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College Football Pickoff: 2013-14 Bowl Season

Photo: Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI

Tre Mason (21), Nick Marshall and Auburn will take on Florida State in the national title game on Jan. 6.

College football bowl season has finally arrived, and it brings no shortage of intriguing matchups. Can Auburn keep the SEC's vaunted national title streak alive against undefeated Florida State? Will Stanford or Michigan State emerge from a clash of defensive-minded teams in the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl? Can Texas take down Oregon to win the Longhorns final game under head coach Mack Brown?

My picks for all 35 of this season's bowl games are below. For additional coverage, be sure to check out the complete bowl schedule and SI.com's college football section page.

Saturday, Dec. 21
 
2 p.m. ET (ESPN) New Mexico Bowl: Colorado State (7-6) vs. Washington State (6-6)
Washington State returns to a bowl for the first time since 2003 behind quarterback Connor Halliday, who averages a national-high 54.7 pass attempts per game. The Rams ride big-play back Kapri Bibbs (1,572 yards, 28 touchdowns). Both teams' defenses are suspect. With any luck, we'll get a reprise of last year's Arizona-Nevada 49-48 thriller in Albuquerque. This time the Mountain West team prevails.
 
3:30 p.m. ET (ABC) Las Vegas Bowl: No. 21 Fresno State (11-1) vs. USC (9-4)
Interest level could be an issue for a team like USC, which laid an egg in last year's Sun Bowl and will play for its second interim coach of the season (Clay Helton). Bulldogs quarterback Derek Carr (4,866 yards) will get his yards, and wideout Davante Adams won't be shut down. But Fresno State's pass defense is a wreck. Trojans' receivers Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor will go to town.
 
5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Buffalo (8-4) vs. San Diego State (7-5)
Advanced metrics don't like San Diego State, which is ranked 94th in Football Outsiders' F/+ efficiency ratings -- lower than even 3-9 Connecticut -- despite beating Boise State in overtime and narrowly falling to Fresno State. (The Aztecs lost 35-28 in overtime on Oct. 26.) Buffalo lost two of its final three, but has a star back in Branden Oliver (1,421 yards) and an All-America linebacker in Khalil Mack.
 
9 p.m. ET (ESPN) New Orleans Bowl: Louisiana-Lafayete (8-4) vs. Tulane (7-5)
The Green Wave, making their first bowl appearance in a decade, will play in their home stadium. Their top-10 rushing defense could put the clamps on Louisiana-Lafayette's All-Sun Belt rushing duo of Alonzo Harris and Elijah McGuire. But Tulane has its own problems. It can't score, averaging 10.8 points over its last five contests. The Ragin' Cajuns win their third straight New Orleans Bowl.
 
Monday, Dec. 23
 
2 p.m. ET (ESPN) Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl: East Carolina (9-3) vs. Ohio (7-5)
The Pirates beat North Carolina and NC State, while the Bobcats imploded over the final month of the season. Led by quarterback Shane Carden (71.0 completion percentage, 3,866 yards), East Carolina is a two-touchdown favorite. It's possible Frank Solich's team will turn things around and quarterback Tyler Tettleton will deliver a big performance, but if East Carolina is motivated, it should cruise.
 
Tuesday, Dec. 24
 
8 p.m. ET (ESPN) Hawaii Bowl: Boise State (8-4) vs. Oregon State (6-6)
Oregon State last won a football game on Oct. 19, though it could not have come any closer in its season-ending 35-34 loss at Oregon. Boise will play its first game in eight years without Chris Petersen at the helm. Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion and All-America receiver Brandin Cooks will dissect the Broncos' 74th-ranked pass defense to finish on the right side of .500.
 
Thursday, Dec. 26
 
6 p.m. ET (ESPN) Little Caesars Pizza Bowl: Bowling Green (10-3) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6)
In an annual tradition, Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson won the MAC and then immediately bolted for an ACC school (Wake Forest). Under interim coach Adam Scheier, tailback Travis Greene (1,422 yards) and the Falcons will look to continue their recent tear. But Aaron Donald (26.5 tackles for loss) will disrupt things. Panthers wideout Devin Street, back from injury, will enjoy a nice sendoff, too.
 
9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Poinsettia Bowl: No. 24 Northern Illinois (12-1) vs. Utah State (8-5)
Northern Illinois Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch will encounter a challenging college finale. Utah State ranks seventh nationally in total defense (4.56 yards per play) and scoring defense (17.3 points per game). But the Aggies, who scored one offensive touchdown in a 24-17 Mountain West title game loss to Fresno State, struggle to move the ball. If Lynch avoids turnovers, NIU should prevail.
 
Friday, Dec. 27
 
2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Military Bowl: Marshall (9-4) vs. Maryland (7-5)
Marshall nearly beat one ACC foe, Virginia Tech, losing 29-21 in triple overtime on Sept. 21. Thundering Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato (3,579 yards, 36 touchdowns, nine interceptions) will cause problems for Maryland's defense. Terrapins quarterback C.J. Brown is a dynamic dual-threat player, but he works with a limited supporting cast. Maryland's defense needs to dominate.
 
6 p.m. ET (ESPN) Texas Bowl: Minnesota (8-4) vs. Syracuse (6-6)
Syracuse pulled off one of the surprises of last bowl season when it routed Geno Smith and West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl. This year's Orange improved over the second half of the year, culminating with a 34-31 win over Boston College on Nov. 30. But the Gophers' defense, led by tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, excels at keeping foes out of the end zone. It should control the line of scrimmage.
 
9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Fight Hunger Bowl: BYU (8-4) vs. Washington (8-4)
Washington interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo figures to let the Huskies cut loose. He'll want to lean heavily on star running back Bishop Sankey, but linebacker Kyle Van Noy and BYU's defense could make that challenging. Look for quarterback Keith Price to go out slinging, while Washington's defense should do a good job containing dual-threat passer Taysom Hill and the Cougars.
 
Saturday, Dec. 28
 
Noon ET (ESPN) Pinstripe Bowl: Notre Dame (8-4) vs. Rutgers (6-6)
Think the Fighting Irish are excited about a December game in the cold a year removed from playing for the BCS title? This is exactly the kind of bowl in which the favorite might not show up. But Rutgers doesn't have enough firepower to take advantage. Notre Dame will pick off Scarlet Knights quarterback Chas Dodd a couple of times, and Irish wideout T.J. Jones will break free for a few big plays.
 
3:20 p.m. ET (ESPN) Belk Bowl: Cincinnati (9-3) vs. North Carolina (6-6)
Tommy Tuberville did a nice job in his first season, rallying the Bearcats from a shaky start to win six in a row. Quarterback Brendon Kay is a 68.6-percent passer, and Cincy's defense allows 19.5 points per game. But North Carolina came on strong behind quarterback Marquise Williams, All-America tight end Eric Ebron and all-purpose threat Ryan Switzer. The Tar Heels win a de facto home game.
 
6:45 p.m. ET (ESPN) Russell Athletic Bowl: No. 18 Louisville (11-1) vs. Miami (9-3)
Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a Miami native, will be the focal point of this one, particularly from an NFL draft standpoint. But Louisville's defense may steal the show. The pass-rushing duo of Marcus Smith and Lorenzo Mauldin, coupled with safety Calvin Pryor, could cause headaches for Miami quarterback Stephen Morris. Meanwhile, Bridgewater should have an efficient game.
 
10:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Michigan (7-5) vs. Kansas State (7-5)
Which version of Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner will show up? The one who passed for 451 yards to nearly knock off Ohio State? Or the one who managed no more than 226 yards in the four games prior to that? Bill Snyder's defense, led by safety Ty Zimmerman, should fare well, while all-purpose dynamo Tyler Lockett and quarterback Daniel Sams will keep the Wolverines' defense off balance.
 
Monday, Dec. 30
 
11:45 a.m. ET (ESPN) Armed Forces Bowl: Middle Tennessee State (8-4) vs. Navy (8-4)
Both teams closed out the regular season on fire: The Blue Raiders won their last five games, scoring at least 42 points in four of them, while the Midshipmen won four straight. (They also beat Pitt and played Notre Dame close before that). Navy's Keenan Reynolds broke the FBS record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (29). His team's option offense will be tough to defend.
 
3:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) Music City Bowl: Ole Miss (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (7-5)
The Rebels were all over the map this year, beating Texas and LSU but scoring just 10 points in season-ending losses to Missouri and Mississippi State. Here's guessing quarterback Bo Wallace and the offense will return to form, thanks in part to a healthy Jeff Scott. Whether Ole Miss' defense can contain Georgia Tech's option is another story, but a month to prepare certainly helps.
 
6:45 p.m. ET (ESPN) Alamo Bowl: No. 10 Oregon (10-2) vs. Texas (8-4)
On paper, there's no reason to pick against the heavily favored Ducks, especially with quarterback Marcus Mariota expected to be fully recovered from his knee injury. But it feels as if Mack Brown is meant to win his farewell game. Texas tailback Malcolm Brown could exploit a shaky Oregon rushing defense, while Hendricks Award winner Jackson Jeffcoat will look to pressure Mariota.
 
10:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) Holiday Bowl: No. 16 Arizona State (10-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
Stanford provided the blueprint for beating the Sun Devils (twice): Run right at their 47th-ranked rushing defense and disrupt quarterback Taylor Kelly with a strong push up front. Unfortunately, the Red Raiders could have issues doing both, as they rely almost entirely on Kliff Kingsbury's Air Raid passing attack. Arizona State could have a post-Pac-12 title game letdown, but it's the far better team.
 
Tuesday, Dec. 31
 
12:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) AdvoCare V100 Bowl: Arizona (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5)
This game pits the nation's two leading rushers, Boston College's Andre Williams (175.2 yards per game) and Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey (156.0). Both will run the ball early and often. The Wildcats' defense showed some improvement this season, but it's still prone to allowing big plays. The Eagles may allow a bunch of yards, but they should be able to force some field goals.
 
2 p.m. ET (CBS) Sun Bowl: No. 17 UCLA (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (8-4)
El Paso gets one of the season's more entertaining matchups -- and Verne and Gary to boot. The Hokies' fourth-ranked defense gets after quarterbacks, and it will likely force UCLA's Brett Hundley into a couple of turnovers. But Anthony Barr, Myles Jack and the Bruins' defense is more than capable of flustering Virginia Tech counterpart Logan Thomas. Jack should also see extensive running back duty.
 
4 p.m. ET (ESPN) Liberty Bowl: Rice (10-3) vs. Mississippi State (6-6)
Mississippi State managed to make a bowl despite a revolving door of quarterbacks, an issue that was primarily a byproduct of injuries. Dak Prescott, a talented runner who rushed for 154 yards against Texas A&M, will get the start, but true freshman Damian Williams, who started the Egg Bowl, could see action. The Bulldogs' defense improved down the stretch and should slow Rice's attack.
 
8 p.m. ET (ESPN) Chick-fil-A Bowl: No. 20 Texas A&M (8-4) vs. No. 22 Duke (10-3)
Johnny Manziel should make the most of what will presumably be his college finale. Duke's defense is physical enough to limit his receivers (besides Mike Evans), but it likely won't contain his scrambling ability. Meanwhile, a young Aggies' defense that struggled all season could make strides during bowl practices. Blue Devils wide receiver Jamison Crowder will make a few key plays, but not enough of them.
 
Wednesday, Jan. 1
 
Noon (ESPNU) Heart of Dallas Bowl: North Texas (8-4) vs. UNLV (7-5)
For its first bowl in 13 years and first outside Las Vegas since 1984, UNLV will venture into the Mean Green's backyard. Coach Dan McCarney led North Texas to a 6-2 league record in its first year in Conference USA, including a win over eventual champion Rice. Its defense has contained some explosive offenses and should do the same against tailback Tim Cornett (1,190 yards) and the Rebels.
 
Noon ET (ESPN2) Gator Bowl: No. 23 Georgia (8-4) vs. Nebraska (8-4)
Hutson Mason, Georgia's replacement for injured quarterback Aaron Murray, has completed 64.8 percent of his attempts on the season. But Mason's primary duty against Nebraska will be to hand off to stud running back Todd Gurley, who figures to be the healthiest he's been in three months. Cornhuskers back Ameer Abdullah will keep it close. After all, it wouldn't be a Georgia game without a dramatic finish.
 
1 p.m. ET (ESPN) Outback Bowl: No. 14 LSU (9-3) vs. Iowa (8-4)
Iowa is certainly happier to be here, but the talent gap between the Tigers and Hawkeyes is massive. Iowa's defense could take advantage of LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger's absence and stack the box to stop the run, but wideouts Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry will make an impact. The Hawkeyes, on the other hand, don't have the skill players to frazzle the Tigers' athletic defense.
 
1 p.m. ET (ABC) Capital One Bowl: No. 8 South Carolina (10-2) vs. No. 19 Wisconsin (9-3)
Wisconsin's season-ending home loss to Penn State was bizarre, and it will lend many to discount its chances against Jadeveon Clowney and the Gamecocks. But the Badgers' fifth-ranked defense (4.5 yards per play) is well suited to contain South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw and tailback Mike Davis. Wisconsin's talented rushing duo of Melvin Gordon and James White will find success.
 
5 p.m. ET (ESPN) Rose Bowl: No. 4 Michigan State (12-1) vs. No. 5 Stanford (11-2)
There will be few offensive fireworks in the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl -- just two smashmouth teams trying to find creases against a pair of well-coached defenses. Stanford may give running back Tyler Gaffney 35 carries. Michigan State tailback Jeremy Langford may get a heavy workload, too. It's an even matchup, but the Cardinal are more battle-tested after playing 10 Pac-12 games.
 
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Fiesta Bowl: No. 6 Baylor (11-1) vs. No. 15 UCF (11-1)
Knights quarterback Blake Bortles is suddenly the NFL draft prospect du jour. The nation's ninth-rated passer had a great season, but nothing like that of second-rated Bryce Petty (3,844 yards, 30 touchdowns, two interceptions). With wide receiver Tevin Reese and running back Lache Seastrunk both at full health, Baylor's offense should return to midseason form.
 
Thursday, Jan. 2
 
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Sugar Bowl: No. 3 Alabama (11-1) vs. No. 11 Oklahoma (10-2)
Will a dispirited Alabama squad come out flat, like it did against Utah in the Sugar Bowl five years ago? Or will it come out angry, like it did against Michigan State the last time it missed the BCS title game? The latter seems more likely. A proud senior class, led by quarterback AJ McCarron and linebacker C.J. Mosley, will keep the Crimson Tide focused. The Sooners will do enough to avoid embarrassment.
 
Friday, Jan. 3
 
7:30 p.m. ET (FOX) Cotton Bowl: No. 9 Missouri (11-2) vs. No. 13 Oklahoma State (10-2)
Missouri ran into a torrid Auburn team in the SEC championship. Its defense played much better in its previous 12 games. Meanwhile, the Cowboys flat-out choked against Oklahoma. They were capable of winning the Big 12. Cornerback Justin Gilbert and linebacker Caleb Lavey lead a talented Oklahoma State defense, but quarterback Clint Chelf will face heavy pressure all night.
 
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Orange Bowl: No. 7 Ohio State (12-1) vs. No. 12 Clemson (10-2)
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins likely salivated when they watched tape of Ohio State's pass defense. The Buckeyes have allowed more 10-plus yard passing plays (128) than all but 11 teams nationally. But the Tigers haven't faced a quarterback-running back rushing combo like Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde. The Buckeyes win in a shootout.
 
Saturday, Jan. 4
 
1 p.m. ET (ESPN) BBVA Compass Bowl: Houston (8-4) vs. Vanderbilt (8-4)
Houston true freshman quarterback John O'Korn had a remarkable year, throwing 26 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. Still, he could be in for a tough game against a Vandy defense allowing 6.1 yards per pass attempt. The Commodores will be without quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels (ACL). Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews may be held in check with backup Patton Robinette under center.
 
Sunday, Jan. 5
 
9 p.m. ET (ESPN) GoDaddy Bowl: Ball State (10-2) vs. Arkansas State (7-5)
Quarterback Keith Wenning and wide receiver Willie Snead lead an explosive Ball State offense that scored at least 38 points in four of its last five games and nearly upended Northern Illinois during their Nov. 13 matchup. All-purpose threat J.D. McKissic could shine for Arkansas State, but the Red Wolves -- which just lost yet another coach (Bryan Harsin) after one year -- are overmatched.
 
Monday, Jan. 6
 
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) BCS Championship: No. 1 Florida State (13-0) vs. No. 2 Auburn (12-1)
SEC teams have won the past seven BCS titles with the strength of their defenses. They shut down Heisman winners, slowed Oregon's blur offense and even pitched a shutout. Offense ruled this year's SEC, and Auburn's finished the regular season as hot as any in the country. But defenses decide the BCS title. Florida State's unit ranks second nationally (3.94 yards per play), while Auburn's ranks 95th (5.96).
 
Record This Season: 124-57
 

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