Forty names, games, teams and bits of minutiae making news this bowl season (interim coaches sold separately):
So much for climbing the ladder
We'll get to The Dash's brilliantly insightful picks of all 268 bowl games – suitable for framing, but not necessarily for gambling – in a minute. First, let's address the hottest trend in college football coaching hires:
Guys from the broadcast booth are in. Career assistants are out. At least when it comes to the higher-profile jobs.
The only hires made so far without head-coaching experience have come at programs, all but one a fixer-upper, from outside the Big Six conferences. The list: Memphis (TCU assistant Justin Fuente), Tulane (Saints assistant Curtis Johnson), UAB (Arkansas assistant Garrick McGee), Florida Atlantic (Nebraska assistant Carl Pelini), Colorado State (Alabama assistant Jim McElwain) and, most jarringly Wednesday, Arkansas State (Auburn assistant Gus Malzahn). Combined 2011 record of those six programs: 21-52. (And a source tells Yahoo! Sports that Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who never has been a head coach, is ticketed for Fresno State.)
Five other coaches have been hired out of media jobs. The list: New Mexico (Bob Davie), Arizona (Rich Rodriguez), Washington State (Mike Leach), Ohio State (Urban Meyer) and UCLA (Jim Mora). Of those five, only Davie is at a school outside the Big Six. Only Meyer left his last coaching job voluntarily.
[Related: College football coaching carousel]
Rodriguez and Meyer had been out of coaching for a year and were destined to get back in at their earliest opportunity – no matter what they might have said a year ago (ahem, Urban). Leach and Mora hadn't coached since being fired after the 2009 season. Davie has been out of coaching for a decade after being fired at Notre Dame.
Yet Phil Fulmer (1) is still out there, on the other side of the glass, holding a "Will Coach for Food" sign, despite his strenuous attempts to get a number of jobs since being fired at Tennessee. (One athletic administrator who got the all-out blitz from Fulmer and friends – including Peyton Manning – said Fulmer's sole pitch for the job was based on how great Phil is. He knew little and said less about the school he was trying to get to hire him.)
The interesting thing is that neither of the two men who entered 2011 as the hottest assistants in Gridworld – offensive guru Malzahn (2) of Auburn and defensive whiz Kirby Smart (3) of Alabama – has gotten a big-time head-coaching job. Tuesday night, word leaked out that Malzahn was taking the Arkansas State job. While there are a couple of selling points – the Red Wolves are 10-2 this season and Malzahn is an Arkansas native – that still qualifies as a stunner. He turned down more money last year at SEC member Vanderbilt and more money to stay at Auburn, and his name certainly was in the mix at several more prominent jobs this season.
Maybe an off-the-rails video interview of Malzahn’s wife with an Arkansas pastor scuttled his candidacy in a place or two. Maybe Malzahn's rather flat, strategy-wonk personality doesn't project well as the face of a program. (One athletic director who was coach-shopping this year said that was a concern.)
And maybe Smart is content to keep a very good job at Alabama until something fits his parameters of a dream job. But it is surprising to see him still in Tuscaloosa and Malzahn packing up for Jonesboro.
Now on to the main event.
How to win (or badly lose) your bowl pool, in 35 easy steps
What begins in Albuquerque on Saturday ends in New Orleans on Jan. 9. In between will be a whole lot of football – some of it quite bad, but hopefully a lot of it quite good. If you're looking for help with picks, well, you might be just as well off asking Dashette Lea Michele (4) for her insight. But I'll offer mine anyway, free of charge.
The only certainty is this: It's your last chance until next September to break out the car flag, the face paint and the tailgate supplies in support of your favorite team. Don't let it pass without you.
Who has momentum? Tepid edge to Temple. The Owls have won their past three games, but they haven't won away from home since Oct. 8.
Who has motivation? Both should be excited to be there, but Temple is gunning for its first bowl victory since 1979.
Who wins a mascot fight? Cowboys have guns. Owls don't. Wyoming.
Dash fact: The Mountain West Conference is 4-0 in this bowl. Wyoming is from the MWC.
Dash pick: Temple 20, Wyoming 14. Standout Owls running back Bernard Pierce should enjoy going against the No. 115 rushing defense in the country.
Who has momentum? Utah State has won five in a row, albeit by a total of 19 points.
Who has motivation? The Aggies haven't won a bowl game since 1993. Sounds like a long time – until you compare it to the Bobcats, who never have won a bowl in school history. They're 0-5 all-time.
Who wins a mascot fight? Uninspired tussle between a dude in a bull costume at Utah State and a dude in a bobcat costume at Ohio. Since the former Bobcat who beat up Brutus Buckeye a few years back no longer is around, edge to the bull. (In more interesting times, Utah State used to have a live, white bull that was painted blue for every game. After that, it had a bull that wore red rubber boots to avoid scuffing the floor at basketball games. "This was a disaster," the school's website says. Hey, creativity points for even thinking of putting boots on a bull.)
Dash fact: For the low, low price of $19.50, you can get a foam-potato hat with the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl logo on it. A must-have Christmas gift.
Dash pick: Utah State 35, Ohio 31. Aggies should have beaten Auburn and BYU, and they have played a tougher schedule.
Who has momentum? The Aztecs have won four of their past five, with the only loss to heavyweight Boise State. Not that the wins are all that great – Fresno State, UNLV, Colorado State, New Mexico. The Ragin' Cajuns are on a two-game losing streak.
Who has motivation? This is the first bowl in ULL history, and they get to play it in their home state before what should be a home crowd.
Who wins a mascot fight? For uniqueness alone, The Dash digs the ULL mascot, described as "an anthropomorphic red pepper." But let's face it: A red pepper is no match for an Aztec warrior.
Dash fact: For reasons that are clear only to the bowl organizers, there is a gymnastics meet coupled with the bowl game, with competition the day before and the day after. "Local gymnasts will compete for New Orleans Bowl prizes," the bowl's website says.
Dash pick: San Diego State 35, Louisiana-Lafayette 28. Aztecs running back Ronnie Hillman will be the best player on the field, and he will have a chance to reprise his 224-yard rushing performance from last season's bowl victory.
Who has momentum? FIU has won four of its past five, with the lone loss by a point at Western Kentucky.
Who has motivation? The Thundering Herd get to leave Huntington, W.Va., for a few days of warmth in Florida. Should be a happy team.
Who wins a mascot fight? Marco the Buffalo narrowly outpoints Roary the Panther in a matchup of students in costumes. Boo.
Dash fact: Conference USA is 0-3 in this bowl, and Marshall's only Florida bowl appearance was a loss in the 1948 Tangerine Bowl.
Dash pick: FIU 28, Marshall 25. T.Y. Hilton puts on one last show as a Golden Panther.
Poinsettia Bowl (9)
Louisiana Tech vs. TCU
Who has momentum? Push. Both teams are on seven-game winning streaks.
Who has motivation? Tech has been to only one bowl in the past 10 years, and few of the current players were part of that (in 2008).
Who wins a mascot fight? Tech at least has a live bulldog to complement its costumed bulldog. That tandem outpoints Superfrog, the sci-fi mascot of TCU.
Dash fact: Louisiana Tech has played just one Division I bowl game outside the state of Louisiana. The Bulldogs lost by 25 points to Clemson in the 2001 Humanitarian Bowl.
Dash pick: TCU 34, Louisiana Tech 20. A rare Gary Patterson team that is better at scoring than stopping people will not be slowed significantly by Tech.
Las Vegas Bowl (10)
Arizona State vs. Boise State
Who has momentum? Not the Sun Devils, who stagger in after four consecutive losses got coach Dennis Erickson fired.
Who has motivation? Don't blame the Broncos if they're underwhelmed by both location and opponent. They should be getting ready for the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
Who wins a mascot fight? Boise's live bronco could trample Sparky the Sun Devil, pitchfork and all.
Dash fact: Boise State has scored at least 30 points in every game this season. Arizona State has given up at least 29 points in five of its past six games.
Dash pick: Boise State 45, Arizona State 24. Kellen Moore's last college game will be worth watching just to see him torch ASU's defense.
Who has momentum? The Golden Eagles' only loss since early September was an inexplicable upset against UAB, and they took down unbeaten Houston in their most recent game.
Who has motivation? Southern Miss has an interim coach and no clear sign as to who the new coach will be. Nevada at least has that going for it.
Who wins a mascot fight? Poor matchup of students in giant-headed costumes wearing jerseys. Definitely a mascot pillow fight.
Dash fact: Nevada has failed to cover the spread in its past four bowl games and has lost four of its past five.
Dash pick: Nevada 34, Southern Miss 33. Loss of coach plus trip to Hawaii could equal loss of focus for USM.
Who has momentum? The Tigers are on a three-game winning streak.
Who has motivation? Advantage, Missouri. The Tar Heels are playing for a lame-duck interim coach who probably is working on lining up his next job as much as he is preparing for this game.
Who wins a mascot fight? Strong edge to Carolina for its live Horned Desert Sheep with blue-painted horns. Beats Truman the Tiger with a head-butt TKO.
Dash fact: Each of Carolina's past three bowl games have been decided by three or fewer points. This could be a fourth straight.
Dash pick: Missouri 27, North Carolina 24. Tigers toughened by playing in a better league.
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (13)
Purdue vs. Western Michigan
Who has momentum? The Boilermakers are momentum-averse, having failed to win consecutive games all season. Western Michigan is on a two-game winning streak.
Who has motivation? If Purdue players like their coach, they should be motivated. There are some whispers that getting to 6-6 and going bowling is not necessarily enough for Danny Hope; could he be let go with a loss and a third consecutive losing season?
Who wins a mascot fight? Purdue Pete and his sledgehammer would maul Buster Bronco, just another guy in a costume.
Dash fact: Western Michigan is 0-4 all-time in bowl games – but it can say that it played in the one and only Aviation Bowl, in 1961, losing to New Mexico.
Dash pick: Purdue 37, Western Michigan 34. With a top-40 rushing offense going up against a bottom-15 rushing defense, advantage Boilermakers.
Who has momentum? The Cardinals have won five of their past six games, getting off the deck after a 2-4 start that included losses to FIU and Marshall.
Who has motivation? Should be equally abundant motivation for teams that didn't necessarily look like bowl material for much of the season but now have a chance to springboard into next season feeling good.
Who wins a mascot fight? The Dash would like to give the edge to Tuffy, North Carolina State's live mascot – except that Tuffy is actually a dog, and the nickname is Wolfpack, and … well … since it's probably difficult to have an actual wolf on the sidelines and since Louisville's mascot is just another guy in a costume, advantage Tuffy.
Dash fact: How do you make players feel better about spending Christmas in a hotel in Charlotte? A three-hour designated shopping spree at the naming sponsor department store on Dec. 22 should help.
Dash pick: Louisville 21, North Carolina State 17. The extremely young Cardinals have a chance to make a good-to-great leap in 2012, and this could be the springboard.
Air Force falcon
Military Bowl (15)
Air Force vs. Toledo
Who has momentum? The Rockets have won seven of their past eight, including three in a row, after a 1-3 start against difficult competition.
Who has motivation? Toledo lost coach Tim Beckman, which won't help. He already has been replaced by offensive coordinator Matt Campbell, which should mitigate the damage, but the guess here is that the Falcons will be more excited to play.
Who wins a mascot fight? Air Force's live falcon would pluck the eyes of Toledo's Rocky the Rocket – if he had eyes. Rocky looks at life through a shield on his helmet, part of a costume that apparently cost $39.95 at a local toy store.
Dash fact: Toledo is awful in pass defense, ranking 109th nationally. Fortunately for the Rockets, Air Force cannot throw, ranking 113th nationally.
Dash pick: Toledo 41, Air Force 35. There may not be a lot of fans, but there will be a lot of points.
Who has motivation? Neither team should be lacking for enthusiasm. This is a quality matchup in a great city (San Diego) that unofficially signals the beginning of higher-grade bowl competition.
Who wins a mascot fight? Oski the costumed bear wants no part of Bevo.
Dash fact: This is the first time Cal has been an underdog in a bowl since 2003. It has been favored in its past six bowls, winning four of them.
Dash pick: Texas 24, California 20. If the Bears win the turnover battle, they can pull the upset. They're plus-four on the season and the Longhorns are minus-five.
Champs Sports Bowl (17)
Notre Dame vs. Florida State
Who has momentum? The Seminoles' only loss since Oct. 8 was a one-pointer to Virginia. The Fighting Irish are coming off a two-touchdown setback at Stanford.
Who has motivation? How are Notre Dame's offensive players feeling? Coordinator Charlie Molnar is headed to Massachusetts as coach, and Brian Kelly's quarterback roulette might have messed with some minds. Yanking starter Tommy Rees against Stanford and replacing him with Andrew Hendrix – a different kind of quarterback – yielded no results. Kelly says Rees will start the bowl and Hendrix will play, while Molnar will coach the game. How focused they are remains to be seen.
Who wins a mascot fight? This is a BCS-worthy matchup, the plucky leprechaun vs. the fearsome Chief Osceola. Edge has to go to the guy with the burning spear.
Dash fact: Notre Dame has a better record against ACC competition than Florida State. The Irish are 3-0, including a victory over a Wake Forest team that upset the Seminoles in October.
Dash pick: Florida State 23, Notre Dame 21. After beating Miami last season in the Sun Bowl, Irish now .500 in nostalgia bowls against opponents they once played with a lot more on the line.
Who has momentum? The Bears have won five in a row, including knocking off Oklahoma and Texas. The Huskies have lost three of their past four.
Who has motivation? Robert Griffin III will have to fight off the Heisman hangover that often comes with spending weeks touring the country and winning awards. But he should be plenty inspired to give NFL scouts and general managers a good audition if he chooses to enter the 2012 draft.
Who wins a mascot fight? Kudos to both schools for having live mascots. Edge to Judge, the Baylor black bear, over Dubs, the Washington husky.
Dash fact: Neither team has been a road warrior. Huskies are 1-4 outside of Seattle, outscored by a total of 80 points. The Bears' lone win outside of Waco was by a point in overtime against miserable Kansas.
Dash pick: Baylor 51, Washington 35. Nation's No. 2 offense meets nation's No. 94 defense with predictable results.
Armed Forces Bowl (19)
BYU vs. Tulsa
Who has momentum? Cougars have won three in a row and eight of their past nine. Golden Hurricane lost last time out, but before that had won seven in a row. Both lost the last time they faced a good team (BYU by 10 to TCU, Tulsa by 32 to Houston).
Who has motivation? There should be no shortage of motivation for either team to prove it can beat a quality opponent for the first time this season.
Who wins a mascot fight? Captain Cane vs. Cosmo in a cringe-inducing matchup of guys in costumes. There are no winners here.
Dash fact: Against four ranked opponents, Tulsa quarterback G.J. Kinne has thrown four touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Against the rest of the schedule, he has 21 TDs and five picks.
Dash pick: BYU 31, Tulsa 27. Battle of religiously affiliated schools tilts in favor of the Cougars.
Who has momentum? Both teams come in off losses, but at least the Cyclones have the memory of stunning Oklahoma State on Nov. 18 to buoy their self-esteem.
Who has motivation? Scarlet Knights should have greater fan support and a chance to show New York City why it might be worth the trip to Piscataway in the future to support what passes for the city's college football team.
Who wins a mascot fight? If Rutgers brings the knight in the body armor, it wins easily. If it only brings the doofus in the big-headed costume, call it a draw with Cy the costumed cardinal who reps Iowa State.
Dash fact: Iowa State will have to beat Rutgers by 74 to have scored more points than it has allowed on the season. The Cyclones haven't had a positive scoring differential in a season since 2005.
Dash pick: Iowa State 20, Rutgers 19. Not a 74-point victory, but it'll do.
Mississippi State Bulldog
Music City Bowl (21)
Wake Forest vs. Mississippi State
Who has momentum? The Bulldogs won their Egg Bowl rivalry game with Mississippi and have won three of their past five. The Demon Deacons were throttled by Vanderbilt to end the season and have lost four of their past five.
Who has motivation? Both teams are 6-6. Playing for a winning record should be suitable motivation for all involved.
Who wins a mascot fight? Live dog beats costumed man of the cloth.
Dash fact: In seven games against bowl-bound opponents this season, Mississippi State averaged just 16 points and went 1-6. Wake was 2-5 against bowl-bound opponents.
Dash pick: Mississippi State 21, Wake Forest 16. If Wake's performance against its one SEC opponent (Vandy) is indicative, this pick is too close.
Insight Bowl (22)
Iowa vs. Oklahoma
Who has momentum? Neither team is exactly rolling. Both have lost two of their past three, including their last game.
Who has motivation? It'll be interesting to see whether the Sooners give a darn about this game after spending much of the season with their eyes on the national title, then getting boat-raced by rival Oklahoma State. Iowa has a long and proud history of showing up for its bowl games under Kirk Ferentz.
Who wins a mascot fight? Please, let the Sooner Schooner run over Herky the Hawk.
Dash fact: In his past three games, Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones has zero touchdown passes and five interceptions. Not coincidentally, star receiver Ryan Broyles missed those three games with injury – and will miss the bowl game as well.
Dash pick: Oklahoma 28, Iowa 21. Even a half-interested Sooners team should be good enough to beat a half-talented Iowa team.
Texas Bowl (23)
Northwestern vs. Texas A&M
Who has momentum? The Wildcats have won four of their past five. The Aggies have lost four of their past five.
Who has motivation? The Aggies are adrift with an interim coach, while the Wildcats are trying to finish strong behind senior quarterback Dan Persa.
Who wins a mascot fight? Texas A&M's live dog, Reveille, owns the costumed Willie the Wildcat.
Dash fact: Texas A&M is tied for the national lead in sacks and has allowed the fewest sacks.
Dash pick: Northwestern 31, Texas A&M 30. The Wildcats have covered the spread in three consecutive bowls – but haven't won one outright since 1949. Time to change that.
Who has momentum? Before spitting the bit in a shocking home upset loss to Colorado, the Utes had won four in a row. The Yellow Jackets have lost four of their past six.
Who has motivation? Both should be motivated to finish once-promising seasons with a quality victory.
Who wins a mascot fight? Buzz the costumed bee vs. Swoop the costumed red-tailed hawk. That the red-tailed hawk is native to Utah is nice – but then The Dash found out there are three other schools with birds named Swoop as mascots. Edge to Buzz, who at least has a stinger at his disposal.
Dash fact: Before losing last season to Boise State, Utah had won nine consecutive bowl games. Georgia Tech has lost six consecutive bowl games.
Dash pick: Utah 24, Georgia Tech 22. Good offense (Tech) against good defense (Utah). Defense wins.
Chief Illiniwek's last performance.
Fight Hunger Bowl (25)
Illinois vs. UCLA
Who has momentum? This is the bowl where momentum goes to die. Bruins have lost three of their past four but still look great compared to an Illinois team that has lost six in a row.
Who has motivation? Tail-spinning teams playing for interim coaches make this a potential low-intensity debacle. But both have hired new coaches who presumably will be watching to see who wants to make an impression heading into 2012.
Who wins a mascot fight? Joe Bruin by default, since Chief Illiniwek was forcibly retired in 2007 and not replaced.
Dash fact: Illinois hasn't scored more than 17 points in a game since Oct. 8.
Dash pick: UCLA 14, Illinois 10. It's New Year's Eve. Find something better to do with your time.
Who has momentum? The Bearcats won their final two games to clinch a tie for the Big East title. The Commodores won two of their final three to reach bowl eligibility. Slight edge to Cincy.
Who has motivation? Vandy has been to only one other bowl since 1982 and is playing close to home.
Who wins a mascot fight? Mr. C the costumed Commodore vs. The Bearcat. Toss-up unless Yancy Gates is wearing the Bearcat costume. Then look out for the sucker punch, Mr. C.
Dash fact: Battle of agent Trace Armstrong clients in Vandy coach James Franklin vs. Cincy coach Butch Jones.
Dash pick: Vanderbilt 27, Cincinnati 24. Vandy quarterback Jordan Rodgers has pretty good wheels, and he will need them against a Cincinnati team that is tied for the national lead in sacks.
Chick-fil-A Bowl (27)
Virginia vs. Auburn
Who has momentum? The Cavaliers were blown out of their last game against Virginia Tech but had won four in a row before that. The Tigers have been blown out in four of their past six games.
Who has motivation? Virginia, playing in its first bowl since 2007, should be more enthused than an Auburn team slumming after winning the national title last season and missing suspended leading rusher Michael Dyer.
Who wins a mascot fight? If War Eagle VII makes the trip to the Georgia Dome, he will fly circles around Cav Man.
Dash fact: Virginia averaged 15.5 points per game against bowl-bound opponents. Auburn gave up 33.2 points per game to bowl-bound opponents.
Dash pick: Virginia 24, Auburn 21. Dyer's absence will make the difference.
Ticket City Bowl (28)
Penn State vs. Houston
Who has momentum? Ummm, gee. Cougars blew BCS bid with loss in last game to Southern Miss. Nittany Lions routed in last game by Wisconsin.
Who has motivation? Both have interim coaches and have not named replacements. Penn State has been playing under interim Tom Bradley for weeks, Houston under interim Tony Levine for merely days. But the Cougars haven't been under the burden the Nittany Lions have endured, are playing in their home state and get to take on a big name. Advantage, Houston.
Who wins a mascot fight? Just two students in furry cat suits. Nothing to see here.
Dash fact: Nation's No. 1 pass offense against nation's No. 5 pass defense. That alone makes this game intriguing.
Dash pick: Houston 28, Penn State 21. Case Keenum goes out a winner; Nittanies end their season of misery.
Outback Bowl (29)
Michigan State vs. Georgia
Who has momentum? Both finished the regular season strong, then lost as underdogs in their conference championship games. But the Spartans pushed Wisconsin to the wire in theirs. Slim edge to Sparty.
Who has motivation? Even. Spartans should be eager to remove SEC tire treads from their psyche after last season's crushing bowl loss to Alabama. Bulldogs should be eager to atone for embarrassing six-point effort in last season's bowl loss to UCF.
Who wins a mascot fight? UGa. No contest.
Dash fact: Both quarterbacks have found their games since Oct. 1. Michigan State's Kirk Cousins has 18 touchdown passes and three interceptions in that time, while Georgia's Aaron Murray has 20 TDs and six interceptions.
Dash pick: Georgia 34, Michigan State 28. This will be one of the better games of the entire bowl season.
Capital One Bowl (30)
Nebraska vs. South Carolina
Who has momentum? The Gamecocks have won three in a row, while the Huskers wobbled through November a disappointing 2-2.
Who has motivation? Both teams have disappointing bowl losses from last season that they'd like to reverse. Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini is leaving for Florida Atlantic, which could complicate preparations. The Huskers get their first taste of Big Ten-SEC bowl rivalry.
Who wins a mascot fight? Herbie Husker would be pecked to death by Cocky, the South Carolina live rooster.
Dash fact: Nebraska hasn't scored more than 25 points in a game since Oct. 22, and quarterback Taylor Martinez hasn't rushed for more than 56 yards in a game since Oct. 8.
Dash pick: South Carolina 17, Nebraska 14. Bo Pelini eats a first-down marker when penalty flag stops a late Huskers drive.
Gator Bowl (31)
Ohio State vs. Florida
Who has momentum? If beating Furman constitutes momentum, then the advantage goes to the Gators. That's the only win by either team in their last three games.
Who has motivation? Will Muschamp and the Gators figure to have a little extra drive to stick it to the new school of miraculously healed Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes will be trying to beat its first SEC opponent in a bowl because … oops … last season's noble Sugar Bowl victory has been wiped off the books. (Sorry to remind you, Jim Delany.)
Who wins a mascot fight? Brutus Buckeye is at least a costumed nut, which beats being a costumed animal such as Albert the Alligator. Brutus looks like he could inflict a concussion with a head-to-head hit.
Dash fact: In October and November games against FBS competition, Florida quarterbacks threw four touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Those guys will dearly miss the clear schematic advantage afforded them by Charlie Weis.
Dash pick: Florida 20, Ohio State 17. This game is a far cry from the meeting five seasons ago for the national championship.
Oregon RB LaMichael James
Rose Bowl (32)
Wisconsin vs. Oregon
Who has momentum? The Badgers have won five in a row after back-to-back last-minute losses dropped them from national title contention.
Who has motivation? Wisconsin certainly would like to win after a painful loss to TCU in this game last season. The Ducks have lost consecutive BCS bowls by a total of 12 points. Slight edge to Oregon.
Who wins a mascot fight? Furry-costume battle is beneath the dignity of the Rose Bowl – though both the duck and Bucky Badger are among the better furry-animal-costume mascots.
Dash fact: Of the 17 major team statistical categories that the NCAA tracks, Wisconsin ranks in the national top 15 in nine of them and Oregon is in the top 15 in eight. These are well-rounded teams.
Dash pick: Oregon 37, Wisconsin 28. The Badgers' run defense is good, not great. The Ducks' run offense is great, not good.
Fiesta Bowl (33)
Oklahoma State vs. Stanford
Who has momentum? Both overcame a crushing late-season loss to end the season with victories. No real momentum edge to either side.
Who has motivation? The Cowboys should be juiced to make a statement that they deserved to play LSU for the title. Andrew Luck should be juiced to make a statement that he deserved the Heisman and deserves to be the No. 1 NFL pick.
Who wins a mascot fight? The Tree vs. Pistol Pete is one of the great matchups of this (or any) bowl season. As a former Tree for one night, The Dash cannot bet against a fellow conifer.
Dash fact: Luck has had four multiple-interception games in three years as a starter. Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden has had nine in two years as a starter.
Dash pick: Oklahoma State 42, Stanford 35. This has the makings of a classic.
Sugar Bowl (34)
Michigan vs. Virginia Tech
Who has momentum? Not the Hokies, who were routed in the ACC championship game and given an undeserving BCS bid. The Wolverines have won three in a row, all against bowl-bound opponents.
Who has motivation? Michigan is plenty excited to be back on a big-bowl stage for the first time since 2006 season. The Hokies should be highly motivated to prove their bid isn't an outright joke.
Who wins a mascot fight? Lame Hokie Bird wins in a no-contest matchup because there is no wolverine, living or costumed, on the Michigan sideline.
Dash fact: Wolverines averaged 38.5 points in their 10 wins, 15 points in their two losses. When they're hot, they're hot. When they're not, they're not.
Dash pick: Michigan 31, Virginia Tech 20. Watching at home with the Las Vegas Bowl trophy by his side, Chris Petersen throws a brick through his TV set.
Orange Bowl (35)
Clemson vs. West Virginia
Who has momentum? The Mountaineers won their last three games to capture the Big East's automatic bid. The Tigers had been sliding before ripping Virginia Tech to win the ACC championship game.
Who has motivation? Clemson has to be jazzed for its first BCS bowl after years of underachieving. West Virginia should be inspired to show it can compete and that its BCS bid is more than just the product of a faulty system.
Who wins a mascot fight? Easy victory for the guy with the rifle.
Dash fact: This is the Mountaineers' fourth straight – and fourth different – ACC bowl opponent. Record in the previous three: 1-2.
Dash pick: West Virginia 30, Clemson 27. Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen single-handedly tears down a goalpost after his first bowl victory as a head coach.
Arkansas WR Jarius Wright
Cotton Bowl (36)
Kansas State vs. Arkansas
Who has momentum? The Wildcats closed with three consecutive victories, while the Razorbacks ran into LSU, Team Momentum-Killer.
Who has motivation? Both were good enough to earn BCS bids but were foiled by the system. This is K-State's biggest bowl stage since the 2004 Fiesta Bowl.
Who wins a mascot fight? This could be settled easily if Arkansas brings Tusk, the enormous live Russian Boar, who has his own sort of sideline Madden Cruiser. No student in a furry costume wants a piece of him.
Dash fact: Arkansas has not covered the spread in a bowl since 2003; Kansas State hasn't covered since 2000.
Dash pick: Arkansas 45, Kansas State 28. The Wildcats' secondary was no match for the receivers of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. This will be a rerun.
BBVA Compass Bowl (37)
SMU vs. Pittsburgh
Who has momentum? Not a lot of momentum to go around in this one. Pitt hasn't won back-to-back games since the first two weeks of the season, and SMU has lost four of its past six.
Who has motivation? Pitt is back in the same location it was in last season, which is a good thing only if that location is a BCS bowl or Hawaii. The Mustangs are trying to decide whether they're happy June Jones came back after his deal with Arizona State fell through, or whether they hate him for trying to leave.
Who wins a mascot fight? SMU's Shetland pony isn't overly fearsome, but it beats the standard furry costumed panther.
Dash fact: Both quarterbacks are struggling. SMU's J.J. McDermott has six touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his past six games. Pitt's Tino Sunseri has five TDs and six picks in his past seven games.
Dash pick: SMU 26, Pittsburgh 24. January filler game at least produces some decent drama.
Northern Illinois QB Chandler Harnish
GoDaddy.com Bowl (38)
Northern Illinois vs. Arkansas State
Who has momentum? Arguably the two hottest teams not named LSU. The Huskies have won eight straight, while the Red Wolves have won nine straight.
Who has motivation? Arkansas State just lost coach Hugh Freeze to Mississippi. Northern Illinois has kept Dave Doeren despite his name being thrown around for a few jobs. Advantage, NIU.
Who wins a mascot fight? Live husky beats guy in a wolf costume.
Dash fact: Arkansas State ranks in the top 25 nationally in total offense and total defense. For a Sun Belt team, that's nuts – but ASU didn't play a typically murderous Sun Belt non-conference schedule. Wisconsin was the only ranked opponent.
Dash pick: Northern Illinois 38, Arkansas State 37. Two-point try for the win misses on the final play. Danica Patrick awards GoDaddy trophy to NIU.
LSU beat Alabama 9-6 on Nov. 5.
BCS championship game (39)
LSU vs. Alabama
Who has momentum? The Tigers haven't lost since November 2010. That's pretty good momentum.
Who has motivation? There will be a surplus of motivation for everyone. But the Crimson Tide is playing for revenge and a title, and monomaniacal Nick Saban's teams tend to fare well in revenge games.
Who wins a mascot fight? Please. Mike the Tiger eats the Alabama elephant costume.
Dash fact: The line has been fascinating. Factoring in half a home-field advantage with the game in New Orleans and using the Sagarin Ratings, LSU would figure to be favored by 5.5. But the game opened at 2.5 and has been shrinking ever since. It went to 1 and now is considered a pick 'em. The early money is flocking to the Crimson Tide.
Dash pick: LSU 16, Alabama 10. Yes, there will be touchdowns – plural! But this game will be won the same way the November meeting was won: with defense, brute, physical play and devastating speed. The only guarantee is that Mike Slive will be smiling when it's over, but it says here that Les Miles somehow will shoulder himself up alongside Saban and Urban Meyer as the only active coaches with two national titles. He'll celebrate in the French Quarter with a Hurricane and a blade of grass.
When hungry and thirsty in the gustatory Disneyland that is New Orleans, The Dash recommends a visit to Galatoire's (40). Friend of Dash and NOLA sharpie Jeff Duncan describes it as a classic, old-school New Orleans institution that is on Bourbon Street but rises above the rabble. Friday lunch is legendary, and patrons have been known to arrive at 11 a.m. and stay at their tables through dinner.
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