Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, bowl edition:
We have reached the postseason, and it’s going to be the best postseason ever. Sure, there is still the wide array of dud bowl games with clunky sponsor names. There still are several teams ready, willing and able to mail in their bowl performance and turn a potentially interesting matchup into a bust. There still are interim coaches dotting the landscape, and ESPN promos we’ll be tired of by sundown Saturday, and the task of finding out what Foster Farms is.
But there also is a playoff. And that makes everything better.
In addition to a playoff, there are new bowls in Boca Raton, Miami and the Bahamas. (The good news is not the “new bowls” part; it’s the “Boca Raton, Miami and Bahamas” part.) And there are plenty of good matchups as well.
Whether The Dash can provide insight into those matchups is another question. The Bowl Dash picks are an annual crapshoot – if you are planning on using these picks in your office pool, remember: they’re worth exactly what you paid for them. Now Dash away, Dash away, Dash away all, to the rest of the column:
New Orleans Bowl (1). Nevada vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, Dec. 20, 11 a.m. ET.
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A bottle of Old Fitzgerald. You might want something a little more highbrow, but you’re not turning it down. And if you’re going to crack the seal in time for that morning kickoff, Old Fitz fits the situation.
Motivation edge: Slight nod to the Ragin’ Cajuns. Yeah, this is their fourth straight trip to the same game, but UL-L has made a tradition out of this thing. The school puts a large and enthusiastic crowd in the Superdome and has won three New Orleans Bowls in a row. Nevada should be happy to be there after not going bowling last year, the Wolf Pack’s first season without a bowl since 2004. But kickoff is at 8 a.m. Reno time. Ouch.
Fan fun meter: It’s New Orleans. If you can’t have fun here, you may be legally dead.
Dash pick: Nevada 35, Louisiana-Lafayette 32. While The Dash has great respect for the Ragin’ Cajuns’ bowl winning streak, coach Mark Hudspeth and the school’s hot pepper mascot, Nevada has seasoned itself against a tougher schedule. After a slow start, expect Cody Fajardo to outperform Terrance Broadway in a matchup of dual-threat quarterbacks.
Conference scoreboard: Mountain West 1-0, Sun Belt 0-1.
New Mexico Bowl (2). UTEP vs. Utah State, Dec. 20, 2:20 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: Gloves. Worth having, but nothing to get overly excited about.
Motivation edge: Goes to the Miners. They’re making their first bowl appearance in four years, and just their second since 2005. Plus, it’s about a 3 1/2-hour drive from El Paso, so UTEP fans should be there. The Aggies are in the postseason for the fourth year in a row and are coming off a brutal beatdown in the regular-season finale against Boise State.
Fan fun meter: It may not be New Orleans, but this can be a good trip. Aggies fans driving South for the game should stop at Taos for a day of skiing on their way to Albuquerque. Fans of both teams should eat all the Mexican food they can find – though there already is plenty of that to be found in El Paso.
Dash pick: Utah State 28, UTEP 21. Miners showed solid improvement from last year’s 2-10, but the main reason they’re here is because they play in C-USA’s West Division – one of the worst divisions in FBS. Beating North Texas and Southern Miss doesn’t mean they’re ready to beat Utah State.
Conference scoreboard: Mountain West 2-0, C-USA 0-1.
Las Vegas Bowl (3). Colorado State vs. Utah, Dec. 20, 3:30 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: Cash. You may need it there.
Motivation edge: Utah, which still has its head coach and should be excited for the first time in three seasons. CSU’s Jim McElwain is off trying to repair Florida, leaving the Rams to fend for themselves against the Pac-12 Utes.
Fan fun meter: Goes all the way to the top – but that can be part of the problem. There is a lot of fun and then there is too much fun, and Vegas is a place where that line gets crossed rather easily. Fans from both schools should be able to get there cheaply and easily – but it still might not be a cheap trip.
Dash pick: Utah 21, CSU 10. The Rams have played well against power-five schools this year, beating Colorado and Boston College. And they have high-quality players at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. But the program is in transition, and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is 6-1 in bowl games.
Conference scoreboard: Pac-12 1-0, Mountain West 2-1.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (4). Western Michigan vs. Air Force, Dec. 20, 5:45 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A gift certificate to Blockbuster.
Motivation edge: Has to favor Western Michigan. Broncos have been to one bowl game since 2008, and it was a bus trip to Detroit. At least this time they get on a plane. The Falcons will be happy to be there as well after missing the postseason last year, but this is their third trip to Boise in the last four seasons.
Fan fun meter: Higher than you might think. Boise is a fun city in a picturesque area. But it doesn’t offer anything Colorado Springs can’t provide, so it figures to be more enjoyable for the folks from Kalamazoo, Mich.
Dash pick: Air Force 31, Western Michigan 28. Falcons are a minus-8 in turnovers in their three losses and a plus-9 in their nine victories. If the option offense doesn’t put the ball on the ground, Troy Calhoun’s team should win.
Conference scoreboard: Mountain West 3-1, Mid-American 0-1.
Camellia Bowl (5). Bowling Green vs. South Alabama, Dec. 20, 9:15 p.m. ET.
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A lump of coal in the stocking.
Motivation edge: South Alabama, substantially. First bowl game in school history, and it’s in their backyard to theoretically create a major home-field advantage. Bowling Green should be excited about any chance to head south in December, but the team has gone south on the field, losing its last three games.
Fan fun meter: In a word, low. The first modern-day Camellia Bowl undoubtedly will go all-out to provide some stuff to do, but Montgomery, Ala., ain’t exactly Honolulu.
Dash pick: South Alabama 30, Bowling Green 27. The Jaguars’ offense is balanced, which is a polite way of saying it does nothing particularly well. But the Falcons’ defense is horrendous, allowing 500 yards of offense and 34 points per game. Bowling Green could have a tough time covering South Alabama receiver Shavarez Smith.
Conference scoreboard: Sun Belt 1-1, MAC 0-2.
Miami Beach Bowl (6). BYU vs. Memphis, Dec. 22, 2 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A neighbor arriving unexpectedly with some quality eggnog. Because Monday afternoon football is always a nice surprise.
Motivation edge: After years of ineptitude, Memphis should be tickled to death to be there – but the Tigers better not take their talents to South Beach with excessive gusto. Because it stands to reason that the BYU players will not. Both teams ended the year on winning streaks and should be feeling good about themselves.
Fan fun meter: A great trip for any fan base. Only question is whether BYU backers can find a good restaurant that serves Jell-O.
Dash pick: BYU 24, Memphis 22. Cougars quarterback Christian Stewart is on a late-season roll after replacing Taysom Hill – but hasn’t faced a good pass defense in a while. Memphis' pass defense has great numbers – but hasn’t faced a competent quarterback in a while. Winner of that matchup wins the game.
Conference scoreboard: Independents 1-0, American 0-1.
Boca Raton Bowl (7). Marshall vs. Northern Illinois, Dec. 23, 6 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: Trivia Crack. More fun than you expect it to be. You’ll be hooked.
Motivation edge: Should be high on both sides, in a matchup of high-echelon group-of-five programs. Thundering Herd trying to send Rakeem Cato off on a high note and re-establish a rep that was tarnished in upset loss to Western Kentucky. Huskies have something to prove after two straight disappointing bowl performances.
Fan fun meter: You leave Huntington, W.Va., and DeKalb, Ill., for South Florida? You’re pretty happy. And ready to have fun.
Dash pick: Marshall 45, Northern Illinois 38. The Herd is going to score. Question is whether Huskies quarterback Drew Hare can keep pace with Cato. Marshall has 35 sacks on the year and NIU has allowed only 11. Which unit wins that key battle, the Herd pass rush or the NIU offensive line?
Conference scoreboard: C-USA 1-1, MAC 0-3.
Poinsettia Bowl (8). Navy vs. San Diego State, Dec. 23, 9:30 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A lava lamp from Spencer’s. Hey, you’ll look at it for a while before losing interest.
Motivation edge: No discernible edge. Both teams should feel welcome – the Aztecs are playing a home game and the Midshipmen are playing in a town with a huge naval base.
Fan fun meter: SDSU fans don’t get the travel adventure, but they can sleep in their own beds and tailgate like normal. Navy fans will have a ball as well – it’s San Diego, who doesn’t enjoy it?
Dash pick: San Diego State 28, Navy 26. The Aztecs have seen – and stopped – the option game this season, beating Air Force 30-14. Navy lost to the same team 30-21. And SDSU has won eight straight games at home.
Conference scoreboard: Mountain West 4-1, Independents 1-1.
Bahamas Bowl (9). Western Kentucky vs. Central Michigan, Dec. 24, noon ET.
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: An ugly Christmas sweater. It’s noon on Christmas Eve; you have better things to do than watch an epic rematch of the 2012 Little Caesars Bowl.
Motivation edge: The video showing the Chippewas what their bowl destination would be indicates how fired up they are – no school in the entire bowl season got a better location upgrade than from Mount Pleasant, Mich., to Nassau. But don’t expect the Hilltoppers to be any less psyched as they pursue the first bowl victory in school history.
Fan fun meter: There is no need to even answer this.
Dash pick: Western Kentucky 49, Central Michigan 42. Some mediocre-to-terrible quarterbacks had their best games against the Chippewas. WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty is the nation’s leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns. Expect him to go off.
Conference scoreboard: C-USA 2-1, MAC 0-4.
Hawaii Bowl (10). Rice vs. Fresno State, Dec. 24, 8 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A boxed set of Don Ho’s Greatest Hits.
Motivation edge: Should be an equally high urge for atonement. Bulldogs trying to prove they belong in the postseason at 6-7; Owls trying to prove they’re better than the team that gave up a ghastly 76 points to Louisiana Tech in their last game.
Fan fun meter: If the surf’s up, it’s all good. Oh hell, if the surf isn’t up, it’s all good.
Dash pick: Fresno State 40, Rice 34. Weird things have been known to happen in this game, so there’s no telling how it will turn out. But Fresno has played better competition more often (seven games against bowl teams, to Rice’s five) and played reasonably well at the end of the year.
Conference scoreboard: Mountain West 5-1, C-USA 2-2.
Heart of Dallas Bowl (11). Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech, Dec. 26, 1 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: Something you’d tactfully enthuse over when you opened it, then stealthily return the next day.
Motivation edge: Edge to Tech, but not a huge edge. It’s an opportunity to beat a team from a power-five conference after five straight losses in that department. And it’s a chance to win nine games, which would tie the most at Louisiana Tech since 1984. Illinois is an underdog, is shooting for a winning record, and the players are participating in their first bowl game since 2011. And some of them probably would like some payback for an embarrassing 28-point home loss to Tech in 2012.
Fan fun meter: If you spent Christmas traveling to or staying in Dallas because of this game, you didn’t have much fun.
Dash pick: Louisiana Tech 37, Illinois 30. Illini played better the last two games, but haven’t stopped a competent offense all season. There should be ample opportunities in the passing game for the Bulldogs.
Conference scoreboard: C-USA 3-2, Big Ten 0-1.
Quick Lane Bowl (12). Rutgers vs. North Carolina, Dec. 26, 4:30 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A leg lamp.
Motivation edge: Which is the stronger motivation, coaxing a little more out of a pretty good season or trying to atone for a disappointing season? If it’s the former, Rutgers is more motivated – the Scarlet Knights could finish 8-5 in their inaugural Big Ten season. If it’s the latter, then it’s North Carolina – making everyone forget about a 6-6 year that ended with a four-touchdown loss to North Carolina State.
Fan fun meter: Fun? It’s the day after Christmas in Detroit. But if the game itself lives up to Motor City/Little Caesars tradition, it will be the eight straight decided by less than a touchdown.
Dash pick: North Carolina 32, Rutgers 31. This is damning with faint praise, but the Tar Heels defense got better by the month in terms of yards allowed: a ghastly 543 per game in September; 482 in October and 462 in November. Against a Rutgers team that ranked just 84th nationally in total offense, Carolina should be able to make just enough stops to win the game.
Conference scoreboard: ACC 1-0, Big Ten 0-2.
St. Petersburg Bowl (13). North Carolina State vs. Central Florida, Dec. 26, 8 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A jack-in-the-box that can scare an elf. Or at least Will Ferrell playing an elf.
Motivation edge: To the Wolfpack. N.C. State missed the postseason last year and hasn’t played in a Florida bowl since 2010. UCF experienced the high of the Fiesta Bowl last year, and this time around gets a two-hour drive down I-4 for its season-ending reward. The flip side: it should have a significant fan advantage if the Knights' backers buy in.
Fan fun meter: Stadium is a crypt, but everything outside it is nice. Hit the beach and enjoy.
Dash pick: UCF 21, North Carolina State 16. Under George O’Leary the Knights have won three straight bowls, and covered the spread in each of them. UCF’s defense is the best unit in the game and should be the deciding factor.
Conference scoreboard: American 1-1, ACC 1-1.
Military Bowl (14). Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati, Dec. 27, 1 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A “Sopranos” box set, honoring two coaches who were great in their day. And that day was a while ago.
Motivation edge: To the Bearcats, who come in on a seven-game winning streak and have a chance to beat a power-five opponent for the first time since the 2013 season opener against Purdue. Also, if Cincinnati and coach Tommy Tuberville want to flirt with the Big 12, a big bowl showing against a name opponent would help.
Fan fun meter: Easy commute for Hokies fans, who have been to Landover, Md., before in good numbers – but those also were better days for the program. The civic-minded can take in D.C. – but they’d also better pack warm clothing.
Dash pick: Cincinnati 24, Virginia Tech 23. It’s no shame losing to the Hokies – one team did and wound up in the College Football Playoff – but it’s better to beat them. Gunner Kiel hits some big pass plays for the first time in several games and the Bearcats earn a 10th victory for the sixth time in eight years under three different coaches.
Conference scoreboard: American 2-1, ACC 1-2.
Sun Bowl (15). Duke vs. Arizona State, Dec. 27, 2 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: An autographed picture of CBS CEO Les Moonves.
Motivation edge: Blue Devils over Sun Devils. Duke has overperformed in its two bowl games under David Cutcliffe, but hasn't won one yet. And it can match last year’s school-record 10 victories. Arizona State plummeted from contention for the playoff to contention for the Pac-12 South title to a middling bowl, often a prescription for a flat performance. But the Devils (Sun variety) also should have some motivation to do better than last year’s bowl flop against Texas Tech.
Fan fun meter: Duke fans should enjoy the dramatic change of scenery. ASU fans are going from desert to desert and losing about 15 degrees in the process, not an ideal trade.
Dash pick: Arizona State 38, Duke 35. Unless ASU is totally in the tank, it should win. Sun Devils are the superior team in nearly every aspect.
Conference scoreboard: Pac-12 2-0, ACC 1-3.
Independence Bowl (16). Miami vs. South Carolina, Dec. 27, 3:30 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A whoopee cushion. The joke’s on everyone who goes to Shreveport to see two 6-6 teams play out the string.
Motivation edge: First team to show any sign of motivation has the edge. Hurricanes come in on a three-game losing streak; Gamecocks come in with their first losing SEC record since 2009.
Fan fun meter: The I-Bowl has beaten the odds to survive since 1976 – the organizers do a good job with what they have. But Miamians especially may find this locale a bit underwhelming. The Red River is not easily mistaken for Biscayne Bay.
Dash pick: Miami 27, South Carolina 25. Your guess is as good as The Dash’s. No idea how this is going to go.
Conference scoreboard: ACC 2-3, SEC 0-1.
Pinstripe Bowl (17). Boston College vs. Penn State, Dec. 27, 4:30 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A 2014 Team USA World Cup highlight DVD. Similar amounts of scoring.
Motivation edge: Nittany Lions should be among the most motivated teams still playing, They had their bowl ban lifted and will return to postseason play for the first time since 2011.
Fan fun meter: New York at Christmas time is always fun. Throw in Yankee Stadium and it’s an added bonus.
Dash pick: Boston College 10, Penn State 7. The Eagles are a one-dimensional running team going up against the top run defense in the country. Motivated though they may be, the Nittany Lions are a miserable offensive team in virtually every facet. If there are more than two offensive touchdowns in this game, The Dash will be surprised.
Conference scoreboard: ACC 3-3, Big Ten 0-3.
Holiday Bowl (18). Nebraska vs. USC, Dec. 27, 8 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A cymbal-banging wind-up monkey.
Motivation edge: To the Trojans, who at least have their head coach. Cornhuskers are playing with an interim coach after the firing of Bo Pelini, though this would seem an opportune time to put on a good performance for incoming coach Mike Riley.
Fan fun meter: Easy commute for Trojans fans. Corn Nation shouldn’t mind the travel for this one, given the locale. Everyone is always happy at the Holiday Bowl.
Dash pick: USC 34, Nebraska 24. Brand names that are nowhere near the top of their games, in terms of program history. Cody Kessler has had an underappreciated season for USC and will test a Nebraska pass defense that has impressive numbers – but has seen very few top-shelf quarterbacks. That isn’t Mitch Leidner or Joel Stave at QB for the Trojans.
Conference scoreboard: Pac-12 3-0, Big Ten 0-4.
Liberty Bowl (19). West Virginia vs. Texas A&M, Dec. 29, 2 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: Speed chess. Think fast, move fast, play fast.
Motivation edge: To the Mountaineers, who didn’t go bowling last year. Aggies lost five of their last seven games and may not bring much juice into this game.
Fan fun meter: Memphis is a good city for eating and carousing, if the fickle December weather cooperates. West Virginia fans should be especially giddy – when you’re leaving Morgantown, W.Va., just about every destination is fun.
Dash pick: Texas A&M 35, West Virginia 31. Mountaineers quarterback Clint Trickett remains “in limbo,” according to coach Dana Holgorsen, after a concussion kept him out of the regular-season finale. There hasn’t been much to like about the Aggies in the latter half of the season, but freshman quarterback Kyle Allen should get a lot out of the bowl practices leading up to this game and could play his best game of the year.
Conference scoreboard: SEC 1-1, Big 12 0-1.
Russell Athletic Bowl (20). Clemson vs. Oklahoma, Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: Gold cuff links. Overpriced, ostentatious and not very practical.
Motivation edge: To the Sooners, believe it or not, despite coming off a brutal, come-from-ahead loss at home to rival Oklahoma State. At least they get quarterback Trevor Knight back after missing three games with injury. Clemson is without both its best quarterback (DeShaun Watson) and its star offensive coordinator (Chad Morris), and will be piecing things together offensively.
Fan fun meter: Hard not to have fun in Orlando. Even Bob Stoops may put on some mouse ears and allow himself to enjoy a few minutes of quality Disney time.
Dash pick: Oklahoma 31, Clemson 14. Tigers quarterback Cole Stoudt saw action in eight games against bowl teams. In those games he threw 129 passes – zero of them for touchdowns and six for interceptions. Sooners will have this game well in hand before giving up a late touchdown on a long punt return.
Conference scoreboard: Big 12 1-1, ACC 3-4.
Texas Bowl (21). Texas vs. Arkansas, Dec. 29, 9 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A sampler tray of fine meats and cheeses, personally selected by Bret Bielema.
Motivation edge: Goes to Arkansas. Razorbacks haven’t been bowling since 2011, which was two losing seasons and two coaches ago. For the third straight year, the Longhorns don’t even get to leave their state to go bowling.
Fan fun meter: Houston is an easy commute for everyone (especially the Texas fans who live there). It’s not The Dash’s favorite city for a Final Four, but it’s not a terrible location to spend a couple of days for a bowl game. (While in Texas, Arkansas athletic director and CFP selection committee chairman Jeff Long may need to wear a disguise, just in case any Baylor or TCU fans see him.)
Dash pick: Arkansas 21, Texas 14. Both defenses figure to load up on the run and dare the quarterbacks to beat them. Neither quarterback appears especially well-equipped to do that. But the Razorbacks have the better running game and should be able to squeeze out enough points and yards to win.
Conference scoreboard: SEC 2-1, Big 12 1-2.
Music City Bowl (22). Notre Dame vs. LSU, Dec. 30, 3 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A compilation CD of sad country songs. Because neither of these teams wants to be in Music City.
Motivation edge: A combined nine losses for these two bluebloods means nobody is overly enthused about the season – but the sight of each other might help. If anyone is motivated, it should be the quarterbacks on both teams. Notre Dame’s Everett Golson started the season with 104 passes without an interception – then ended it with 14 picks and a plethora of fumbles as well. That was enough for coach Brian Kelly to say backup Malik Zaire will play as well, likely signaling an open QB competition in the spring. For LSU, the choice between Thing One (Anthony Jennings) and Thing Two (Brandon Harris) basically came down to Jennings the last half of the season – but could open up again in the bowl and beyond.
Fan fun meter: Nashville is a great town and these are two fan bases that know how to have a good time. Could be an epic few days, but fickle weather is always a factor with this bowl.
Dash pick: LSU 34, Notre Dame 17. The Fighting Irish’s injury-ravaged defense collapsed completely – its last seven opponents all scored at least 31 points, and averaged nearly 42 points per game. That’s great news for a Tigers offense that is 116th nationally in passing yardage, 80th in total offense and 76th in scoring. Even LSU can score against this unit.
Conference scoreboard: SEC 3-1, Independents 1-2.
Belk Bowl (23). Louisville vs. Georgia, Dec. 30, 6:30 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A nice tie. No, it’s not what you wanted – but in the end you’ll be glad you have it.
Motivation edge: This was not the desired location for either team. The 9-3 Cardinals thought they were headed to a Florida bowl before Notre Dame butted in and caused a re-shuffling of the ACC deck. The 9-3 Bulldogs have been to a January Florida bowl three years running and expected at least that much before blowing the game against Georgia Tech to end the regular season. But for Louisville, this is still a name opponent from the nation’s dominant league – and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham left Georgia to calls of “good riddance” from much of the fan base last year. He’ll be motivated for sure.
Fan fun meter: If the weather is good, fans will have a great time. If the weather is sketchy, they’ll still have a good time. Easy commute for Georgia fans, and Louisville backers don’t have to choose between basketball Armageddon (Kentucky comes to down Dec. 27) or this.
Dash pick: Georgia 29, Louisville 24. Despite a recent run of bowl clunkers under Mark Richt, the Bulldogs have the better talent and team. After a season of mix-and-match QBs, Cardinals must decide which inexperienced guy (Reggie Bonnafon or Kyle Bolin) they want to go with in this game.
Conference scoreboard: SEC 4-1, ACC 3-5.
Foster Farms Bowl (24). Maryland vs. Stanford, Dec. 30, 10 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A humanely harvested Christmas turkey. From Foster Farms, naturally.
Motivation edge: The Terrapins should be excited to play in any bowl, and matching up with a program that has been to four straight BCS bowls is a nice opportunity. The Cardinal may be disappointed to play in a second-tier bowl, but at least it’s a virtual home game – and the ET kickoff time may be after Randy Edsall’s bedtime.
Fan fun meter: Spending time in the Bay Area is slightly more exciting than time in, say, Shreveport, La.
Dash pick: Stanford 21, Maryland 12. The Terrapins have been a good road team and will benefit from the return of receiver Stefon Diggs, who has been out with a lacerated kidney. Still, they’ll have a hard time scoring against the Cardinal, which ended the season with consecutive 21-point thumpings of Cal and UCLA.
Conference scoreboard: Pac-12 4-0, Big Ten 0-5.
Peach Bowl (25). Mississippi vs. TCU, Dec. 31, 12:30 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A bottle of whatever is best for drowning sorrows. The snubbed Horned Frogs and injured Rebels could use a few tall ones.
Motivation edge: Should be sufficient motivation for both sides. TCU still has enough mid-major mentality left in it to get fired up for a shot at an SEC team, and there will be a strong urge to send a look-what-you-missed message to the CFP selection committee. Ole Miss gets a shot at a higher-ranked opponent and a chance to win 10 games for the first time since 2003. (When the coach was David Cutcliffe. Who was brilliantly fired a year later. Whatever became of Cutcliffe, anyway?)
Fan fun meter: Atlanta on New Year’s Eve? Sounds good to The Dash.
Dash pick: TCU 27, Mississippi 25. With no time left Bo Wallace scrambles for the tying two-point conversion, lunges for the goal line with the ball extended, and has it knocked out of his hands inches short. TCU coach Gary Patterson holds up sign saying, “Hey, Jeff Long: Ohio State would have lost to Ole Miss.”
Conference scoreboard: Big 12 2-2, SEC 4-2.
Fiesta Bowl (26). Boise State vs. Arizona, Dec. 31, 4 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: An engagement ring from Jared (the Galleria of Jewelry). Delivered by Ian Johnson.
Motivation edge: Should actually go to the team from the power-five conference and not the Mountain West school crashing the party. Wildcats haven’t been on this level before, while Boise has played in BCS bowls (albeit not one since 2009). The Broncos actually provide something of a name-brand target, given their success over the last decade-plus.
Fan fun meter: Welcome to winter paradise. Arizona fans should overrun the game since it’s in-state. Boise fans will show up as well, eager to bask in a 30-degree upgrade in temperature.
Dash pick: Arizona 37, Boise State 34. If Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon comes back healthy after limping through the end of the season, the Wildcats will score. But the Broncos probably will, too, with Jay Ajayi taking aim at a vulnerable Arizona run defense. Last team with the ball may win.
Conference scoreboard: Pac-12 5-0, Mountain West 5-2.
Orange Bowl (27). Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech, Dec. 31, 8 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A fruit basket. Heavy on oranges.
Motivation edge: Huge game for both programs, which don’t get to bowls of this magnitude often. In fact, for the Bulldogs this is arguably their biggest bowl game since a 1941 visit to the Orange Bowl. Tech went to the Orange in 2009, but prior to that hadn’t played in a bowl this big since the 1960s. Question is whether the departure of State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins for Florida affects the Bulldogs’ focus and gameplan.
Fan fun meter: From Starkville to South Beach, that’s a pretty steep upgrade in the fun department. Look out for Bulldog Nation on the beach.
Dash pick: Mississippi State 41, Georgia Tech 31. Dan Mullen is 3-1 in bowl games, and even without Collins his team at least has time to prepare for the Tech option. Yellow Jackets’ defense, last seen being gouged by Florida State, will have similar struggles with Dak Prescott & Co.
Conference scoreboard: SEC 5-2, ACC 3-6.
Outback Bowl (28). Wisconsin vs. Auburn, Jan. 1, noon ET.
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: Something you can only keep for a week before exchanging it. An interim gift, if you will.
Motivation edge: The Badgers are without their head coach, Gary Andersen, who unexpectedly fled for Oregon State. The Tigers are without their defensive coordinator, Ellis Johnson, who was fired a day after the Iron Bowl. Will the transitional nature of the game negatively affect one team more than the other? It likely would be Wisconsin.
Fan fun meter: High. Bloomin’ onions, sun and sand for everyone.
Dash pick: Auburn 48, Wisconsin 31. The Badgers built up some nice defensive numbers – and 10 of their opponents either ranked in the bottom half of the nation offensively or were from the FCS level. When they ran up against Ohio State, they were exposed. And the Tigers can move the football like the Buckeyes. It will take a Herculean effort from Melvin Gordon to keep Wisconsin in this game.
Conference scoreboard: SEC 6-2, Big Ten 0-6.
Cotton Bowl (29). Michigan State vs. Baylor, Jan. 1, 12:30 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: Zoo-zizzer-karzay. A roller-skate type of lacrosse and croquet.
Motivation edge: Totally dependent upon Baylor. Are the Bears sulking over missing the playoff, or furiously ready to take it out on the first available opponent? Spartans lost their playoff dream a while ago and should be motivated to post their first and only quality win of the season.
Fan fun meter: The game itself should be a blast, given the contrasting styles and strengths of the teams. For Baylor backers this is a chance to gobble up most of the JerryWorld tickets, but expect a good turnout from Michigan State fans as well.
Dash pick: Baylor 34, Michigan State 27. This could be the best non-playoff game. If Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has moved on (Pittsburgh? Colorado State?) that could be a major issue. If he’s even been preoccupied trying to move on, that could be an issue as well. Because it will take a full-throttle defensive effort and gameplan to slow down the Bears.
Conference scoreboard: Big 12 3-2, Big Ten 0-7.
Citrus Bowl (30). Minnesota vs. Missouri, Jan. 1, 12:30 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A Turbo Man action figure, as portrayed by Mizzou defensive end Shane Ray.
Motivation edge: Minnesota. Gophers playing in their highest-profile bowl since the 1962 Rose. Tigers regrouping after defensive coordinator Dave Steckel was named head coach at Missouri State – he’ll coach the bowl, but how focused will he be while trying to build a staff and start recruiting for his next job?
Fan fun meter: There’s a reason so many bowl games are in Florida. Everyone wants an excuse to go there during the dead of winter. These fan bases should be no exception and show up in large numbers.
Dash pick: Missouri 23, Minnesota 14. To the astonishment of the selection committee, the Gophers aren’t that good and will need turnovers to win. The good news for them: they’re among the national leaders in forced fumbles with 15. The bad news for them: the Tigers are tied for the fewest fumbles lost in America with three.
Conference scoreboard: SEC 7-2, Big Ten 0-8.
Rose Bowl (31). Oregon vs. Florida State, Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: Something your granddaddy would like. And The Dash means that in the most complimentary way possible.
Motivation edge: Shouldn’t be any. Can’t have any more motivation than the four teams playing for the national title.
Fan fun meter: Nothing in college football beats the Rose Bowl experience. Florida State fans got to experience it last year – but not the afternoon kickoff, golden twilight and evening finish. This time they do. Oregon fans know, having been there before.
Dash pick: Oregon 38, Florida State 31. The Seminoles defense is nothing special, a far cry from last year’s championship unit. The Ducks offense is something special, ranking third nationally in yards per game and second in yards per play. Michigan State has a very good defense, and Oregon hung 46 on the Spartans. And if it becomes a shootout, can Jameis Winston match throws with Marcus Mariota without making mistakes? Winston has 17 interceptions this year; Mariota just two. Advantage: Oregon.
Conference scoreboard: Pac-12 6-0, ACC 3-7.
Sugar Bowl (32). Alabama vs. Ohio State, Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot air rifle.
Motivation edge: See Rose Bowl.
Fan fun meter: Off the charts. But beware, Buckeyes fans. If you pass out in a Krystal, Alabama fans may do dastardly things to you.
Dash pick: Alabama 28, Ohio State 13. The matchup is tantalizing – Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer, the two best coaches in the game. But it tilts heavily toward the Crimson Tide. Buckeyes quarterback Cardale Jones had the Emergency Performance of the Year in the Big Ten championship game – but can he back it up? Against a Nick Saban defense that has had three weeks to scheme? And Jones is working with an offensive coordinator who, while brilliant, now has a divided focus after being named head coach at Houston on Tuesday. 'Bama’s defense is brutal against the run but vulnerable to the pass – which again puts the burden on a guy who has seen meaningful action in one college game. The Tide offense is the best in the Saban Era and will pose a challenge to an Ohio State defense that hasn’t seen a quality passing attack since Nov. 8, and hasn’t seen many all season.
Conference scoreboard: SEC 8-2, Big Ten 0-9.
Armed Forces Bowl (33). Pittsburgh vs. Houston, Jan. 2, noon ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A ShamWow.
Motivation edge: Will either team have any? Cougars have an interim coach. Panthers may well have an interim coach, if Paul Chryst to Wisconsin becomes official. At least Pitt is accustomed to playing bowl games with interim coaches.
Fan fun meter: After three years in Birmingham, Ala., and one in Detroit, going to Fort Worth will seem like Paris for the Panthers. Easy commute for Cougars fans, so they should show up in decent numbers.
Dash pick: Pittsburgh 29, Houston 22. In James Conner The Dash trusts. Cougars run defense isn’t bad, but there aren’t any backs in the AAC like Conner.
Conference scoreboard: ACC 4-7, American 2-2.
TaxSlayer Bowl (34). Iowa vs. Tennessee, Jan. 2, 3:20 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A lovely parting gift to retiring SEC commissioner Mike Slive, who could see the Volunteers send Big Ten rival commish Jim Delany out of bowl season 0-10.
Motivation edge: Shade it Orange. The Volunteers should be in a tizzy, playing in their first bowl in four years. But the Hawkeyes should have a little pep in their step, too, after leaving the Midwest for Florida.
Fan fun meter: Jacksonville isn’t Miami – but it isn’t Knoxville, Tenn., or Iowa City, either. They’ll have a good time.
Dash pick: Tennessee 24, Iowa 21. The Volunteers are statistically unimpressive – but that’s largely because they played the nation’s seventh-hardest schedule, according to Jeff Sagarin. In the safe haven of the Big Ten West, the Hawkeyes played the No. 59 schedule. Young Tennessee playmakers make the difference.
Conference scoreboard: SEC 9-2, Big Ten 0-10.
Alamo Bowl (35). Kansas State vs. UCLA, Jan. 2, 6:30 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: Socks. A pragmatic gift for any game that involves a 75-year-old coach.
Motivation edge: To the Wildcats. Bruins began the season thinking playoff, not San Antonio, and still had a Pac-12 title on their minds until flopping against Stanford to end the regular season. K-State rarely seems to lack motivation, and shouldn’t in this game either.
Fan fun meter: The Alamo and RiverWalk may not do much for Bruins fans (except provide bad flashbacks of the 2008 Final Four). But it should thrill K-State fans happy to escape the winter tundra of Kansas.
Dash pick: Kansas State 30, UCLA 26. Bruins have better talent. Wildcats are the more reliable team. Given the unpredictable effort and focus of bowl season, take the reliable team.
Conference scoreboard: Big 12 3-2, Pac-12 6-1.
Cactus Bowl (36). Oklahoma State vs. Washington, Jan. 2, 10 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A dancing Santa.
Motivation edge: Should be plenty of energy both ways. Cowboys (6-6) got an unexpected postseason berth thanks to their comeback upset at Oklahoma on Dec. 6 – then the hero of that game, Tyreek Hill, got himself dismissed from the team. Huskies should finally be fresh after playing the final eight weeks of the season and playing 13 regular-season games.
Fan fun meter: A New Year’s trip to Tempe is a pretty excellent reward for a pair of unremarkable seasons. Rejoice and be glad.
Dash pick: Washington 36, Oklahoma State 34. Huskies among the nation’s best in turnover margin (plus-12). Cowboys among the nation’s worst (minus-8). That’s reason enough for The Dash to take Washington.
Conference scoreboard: Pac-12 7-1, Big 12 3-3.
Birmingham Bowl (37). Florida vs. East Carolina, Jan. 3, noon ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: Fruit cake. Aged fruit cake.
Motivation edge: Assuredly with the Pirates, who get the chance to take on a name opponent with an interim coach. Absolutely no telling how much attention the Gators will be paying to scouting reports or practice, but bet the under in that department.
Fan fun meter: Birmingham, Ala., is a deceptively nice city. But all things considered, not a bowl garden spot – especially with the game at creaking Legion Field.
Dash pick: East Carolina 29, Florida 24. Cannot imagine the disjointed, transitioning Gators caring enough to take this game seriously. And the Pirates' offense needs to be taken seriously.
Conference scoreboard: American 3-2, SEC 9-3.
GoDaddy Bowl (38). Toledo vs. Arkansas State, Jan. 4, 9 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: The last speck of Who Hash.
Motivation edge: Red Wolves should be psyched, since it appears they’re going to retain their coach for a second season for the first time since 2009-10. Rockets should be psyched to not be in Toledo.
Fan fun meter: Plenty worse places to be than the Gulf Coast. Enjoy.
Dash pick: Toledo 32, Arkansas State 25. Matchup of two underrated running backs: the Rockets’ Kareem Hunt had 1,360 rushing yards in just nine games, and ASU’s Michael Gordon had 1,064 in 10, and both were over 7 yards per carry. Edge goes to Hunt and Toledo.
Conference scoreboard: MAC 1-4, Sun Belt 1-2.
College Football Playoff National Championship (39). Matchup TBD, Jan. 12, 8:30 p.m. ET
If this matchup were a holiday gift, it would be: A date with Dashette Theresa Longo (40).
Dash pick: Oregon 37, Alabama 31. A rousing conclusion to the first-ever College Football Playoff. Just a hunch that it’s finally the Ducks’ time. The defense is tough enough, the offense is explosive enough, and 'Bama is just susceptible enough. Let’s do it all again next year.
Conference scoreboard: Pac-12 7-1, SEC 9-4.
For College Football Playoff-going fans (and others attending bowls) in Dallas, The Dash recommends a beer at the Idle Rich Pub. Depending on workflow, you may see The Dash there leading up to the title game. Don’t shoot.