BCS title showdown between Notre Dame, Alabama tops bowl rankings

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I can't say with 100 percent certainty that these rankings were the first, but here's how long they've been around. The second annual edition in 2004 included the first bowl berth in 21 years by current BCS buster Northern Illinois -- and the game it played in was the long-defunct Silicon Valley Classic.

Back then, this was a fun little exercise consisting of 28 bowls, no 6-6 teams, Rose Bowl participants with a combined three losses and New Year's Day games pitting two top-10 teams. I now look back at that column nostalgically, remembering a time when a Florida vs. Miami Peach Bowl was only the 10th-best game. My apparent boredom did not set in until bowl No. 24 (the aforementioned Silicon Valley Classic).

Over time, however, the bowl lineup has grown deeper and the matchups have gotten increasingly worse. But this year set a new low. I can literally count on one hand the number of bowls I'm truly interested in, which is sad, because I remember a time when I wanted to watch all of them.

But enough with the "get off my lawn" talk. You want arbitrary rankings and snarky comments, and I'm here to deliver -- imitators be damned.

1. BCS National Championship Game (Jan. 7): Notre Dame (12-0) vs. Alabama (12-1). With two similarly built teams that run the ball and stuff the run, a few key passes could make all the difference. Notre Dame redshirt freshman Everett Golson must outplay 'Bama veteran AJ McCarron.

2. Fiesta (Jan. 3): Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1). For the second consecutive season, the Fiesta gets a Big 12-Pac-12 showdown between top-five teams. However, unlike last year's shootout (Oklahoma State 41, Stanford 38), these defenses are capable of slowing the other's star-studded offense.

3. Cotton (Jan. 4): Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2). Bob Stoops owned the Aggies when they were still in the Big 12, going 11-2, but that was before A&M unleashed Johnny Football. It's four-year starter Landry Jones against the likely freshman Heisman winner.

4. Chick-fil-A (Dec. 31): LSU (10-2) vs. Clemson (10-2). You heard it here first: Clemson will not allow 70 points in this year's bowl game. In fact, it might not even give up 30. But Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd has his work cut out for him against LSU defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo.

5. Orange (Jan. 1): Northern Illinois (12-1) vs. Florida State (11-2). This could be another Boise State-Oklahoma, or it could turn into another Georgia-Hawaii. Either way, it's a chance to see Huskies star Jordan Lynch, a quarterback who has run for 1,771 yards, test himself against an elite D.

6. Capital One (Jan. 1): Georgia (11-2) vs. Nebraska (10-3). The Huskers' Big Ten title game implosion takes some of the luster off this matchup. Still, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is just 1-11 against ranked teams. He'll have a chance to better that mark, as Nebraska is No. 23 in the AP Poll.

7. Outback (Jan. 1): South Carolina (10-2) vs. Michigan (8-4). Wolverines coach Brady Hoke has a month to figure out how to keep Jadeveon Clowney from decapitating Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson. Steve Spurrier has a month to come up with one-liners about Hoke.

8. Rose (Jan. 1): Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5). Once you get done throwing up your breakfast at the thought of a five-loss team representing the Big Ten the Rose Bowl, you'll notice two great running backs are set square off. The Badgers' Monteé Ball and the Cardinal's Stepfan Taylor have combined for 3,172 rushing yards.

9. Sugar (Jan. 2): Florida (11-1) vs. Louisville (10-2). The BCS' third-ranked Gators narrowly missed the national title game. The BCS' 21st-ranked Cardinals narrowly won the Big East. This looks like a complete mismatch, though Florida is never 100 percent safe. Ask Louisiana-Lafayette.

10. Alamo (Dec. 29): Oregon State (9-3) vs. Texas (8-4). This is a matchup ex-Beavers Jacquizz and James Rodgers (hometown: Richmond, Texas) would have loved. Current Oregon State receivers Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks will look to exploit a sloppy Longhorns' defense.

11. Holiday (Dec. 27): UCLA (9-4) vs. Baylor (7-5). San Diegans, this is what offense looks like. Not only can Baylor counted on to rack up 600 yards, but it could allow as many if not more against the attack-minded Bruins. UCLA stars Brett Hundley and Johnathan Franklin will savor playing someone besides Stanford.

12. Gator (Jan. 1): Northwestern (9-3) vs. Mississippi State (8-4). The Bulldogs' four SEC wins all came against teams that fired their coaches. Meanwhile, if Venric Mark and the Wildcats don't end their nine-game bowl losing streak this year, it may be that the bowl system ends first.

13. GoDaddy.com (Jan. 6): Kent State (11-2) vs. Arkansas State (9-3). The night before what should be a defense-dominated title game, tune in to watch some offensive fireworks. Red Wolves quarterback Ryan Aplin, Kent State jitterbug Dri Archer and many others should race up and down the field with little resistance.

14. Las Vegas (Dec. 22): Boise State (10-2) vs. Washington (7-5). Good luck predicting this one. The Huskies were last seen losing to 2-9 Washington State, but they also beat Stanford and Oregon State. Hardly anyone outside of Idaho has seen Boise State play since September.

15. Pinstripe (Dec. 29): Syracuse (7-5) vs. West Virginia (7-5). The Big East, Big 12 and ACC all have a rooting interest in this one. Early-season NFL draft darling Geno Smith will air it out against newfound draft darling Ryan Nassib, and Tavon Austin will do his Tavon Austin thing.

16. Music City (Dec. 31): Vanderbilt (8-4) vs. NC State (7-5). James Franklin's program keeps making strides, but it can't seem to escape the state of Tennessee in December. The Wolfpack, who opened the year against the Vols, can't seem to escape Tennessee teams in the SEC.

17. Russell Athletic (Dec. 28): Rutgers (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6). Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas and Scarlet Knights counterpart Gary Nova have combined for 29 interceptions. Both teams rank in the top 25 in pass efficiency defense. What could possibly go wrong?

18. Belk (Dec. 27): Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Duke (6-6). See it, live it, relish it: Duke is in a bowl game. Never mind that the Blue Devils will have gone 68 days since their last victory (Oct. 20 against North Carolina) by kickoff, nor the fact that they're 10-point underdogs against the Bearcats.

19. Poinsettia (Dec. 20): San Diego State (9-3) vs. BYU (7-5). Led by linebacker Kyle Van Noy, BYU ranks behind only Alabama and Florida State in total defense. And yet, the Cougars managed to lose five games. Maybe they'll finally put it together against the Mountain West co-champion.

20. Buffalo Wild Wings (Dec. 29): TCU (7-5) vs. Michigan State (6-6). While the Internet consumes itself debating which schools are pursuing Gary Patterson, Patterson will likely be holed up in a film room. He'll have his work cut out coming up with defensive schemes to pursue Spartan star Le'Veon Bell.

21. Independence (Dec. 28): Louisiana-Monroe (8-4) vs. Ohio (8-4). September heroes Kolton Browning and Tyler Tettleton return to primetime ... er, 2 p.m. on a Friday. Warhawks fans should flock to their first-ever bowl game. "I'd rather be playing Louisiana Tech" T-shirts sold separately.

22. Military (Dec. 27): San Jose State (10-2) vs. Bowling Green (8-4). You don't normally think of defense when you think of MACtion, but Bowling Green's unit ranks No. 7 nationally. The Falcons will need it against the Spartans' deadly accurate passer (72 percent completion percentage), David Fales.

23. Kraft Fight Hunger (Dec. 29). Arizona State (7-5) vs. Navy (7-4). Don't be fooled by the Sun Devils' record. According to coach Todd Graham's Coaches' Poll ballot, Arizona State is the 20th-best team in the country.

24. Idaho Potato (Dec. 15): Utah State (10-2) vs. Toledo (9-3). Defense wins championships, but does it win mid-December bowl games? If so, the Aggies (No. 15 nationally) are in significantly better shape than the Rockets (No. 105).

25. Sun (Dec. 31): USC (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (6-7). When SI wrote on its Aug. 17 cover that Matt Barkley "Didn't Stay to Play in the Holiday Bowl," this was not the alternative he had in mind.

26. Meineke Car Care (Dec. 28): Texas Tech (7-5) vs. Minnesota (6-6). Six years ago, Texas Tech rallied from a 31-point deficit to beat Minnesota in the Insight Bowl. Two coaches later, the Gophers are still trying to recover.

27. Heart of Dallas (Jan. 1): Oklahoma State (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6). Oklahoma State tied for third place in the Big 12 and its coach is being wooed by suitors like Tennessee. Purdue went 3-5 in the Big Ten and its coach has been fired.

28. New Mexico (Dec. 15): Arizona (7-5) vs. Nevada (7-5). For the first time in the bowl's seven-year history, it has landed an AQ-conference team. It should be noted, however, that Arizona fields a Conference USA-caliber defense.

29. Liberty (Dec. 31): Tulsa (10-3) vs. Iowa State (6-6). The Liberty Bowl reportedly spurned Louisiana Tech in favor of the Cyclones, who already beat Tulsa, 38-23, on Sept. 1. We all know how much fans love postseason rematches.

30. BBVA Compass (Jan 5): Ole Miss (6-6) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6). If the BBVA Compass Bowl lasts long enough to erect a BBVA Compass Bowl Wall of Fame, Pitt AD Steve Pedersen -- whose Panthers have accepted three consecutive bids -- will unquestionably be the first honoree.

31. Beef 'O' Brady's (Dec. 21): UCF (9-4) vs. Ball State (9-3). It's a pair of two truly special teams. The Knights excel at kickoff returns (UCF is ranked No. 7 nationally), while the Cardinals get the best of opponents with their net punting (No. 16).

32. New Orleans (Dec. 22): Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) vs. East Carolina (8-4). Louisiana-Lafayette's Brett Baer kicked a game-winning 50-yard field goal in this bowl last year. The game kicks off at noon, so set your DVR for around 3:28 p.m. just in case.

33. Hawaii (Dec. 24): Fresno State (9-3) vs. SMU (6-6). It has to be tough for Hawaii fans to see June Jones take his team to their bowl when the Warriors finished 3-9. It will be even tougher to sit through this entire game.

34. Little Caesars (Dec. 26): Western Kentucky (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (6-6). Put simply: These are the 81st and 120th-ranked teams in Jeff Sagarin's ratings.

35. Armed Forces (Dec. 29): Air Force (6-6) vs. Rice (6-6). A patriotic bowl honors a favorite American pastime: Giving trophies to everybody.