Hype surrounding Wisconsin’s third consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl is taking center stage for Badger fans. Head coach Bret Bielema’s unexpected departure for Arkansas only makes this game more intriguing in Badger nation. But the rest of the college football world has its eyes on several bowl games that feature headline lineups.
And so I present my picks for this season’s best bowl games.
BCS National Championship – No. 2 Alabama v. No. 1 Notre Dame, Jan. 7, 7:30 p.m.
A classic tale: two of college football’s most iconic programs are set to face off with a national title on the line. You aren’t going to want to miss this one.
The Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish are historically top-notch college football programs, with 27 national titles between the two – 14 for Alabama, 13 for Notre Dame. Yet in recent history, they could not be more different.
Alabama is going for its third national title in four years fueled by head coach Nick Saban. Notre Dame, on the other hand, has struggled to regain its position among the top tier with its last national championship dating back to 1988.
Alabama has been a season long favorite, and though they took a step back losing to Texas A&M, they have rebounded right back and captured an SEC title against a tough Georgia team. Conversely, the undefeated Fighting Irish entered the season with what was then considered the toughest set of opponents and continued to surprise fans with each consecutive win.
While their paths to get here haven’t been the same, they do possess similar qualities on the field, namely their defensive dominance.
Last year, fans complained about the top defensive teams taking the center stage. But this year’s final matchup will surely be the best game of the postseason.
Manti Te’o, who was named a Heisman Finalist, is the single most compelling player on the field. The Notre Dame linebacker has made big plays in every game so far this season, most notably his late interception to seal a victory against Oklahoma. Critics claim Te’o is an overrated star on a winning team, but he remains a consistent force for the Irish and will pose a serious threat to the Crimson Tide.
The game will come down to which offense is able to break down their opponent’s defense. Though the scoreboard will not have a hard time keeping up, the Alabama offense is going to exploit Notre Dame’s defensive weakness – it’s secondary. The backfield has allowed mediocre quarterbacks to make big plays all season long. Alabama’s quarterback A.J. McCarron has proven he can step up and make critical plays, and Amari Cooper has been on the end of these plays as the team’s newest standout receiver.
Don’t think Alabama will get off easy by any means, but I think the SEC will reign in its seventh straight title with a ‘Bama victory.
Fiesta Bowl – No. 5 Kansas St. v. No. 4 Oregon, Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m.
After Alabama lost, the prospect of a Kansas State-Oregon title game looked to be both serious and enticing. While both dropped the ball on that hope, we still get to see the two square off in a bowl game.
Unlike the title game, scoring will come frequently here. Though Kansas State is home to Heisman finalist quarterback Collin Klein, Oregon’s multiple threat offense will peel apart this Wildcat defense. Keijon Barner has broken out as the teams top rusher with 21 touchdowns and 248 carries this season. Young quarterback Marcus Mariota and rusher-receiver De’Anthony Thomas have outshone defenses all season long. The story won’t be any different on Jan. 3.
Adding to Oregon’s fuel will be the bitter taste of being shut out of the Pac-12 championship with their loss to Stanford also being the tiebreaker in the northern division.
A good game, but I think a decisive Duck victory will come out of this one.
Discover Orange Bowl – No. 15 Northern Illinois v. No. 12 Florida State, Jan. 1, 7:30 p.m.
The fact Northern Illinois is in a BCS bowl game after taking home the Mid-American Conference title is the biggest controversy in all the bowl game selections. With an 11-1 record, undefeated in the MAC, and the loss coming in Week 1 to Iowa by a single point, why not give them a chance.
For foe Florida State, they know little about this NIU team, but have the clear advantage of experience, both in high profile games and against a more competitive ACC conference.
Most notable in this game will be Northern Illinois’ star quarterback Jordan Lynch showcasing his talents on the big stage against a defense ranked in the top 10 in scores against.
I think we are all expecting a Seminoles’ victory here. The Huskies are a good team, but they just won’t have the capacity to keep up all game. However, this is the biggest thing to happen to DeKalb, Ill. since, well, the beginning of time, and a win would make for a great story line. I’ll be rooting for the little guy here.
Other noteworthy games
The Sugar Bowl featuring SEC East runner-up Florida and Big East champion Louisville doesn’t appear to be anything special. Louisville will find difficulty converting against the Gator defense and Florida should be able to put this win in its pocket.
The most intriguing non-BCS bowl will come Jan. 4 when Oklahoma takes on Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. A year ago these teams were Big 12 rivals, but the Aggies made a move to the SEC and have proved themselves a worthy conference member – beating its best team tends to have that effect.
The game will present a head-to-head battle between two of the nation’s top quarterbacks. Heisman finalist, and for many the favorite to win, Johnny Manzel will look to cap off his first year on the field for the Aggies with a dominant final showing, while Sooners Landry Jones will be hoping to have that same type of performance.
A BCS-like bowl game, I tip my hat in favor of A&M.
The Valero Alamo bowl also presents an interesting matchup between Oregon State and Texas. The Longhorns have been inconsistent all season, particularly against tougher teams, and much of that stems from quarterback Case McCoy’s performance.
The Beavers, on the other hand, are one of the biggest surprises this season, boasting both consistency and talent. If Oregon State can pick up its running game, they will have a well-rounded team that will be too much for this Texas team to handle.