Five games to watch

Don’t want to miss out? Make sure you catch these five games:

1. One heck of a BCS title game on tap

While college football may run thick with glitzy and glamorous offenses, look who once again is playing for the national championship.

Just like last year when it was LSU and Alabama, it’s the teams that possess the two best defenses in the nation: Alabama and Notre Dame.

Led by All-America linebacker C.J. Mosley, the Crimson Tide again is tops in total defense, giving up just 246 yards per game. But you’d think the Fighting Irish had an actual pot of gold in their end zone the way they play near the goal line.

Notre Dame, led by Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o at middle linebacker, has given up just five touchdowns in goal-to-go situations and only two rushing touchdowns all season.

Can AJ McCarron, Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon do enough to overwhelm the Irish, or will freshman Everett Golson find enough cracks in Bama’s façade to punch through a couple of scores? Only SEC pride (six straight BCS titles) and an end to Notre Dame’s longest national championship drought (23 years) are at stake.

7:30 p.m. Jan. 7 (ESPN)

2. Fiesta is a battle of what could’ve been

For a brief, tantalizing moment in November, this looked like it would be the BCS Championship Game until, on the same night, Kansas State was routed by Baylor and Oregon let Stanford waddle away with an upset victory in Eugene.

This duel in the desert still can be every bit as entertaining. Big 12 champion Kansas State does more with less than any program in the country, but Heisman finalist Collin Klein and crew will have to be at their best to keep pace with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Kenjon Barner and an offense that averages 51 points and 550 yards.

A riveting subplot is whether this will be the final game for Oregon coach Chip Kelly before he answers the siren song of the NFL.

7:30 p.m. Jan. 3 (ESPN)

3. Unexpected Cotton still deserves a look

It may be hard for LSU fans to watch this game, since this was the bowl the Tigers coveted and felt they deserved. But skipping this prime-time spectacular Jan. 4 out of spite would be a waste of a great game.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is hardly a one-man show, but he is the one player in college football most worth the price of admission. Johnny Heisman was so electrifying this season (3,419 yards passing, 1,181 yards rushing, 43 total TDs) that he almost makes you forget how talented Oklahoma QB Landry Jones (3,989 yards passing, 29 TDs) is.

Together they make for one of the most exciting head-to-head quarterback duels of the bowl season.

7 p.m. Jan. 4 (Fox)

4. Ring in the new year with your Tigers

Just how close did LSU come to at least playing for the SEC championship and a shot at the BCS title? Just one more defensive stop against Alabama could have put the Tigers on Miami Beach. Instead, coach Les Miles’ LSU squad dropped all the way to Buckhead and the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Despite not being the bowl the Tigers deserved, it is a tantalizing consolation prize.

It’s a matchup some BCS bowls would crave, with a potent Clemson offense juxtaposed against a solid though at times vulnerable LSU defense. It won’t be a basketball score like Baylor 67, Washington 56 in last year’s Alamo Bowl — more like a 30-something shootout with just enough good defensive plays sprinkled in.

6:30 p.m. Dec. 31 (ESPN)

5. Outback is best of SEC/Big Ten tilts

South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney chasing Denard Robinson (and his shoelaces) all over Raymond James Stadium on a beautiful New Year’s Day in Florida. LSU hoped to be in this game (among others) playing Michigan for the first time, but it’s a compelling contest to wake up to the morning after the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Statistically it’s a pretty even matchup, with both teams scoring just over 30 points per game and giving up just under 19. This is one of three SEC-Big Ten duels on New Year’s Day, with the SEC favored in all of them (Mississippi State-Northwestern in the Gator, Georgia-Nebraska in the Capital One). State may be the most vulnerable, but South Carolina-Michigan should prove the most watchable.

Noon Jan. 1 (ESPN)

Five under-the-radar standouts to keep

an eye on:

1. Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch

(Orange Bowl vs. Florida State, Jan. 1)

Call him Jordan Football. Lynch is the MAC’s version of the Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner, a do-everything quarterback who pushed his team to prominence. The junior, as a first-year starter, led the nation in rushing (1,771 yards) and total offense (4,753 yards) and has rushed for at least 100 in 11 straight games, an FBS record for quarterbacks.

2. Kent State RB Dri Archer

( Bowl vs. Arkansas State, Jan. 6)

The shifty slotback may be the fastest player in the nation; he reportedly clocks in at 4.21 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He has three kickoff returns for touchdowns to go with 1,352 yards and 15 TDs on the ground. The numbers say plenty, but watching him is even more compelling.

3. UCLA QB Brett Hundley

(Holiday Bowl vs. Baylor, Dec. 27)

The redshirt freshman, the first five-star quarterback in UCLA history, is living up to the hype. New coach Jim Mora, who inherited Hundley from Rick Neuheisel, is a fan: “If he continues to work the way he works and focus the way he has ... he’ll be talked about as a Heisman Trophy contender very soon.” So far, so good. Hundley threw for 3,411 yards and 26 touchdowns while leading the Bruins to the Pac-12 Championship Game.

4. West Virginia WR Stedman Bailey (Pinstripe Bowl vs. Rutgers, Dec. 29)

There are plenty of statistical beneficiaries in this offense, but Bailey had a breakout junior season in the shadows of seniors Geno Smith and Tavon Austin: He finished with 106 catches for 1,501 yards and an obscene 23 touchdowns. His 37 career TD grabs are tops among active FBS players, and he was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver.

5. Utah State QB Chuckie Keeton

(Potato Bowl vs. Toledo, Dec. 15)

Keeton almost engineered what would have been a stunning upset of BCS champion Auburn to open the 2011 season, and he was just as impressive as a sophomore. He set Utah State single-season records for touchdown passes and all-purpose yardage, leading the Aggies to a 10-2 mark marred only by a two-point loss at Wisconsin and a three-point defeat at BYU.

Five upset specials

No matter which team the records, rankings or bettors suggest ought to win, bowl outcomes can be hard to anticipate. Here are five lines to keep an eye on, but remember: We’re not predicting; we’re just sayin’.

1. Western Kentucky is favored to beat Central Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, but ...

The Chippewas are playing close to home at Ford Field in Detroit, and the Hilltoppers lost their coach and could be distracted by the hoopla surrounding their first bowl appearance.

2. LSU is favored to beat Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but ...

After losing its BCS and SEC title hopes, a possible BCS bowl bid or a Cotton Bowl berth, will LSU be more interested in ringing in the New Year with an inspired performance — or just forgetting the old year?

3. Stanford is favored to beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, but ...

You’ve got to believe Barry Alvarez is going to break out his best fire and brimstone as he returns to Pasadena, and no self-respecting Badger could do anything less than treat this like a bigger game than it probably seems to most everyone else.

4. Texas A&M is favored to beat Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, but ...

The Sooners probably have more talent than the Aggies, and the Johnny Football Awards and Adoration Tour might have taken a slight edge off the Heisman Trophy winner.

5. Alabama is favored to beat Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game, but ...

Yeah, the Crimson Tide is the defending national champion, and SEC teams have won the past six BCS titles. But the Fighting Irish are the only undefeated team in the post-season, they beat more bowl teams than Alabama did and they can handle the Tide’s style of play.

Don’t turn away

The chance to watch these five players is worth the price of your cable bill:

1. Wisconsin RB Montee Ball (Rose Bowl vs. Stanford, Jan. 1)

Say what you will about the merits of an 8-5 team like Wisconsin being in a BCS bowl, but players like Ball don’t come along every season. Ball is the epitome of Wisconsin’s tough-nosed, grind-it-out style, and watching him match muscle with Stanford’s No. 3 rushing defense will be fascinating.

2. Clemson QB Tajh Boyd (Chick-fil-A Bowl vs. LSU, Dec. 31)

In a different season, it would be easy to imagine Boyd as a Heisman finalist. His 4,042 total yards compare favorably to Johnny Manziel’s 4,600, and both have a combined 43 touchdowns. Manziel had arguably his worst game against LSU. Will Boyd crash against the similar rocks of LSU’s defense?

3. Arizona RB Ka’Deem Carey (New Mexico Bowl vs. Nevada, Dec. 15)

You have to like a player who likens himself to the Incredible Hulk on the field. “I go into beast mode,” Carey told the Arizona Daily Star. “I get mad at the other team for showing up.” Carey rushed for an NCAA-leading 146.4 yards per game and 20 touchdowns during his All-America sophomore year.

4. Georgia LB Jarvis Jones (Capital One Bowl vs. Nebraska, Jan. 1)

Manti Te’o was a Heisman Trophy finalist and won the Dick Butkus Award, but Jones may be the ultimate winner. ESPN projects the junior outside linebacker to be the top prospect in April’s NFL draft. Assuming he does go pro, Jones has one more chance to tantalize college football fans.

5. Southern Cal WR Marqise Lee (Sun Bowl vs. Georgia Tech, 1 p.m.)

The season started with USC quarterback Matt Barkley as the Heisman Trophy front-runner. It ended with Barkley’s top target, Lee, as USC’s top Heisman contender. Lee is second nationally in receiving yards per game and ranks third in all-purpose yards, factoring in his terrifying kickoff return talents.

That just ain’t right

Bowl season can be as wacky as it is wonderful, and these five take the cake:

1. Back, back, back to


There aren’t any nonstop flights connecting Pittsburgh and Birmingham, but there should be. Pitt’s Panthers are trekking to Legion Field to appear in the BBVA Compass Bowl for the third consecutive season, which should qualify as cruel and unusual punishment. They face Ole Miss this time around.

2. BYU plays a road game ...

Welcome to independence, BYU. Your reward is a road bowl game. In the Poinsettia Bowl, the Cougars face San Diego State, which will feel right at home ... at its home field of Qualcomm Stadium. The Aztecs pulled this same trick in 2010, thumping Navy 35-14 in that year’s game. Conference membership has its perks.

3. ... while Vandy is stuck at home

Vanderbilt wasn’t left out in the cold like Louisiana Tech, but the Commodores didn’t get rewarded for one of the best seasons in school history. Having reached the eight-win mark for the first time since 1982, the Commodores’ bowl destination is ... Nashville, facing N.C. State in the Music City Bowl.

4. Hey, I remember you guys

West Virginia’s five-game skid didn’t help its bowl hopes. Its 4-5 mark in conference play sent the Mountaineers to the Pinstripe Bowl, where they’ll face ex-Big East foe Syracuse, which is heading to a new conference itself. Had this game been played in 2013, it would be a Big 12/ACC matchup. Only in New York.

5. We can call it the Disappointment Bowl

Southern Cal’s fall from glamor — No. 1 in the preseason, cover of ESPN The Magazine, Heisman Trophy shoo-in at quarterback — to ghastly hits its nadir in the Sun Bowl. That Georgia Tech is bowl eligible with a 6-7 record and that’s NOT the most ridiculous storyline here says everything about how far USC has fallen.