We've already given you our initial thoughts on the BCS bowls and we are planning on previewing every game this bowl season. For now, let's take a look at the ten non-BCS bowl games that intrigue me the most:
#10 Ohio State (6-6) vs Florida (6-6), Gator Bowl, Jan 2nd
How could I resist? Urban Meyer's old team against his new team. I'm sure he will be far away from this game but his shadow lingers over what could be an ugly on field game. Ohio State finished by losing their last three games (all to bowl teams) and Florida finished up losing six of their last eight (all of their losses coming to bowl teams- five of which were ranked at the time they beat Florida). There is actually some really good offensive talent in this game like Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, Braxton Miller, Dan Herron and DeVier Posey. And of course there is the whole Ohio State vs the SEC storyline that gets good play this time every year. This won't be the pretty game but it's definitely one of the most intriguing. Will Muschamp needs a win in this game to ease the tension of the fanbase.
#9 Virginia (8-4) vs Auburn (7-5), Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec 31st
This is a game of two teams headed in opposite directions from where they stood last year. In Mike London's second year he has improved Virginia by four wins and has them moving in the right direction. The Cavs won six of their last eight including victories over two teams that were ranked at the time of the games (Georgia Tech and FSU). Virginia does have a stale taste in their mouths having been waxed by their instate rival Virginia Tech 38-0. Auburn on the other hand is headed in the opposite direction after winning the National Championship last year with Cam Newton and Nick Fairley. Yes, they lost a lot of players and played a really tough schedule but down the stretch they got pulverized in four of their last eight games. You can bet both of these teams will want to finish their years off with a victory.
#8 Iowa (7-5) vs Oklahoma (9-3), Insight Bowl, Dec 30th
On October 21st Oklahoma was sitting at 6-0 with an upcoming game against Texas Tech. If you would have told me they were headed for the Insight Bowl I would have laughed in your face. The tide turned for the Sooners and they lost half of their remaining six games. They have been decimated by injury at key positions and will be playing an Iowa team that is historically strong at the point of attack. Iowa finished up winning just two of their last five but they did beat two bowl teams (Michigan and Purdue). This is another game where both teams would like a victory to get them headed in the right direction for next season but it's probably more imporant for the underdog Hawkeyes to get a victory.
#7 NIU (10-3) vs Arkansas State (10-2), GoDaddy.com Bowl, Jan 8th
I bet you didn't have this one on your radar. Anytime you can match-up the winners of two conferences you should probably watch that game. NIU went 8-1 against MAC competition winning their last eight including a 63-60 barnburner against Toledo that those really dedicated college football fans know all about. NIU's QB Chandler Harnish has 1,382 yards rushing and 2,942 yards passing and has 37 TDs on the season. He's fun to watch. Arkansas State went undefeated in Sun Belt play and was one of the most surprising teams of the season. They were so good they got first year Head Coach Hugh Freeze, yep that coach from "The Blind Side", the head gig at Ole Miss. The Red Wolves also have a dual threat QB in Ryan Aplin. He's stats aren't as mind boggling as Harnish but they aren't too shabby and he knows how to win.
#6 Washington (7-5) vs Baylor (9-3), Alamo Bowl, Dec 29th
Baylor and Robert Griffin III were one of the funnest teams to watch this season from their opener against TCU to their last-second heroics against Oklahoma to their beatdown of the Longhorns. Baylor not only has hopeful Heisman Winner RG3 but they also have some really good offensive talent in WR Kendall Wright, WR Terrance Williams and RB Terrance Ganaway. Baylor also comes in on a five game win streak. Washington did not finish well this year as they dropped four of their last six. Three of those were against some really good competition (Oregon, Stanford and USC) but one of them was against Oregon State. Washington is 99th in the Nation in points allowed and Baylor is 6th in points scored. On paper this is a mis-match but that's what I thought when Washington re-matched Nebraska last year in the Holiday Bowl.
#5 Houston (12-1) vs Penn State (9-3), Ticket City Bowl, Jan 2nd
Based on their records both of these teams deserve to be in a higher ranking bowl but they've dropped to the TicketCity Bowl due to late season losses and scandal. The Cougars were one game from going to the Sugar Bowl and either finishing undefeated or getting Hawaii'd by their BCS opponent. Once upon a time Penn State was 8-1 and on top of the world. Then scandal hit and the rug was pulled out from beneath them. On the field, the Nittany Lions limped to the finish by losing two of their last three games and got bumped down in the bowl pecking order by a team that they beat just two games ago (and have a signficantly better record than). Penn State has a very good defense and Houston has a very good offense. Houston also will be playing the respect card as they lost a lot of respect when they got bombed by Southern Miss on National TV in their last game. The line on this game came out with Houston favored by 9 points (it has since moved towards Penn State) which I thought was a very intriguing line. If Penn State has it's way this game will be ugly to watch but I'm intrigued to see how it plays out.
#4 FSU (8-4) vs Notre Dame (8-4), Champs Sports Bowl, Dec 29th
These are two teams that have underperformed this year but they are two teams that remain on the National radar because of their history. FSU was supposed to be a Top 10 team and this was supposed to be Jimbo Fisher's break-through year but the young Seminoles did fulfill those expectations. Notre Dame was also supposed to significantly improve and was the team that I got the most flack over when we ranked them near the bottom of the Top 25 in our Pre-Season Poll. Both teams started out poorly as ND lost their first two games and FSU dropped three straight after winning their two opening creampuffs. Both of these two teams are on decent streaks right now as FSU has won 6 of 7 and Notre Dame has won 8 of 10. The winner of this one has some good momentum going into next season.
#3 Kansas State (10-2) vs Arkansas, Cotton Bowl, Jan 6th
This is a match-up of two teams in the Top 11 of the final BCS standings. Or we could also refer to it as two teams that finished higher than both teams that will be playing in the Sugar Bowl or the Orange Bowl. How does that happen? You also have an intrguing coaching match-up of Bobby Petrino against Bill Snyder. In addtion, we have two other interesting match-ups of strength vs weakness. We have the Kansas State running game (ranked 29th Nationally) against the Arkansas defense (79th against the run) and the Arkansas passing game (13th) against the Kansas State secondary (104th against the pass).
#2 Michigan State (10-3) vs Georgia (10-3), Outback Bowl, Jan 2nd
This is a re-match from the Capital One bowl game played on Jan 1st of 2009 where Georgia won 24 to 12. This game pits two teams that are fresh off of losses in their Conference Championship Game but both are very viable teams and both fanbases are eager to see their teams cap off the year with a win. Both teams have stingy defenses ranking in the top 20 of the FBS in points allowed. Georgia proved in the first half of their game against LSU that they are on the verge of having an elite defense but they aren't quite there. Of course, they also proved that they have really bad Special Teams play. Michigan State will be looking to send seniors Kirk Cousins, Keshawn Martin and BJ Cunningham out on a positive note while Georgia is looking to get more big game experience for their young team (leading passer is a soph, leading rusher a true freshman, leading receiver a true freshman and the defense has only two seniors on it's two deep depth chart) so they can build on it next season.
#1 Nebraska (9-3) vs South Carolina (10-2), Captial One Bowl, Jan 2nd
Jadeveon Clowney and Taylor Martinez are going to meet face to face at some point in this game and the results will probably be spectacular. But that's not the only reason to watch. Nebraska has not been horrible at turning the ball over this year but in two of their three losses they've been -2 in turnover margin. South Carolina has created 30 turnovers this year and has a very opportunistic defense. One match-up to watch will be to see if Nebraska can run the football against the Gamecocks. Against traditional offenses, the Gamecocks have been solid against the run but when they played The Citadel, Navy and Auburn they gave up over 240 yards in each of those games. Another fun thing to watch will be the continuing education of Gamecocks QB Connor Shaw. Going into the Clemson game I wasn't sure if he was an FBS-level QB. Coming out of that game (14/20 for 210 yds and 3 TD) I was wanting to see more to see if he could sustain the level of success he had in that game.