With the participants decided, travel arrangements made and individual awards decided, the postseason picture in college football finally feels like it's starting to cement.
Now, all that's left is the wait. The long, agonizing wait. For some BCS-bound teams, the long, agonizing more-than-month-long wait.
Perhaps the biggest flaw (and that's saying something) in the BCS bowl system is how long it makes teams wait between their final regular-season contest and the biggest game of their year. It has long been a tradition for games to be played on New Year's Day, but as the bowl list grows more expansive by the year, it seems the season is ending later and later.
Auburn and Florida State won't cap off the campaign until Jan. 6—nearly a month after they closed out their regular seasons with wins in their respective conference title games. Both sides have the same layoff, so if you hear one team is "rusty" while the other is "rested," please disregard that as nonsense. The better-prepared team will win, as they usually do, but one has to wonder just how much that month layoff affects the level of preparation.
Could Florida State prepare for Auburn's defense in a week? Or does the month-long film session prove invaluable in stopping the vaunted Tigers rushing attack?
There is something to be said for each side of the argument, and it's fair to wonder whether your eyes just kind of gloss over after three or four weeks of film on the same team.
But every year, the wait is there. It's hovering over every Jameis Winston pass, Tre Mason run and Nick Saban scowl. With that in mind, let's check in on our most important bowl games of the season, highlighting the best matchups and noting when every game will be played.
|Bowl||Matchup||Predicted Winner||Date||Time (ET)||TV||Live Stream|
|Rose Bowl||Michigan State vs. Stanford||Stanford||Jan. 1||5 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|Fiesta Bowl||Baylor vs. UCF||Baylor||Jan. 1||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|Sugar Bowl||Alabama vs. Oklahoma||Alabama||Jan. 2||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|Orange Bowl||Clemson vs. Ohio St.||Clemson||Jan. 3||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|BCS National Championship||Florida St. vs. Auburn||Auburn||Jan. 6||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
Most Intriguing BCS Bowl Matchups
Rose Bowl: No. 5 Stanford (11-2) vs. No. 4 Michigan State (12-1)
When: Wednesday, Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET
Where: Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Look, I don't blame you if you'd rather dump embalming fluid on yourself than watch this matchup. I get it.
People like different things in their football. If your favorite thing involves things like "points" and "scoring," then watching the 2014 Rose Bowl will be about as entertaining as the script for Grown Ups 2. You do you and spend your New Year's afternoon watching parades or something.
For those who miss the days of throwback, grind-it-out football, however, this matchup is a godsend.
Neither the Michigan State Spartans nor the Stanford Cardinal play the most entertaining brand of football. The Cardinal offense essentially consists of grinding their opponents into a whimper with Tyler Gaffney—and then forcing them into an outright sob. Gaffney rushed for 1,618 yards and 20 touchdowns during the regular season, helping atone for a shaky end to the season from quarterback Kevin Hogan.
Hogan had two multi-interception games in November and has frankly only had two elite games since the beginning of October. David Shaw's system doesn't necessarily engender 300-yard, three-touchdown outings, but the Cardinal will need a semblance of balance against Michigan State's elite defense.
The Spartans allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 47.2 percent of their passes this season, third best in FBS. When you couple that with a 12-16 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 167.4 yards per game average, the picture of arguably the nation's fiercest secondary takes shape.
That, of course, is without mentioning the Spartans' true defensive strength: stopping the run. Mark Dantonio's unit tied with Louisville for the best yards per carry average (2.7) in the nation, and they tied for third with seven touchdowns allowed.
If that seems bearish in Stanford's respect, don't worry—the Spartans have just as tough of a matchup. Michigan State's offense, built on the back of Jeremy Langford's power running and Connor Cook's ability to avoid mistakes, faces a defense that grades out nearly as well as their own. The Cardinal finished third in the nation against the run, and while there have been some struggles in the secondary, they've come up with big plays when they need them most.
Football Outsiders ranks Stanford as the fourth-best defense in the nation. This matchup is coming down to the final possession, and I'm going with the Cardinal simply because I believe in the Gaffney-Hogan duo more than Langford-Cook.
Score: Stanford 20, Michigan State 17
Orange Bowl: No. 12 Clemson (10-2) vs. No. 7 Ohio State (12-1)
When: Friday, Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Fla.
How long does a conference-championship-game hangover last? Is it like a one-too-many-Jagerbombs hangover? Or more like a "you ought to go to rehab" hangover?
The answer may determine our Orange Bowl entertainment value. On the surface, this looks like a matchup between two teams separated by the thinnest of margins. Both sides boast exceedingly entertaining dual-threat quarterbacks, top-tier skill-position players and defenses that have a propensity for being lax.
If there's any game where you can feel comfortable betting the over, this is probably the one.
Nevertheless, the Buckeyes have to feel an overwhelming sense of disappointment. After 24 straight wins, Urban Meyer's team was finally on the verge of being rewarded and blew it at the least-opportune time. Now, instead of smelling the roses, Ohio State is tasting the citrus. And I'm guessing these are the most bitter oranges any of the players have ever eaten.
A month-long layoff can do a lot to quell disappointment, but could you blame the Buckeyes for coming out flat? It's not something one would expect to last the entire contest—pride eventually takes over—but it's definitely something to watch in the first couple of possessions. In a game where the two sides are separated by such a thin margin, giving away one or two scoring chances is enough to swing the entire outcome.
Here's what we know: Tajh Boyd will be good. Braxton Miller will be good. Sammy Watkins and Carlos Hyde, odds are, will be pretty darn good. There isn't a wide chasm between the strengths of the Big Ten and ACC; both are thoroughly mediocre.
Given a chance to make separate these two, I'll take a shot and say the Tigers will be buoyed enough in the first half to hold on late.
Score: Clemson 41, Ohio State 34
BCS National Championship Game: No. 2 Auburn (12-1) vs. No. 1 Florida State (13-0)
When: Monday, Jan. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
The last championship of the BCS era is one of the most intriguing in recent memory. In a season where it at times felt preordained that Oregon-Alabama would be our national title matchup, we instead get two teams that weren't even ranked inside the preseason Top 10.
In fact, we get only one team that even received votes from the coaches or Associated Press way back when.
All those assumptions aside, there are no two teams that deserve this honor more.
What Auburn has done this season reveals arguably the biggest "team of destiny" in college football history. First, there was the Prayer at Jordan-Hare, a 73-yard desperation heave with 23 seconds left that gave the Tigers a 43-38 victory over Georgia. Then, there was the best ending in college football history on Chris Davis' 100-plus-yard field-goal return that knocked off No. 1 Alabama.
The Tigers have played six one-possession games this season. They've won all of them. This is a team that barely escaped Washington State and Mississippi State at home and, by the end of the season, was taking down two Top Five opponents within a week.
Florida State has exactly zero one-possession games this season. The undefeated Seminoles have eviscerated their opponents, defeating them by an average of 41.8 points per game. To put it another way, they've defeated opposing teams by nearly two touchdowns on average more than any other squad. Second-ranked Baylor is closer to No. 12 Fresno State than it is Florida State.
It's been a weekly domination that makes Florida State difficult to judge—mainly because we've seen the Seminoles look bad so few times. Their schedule was, frankly, borderline atrocious. Jeff Sagarin ranks Florida State's slate No. 63, while Auburn comes in at No. 20.
So, how do we reconcile this? How much will the uptick in opposition hurt Jameis Winston and Co.?
I have a feeling it'll be enough to give Auburn its second national title in four years. The Tigers have dominated elite run defenses all season long, and Florida State's biggest strength defensively is in its secondary. Jeremy Pruitt's run defense has still been very good, but so was Missouri's before the SEC Championship Game.
Plus, while this isn't the best reason in the world, how can you bet against the SEC? To be the king, you have to beat the king. No one has dethroned the SEC yet.
Score: Auburn 34, Florida State 28
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: