College Sports

Bowl season begins, meaning BCS end is near

The debates the BCS generated might be missed, but the system won’t. The final days of the Bowl Championship Series officially begin Saturday with the start of college football’s bowl season.

It’s always an entertaining time with bowls scheduled across the country throughout the holidays. It remains an oversaturated market with 35 bowl games, but it helps pass the time and build up to the BCS National Championship on Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif.

5 can’t-miss games

BCS National Championship, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 6

Florida State (13-0) vs. Auburn (12-1): The biggest game of the year between what proved to be the two best teams in the country. Florida State, which hasn’t won a national championship since 1999, is led by Heisman Trophy winner and freshman sensation Jameis Winston, who should fare well against the 104th-ranked pass defense. But Auburn has made a remarkable turnaround under Gus Malzahn. The Tigers won the title in 2010 but had fallen off the map until this year.

Vegas: Florida State by 8 1/2

Prediction: The SEC finally loses its grasp on the national championship. Winston leads Florida State to a 41-31 victory.

Orange Bowl, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 3

Ohio State (12-1) vs. Clemson (10-2): Few tears were shed when the Buckeyes lost their national championship bid with a loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game. It gave us a nice QB battle between Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Ohio State’s Braxton Miller. An underlying storyline goes back to the first, and until this season, only meeting between these schools, the 1978 Gator Bowl. That’s the game where Ohio State coach Woody Hayes punched Clemson linebacker Charlie Bauman after he intercepted a pass.

Vegas: Ohio State by 2 1/2.

Prediction: The Buckeyes have another letdown. Boyd and the Tigers go on to a 31-28 victory.

Sugar Bowl, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 2

Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Alabama (11-1): Alabama couldn’t make it three consecutive titles after losing on the final play against Auburn. But the Crimson Tide has an opportunity to show Sooners coach Bob Stoops that the SEC is just as good as advertised after Stoops questioned the league’s reputation before and during the season. It’s also an early preview of the new agreement the Sugar Bowl has with the SEC and Big 12.

Vegas: ’Bama by 15.

Prediction: Alabama senior quarterback A.J. McCarron is going to end his college career as a winner. The Tide rolls to a 41-24 victory.

Rose Bowl, 4 p.m. Jan. 1

Michigan State (12-1) vs. Stanford (11-2): This should be a rare defensive battle in today’s love affair with the passing game. MSU is the top team in total defense among FBS schools, while Stanford is 14th. Expect the offenses to rely heavily on their running games in a low-scoring battle.

Vegas: Stanford by 4 1/2.

Prediction: Stanford wins back-to-back Rose Bowls, taking it 21-17.

Capital One Bowl, noon Jan. 1

South Carolina (10-2) vs. Wisconsin (9-3): South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney had one of the most memorable hits in a bowl game last season and folks are surely hoping to see something similar this year by the potential No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. It’s unlikely to happen, of course, but this should still be an entertaining game between two solid teams.

Vegas: Wisconsin by 1.

Prediction: The Badgers haven’t beaten an SEC team since 2007, but they’ll get it done in coach Gary Andersen’s first season. Wisconsin wins it 27-21.

Best of the rest

Fiesta Bowl, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 1, Central Florida (11-1) vs. Baylor (11-1): The Bears didn’t land a marquee matchup in their first BCS bowl, but could run win in a runaway.

Outback Bowl, noon Jan. 1, LSU (9-3) vs. Iowa (8-4): LSU has lost three of its past four bowl games, but that trend can’t continue. Can it?

Gator Bowl, 11 a.m. Jan. 1, Georgia (8-4) vs. Nebraska (8-4): It’s a rematch of last year’s Capital One Bowl between two well-respected programs.

Russell Athletic Bowl, 5:45 p.m. Dec. 28, Louisville (11-1) vs. Miami (9-3): Is this Teddy Bridgewater’s final game before bolting to the NFL?

Las Vegas Bowl, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Fresno State (11-1) vs. USC (9-4): Hey, who doesn’t like to see a storied program such as USC trot out its third coach of the season? Offensive coordinator Clay Helton is the interim head coach following the five-game stint of Lane Kiffin and eight-game stint of Ed Orgeron.

Can-miss games

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, 4:30 p.m. Saturday

Buffalo (8-4) vs. San Diego State (7-5): Buffalo is in its second bowl game in school history. San Diego State became bowl eligible after a 0-3 start. Not much else about this one.

New Orleans Bowl, 8 p.m. Saturday

Tulane (7-5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4): It’s a feel-good story to see Tulane make it back to a bowl game for the first time since 2002 and New Orleans is always an exciting venue, but the game lacks national appeal.

Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, 1 p.m. Monday

East Carolina (9-3) vs. Ohio (7-5): Ohio had a sluggish finish by losing three of its last four, and East Carolina’s bid to reach double-digit wins for the first time since 1991 isn’t too intriguing.

Military Bowl, 1:30 p.m. Dec. 27

Marshall (9-4) vs. Maryland (7-5): Marshall’s high-octane offense averaged 43.1 points a game, but also had several close losses. Maryland, meanwhile, has been sacked by injuries but is looking to finish the season strong.

New Mexico Bowl, 1 p.m. Saturday

Washington State (6-6) vs. Colorado State (7-6): The bowl season will kick off with a lot of offense and a little defense. Texas Tech fans might tune in to see former coach Mike Leach, who has led Washington State to a bowl game for the first time since 2003.

Pair of farewells?

Alamo Bowl, 5:45 p.m. Dec. 30, Oregon (10-2) vs. Texas (8-4): Longtime Texas coach Mack Brown will be walking the sideline for a final time in burnt orange. Brown announced that he would retire after the game, ending what has been a successful 16 years at UT. Will the Longhorns send him out a winner?

Chick-fil-A Bowl, 7 p.m. Dec. 31, Duke vs. Texas A&M: Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel hasn’t made his future plans public yet, but it seems like he could be headed toward the NFL after this game.

DFW Spotlight

Cotton Bowl, 6:30 p.m. Jan. 3

Missouri (11-2) vs. Oklahoma State (10-2): It’s another rematch of former Big 12 foes. Missouri had a remarkable turnaround and challenged for the league title in its second SEC season, while Oklahoma State had its own opportunity to win the Big 12 title. Both teams missed out on BCS bowls but weren’t complaining about landing in another prestigious bowl game.

Vegas: Missouri by 1

Prediction: Oklahoma State wins its first Cotton Bowl since 1945, winning a close one 35-31.

Armed Forces Bowl, 10:45 a.m. Dec. 30

Middle Tennessee (8-4) vs. Navy (7-4): Navy’s triple option is always worth watching. And the Midshipmen have pulled off impressive wins this year over Indiana and Pitt, and almost pulled off a major upset at Notre Dame. Middle Tennessee comes into the Fort Worth game feeling good about itself with a five-game winning streak.

Vegas: Navy by 6 1/2

Prediction: Navy has shown it can play with BCS schools and caps off its season with a 24-14 victory.

Heart of Dallas Bowl, 11 a.m. Jan. 1

North Texas (8-4) vs. UNLV (7-5): It’s a matchup of schools that haven’t been to bowl games in nearly a decade. The Mean Green is back for the first time since 2004, while the Rebels return for the first time since 2000. These types of games and moments help justify the staggering number of schools that are bowl eligible.

Vegas: North Texas by 6 1/2.

Prediction: North Texas should have a home-field advantage and should win it, 28-17.

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