Thirty-five bowls crammed into 17 glorious days, with games stretching from New York to Los Angeles, Miami to Boise and so many points in between. There will be instant classics, forgettable blowouts, brilliant performances and shocking failures. Here’s everything you need to know for the long journey from Saturday’s New Mexico Bowl to the final BCS National Championship Game on January 6:
Don’t touch that remote!
These five players are must-see TV this bowl season. If you miss them, shame on you for six weeks:
1. Jameis Winston, Florida State quarterback
WHAT’S UP? This is a no-brainer: The Heisman Trophy winner against one of the nation’s worst defenses for the final BCS championship? Count us in. Winston can add to his gaudy statistics: 3,820 passing yards (eighth nationally), 38 TDs (second) and a 190 efficiency rating (first). Auburn is 104th in the nation in passing yards allowed. For those who haven’t seen the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Winston play, you’ll be impressed. The Hueytown, Ala., native can escape from pressure and has pinpoint accuracy.
ON THE AIR: vs. Auburn in BCS National Championship Game, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 6
2. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M quarterback
WHAT’S UP? Probably the last hoorah for one of college football’s most dynamic quarterbacks. Manziel will likely enter the NFL draft this spring and be selected in the first round. His final game comes against a surprising Duke squad under the lights on New Year’s Eve. Manziel struggled mightily in his last two games. The Aggies lost at LSU and Missouri, the first back-to-back defeats of his college career. The QB was off the mark in both games. He doesn’t want to go out like that, now does he?
ON THE AIR: vs. Duke in Chick-fil-A Bowl, 7 p.m. Dec. 31
3. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State wide receiver
WHAT’S UP? Just 5-foot-10 and 186 pounds, Cooks leads the nation in receiving yards (1,670) on 120 catches. He also scored 15 touchdowns and won the Biletnikoff Award, given to college football’s top receiver. Cooks is projected to be a first- or second-round draft pick. NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks has Cooks possibly being selected even higher than Southern Cal star wideout Marqise Lee. Cooks had at least 100 receiving yards in eight of 12 games and caught at least one touchdown in nine games.
ON THE AIR: vs. Boise State in Hawaii Bowl, 7 p.m., Dec. 24
4. Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois quarterback
WHAT’S UP? Overshadowed much of the year — and throughout his career — Lynch was third in Heisman Trophy voting. His numbers, though, were just as good if not better than anyone in the nation. He had 1,881 rushing yards and 2,676 through the air. He had 45 total touchdowns for the Huskies, whose BCS bubble burst with a loss to Bowling Green in the MAC title game. Thus, Lynch gets a backseat bowl, but that doesn’t mean he’s a low-level player. He completed 63 percent of his passes and averaged 7 yards per carry.
ON THE AIR: vs. Utah State in Poinsettia Bowl, 8:30 p.m. Dec. 26
5. Odell Beckham Jr., LSU receiver/kick returner
WHAT’S UP? Tough to compile any players-to-watch list without the speedy, elusive junior. The winner of the Paul Hornung Award, given to the nation’s most versatile player, Beckham finished the regular season second in the nation with 185 all-purpose yards per game. He was in the top five in the SEC in punt return average, receptions per game, receiving yards per game and kick return average. He’s a magician as a returner and lethal after catching a pass. He needs 175 all-purpose yards to break the SEC single-season record.
ON THE AIR: vs. Iowa in Outback Bowl, noon Jan. 1
FIVE GAMES TO WATCH
Can’t find time for all 35 games? Make sure you don’t miss these:
1. Alamo Bowl: Texas vs. Oregon [5:45 p.m. Dec. 30, ESPN]
Watching Oregon is always fun — the jerseys, the offense. But watching Oregon play 2013 Texas? Well, that could make for a fireworks-producing outing, and not just because it ends coach Mack Brown’s 16-year run as UT coach. Texas ranks 63rd in total defense, and the Longhorns have allowed at least 30 points in six games this season. What could the Ducks put up? There’s a reason this game has one of the biggest spreads of any bowl matchup (Oregon by 14). Meanwhile, Brown bids farewell to a program he helped resurrect. He’s 158-47 as Texas’ coach. Win No. 159 will be hard to come by.
2. Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Oklahoma [7:30 p.m. Jan. 2, ESPN]
Oh, what fun. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, always the big talker, meets a team from one of his favorite subjects: the SEC, which he seems to routinely bash when given the chance. It’s not just any SEC team, either. Most think Alabama’s the best team in the nation — Auburn loss or not. The Sooners and “Big Game” Bob have a lot to prove. Stoops has lost his past three bowl games against SEC teams. Aside from that juicy storyline, there’s this: Two of the most storied programs in college football meet in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Bama and OU are in the top 10 in all-time wins and are first (Alabama) and third in AP national titles.
3. Rose Bowl: Michigan State vs. Stanford [4 p.m. Jan. 1, ESPN]
If the College Football Playoff began a year early, the Spartans might be marching into the Final Four after beating Ohio State. They’ll have to settle for the Rose Bowl, a good consolation prize. Expect this to be the old-fashioned type. These two will be huddling (what’s that?), aligning in the I-formation and using two — TWO!? — tight ends. Oh, and they play defense, too. In the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl, these squads will take the game back 100 years. And who says that’s a bad thing? Michigan State has the land’s best defense, allowing just 248 yards per game. Stanford is 14th.
4. Outback Bowl: LSU vs. Iowa [noon Jan. 1, ESPN]
We couldn’t resist. True freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings makes his first career start against one of the nation’s stiffest defenses in a rematch of that wild Iowa win over the Tigers in the 2005 Capital One Bowl. Jennings showed more than just flashes in leading LSU, from its own 1, to a touchdown in the final minutes against Arkansas. His 99-yard march and 49-yard scoring pass to Travin Dural will go down in LSU history. But what’s he got for an encore? And how will the Tigers offense change with Jennings under center? It’ll all unfold in Raymond James Stadium and in front of that unique pirate ship that rests in the north end zone.
5. Holiday Bowl: Arizona State vs. Texas Tech [9:15 p.m. Dec. 30, ESPN]
At first glance, this looks nothing like a Game To Watch. On closer inspection, nothing like a Game To Watch. But given a third look … Game To Watch. Third-year ASU coach Todd Graham is building something in Tempe. Now can the job-hopping, Madonna headset-wearing bro complete the process? The Sun Devils have hit the 10-win mark in Graham’s second season and advanced to the Pac-12 championship game. His two years at ASU already surpass his stints at Rice and Pittsburgh. With the Texas job open, well … Either way, his offense is fun to watch, and Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury is another builder at work.
FIVE TEAMS ON UPSET ALERT
Forget what the betting line says; these five games could go either way
1. Going broke in Vegas
WHICH GAME? Fresno State vs. Southern California in the Las Vegas Bowl [2:30 p.m. Dec. 21]
WHAT’S UP? The Trojans’ psyche could be shaky as they await the arrival of their third coach since Labor Day and face Bulldogs standout QB Derek Carr in his career finale.
2. The Mack daddy steps aside
WHICH GAME? Texas vs. Oregon in the Alamo Bowl [5:45 p.m. Dec. 30]
WHAT’S UP? Bowls are all about motivation. Texas will be motivated to send out Mack Brown as a winner. Oregon is still wondering how it didn’t make either game in Pasadena.
3. The Rose at 100
WHICH GAME? Michigan State vs. Stanford in the Rose Bowl [4 p.m. Jan. 1]
WHAT’S UP? The Big Ten title game might have exposed Ohio State, and it might have shown just how good Michigan State is — especially on defense.
4. Orange you glad you watched?
WHICH GAME? Clemson vs. Ohio State in the Orange Bowl [7:30 p.m. Jan. 3]
WHAT’S UP? This will be a shootout. In the end, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd may make one more play than Ohio State’s Braxton Miller.
5. Seeking one more miracle
WHICH GAME? Auburn vs. Florida State for the BCS title [7:30 p.m. Jan. 6]
WHAT’S UP? Florida State had the best regular season, but … the tipped pass vs. Georgia … the Iron Bowl finish … the 11th-hour Ohio State loss. This is Auburn’s season.
FIVE FLYING UNDER THE RADAR
Players who will have you saying “I watched him when”
1. Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald
WHICH GAME? Little Caesars Pizza Bowl vs. Bowling Green [5 p.m. Dec. 26]
WHAT’S UP? It’s hard to say a guy who has won the Outland Trophy and the Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik awards is unheralded, but show of hands if you’ve seen him or any of his NCAA-leading 26½ tackles for loss. Didn’t think so.
2. Iowa RB Mark Weisman
WHICH GAME? Outback Bowl vs. LSU [noon Jan. 1]
WHAT’S UP? A latter-day Larry Csonka, Weisman won’t wow anyone with his talent or stats (865 rushing yards, five TDs), but he symbolizes Iowa’s blue-collar ethos. A former cadet at Air Force, the junior walked on at Iowa in 2011.
3. Oregon State QB Sean Mannion
WHICH GAME? Hawaii Bowl vs. Boise State [7 p.m. Dec. 24]WHAT’S UP? The Beavers bomber threw the ball prolifically: He was second in the nation with 4,403 yards and tied for third with 36 TDs.
4. Louisville DE Marcus Smith
WHICH GAME? Russell Athletic Bowl vs. Miami [5:45 p.m. Dec. 28]
WHAT’S UP? Smith ranks behind only Stanford All-America LB Trent Murphy in sacks with 12½.
5. Tulane CB Lorenzo Doss
WHICH GAME? New Orleans Bowl vs. Louisiana-Lafayette [8 p.m. Dec. 21]
WHAT’S UP? The sophomore earned All-America and Conference USA defensive player of the year honors, but this will be the first time most of America sees him.