Football

Bowl countdown: 38 games before the title in Arlington

Coach Nick Saban has won four national titles at Alabama. (AP Photo/AL.com, Vasha Hunt)
Coach Nick Saban has won four national titles at Alabama. (AP Photo/AL.com, Vasha Hunt) AP

The first postseason with playoff implications for major-college football programs begins Saturday with five bowl games.

Before we’re done, 76 teams from FBS schools will square off in 38 bowl games. The winners of the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl will close the postseason Jan. 12 at AT&T Stadium to determine the first champion of the College Football Playoff era.

Along the way, there will be four postseason matchups in Dallas-Fort Worth. Other metropolitan areas with multiple bowl games are Miami with three and New Orleans, San Diego and Phoenix with two each.

Seven Texas colleges are in the bowl mix, led by No. 5 Baylor (11-1), No. 6 TCU (11-1), Texas A&M (7-5) and Texas (6-6). One of the seven, UTEP, is part of Saturday’s opening salvo of games. The Miners (7-5) meet Utah State (9-4) in the New Mexico Bowl at 1:20 p.m.

Here are matchups, storylines and personalities to follow as college football ticks down the days before crowning its first playoff winner:

Playoff participants

A look at the best and worst games played by each team in the playoff bracket:

Alabama (12-1): Crimson Tide defeated No. 7 Mississippi State (10-2) and lost to No. 9 Ole Miss (9-3).

Oregon (12-1): Ducks defeated No. 8 Michigan State (10-2) and lost to No. 10 Arizona (10-3).

Florida State (13-0): Seminoles defeated No. 12 Georgia Tech (10-3) and struggled in home victory over Florida (6-5).

Ohio State (12-1): Buckeyes defeated No. 8 Michigan State (10-2) and lost by 14 points at home to Virginia Tech (6-6).

DFW bowl options

Dec. 26: Louisiana Tech (8-5) vs. Illinois (6-6) in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl at the Cotton Bowl stadium in Dallas (noon, ESPN).

Jan. 1: No. 8 Michigan State (10-2) vs. No. 5 Baylor (11-1) in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (11:30 a.m., ESPN).

Jan. 2: Houston (7-5) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6) in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth (11 a.m., ESPN).

Jan. 12: Playoff semifinal winners in the College Football Playoff national championship game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (7:30 p.m., ESPN).

Playoff possibilities (16-team bracket)

Fans wondering if No. 6 TCU (11-1) would have had a better chance of winning this year’s College Football Playoff than No. 4 Ohio State (12-1), the final school added to the four-team field at the expense of the Horned Frogs, never will know the answer to that question. But they can embrace the resounding “yes” offered by the findings from a computer program run by Paul Bessire of PredictionMachine.com.

Bessire seeded teams for a 16-team playoff field, based on 2014 results. He took champions from each of the 10 FBS leagues, plus six at-large teams based on the final CFP rankings. He ran 50,000 computer simulations of the playoff bracket, with all games played at neutral sites.

The feedback showed TCU had an 11.1 percent chance of winning this year’s national championship in a 16-team bracket, third-highest percentage of any school. Only No. 1 Alabama (26.3 percent) and No. 2 Oregon (14.7) prevailed more frequently in PredictionMachine’s computer simulations.

TCU’s success rate exceeded the title percentages for Ohio State (9.7), No. 5 Baylor (7.4) and No. 3 Florida State (2.7). The Seminoles, despite being the nation’s only remaining undefeated team, finished 10th among the 16 teams in regard to title frequency based on computer results.

First-round matchups for the 16-team field included Alabama vs. Louisiana-Lafayette; Michigan State vs. Ole Miss; Baylor vs. Boise State; Ohio State vs. Marshall; TCU vs. Kansas State; Florida State vs. UCF; Mississippi State vs. Arizona and Oregon vs. Northern Illinois.

School (Seed)

Title %

Alabama (1)

26.3%

Oregon (2)

14.7%

TCU (6)

11.1%

Ohio State (4)

9.7%

Ole Miss (9)

8.3%

Baylor (5)

7.4%

Mississippi State (7)

6.9%

Michigan State (8)

4.8%

Kansas State (11)

4.1%

Florida State (3)

2.7%

Best QB matchup

For only the third time, two Heisman Trophy winners will face off in the postseason when No. 2 Oregon (12-1) meets No. 3 Florida State (13-0) in the Rose Bowl.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, this year’s Heisman winner, leads the nation in passing efficiency (186.3 rating) and has been responsible for an NCAA-high 52 touchdowns. Mariota has thrown for 3,783 yards with a 38-2 ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions.

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the 2013 Heisman winner, is 25-0 as a starter. He’s thrown for 3,559, with 17 interceptions to accompany his 24 TD passes. But he’s led multiple fourth-quarter comebacks to keep the Seminoles in the mix for a second consecutive national championship.

The showdown between Heisman-winning quarterbacks adds luster to the Rose Bowl, said Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

“You might not feel it now. But when you look back 10 years later, you’re going to realize that, ‘Wow. I played in a game like that and not many people can say that,’” said Ekpre-Olomu before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice Tuesday. “It’s just going to bring the best out of every single player on both teams. You know how much is at stake and having two guys like that involved just makes you want to work even harder.”

In previous Heisman-Heisman matchups, Oklahoma lost a pair of potential BCS national championships. In the 2009 BCS National Championship Game, Florida beat OU 24-14 (QB Tim Tebow over QB Sam Bradford). In the 2005 game, USC routed OU 55-19 (QB Matt Leinart over QB Jason White).

Best coaching matchup

Only the Sugar Bowl features competing coaches with multiple national championship rings. Alabama coach Nick Saban has four (one from LSU, three from ’Bama). Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has two, both from Florida.

“Urban has done a fantastic job as a college coach wherever he’s been, and we’ve played some tough games when he was at Florida,” Saban said. “I think this is going to be a fantastic matchup, and I know a very challenging match up for our players.”

Not-so-Big Ten

The Big Ten placed 10 of its 14 members in bowl games, but all are underdogs, per Las Vegas oddsmakers. Two are double-digit ’dogs: No. 4 Ohio State (10 points) vs. No. 1 Alabama in Sugar Bowl) and Maryland (14 points, vs. Stanford in Foster Farms Bowl). The closest thing to a favorite is No. 8 Michigan State, a three-point underdog to No. 5 Baylor in the Cotton Bowl.

The low opinion of Big Ten football should surprise no one. In intersectional matchups this season between teams from Power 5 conferences, Big Ten schools produced the lowest winning percentage (6-11, .353 percent) of any league. Its two best teams, Ohio State and Michigan State, contributed an 0-2 mark to that collective effort. Since the 2010 postseason, the Big Ten is 9-21 in bowl games.

Big 12’s big chance

The Big 12 teams jilted for playoff berths, No. 5 Baylor (11-1) and No. 6 TCU (11-1), are favored to win their bowl matchups. Doing so should boost both into the top-5 of the postseason polls and, in turn, enhance their starting points in 2015 preseason polls.

As a league, this postseason looms as a significant statement opportunity. Only two of seven league teams head into their bowl matchups as underdogs: Texas (vs. Arkansas, Texas Bowl) and Oklahoma State (vs. Washington, Cactus Bowl). Big 12 schools have combined to produce a winning bowl record just once in the past five postseasons, a 5-2 mark in 2011. Last year’s mark was 3-3.

SEC’s dynamic dozen

SEC teams earned 12 bowl berths, most of any conference. League teams are favored to win nine of those games. But the SEC team is the underdog in two of its three bowl matchups against Big 12 opponents. Texas A&M (7-5) is a four-point underdog to West Virginia (7-5) in the Liberty Bowl and No. 9 Ole Miss (9-3) is a three-point underdog to No. 6 TCU (11-1) in the Peach Bowl. Arkansas (6-6) is a five-point favorite over Texas (6-6) in the Houston Bowl.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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