Bowl-a-thon: College football postseason kicks off with first of 35 games

The Rose Bowl features a five-loss team. The Orange Bowl pits two teams ranked outside the Top 10.

And get ready, college football fans, to see a dozen .500 teams play for bowl trophies.

The days when every bowl game seemed to be must-see TV are gone. Thirty-five bowl games mean too many teams and too few intriguing matchups.

But there are a few gems in the oversaturated market, plus the chance to see local players. The bowl season begins today with the New Mexico and Famous Idaho Potato bowls.

5 can't-miss games

BCS National Championship, Jan. 7

Notre Dame (12-0) vs. Alabama (12-1): Both pride themselves on defense. Both rely on the running game. The difference should be the passing game and could come down to which quarterback makes more plays: Notre Dame redshirt freshman Everett Golson or Alabama junior AJ McCarron.

Vegas: 'Bama by 10.

Prediction: It should be a memorable game, and the feeling here is Notre Dame pulls off the upset, 24-20.

Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 3

Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1): For a split-second, it appeared, this could be the title game. But on the same day, fittingly, the Wildcats were upset at Baylor and Oregon fell to Stanford. Still, this is the best matchup after the title game. How will K-State's defense fare against Oregon's high-octane offense? And how will Heisman finalist Collin Klein end his college career? Also, to add another layer of intrigue, it could be the final games for coaches Bill Snyder (retirement) and Chip Kelly (NFL).

Vegas: Oregon by 9.

Prediction: Bill Snyder wins what could be his final game as Kansas State's coach, 41-38.

Cotton Bowl, Jan. 4

Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2): A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel plays his first game as the newly crowned Heisman winner. The Aggies want to prove leaving the Big 12 was worth it, and there's no better way than beating perennial power Oklahoma. But the Sooners shouldn't be overlooked, especially with Bob Stoops' track record against A&M.

Vegas: A&M by 4 1/2.

Prediction: Johnny Football, behind a stout offensive line that includes Arlington product Luke Joeckel, closes out his remarkable freshman season with another victory, leading the Aggies to a 34-28 win.

Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31

LSU (10-2) vs. Clemson (10-2): Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd might not be a household name, but he's an elite player who passed for 3,550 yards with 34 TDs along with nine rushing TDs. But LSU's defense is among the best, and Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo will keep pressure on Boyd all day.

Vegas: LSU by 4.

Prediction: The LSU defense eventually wins this game, as the Tigers take it 31-21.

Holiday Bowl, Dec. 27

UCLA (9-4) vs. Baylor (7-5): Sure, there are more prestigious football schools to watch and probably better matchups on paper. But who doesn't like a good shootout? UCLA and Baylor could very well produce the highest-scoring game of the bowl season, although the Pinstripe Bowl figures to be a contender. The Bears have the No. 1 offense and No. 119 defense, a welcome sight for Bruins running back Johnathan Franklin.

Vegas: UCLA by 1.

Prediction: Baylor has won its last three games, beating Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. The Bears make it four straight with a 52-49 victory.

Best of the rest

Orange Bowl, Florida State vs. Northern Illinois: NIU next Boise State?

Outback Bowl, South Carolina vs. Michigan: Will Jadeveon Clowney start his '13 Heisman campaign?

Sugar Bowl, Florida vs. Louisville: Can Gators make case as second-best team?

Independence Bowl, Ohio vs. Louisiana-Monroe: Best game nobody's talking about?

Pinstripe Bowl, West Virginia vs. Syracuse: Game of two future NFL stars in QBs Geno Smith and Ryan Nassib?

Can-miss games

Little Caesars Bowl, Dec. 26

Western Kentucky (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (6-6): This game might have intrigue if new Western Kentucky coach Bobby Petrino were on the sidelines. But he won't be. Central Michigan is back in a bowl game for the first time since 2009.

New Orleans Bowl, Dec. 22

Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) vs. East Carolina (8-4): Louisiana-Lafayette won this bowl game last season on a last-second field goal. East Carolina, meanwhile, is headed to the Big East -- which might not be a good thing, anymore.

BBVA Compass Bowl, Jan. 5

Ole Miss (6-6) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6): Pitt loves this bowl game. It's the third year for the Panthers to be in it. Fans can also watch Ole Miss first-year coach Hugh Freeze, best known as the high school coach depicted in The Blind Side.

Beef O'Brady's Bowl, Dec. 21

UCF (9-4) vs. Ball State (9-3): Ball State is searching for that elusive first bowl victory. The Cardinals have gone 0-5 in bowl games, but does anybody care outside of Muncie, Ind.? Didn't think so. UCF, on the other hand, is looking for its second bowl victory.

Five with a local touch

Hawaii Bowl, Dec. 24

Fresno State (9-3) vs. SMU (6-6) Local ties: Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter spent the past two seasons, 2010-11, as assistant head coach/defensive coordinator at Texas A&M.... SMU has several local players on its roster: offensive linemen Bryan Collins (Keller) and Christian Miller (Aledo), kicker Alex Faoro (Fort Worth Arlington Heights), wide receivers Cole Loftin (Aledo) and Ryan Walker (Southlake Carroll), linebackers Lincoln Richard (Everman) and Jonathan Yenga (Euless Trinity), defensive backs Horace Richardson (Everman) and Aaron Stafford (Fort Worth Paschal).

Meineke Car Care Bowl, Dec. 28

Texas Tech (7-5) vs. Minnesota (6-6) Local ties: Texas Tech's local players include defensive backs Cody Davis (Stephenville) and Happiness Osunde (Arlington Seguin), linebacker Micah Awe (Mansfield Summit), defensive end Jackson Richards (Southlake Carroll), quarterback Austin Barr (Colleyville Covenant), wide receivers Parker Bradham (Aledo), Jordan Davis (Arlington), Brandon DeFrance (Colleyville Heritage), Aaron Fisher (Keller Fossil Ridge) and Emilio Vera (Arlington), running backs Eric Stephens Jr. (Mansfield Timberview) and Evan Roll (Fort Worth Nolan Catholic), and offensive linemen Deveric Gallington (Richland), Alfredo Morales (Arlington Sam Houston) and Tony Morales (Arlington Sam Houston) ... Minnesota has defensive ends Michael Amaefula (Arlington Bowie) and Ben Perry (Southlake Carroll).

Alamo Bowl, Dec. 29

Oregon State (9-3) vs. Texas (8-4) Local ties: Oregon State safety Peter Ashton (Grapevine Faith), defensive end Rudolf Fifita (Euless Trinity).... Texas local players include running backs Johnathan Gray (Aledo), fullback Dominic Cruciani (Southlake Carroll), wide receivers Miles Onyegbule (Arlington) and Michael Zaring (Keller), defensive backs Adrian Colbert (Mineral Wells) and Meyer Criss (Fort Worth Wyatt), defensive ends Michael Cruciani (Southlake Carroll) and Hassan Ridgeway (Mansfield).

Rose Bowl, Jan. 1

Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5) Local ties: Stanford has several area players on its squad, led by running back Stepfan Taylor (Mansfield), cornerback Barry Browning (Everman), center Sam Schwartzstein (Southlake Carroll) and defensive end Josh Mauro (Hurst L.D. Bell).... Wisconsin has five players from Texas, including defensive back Marcus Cromartie (Mansfield Timberview).

Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1

Georgia (11-2) vs. Nebraska (10-3) Local ties: Georgia has only one player from Texas, linebacker Dillard Pinkston from Dallas St. Mark's School of Texas. ... Nebraska, on the other hand, has 22 players from the Lone Star State. Among those from the area are wide receiver Jamal Turner (Arlington Sam Houston), offensive lineman Nick Ash (Keller), defensive linemen Aaron Curry (Keller Fossil Ridge) and Donovan Vestal (Arlington Bowie), cornerbacks Ciante Evans (Arlington Seguin) and Seth Jameson (Southlake Carroll). And Tim Beck, the former Mansfield Summit coach, is Nebraska's offensive coordinator.

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @drewdavison

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram