Florida State-Auburn BCS title matchup tops 2013-14 bowl rankings
It's the most ... wonderful time ... of the year.
You can already hear ESPN's ubiquitous bowl season promo reminding us that the holidays aren't complete without stockings, eggnog and the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.
Ranking the bowls has become my annual December tradition, with this year's column marking the 11th edition. Some years the list starts out juicy and tails off by about No. 12. This year's, on the other hand, boasts the kind of depth Bob Stoops would appreciate in a conference. The top is a little bit underwhelming. In fact, two of the three most lopsided point spreads come in the Sugar and Fiesta bowls. But the bottom half is much stronger than usual. For once, there isn't a single matchup between 6-6 teams.
So enjoy this last-ever edition of my "1 through 35" rankings -- because next year we go to 39. And the Camellia Bowl might just be my breaking point.
1. BCS National Championship Game (Jan. 6): Florida State (13-0) vs. Auburn (12-1). Remember that Auburn-Oregon title game after the 2010 campaign that everyone assumed would turn into a shootout but instead finished 22-19? Let's try some reverse psychology. Florida State holds a Gus Malzahn offense to 63 rushing yards and Auburn picks off Jameis Winston four times. OK, stop laughing.
2. Rose (Jan. 1): Michigan State (12-1) vs. Stanford (11-2). Cardinal coach David Shaw said on Sunday that people who appreciate "real football' will love this game. Mark Dantonio presumably snarled in agreement. It's a matchup between two teams loaded with mean, hungry defenders, like Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy and Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough. It's also the 100th Rose Bowl.
3. Orange (Jan. 3): Ohio State (12-1) vs. Clemson (10-2). After both of his team's last two games, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said the Buckeyes need to get their pass defense "fixed." Now, they'll face Clemson's Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. Braxton Miller at safety, anybody?
4. Cotton (Jan. 3): Missouri (11-2) vs. Oklahoma State (10-2). This should be a fun little Big 12 reunion, as we'll find out whether the Cowboys suddenly gained SEC speed, too. Drool over the possible matchup of Mizzou wide receiver Dorial Green Beckham against Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert.
5. Sugar (Jan. 2): Alabama (11-1) vs. Oklahoma (10-2). It's a glamour matchup between two decorated programs. Unfortunately, it's also a colossal mismatch that Oklahoma can't win. As Utah learned in 2009, Alabama doesn't lose Sugar Bowls -- it "doesn't get up" for them.
6. Capital One (Jan. 1): South Carolina (10-2) vs. Wisconsin (9-3). Three talented running backs -- Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and James White and South Carolina's Mike Davis -- average a combined 336.7 yards per game. It's also the one-year-anniversary of Jadeveon Clowney's last big play.
7. Fiesta (Jan. 1): Baylor (11-1) vs. UCF (11-1). Everyone knows about Bryce Petty and the Bears' top-ranked total offense (624 yards per game), but be sure to check out Knights quarterback and fast-rising draft prospect Blake Bortles. An upset of the Big 12 champs would greatly enhance George O'Leary's résumé.
8. Russell Athletic (Dec. 28): Louisville (11-1) vs. Miami (9-3). Teddy Bridgewater will give his final NFL audition. If it goes anything like last year's Sugar Bowl, hello, Houston Texans. Miami won't have injured star tailback Duke Johnson, but keep an eye on standout linebacker Denzel Perryman.
9. Las Vegas (Dec. 21): Fresno State (11-1) vs. USC (9-4). Bulldogs quarterback Derek Carr has passed for a staggering 4,866 yards with 48 touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Trojans will play for their third head coach of the season (Clay Helton). There's a high potential for crazy here.
10. Sun (Dec. 31): UCLA (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (8-4). Come for Brett Hundley, stay for Myles Jack, the Bruins' sensation who won Pac-12 offensive AND defensive freshman of the year honors. It's also Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas' swan song. May it somehow be interception-free.
11. Alamo (Dec. 30): Oregon (10-2) vs. Texas (8-4). Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota should be rested and healthy, which should benefit Oregon's already explosive running game. It also means this is a nightmare matchup for Texas. You won't be able to look away.
12. Outback (Jan. 1): LSU (9-3) vs. Iowa (8-4). The last time these programs met in a New Year's Day bowl in 2005, Iowa won on a walk-off 56-yard touchdown pass, and Nick Saban promptly left for the Miami Dolphins. Just think how much wackier things could get with Les Miles in the mix.
13. Chick-fil-A (Dec. 31): Duke (10-3) vs. Texas A&M (8-4). Johnny Manziel is apt to go off in what will likely be his likely final college game, especially against Duke's 72nd-ranked defense. He'll finish up just in time to celebrate New Year's Eve, surely by playing cards in a quiet Atlanta hotel room.
14. Fight Hunger (Dec. 27): BYU (8-4) vs. Washington (8-4). In the Huskies' last game before beginning the Chris Petersen era, quarterback Keith Price and running back Bishop Sankey will go up against a stout BYU defense. Cougars linebacker Kyle Van Noy will look to reprise last season's Poinsettia Bowl clinic.
15. Gator (Jan 1): Georgia (8-4) vs. Nebraska (8-4). You know it's New Year's Day when Bo Pelini's Cornhuskers are playing against an SEC East team in Florida. Georgia won't have Aaron Murray, but don't forget about tailback Todd Gurley, one of the lone survivors of the Bulldogs' 2013 injury extravaganza.
16. Holiday (Dec. 30): Arizona State (10-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5). Sure, the Sun Devils lost the Pac-12 title game in disappointing fashion, but the Red Raiders have lost five straight. This may come down to the battle between Arizona State's superior talent and its own disinterest.
17. Poinsettia (Dec. 26): Northern Illinois (12-1) vs. Utah State (8-5). It's the last stand for Northern Illinois Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch, who needs just 119 rushing yards to become the sport's first member of the 2,000 passing yards/2,000 rushing yards club. Interestingly, Utah State allows just 107.4 rushing yards per game.
18. AdvoCare V100 (Dec. 31): Arizona (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5). The nation's top two rushers, Boston College's Andre Williams (175.2 yards per game) and Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey (156.0), will likely carry the ball a combined 85 times. This game kicks off at 12:30 p.m. ET and might be over by 2.
19. Hawaii (Dec. 24): Boise State (8-4) vs. Oregon State (6-6). The Beavers lost their last five games. The Broncos lost their most games in eight years, not to mention their head coach. This being the bowl business, somehow both teams will end their seasons in Hawaii, not Albuquerque.
20. BBVA Compass (Jan. 4): Vanderbilt (8-4) vs. Houston (8-4). Apparently, you can spell BBVA Compass without P-I-T-T. Both teams got snubbed by bowls that took 6-6 squads ahead of them, but hey, Vandy is playing in January. There was a time when the Commodores never made it past November.
21. Buffalo Wild Wings (Dec. 28): Michigan (7-5) vs. Kansas State (7-5). Michigan's fight song specifically proclaims the Wolverines "champions of the West," so they must have already won this game in 1903. Unfortunately, Bill Snyder probably can't wear his trusted Cotton Bowl windbreaker to this game.
22. Music City (Dec. 30): Ole Miss (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (7-5). The last time we saw the Rebels, they were fumbling into the end zone in the Egg Bowl. The last time we saw the Jackets, they were blowing a 20-point lead against Georgia. In a game that should go back and forth, the team that has the ball last could lose.
23. Belk (Dec. 28): Cincinnati (9-3) vs. North Carolina (6-6). Last year's fantastic Cincinnati-Duke showdown managed to turn Belk into an instantaneous verb, adjective and hashtag for a night. The Bearcats, oft-jilted by the ACC, will look to take out their frustration on commissioner John Swofford's alma mater.
24. Pinstripe (Dec. 28): Notre Dame (8-4) vs. Rutgers (6-6). The Fighting Irish are prohibitive favorites. There will probably be more Notre Dame than Rutgers fans at a game in New York City. Yet when the final whistle sounds, Rutgers will be a Big Ten football school. Good prank, Jim Delany.
25. Texas (Dec. 27): Minnesota (8-4) vs. Syracuse (6-6). How are we supposed to keep track of this game from year to year when its name keeps changing? Is it the Texas Bowl or the Houston Bowl or the Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl? It's so confusing. The only constant here is the Gophers.
26. Little Caesars (Dec. 26): Bowling Green (10-3) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6). This is the Panthers' third consecutive six-win season, but it feels like their 33rd. Bowling Green will play in the same stadium (Ford Field) where it won last week's MAC championship, though without head coach Dave Clawson.
27. Liberty (Dec. 31): Rice (10-3) vs. Mississippi State (6-6). Mississippi State alums figure to overrun Memphis with cowbells. Rice alums figure to mechanically engineer a method for drowning them out.
28. Military (Dec. 27): Marshall (9-4) vs. Maryland (7-5). Three years after Maryland ran off Ralph Friedgen following a Military Bowl victory, Randy Edsall has finally managed to lead the Terps back to the same stage.
29. New Mexico (Dec. 21): Colorado State (7-6) vs. Washington State (6-6). Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday averages 54.7 pass attempts per game, and he's about to face the nation's 111th-ranked pass defense. If Wazzu wins, his arm might not be able to lift the bowl trophy.
30. Famous Idaho Potato (Dec. 21): Buffalo (8-4) vs. San Diego State (7-5). Buffalo stud linebacker Khalil Mack has 19 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, three interceptions and far more experience in cold weather than anyone on San Diego State.
31. GoDaddy (Jan. 5): Ball State (10-2) vs. Arkansas State (7-5). It's a dream come true for those Ball State fans who held up "We Want 'Bama" signs during one of their Wednesday night MACtion games. Let us know if Mobile is everything you imagined and more.
32. Armed Forces (Dec. 30): Middle Tennessee (8-4) vs. Navy (7-4). It's unpatriotic to make jokes about this bowl. Midshipmen quarterback Keenan Reynolds hails from a town just 25 minutes from Middle Tennessee's campus. That's all I've got.
33. Beef 'O' Brady's (Dec. 23): East Carolina (9-3) vs. Ohio (7-5). The Bobcats lost three of their last four games by scores of 30-3, 49-0 and 44-13, respectively. They still somehow made a bowl, even with nine eligible teams to spare.
34. New Orleans (Dec. 21): Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) vs. Tulane (7-5). This all-Louisiana bowl game might not make for the most compelling football. But my gosh, the tailgating cuisine might get written up by Zagat.
35. Heart of Dallas (Jan. 1): North Texas (8-4) vs. UNLV (7-5). At the dawn of 2014, the least interesting matchup of bowl season is a New Year's Day game played in the Cotton Bowl. That sound you heard was 1964 turning over in its grave.