Ranking the 10 Must-See Bowl Matchups of 2012-13

Ian Berg@@ShugJordanPkwyCorrespondent IDecember 15, 2012

Ranking the 10 Must-See Bowl Matchups of 2012-13

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    The bowl season kicked off on Saturday, with the Gildan New Mexico Bowl and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl starting the season. The New Mexico Bowl turned into a surprisingly exciting matchup, leading the way for the 10 must-see bowl games coming in the next few weeks.

    Of course, the national title game will draw eyes and be a major matchup to finish the year, but lesser-recognized games like the New Era Pinstripe Bowl and the Belk Bowl will bring exciting showdowns as well.

    Looking ahead to the coming weeks of the bowl season, here are the 10 matchups you can’t miss if you love college football like we do.

10. Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl

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    Matchup: Baylor Bears vs. UCLA Bruins

    When: Dec. 27, 9:45 p.m. ET/ESPN

    The Baylor Bears have consistently been overachievers this season, while the UCLA Bruins have been the upstart from the Pac-12 making waves this season.

    This game matches up two very prolific offenses, with Nick Florence guiding the Bears and Brett Hundley leading the Bruins. While Florence has been impressive in his senior season, Hundley has taken UCLA to nine wins and the Pac-12 title game as a freshman.

    That’s an impressive achievement for Hundley and first-year coach Jim L. Mora.

    Baylor is No. 1 in total offense, while the Bruins field the No. 20 unit in the same category. This game should have fireworks from the beginning, keeping eyes glued to the late-night ESPN broadcast.

9. Valero Alamo Bowl

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    Matchup: Texas Longhorns vs. Oregon State Beavers

    When: Dec. 29, 6:45 p.m. ET/ESPN

    The Valero Alamo Bowl has put together some strong matchups in the past, but this year’s showdown will bring a lot of attention when the Texas Longhorns take on the Oregon State Beavers.

    Oregon State has put together the most impressive comeback year in college football, going from 3-9 a year ago to 9-3 this year and a winning conference record. The Beavers had a strong resurgence based on their air attack, and they will hope to achieve success through the air against the Longhorns.

    Texas is the No. 39 pass defense in the country, so it will give up yards. The Beavers, meanwhile, are the No. 15 passing unit in the country. The Longhorns are also the No. 76 total defense in the country—another bad sign for the Longhorns.

    The Beavers have been stingy on defense, allowing less than 20 points a game, but Texas has solid attacks both running and passing. This will be a fun game to watch as Mack Brown attempts to cool off his throne in Austin with a win.

8. Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl

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    Matchup: Rice Owls vs. Air Force Falcons

    When: Dec. 29, 11:45 a.m. ET/ESPN

    Like it or not, you have to respect the Air Force option attack. It is one of the most impressive offenses to watch and will bring a lot of excitement to the Armed Forces Bowl.

    Connor Dietz almost led the Falcons to a win over Michigan earlier this season, using the speed and deception of the perfectly-run option.

    Rice has had some rough patches this year, but Taylor McHargue has done enough to keep the Owls in games and lead them to the postseason.

    This will be clock control versus explosion. If Air Force can keep the ball and pile up first downs, it will be a long day for Rice.

    Watching the Falcons offense makes this a top-10 matchup. 

7. Belk Bowl

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    Matchup: Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Duke Blue Devils

    When: Dec. 27, 6:30 p.m. ET/ESPN

    Duke hadn’t been to a bowl game since the 1995 season, but this year things changed. The Blue Devils were able to push for a 6-6 record this year under David Cutcliffe, relying on the passing ability of Sean Renfree throughout the year.

    The Blue Devils will face off with Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, matching a strong Big East partial title winner and an upstart in the ACC.

    While it doesn’t traditionally scream "great game," these two offenses will find success, leading to big scores and fun football.

    Both Cincinnati and Duke have had seven games where they scored more than 30 points. Duke had three games with over 40, while Cincinnati had two.

    This will be a high-scoring game from the start, and one worth your time in late December on Thursday night.

6. Capital One Bowl

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    Matchup: Georgia Bulldogs vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers

    When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET/ABC

    The Capital One Bowl is drawing one of the best games of the bowl season with the Bulldogs and Cornhuskers landing in Orlando.

    Both teams finished No. 2 in their respective conferences, losing their championship games to close out the year. Nebraska got destroyed by Wisconsin, while Georgia had a shot late to knock off Alabama.

    Georgia brings its dynamic offense led by Aaron Murray into the game, while Nebraska will counter with Taylor Martinez and Ameer Abdullah. Rex Burkhead should also get some touches in the game.

    This will be a game decided by the last man standing with the football. The Georgia defense is strong, but it showed holes against Alabama that the Nebraska option attack could exploit.

    This bowl game has witnessed some great games in the past, but this one will finish as one of the best since Citrus was dropped from the name.

5. GoDaddy.com Bowl

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    Matchup: Arkansas State Red Wolves vs. Kent State Golden Flashes

    When: Jan. 6, 9 p.m. ET/ESPN

    The GoDaddy.com Bowl has been full of offense since the first game was played in 1999. The winner in the game has scored more than 40 points in seven out of 13 total contests. This year will likely bring No. 8.

    The Red Wolves have lost head coach Gus Malzahn to Auburn, but they still have the explosive players and offensive system that led them to a Sun Belt title and a nine-win season.

    Dri Archer and the Golden Flashes will attempt to stop the Red Wolves' winning streak by bringing their own explosive play to Mobile, Ala.

    Both teams average over 30 points a game, and this game should be no different. If you are looking for a possible overtime thriller, this is your game.

4. New Era Pinstripe Bowl

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    Matchup: West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Syracuse Orange

    When: Dec. 29, 3:15 p.m. ET/ESPN

    West Virginia was a team on a national title run this year until a midseason collapse left the Mountaineers reeling and scratching to land in a bowl game.

    The Orange started slow but exploded on an undefeated Louisville team and climbed into a bowl game with a 5-1 finish to the regular season.

    These teams feature two prolific passers with Geno Smith of West Virginia and Ryan Nassib of Syracuse. Both have been clutch quarterbacks this year for their teams.

    Whichever team can touch the ball more wins this football game. Key turnovers will matter, but neither defense will put up a strong enough fight to slow down the offensive production. This will be a long game, but it will be full of scores.

3. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

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    Matchup: Oregon Ducks vs. Kansas State Wildcats

    When: Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET/ESPN

    This was expected to be the national title matchup around Week 10 of this year, but both teams lost on the same weekend, ending their national title hopes.

    The consolation is that this game still happens—just not in Miami. Either way, we’ll take it.

    Collin Klein has one game left to prove that he is a NFL-worthy quarterback. Given Tim Tebow's lack of success, it will be tough for quarterbacks like Klein to sell themselves to the draft. This game could tip favor in his direction

    The Ducks are looking for a second consecutive BCS win with Marcus Mariota matching freshman against senior in this quarterback duel.

    This will match speed against grit, toughness against finesse. This game could either be high-scoring or moderate with a lot of turnovers. Either way, it will be fun to watch. Set the DVR for those amazing plays that are sure to come from Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas.

2. Discover Orange Bowl

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    Matchup: Florida State Seminoles vs. Northern Illinois Huskies

    When: Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET/ESPN

    Jordan Lynch is the no-name stud of college football this year. His season was overshadowed by fellow dual-threat signal-caller Johnny Manziel, but it was statistically just as impressive.

    Lynch led the Huskies through the MAC undefeated, but they have yet to face the talent that Florida State will put on the field defensively. How Lynch responds will determine how close this game will be.

    The Seminoles had a shot at a national title, but a hiccup loss to N.C. State ended all those hopes. Now Florida State has something to prove with a BCS win coming into focus.

    It won’t come easy against the Huskies.

    Rarely do mid-major teams get the shot at battling for a BCS win, so this will be a fun draw for the country. Can the Huskies channel Boise State and Utah magic, or will they get throttled like Hawaii a few years back?

    Who knows, but it will be fun to watch either way.

1. BCS National Championship Game

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    Matchup: Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

    When: Jan. 7, 8:30 p.m. ET/ESPN

    The BCS National Championship Game will pit two of the most storied programs in college football history against one another.

    These teams have faced off six times before, with Notre Dame holding a 5-1 edge in the all-time series. The teams combine for 25 national titles and have two of the largest national fanbases in the country.

    Eyes will be on the tube for this one to close the college football season.

    Two of the best defenses in the country will take the field in this game and will hope to keep the contest low-scoring. As recent games have shown for both teams, that may not be the case.

    The Bama defense will need to stop the ground attack of Notre Dame and force the game into the hands of Everett Golson. Notre Dame’s strategy will be much the same—force AJ McCarron to win the game.

    Alabama has a chance to win a second consecutive national title, while Notre Dame is trying to reclaim its place on top of the college football world.

    If you see any bowl game this season, make it this one.