Once again, most eyes will be on the Sooners in the College Football Playoff
The Big 12 frequently ends up on as the butt of jokes in college sports, but seven of 10 teams qualifying for bowl games this year is nothing to laugh at. For the second year in a row, that includes the Oklahoma Sooners earning a spot in the College Football Playoff.
While OU is playing in one of the highest-profile games of the postseason, its biggest rival also has one of the bowl’s season headline matchups. The Texas Longhorns will get a chance to restore some of long-lost respect on New Year’s Day in the Sugar Bowl versus the Georgia Bulldogs.
Those two games set the pace on the watchability scale for Big 12 bowl games this season.
Note: All times are ET
1. Orange Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal) — Oklahoma (12-1) vs. Alabama (13-0)
Dec. 29 — 8 p.m., ESPN
Getting two touchdowns from the oddsmakers, OU is the biggest underdog of any Big 12 team playing in a bowl game this season. However, the stakes of the Sooners’ Orange Bowl matchup with the Crimson Tide elevate this game to the highest level of watchability.
College Football Playoff backdrop aside, watching Nick Saban and the Alabama defense try to stop one of the most devastating offenses in college football history is manna for even the most casual fans of the sport. Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray might be playing his final game as well.
Unless it quickly turns into a blowout, this could end up as the most-watched bowl game of the year.
2. Sugar Bowl — Texas (9-4) vs. Georgia (11-2)
Jan. 1 — 8:45 p.m., ESPN
Quite the juxtaposition between these two programs. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart spent the hours after his squad’s loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game lobbying for inclusion in the playoff. A trip to the Sugar Bowl might be a disappointing consolation prize for the team that played for a national title last year.
The Longhorns have to be thrilled with a bid to a New Year’s Six game, their first premier bowl trip since losing in the 2010 Rose Bowl. Head coach Tom Herman has a knack for getting his teams pumped up for these occasions.
3. Alamo Bowl — Iowa State (8-4) vs. Washington State (10-2)
Dec. 28 — 9 p.m., ESPN
Football junkies had to be thrilled when this game was announced. On one side, they get Air Raid guru Mike Leach’s Cougars. On the other, the Cyclones have gained a deserved reputation as one of the best spread defenses in the country.
Wazzu QB Gardner Minshew will play his swan song in San Antonio.
4. Liberty Bowl — Oklahoma State (6-6) vs. Missouri (8-4)
Dec. 31 — 3:45 p.m., ESPN
Is the animus between Mizzou and its old Big 12 mates still a thing six years after the school left for the SEC? We’ll find out when the Cowboys and Tigers take the field in Memphis on New Year’s Eve.
The Pokes will be playing without star running back Justice Hill, who is sitting out of the game in preparation for the NFL draft. That takes some bite out of OSU’s potent attack, but it should create opportunities for talented freshman Chuba Hubbard to make more of a name for himself on the national stage.
5. Camping World Bowl — West Virginia (8-3) vs. Syracuse (9-3)
Dec. 28 — 5:15 p.m., ESPN
This initially looked like one of the more intriguing matchups of the bowl season. It lost plenty of luster when WVU QB Will Grier announced he won’t be playing. Mountaineers tackle Yodny Cajuste also is sitting out. Head coach Dana Holgorsen will need to get creative if he wants his team to come close to keeping up with its manic scoring pace of 42.3 points per game.
Syracuse vying for a 10-win season should generate interest nationally. It would be more compelling to see these two teams playing at full strength, though.
6. Texas Bowl — Baylor (6-6) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6)
Dec. 27 — 9 p.m., ESPN
Two 6-6 teams squaring off a couple days after Christmas – party time.
If you’re looking for a silver lining, we’ll get a chance to watch two of college football’s overachievers face off. The Bears have done miraculous work under head coach Matt Rhule as they’ve worked to overcome the stench left on the program by Art Briles’ regime. The Commodores, meanwhile, need a win to secure their first winning campaign since 2013.
7. Cheez-It Bowl — TCU (6-6) vs. California (7-5)
Dec. 26 — 9 p.m., ESPN
Points will be in short supply in Phoenix: Vegas set the total on this game at 40, the lowest of any of this year’s bowls. That shouldn’t come as a surprise if you’ve watched these two teams play this year.
Cal should be primed to play in a postseason game for the first time in three years. Harder to gauge the motivation of the Horned Frogs. Gary Patterson’s team slogged through an injury-plagued season and might be ready to turn the page on 2018.
— 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.