The 2012-2013 college football bowl season begins December 15 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and concludes on January 7 in Miami with the BCS National Championship. There are a total of 35 games featuring 70 teams, some just happy to be in a bowl game, others disappointed that they're not playing in a better game. Here are my predictions for all 35 games.
Fresno State (7-5) vs. UCLA (6-6)
Jim Mora should be able to lead the Bruins to a bowl game in his first year as head coach. He has a talented running back in Johnathan Franklin, but the passing game will once again be a concern.
Fresno State has an explosive offense lead by running back Robbie Rouse and quarterback Derek Carr. This would likely be a high-scoring game to kick off bowl season.
Louisiana Tech (8-4) vs. Bowling Green (8-4)
Louisiana Tech is a team that could make some noise this year due to a tough out-of-conference schedule that could allow the Bulldogs to pull off some upsets. They play Texas A&M, Houston, Illinois and Virginia and should be able to beat at least one of those teams.
Bowling Green has a balanced offense with quarterback Matt Schilz and running back Anthon Samuel returning to school. Their defense returns nine starters but struggled big time last year.
Nevada (8-4) vs. BYU (7-5)
Nevada looks to be the biggest threat to Boise State in the Mountain West. Quarterback Cody Fajardo is a dual-threat playmaker and should lead the Wolfpack to their eighth straight bowl appearance.
BYU won 10 games last year but didn't have a particularly challenging schedule. This year the Cougars host Washington State and Oregon State and have road games against Utah, Boise State, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech; seven wins seems about right.
Rutgers (8-4) vs. Houston (8-4)
A battle of offense vs. defense. Rutgers has one of the better defenses in the country, lead by senior linebacker Khaseem Greene, who recorded 141 tackles last year. The Scarlet Knights have the talent to win the Big East this year.
Houston has to replace record-setting quarterback Case Keenum, but the Cougars will still have an explosive offense that will put up tons of points.
Florida International (9-3) vs. East Carolina (7-5)
The Sun Belt champion heads to the SuperDome, and this year I expect that to be Florida International. The Golden Panthers lose their best playmaker, but they return eight other offensive starters as well as nine starters on the defense.
East Carolina expects to make a bowl game every year, which is why last season was so disappointing. They should be bowling again this year if the defense can improve. Six starters return, including linebacker Jeremy Grove, who recorded 122 tackles last year.
Boise State (10-2) vs. California (7-5)
Replacing Kellen Moore will not be an easy task for Boise State. However, the Broncos have talent throughout this offense that is ready to step up. Defensively, however, the Broncos return only one starter. But this is Boise State; 10 wins is a given.
California has one of the best receivers in the country in Keenan Allen, and quarterback Zach Maynard is back and should have a much improved year for the Golden Bears.
SMU (7-6) vs. Wyoming (8-4)
SMU has a bruising running back in Zach Line, but the Mustangs need to develop a passing game. No quarterback on their roster has attempted a pass, so in order for SMU to succeed this year, they need to find someone to throw the ball.
Wyoming's last few seasons have been huge for this program. The Cowboys are beginning to win consistently, and this year will be more of the same, with dual-threat quarterback Brett Smith back for his sophomore year.
Ohio (10-3) vs. Iowa (7-5)
Keep an eye out for Tyler Tettleton this year. The Ohio quarterback put up huge numbers as a sophomore last year and should put up similar numbers again this year. He is the leader of the best team in the MAC.
Iowa should be able to get back to a bowl game, but how many more average seasons will it take before they make a coaching change in Iowa City?
Tulsa (7-5) vs. Mississippi State (6-6)
The SEC could send 11 of its 14 teams to bowl games this year. Mississippi State's defense will keep the Bulldogs competitive in the SEC, but their offense could prevent them from finishing with more than seven wins at the most.
Tulsa has to replace a lot of talent on its offense, and its defense is just average. But the Golden Hurricane are still one of the better teams in Conference USA.
Cincinnati (7-5) vs. Virginia (7-5)
Cincinnati has work to do on offense, as it needs to replace its starting quarterback and running back. The Bearcats defense will be good enough in the weak Big East, but seven games should be as many as they'll win.
Virginia has a solid running game lead by senior Perry Jones. Quarterback Michael Rocco also returns to lead a Virginia offense that should be pretty good once again. The Cavaliers need to replace some starters on defense, but they do return talent including linebacker Steve Greer.
Oklahoma State (8-4) vs. Utah (8-4)
The Holiday Bowl always tends to be one of the better pre-New Year's bowl games, and this matchup would be no different. Oklahoma State has an explosive offense that will have had 12 games to adjust to its new quarterback, and Utah has a defense that would be able to slow down the Cowboys.
San Diego State (7-5) vs. Toledo (7-5)
Toledo can find the end zone with the best of them. The Rockets averaged 42.2 points per game last year and should be around there again this year with a dual-threat quarterback in Terrance Owens.
San Diego State lost a ton of talent on offense, but its defense should be good enough navigate its schedule and allow the Aztecs to return to a bowl game.
Notre Dame (8-4) vs. Clemson (9-3)
Formerly the Champs Sports Bowl, the Russell Athletic Bowl is another game that often features two talented teams. In this case, both teams would be ranked. Notre Dame has a brutal schedule, and I can't see them winning more than eight games.
Clemson won the ACC last year, and the Tigers are definite contenders to repeat thanks to the return of quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins.
Illinois (7-5) vs. TCU (8-4)
Illinois should have six or seven wins this year. The Illini have a fairly difficult schedule, but quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is a playmaker, and the Illini defense is very strong.
TCU joins the Big 12, and it may learn that it's hard to play with the big boys week after week. However, the Horned Frogs have a talented team that will make another bowl appearance.
Southern Mississippi (7-5) vs. Arkansas State (8-4)
Southern Miss quietly went 12-2 last year and finished ranked in the Top 25. But the Golden Eagles have a new head coach and a new quarterback, so this offense will struggle a bit. They can definitely compete for a Conference USA title, though.
Arkansas State will challenge itself early in the season with road games against Oregon and Nebraska. After playing these teams, the Sun Belt opponents should be nothing for the Red Wolves. Ryan Aplin is one of the best kept secrets in the country and will lead Arkansas State to another bowl game.
Arizona (6-6) vs. Navy (7-5)
Rich Rodriguez is now the head coach in Tucson, which means the Wildcats will be running the spread option offense. If they can run this offense well, the Wildcats will make a bowl game. If they struggle to figure it out, they'll be missing out again.
Navy's option offense will once again be effective, but can the defense play well enough to take the Midshipmen bowling? I think they can.
South Florida (8-4) vs. Baylor (7-5)
I keep waiting for South Florida to compete for a Big East title, but it just hasn't happened. The Bulls have the talent to do it this year, but once again I expect them to fall short. BJ Daniels is a solid quarterback, and the defense is one of the best in the Big East, so there is no reason why USF can't make a bowl game.
Baylor loses its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Robert Griffin III, but the Bears have enough talent to win seven games. Terrance Williams is one of the better receivers in the country, and he will have a breakout year as the No. 1 target in Waco.
Kansas State (9-3) vs. Stanford (8-4)
The final score of last year's Alamo Bowl was 67-56. If these two teams meet in San Antonio this year, the score will probably be closer to 24-21. Kansas State has one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in Collin Klein, and the defense is a bit better than last year and should allow K-State to win at least eight games.
Stanford loses Andrew Luck, but running back Stepfan Taylor is back, and the Cardinal defense is good enough to keep this team in games.
Missouri (6-6) vs. Miami (FL) (6-6)
Missouri is about to learn first hand just how good the SEC is. The Tigers enter their first year in their new conference and have a team that would have competed for a Big 12 title but will only win around six games in the SEC. Quarterback James Franklin is fantastic and will put up huge numbers, but the defense will have trouble.
Miami is trying to return to being a title contender, but it's not there yet. The Hurricanes were 6-6 last year and should finish with the same record again this year. But unlike last year, they'll make a bowl game.
Georgia Tech (8-4) vs. Auburn (8-4)
Georgia Tech runs the option to perfection and has all of the pieces back from last year to make its offense lethal. Eight wins seems like a given for Tech, and expect the Yellow Jackets to compete for an ACC championship.
Auburn struggled without Cam Newton last year, but if the Tigers can get consistent play from new quarterback Kiehl Frazier, then they could win up to nine games. The defense is strong, but the schedule is rough.
NC State (8-4) vs. Washington (8-4)
NC State is a sleeper in the ACC. Mike Glennon may be the best quarterback in the conference, and running back James Washington creates balance for the Wolfpack offense. If the defense can improve, we could see NC State in a BCS bowl.
Washington proved it could score points by putting up 56 against Baylor in last year's Alamo Bowl. Unfortunately, the Huskies gave up 67 and lost. Washington's offense won't be a concern, but the defense could prevent this team from winning more than eight games.
Central Florida (9-4) vs. Pittsburgh (7-5)
UCF should win Conference USA, but it was supposed to win more than five games last year and didn't. The Knights have a defense that can compete with BCS conference offenses, so they shouldn't have too much trouble with their conference schedule.
Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham is one of the best in the country and could allow the Panthers to compete for a Big East title. But quarterback Tino Sunseri could hold Pitt back this year. He needs to cut down on the turnovers, or he may not last as the starter.
Virginia Tech (11-2) vs. Florida (7-5)
Logan Thomas is a phenomenal quarterback, but he needs some new starters to step up and help him lead the Hokie offense to a successful season. As always, defense will be strong in Blacksburg and will allow Va. Tech to roll through the ACC once again.
Florida will be great defensively, as 10 starters return, but the offense will once again determine this team's fate. If you can't score, you can't win. And it's hard to score in the SEC; therefore, it will be hard for the Gators to win.
Northwestern (8-4) vs. Marshall (8-4)
Kain Colter is the Wildcats' leading returner in passing, rushing and receiving. No, that is not a typo. Colter played quarterback when starter Dan Persa was injured last year, and when Persa was healthy, Colter played receiver and made plays in the running game. If he can improve his passing, Colter may become one of the most explosive players in the Big Ten.
Marshall's offense will be much improved, and its defense will be one of the best in Conference USA. The Herd aren't the best team in the conference, but they are good enough to return to a bowl game.
Michigan State (10-2) vs. Tennessee (9-3)
The Spartans have one of the best defenses in the country, and despite key losses on offense, they should be able to contend in the Big Ten again. Defensive lineman William Gholston and linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen are all contenders to make the All-American team. And on the offense, running back Le'Veon Bell should run for over 1,000 yards this year.
Tennessee is my sleeper team this year. The Volunteers won five games last season, but they have huge potential. Quarterback Tyler Bray is ready to have a breakout year, and his best receiver, Da'Rick Rogers, is back to help him out. Defensively, Tennessee returns nine starters and will be able to slow down any offense that they face.
Arkansas (9-3) vs. Penn State (8-4)
Arkansas may have the SEC's best offense, lead by quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis. The Razorbacks can contend for an SEC title, but it looks like this year may be a lot like last year, with the team unable to compete with Alabama and LSU.
Bill O'Brien replaces the legend Joe Paterno in Happy Valley. Penn State has a very good running back in Silas Redd, but the rest of its offense is very questionable. The Nittany Lions defense is also questionable, but it does have some talent, namely linebacker Gerald Hodges.
Nebraska (10-2) vs. South Carolina (10-3)
This would probably be the best non-BCS bowl matchup. Nebraska has a great running game lead by Rex Burkhead and quarterback Taylor Martinez. Defensively, the Cornhuskers need to find some consistency, but they have the talent to win the Big Ten.
South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore is one of the best in the country. He will carry this offense while the defense will keep opponents off of the scoreboard. Steve Spurrier has himself a great team.
Georgia (10-2) vs. Texas (9-3)
If not for the rule allowing only two teams from a single conference to make a BCS bowl, the Bulldogs could easily be in the Sugar Bowl. Unfortunately, Alabama and LSU are in the SEC, and are both better than Georgia. Aaron Murray is a great quarterback and will carry this offense. The Georgia defense is one of the best in the country, and Jarvis Jones is an All-American linebacker.
Texas is about ready to return to being championship contenders, but the team is still a year away. The Longhorns have a deep and talented running game, but they need consistency from quarterback David Ash. Defensively, the Longhorns are set, and they'll be able to slow down the explosive Big 12 offenses.
Northern Illinois (7-5) vs. Texas A&M (7-5)
NIU was 11-3 last year, but that was with Chandler Harnish as the signal caller. Harnish is gone, and the Huskies offense will not be the same. However, the defense will be much better than last year and will allow the Huskies to return to a bowl game.
Like Missouri, Texas A&M will learn how good the SEC is this year. The Aggies need to find a replacement for Ryan Tannehill, which is not a simple task. A&M's defense is one of the worst in the SEC and will likely prevent the Aggies from winning more than seven games.
Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) vs. Western Michigan (9-4)
2011 was the best season in Louisiana-Lafayette history, and the Ragin' Cajuns should be able to build on that success. Quarterback Blaine Gautier is going to have a huge year and will allow Louisiana-Lafayette to compete for a Sun Belt title once again.
Western Michigan's offense will put up huge numbers this year. Quarterback Alex Carder is a touchdown-throwing machine, and he has a very good offensive line to give him time to find open receivers. Defensively, the Broncos may struggle, but that's the same for every team in the MAC.
Oregon (11-2) vs. Michigan (11-2)
Oregon should be returning to Pasadena with one of the most explosive offenses in the country. A new quarterback won't slow down the Ducks, who have two of the fastest offensive players in the country in Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas. The Ducks should be improved defensively, which means they'll be BCS bound once again.
Michigan in the Rose Bowl just seems right, and this could be the year that the Wolverines get back. Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint create perhaps the best one-two punch in the country and will make the Wolverines offense the best in the Big Ten.
Florida State (12-1) vs. Louisville (10-2)
The Orange Bowl is annually the worst BCS bowl because of it features the champions of the two worst BCS conferences. Florida State is the best team in the ACC and has a schedule that could put the Seminoles in contention for the national championship game. Quarterback EJ Manuel needs to be more consistent, but he has a defense that will keep opposing offenses off the board and take pressure off of him.
Louisville is not a BCS talent, but the Cardinals are the best team in the Big East. The Cardinals have a very talented young quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater and a running game that will be formidable in the Big East. Defensively, the Cardinals are solid, and they are really the most complete team that the conference has to offer.
Alabama (11-1) vs. West Virginia (10-2)
The defending champions should find themselves back in a BCS bowl, but not the National Championship. Alabama doesn't rebuild—they reload, and this defense is reloaded with tons of talent. On offense, Eddie Lacy is the next running back in Tuscaloosa and will make a name for himself as a starter.
West Virginia would be a very interesting matchup for the Crimson Tide. The Mountaineers have an explosive offense lead by Heisman Trophy candidate Geno Smith. This team could score points against even the nation's best defenses, which makes it very dangerous.
Oklahoma (11-1) vs. Wisconsin (10-3)
Landry Jones returned to school to win a championship, but he'll have to settle for just a Big 12 title. The Sooners quarterback has a great receiver to throw to in Kenny Stills and a running back, Dominique Whaley, who makes this offense one of the most complete in the conference.
Wisconsin has a new quarterback, Danny O'Brien, who transferred from Maryland. I expect him to have a very successful year for the Badgers. O'Brien will have a running back, Montee Ball, who will set up the pass because teams will need to prepare for him to run on every play.
LSU (13-0) vs. USC (13-0)
LSU can find itself back in the national championship game this year. The defense is smothering, lead by linemen Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo as well as cornerback Tyrann Mathieu and safety Eric Reid. The Tigers offense will be better than last year and features the best running back unit in the country.
This would be a matchup of offense vs. defense. USC's offense is the most complete in the country with Heisman candidate quarterback Matt Barkley, receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods and running back Curtis McNeal. The line is also good enough to slow down the LSU pass rush and pave the way for the running game.