/WHERE: 9:15 p.m., Tempe, Ariz.
WHY WATCH? The Michigan (7-5) duo of QB Devin Gardner and WR Jeremy Gallon offers wattage to offset the low-key personality of the Wildcats (7-5). QB Jake Waters was third in the Big 12 in total offense, and defensive end Ryan Mueller was among the conference leaders in sacks and tackles for loss.
Prediction: Michigan 27-17
Armed Forces Bowl
WHO: Middle Tennessee vs. Navy
WHEN/WHERE: 10:45 a.m., Fort Worth, Texas
WHY WATCH? Only Auburn grounds and pounds better than Navy (8-4), which averages 322.0 rushing yards. Midshipmen QB Keenan Reynolds is a highlight show all by himself: He leads the nation with an FBS-record 29 rushing touchdowns, including an NCAA-record seven Nov. 22 at San Jose State (in triple OT). The Blue Raiders (8-4) are 85th nationally, allowing 185.4 rushing yards. That’s a bad sign.
Prediction: Navy 35-24
Music City Bowl
WHO: Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech
WHEN/WHERE: 2:15 p.m., Nashville, Tenn.
WHY WATCH? These guys need a win. Both lost their final regular-season games against rivals in overtime. The Rebels (7-5) and quarterback Bo Wallace had what many believe was a disappointing year capped with a defeat at Mississippi State. The Yellow Jackets (7-5) and their option offense get a shot at an SEC team in a bowl for the first time since a 38-3 rout by LSU in the 2008 Chick-fil-A. GT lost a fifth straight to Georgia in its season finale.
Prediction: Ole Miss 28-23
WHO: Oregon vs. Texas
WHEN/WHERE: 5:45 p.m., San Antonio
WHY WATCH? It’s Mack Brown’s last game as Texas’ coach. It’s Oregon QB Marcus Mariota’s first chance to impress Heisman voters for 2014. And goodness knows what kind of outfit the Ducks (10-2) will show up wearing. The Longhorns (8-4) defense was awful in September but better after Greg Robinson took over as coordinator. Now it faces the No. 3 scoring offense in the country.
Prediction: Texas 34-33
WHO: Texas Tech vs. Arizona State
WHEN/WHERE: 9:15 p.m., San Diego
WHY WATCH? Dub this one the Letdown Bowl. The Red Raiders (7-5), led by suave first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury, have lost five in a row. The Sun Devils (10-3) got shellacked 38-14 by Stanford in the Pac-12 title game. Heck, even Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield is transferring — before the bowl game. Kingsbury will use bowl practices to host a quarterback derby between Davis Webb and Michael Brewer. Excited?
Prediction: Arizona State 37-23
AdvoCare V100 Bowl
WHO: Arizona vs. Boston College
WHEN/WHERE: 11:30 a.m., Shreveport
WHY WATCH? The artist formerly known as the Independence Bowl offers up the bowl season’s best matchup of running backs. Andre Williams of BC (7-5) leads the nation with 2,102 rushing yards and 17 TDs. Ka’Deem Carey of Arizona (7-5) ranks fifth with 1,716 yards and 17 TDs. Led by LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (104 tackles), BC is better at stopping the run — but just barely (152.8 to 169.8 ypg).
Prediction: Arizona 31-28
WHO: UCLA vs. Virginia Tech
WHEN/WHERE: 1 p.m., El Paso, Texas
WHY WATCH? It might be one last look at quarterback Brett Hundley for UCLA (9-3). The projected first- or second-round pick hasn’t decided his future, but the sophomore threw for 2,845 yards, 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He ran for 587 more yards and scored nine times on the ground. The Hokies (8-4) lost three of their final five games, but they bring a stiff defense: They’re fourth in total D.
Prediction: UCLA 31-17
WHO: Rice vs. Mississippi State
WHEN/WHERE: 3 p.m., Memphis, Tenn.
WHY WATCH? The Conference USA champion Owls (10-3) rolled to 10 wins, and the Bulldogs (6-6) needed OT victories in their last two games to get bowl eligible. But we’re talking C-USA vs. SEC, and this game will show a lot about what strength of schedule means — or doesn’t mean. Rice runs the ball effectively with Charles Ross and ranks 13th in pass defense and 24th in total defense. State’s offense is solely in the hands of Dak Prescott after Tyler Russell’s career ended with a shoulder injury.
Prediction: Mississippi State 26-16
WHO: Duke vs. Texas A&M
WHEN/WHERE: 7 p.m., Atlanta
Why to watch: Is this Johnny Football’s swan song? Manziel and the Aggies (8-4) enter as heavy favorites over a feel-good story in the Blue Devils (10-3). A middle-of-the-pack defense for Duke won’t be enough to halt a top-five offense. Duke receiver Jamison Crowder (92.1 ypg, seven TDs) is a nice asset, but coach David Cutcliffe doesn’t have enough in the armory. If Manziel is NFL-bound, he could put on quite a closing performance.
Prediction: Texas A&M 38-21
Heart of Dallas Bowl
WHO: UNLV vs. North Texas
WHEN/WHERE: 11 a.m., Dallas
WHY WATCH? If you had to pick which of the seven New Year’s Day bowls doesn’t belong, this would be the one. UNLV (7-5) overcame blowout losses to Minnesota and Arizona to start the season before reaching its first bowl since 2000. North Texas (8-4) is playing closer to home but has shakier quarterback play. Mean Green QB Derek Thompson threw 14 TDs and 13 INTs, nine more than UNLV QB Caleb Herring (2,522 yards, 22 TDs). Fewest mistakes wins.
Prediction: UNLV 27-20
WHO: Nebraska vs. Georgia
WHEN/WHERE: 11 a.m., Jacksonville, Fla.
WHY WATCH? Georgia beat Nebraska 45-31 about 150 miles to the south in the Capital One Bowl last season. Now both teams are using backup quarterbacks; the Cornhuskers’ Taylor Martinez and the Bulldogs’ Aaron Murray are injured. Look for Georgia (8-4) to lean even more on RB Todd Gurley and Nebraska (8-4) to do the same with Ameer Abdullah. Georgia ranked in the top 20 in all major offensive stats, but that was behind Murray, the most prolific QB in SEC history.
Prediction: Georgia 29-20
WHO: LSU vs. Iowa
WHEN/WHERE: Noon, Tampa, Fla.
Why watch? To see how Anthony Jennings handles the Hawkeyes (8-4)? LSU’s true freshman quarterback is set to make his first career start following an improbable debut: He led the Tigers (9-3) on a 99-yard, game-winning drive in the final minutes against Arkansas (like you didn’t know). Instead of Zach Mettenberger, Jennings will be the one throwing to one of LSU’s best receiving duos (Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry) in, likely, their college finale.
Prediction: LSU 17-13
Capital One Bowl
WHO: South Carolina vs. Wisconsin
WHEN/WHERE: Noon, Orlando, Fla.
WHY WATCH? South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney may have been one of the biggest disappointments of the season, but who doesn’t want to see the presumptive No. 1 pick play in college one more time? The Gamecocks (10-2) meet a Badgers (9-3) team that had won six straight before a stunning home defeat against Penn State in the regular-season finale.
Prediction: South Carolina 27-24
WHO: Stanford vs. Michigan State
WHEN/WHERE: 4 p.m., Pasadena, Calif.
WHY WATCH? If all these point-a-minute offenses have you pining for old-fashioned football, have we got a bowl for you. Both teams embrace smashmouth ball, Stanford (11-2) with the run (Tyler Gaffney has 1,618 yards and 20 TDs on 306 carries), Michigan State (11-2) with the nation’s best defense (248.2 yards per game) led by All-Americans Shilique Calhoun at DE and Darqueze Dennard at CB. This is the 100th Rose Bowl game. Stanford lost the first in 1902 to Michigan 49-0, a game so lopsided that football was replaced by chariot races and polo matches until 1916.
Prediction: Stanford 24-12
WHO: Baylor vs. Central Florida
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m., Glendale, Ariz.
WHY WATCH? The luster came off Baylor (11-1) in the past month. So what? The Bears’ full-throttle attack can pile up serious yards (623.3 per game) and points (53.3). Quarterback Bryce Petty and running back Lache Seastrunk are luminaries, but BU’s defense is quietly stingy at No. 17 nationally. Coach George O’Leary deserves credit for getting the Knights (11-1) into the BCS. But UCF will have fits slowing an offense running a play every 19 seconds.
Prediction: Baylor 41-24
WHO: Oklahoma vs. Alabama
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m. in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome
WHY WATCH? It’s a Big 12 heavyweight against an SEC heavyweight — and much more. Heisman Trophy runner-up AJ McCarron plays the final game of his illustrious career at Alabama (11-1) against a talented defense from Oklahoma (10-2), ranked 13th in yards allowed and led by freshman LB Dominique Alexander. Whoever winds up playing QB for the Sooners will be challenged by Butkus Award winner C.J. Mosley and the rock-hard Tide defense. Then there’s the excitement of the Bama kicking game.
Prediction: Alabama 28-25
WHO: Oklahoma State vs. Missouri
WHEN/WHERE: 6:30 p.m., Arlington, Texas
WHY WATCH? Less than two years after Missouri’s somewhat-messy Big 12 exit, the Tigers (11-2) clash with one of their former rivals. The Cowboys (10-2) weren’t as disgruntled with Missouri’s move as other Big 12 members, but there’s no denying that this clash between two rival conferences has even more intrigue this go-round. And there’ll be points, too. The offenses combine to average nearly 1,000 yards per game.
Prediction: Missouri 45-35
WHO: Ohio State vs. Clemson
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m., Miami
WHY WATCH? A matchup of elite quarterbacks — Braxton Miller of Ohio State (12-1) and Tajh Boyd of Clemson (10-2) — is reason enough. The defenses are statistically even, but Ohio State is No. 104 nationally in stopping the pass. So conditions are ripe for Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins to roll up big numbers. Yet Clemson’s ability to stop the run is pedestrian, a boon for OSU running back Carlos Hyde (140.8 yards per game, 14 TDs). Expect a shootout on South Beach.
Prediction: Ohio State 35, Clemson 31
BBVA Compass Bowl
WHO: Vanderbilt vs. Houston
WHEN/WHERE: Noon, Birmingham, Ala.
WHY WATCH? The Commodores (8-4) have been to three consecutive bowl games, an achievement in itself. Freshman quarterback John O’Korn (2,889 yards, 26 TDs) put together a nice season for Houston (8-4), which regained stability under coach Tony Levine.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 23-17
WHO: Arkansas State vs. Ball State
WHEN/WHERE: 8 p.m., Mobile, Ala.
WHY WATCH? It’s the penultimate game before an eight-month hiatus. Ball State (10-2) has a good pitch-and-catch combination in QB Keith Wenning and WR Willie Snead, and Arkansas State (7-5) has a pretty good one in Adam Kennedy and J.D. McKissic, an all-purpose threat. Ball State ranks 13th nationally in scoring offense and 19th in passing offense and total offense.
Prediction: Ball State 37-34
BCS Championship Game
WHO: Auburn vs. Florida State
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m., Pasadena, Calif.
WHY WATCH? Just a year after managing only three wins, Auburn is in the title game for the second time in four seasons. The last time the Tigers got this far was because of the incomparable talents of Heisman Trophy-winning QB Cam Newton. This time it’s on the strength of the nation’s best rushing offense (led by Heisman finalist Tre Mason) and a “team of destiny” aura that’s hard to ignore after miracle wins over Georgia and Alabama. Florida State is in its first title game since winning the 2000 Sugar Bowl, doing an uncanny impression of an SEC team with an outstanding defense backing Heisman-winning QB Jameis Winston. With All-Americans like DT Timmy Jernigan and CB Lamarcus Joyner, the Seminoles seem athletic enough to slow an Auburn rushing attack that averages 335.7 yards. But Alabama and Missouri thought the same thing. If the Tigers win, it would mean the last eight titles of the BCS era belong to the SEC. That’s definitely retiring the trophy.
Prediction: Florida State 38-31