Champs Sports Bowl
Florida State and Notre Dame, Thurs. Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. ET
Normally when these two teams square off, it's in a far bigger game than the Champs Sports Bowl. The Seminoles began the year in the top five, which made no sense at the time, makes even less sense now, and helps prove how idiotic preseason polls are. Notre Dame was off-and-on ranked this season, which is more a product of the name on the uniforms than their play on the field. The Fightin' Irish's best win, by far, was way back in September over Michigan State.
Pick: Notre Dame
Valero Alamo Bowl
No. 12 Baylor vs. Washington, Thurs. Dec. 29, 9 p.m. ET
Baylor and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III easily could be playing in a BCS bowl, but the Sugar Bowl opted for Virginia Tech instead of the Bears (or Boise State or Kansas State). This game should be a fun one, with very little defense to be found. Expect a lot of scoring, but more from Baylor, as Washington seems to be a year away from really being a force.
Bell Helicopter Armed Forced Bowl
BYU vs. Tulsa, Fri. Dec. 30, 12 p.m. ET
Tulsa is a really good team. The Golden Hurricane have four losses, but those losses are to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Boise State and Houston. Granted, they got smoked in all four losses, but still, not too shabby. Other than a perplexing 54-10 loss at home to their mediocre arch-rival Utah, the Cougars had a very solid season. This is a game that pits a good offense (Tulsa) against a good defense (BYU). Only one can prevail.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Rutgers vs. Iowa State, Fri Dec. 30, 3:20 p.m. ET
This game is played at Yankee Stadium, which is awesome. Iowa State is a perplexing team. Their season consists of four runs--a three-game win streak then a four-game losing streak then a three-game win streak then a two-game losing streak. According to the pattern, they should lose this game. Oh, and they are bad on offense and defense. Rutgers, on the other hand, is still a far cry from their Ray Rice teams (in fact they are 112th in the nation in rushing), but can really play defense. Look for Iowa State to struggle to move the ball in this one.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Mississippi State vs. Wake Forest, Fri. Dec. 30, 6:40 p.m. ET
It's fitting that two southern schools would play in this game. What isn't fitting is that neither team has a winning record and Mississippi State was 2-6 in conference play. That being said, those six losses have come to Auburn, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Arkansas, so they could be worse. Some might remember that the Bulldogs' defense gave LSU a lot of trouble on a Thursday night in September. Wake Forest is coming into the game having lost four of their last five and five of their last seven contests. Not very good.
Pick: Mississippi State
No. 14 Oklahoma vs. Iowa, Fri. Dec. 30, 10 p.m. ET
Oh how the mighty have fallen. Preseason No. 1 Oklahoma playing at 10 p.m. on Dec. 30? Yikes. Still, the Sooners are a very good team, despite losing star wide receiver Ryan Broyles for the season. Quarterback Landry Jones was a bit disappointing the second half of the year, but still possesses NFL-type talent. Iowa beat Michigan this year... and next-to-nobody else. It will be interesting to see if Iowa is especially fired up as a big underdog, or if Oklahoma has a letdown game.
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas
Texas A&M vs. Northwestern, Sat. Dec. 31, 12 p.m. ET
Another game in which the teams' combined records is 12-12. Yippie! The Aggies actually looked like one of the top teams in the country for part of this season--that part being the first half of games. The since-fired Mike Sherman must have been giving Ben Stein-esque halftime speeches given how terribly Ryan Tannehill and the rest of the Aggies played after halftime this season. Except for an impressive win over Nebraska, Northwestern beat essentially high school teams. It will be intriguing to see if Texas A&M, who should be favored, shows up for a game after their coach was dismissed.
Pick: Texas A&M
Hyundai Sun Bowl
Georgia Tech vs. Utah, Sat. Dec. 31, 2 p.m. ET
I have a strategy in picking bowls, and that is to pick against teams that have gimmicky or rare offenses. They tend to be hard to prepare for in a week, but easy to stop if you have a month, which you do before bowls. Georgia Tech is one of the few option offenses left in AQ football, and while Utah is not a particularly dangerous team, I think that the Yellow Jackets may struggle to move the ball.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Illinois vs. UCLA, Sat. Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET
I may have made fun of some bowl match ups earlier, but this is the worst. I have to imagine it is the first bowl game ever in which the teams combine to have a losing record, thanks to UCLA's 6-7 showing. (Note: 7-5 Western Kentucky isn't going to a bowl). To make matters worse, Illinois is coming into the game on a six-game losing streak. That's right, they started the season 6-0 and finished it 0-6. How symmetrical. To take it a step further, both teams also fired their coaches after the season. Suffice is to say, this should be a doozy.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt, Sat. Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET
Cincinnati would be in the Orange Bowl but for being ranked below West Virginia in the BCS standings. Then again, that isn't much of an accomplishment in the Big East. Vanderbilt may be a bit overlooked here. Like Mississippi State, most of Vanderbilt's losses (6) were to the nation's top schools, and the Commodores did really well against the spread, whatever that is worth.
No. 25 Auburn vs. Virginia, Sat. Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET
Just like Texas, Auburn has no business being ranked. Had the Tigers not won the BCS National Championship game last year, at 7-5 they'd be just another team with more bad losses than good wins. Virginia is a strange group. The Cavaliers were playing so well, until the last week of the season when they laid an egg at home against in-state rival Virginia Tech and lost 38-0.
No. 19 Houston vs. No. 22 Penn State, Mon. Jan. 2, 12 p.m. ET
Houston has got to be disappointed to be playing in this game. The Cougars were one win away from being in a BCS game, and instead, the Ticketcity Bowl against a school mired in controversy. This game is an outstanding matchup of a high-powered, spread offense (Houston) versus a tough, physical defense (Penn State). It is also the going away party for passing record holder Case Keenum at Houston. Some at Penn State are likely happy that the season is coming to a close after such a tumultuous year.
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl
Ohio State vs. Florida, Mon. Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET
Last time these two teams met in a bowl game, it was the BCS National Championship game. Oh how times have changed. Both teams come in 6-6, and Florida's offense has looked like it wouldn't be able to move the ball against a powderpuff team. And now offensive coordinator Charlie Weis is off to coach Kansas, though I'm not sure if that's a downgrade or an upgrade for the Gators. Ohio State has been up and down all season and ended the year on a three-game losing streak.
Pick: Ohio State
No. 17 Michigan State vs. No. 16 Georgia, Mon. Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET
Now we are getting to the meat and potatoes of the bowl games. A couple of ranked teams squaring off! After starting 0-2 Georgia broke off a 10-game winning streak before losing to LSU in the SEC Championship Game. At times this year Michigan State has looked like one of the best teams in the country (vs. Wisconsin) and at others it has looked putrid (vs. Notre Dame). The Spartans were a running into the kicker penalty away from perhaps a trip to the Rose Bowl, so hopefully the Outback Bowl isn’t a letdown.
Capital One Bowl
No. 20 Nebraska vs. No. 9 South Carolina, Mon. Jan 2, 1 p.m. ET
South Carolina quietly had a very good season, despite a number of roadblocks. The team’s best player, and arguably the best running back in the nation, Marcus Lattimore was lost for the year midway through the season to a knee injury and former starting quarterback Stephen Garcia was booted off the team after a number of issues. Still the Gamecocks managed to go 10-2. Nebraska is a difficult team to predict because of the oddness of their quarterback, Taylor Martinez’s play. Martinez can look unstoppable at times with his speed, and can look pee wee-like at others with his throwing.