On December 21, college football junkies everywhere can rejoice for two-and-a-half weeks because bowl season will be underway.
While most fans will tune into the marquee matchups that are generally reserved for the latter half of the schedule, diehard fans tend to get excited for all of them, especially those hidden gems that may turn out to be great games.
With 35 games on the slate for the 2013-14 bowl season, there are bound to be several overlooked games with high potential for greatness.
Whether it be because of underrated teams, under-the-radar athletes or just simply tantalizing matchups, if you dig deep enough, it is possible to find a reason to spend nearly the entire holiday season in front of the television watching college football.
In the following slides, we’ll highlight several of the potential gems that you may not have originally thought about watching but should.
Derek Carr will try to use his quick throwing motion to beat USC's defense in Las Vegas.
Who: Fresno State vs. Southern California
When: Dec. 21, 3:30 PM ET
Where: Las Vegas
In addition to the rankings, both teams show a considerable amount of talent on the offensive side of the ball, which makes this game particularly intriguing.
For Fresno State, it is senior quarterback Derek Carr, who not only broke the school’s record for career passing yards this season but also leads the nation in passing yards per game. Carr will be looking to put on a show for scouts who will be evaluating the gunslinger for next year’s NFL draft.
The Trojans have a bona fide NFL prospect of their own in wide receiver Marqise Lee. The 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner and consensus All-American has had a trying 2013 campaign filled with injuries, but he may be looking to make one last impression on scouts before declaring for the NFL draft.
According to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times, Lee will make his decision regarding his future about a week after the bowl game.
Despite the potential for offensive fireworks, one of the key matchups in this game will be USC’s defense against Carr and the Fresno State offense.
The last time the Bulldogs faced a defense as good as the Trojans’—against Utah State—they were held to 24 points in the Mountain West title game. Fresno State’s previous low was 35 points against San Diego State.
The vocal leader of BYU's defense, linebacker Kyle Van Noy, is consistently a threat to cause turnovers.
Who: BYU vs. Washington
When: Dec. 27, 9:30 PM ET
Where: San Francisco
One of the rare bowls without a title sponsor pits one of college football’s few FBS division teams without a conference against the Washington Huskies, who will be without former coach Steve Sarkisian for this game.
Don’t expect the Huskies to suffer too much in the absence of Sarkisian, however.
According to Kevin McGuire of NBC Sports, Washington will be led by current quarterbacks coach and former Huskies play-caller Marques Tuiasosopo. Coach Tuiasosopo should inject a lot of energy into the team and ensure that it does not come out flat.
Washington will bring its high-powered Pac-12 offense to the Bay Area hoping to outscore a BYU team that has been getting things done on the offensive end this year, thanks to a rushing attack led by dual threat quarterback Taysom Hill.
Don’t be surprised if the Cougars lean on the defense to stay in this game, though. In last year’s Poinsettia Bowl, BYU’s defense—or more specifically linebacker Kyle Van Noy—stole the show in what ended up being a 23-6 BYU victory over San Diego State.
Van Noy is a playmaker in every sense of the word and always seems to find a way to be disruptive.
While the Cougars aren’t nearly as dominant on defense this season, it will be imperative for Bronco Mendenhall’s team to find a way to slow down Washington running back Bishop Sankey to have a chance in this one.
Brendon Kay and Cincinnati outlasted Duke in a terrific Belk Bowl in 2012.
Who: Cincinnati vs. North Carolina
When: Dec. 28, 3:20 PM ET
Where: Charlotte, N.C.
It has really been a tale of two seasons for the North Carolina Tar Heels.
In mid-October, Larry Fedora’s team was 1-5 and the chances of a bowl berth were slim at best, but since a 34-10 victory over Boston College on October 26, the Tar Heels are 6-6 and very nearly knocked off rival Duke in the season finale.
A lot of the success can be attributed to sophomore quarterback Marquise Williams, who has assumed the starter’s role since a season-ending shoulder injury to Bryn Renner against North Carolina State.
Despite not having the pure throwing skills of Renner, Williams has been incredibly difficult for opposing defenses to stop because of his versatility. This season he has thrown, run and caught at least one touchdown pass.
It will be interesting to see how Williams fares against Cincinnati’s nationally ranked defense, which comes in at No. 9 overall in yards allowed per game.
The Bearcats will be making consecutive trips to Bank of America Stadium for bowl season, as the team played in the same game last season against Duke; however, like last year, Cincinnati will have to deal with essentially being the visitors against an in-state opponent.
Excitement and fan support alone could be enough to give North Carolina the advantage it needs in what should be a close battle.
Senior Andre Williams, the 2013 Doak Walker Award winner and Heisman Trophy finalist, will try to help Boston College win its first bowl game since 2007.
Who: Arizona vs. Boston College
When: Dec. 31, 12:30 PM ET
Where: Shreveport, La.
Do you like dynamic running backs?
If you do, then this bowl game is the "can’t miss" matchup of the season.
The nation’s top two rushers in terms of yards per game will be the stars of this affair.
Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, the Pac-12’s Offensive Player of the Year, and Andre Williams of Boston College, the only player in the country to rush for more than 2,000 yards this season, have been running wild all season for their respective teams.
What’s even more enticing is the fact that both players will have the opportunity to have monster afternoons, as neither team has a particularly stingy run defense.
Very few times do you encounter a team that can score at will thanks to the talents of one player, and even more rarely is that player not a quarterback.
In this game, though, fans will have the opportunity to watch two players that fit the description.
Conference USA champion Rice will try to make it back-to-back bowl victories with a win over Mississippi State this year.
Who: Rice vs. Mississippi State
When: Dec. 31, 4 PM ET
Where: Memphis, Tenn.
At first glance, this doesn’t look like that appetizing of a matchup, but upon further inspection, it becomes clear that the Rice Owls are not a team to underestimate.
The Owls hung around with Texas A&M in their season opener and have put on an offensive show several times this season, having scored at least 35 points five times. What gives Rice a chance in this game is the uncharacteristically strong defense for a Conference USA program.
Only Florida Atlantic in C-USA gave up fewer than the 351.1 yards per game that Rice allows, which puts them at No. 24 nationally.
Luckily for the Owls, they will not have to deal with Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell, who will not play in this game due to a shoulder injury; therefore, the play of backup Dak Prescott will be key in determining the fate of the Bulldogs.
Without Russell, Mississippi State may have difficulty moving the ball against the Owls.
There are not many times when a C-USA team has a legitimate shot at taking down an SEC squad, but because defense will likely dictate the tone of this game, Rice should be in this one for all four quarters.
Those who are up on their Liberty Bowl history will remember a very similar matchup in 2010 between the Georgia Bulldogs and Central Florida Knights. In that game, the Knights outlasted the Bulldogs in a defensive battle, 10-6.
This game has the potential to be just as close and just as exciting to those who believe a game can be exciting without all the offensive fireworks.