If BCS bowl games are the electricity that keeps the college football house running, most non-BCS contests are the mink carpet.
What seems like a good idea at the time (rewarding as many teams as possible) almost instantly turns into something gaudy and unnecessary—an unseemly high-cost venture you wind up throwing in the closet.
As a result, you get games like the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. I, like most self-respecting human beings, did not watch a second of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Despite a pretty awesome name, watching Buffalo and San Diego State slap-fight for three hours sounded about as fun as sweeping my floor.
So I swept my floor instead.
Such is the case for many of these contests. I'm all for these kids getting a free trip and all the #SwagPacks in the world, but Syracuse-Minnesota? Pass. Pittsburgh-Bowling Green? Thanks but no thanks. Louisiana-Lafayette-Tulane? I would rather set myself on fire.
But, like everything in life, if you rummage through the bad, you get the good in the non-BCS bowls. As per usual, the games gradually get better as the bowl season swims along. You survive the muck long enough there's bound to be some light ahead.
With that in mind, let's switch to a more positive tone and highlight the best non-BCS contests remaining on the slate.
Russell Athletic Bowl: Miami Hurricanes vs. Louisville Cardinals
Now that we know Teddy Bridgewater will declare for the NFL draft, we should look forward to appreciating him one last time in a Louisville uniform.
Though oft-praised by scouts and folks who prognosticate draft outcomes, Bridgewater's career with the Cardinals has been one ripe with relative obscurity. Because Louisville plays in a dreadful conference against absolutely no one on a weekly basis, you could watch Bridgewater on Saturdays—or you could watch an actually entertaining football game.
Only rarely did the two intermingle. ESPN's relationship with the school gave it a national stage on a near-weekly basis, but Louisville's series of Thursday and Friday contests gave everything a secondary #MACtiony feel. Most casual fans never got to experience Bridgewater in college because it just never felt all that important to watch the Cardinals play.
What those fans have missed is some of the most efficient and stellar quarterback play in recent college football history. Over the past two seasons, Bridgewater has thrown 55 touchdowns against 12 interceptions, steadily improving his numbers every step of the way. Louisville's talent at the skill positions is fine, but uninspiring, which in some ways helps offset the shaky competition.
In Miami, Bridgewater's final collegiate game will probably be much like his others. The Hurricanes' 7-0 start was exposed as smoke and mirrors in the second half of the season, and their defense certainly isn't going to inspire any comparisons to the nation's elite. Football Outsiders' defensive play efficiency ranks Miami as the No. 106 defense in the nation.
Compared to the competition in the American Athletic Conference, Miami surprisingly represents a step down.
However, the national stage of a semi-attractive bowl game coupled with the Hurricanes' national prominence means there may be more eyeballs on Bridgewater than ever before. It's something that will only increase in the pre-draft workout phase, and the scrutiny will only continue to grow as we head toward May's NFL draft. I've been saying for months that Bridgewater will be the No. 1 pick—not Jadeveon Clowney, Jake Matthews or whoever else.
One game isn't going to change whether that's the case. With the world watching, though, let's just see how Bridgewater performs. If the last couple years are any indication, odds are that things will go awfully well for him against the Hurricanes.
Chick-fil-A Bowl: Duke Blue Devils vs. Texas A&M Aggies
Capital One Bowl: Wisconsin Badgers vs. South Carolina Gamecocks
If aesthetics are your thing, the Capital One Bowl isn't for you, and if close, down-to-the-wire football games are your thing, the Chick-fil-A Bowl isn't going to be for you, either.
Both games have their inherent flaws, and I'm willing to bet that South Carolina and Texas A&M win their contests quite handily. They're just better football teams than their counterparts.
Why, then, do these games move the needle? Johnny Manziel and Clowney in what will almost certainly be their final collegiate games. Neither player has officially declared for the draft like Bridgewater has, but let's just say that neither has exactly played or talked like players coming back to school next fall either.
While we'll get to see Manziel and Clowney at the next level—likely as top-10 picks who will be expected franchise cornerstones—this may be the last time we get to see both reach the collegiate heights. There are more questions about Manziel's transition to the next level than Clowney's, but the South Carolina defensive end will never have the same size, speed and athleticism advantage in the NFL. The league may not be filled with Clowneys, but it's damned close.
Despite Clowney going through the 2013 season at essentially half-speed and hoping not to get injured, it's hard not to wonder what he'll do for an encore to "The Hit."
As for Manziel, frankly, this could be the last time he's ever good at football again. Scouts differ wildly on their opinions of the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner. Some are deathly afraid of his diminutive size, questionable footwork and inconsistent motion. Others see the spectacular plays he pulled off in college, are encouraged by the proliferation of "running" quarterbacks in the NFL and see a player who could be molded into a superstar by the right coach.
I have no clue what the future holds. The success of players at the next level is so often tied to their situations that the line between "bust" and "superstar" is often the difference between one or two draft positions.
The present, though, will see one of the most exciting college football players in history close out his career. If that's not enough reason to watch, then, I'm not quite sure what is.
Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Missouri Tigers
It's almost unfair to call the Cotton Bowl a non-BCS game.
One of the oldest and most storied contests in college football history, the Cotton Bowl is akin to The Players Championship in golf. Its exclusion from the "major" conversation is mere semantics built in historical designations.
Case in point: The Cotton Bowl will become one of the hosts in next year's College Football Playoff. If there is any higher compliment than that, I'm having trouble finding it.
This year's Cotton Bowl falls in with the pseudo-BCS standing. Both Missouri and Oklahoma State blew their shots at a BCS bowl in the regular season's final week, when the Tigers possibly came within a couple of touchdowns away from playing for their first national championship. Oklahoma State's inability to close out a Big 12 title was slightly less depressing, but the reality of the Cowboys having allowed rival Oklahoma to earn a BCS bowl berth while they will head to the Cotton Bowl can't sit well with their fans.
Nonetheless, Oklahoma State fans should get a more than entertaining showcase come Jan. 3. You'll have a difficult time finding two teams better matched. Oklahoma State averages 39.8 points per game, Missouri averages 39. The Cowboys give up an average of 20 points per outing while the Tigers' defense averages 22.5 points. Missouri's yardage totals are more favorable, but Football Outsiders' advanced metrics give the slight edge to Oklahoma State.
Not even Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy could find a spot where his team has a huge advantage except one: playing at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
“They’re a good football team and we’re playing in a location that benefits us,” Gundy said, via CBS Sports. “And they’re as familiar with us as we are with them. I just think it’s a great matchup. I don’t know that it’s an advantage either way.”
These two teams also know each other well from playing in the Big 12, although Oklahoma State's switch to a more run-oriented style has changed. Missouri has the biggest potential game-changing talent in wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, but he's not consistent enough to put any real stock into his presence.
For every point in one team's favor, there's a counterpoint for the other. Which makes this game sound fun as hell.
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