You know who doesn't think bowl games are meaningless? College football coaches.
Sure, there's only one game that really means something in terms of the national championship picture. That's the grand finale between the Florida State Seminoles and Auburn Tigers. But the fact of the matter is that bowl games offer one last chance to play in front of a national TV audience, an extra few weeks of practice and an extra selling point to pitch to recruits before signing day.
Florida State picked up a huge BCS bowl victory over Northern Illinois in last season's Orange Bowl and emerged this season as the top team in college football. So who will look like a national championship contender next season after a big bowl victory?
Let's take a look.
In a lot of ways, the 2013 Baylor Bears resemble the 2012 Florida State Seminoles.
The No. 6 Bears earned a trip to the BCS but will play an opponent that doesn't get a whole lot of respect on a national level in No. 15 UCF. Florida State also earned a BCS trip in 2012 but was forced to play a team that wasn't respected nationally in Northern Illinois.
Last year's incarnation of the Seminoles finished the season ranked as the No. 5 team in terms of Football Outsiders' FEI-plus rankings. This year, the Bears currently rank No. 7 in the nation by the same metric.
Baylor's program hasn't been known as a powerhouse over the years. But Art Briles has brought legitimacy during his reign, and he's starting to get the recognition that he deserves for it:
With quarterback Bryce Petty set to return next season, the Bears should be right back in the mix next season. A dominant win over UCF would be an even stronger indication that the Bears are ready to become a consistent contender in the wide-open Big 12.
Ohio State Buckeyes
The Ohio State Buckeyes might be a little disappointed to be facing Clemson in the Orange Bowl. They were just one game away from likely playing Florida State for a national championship.
But the program can't afford to sulk too much. Picking up a victory over its ACC foe is an important step towards a national championship for the program.
Who will win the Orange Bowl?
It's Urban Meyer's first bowl appearance as the coach in Columbus. Whether it's fair or not, former coach Jim Tressel had earned the reputation as a big-game choker for winning just one of their last five appearances in BCS games (a 2011 win over Arkansas was vacated).
This is Meyer's opportunity to prove that he's a coach who can get the job done on the big stage. Of course, his 4-0 record in BCS games at Florida and Utah say that he'll be able to handle the spotlight just fine.
After losing a tough game to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship, a win over Clemson will allow the Buckeyes to go into the offseason with the confidence that they can be a player on the national stage. It also might be a pivotal tool for Meyer to use in convincing two of his stars to come back for a national title run next season:
Braxton Miller & Ryan Shazier are still undecided in terms of whether they'll return for senior seasons. #Buckeyes— Dave Biddle (@davebiddle) December 18, 2013
The Wisconsin Badgers take on the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1. Of course, this means that it will be the latest example of a Big Ten team taking on a school from the SEC in bowl action.
Who will win the Big 10 next season?
Usually, these matchups haven't gone well for the teams from Jim Delany's conference. Going back to 2011, the SEC is 7-2 against their rival conference up north in bowl games.
However, the Badgers are in a good position to sway that winning percentage a little more in favor of their conference against the Gamecocks. Looking at the FEI-plus numbers from Football Outsiders, Wisconsin (which ranks No. 10) is every bit as good as South Carolina (No. 14) and possesses the better defense (No. 7 overall).
If Wisconsin can pull off the upset, it'll be the latest in developments that say the Badgers will be a top contender next season. Star running back Melvin Gordon has already announced he'll return for his senior season and told Joe Schad he's coming back to win a conference championship:
Melvin Gordon: "I hope to help my team get back the Big Ten championship."— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) December 20, 2013
Ohio State will have a bigger stage to make its statement, but a win for Wisconsin will put it right on track to make the Big Ten an interesting conference next season.