The last week of college football always brings varying emotions from fans. On the one hand, the 14-week regular season that's played with playoff intensity every week finally culminates, meaning the action-packed, 12-hour football Saturdays will have to wait until next fall.
But on the flip side, it brings us to one of the best two-week stretches of the year: bowl season. It's a fantastic opportunity to end the year on a positive note, build some momentum heading into next year's campaign and give your school and conference some bragging rights (and who amongst us doesn't love talking a little trash when it comes to college football?).
There are still 19 D-I games on tap for this week, so the projections are still murky at best. If South Carolina upsets Auburn, Oregon State upends rival Oregon or even South Florida beats Connecticut, it will only throw another curveball in what has been a wild 13 weeks, and completely shake up the bowl selection process.
But as of right now, we have a pretty good idea of who will play in most bowl games. So let's take a look at each potential BCS game and rank them in terms of appeal and national interest, and throw in a couple more "can't miss" games as well.
Under first-year coach Jimbo Fisher, Florida State won more than eight games in a season for the first time since 2004 and has a chance to return to a BCS bowl game for the first time since losing in the Orange Bowl to Penn State in 2006.
After losing back-to-back heartbreakers to North Carolina State and North Carolina, the Seminoles rallied to win their final three games and earned a birth in the ACC Championship Game against Virginia Tech when Maryland upset North Carolina State on Saturday.
While the 'Noles have an outside chance of playing in a BCS game, the Hokies are simply playing too well and will outmatch them on Saturday night.
As a consolation prize, Florida State gets a date in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against a surprise Mississippi State team led by former Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen.
The Bulldogs finished fifth in the SEC West but still had a 4-4 conference record. The other four teams to finish ahead of them were Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas and LSU, so it's not like they were beaten out by poor competition.
Mississippi State boasts one of the SEC's strongest rush defenses but they'd be going up against one of the hotter quarterback in the ACC in Christian Ponder, who was third in the conference in passing TDs.
The No. 14 Missouri Tigers rebounded after consecutive losses on the road against Nebraska and Texas Tech to win their final three games and get to 10 wins for the third time under Gary Pinkel.
They've been snubbed by some of the bigger bowl games in the past, notably in 2007 when they were blown out by Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game and settled for a Cotton Bowl invite despite being a top-10 team in the final month of the season.
The Insight Bowl might not be ideal for them this season, but it may be better than a Holiday Bowl invite against a barely-qualifying Pac-10 team. There's still outside hope for them to land in the Alamo Bowl as well.
Missouri's been known for high-scoring offenses in the past but it's their defense this year that propelled them to 10 wins. They finished first in the Big 12 in points per game, giving up just 15.2 per contest (sixth nationally).
Michigan's defense was one of the poorest in the country but their offense, led by sophomore standout Denard Robinson, can put up points. This could be Rich Rodriguez's last chance at Michigan—the Wolverines would need to play inspired football and show that they have made significant progress after missing out on postseason action for back-to-back years.
Give the little guys, or the "Little Sisters of the Poor" as Gordon Gee would call them, a little bit of love as well.
San Diego State, one of the worst football programs in the country not too long ago and a perennial punching bag for Mountain West and power-conference schools, was revived by Brady Hoke (a name sure to be brought up in almost all coaching vacancies) and finished 8-4, with a 5-3 conference record.
On the other side, the Midshipmen won eight games this season and are heading to their seventh bowl game in the last eight years...and third Poinsettia Bowl.
Talk about an ultimate contrast of styles.
The Aztecs led the Mountain West in passing yards, and quarterback Ryan Lindley was sixth nationally with 3,554 yards and 26 TDs. Navy was sixth in the country in rushing yards per game and loves to run the option and control the clock under veteran QB Ricky Dobbs.
Expect points to go up on the board in this one—all through the air on one side and on the ground on the other.
Oklahoma State would much rather be celebrating their first-ever Big 12 South championship and a possible trip to the Fiesta Bowl, but after another excruciating loss to arch-rival Oklahoma they once again are left on the outside looking in.
This game would match up two of the best passers in college football. Brandon Weeden was second in FBS with 4,037 yards (336.4 per game) and the Cowboys as a team were second in the country in overall passing yards and third in points per game (44.9).
Nick Foles wasn't as statistically effective as Weeden but still anchored an Arizona offense that's ranked ninth in passing yards, with one more game left on their schedule.
If the Wildcats can beat in-state rival Arizona State on Saturday night, they'll probably lock up their spot in San Antonio.
Who plays in the Cotton Bowl is still anyone's guess because there is still much to be decided in both the Big 12 and the SEC.
Barring a South Carolina-over-Auburn upset, it seems likely that the Tigers and Arkansas would be the two BCS bids for the SEC. That leaves the Cotton Bowl and Capital One Bowl open for Alabama and LSU, and I think the Bayou Bengals would wind up playing in Florida.
Oklahoma is a trendy pick to win the Big 12 Championship Game against Nebraska. Obviously that matchup will hinge on the health of Taylor Martinez, but Nebraska's stingy defense could give the Sooners fits.
If the Huskers can upset Oklahoma, then the Sooners are looking at a bowl bid going up against the Crimson Tide. Two of the most storied programs in college football in the last 25 years, it'd be a fantastic clash of some of the best three-loss teams you'll ever see.
Frank Beamer's teams typically get better as the season progresses, but few could have predicted they'd run the table in the ACC after a devastating opening-game loss to Boise State and then an embarrassing home loss to Division I-FCS James Madison the following week.
The Hokies have a terrific balanced rushing attack, with four players totaling 400 or more yards and five or more TDs throughout the season. They were second in the ACC in total rushing yards and as a result they dominated the ball.
Only one of Virginia Tech's ACC games was decided by single digits.
Right now, UConn has the inside track to land the Big East's automatic berth in a BCS game, but if there's one thing to expect when it comes to the Big East, it's the unexpected. One Connecticut loss gives West Virginia the edge, and a border battle between West Virginia and Virginia Tech in a BCS bowl would be a hot ticket.
It's maybe not an overly sexy matchup because of the struggles of both conferences this year, but having two respected teams on a national stage will help restore pride for the ACC and Big East.
Since losing a big lead on the road to No. 2 Oregon and surviving a hangover game against USC, the Cardinal have been on a roll, winning six straight, outscoring opponents by an average of 37-12 in the process and shutting out Washington and Oregon State.
Most people know about pro prospect Andrew Luck and he hasn't disappointed this season, throwing for 3,051 yards and 28 TDs.
And despite losing Heisman candidate Toby Gerhart, Stanford also got tremendous production from their RBs. Stepfan Taylor ran for over 1,000 yards with 15 TDs and the team finished second in the Pac-10 in rushing.
They'd be facing a stern test in Nebraska's defense, which is in the top 10 in total yards, passing yards, points, turnovers and interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Plus we get the added storyline of this being Nebraska's final game as a member of the Big 12. And who knows, if the Michigan job is vacated and Jim Harbaugh is asked to step in, it won't be the last time these two meet anytime soon...
...or am I getting too far ahead of myself?
The Buckeyes became the first Big Ten team to win 10 or more games in six straight seasons when they came back two weeks ago to win at Iowa, and won the Big Ten championship for the sixth straight season last week when they thumped Michigan for the seventh straight year.
Due to a BCS tiebreaker, Wisconsin will get the Big Ten's Rose Bowl berth, but the Buckeyes are too tempting of a team for any other BCS bowl to pass up.
Despite having an image of a team that fades away late in the year, Ohio State has only lost one game in November dating back to 2005, and they have a 5-4 record in bowl games under Jim Tressel.
However, three of those losses have come to SEC teams, including two national championship games. So pairing them up this year in New Orleans with an SEC team seems like a no-brainer.
Arkansas's victory over LSU in the final game of the regular season almost assured the Razorbacks of clinching a BCS spot, unless South Carolina beats Auburn in the championship game. QB Ryan Mallett was fifth in the country with 3,592 yards—he also had 30 TDs and just 11 INTs.
The Hogs have scored 30 or more points in their last seven games and would face off against one of the nation's best defenses. The Buckeyes only allowed 30 points once this season, giving up 31 in a loss to Wisconsin in mid-October.
And if that's not enough, Mallett is a former Michigan QB who transferred to Arkansas when Lloyd Carr retired. Just a little extra incentive for Buckeyes fans who love nothing more than to stomp on the maize-and-blue.
Four months ago you could have never sold me on this matchup. Not in a million years. No way would I ever watch a game like this.
I'm a believer now.
If Oregon goes to the national championship game, the Rose Bowl will be required to take a non-automatic qualifier with their selection. Since Boise State lost on Friday, the only team that fits the bill is TCU.
The Horned Frogs went undefeated in the regular season for the second consecutive season and did so with the fourth-best scoring offense (43.3) and top-ranked scoring defense (11.4). Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker combined for 1,759 yards and 18 TDs...and did most of that work early in the game since TCU was routinely blowing out opponents in the second half.
You rarely think of the Badgers when you think of high-powered offenses, but Wisconsin also finished in a tie for fourth nationally with 43.3 points per game. They've scored 30 or more points in seven straight games and cracked 70 twice in the final three games.
They boast a three-headed monster at RB, with James White, John Clay and Montee Ball each rushing for over 800 yards and 13 TDs.
Can TCU hang with the big boys on a national stage? Can Wisconsin claim back-to-back Rose Bowls for the Big Ten for the first time in over a decade?
No. 1 vs. No. 2.
Cam Newton vs. LaMichael James.
Two top-10 rushing attacks.
Two top-10 scoring offenses.
For the national championship.
Expecting anything else?