The 2014 bowl season could have gone better for the Big 12.
Conference co-champs Baylor and TCU found themselves on the outside of the first-ever College Football Playoff looking in. Adding insult to injury, the seven conference teams to make bowl games ran up a combined record of 2-5. That included a couple ugly losses by Oklahoma and Texas.
This year’s bowl slate includes a slew of attractive matchups in high-profile games. Tops among them is a Playoff game featuring two of the best teams in the country.
1. Orange Bowl – Clemson (13-0) vs. Oklahoma (11-1)
Dec. 31 – 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
The powers that be shut the Big 12 out of the College Football Playoff a year ago, but Bob Stoops and the Sooners broke through this season. Oddly enough, they’re facing the team that smoked them last winter in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Plenty has changed since then, though, for both squads. Vegas has made OU a small favorite, indicative of how evenly matched these two elite teams are. This isn’t just the most attractive bowl game involving the Big 12, it’s the most attractive of all the bowl games, period.
2. Alamo Bowl – TCU (10-2) vs. Oregon (9-3)
Jan. 2 – 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
Gary Patterson once again proved in 2015 that he’s one of the top coaches in the country. His Horned Frogs fought through a litany of injuries and setbacks to finish with 10 regular season wins. The Alamo Bowl will mark the final time star quarterback Trevone Boykin takes the field in TCU colors, which should have his team fired up to take on the Ducks, who finished the season on fire. These two offenses in a dome has all the makings to an entertaining, high-scoring affair.
3. Russell Athletic Bowl – North Carolina (11-2) vs. Baylor (9-3)
Dec. 29 – 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Speaking of high-scoring affairs, this game pits two of the most prolific offenses in the country against one another - and just about equally mediocre defenses. The Bears had their hopes of a Big 12 three-peat dashed with a two-game losing streak to close the season. They also lost their top two quarterbacks to injury, which means Art Briles is relying on third-string sophomore QB Chris Johnson to end the slide. The Tar Heels have plenty of momentum coming off an unexpected ACC Coastal Division championship, so the Bears can’t afford to sulk about missing out on a higher-profile bowl.
4. Sugar Bowl – Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Ole Miss (9-3)
Jan. 1 – 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
As touchdown underdogs playing in Ole Miss’s backyard, the Cowboys drew one of the toughest bowl assignments of any Big 12 team. Despite their ups and downs this season, the Rebels had one of the strongest teams in the SEC this year, combining an explosive offense with a talented, attacking D. In light of the beating Ole Miss took from TCU in last year’s Peach Bowl, Hugh Freeze should have his team’s attention. Mike Gundy and his staff did an underrated job getting OSU this far this year, and they’ll need to keep that up if the Pokes want a win here.
5. Texas Bowl – LSU (8-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
Dec. 29 – 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
The award for “Bowl Most Likely to Get Weird” goes to this matchup between the Tigers and Red Raiders. LSU coach Les Miles has a taste for the absurd, while Tech has never met a back-and-forth scoring fest it didn’t like. This game also features the most lopsided mismatch of any bowl on the calendar: Leonard Fournette versus Tech’s abysmal run defense. Look for Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury to pull out all the stops to make up for his team’s inability to stop LSU’s ground game. Look for Miles to pull out all the stops because he feels like it.
6. Liberty Bowl – Kansas State (6-6) vs. Arkansas (7-5)
Jan. 2 – 3:20 p.m. ET, ESPN
Underestimating Bill Snyder is never a good idea. On its face, however, this game feels like the one that could get away from the Big 12 participant. The Razorbacks are favored by nearly two touchdowns with good reason. KSU got by with the customary Snyder wizardry this year, but this is one of his weakest teams in years. Bret Bielema will likely take the opportunity to pour on the points if he finds himself in that position.
7. Cactus Bowl – West Virginia (7-5) vs. Arizona State (6-6)
Jan. 2 – 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Dana Holgorsen won’t lose his job if the Mountaineers go down this postseason, but it sounds as though he’d still be well-advised to win this one. Luckily for Holgo, this sets up for a stinker from the Sun Devils, who expected to contend for the Pac-12 South and just saw offensive coordinator Mike Norvell take off for the head coaching job at Memphis. On the other hand, that’s a heck of a road trip for WVU. Good idea for all parties involved to stash this one outside of prime time.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.