The Best Non-BCS Bowl Games
The BCS games get most of the hype and attention, but there are a lot of great matchups out there among the other 30 bowl games as well.
And sometimes the non-BCS bowls provide us with even better matchups than the BCS games, especially when BCS bowls select the teams that will bring in the most money over those that are the most deserving (Sugar Bowl officials, I’m talking about you).
Anyway, here are this season’s best non-BCS bowl games, in chronological order.
Las Vegas Bowl: No. 7 Boise State vs. Arizona State
Another year, another missed field goal that ultimately broke Boise State’s BCS dreams.
Had it not been for freshman kicker Dan Goodale’s 39-yard wide-right miss at the end of the Broncos’ 36-35 loss to TCU, Boise State very well could have found themselves playing for the BCS National Championship Jan. 9 in New Orleans.
Instead, 11-1 and No. 7-ranked Boise State got relegated to the Las Vegas Bowl after being snubbed of a BCS bid by Sugar Bowl officials who chose No. 11 Virginia Tech and No. 13 Michigan—or more accurately, the money that each team brings to the table—over the more-deserving Broncos.
With most other teams in this situation, one would expect a hangover. But not with a Chris Petersen-coached team. And certainly not with a Broncos team that is determined to send off senior Kellen Moore, the all-time winningest quarterback in NCAA history, in the best possible way.
But by no means will it be a walk in the park for the Broncos. Yes, Arizona State is 6-6, they’ve lost four in a row and they recently fired their head coach. But don’t let any of that fool you. The Sun Devils are much more talented than their mediocre record suggests.
A lack of discipline and focus kept ASU from reaching their potential this year, but keep in mind that this same Sun Devil team thrashed USC 43-22 earlier this season. When the Sun Devils come to play, they are a very difficult team to beat.
And you better believe that they’re going to come to play for this one, as they have a chance to knock off one of the nation’s elite teams.
Holiday Bowl: Cal vs. No. 24 Texas
The game itself should be decent enough, but the storyline surrounding this game is the primary reason that it made the list.
As Cal fans won’t ever forget, back in 2004 the Golden Bears were in position for their first Rose Bowl berth in nearly a half-century before Texas coach Mack Brown publicly campaigned for voters to place his Longhorns ahead of the Cal Bears. Although a good look at each team’s resume would have shown that Cal was the more-deserving team, Brown’s campaigning had an effect on the voters.
As a result, Texas passed Cal in the final BCS standings, dropping the Bears to No. 5 and, due to abnormal circumstances that year, leaving Cal out of a BCS bowl.
Analysts, writers and fans from different teams all across the country were enraged at and disgusted by Brown’s politicking. Brown was portrayed as a villain, and rightfully so. Any other coach in his position would have simply said something along the lines of “Cal’s a great team and we’re a great team; it’s unfortunate that only one of us can make it. We’ll just have to see how it all shakes out and hope for the best.”
Instead, Brown violated the unwritten rule of letting your team’s performance on the field do the talking. He publicly degraded Cal and begged voters to put his Longhorns ahead of the Golden Bears. And he got his way.
Needless to say, for the past seven years the Golden Bear faithful have been itching for a shot at revenge on Brown and his Longhorns, and the time has finally come.
As for the two teams actually playing on the field, although both finished at 7-5, each will arrive in San Diego on opposite ends of the spectrum. Cal seems to have finally hit their stride, winning three of their last four games, with their only blemish being a three-point loss at Stanford in the Big Game. Meanwhile, the Longhorns have lost three out of their last four and were blown out by Baylor in their season finale.
Regardless, both teams appear to be of similar caliber, and the result should be a good game.
And a very entertaining one when taking into account what happened back in 2004.
Champs Sports Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Florida State
This season was a disappointing one for both teams, as they each came into 2011 with BCS aspirations.
Notre Dame’s BCS dreams were all but over in early September when nail-biting losses to South Florida and Michigan put the Irish at 0-2 to start the season. Meanwhile, after beating up on two cupcakes to begin the year, Florida State’s loss to then-No. 1 Oklahoma began a three-game losing streak that essentially put to rest any BCS talk.
However, both teams rebounded from their rocky starts to finish the year on good notes. The Irish have won eight of their last 10 games, with their only losses coming to USC and Stanford. Meanwhile, the Seminoles have won six of their last seven, with the lone loss being a one-point setback to Virginia.
For Notre Dame, it has been a tumultuous year under center. Dayne Crist began the season as starting quarterback for the Irish but was benched in the opener for sophomore Tommy Rees, who took over the starting job from thereon out. Rees has had his share of struggles as well—in the season finale at Stanford he was benched in favor of fellow sophomore Andrew Hendrix.
Coach Brian Kelly announced in early December during a conference call that Rees is the starter for the bowl game, but added that Hendrix will see some playing time as well. Meanwhile, Crist may not even be with the team in Orlando, as he is considering transferring.
As for Florida State, although quarterback E.J. Manuel has not been at 100 percent for much of the season, he should be completely healthy for the Champs Sports Bowl.
These teams may not have lived up to expectations this season, but it’s still Notre Dame vs. Florida State. Any time these two traditional powers get together, it’s a must-see.
Alamo Bowl: Washington vs. No. 12 Baylor
If you like lots of scoring, then this is the game for you. It’s a matchup between two explosive offenses and two defenses that give up a lot of points.
For the Bears, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III leads a Baylor attack that averages an FBS-best 571 yards per game. RGIII and Co. should have a field day against a Husky defense that is 99th in the country in points allowed and features a secondary that at times seems nonexistent.
But the Huskies have a high-powered offense of their own that is sure to light up the scoreboard as well against a Baylor defense that is 109th in the country in points allowed. The Dawgs’ attack is led by bruising running back Chris Polk, who averaged 5.1 yards per carry this season while racking up 1,341 yards rushing, and sophomore quarterback Keith Price.
Obviously the Heisman winner is going to get the bulk of the attention in this game, and rightfully so, but Price is a pretty darn good quarterback as well. In his first full year as a starter, Price broke the UW record for most touchdown passes in a single season with 29, which is certainly no small feat considering the numerous great signal-callers that have played for the Purple and Gold.
In short, let’s just hope that the Alamodome scoreboard is ready for a lot of work Dec. 29, because this one has all the makings of a Texas-sized shootout.
TicketCity Bowl: No. 19 Houston vs. No. 22 Penn State
Aside from Case Keenum, the talent on the field for this game is nothing extraordinary. But this year’s TicketCity Bowl should still be interesting, to say the least.
To begin with, the game involves Penn State. And after everything that has transpired in the last month or so, that alone puts this bowl game in the national spotlight.
And then you have the Houston Cougars, who were one win away from an undefeated regular season, the school’s first-ever BCS berth and a spot in the Sugar Bowl. But instead the Cougars laid an egg in the Conference-USA title game, getting blown out 48-21 by Southern Mississippi. It’s anyone’s guess as to how Houston will respond after such a monumental letdown.
Furthermore, it will be interesting to see how Houston quarterback Case Keenum, who holds FBS records for career touchdown passes and career passing yardage, fares against a hard-nosed Nittany Lion defense that allows a mere 15.7 points per game, which is the fifth-fewest in the country.
Without a doubt, Penn State’s defense will provide Keenum and Co. with their toughest test of the season.
Outback Bowl: No. 16 Georgia vs. No. 17 Michigan State
This year’s Outback Bowl features a pair of top-20 teams that each lost in their respective conference championship games.
For Georgia, things looked bleak after losses to Boise State and South Carolina put them off to a 0-2 start. But the Bulldogs rallied to win their next 10 games, earning them the SEC East title and punching their ticket to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game. In Atlanta, the Bulldogs absolutely dominated the mighty LSU Tigers for the first 30 minutes, only to get throttled by the Bayou Bengals in the second half of a 42-10 blowout.
Meanwhile, for the second consecutive year Michigan State just barely missed out on a Rose Bowl berth, losing 42-39 to Wisconsin in the inaugural Big Ten championship game.
But the similarities between these two teams go beyond their near-misses at a conference title and their identical 10-3 records.
In addition, both teams feature tough defenses and efficient quarterbacks. Georgia is 17th in the country in terms of fewest points allowed and is led by sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray, who has 33 touchdowns passes to 12 interceptions this year.
On the other side, the Spartans defense ranks seventh in the country in terms of fewest points allowed, and senior quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrown 24 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions.
These two teams are very much alike in many ways, and the parallels between them suggest a good matchup on Jan. 2 in Tampa.
Capital One Bowl: No. 9 South Carolina vs. No. 20 Nebraska
The matchup to watch in this year’s Capital One Bowl is Nebraska’s potent rushing attack vs. South Carolina’s talented defense.
Behind the tandem of fleet-footed quarterback Taylor Martinez and the sometimes-next-to-impossible-to-bring-down Rex Burkhead, the Cornhuskers average 223.9 yards rushing per game, good enough to make them the nation’s 13th-best rushing offense.
But the stingy Gamecock defense will pose a significant challenge for Nebraska, as South Carolina gives up a mere 18.8 points per game, the 13th fewest in the country.
On the other side of the ball, South Carolina features some different faces on offense than it did back in September. Since then, starting quarterback Stephen Garcia has been dismissed from the team for multiple run-ins with the law and then-Heisman-hopeful Marcus Lattimore went down with a season-ending knee injury.
But their replacements have done a good job of filling in. Freshman running back Brandon Wilds has averaged a solid 4.5 yards per carry and sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw has been a dramatic improvement from Garcia.
Also, keep an eye on Gamecock wide receiver and potential first-round NFL draft pick Alshon Jeffery.
Cotton Bowl: No. 6 Arkansas vs. No. 8 Kansas State
It may not be an official BCS game, but it will certainly feel like one when these two Top 10 teams battle it out in Cowboys Stadium just three days before the national championship game.
Both teams come into this game at 10-2 and on the outside of the BCS looking in.
Arkansas was denied a BCS bid due to a rule that prevents more than two teams from the same conference playing in a BCS game (fellow SEC foes LSU and Alabama were already in the BCS title game).
Meanwhile, the Sugar Bowl passed up on No. 8 Kansas State for monetary reasons, instead choosing the more profitable matchup between No. 11 Virginia Tech and No. 13 Michigan. Without a doubt, both teams, especially K-State, will arrive in Arlington with a chip on their shoulder.
This year’s Cotton Bowl features two terrific, yet very different, quarterbacks.
Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson is a true pocket-passer, leading the SEC with 3,422 yards passing while also tossing 22 touchdown passes to only six interceptions.
Meanwhile, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein is most known for his tremendous running ability. His 26 rushing touchdowns this season not only set a school record, but also were second most in the FBS to Heisman finalist Monte Ball. In addition, the 1,099 yards Klein ran for this year were the most ever by a Kansas State quarterback. Including his 12 touchdown passes, Klein had 38 total touchdowns to only five interceptions.
Wilson and Klein are certainly two different breeds of signal-callers, but they are both extremely talented and effective.
And they should both have their way on Jan. 6, as the Wildcat defense is 104th in the FBS against the pass and the Razorback defense is 79th against the run.