It's the most wonderful time of the year in college football—as long as you're not a fan of playoff systems.
Yes, bowl time is happy time.
The top teams in the FBS see their season's worth of hard work pay off at the very end in matchups that create tense games full of unforgettable moments. Surely no other event (except for maybe March Madness) provides this kind of realized hype, as the matchups rarely, if ever, disappoint.
For the past five seasons, the BCS title game has been dominated by the SEC. However, the newly created Pac-12 conference and retooled ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 conferences will provide heavyweight matchups throughout bowl season that will all show why so many not only love college football, but love loving it.
The time for redundancies is over. It's time to start the prognosticating.
Here are predictions for all 35 bowl games, from the unknowns to the big ones and every manner of blatant product placement in between.
Colorado State QB Pete Thomas.
Prediction: Colorado State vs. California
The WAC conference is flailing.
Nevada, Louisiana Tech and Hawaii are all this conference has to offer this season (if any), so in lieu of a WAC representative, the New Mexico Bowl will feature Colorado State out of the Mountain West and California from a reinvigorated Pac-12.
Toledo standout WR Eric Page vs. Ohio State.
Prediction: Toledo vs. Louisiana Tech
The Toledo Rockets, fresh off a heartbreaking 63-60 loss against Northern Illinois, don't have much of a schedule left, hosting Western Michigan before traveling to Central Michigan and Ball State.
Louisiana Tech, on the other hand, has to battle Ole Miss and Nevada on the road before closing out against New Mexico State.
Here's hoping both teams have their potato peelers ready.
Up-and-coming Marshall QB A.J. Graham.
Prediction: Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Marshall
In his third career start yesterday, sophomore QB A.J. Graham threw for four of his five touchdown passes in the first half as Marshall routed UAB, 59-14. To this end, the Thundering Herd might have what it takes to close out the season strong after a huge loss to Houston, clearing the way for their entrance into the New Orleans Bowl.
Following them into the Big Easy will be Louisiana-Lafayette, traveling a mere two-and-a-half hours down the road as the eventual Sun Belt champion. Under first-year head coach Mark Hudspeth, the Ragin' Cajuns have different fortunes, storming to a 7-2 record as the surprise of the Sun Belt Conference.
Look for this to be a sneaky good game.
Syracuse junior QB Ryan Nassib.
Prediction: Syracuse vs. East Carolina
Good matchup of two solid teams here.
Syracuse should leapfrog Pittsburgh, doomed to the cellar after star running back Ray Graham, currently leading the Big East in rushing yards, injured his right knee and ended his season. The Orange should be able to take advantage of the Panthers' inevitable decline in the Big East standings.
Standing opposite the Orange will be East Carolina, which has won three of its last four after starting the season 1-5. The rough part of the Pirates' schedule is over—they should close out strong.
TCU QB Casey Pachall.
Prediction: TCU vs. Nevada
Good smash-mouth football here. Both teams employ the run tremendously well, and it should make for the kind of field position battle only reserved for "Games of the Century."
There's no way the Horned Frogs beat Boise State in Idaho, and there's no way Nevada loses out, even to up-and-comers Louisiana Tech.
Expect a great ground game in this one.
Boise State QB Kellen Moore.
Prediction: Boise State vs. Utah
Tough breaks continue for Boise State. Not only do the Broncos have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation languishing in a worthless conference, but they have been provincially approved to join the Big East, causing fodder for late-night comics at the expense of the Idaho powerhouse.
Boise State may defeat the Horned Frogs of TCU in Boise, but the story changes when it travels to San Diego State. Expect a loss that rattles Bronco Nation, forces ESPN to do everything but gloat and kills off any talks of a playoff for the rest of the season.
Instead, the Broncos will face Utah in a rematch of their "You're Not Going to the Title Game" game from last year.
Prediction: Hawaii vs. SMU
It's an invasion of Mustangs in Honolulu. Southern Methodist University—just SMU to its friends and fans—will make it to Hawaii to face the Warriors, still bitter from last year's Hawaii Bowl shellacking at the hands of Tulsa.
With Tulsa slightly better this year and Houston presumably finishing undefeated, it's up to SMU to fly the Conference USA colors in paradise.
Miami QB Jacory Harris.
Prediction: Wyoming vs. Miami (Fla.)
Complete opposites in this matchup. A big-time, big-city institution still in hot water for a massive ethics scandal—and Wyoming.
'Canes QB Jacory Harris has weathered his portion of the storm, returning to throw 18 TD passes so far.
On the other side, the Cowboys ride into Shreveport after a massive victory on November 26. I'll let you look up who they're gonna beat.
Illinois dynamo QB Nathan Scheelhaase.
Prediction: Ohio vs. Illinois
The Fighting Illini take the stage in Ford Field in Detroit, and they will do battle with the Ohio Bobcats, turning their season around nicely.
Illinois hopes that star quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase—who has 17 total TDs, 12 passing and five on the ground as its leading rusher—will be able to contain a Bobcat team whose only three losses at this point were too close.
Ohio's better than that, and it'll show the Illini that in Detroit.
West Virginia QB Geno Smith.
Prediction: Georgia Tech vs. West Virginia
I know—"There is no Belk Bowl; you made that one up." Nope. It's real.
The bowl formerly known as Meineke Car Care Bowl featured Clemson and South Florida last year, but it's the Yellow Jackets and Mountaineers that will do battle in the newly christened Belk Bowl in Charlotte.
The Yellow Jackets still have a tough schedule ahead, including a showdown against a resurgent Georgia team. Rule of thumb: When the SEC takes on another conference, unless injuries are a factor, take the SEC team.
Meeting the Yellow Jackets is West Virginia, having a solid season despite three key losses, including a back-breaker against Louisville Saturday. The Mountaineers look to rebound at Cincinnati, home against Pittsburgh and at South Florida. They should finish well enough to earn their trip to North Carolina.
North Carolina RB Giovani Bernard.
Prediction: Tulsa vs. North Carolina
Tar Heel Nation is more than anxious for basketball season, but before they get to their yearly March glory, the UNC football team must make it past a potent offense in the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.
The Tar Heels will rely mainly on running back Giovani Bernard, who leads the team with 1,012 rushing yards and 12 total TDs. Here's hoping they won't need him to run the floor in Cameron.
Baylor QB Robert Griffin III.
Prediction: Baylor vs. Washington
Robert Griffin III. RG3.
No matter how you say it, the Huskies of Washington will have their hands full.
But the sure-fire Heisman winner will meet a gritty Washington team who will be more than battle-tested by the time of this matchup. They'll both be close to home in San Diego, but for now both are overshadowed by superior teams in their conferences.
Rutgers WR Mohamed Sanu.
Prediction: Florida State vs. Rutgers
Far from the glory days of the Bobby Bowden era, Florida State has emerged as a solid team vying for further respect in the ACC.
In its way to Champs Sports Bowl magic are the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers, led by star WR Mohamed Sanu, who leads all Rutgers receivers with 844 receiving yards and seven TDs. Their stingy pass defense will be further trouble for Seminole QB E.J. Manuel, but the 'Noles just might have enough weapons to survive this matchup.
Texas RB Malcolm Brown.
Prediction: Texas vs. UCLA
On Sept. 17, the Texas Longhorns walked into the Rose Bowl and walked out with a 49-20 victory over UCLA.
Two days before New Year's Eve, the Bruins get their rematch. In San Antonio.
Led by "the other McCoy"—former Longhorns QB Colt's brother Case—and stud running back Malcolm Brown, the Longhorns will dust off earlier season woes to make a strong showing in what's essentially a homecoming game in the Alamo.
But don't count the Bruins out. Sure, they won't go all the way to the Rose Bowl Game, but they play there during the season.
That's got to count for something.
BYU QB Riley Nelson.
Prediction: BYU vs. Eastern Michigan
Because BYU is definitely bowl-eligible, the Cougars will definitely play in the Armed Forces Bowl. The only question is, who do they play?
The smart money is on Eastern Michigan, although another conference could easily jump into this slot. With Army being eliminated from eligibility, all bets are off.
Junior CB Adrian Bushell records a tackle.
Prediction: Iowa State vs. Louisville
A solid rushing attack in Iowa State meets a stout rushing defense in Louisville. Expect this one to center on field position, clock management and all the other aspects of college football that no one in a position of power claims to like. They're all about points.
Iowa State and Louisville are all about real football.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt.
Prediction: Georgia vs. Virginia
Expect Mark Richt to be livid about declining for the rest of the season to the end of trying some trick plays against a vulnerable Cavaliers defense. Richt's Bulldogs have the momentum right now, but they won't close out well in the SEC, leading to further questions about his tenure in Athens.
Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez.
Prediction: Missouri vs. Nebraska
The Cornhuskers boast the 12th-ranked rushing attack and 20th-ranked defense.
All well and good for a team already looking towards the future.
Missouri formally accepted a bid to join the SEC along with Texas A&M and will join the conference in 2012.
This game is to be treated as a farewell of sorts for the times of Big 12 rivalries, but its hard-nosed style will fit in well with the beasts of Bulldog, Gator, Tiger, Tiger and Tide Country.
Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill.
Prediction: Texas A&M vs. Ohio State
Maybe the best QB in the NCAA, Aggies QB Ryan Tannehill, will do battle against an ever-stingy Buckeye defense in a good, traditional bowl game.
Well, except for the ridiculous name. Meineke Car Care Bowl...of Texas. We gotta say all that just so we can watch some football.
Seriously, can't we work up a plan to have all kinds of little bowls through the lens of a playoff system? (Cut to Boise State fans nodding.)
Notre Dame RB Cierre Wood.
Prediction: Notre Dame vs. Arizona State
Arizona State takes a small train ride and meets the Fighting Irish (who'll probably be jet-lagged) for the Sun Bowl in El Paso. Leading Notre Dame is running back Cierre Wood, first on the team with 808 rushing yards and eight TDs.
Here's hoping the Sun Devils don't party too hard before the game starts. I jest, of course.
Just their fans.
Temple RB Bernard Pierce.
Prediction: Temple vs. North Carolina State
The Owls of Temple hoot for joy at their stud running back Bernard Pierce, leading the team with 19 TDs, all on the ground. Coupled with a great rushing defense, they might be too much for the Wolfpack.
As a side note, the names of the bowls are getting ridiculous. No offense to Kraft, or to anyone who wants to fight hunger, but couldn't we have settled on the "Kraft Bowl?" Or is that too unintentionally hilarious?
Houston QB Case Keenum.
Prediction: Houston vs. Mississippi State
Opposing defenses have had it up to here with Houston QB Case Keenum, who's trying to cement his place as the best college QB ever.
They've all had to just take it and like it.
The Cougars are ranked first in passing yards per game with an unheard-of 457.1. Keenum is completing 74.1 percent of his passes with 34 TDs.
Might be too much for the Bulldogs of Starkville. I hope they don't forget their conference pride.
Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley.
Prediction: Wake Forest vs. Tennessee
You gotta respect a guy who rocks orange pants.
Leader of the Volunteers is Derek Dooley, whose time in Knoxville has been marred by disappointing finishes. He's still getting his bearings as a head coach, and most of it was sheer bad luck.
But the Demon Deacons are nothing to sleep on. With wins against North Carolina State, Florida State and Boston College, Wake Forest is primed for a march of its own, and it'll bring it to Atlanta.
Vanderbilt QB James Vandenberg.
Prediction: Iowa vs. Southern Miss
Fresh off a big win against No. 13 Michigan, the Iowa Hawkeyes' full attention is on big upcoming games against Michigan State and Nebraska. They'll split those two before meeting Southern Miss in the TicketCity Bowl.
Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles of Southern Miss have amassed an impressive record, going 8-1 while losing only to Marshall. This battle will feature great rushing offenses and little, if any, defense.
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik.
Prediction: Michigan vs. Auburn
The makings of a fantastic game. With Heisman candidate Denard Robinson on the Michigan roster and Auburn head coach Gene Chizik on the other, expect a few trick plays, great defenses and an electric crowd.
Almost makes you wish they were battling for it all. But these are two teams proud of their conferences and ready to represent them both with pride.
Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier.
Prediction: Michigan State vs. South Carolina
The Old Ball Coach must be livid.
Spurrier's Gamecocks once controlled their own destiny. Now, they must hope that Georgia slips so they can leapfrog the Bulldogs and get into the SEC championship game. But a January bowl is a January bowl (unless it's sponsored by a website).
Meanwhile, the Spartans of Michigan State are playing their hearts out this year, but it won't be enough. The impending champions of the new Legends Division of the Big Ten will battle South Carolina in Orlando.
Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson.
Prediction: Wisconsin vs. Texas Tech
The Gator Bowl may feature two of the most potent offenses in the FBS. It may have an incredible offensive line display. It may have a Heisman winner at that point in Badger QB Russell Wilson. It may also have a combined total of about 900 points by the time it's over.
But I'm sorry (again)—TaxSlayer.com just doesn't say college football to me. The Badgers and Red Raiders have to meet up in the worst-named bowl game of the year.
If only you could mute advertisements.
Kansas State QB Collin Klein.
Prediction: Kansas State vs. Arkansas
This game might feature the best all-around player in the FBS in Wildcat QB Collin Klein. With nine TD passes and 19 rushing TDs, the kid's got skills, but he's never faced an SEC defense.
Arkansas should be proud of its season so far. Being in the Top 10 with an upcoming matchup against LSU has the Razorbacks in the role of SEC spoiler. But the Hogs won't be able to stop the Tigers, however well they bring it to the Wildcats in Jerry Jones-Land.
Connecticut DT Twyon Martin.
Prediction: Connecticut vs. Kentucky
Connecticut's rushing offense is nothing to be impressed with, nor is its passing offense. Its passing defense isn't much more.
But when it comes to stopping the run, only five teams are better than the Huskies, allowing a tight 89.9 rushing yards per game.
When you stop the run, you put pressure on the quarterback. Kentucky better be warned; otherwise it might be laughed out of Birmingham.
Northern Illinois QB Chandler Harnish.
Prediction: Northern Illinois vs. Arkansas State
Chandler Harnish. 1,962 passing yards. 871 rushing yards. Eighteen passing TDs. Eight rushing TDs.
Need I say more?
Stanford QB Andrew Luck.
Prediction: Stanford vs. Penn State
Andrew Luck's final college audition for the NFL will be for one of the most prestigious awards in college football: the Rose Bowl Trophy. He'll probably win the Heisman—especially after his heroics in a thrilling 56-48 triple-overtime win against USC—but before the "Andrew Luck Sweepstakes" can officially get under way, he has to best one more foe.
Stanford and Penn State have storied programs, but reputations are on the line.
Joe Paterno would love to have that much time go by, so as to rid himself of the embarrassing and horrifying scandal involving one of his former coaches. But the Nittany Lions on the field this year have been impressive, losing only to Alabama.
This should be a Rose Bowl for the ages.
Oklahoma QB Landry Jones.
Prediction: Oklahoma vs. Oregon
The Sooners' psyche didn't need the loss against Texas Tech. By three points in their own building, Oklahoma's hopes of a title were all but dashed as the Red Raiders pulled off a shocking upset.
So the Sooners got understandably angry.
Since the loss, the Sooners have gone into what ESPN's Bill Simmons termed "eff you" mode, destroying Kansas State and Texas A&M in consecutive weeks. Baylor and RG3 await in two weeks, along with a season-making showdown at Oklahoma State, who they will beat on route to the Fiesta Bowl to meet Oregon.
It'll all make sense in a sec.
Oklahoma State RB Joseph Randle.
Prediction: Clemson vs. Oklahoma State
Forget everything you've heard about Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. Sure, the duo are a prolific pair, but to beat Oklahoma—fueled in part by missing out on the national title game, more on that in a sec (hint hint)—Oklahoma State will need a great ground game.
Enter Joseph Randle.
Leading the Cowboys on the ground, Randle already has 915 rushing yards and 18 rushing TDs. Eighteen.
This game will be the shootout of the century, but unfortunately, the "Game of the Century" moniker has already been taken this year. But why Clemson? I know, you're looking for an SEC team.
It'll all click in a sec.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece had Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl. Were Cincinnati to win out, they would go to the Orange Bowl. This column has been updated to reflect those changes.
Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer.
Prediction: Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati
I know, if Clemson is in the Sugar Bowl, how did Virginia Tech make it to the Orange Bowl? It's a tight rope to walk, involving lots of help, but I think VT will get that help, especially because of the aforementioned Boise State shocker—and I have my crow ready to eat in case I'm wrong about Boise State (literally, I'll eat a plate of crow from the Boise State midfield if they make it to the title game)—and Oregon's strong schedule. Virginia Tech will sneak in to face eventual Big East champion Cincinnati.
Correction: Cincinnati will be in the Orange Bowl, not the Sugar Bowl as this column previously said. The above reflects the stated changes.
Prediction: LSU vs. Alabama
I'm calling it. The stars will align. The game will be set.
The rematch will be televised.
Game of the Millennium, anyone?