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Alabama-Notre Dame BCS game tops college football bowl picks

College Football Pickoff: Bowl Season
 
Saturday, Dec. 15
 
1 p.m. ET (ESPN) New Mexico Bowl: Arizona (7-5) vs. Nevada (7-5)
The season's first bowl pits the nation's top two rushers, Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey (146.4 yards per game) and Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson (141.9). Both should have success against the opposing defense (Nevada's ranks 86th, Arizona's 88th). But Wildcats quarterback Matt Scott (338.5 yards per game) may have the biggest day of all.
 
4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: No. 18 Utah State (10-2) vs. Toledo (9-3)
Utah State safety Will Davis (five INTs, 16 pass breakups) leads the nation's No. 5 defense (4.3 yards per play), which will pose a serious challenge for Rockets running back David Fluellen (132.7 yards per game). Toledo's defense, on the other hand, ranks 107th nationally (6.3 yards per play). Big things are in store for Aggies quarterback Chuckie Keeton (3,144 yards passing, 527 rushing).
 
Thursday, Dec. 20
 
8 p.m. ET (ESPN) Poinsettia Bowl: San Diego State (9-3) vs. BYU (7-5)
Using yards per play as a metric, BYU's defense ranked third nationally (4.4), trailing only Alabama and Florida State. In five losses, however, the Cougars averaged just 15.8 points. With quarterback Riley Nelson still recovering from a rib injury, BYU may not fare much better offensively. But its defense can slow down San Diego State's Top-25 rushing attack (5.1 yards per carry).
 
Friday, Dec. 21
 
7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl: Ball State (9-3) vs. UCF (9-4)
Ball State's three losses came to Clemson, Kent State and Northern Illinois, which finished a combined 33-5. UCF's losses came to Ohio State, Missouri and 10-3 Tulsa (twice). But whereas the Cardinals beat Indiana and bowl teams Ohio, Toledo and Central Michigan, the Knights beat 8-4 East Carolina and ... that's it. Pete Lembo's Cardinals pull the upset.
 
Saturday, Dec. 22
 
Noon ET (ESPN) New Orleans Bowl: East Carolina (8-4) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4)
You may remember the Ragin' Cajuns from last year's dramatic New Orleans Bowl victory over San Diego State, or, more recently, their upset bid about top-10 foe Florida. Hopefully they install better punt protection for the bowl game. Meanwhile, ECU's record is a byproduct of a weak C-USA schedule. It ranks just 98th in Football Outsiders' F/+ efficiency ratings.
 
3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) MAACO Las Vegas Bowl: No. 20 Boise State (10-2) vs. Washington (7-5)
The post-Kellen Moore Broncos regressed on offense, but they still fielded a top-10 defense (4.5 yards per play). They'll cause problems for Huskies quarterback Keith Price (18 touchdowns, 11 interceptions). But Washington's much-improved defense rose up against ranked foes Stanford (13 points), USC (24) and Oregon State (17). Justin Wilcox's unit will shake off its Apple Cup collapse.
 
Monday, Dec. 24
 
8 p.m. ET (ESPN) Hawaii Bowl: Fresno State (9-3) vs. SMU (6-6)
Three years ago, June Jones took his 12.5-point underdog Mustangs to Hawaii and routed Nevada, 45-10. It was one of those inexplicable, bowls-are-a-different-season results. SMU is again a 12.5-point underdog, and it will take a similarly unexplainable performance to top quarterback Derek Carr (36 touchdowns, five interceptions) and the explosive Bulldogs.
 
Wednesday, Dec. 26
 
7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Little Caesars Bowl: Western Kentucky (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (6-6)
New Hilltoppers coach Bobby Petrino will inherit the nation's top all-purpose runner, junior Antonio Andrews (248.1 yards per game), barring an NFL defection. He will not, however, retain the services of senior defensive end Quanterus Smith, who leads the nation in sacks per game (1.25). Those two stars will lift WKU to victory in the school's first bowl game.
 
Thursday, Dec. 27
 
3 p.m. ET (ESPN) Military Bowl: No. 24 San Jose State (10-2) vs. Bowling Green (8-4)
Circumstances are ripe for an upset. For one thing, San Jose State is playing under an interim coach, Kent Bear, who was previously an interim coach for Notre Dame in the 2004 Insight Bowl. For another thing, the Falcons won seven of their last eight games, and their 11th-ranked defense (4.6 yards per play) can slow down standout Spartans quarterback David Fales (72.1 completion percentage).
 
6:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Belk Bowl: Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Duke (6-6)
Duke will presumably be jacked up for its first bowl game in 18 years. Cincinnati, meanwhile, is going through its second coaching change in three years. But Duke's injury-riddled defense imploded down the stretch, allowing at least 41 points in five of its final six games, while the Bearcats' struggling offense got a boost from new starting quarterback Brendon Kay (3-1 as the starter).
 
9:45 p.m. ET (ESPN) Holiday Bowl: No. 17 UCLA (9-4) vs. Baylor (7-5)
The Bears have won three straight games, all against bowl teams, thanks in large part to running back Lache Seastrunk (166.3 yards per game during the streak). But it's hard to put faith in the nation's No. 104 defense (6.2 yards per play). Bruins star Johnathan Franklin (130.8 yards per game) could broach his career-high 217 yards in a reverse outcome of Baylor's 2011 Alamo Bowl win.
 
Friday, Dec. 28
 
2 p.m. ET (ESPN) Independence Bowl: Louisiana-Monroe (8-4) vs. Ohio (8-4)
The Warhawks and Bobcats are mid-major darlings whose coaches (ULM's Todd Berry and Ohio's Frank Solich) are still coaching them in a bowl. Warhawks quarterback Kolton Browning (34 total touchdowns, seven interceptions) should have time to throw, while an injury-riddled offensive line may struggle to protect Bobcats counterpart Tyler Tettleton (20 total touchdowns, three interceptions).
 
5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Russell Athletic Bowl: Rutgers (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6)
Frank Beamer's worst team in 20 years was at least decent on defense, especially on third down (29.8 percent conversion rate). But the Hokies gave up too many big plays (49 of 20-plus yards). Fortunately, they're facing an opponent that produced fewer 20-plus yard plays (40) than all but 13 teams nationally. Beamer will avoid a losing record.
 
9 p.m. ET (ESPN) Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl: Texas Tech (7-5) vs. Minnesota (6-6)
Texas Tech, which lost four of its last five games, may actually respond positively to coach Tommy Tuberville's departure. It also helps that the Red Raiders' struggling defense will face a lackluster Gophers' offense that's ranked 109th nationally (4.9 yards per play), shuffled quarterbacks all season and recently saw its top playmaker (wideout A.J. Barker) transfer.
 
Saturday, Dec. 29
 
11:45 a.m. ET (ESPN) Armed Forces Bowl: Air Force (6-6) vs. Rice (6-6)
There's no sugarcoating the fact that these are two bad teams. Rice checks in at 89th in the F/+ rankings; Air Force ranks 99th. The Owls have won their last four games, but their 110th-ranked rushing defense (5.1 yards per carry) will have its work cut out against running back Cody Getz and the Falcons' 16th-ranked rushing attack (5.2 yards per carry).
 
3:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) Pinstripe Bowl: West Virginia (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5)
Amazingly, the first team All-America quarterback in this game is not Mountaineers star Geno Smith, but Pro Football Weekly selection Ryan Nassib (3,619 yards, 24 touchdowns, nine interceptions). The Orange's touted draft prospect should have a field day against the nation's 119th-rated pass efficiency defense, as the Orange will outlast Smith, Tavon Austin and Co.
 
4 p.m. ET (ESPN2) Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Navy (8-4) vs. Arizona State (7-5)
Navy has played four BCS-conference opponents in it past eight bowl trips, losing three of those games. Given extra time to prepare, a more athletic foe like Arizona State can usually handle the Midshipmen's flexbone offense, which ranked 58th nationally in yards per play (5.8) this year. Meanwhile, Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly should have a big day.
 
6:45 p.m. ET (ESPN) Alamo Bowl: No. 15 Oregon State (9-3) vs. Texas (8-4)
Originally I predicted that up-and-down Texas would put things together and pull off the upset in front of a partisan, in-state crowd. But suspensions and serious allegations involving two high-profile players on the eve of the game seem like too big of a distraction to overcome. Texas' offense will sputter while Beavers quarterback Vaz will make some key plays.
 
10:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: TCU (7-5) vs. Michigan State (6-6)
Despite what the record indicates, the Spartans' defense was as good as advertised in 2012. It finished No. 4 nationally, allowing just 4.3 yards per play. TCU's checked in at a respectable 28th (5.1), and Gary Patterson's unit is well equipped to slow down Michigan State star Le'Veon Bell (137.3 yards per game). But the Spartans will force turnovers against TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin.
 
Monday, Dec. 31
 
Noon (ESPN) Music City Bowl: Vanderbilt (8-4) vs. NC State (7-5)
After scoring fewer than 20 points in five of their first seven games, the Commodores exploded for 40-plus in four of their last five contests. NC State has been all over the map, scoring six points one week and 37 the next. Given that this is essentially a home game for Vandy, and that the Wolfpack are playing with an interim head coach, James Franklin's team should continue its recent hot streak.
 
2 p.m. ET (CBS) Sun Bowl: USC (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (6-7)
Monte Kiffin's last game as a college defensive coordinator comes against an option team. Assuming T.J. McDonald and the Trojans contain Paul Johnson's offense (his Tech teams are 0-4 in bowls), USC's high-flying attack will likely take out a year's worth of frustration on the Jackets' 85th-ranked pass defense (7.6 yards per attempt).
 
3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Liberty Bowl: Tulsa (10-3) vs. Iowa State (6-6)
Redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Richardson took over the Cyclones' job in their 11th game, and he has been impressive to date (187 rushing yards, 62.1 completion percentage, seven touchdowns, no interceptions). Iowa State will need him to be sharp to make up for an injury-depleted defense that is unlikely to hold Tulsa's attack (35 points per game) to the 23 points it did in their Sept. 1 clash.
 
7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Chick-fil-A Bowl: No. 9 LSU (10-2) vs. No. 14 Clemson (10-2)
Les Miles is 5-2 in bowls at LSU, with an average margin of victory of 26 points. LSU's offense isn't explosive (142 plays of 10-plus yards, 107th nationally) enough to run away from Clemson, but lineman Sam Montgomery and a smothering defense (4.5 yards per play) will cause a miserable New Year's Eve for Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd (4,042 total yards, 43 total touchdowns).
 
Tuesday, Jan. 1
 
Noon (ESPNU) Heart of Dallas Bowl: Oklahoma State (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6)
Oklahoma State scored more points (44.7) than all but three teams nationally and its defense was respectable, at the very least (5.3 yards per play, No. 43 nationally). The Cowboys are the biggest favorites of bowl season (17 points) because Purdue's 75th-ranked offense (5.5 yards per play) stands little chance of keeping pace against running back Joseph Randle (112.6 ypg) and Co.
 
Noon ET (ESPN2) Gator Bowl: No. 21 Northwestern (9-3) vs. Mississippi State (8-4)
The closest Northwestern came to snapping its nine-game bowl losing streak (its last win came in 1949) was in the 2010 Outback Bowl against Auburn, when kicker Stefan Demos missed a 44-yard field goal at the end of regulation. Three years later, the reliable Jeff Budzien (17-of-18) will cap a shootout by avenging Demos and ending 64 years of Wildcat heartbreak.
 
1 p.m. ET (ESPN) Outback Bowl: No. 11 South Carolina (10-2) vs. No. 19 Michigan (8-4)
Wolverines All-America offensive tackle Taylor Lewan may be one of the few blockers capable of slowing Gamecocks star Jadeveon Clowney (13 sacks), but South Carolina's entire defense (17.4 points per game) is stout. That doesn't bode well for a Michigan offense that averaged just 12.5 points in its four losses, regardless of which position Denard Robinson plays.
 
1 p.m. ET (ABC) Capital One Bowl: No. 6 Georgia (11-2) vs. No. 23 Nebraska (10-3)
Given how close it came to playing for the national championship, Georgia is more likely to be deflated than Nebraska as both come off their respective conference championship losses. But differing motivation levels might not erase the talent gap between a Bulldogs team dripping with NFL prospects and a Huskers squad that scrapped its way to 10 wins.
 
5 p.m. ET (ESPN) Rose Bowl: No. 8 Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5)
While the Badgers are better than their record indicates -- they lost three overtime games -- Montee Ball and his fellow running backs will not be able to overpower Stanford's fifth-ranked rushing defense (2.8 yards per carry) the way they did Nebraska's. Stanford may struggle to run, too, but quarterback Kevin Hogan (72.9 completion percentage) is more dynamic than counterpart Curt Phillips.
 
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Orange Bowl: No. 13 Florida St. (11-2) vs. No. 16 Northern Illinois (12-1)
On paper, there's no reason to pick NIU in this game. It's implausible that Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch (364.1 yards per game, No. 3 nationally) can extend his streak of 11 straight 100-yard rushing games against the nation's No. 4 rushing defense (2.8 yards per carry). But after all the criticism NIU has received for its inclusion, it just feels like this has the makings of Boise State-Oklahoma Part II.
 
Wednesday, Jan. 2
 
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Sugar Bowl: No. 4 Florida (11-1) vs. No. 22 Louisville (10-2)
Louisville's record belies its No. 46 ranking in the F/+ efficiency ratings, one spot above 6-6 Virginia Tech. Whether or not quarterback Jeff Driskel and the Florida offense make the most of the momentum gained from their breakthrough against Florida State, the Gators' top-ranked pass efficiency defense should limit Cardinals star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (69.0 completion percentage).
 
Thursday, Jan. 3
 
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Fiesta Bowl: No. 5 Oregon (11-1) vs. No. 7 Kansas State (11-1)
Stanford, the lone team to slow down Kenjon Barner and the Ducks this season, did so with a 3-4 defense. Teams with a 4-3 scheme that had success against Chip Kelly in the past typically had dominant interior linemen. K-State has great ends (Meshak Williams and Adam Davis) and a great player behind them (linebacker Arthur Brown), but it does not fit the defensive formula for stopping Oregon.
 
Friday, Jan. 4
 
8 p.m. ET (FOX) Cotton Bowl: No. 10 Texas A&M (10-2) vs. No. 12 Oklahoma (10-2)
Between the awards circuit and the pending departure of mentor Kliff Kingsbury, Johnny Manziel has experienced a lot of distractions since his Heisman Trophy run. And Oklahoma coordinator Mike Stoops will have some tricks in store for him come January. Don't expect a Heisman flop, but don't be surprised if four-year Sooners star Landry Jones (3,989 passing yards) has a bigger night.
 
Saturday, Jan. 5
 
1 p.m. ET (ESPN) BBVA Compass Bowl: Ole Miss (6-6) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6)
The Birmingham bowl is no small deal to Ole Miss fans, who have bought more than 20,000 tickets through the school in less than two weeks. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is making its third straight trip to Legion Field. It may bring 20 fans. An unheralded Rebels run defense (No. 21 nationally) will hold down Panthers running back Ray Graham (86.8 yards per game).
 
Sunday, Jan. 6
 
9 p.m. ET (ESPN) GoDaddy.com Bowl: No. 25 Kent State (11-2) vs. Arkansas State (9-3)
Newly hired Purdue coach Darrell Hazell has stayed on to coach the Flashes, while Arkansas State's Gus Malzahn has moved on to Auburn. Both offenses should move the ball at will, but Kent State's rushing tandem of Dri Archer (104 yards per game) and Trayion Durham (96.0) will help break a few more big plays than David Oku (85.3) and the Red Wolves.
 
Monday, Jan. 7
 
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) BCS Championship: No. 1 Notre Dame (12-0) vs. No. 2 Alabama (12-1)
Both teams will struggle to run the ball against the other's front seven. Irish quarterback Everett Golson may be able to pick on the Tide's secondary early, but Nick Saban's team will eventually adjust. Meanwhile, after relying heavily on his tight ends, Alabama's AJ McCarron will eventually connect deep down the sideline with wideout Amari Cooper for a couple of game-changing plays.
 
Record This Season: 83-57
 
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