Oklahoma has been the Big 12’s headliner this season, but the conference will be well represented throughout the bowl schedule. Eight teams are in the postseason, which is an increase from the six that qualified in 2016 as Big 12 teams went 4-2 in their bowl games.
The Sooners’ return to the College Football Playoff is the highlight for this bowl season, but it’s far from the only intriguing matchup involving Big 12 teams. In fact, if it weren’t for some extenuating circumstances, one could argue there’s very little separating many of these matchups in terms of “watchability.”
Note: All times are ET.
1. Rose Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal) – Georgia (12-1) vs. Oklahoma (12-1)
Jan. 1 – 5 p.m., ESPN
Is it really any surprise that this game leads this list? For starters, you have the Heisman Trophy winner going up against one of the nation’s top defenses. Among their impressive statistics, the Bulldogs come into this game ranked second in the FBS against the pass (158.3 ypg).
But the offense vs. defense theme doesn’t stop there. What about Lincoln Riley vs. Kirby Smart? Oklahoma’s massive front line vs. Georgia’s front seven? And the Sooners’ playmakers vs. a defense stacked with athleticism, speed and talent on all three levels? But you didn’t need me to tell you to tune in and watch this one, right?
2. Alamo Bowl – Stanford (9-4) vs. TCU (10-3)
Dec. 28 – 9 p.m., ESPN
It’s the Alamo Bowl but this game could feel and look more like a Rose Bowl matchup if Heisman runner-up Bryce Love is able to return to full strength after the long layoff. Love remained effective even though he was hobbled by an ankle injury in the second half of the Cardinal’s schedule but if healthy, the nation’s second-leading rusher vs. TCU’s No. 4-ranked defense will be a treat for all college football fans.
Also what about the coaching chess match between offensive mastermind David Shaw and defensive genius Gary Patterson? And while most of the attention will be on Love and the Horned Frogs’ defense, don’t forget about dual-threat quarterbacks K.J. Costello and Kenny Hill. Their success (or lack of) could determine the outcome of this game.
3. Camping World Bowl – Virginia Tech (9-3) vs. Oklahoma State (9-3)
Dec. 28 – 5:15 p.m., ESPN
Continuing a theme, this matchup in Orlando features the Cowboys’ high-powered offense vs. the Hokies’ stout defense. The head coaching pairing of Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente and Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy is a good one, but it’s Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster tasked with coming up with a game plan to slow down Mason Rudolph and company. And not to be outdone, Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson is capable of making his own share of plays, especially against a Cowboys defense that’s giving up 400 yards per game.
4. Liberty Bowl – Iowa State (7-5) vs. Memphis (10-2)
Dec. 30 – 12:30 p.m., ABC
Two of the more surprising teams this year are set to tussle in Memphis. The Tigers will have the benefit of playing on their own home turf and boast one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. The Cyclones struggled down the stretch but have had their share of success against slowing down prolific attacks. Not only are the head coaches (Matt Campbell and Mike Norvell) a pair of rising stars in their profession, this also will give an opportunity for underrated players like Memphis wide receiver Anthony Miller and his Iowa State counterpart, Allen Lazard, to shine in the national spotlight.
5. Birmingham Bowl – Texas Tech (6-6) vs. South Florida (9-2)
Dec. 23 – 12 p.m., ESPN
Points should be a plenty in this game as the Red Raiders and Bulls each average more than 34 per game. USF’s defense has been fared better statistically speaking, but Texas Tech definitely played the tougher schedule. Still, the focus will be on the quarterbacks as Nic Shimonek and Quinton Flowers look to light up the scoreboard at historic Legion Field.
6. Cactus Bowl – Kansas State (7-5) vs. UCLA (6-6)
Dec. 26 – 9 p.m., ESPN
Bruins fans are no doubt excited about the dawn of the Chip Kelly era, but this is most likely quarterback Josh Rosen’s last game for UCLA. The Wildcats lost starting quarterback Jesse Ertz to injury earlier this season and will probably try and chew up as much clock as possible by running the ball against a Bruins defense that ranks second to the last in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game (282.7). If UCLA can’t get any stops, will Rosen even get many chances to throw?
7. Texas Bowl – Texas (7-5) vs. Missouri (6-6)
Dec. 27 – 9 p.m., ESPN
On paper, the Longhorns’ D vs. the Tigers’ explosive O is appealing, but it’s hard to know which Missouri offense will show up with coordinator Josh Heupel taking the UCF head coaching job and offensive line coach Glen Ellarbee deciding to join him. Texas fans are hoping that this game may serve as a jumping off point for bigger and better things in Tom Herman’s second season leading the Longhorns.
8. Heart of Dallas Bowl – Utah (6-6) vs. West Virginia (7-5)
Dec. 26 – 1:30 p.m., ESPN
Will Grier’s injury takes a lot of the luster out of this matchup, as the Mountaineers’ offense just isn’t the same without their starting quarterback, as evidenced by their back-to-back losses to close out the regular season. The Utes also come into this one struggling, losers of six of their last eight games. The defense hasn’t played up to typical Utah standards for most of the season, but it may not matter against a Grier-less WVU offense.