College football’s regular season is over and the postseason is set. 35 bowl games take place, starting on Dec. 21 and stretching until the national championship on Jan. 6. Which bowls should you tune into?
Athlon ranks and previews all of the matchups from the must-see to the ones you can avoid.
Ranking the 35 Bowl Games: Must-Watch to Must-Miss
1. BCS Championship – Florida State (13-0) vs. Auburn (12-1) – Jan. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET
This is it. The final national championship before the playoff era (for better or worse) is an unlikely, but intriguing matchup. Florida State has been the most dominant team in the nation this year, but Auburn is red hot, riding a nine-game winning streak to Pasadena. Can the Seminoles stop the Tigers’ ground game? Florida State’s first-team defense has yet to allow a rushing score in 2013 and only one team has rushed for more than 150 yards over the last seven games. Quarterback Jameis Winston – the likely Heisman winner – and the Florida State receiving corps is a tough matchup for Auburn’s secondary. With both teams averaging over 40 points a game, the BCS Championship shouldn’t be short on offensive fireworks. Can the SEC close out the BCS era with an eighth consecutive national title? Or will Florida State end the SEC’s run of dominance?
2. Orange – Clemson (10-2) vs. Ohio State (12-1) – Jan. 3 at 8 p.m. ET
Clemson and Ohio State have only one previous meeting – a rather infamous Gator Bowl matchup in 1978. The Buckeyes are 24-1 under Urban Meyer, while the Tigers have won 31 games over the last three years – the most in a three-year span in program history. This bowl features one of the best quarterback duels of the postseason, with Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd combining for 70 touchdowns in 2013. With a berth in the Orange Bowl, the Buckeyes have played in all five BCS games since 1998.
3. Rose – Michigan State (12-1) vs. Stanford (11-2) – Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET
Most of the BCS bowls seem to favor offense and high-scoring games, but defense should win out in Pasadena on Jan. 1. Michigan State and Stanford rank in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense and have combined for 71 sacks in 2013. With both teams among the nation’s elite on defense, which offense can make the most plays? Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan is coming off a strong performance in the Pac-12 title game, throwing for 277 yards and one touchdown. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook tossed only five picks in 344 attempts this year.
4. Cotton – Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Missouri (11-2) – Jan. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET
With the Cotton and Orange Bowls on the same night, Jan. 3 is shaping up to be one of the better days of the bowl season. Oklahoma State and Missouri are former Big 12 foes, with the Cowboys winning four out of the last five against the Tigers. Both teams have talented pieces on defense, but this should be a high-scoring matchup. One of the bowl season’s intriguing one-on-one player matchups should be Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham taking on Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert. Even though both teams fell short of reaching the BCS, the Cotton Bowl is a nice consolation prize.
5. Capital One – Wisconsin (9-3) vs. South Carolina (10-2) – Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Much like the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Capital One Bowl always has one of the must-see matchups of the postseason. The SEC has won four out of the last five meetings against the Big Ten in this game, but Wisconsin should have a good chance to end that run on Jan. 1. Led by the one-two punch of Melvin Gordon and James White, the Badgers average 283 rushing yards per game. South Carolina’s defensive line is among the best in the nation, which will challenge the Badgers in the trenches. End Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Kelcy Quarles are future NFL standouts, and both players have to win the battle at the point of attack to slow down Gordon and White. South Carolina also features a standout running back (Mike Davis), but quarterback Connor Shaw is one of the nation’s most underrated players, throwing only one interception on 259 attempts in 2013.
6. Sugar – Alabama (11-1) vs. Oklahoma (10-2) – Jan. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET
On paper, this is a great matchup between two of the top programs of the BCS era. But realistically, Oklahoma isn’t the best matchup for Alabama. The last time Alabama played in the Sugar Bowl, it was upset 31-17 by Utah. Considering the Crimson Tide was a heavy favorite to win the title in the preseason, there has to be some disappointment to be in New Orleans – instead of Pasadena. Oklahoma’s offensive strength is on the ground (235.8 ypg), but Alabama is holding opponents to 108.3 yards per game. The Sooners probably can’t line up and run over the Crimson Tide’s defense, so it’s important for Bob Stoops to get consistent production in the passing game, whether it’s Blake Bell or Trevor Knight under center.
7. Alamo – Oregon (10-2) vs. Texas (8-4) – Dec. 30 at 6:45 p.m. ET
Even though the combined final record for both teams is 18-6, it’s fair to say 2013 was a slight disappointment for Oregon and Texas. The Ducks had national title aspirations, but losses to Stanford and Arizona prevented an opportunity to play in a BCS game. The Longhorns rallied from a slow start to get back into Big 12 title contention. However, Texas fell short against Baylor and Oklahoma State, dropping Mack Brown’s team to 8-4. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota suffered a knee injury late in the season and didn’t seem to be 100 percent in the final weeks. With a month to heal, Mariota should be closer to full strength, which should help the Ducks’ offense regain their early 2013 form. This Brown’s final game on the Longhorns’ sideline, so there's some extra motivation for Texas on Dec. 30. With Mariota already announcing his intention to return in 2014, Oregon can use this game as a springboard for a run at a Pac-12 title next season.
8. Fiesta – Baylor (11-1) vs. UCF (11-1) – Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Not only is this matchup the first between Baylor and UCF, but it’s also the first BCS appearance for both schools. The month off should help the Bears’ offense, with receiver Tevin Reese (wrist) and running back Lache Seastrunk (groin) nursing late-season injuries. Baylor averaged 61.2 points a game through the first nine weeks but was held to just 29.3 per game average over the final three contests. Eight of UCF’s games were decided by seven points or less, but the Knights have the firepower to hang around in this game. Quarterback Blake Bortles is efficient (seven picks) and averages 273.3 passing yards per game. Running back Storm Johnson leads the American Athletic Conference with an average of 84.6 rushing yards per game.
9. Russell Athletic – Miami (9-3) vs. Louisville (11-1) – Dec. 28 at 6:45 p.m. ET
Next season, Miami and Louisville will be ACC foes. But for now, the Cardinals-Hurricanes matchup is just an intriguing bowl game, as there is some familiarity between these two programs and players. Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was committed to Miami during his recruiting process, and the Cardinals pluck a lot of prospects from the state of Florida. Coach Al Golden has Miami on the right track, and a win over Louisville would give the Hurricanes double-digit victories for the first time since 2003. With Bridgewater projected to be one of the top-five picks in the 2014 NFL Draft, this could be the final college game for the junior quarterback.
10. Las Vegas – Fresno State (11-1) vs. USC (9-4) – Dec. 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Derek Carr vs. USC’s defense is one of the must-see matchups from the pre-Christmas bowls. Fresno State’s senior signal-caller threw for 4,866 yards and 48 touchdowns this year, with receiver Davante Adams (122 catches) the primary target. The Trojans’ defense is the toughest matchup that Fresno State will see this year, especially in the trenches. USC’s defense generated 34 sacks this season and held four out of the last seven opponents to 17 points or less. The Trojans also lead the Pac-12 in pass defense and have intercepted 16 passes this year. Fresno State’s rush defense will be tested against a USC offense that averages 174.2 yards per game on the ground. While the Trojans aren’t short on talent, they will be led by an interim coach (Clay Helton) for this game. Will the motivation be there for USC?