College football’s 2012-2013 bowl season kicks off in Albuquerque on Dec. 15 and ends on Jan. 7 with the BCS National Championship in Miami. With 35 games, there’s a lot of college football to watch over the next few weeks. And needless to say, it can get a little overwhelming to take in every game with the holidays and plenty of unannounced visits from the in-laws. To help maximize your bowl watching experience in December and January, Athlon has ranked all of the bowl games in order from the must-see to the must-miss. If you can only catch 10 bowl games this year, these are the ones you cannot afford to miss.
College Football's Top 10 Must-See Matchups of the 2012 Bowl Season
1. BCS National Title – Alabama (12-1) vs. Notre Dame (12-0)
Date and Time: Jan. 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET
With the history and tradition between Alabama and Notre Dame, this season's national title matchup is the most-anticipated championship game of the BCS era. With a Crimson Tide victory, the SEC will claim its seventh consecutive national championship, while Alabama is looking for its third BCS title in four seasons. This is the Fighting Irish’s first BCS bowl appearance under coach Brian Kelly and their first overall since 2007. Both teams rank among the best in defense, but the Crimson Tide have a slight edge on offense, largely due to the continued improvement of quarterback AJ McCarron. These two teams have met six times, with Notre Dame owning a 5-1 edge in the series. Interestingly enough, Alabama and the Fighting Irish are tied with eight Associated Press national titles apiece.
Why you should watch: It's the national championship!
2. Fiesta Bowl – Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1)
Date and Time: Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET
If you like offense, the Fiesta Bowl should be the game to watch. The Ducks rank second nationally in scoring offense with an average of 50.8 points per game, while Kansas State is 10th nationally at 40.7 points per game. Oregon is loaded with playmakers, starting with redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back Kenjon Barner. Although Kansas State’s offense is averaging over 400 yards per game, its success is largely due to the play of one man — quarterback Collin Klein. The senior carried the offense with 3,380 total yards and 37 touchdowns. These two teams were scheduled to meet in the regular season, but the series was canceled in 2010. One key question surrounding this one: Will Chip Kelly still be Oregon’s coach when this game kicks off?
Why you should watch: Expect lots of points, and it's also the final game for Collin Klein at Kansas State and Kenjon Barner at Oregon. Last year's Fiesta Bowl was one of the best matchups of the bowl season and expect much of the same in 2013.
3. Chick-fil-A Bowl – LSU (10-2) vs. Clemson (10-2)
Date and Time: Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET
The Chick-fil-A Bowl is usually one of the best matchups outside of the BCS and 2012 certainly lives up to that hype. LSU was one defensive stop against Alabama from playing for the SEC Championship and won at least 10 games for the sixth time in eight seasons. Clemson is 1-1 against SEC opponents this year, beating Auburn in the season opener and losing to South Carolina on Nov. 24. The Tigers own one of college football’s top offenses, averaging 42.3 points a game. The chess match between Clemson’s offense against LSU’s defense should be one of the top O's vs. X's battles this bowl season.
Why you should watch: Who wouldn't want to watch a Tigers vs. Tigers bowl matchup? There's also the ACC vs. SEC storyline. And the chess match between Clemson's offense against LSU's defense. Needless to say, pickup a Chick-fil-A sandwich and waffle fries and grab a seat on the recliner.
4. Rose Bowl – Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5)
Date and Time: Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET
After watching Oregon and Wisconsin trade scores in last season’s Rose Bowl, points could be a premium in the 2013 edition. Stanford and Wisconsin will be a war in the trenches, as the Cardinal hope to hold the Badgers’ powerful rushing attack in check. Stanford’s offense improved in the second half of the season, largely due to the emergence of quarterback Kevin Hogan. Considering both teams are strong on defense and on the ground, a key play by Hogan or Wisconsin’s Curt Phillips could be just enough to win. The Badgers have lost back-to-back Rose Bowl games.
Why you should watch: How about the return of Barry Alvarez to the Wisconsin sideline for one more game? Also, both teams mirror each other in a lot of ways, so expect a physical game with plenty of good battles in the trenches.
5. Cotton Bowl – Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2)
Date and Time: Jan. 4 at 8 p.m. ET
Even though the Cotton Bowl was pressured not to setup a Texas-Texas A&M matchup, it ended up with a solid game between two former Big 12 rivals. Oklahoma also just missed out on a BCS bowl, even though its only losses came against Kansas State (Fiesta Bowl) and Notre Dame (BCS title). The Sooners’ defense allowed at least 30 points in three out of their final four games, which has to be a concern against Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The redshirt freshman claimed the 2012 Heisman Trophy and ranks second nationally with 383.3 yards of total offense per game. Oklahoma has won eight out of the last nine matchups against Texas A&M, including a 41-25 game last season.
Why you should watch: The Cotton Bowl features teams from two of the top conferences in the nation, and it's also the first game for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel after winning the Heisman Trophy. And this matchup is on a Friday night, so if you are looking for a way to wind down after a long week at work, the Cotton Bowl is the perfect medicine.
6. Capital One Bowl – Nebraska (10-3) vs. Georgia (11-2)
Date and Time: Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Considering how the conference championship games turned out for both teams, there certainly has to be a feeling of disappointment by having to play in Orlando. However, if Nebraska and Georgia are motivated, this should be one of the best bowl matchups outside of the BCS. After the Cornhuskers were shredded for 539 rushing yards against Wisconsin, the Bulldogs have to be licking their chops. Freshmen backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 1,983 yards and 24 touchdowns this year. This matchup also features an exciting quarterback duel between Georgia’s Aaron Murray (34 TDs) and Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez (31 TDs).
Why you should watch: Both of these teams fell just short of winning their conference title and have combined for a 21-5 overall mark. There's also two talented quarterbacks - Aaron Murray and Taylor Martinez - along with three standout running backs - Rex Burkhead, Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley.
7. Sugar Bowl – Louisville (10-2) vs. Florida (11-1)
Date and Time: Jan. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Florida has one of the nation’s best resumes but also has some puzzling results, including close victories over Louisiana-Lafayette and Missouri. The Gators knocked off Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State, but a loss to Georgia prevented Will Muschamp’s team from having a chance to play for the national title. Louisville won the Big East title with a 20-17 win over Rutgers, which featured a gutsy performance from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, playing with a broken wrist and sprained ankle. With over a month to heal, Bridgewater should be close to 100 percent, which should give the Cardinals a chance to hang around in this matchup. There’s also an underlying coaching theme, as Louisville’s Charlie Strong worked at Florida from 2002-09.
Why you should watch: With a full month to heal, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should be close to 100 percent from his wrist and ankle injuries suffered against Connecticut. Bridgewater is a Florida native and he will give the Gators' secondary a challenge on Jan. 2. Considering the improvement from Florida from 2011 to 2012, this team could use the Sugar Bowl as a springboard to a national title run in 2013.
8. Holiday Bowl – Baylor (7-5) vs. UCLA (9-4)
Date and Time: Dec. 27 at 9:45 p.m. ET
The Holiday Bowl seems to bring out the best in offense, so expect plenty of fireworks when Baylor and UCLA meet on Dec. 27. The Bears were one of the hottest teams in the Big 12 to finish 2012, winning four out of their final five games, with the only loss coming to Oklahoma. Baylor leads the nation in total offense, while quarterback Nick Florence kept the passing attack going without Robert Griffin, throwing for 4,121 yards and 31 scores. UCLA won the Pac-12 South in coach Jim Mora’s first season and fell just short of a trip to the Rose Bowl. The Bruins have a dynamic offense and the combination of quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin should test a shaky Baylor defense.
Why you should watch: Offense, offense and more offense. This could be the highest scoring game of the bowl season.
9. Outback Bowl – South Carolina (10-2) vs. Michigan (8-4)
Date and Time: Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Even though both teams had its sights set on a bigger bowl game this year, the Outback Bowl should be another entertaining Big Ten-SEC matchup. The time off from the season finale is good news for both teams, as South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw missed the game against Clemson with a foot injury and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is also banged up. Michigan could use the month off to find a fix for its rushing attack, which sputtered when Fitzgerald Toussaint was lost for the year with a leg injury. Expect Florida native Denard Robinson to play a quarterback/running back hybrid role for Michigan in his final game in a Wolverine uniform.
Why you should watch: A classic SEC vs. Big Ten bowl game. The Big Ten had a miserable regular season but an upset or two against the SEC in bowl games would make things a little better. Watching Denard Robinson against South Carolina's front four will be one of the more intriguing matchups of the postseason.
10. Orange Bowl – Florida State (11-2) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1)
Date and Time: Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET
For the first time in the BCS era, a MAC team will make an appearance in a BCS bowl. The Huskies aren’t the strongest non-BCS squad to play in a big-time bowl, as they lost to Iowa in Week 1 and scored a one-point victory over a 2-9 Army team in Week 3. Also, coach Dave Doeren left for NC State after the MAC Championship victory over Kent State. However, Northern Illinois features one of the nation’s most exciting players in quarterback Jordan Lynch and an offense that averages 40.8 points per game. The Huskies’ high-powered attack will be tested by a Florida State defense that ranks second nationally in yards allowed and is giving up just 15.1 points per game. The Seminoles will be without coordinator Mark Stoops in this game, who left to take the head coaching job at Kentucky. If Florida State is motivated, the Seminoles should overwhelm Northern Illinois with its speed and depth.
Why you should watch: Can Northern Illinois pull off the upset? After hearing a month of talk about how they don't belong, expect the Huskies to have plenty of motivation on Jan. 1.
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