Welcome to the world of the College Football Playoff!
Well, not quite yet. We still have three weeks to go before the playoff begins, and the bowl system hasn't gone anywhere. In fact, it's expanded. When you add in the College Football Playoff Championship Game in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 12, there are four more postseason games than there were last season. It's thanks to the newly-added Camellia, Boca Raton, Bahamas and Miami Beach Bowls.
Say what you want about the bowl system, but there aren't too many scenarios in which more football is a bad thing. Here's our ranking of the first 38 bowl games of the year since we don't know who will be in the title game just yet. The four playoff rotational bowls — the Peach, Fiesta, Cotton and Orange — all have intrigue and there are some pretty fun matchups outside the group as well.
Away we go:
1. Rose Bowl (Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif.)
Oregon vs. Florida State
The Rose Bowl gets our top ranking by virtue of the likely Heisman vs. Heisman battle we're going to see between Oregon's Marcus Mariota, the presumptive 2014 winner and Florida State's Jameis Winston, the 2013 winner. And it's also a battle of polar opposites. As Winston is the most polarizing figure in college football, Mariota may be the most popular. We can't wait for this game.
2. Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1, New Orleans):
Alabama vs. Ohio State
This matchup pairs two of the hottest teams during the past month. And even though star quarterback J.T. Barrett is out, backup Cardale Jones looked more than capable in leading the Buckeyes. However, this is a big stage and while Alabama’s defense isn’t as good as it has been in past years, it’s still an intimidating force. Alabama will be the best team Ohio State has played all season. Give Bama coach Nick Saban almost a month to prepare and it’s hard to bet against him.
3. Cotton Bowl (Jan. 1, Arlington, Texas):
Baylor vs. Michigan State
This was probably a better matchup in September, but it still will be a fun one to watch. Both of these teams have prolific offenses and Michigan State probably has the better defense. The only concern is whether Baylor shows up or lets its disappointment over not making the playoff ruin what could otherwise be a pretty entertaining game.
4. Peach Bowl (Dec. 31, Atlanta)
Ole Miss vs. TCU
The Rebels' strength is its defensive secondary. TCU's strength has been its incredibly diverse and fun passing game. The key here may be the return of TCU RB B.J. Catalon. If Ole Miss can stop the pass, TCU still has the ability to run effectively. Oh, and Ole Miss would be helped immensely by a good game from QB Bo Wallace. The last time he was in the Georgia Dome he threw three first-half interceptions.
5. Orange Bowl (Dec. 31, Miami)
Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech
It's a battle of the option, just in different forms. Georgia Tech will control the clock with its triple-option flexbone attack while Dak Prescott and Josh Robinson could combine for 40 carries themselves via Mississippi State's shotgun alignment. If there's a bowl game that could finish under three hours, this is the best possibility.
6. Fiesta Bowl (Dec. 31, Glendale, Ariz.):
Arizona vs. Boise State
This has the potential to be a fun, high-scoring game. Boise State is returning to the Fiesta bowl for the third time and it has yet to lose. This Boise State team isn’t as good as those past teams and it might have some trouble with Arizona’s stingy defense. If Arizona QB Anu Solomon is healthy, the Wildcats should prevail.
7. Alamo Bowl (Jan. 2, San Antonio)
Kansas State vs. UCLA
The best non-New Year's Six bowl is the Alamo. It'll be fun to see what Bill Snyder has designed for UCLA QB Brett Hundley and the UCLA offense. And will UCLA have an answer for the combination of Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett? The winner of the game gets to 10 wins on for the second-consecutive season too.
8. Belk Bowl (Dec. 30, Charlotte, N.C.)
Georgia vs. Louisville
This is an upgrade over last year's matchup of Cincinnati and North Carolina. But the reason we have this ranked so high is because it pits Georgia against former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who left to become Louisville's defensive coordinator. Grantham is very familiar with Georgia's offense. Will the Cardinals be able to contain RB Nick Chubb?
9. Outback Bowl (Jan. 1, Tampa, Fla.)
Wisconsin vs. Auburn
Are the Badgers having nightmares? After getting lit up by a spread option team with explosive speed in Ohio State, the Badgers get to face one from the SEC. One positive here for Wisconsin is that Auburn's rushing defense can be gashed. Melvin Gordon could be poised to have a big day in his potential final college game.
10. Boca Raton Bowl (Dec. 23, Boca Raton, Fla.)
Marshall vs. Northern Illinois
This is the only game outside of the New Year's Six that features two conference champions. And it should be a high-scoring affair. Northern Illinois' last loss was against Central Michigan on October 11 and Marshall only lost to Western Kentucky. A strong showing for the Thundering Herd would help prove that Marshall should have had a case for a New Year's Six berth.
11. Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1, Orlando):
Minnesota vs. Missouri
This has to be a dream matchup for Minnesota running back David Cobb, who will undoubtedly watch film of fellow Big Tenner Tevin Coleman shred the Missouri defense. He might be the only advantage the Gophers have in the matchup because Missouri’s defensive front should be able to limit quarterback Mitch Leidner. It’s just a matter of whether Missouri’s offense decides to show up and make this a competitive game.
12. Holiday Bowl (Dec. 27, San Diego):
Nebraska vs. USC
This had the makings of a good game before coach Bo Pelini was fired, now it will be interesting to see how motivated the Huskers are for this contest. USC’s going to have the early edge in this one, especially if Nebraska struggles to throw the ball.
13. Sun Bowl (Dec. 27, El Paso, Texas)
Duke vs. Arizona State
We'll give you a moment to formulate your Blue Devils vs. Sun Devils in the Sun Bowl jokes now. OK, got them all out of your system? Duke has the offensive diversity to exploit a leaky ASU defense that's given up 31 or more points in its last four games. Remember how much of a game the Blue Devils gave Texas A&M in 2013?
14. Russell Athletic Bowl (Dec. 29, Orlando):
Oklahoma vs. Clemson
These two teams had eerily similar seasons — highly ranked to start the season, disappointing losses led into disappointing seasons and now both teams are sort of limping to the end. Clemson is coming off a huge win against rival South Carolina, but its quarterback situation is a mess. Oklahoma lost a head-scratcher to Oklahoma State in its season finale. The best part of this game will be getting to see is running back Samaje Perine (if he's healthy) can put up eye-popping numbers against a legit rushing defense.
15. Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 20, Las Vegas)
Colorado State vs. Utah
Colorado State is hoping for a repeat of interim coach mojo. In last year's Las Vegas Bowl, USC OC Clay Helton coached the Trojans as they rolled over Fresno State. To match that result, the Rams will need to step up the run defense. Utah averages 176 yards rushing a game while Colorado State gives up 188.
16. Liberty Bowl (Dec. 29, Memphis, Tenn.)
West Virginia vs. Texas A&M
Will this game have the highest over/under of any of the bowls? The Aggies' defense was 101st in the country, and West Virginia can be explosive -- when it isn't turning the ball over. The Mountaineers have 28 turnovers in 2014.
17. Texas Bowl (Dec. 29, Houston)
Texas vs. Arkansas
Fire up the Southwest Conference! The historic rivalry between the two border states reignites for the first time since 2008 and just the fifth time since Arkansas left for the SEC after 1991. Texas' rushing defense is ranked No. 64 and Arkansas averages over 5 yards a carry.
18. TaxSlayer Bowl (Jan. 2, Jacksonville, Fla.):
Iowa vs. Tennessee
Anyone who had Tennessee, which sported the youngest roster heading into the season, going to a bowl, raise your hand. OK, you’re all liars. No one saw this coming and this is definitely a cherry on top of the Vols' season. Iowa had an opportunity to crash the Big Ten title party, but lost three of its final four games, including a heartbreaking loss to Nebraska in overtime to end the season. Both teams can put points on the board, so there’s a strong chance this could be one of the higher scoring games of the bowl season. And if you need proof of how happy Tennessee is, just watch this video below. It's certainly something:
19. Music City Bowl (Dec. 30, Nashville, Tenn.):
LSU vs. Notre Dame
The LSU passing defense had to be salivating over this matchup. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson has been a turnover machine and now he’s going up against one of the best passing defenses in the country. That’s not good news for the Irish. On the flipside, even just getting a few points on LSU might be enough to win since its offense has been atrocious most of the season.
20. Idaho Potato Bowl (Dec. 20, Boise):
Air Force vs. Western Michigan
It’s a little funny that Western Michigan’s team motto is “Row The Boat” and the team will be playing its first bowl game since 2011 on a field that looks like water. Sadly, this is not a favorable matchup for the Broncos. Air Force’s triple option is tough to stop and quarterback Kale Pearson has been a tough dual-threat all year.
21. Bahamas Bowl (Dec. 24, Nassau, Bahamas)
Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky
A trip to the islands and a bunch of fried chicken courtesy of title-sponsor Popeye's? The Chippewas and Hilltoppers made out like bandits. So did their fans, as the Bahamas is an attractive destination in the middle of December when you live in Michigan and Kentucky - or really anywhere. Will the game be as enticing as the destination?
22. Independence Bowl (Dec. 27, Shreveport, La):
Miami vs. South Carolina
Miami lost three straight to fall into the bowl, but it definitely has a chance to end its season on a high note. South Carolina fell far short of expectations this season and this bowl is a really disappointing ending to a disappointing season. It’s hard to think the Gamecocks will be really motivated for this one. If there’s a bright spot for this bowl, it’s that players might get to meet the stars of Duck Dynasty.
23. St. Petersburg Bowl (Dec. 26, St. Petersburg, Fla.)
UCF vs. N.C. State
By winning a share of the AAC, the Knights win a short trip down I-4 towards the Gulf of Mexico and now we have to wonder if George O'Leary's $100,000 bonus for the share was paid in BitCoin. After missing out on a bowl last year, the Wolfpack on a two-game winning streak following a stretch of five losses in six games. The most efficient quarterback between UCF's Justin Holman and N.C. State's Jacoby Brissette gets his team a win.
24. New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 20, Albuquerque, N.M.):
Utah State vs. UTEP
Utah State is down to its fourth-string quarterback and has somehow found a way to make a bowl game. This is a good matchup for the Aggies because the Miners like to run the ball and the Aggies like to top the run. Utah State ranks No. 26 in run defense.
25. Birmingham Bowl (Jan. 3, Birmingham, Ala.)
Florida vs. East Carolina
It's a battle of unmet expectations and a preview of a 2015 matchup. The two teams meet in September next season, though Florida under new coach Jim McElwain will look a bit different. Here's to believing ECU will work on its Hail Mary defense between now and the bowl game.
26. Poinsettia Bowl (Dec. 23, San Diego):
Navy vs. San Diego State
Not sure this bowl could have found a better matchup considering the fan bases of both teams in the San Diego area. The Aztecs will have three weeks to prepare for Navy’s triple option attack, but already give up 145.6 yards per game. This will not be an easy game for the Aztecs.
27. Foster Farms Bowl (Dec. 30, Santa Clara, Calif.):
Maryland vs. Stanford
This is not a good game. No way to sugarcoat it, it’s simply not a good game. Maryland is not good enough on offense to compete with the Stanford defense and Stanford is only just OK enough on offense to make this game interesting. It’s a good thing there are other viewing options on this day.
28. Miami Beach Bowl (Dec. 22, Miami):
BYU vs. Memphis
Memphis is appearing in its first bowl game since 2008 after being in a three-way tie for the AAC title. BYU, which struggled after losing starting quarterback Taysom Hill, rallied to win its final four games. The Cougars already went 2-1 against AAC teams this season, but Memphis will be the best of them.
29. Armed Forces Bowl (Jan. 2, Fort Worth, Texas)
Houston vs. Pitt
Houston will be keying on Pitt's James Conner, one of the best running backs in the country. And the Panthers need to watch out for Houston QB Greg Ward, who has been consistently improving since his move to the quarterback position full-time.
30. Cactus Bowl (Jan. 2, Tempe, Ariz.):
Oklahoma State vs. Washington
A week ago, Washington would have had the advantage, but after new Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph pulled off a miracle to get the Cowboys bowl eligible, it’s hard to discount the Cowboys. Washington has a strong defense, but offers little in the way of offense. Oklahoma State is exactly the opposite. What are the chances this is a 13-7 final?
31. Military Bowl (Dec. 27, Annapolis, Md.):
Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech
Cincinnati was one of three teams to win the AAC (yes, three) and Virginia Tech squeaked into bowl eligibility. It’s been impossible to predict the type of team Virginia Tech is going to be in any given game, but Cincy should be the favorite in this one.
32. Camellia Bowl (Dec. 20, Montgomery, Ala.)
Bowling Green vs. South Alabama
The Jaguars are heading to the program's first-ever bowl game and become the youngest football program to make a bowl. They'll face a Bowling Green team that was spanked by Northern Illinois in the MAC title game. Can we get both teams to recreate this video?
33. Pinstripe Bowl (Dec. 27, Bronx, N.Y.)
Penn State vs. Boston College
The Nittany Lions are heading to the first bowl in its post-bowl-ban era and the Eagles are heading to a bowl for the second straight season after two seasons missing out. Chances are good Penn State can defend Boston College's rushing attack. The Nittany Lions are No. 1 in the country in rushing defense.
34. GoDaddy Bowl (Jan. 3, Mobile, Ala.):
Toledo vs. Arkansas State
While this might not look like a sexy matchup, it does pit two top-20 offenses against each other. Both of these teams come from conferences known for their scoring and this game should personify that. Should be a nice final prelude to the national championship.
35. Quick Lane Bowl (Dec. 26, Detroit):
North Carolina vs. Rutgers
Both of these teams had up-and-down seasons that saw them beat teams they probably shouldn’t have and lose to teams they shouldn’t have. Since neither of these teams plays any defense, expect a lot of scoring in this one.
36. New Orleans Bowl (Dec. 20, New Orleans)
Nevada vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
We might as well designate the Ragin' Cajuns for this bowl. Can we have a bench-press contest between ULL coach Mark Hudspeth and Nevada's Brock Hekking? Pretty please? That'd make the 11 a.m. ET kick worth it. It's going to be a very early morning for Nevada fans.
37. Heart of Dallas Bowl (Dec. 26, Dallas)
Louisiana Tech vs. Illinois
Congrats, Illinois. You're going to the game at the Cotton Bowl that's not actually the Cotton Bowl which isn't even played at the Cotton Bowl anymore. Your reward is a game against Louisiana Tech, which hung with Marshall a week after putting up 76 points on Rice. Happy Boxing Day, everyone.
38. Hawaii Bowl (Dec. 24, Honolulu):
Fresno State vs. Rice
Boy is this an underwhelming game. The Bulldogs squeaked into their conference title game (and bowl eligibility) because the rest of the division was awful and Rice lost its final game of the season 76-31. Advantage Fresno State because it’s in a better league, but this game might be unwatchable.
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