After months of great college football action, bowl season is finally upon us.
While Notre Dame and Alabama will ultimately play in the BCS National Championship Game, there are plenty of intriguing matchups leading that highlight the bowl lineup.
In all, 35 bowls will give 70 teams the opportunity to make one final statement about their season.
Read on to find analysis and predictions for each and every one of the games fans will be watching throughout the bowl season.
When: December 15 at 1 p.m. ET
Bowl season should start off with a bang as two very offensive-minded teams will play in the New Mexico Bowl.
The Nevada Wolfpack enter the New Mexico Bowl as a representative of the WAC coming off of a 7-5 season. As usual, Chris Ault's squad had a terrific season offensively. The pistol offense racked up over 3,000 yards rushing, led by running back Stefphon Jefferson.
Rich Rodriguez's first season with the Arizona Wildcats resulted in plenty of scoring and a bowl bid, as they will try to get the Pac-12 off to a good start with a win over Nevada. Quarterback Matt Scott has flourished in Rodriguez's version of the spread offense, totaling over 3,000 yards as a passer with 24 touchdowns.
These teams both know how to put points on the board as each team averaged 37 points per game. The biggest difference should be Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey. The explosive back has over 1,700 yards on the season. Arizona's experience with a Pac-12 schedule should be an advantage.
Prediction: Arizona 41, Nevada 24
When: December 15 at 4:30 p.m. ET
WAC champion Utah State gets a crack at one of the MAC's best teams when the Aggies meet the Toledo Rockets in Boise for the Potato Bowl.
The Aggies put together a 10-win season on their way to claiming a WAC title and an undefeated record in conference play. The winners of six straight, Utah State finished its season strong and boasts a strong defense. Gary Andersen's squad is surrendering just 15.4 points per game on the season.
Toledo also put together a nice resume as the Rockets went 9-3 in a very deep Mid-American Conference this season. While the Aggies were excellent on defense, Toledo excelled on the offensive side of the ball. Led by running back David Fluellen, the Rockets averaged 456 yards of total offense per game—ranking them 29th nationally.
Toledo's offense may be good, but Utah State's defense is the real deal. Unless Toledo's defense can match the impressive Aggies unit, Utah State holds the advantage.
Prediction: Utah State 24, Toledo 10
When: December 20 at 8 p.m. ET
Former Mountain West Conference foes collide in San Diego when BYU meets San Diego State.
The Cougars ran up a 7-5 record in their season as an independent. An 0-3 record against Top 25 teams made this a rather quiet year in Provo, but they've finished strong, winning three of their last four games. The Cougars, usually known for offensive potency, rank sixth in the nation in scoring defense at 14.7 points allowed per game.
The Aztecs will have the added advantage of playing their bowl game in their own home stadium. Boasting a 6-1 record at home this season, that's a big deal. Head coach Rocky Long has his team playing at a high level to end the season, the Aztecs are on a seven-game winning streak heading into this one.
As good as BYU's defense has been all year, the Cougars been disappointing when playing good teams. The Cougars are just 1-4 against FBS teams with a winning record this season and 2-4 when playing away from home.
Prediction: San Diego State 24, BYU 13
When: December 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Conference USA and MAC collide when Central Florida and Ball State hook up in a classic matchup of offense and defense.
Central Florida came just short of claiming the Conference USA title, getting edged out by Tulsa in the conference championship game. However the Golden Knights still laid claim to an East Division title thanks to a stingy defense that led the conference in fewest points allowed.
Ball State was overshadowed by Northern Illinois and Kent State in the MAC this season, but quietly put together a six-game win streak to end the season at 9-3 after a 3-3 start. The Cardinals are balanced on offense and score 35 points per game.
Both teams played great defense in a conference that has plenty of high-powered offenses. This one should get defensive, so the Golden Knights carry the advantage in that department.
Prediction: Central Florida 23, Ball State 21
When: December 22 at noon ET
Nearly identical teams meet up in the New Orleans Bowl as East Carolina and Louisiana-Lafayette both finished the season at 8-4.
East Carolina represents Conference USA and will feature promising sophomore quarterback Austin Carden, who threw for 21 touchdowns on the season while adding eight more on the ground. Head coach Ruffin McNeill's squad has done a great job of turning the program around after a 5-7 team last season, so they'll be hungry to notch a bowl win to complete that turnaround.
Louisiana-Lafayette closes a nice season behind sophomore quarterback Terrance Broadway. The sensational Houston transfer has given the Ragin' Cajuns a dual threat at the position since taking over for an injured Blaine Gautier in October.
The key matchup here is how East Carolina handles Lafayette's running game. The Pirates have struggled to beat teams that are able to run the ball effectively; the Cajuns are averaging over five yards per carry and have over 2,000 yards on the ground as a team.
Prediction: Louisiana-Lafayette 33, East Carolina 30
When: December 22 at 3:30 p.m. ET
The Boise State Broncos could be playing their final bowl game as the David to the BCS' Goliath when they take on Washington. The school is scheduled to make its move to the Big East next season.
The Huskies have been the epitome of inconsistency this season. They feature huge wins such as Stanford and Oregon State on their resume, but also have blowout losses to LSU, Oregon and Arizona. Quarterback Keith Price may be one of the biggest disappointments of the whole season. The highly touted quarterback only threw for 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on the season.
Kellen Moore finally left the Broncos, but Boise State showed that the program is bigger than any one player—it simply went out and won with consistency like it always does. With Joe Southwick at quarterback, the Broncos found a way to win 10 games once again.
The real key to this game—and the reason that Boise State should win—is the Broncos defense.
Despite losing numerous starters to the NFL last season, Boise State ranked in the top 10 in both scoring and total defense as opponents simply couldn't move the ball all season. Price gets one last chance to show that he can lead this offense against a good defense, but Boise has the advantage.
Prediction: Boise State 20, Washington 14
When: December 24 at 8 p.m. ET
June Jones will be in familiar territory when his team takes on Fresno State. Jones is well-known in the island state for his time as the Hawaii head coach when he frequently coached against Fresno State in the WAC.
Fresno State hasn't missed a beat while transitioning from longtime head coach Pat Hill to new head man Tim DeRuyter. The Bulldogs have been great on both sides of the ball, scoring 40 points per game while holding opponents to a mere 22 points. A familiar name keys the Bulldogs offense as Derek Carr, younger brother of David Carr, has thrown for 36 touchdowns to five interceptions.
The 6-6 Mustangs haven't shown off the offensive prowess usually demonstrated by a June Jones team, but they've shown resolve in going from 4-2 over the latter half of the season to get to be bowl-eligible. Despite the inconsistencies on the offensive side of the ball, the Mustangs boast a good run defense that holds teams to under four yards per carry.
The Mustangs may be good against the run, but this is a mismatch. The Bulldogs are a very balanced and disciplined team as DeRuyter is already picking up steam as an up-and-coming coach. He'll have the Bulldogs ready to play against a much-less-impressive SMU team.
Prediction: Fresno State 31, SMU 14
When: December 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET
The 7-5 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers will play the 6-6 Central Michigan Chippewas in a game that is sure to get offensive.
The Hilltoppers are making their first-ever bowl appearance. They joined the FBS in 2008. Head coach Willie Taggart has done a fantastic job elevating this program to a contender in the Sun Belt. Junior running back Antonio Andrews spearheads the offense with over 1,600 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns.
Central Michigan struggled to rise to the top in the MAC that was especially competitive this season. The Chippewas finished out the season with three straight victories to reach bowl eligibility at 6-6 despite going 0-4 against teams with a winning record.
The Chippewas are making a comeback to the bowl season after a two-year absence. The Hilltoppers should play with plenty of passion as the school's first bowl team. Expect Western Kentucky to prove that they belong in a bowl by getting off to a good start and hanging on for the win.
Prediction: Western Kentucky 24, Central Michigan 14
When: December 27 at 3 p.m. ET
San Jose State makes its first bowl appearance since 2006 when it takes on the Bowling Green Falcons.
Bowling Green was another quality team in a banner year for the MAC. The Falcons finished up the season up at 8-4 after starting out 1-3. In a conference known for dynamic offenses, Bowling Green got the job done on the other side of the ball. Its 15.8 points per game on defense is ninth in the nation in scoring defense.
San Jose State is having one of the best seasons in school history at 10-2. The Spartans have only lost to teams ranked in the Top 25, including a three-point loss to Rose Bowl-bound Stanford. Mike MacIntyre has done a fantastic job of bringing a dangerous offense to San Jose as the Spartans are averaging 35 points per game and have nearly 4,000 passing yards on the season.
This should be a great game as both school's greatest strengths will go head to head. The Falcons will pose a challenge to the Spartans' passing attack, but the bottom line is San Jose State has proven more this season.
Prediction: San Jose State 27, Bowling Green 21
When: December 27 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Yes, you read that correctly, the Duke Blue Devils are bowl-bound for the first time since 1995. They'll play the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Belk Bowl.
The Bearcats had a quiet 9-3 season as losses to Louisville and Rutgers kept the team out of any BCS talks despite having the same record in conference play as eventual Orange Bowl participant Louisville. While Cincinnati is usually known for offense, this is a team that claims defense as its calling card—the Bearcats are holding opponents to 17.2 points per game.
David Cutcliffe has the Blue Devils playing their best football in years. Duke got off to an incredible start, going 6-2 and putting itself in contention for an ACC Coastal Division championship. Unfortunately, the Devils couldn't keep the good times rolling, as they finished on a four-game losing streak.
Duke's rise to a bowl game is a great story, but the Blue Devils haven't won any games this season that would indicate they can beat a team like Cincinnati. The Bearcats defense is legitimate and should be on display in this one.
Prediction: Cincinnati 24, Duke 7
When: December 27 at 9:45 p.m. ET
The high-octane Baylor Bears will take on the UCLA Bruins in a Big 12 vs. Pac-12 matchup that highlights the early bowl slate.
The Bruins were one of the more pleasant surprises in college football this season. They won the Pac-12 South and came within three points of earning a bid to the Rose Bowl under Jim Mora Jr. Offensively, the Bruins are capable of lighting it up on the ground and through the air. Quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin are among the best QB-RB tandems in the country.
Baylor features a pretty explosive offense in its own right. Despite the doubts surrounding Art Briles' ability to move on without Robert Griffin III this year, Nick Florence had a tremendous season, throwing for over 4,000 yards. Wide receiver Terrance Williams is among the best receivers in the country with 1,764 yards and 12 touchdowns.
This should turn into a shootout as Baylor has shown it can score on everyone, but struggles to stop anyone. In a game like that it's usually the team that can avoid turnovers that win. That favors UCLA as it isn't as reliant on the pass. Franklin should have a big day for a Bruins win.
Prediction: UCLA 45, Baylor 42
When: December 28 at 2 p.m. ET
The Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks will make their first bowl appearance in school history against the MAC's Ohio Bobcats.
For a while, it seemed like Ohio would be the MAC team that could bust the BCS this season. Led by quarterback Tyler Tettleton, the Bobcats started off 7-0 before ending the season on a 1-4 skid to wind up at 8-4. For the Bobcats it's all about stopping the run—they surrendered over four yards per carry on the season and have been beaten badly by the better teams in the MAC.
Louisiana-Monroe had its best season in school history, going 8-4 with close losses against BCS conference foes Baylor and Auburn. Junior quarterback Kolton Browning is one of the best quarterbacks in the non-BCS ranks and possesses the tools to expose weaknesses in the Ohio defense.
The Warhawks are coming into this game with much more momentum and should have more motivation with this being the school's first-ever bowl game.
Prediction: Louisiana-Monroe 35, Ohio 27
When: December 28 at 5:30 p.m. ET
The Russell Athletic Bowl will feature two teams looking for redemption when Rutgers plays against Virginia Tech.
Rutgers fell just short of winning the Big East Conference after losing to the Louisville Cardinals to close out the season, so the Russell Athletic Bowl may be a bit of a disappointment. The Scarlet Knights offense won't wow any fans, but the defense is legitimate. The stingy unit is holding opponents to 14.3 points per game and less than three yards per carry against the run.
Virginia Tech failed to meet the preseason hype surrounding it, going 6-6 and underwhelming in nearly every facet of the game. Quarterback Logan Thomas fell way short of the expectations placed on him. The athletic junior threw 14 interceptions and just 17 touchdowns as the Hokies offense was pitiful for most of the season.
Unfortunately for the Hokies, the run game has been a disappointment too. Virginia Tech is averaging less than four yards per carry and won't fare much better against a Rutgers team that specializes in defense.
Prediction: Rutgers 17, Virginia Tech 7
When: December 28 at 9 p.m. ET
The Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl features two slumping teams looking to end the season on a positive note in Texas Tech and Minnesota.
The Red Raiders struggled to stay competitive down the stretch in the Big 12 Conference. After a 6-1 start that had Lubbock buzzing, Tech dropped four of its last five games to finish the season at 7-5. The Red Raiders feature a powerful passing attack as usual—quarterback Seth Doege will look to get over 4,000 yards for the season as he currently has 3,934.
The Golden Gophers got off to a promising 4-0 start before going 2-6 as Big 10 play got started. As much as Texas Tech loves to throw the ball, Minnesota will look to run. The Golden Gophers have run the ball an average of 39 times per game last season despite playing from behind for most of the season.
Texas Tech may have struggled to close out the season, but it had far more positive moments than Minnesota has had this season. The Red Raiders offense should get back on track as Minnesota's defense has been porous all season.
Prediction: Texas Tech 42, Minnesota 21
When: December 29 at 11:45 a.m. ET
Two 6-6 teams will meet in Armed Forces Bowl when the Air Force Falcons take on the Rice Owls.
Air Force will look to end the season on a positive note after stumbling to a 1-3 record in the team's last four games. In usual form, the Falcons have a potent ground attack. They're second in the country at 328 yards per game on the ground.
Rice makes a bowl appearance after finishing the season out with four wins to get to bowl eligibility. The Owls are led by dual-threat quarterback Taylor McHargue, who has 11 touchdowns through the air and 11 touchdowns on the ground.
This one should be a high-scoring affair, as both teams will run the ball up and down the field. The Owls are giving up over five yards a carry to opponents and the Falcons have given up over 2,000 yards on the ground.
Prediction: Air Force 35, Rice 31
When: December 29 at 3:15 p.m. ET
West Virginia will take on an old Big East foe when it plays Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl.
There's an argument to be made that the Mountaineers have been the most exciting team in the country this year. Win or lose, it's a guarantee there will be points aplenty when Dana Holgorsen's team takes the field. There was a point in time when this team had BCS buzz surrounding it. After an epic five-game slide, that's a distant memory but the high-flying Mountaineers are still must-see TV.
The Orange finished the season at 7-5 but flew under the radar as one of the best teams in the Big East. Senior quarterback Ryan Nassib has been a huge reason for that as he has thrown for 3,619 yards with 24 touchdowns to key an offense that is scoring 29.3 points per game.
Like most of West Virginia's games, this one will feature plenty of scoring. The Mountaineers defense makes even the most average quarterbacks look like Heisman contenders. Nassib is a good quarterback so the Orange will score points. However, West Virginia's offense is still one of the most dangerous in the country with Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
Prediction: West Virginia 56, Syracuse 49
When: December 29 at 4 p.m. ET
The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl features an intriguing matchup as Arizona State and Navy will both rely heavily on their rushing attacks to win the game.
Arizona State doesn't have one superstar back, but it likes to spread the wealth and has many capable options on the roster. The Sun Devils have four players on the roster with more than 400 yards rushing and have combined for more than 2,000 yards on the ground. The Sun Devils' greatest strength is a defense that has held teams to 24 points per game.
Navy features its traditional triple option offense and has averaged over five yards a carry for 3,000 yards as a team. The Midshipmen haven't fared too well in bowl appearances; they are 1-4 in their last five bowl appearances and didn't qualify for a bowl game in 2011.
Arizona State should control this game as it has a similar record with a much more difficult schedule and has the defensive personnel to shut down Navy's option attack.
Prediction: Arizona State 31, Navy 13
When: December 29 at 6:45 p.m. ET
Texas and Oregon State meet in the Alamo Bowl in a game that features two teams that defied expectations and had similar seasons.
The Longhorns defied expectations for all the wrong reasons. A defense that was considered to be elite at the beginning of the season was anything but. The Longhorns rank 102nd against the run this season and have been hurt by poor tackling all season. The offense hasn't been much better as David Ash and Case McCoy have delivered inconsistent results all season.
Oregon State defied expectations in a good way. The Beavers were an afterthought in the Pac-12 to start the season, but made their presence known with a 6-0 start to the season and a 9-3 record to end the season. Junior quarterback Cody Vaz was great for the Beavers when healthy, throwing for 11 touchdowns and only one interception in six games.
Vaz should be healthy for the bowl game and that's great news for Oregon State. When he's at quarterback, the team is much better. However, Texas has a great rushing attack of its own and has three backs capable of making plays with Joe Bergeron, Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray. The Longhorns ended the season with two straight losses but Oregon State did go 3-3 in their final six games.
Prediction: Texas 28, Oregon State 24
When: December 29 at 10:15 p.m. ET
TCU will take on a team from the Big Ten Conference for the first time since the 2010 Rose Bowl against Wisconsin when it plays the Michigan State Spartans in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
The Spartans' first season without quarterback Kirk Cousins didn't go quite as planned. They ended the season with a 6-6 record despite a defense that ranked 10th in scoring defense at 16 points allowed per game.
TCU had to overcome plenty of adversity in its inaugural season in the Big 12. The Frogs lost starting quarterback Casey Pachall midseason due to off-field issues and suffered a myriad of injuries on both sides of the ball, including starting running back Waymon James. Despite the issues, they managed to finish 7-5 on the season with road wins against Baylor, West Virginia and Texas.
This game will come down to which team can run the ball better. Michigan State loves to pound the ball between the tackles with Le'Veon Bell but doesn't have much in the way of passing. The Frogs are holding opponents to 3.18 yards per carry and Gary Patterson is a defensive mastermind. As long as they get a good performance from Trevone Boykin, they'll have the advantage.
Prediction: TCU 16, Michigan State 10
When: December 31 at noon ET
James Franklin will look to lead his Vanderbilt team to its first bowl victory since 2008 against NC State.
The Wolfpack will be coached by interim head coach Dana Bible as the program transitions from Tom O'Brien to Dave Doeren this offseason. O'Brien led the Wolfpack to a 7-5 record in his final season with the program. NC State will look to feature senior quarterback Mike Glennon, who has over 3,600 passing yards and 30 touchdowns on the season.
Franklin has worked his magic with the Commodores once again as the team not only became bowl-eligible in the always difficult SEC, they did it with style. Vandy finished the season 8-4 with a six-game winning streak to close out the season.
Mike Glennon has been great this season, but he isn't perfect. The senior with the big arm has thrown 14 interceptions and that's something that Vandy could take advantage of. The Commodores aren't too flashy themselves on offense; Jordan Rodgers (brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers) doesn't put up gaudy numbers but he doesn't turn the ball over either.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 24, NC State 17
When: December 31 at 2 p.m. ET
The USC Trojans went from trendy preseason No. 1 pick to playing in the Sun Bowl against a Georgia Tech team that has a losing record at 6-7.
The Yellow Jackets play in the Sun Bowl despite the losing mark because they played in the ACC championship game. Paul Johnson's Yellow Jackets once again are defined by the triple option. They are averaging over 300 rushing yards per game and rank fourth nationally.
USC's downfall has been well-documented. Lane Kiffin has come under serious fire for the disastrous results of this season. Despite the poor record, the Trojans offense hasn't been bad. It has averaged 34 points per game and averages five yards per carry. Marqise Lee has been astounding all season with 112 receptions for 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Kiffin can't afford to lose this one. The lowly Jackets are barely deserving of a bowl game and Kiffin will have close to a month for his staff to prepare for the option. USC has proved otherwise during this season but it simply has too many weapons to fail in this one.
Prediction: USC 45, Georgia Tech 10
When: December 31 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Tulsa gets a shot at revenge when it takes on Iowa State in a rematch of its season-opening loss.
The Golden Hurricane lost to the Cyclones 38-23 to kick off the season, but both teams should look vastly different when they play again to close out the season. Since that loss Tulsa has reeled off 10 wins and two losses behind a powerful running attack. The Hurricane will look to wear the Cyclones out this time with their stable of backs, including 260-pound Alex Singleton, who has 21 touchdowns on the season.
Paul Rhoads' Iowa State team has displayed the typical character that Rhoads has come to be known for. The Cyclones managed to get to this bowl on the strength of a 6-6 record while playing a tough schedule in the Big 12. Freshman quarterback Sam Richardson has the Iowa State program excited. He's come on late in the season to start the last two games and has thrown seven touchdowns with no interceptions.
Turnovers told the story the last time these two met. Tulsa gave it up three times while Iowa State was able to limit itself to one. With Richardson not throwing any interceptions once again, the Cyclones should take care of the ball once again and pull out another victory.
Prediction: Iowa State 28, Tulsa 20
When: December 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Two worlds collide when the defensive-minded LSU Tigers clash with the offensive-minded Clemson Tigers.
Clemson will be out for redemption in this game. After being embarrassed by West Virginia 70-33 in last year's Orange Bowl and losing to South Carolina 27-17 to end the season, Dabo Swinney are out for respect in this one. Clemson has one of the most fun offenses in the country with stars all over the field in Andre Ellington, Tajh Boyd, DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins.
LSU isn't as dominant as it was last season, but it's still one of the SEC's best. Les Miles' team once again boasts a hard-hitting defense that is highlighted by highly touted defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Add in the maturation of junior quarterback Zach Mettenberger as the season has progressed and LSU should be a complete team when it comes to play Clemson.
Miles will need to come with a great game plan to slow down this Clemson offense, but it's the SEC's Tigers that have the advantage. Clemson has struggled in big non-conference games of late and needs to prove it can win on the field before being favored on paper.
Prediction: LSU 23, Clemson 14
When: January 1 at noon ET
The Northwestern Wildcats and Mississippi State Bulldogs kick off a series of Big Ten vs. SEC matchups throughout New Year's Day.
Northwestern may be the most underrated team in the Big Ten. Pat Fitzgerald's squad finished with a 9-3 record and spent much of the season teetering in and out of the Top 25. The Wildcats boast a powerful running game spearheaded by quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark. The team averages five yards per carry.
Mississippi State started the season extremely strong at 7-0, but faltered down the stretch as the schedule became more and more difficult to navigate finishing 8-4 on the season. In the Bulldogs' eight wins, quarterback Tyler Russell threw 19 touchdowns and one interception. In their four losses he has three touchdowns and five interceptions.
Russell will be key to the Bulldogs' chances, but Northwestern presents a very balanced attack that will give them problems. This is the Big Ten's best chance to beat the SEC in a bowl game, and Colter should lead the way.
Prediction: Northwestern 24, Mississippi State 17
When: January 1 at noon ET
Oklahoma State and Purdue are two teams that have put together up-and-down seasons in 2012. They'll each get the opportunity to make one last statement in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Purdue finished out the season at 6-6 thanks to a five-game losing streak in the middle of the season before going 3-0 to get to six wins. Purdue will look to score with the Cowboys as the defense has left plenty to be desired in 2012.
Oklahoma State finished out at 7-5 in the highly unpredictable Big 12 in a season that was defined by inconsistency and a musical chairs' game at the quarterback position. Despite starting three different quarterbacks throughout the season, the Cowboys averaged 44.7 points per game.
Purdue has had to outscore opponents to earn their wins this season. The defense simply isn't that good. Getting into a shootout with the Cowboys isn't a good idea as Mike Gundy's teams always find a way to put up a ton of points regardless of who is at quarterback.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 38, Purdue 28
When: January 1 at 1 p.m. ET
South Carolina will look to prove SEC dominance when it takes on Big Ten opponent Michigan.
The Wolverines have come a long way since opening the season with an embarrassing 41-14 loss to Alabama. Devin Gardner has emerged as the starting quarterback after Denard Robinson went down with an injury. With Robinson playing running back/wide receiver/quarterback, the offense looks entirely different but the Wolverines expected much better than 8-4 after going 11-2 last season.
South Carolina goes to the Outback Bowl as one of the many quality teams in the fiercely competitive SEC at 10-2. Even without Marcus Lattimore for the latter part of the season, the Gamecocks have been a tough team led by a hard-hitting defense. Jadaveon Clowney is one of the top defensive players in the country with 13 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss and he's only a sophomore.
Michigan earned this berth despite a mediocre 8-4 record. Consider that the Wolverines were 7-0 at home and a meager 1-4 on the road, things don't look good for them in this one. South Carolina just showed it can take care of business outside of the conference with a win over Clemson to close out the season. The Gamecocks defense is just too athletic for Michigan.
Prediction: South Carolina 31, Michigan 14
When: January 1 at 1 p.m. ET
The Capital One Bowl scores a high-profile matchup between Big Ten and SEC runners-up in Nebraska and Georgia.
The Georgia Bulldogs are one of the more egregious exclusions from the BCS in its rocky history. An argument could be made that Georgia came five yards away from a national title berth in the SEC championship game. While it has to be a disappointment to be kept out of the BCS, the Bulldogs are still one of the best teams in the country at 11-2.
Nebraska doesn't have any case to be in the Big Ten after a 70-31 loss in the conference championship game to Wisconsin. The Huskers finished the season at 10-3 but were a much better team at home (7-0) than they were on the road (3-3).
Bo Pelini has to be concerned about this matchup after his team's debacle against Wisconsin. The Huskers were gouged by James White, Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon for 539 yards and eight touchdowns. Georgia has its own stable of backs with Tood Gurley and Keith Marshall; unless the defense makes some serious adjustments, this gets ugly.
Prediction: Georgia 42, Nebraska 17
When: January 1 at 5 p.m. ET
In a matchup of unexpected conference champions, Wisconsin will take on Stanford in the grandaddy of them all: the Rose Bowl.
The Cardinal are going to party like it's 1999—that's the last time they reached the Rose Bowl. On the strength of five wins against teams that were in the Top 25 when they played them, the Cardinal have one of the most impressive resumes in the country.
The Badgers were expected be here at the beginning of the season, but they struggled a lot more than anyone would have expected. Wisconsin gathered five losses along the way before hanging 70 on Nebraska in the Big Ten title game to clinch a Rose Bowl berth.
Wisconsin's win over Nebraska was impressive, but it must be kept in perspective. The Cardinal are one questionable call in South Bend and an uncharacteristically off performance on a Thursday night in Washington away from an undefeated record. The Cardinal defense held Oregon's run-heavy attack to 14 points. The Badgers may be good on the ground, but they're no Oregon.
Prediction: Stanford 24, Wisconsin 10
When: January 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET
There's no doubt the matchup of Florida State and Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl is one of the most controversial pairings in BCS bowl history.
Northern Illinois earns an automatic bid despite being a one-loss team from the MAC by virtue of a Top 16 finish in the BCS standings that finished over a conference champion from one of the automatic qualifier conferences. Makes perfect sense, right?
Whether it deserves the BCS or not, the Huskies have had a great season. Head coach Dave Doeren is off to NC State, but quarterback Jordan Lynch will be there and that gives the Huskies a chance. The junior quarterback is the nation's leading rusher with 1,771 yards rushing and added over 2,900 passing yards to boot.
Putting Northern Illinois to the test will be Florida State, who has defined dominance this season. The Seminoles are ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense and 14th in points per game on offense. That's a complete team.
The Huskies' presence in this game will irk plenty of fans. Those who want to see the Huskies get blown out shouldn't be disappointed. Jordan Lynch and the offense are great, but they have seen a defense as athletic and fast as the one they will see in this game. This could get ugly.
Prediction: Florida State 38, Northern Illinois 14
When: January 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Louisville head coach Charlie Strong will attempt to upset his former team when the Cardinals take on Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Strong served as the Gators' defensive coordinator before becoming the head coach at Louisville.
Strong has taken Louisville to the top of the Big East Conference in just his third year. The Cardinals are 1-1 in bowls with him at the helm and this will be his first appearance in a BCS game. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater keys the Cardinals offense with his efficiency—he's completing 69 percent of his passes and has only thrown seven interceptions on the season.
He'll face his most stern test of the year when the Cardinals play the Gators. Florida has one of the best defensive units in the country and will be sure to get after Bridgewater. The Gators are holding opponents to an extremely stingy 12.9 points per game. The Gators aren't flashy on offense but running back Mike Gillislee is capable of gashing the defense.
Strong facing his old team in a BCS bowl game is a nice story and the Cardinals have had a good season, but they are simply overmatched against Florida. This defense should overwhelm Bridgewater as the Gators run on the Cardinals defense.
Prediction: Florida 35, Louisville 10
When: January 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET
There was a time when fans thought that Kansas State and Oregon would be playing for a national championship. The stakes aren't what we thought, but this should be the most anticipated game of the season outside of Alabama vs. Notre Dame.
Kansas State features a bona fide Heisman candidate in Collin Klein. Klein took the college football world by storm with his dual-threat abilities as he led Kansas State to its best season in recent memory. Though the Wildcats fell short of the BCS title game, their ascension up the ranks is still one of the best stories of the season.
Oregon has to be equally disappointed to be in this game as it won 11 of 12 games on the schedule by double digits. If you've even remotely followed college football, you are well aware of the blazing fast Ducks offense that has averaged 50 points per game. The Ducks are by far the most explosive team in college football.
These two teams couldn't be any more different. The flashy Ducks look to score and score fast. The Wildcats prefer a more methodical approach but have scored with startling efficiency. The Ducks' speed should be the difference in this one. The Wildcats gave up 52 points to the Baylor offense in its only loss this season. That can't bode well for a matchup against the Ducks.
Prediction: Oregon 56, Kansas State 38
When: January 4 at 8 p.m. ET
The Cotton Bowl matchup of Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M has to be the highlight of the non-BCS games.
Landry Jones' senior season in a Sooner uniform resulted in a 10-2 mark and a share of the Big 12 title, but thanks to their head-to-head loss to Kansas State and the inclusion of Northern Illinois, the Sooners will be on the outside looking in when it comes to the BCS.
Texas A&M is one of the best stories of the 2012 college football season. At the beginning of the season most had doubts that a Big 12 team like the Aggies would find life in the SEC difficult. Upstart quarterback Johnny Manziel and first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin had other ideas. The Aggies' fast-paced spread offense made its mark on the conference right away—finishing with a 10-2 record highlighted by a shocking upset of eventual SEC champion Alabama.
The Sooners have won their bowl game three years straight. That streak is in serious jeopardy as the Aggies have caught fire to end the season. Including the win over Alabama, Texas A&M finished the season with five wins in a row as Johnny Manziel established himself as the most electrifying player in college football. The Aggies should win here and spark all kinds of hype for next season.
Prediction: Texas A&M 49, Oklahoma 42
When: January 5 at 1 p.m. ET
Ole Miss and Pittsburgh will take center stage as one of the last lead-ins to the national championship game.
The Rebels survived a brutal SEC schedule to get to 6-6 and earn a berth into this game. Quarterback Bo Wallace isn't Johnny Manziel by any stretch of the imagination, but he has put together a nice sophomore season. He has eight rushing touchdowns to go with 19 passing touchdowns to lead the Rebels against a slew of tough defenses.
Pittsburgh enters the BBVA Compass Bowl in its final season with the Big East as the school will head to the ACC next season. The Panthers' last season in the conference has to be considered a disappointment. Thanks to three losses by seven points or less, they finished the season at 6-6. Ray Graham has been a bright spot for the team, though. The senior went for over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns.
These two teams are pretty similar. Both were a little bit better than people gave them credit for all season, playing teams tough despite mediocre results in the wins column. Graham is a great running back, but the Rebels hold opposing teams to 3.5 yards per carry. They've seen plenty of running backs like Graham in the SEC.
Prediction: Ole Miss 24, Pittsburgh 13
When: January 6 at 9 p.m. ET
Don't let the non-BCS status of these schools fool you—this is a great matchup of two well-coached teams.
Kent State was on the brink of a BCS berth when it lost in overtime to eventual Orange Bowl participant Northern Illinois in overtime. Dri Archer is one of the most overlooked playmakers in college football. The Golden Flashes are a throwback team, and head coach Darrell Hazell is sure to be a hot name as schools look to hire new head coaches.
Arkansas State hasn't missed a beat under the guidance of Gus Malzahn one year removed from the Hugh Freeze era. The Red Wolves finished out the season on a seven-game win streak to claim the Sun Belt championship. A lot of that can be attributed to veteran quarterback Ryan Aplin. He may not be Cam Newton, but he runs Malzahn's version of the spread with precision and will pose a problem for Kent State.
The Golden Flashes are having a special season. Coach Hazell has taken the usual MAC doormat to the door step of a BCS game and the school's second-ever bowl appearance. Kent State hasn't been in a bowl since 1972. Malzahn's offense is good, but the Golden Flashes will be hungry to complete school's historic run with a bowl win.
Prediction: Kent State 28, Arkansas State 21
When: January 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Alabama looks to claim its third national championship in four years when it takes on undefeated Notre Dame in BCS National Championship Game.
Notre Dame has been on a mission this season. Despite close calls along the way, the Irish have persevered as the lone undefeated team in the country that's eligible to play in the postseason anyway. With a dominant defense led by linebacker Manti Te'o and an efficient offense, Notre Dame has proved it belongs in this game.
Alabama was the odds-on favorite to be in this game from the beginning. While its presence in the final game of the season was in doubt after a loss to Texas A&M, the Tide remained steadfast and find themselves with the opportunity to defend their title.
This game pits two of the country's best defenses. Alabama is sure to be favored, but games against Texas A&M, LSU and Georgia showed that it isn't excluded from close games. Notre Dame has struggled against weaker competition, but have came to play in prime-time games against Stanford, Oklahoma and USC. This should be a great game, but Alabama's offense is a little more polished than Notre Dame's.
Prediction: Alabama 20, Notre Dame 13