By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) It’s the most wonderful time of the year — no thanks to college football’s bowl season.
I have to give credit to bowl organizers. Only in America can you have a job where you get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to travel around the country, watch football games for free all season and then pick two of them to play in an exhibition game. It’s a hell of a scam, but yes, I’m jealous.
I’m not jealous of whoever has to cover the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl though. First of all, they have to go to Detroit, which is never good. But they’re also forced to watch Western Kentucky play Central Michigan. At least the pizza will be tolerable.
There’s really no reason to sugarcoat it: this is a rough bowl season. Ten of the 35 games feature double-digit favorites and five of the six BCS games have spreads of nine points or more. Ouch.
The fact that 10 teams will have new coaches for their bowl games tells you everything you need to know. That includes two teams going to BCS games. Dave Doeren was in such a hurry to leave Northern Illinois, he left before the Huskies were awarded an Orange Bowl bid. Meanwhile, Bret Bielema clinched his third straight Rose Bowl berth by hanging 70 points on Nebraska. It meant so much to him, he bolted three days later to take over a 4-8 Arkansas team.
Ahh, the bowl season.
Of course, if you’re like me, you still watch these games for some reason. And, truth be told, a number of the games will still be entertaining. So to help you out, I’ve ranked all 35 bowl games in order of how much attention you should pay to each one:
1. BCS National Championship: 1 Notre Dame (12-0) vs 2 Alabama (12-1, 7-1)
Miami Gardens, FL
When: Jan. 7, 7:30 p.m.
Line: Alabama -10.0
No line is more absurd than this one. The team with the better defense is a 10-point underdog? This is a decent matchup for Notre Dame, but you always have to worry when Nick Saban has over a month to prepare for a team. I know one thing though: the Irish have battled all season and they aren’t going to be blown out. I’ll be down in Miami covering the bowl week and will be diving into this one in much deeper detail in the coming weeks.
My pick: Stay tuned….
2. Cotton Bowl: 10 Texas A&M (10-2, 6-2) vs 12 Oklahoma (10-2, 8-1)
When: Jan. 4, 7 p.m.
Line: Texas A&M -4.5
The pressure is on the Aggies to win this one as they don’t want to lose a Big 12 school after leaving the conference. All eyes will be on Johnny Manziel as he looks to back up his Heisman win. Both offenses are good, but A&M’s is a little better. Should be a great game.
My pick: Texas A&M (Confidence points: 17)
3. Rose Bowl: 8 Stanford (11-2, 8-1) vs Wisconsin (8-5, 4-4)
When: Jan. 1, 4 p.m.
Line: Stanford -6.5
This game lacked excitement, but then Barry Alvarez took over as Wisconsin’s interim head coach. He’s 3-0 in Rose Bowls and the players are jacked up to play for him. Stanford is the better team, but it would be wise to treat the Badgers more like a 10-3 team because Wisconsin held back in meaningless overtime losses to Ohio State and Penn State. This is going to be a tight game no matter who wins.
My pick: Wisconsin (Confidence points: 8)
4. Fiesta Bowl: 5 Oregon (11-1, 8-1) vs 7 Kansas State (11-1, 8-1)
When: Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m.
Line: Oregon -9.0
This could be the most entertaining game of the bowl season. Oregon will put up a ton of points and Collin Klein will have a chance to shine as NFL scouts continue to doubt him. The difference in this game will be the play-making ability of the Ducks defense though. They’ll create a couple key turnovers and may even return one for a touchdown. In the end, I don’t expect this one to be that close, but it will be fun to watch.
My pick: Oregon (Confidence points: 33)
5. Chick-fil-A Bowl: 9 LSU (10-2, 6-2) vs 14 Clemson (10-2, 7-1)
When: Dec. 31, 6:30 p.m.
Line: LSU -4.0
This is a pretty good New Year’s Eve matchup. Clemson will be highly motivated to beat an SEC team, but LSU’s defense will prove to be too much.
My pick: LSU (Confidence points: 20)
6. Holiday Bowl: 17 UCLA (9-4, 6-3) vs Baylor (7-5, 4-5)
San Diego, CA
When: Dec. 27, 8:45 p.m.
Line: UCLA -1.0
This is going to be a fun game. Both teams exceeded expectations this season and will want to end the season with a quality win. There is also some good star power. Johnathan Franklin and Brett Hundley are fun to watch on UCLA.
My pick: UCLA (Confidence points: 13)
7. Orange Bowl: 13 Florida State (11-2, 7-1) vs 16 Northern Illinois (12-1, 8-0)
Miami Gardens, FL
When: Jan. 1, 7:30 p.m.
Line: Florida State -13.5
The Huskies won’t have much of a drop-off without Dave Doeren as Rod Carey is more than capable. Non-BCS schools are always dangerous in these games because they have so much to prove. NIU feels like it is carrying the MACtion torch for their entire conference. As great of a story as the Huskies are though, they aren’t Boise State and they aren’t TCU. NIU will battle and stay in the game late into the third quarter, but that’s when talent (and size) will win out and wear down the Huskies.
My pick: Florida State (Confidence points: 27)
8. Outback Bowl: 11 South Carolina (10-2, 6-2) vs 19 Michigan (8-4, 6-2)
When: Jan. 1, Noon
Line: South Carolina -5.0
Michigan looked better later in the year with Devin Gardner at quarterback. Still, we saw what happened when the Wolverines played Alabama to open the season. This game will epitomize the gap between the Big Ten and SEC.
My pick: South Carolina (Confidence points: 30)
9. Gator Bowl: 21 Northwestern (9-3, 5-3) vs Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4)
When: Jan. 1, 11 a.m.
Line: Mississippi State -2.0
Pat Fitzgerald tries to eliminate “the only lingering negative in our program” with a win. Whoops, I promised I wouldn’t talk about that. In all seriousness though, this is a game Northwestern can and should win. Do it.
My pick: Northwestern (Confidence points: 10)
10. Alamo Bowl: 15 Oregon State (9-3, 6-3) vs Texas (8-4, 5-4)
San Antonio, TX
When: Dec. 29, 5:45 p.m.
Line: Oregon State -2.0
Mike Riley has done a great job with the Beavers this year. Texas lost its offensive coordinator to Arkansas State and is facing a stingy defense. Oregon State has two good quarterback options.
My pick: Oregon State (Confidence points: 16)
11. Sun Bowl: USC (7-5, 5-4) vs Georgia Tech (6-7, 5-3)
El Paso, TX
When: Dec. 31, 1 p.m. – CBS
Line: USC -10.0
Matt Barkley is back, but USC needs to be careful because Georgia Tech has shown an ability to put up points against bad defenses. This will be a closer game than most think. The Sun Bowl is an underrated bowl venue too.
My pick: USC (Confidence points: 19)
12. Meineke Car Care Bowl: Minnesota (6-6, 2-6) vs Texas Tech (7-5, 4-5)
When: Dec. 28, 8 p.m.
Line: Texas Tech -12.5
I expect an inspired effort from Jerry Kill’s squad and Texas Tech is prone to stinkers. With a month to prepare, the Gophers’ offense will surprise. Points will be scored and this one could go to overtime.
My pick: Minnesota (Confidence points: 1)
13. Pinstripe Bowl: Syracuse (7-5, 5-2) vs West Virginia (7-5, 4-5)
When: Dec. 29, 2:15 p.m.
Line: West Virginia -4.0
Syracuse ended its season on a good run and beat then-No. 9 Louisville. West Virginia’s five-game losing streak came to an end only because it closed against Iowa State and Kansas. This should be an entertaining game with plenty of points. When in doubt, take the Big 12 team — even if its in its first year in the conference.
My pick: West Virginia (Confidence points: 14)
14. Belk Bowl: Cincinnati (9-3, 5-2) vs Duke (6-6, 3-5)
When: Dec. 27, 5:30 p.m.
Line: Cincinnati -7.5
Another bowl game featuring a team that lost its head coach. Butch Jones was a big loss for Cincinnati and Duke is going to be highly motivated playing in its first bowl game in 18 years.
My pick: Duke (Confidence points: 3)
15. New Mexico Bowl: Nevada (7-5, 4-4) vs Arizona (7-5, 4-5)
When: Dec. 15, Noon
Line: Arizona -9.5
Let me introduce you to Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey. He’s the nation’s No. 1 rusher (146.42 yards/game) and a lot of fun to watch. Oh yeah, and Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson is No. 2 (141.92).
My pick: Arizona (Confidence points: 25)
16. Capital One Bowl: 6 Georgia (11-2, 7-1) vs 23 Nebraska (10-3, 7-1)
When: Jan. 1, Noon
Line: Georgia -10.0
Dec. 1 told us everything we need to know about these two teams. Georgia proved it was one of the best teams in the country against Alabama while Nebraska got blown out 70-31 in Bo Pelini’s biggest test. This one shouldn’t be close.
My pick: Georgia (Confidence points: 35)
17. Sugar Bowl: 4 Florida (11-1, 7-1) vs 22 Louisville (10-2, 5-2)
New Orleans, LA
When: Jan. 2, 7:30 p.m.
Line: Florida -14.0
Louisville bribed me with bubble gum to vote for Teddy Bridgewater, but I’m not a big bubble gum guy. Florida’s outstanding defense will swarm him and create turnovers. The Cardinals are out of their league in this game.
My pick: Florida (Confidence points: 32)
18. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: TCU (7-5, 4-5) vs Michigan State (6-6, 3-5)
When: Dec. 29, 9:15 p.m.
Line: TCU -2.5
This is a tough game to call because both offenses are suspect and both defenses are good. TCU is a little more battled tested though, playing five of its last six games against ranked opponents.
My pick: TCU (Confidence points: 15)
19. Las Vegas Bowl: 20 Boise State (10-2, 7-1) vs Washington (7-5, 5-4)
Las Vegas, NV
When: Dec. 22, 2:30 p.m.
Line: Boise State -5.5
The Huskies are impossible to figure out. They beat Stanford and Oregon State, but lost to Washington State to finish the regular season. Boise State embarrassed Utah and Arizona State the last two years in this bowl game and the Broncos should win again.
My pick: Boise State (Confidence points: 23)
20. Music City Bowl: N.C. State (7-5, 4-4) vs Vanderbilt (8-4, 5-3)
When: Dec. 31, 11 a.m.
Line: Vanderbilt -6.5
All four of Vanderbilt’s losses this year came against teams currently ranked. North Carolina State is definitely not ranked. The one-dimensional Wolfpack will have a tough day against Vandy’s good pass defense.
My pick: Vanderbilt (Confidence points: 18)
21. Fight Hunger Bowl: Navy (8-4) vs Arizona State (7-5, 5-4)
San Francisco, CA
When: Dec. 29, 3 p.m.
Line: Arizona State -14.5
Arizona State is a much better team, but this is a bad matchup for the Sun Devils. Their weakness is their run defense and that’s obviously not good against Navy. Still, the layoff should help ASU prepare.
My pick: Arizona State (Confidence points: 31)
22. Russell Athletic Bowl: Rutgers (9-3, 5-2) vs Virginia Tech (6-6, 4-4)
When: Dec. 28, 4:30 p.m.
Line: Virginia Tech -2.5
Both teams arrive in Orlando limping. Rutgers had a chance to be in the Sugar Bowl, but threw it away. Still, this has been a disappointing year for the Hokies and they don’t have much to play for.
My pick: Rutgers (Confidence points: 4)
23. Compass Bowl: Pittsburgh (6-6, 3-4) vs Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5)
When: Jan. 5, Noon
Line: Ole Miss -3.5
Two names to watch in this game: Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri and Pitt running back Ray Graham. Sunseri takes care of the football despite a suspect offensive line and that will give the Panthers a chance. Pitt ended the season strong and played Notre Dame really well. Ole Miss played a tougher schedule, but Paul Chryst will have a couple tricks up his sleeve to secure a close win.
My pick: Pittsburgh (Confidence points: 6)
24. GoDaddy.com Bowl: 25 Kent State (11-2, 8-0) vs Arkansas State (9-3, 7-1)
When: Jan. 6, 8 p.m.
Line: Arkansas State -4.0
Both teams lost their head coaches in recent weeks and it’s hard to tell how they’ll fare without them. Kent State really impressed me with the way they battled back against NIU and they have that impressive win over Rutgers in their pocket. This game is more intriguing than it seems on the surface.
My pick: Kent State (Confidence points: 7)
25. Idaho Potato Bowl: 18 Utah State (10-2, 6-0) vs Toledo (9-3, 6-2)
When: Dec. 15, 3:30 p.m.
Line: Utah State -10.5
Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton is one of college football’s hidden gems. Toledo head coach Matt Campbell is one of college football’s up-and-coming offensive minds. The Aggies have a much better defense though.
My pick: Utah State (Confidence points: 28)
26. Liberty Bowl : Tulsa (10-3, 7-1) vs Iowa State (6-6, 3-6)
When: Dec. 31, 2:30 p.m.
Tough game to call. The Cyclones beat Tulsa to open the season, but this one won’t be played in Ames. Iowa State has been more battled tested in the Big 12. Plus, I fear tornadoes more than Hurricanes.
My pick: Iowa State (Confidence points: 2)
27. Poinsettia Bowl: BYU (7-5) vs San Diego State (9-3, 7-1)
San Diego, CA
When: Dec. 20, 7 p.m.
Line: BYU -2.5
These former conference foes meet in a home game for the Aztecs. BYU is one of the toughest teams to watch in college football, but their defense will end San Diego State’s seven-game win streak.
My pick: BYU (Confidence points: 12)
28. Heart of Dallas Bowl: Purdue (6-6, 3-5) vs Oklahoma State (7-5, 5-4)
When: Jan. 1, 11 a.m.
Line: Oklahoma State – 16.5
Purdue might be bowl eligible, but it does not belong in a bowl game. The Boilermakers don’t have a chance in this game.
My pick: Oklahoma State (Confidence points: 34)
29. Independence Bowl: LA Monroe (8-4, 6-2) vs Ohio (8-4, 4-4)
When: Dec. 28, 1 p.m.
Line: LA Monroe -7.0
The bowl 9-3 Louisiana Tech should be playing in. They reportedly slept on the bid, however, and the Independence Bowl officials gave it to Ohio in the meantime. Oh well, their loss. Ohio is not that good and Louisiana Monroe is. It’s a virtual home game for the Warhawks, who are playing in their first bowl.
My pick: Louisiana Monroe (Confidence points: 21)
30. Beef ‘O’ Brady Bowl: UCF (9-4, 7-1) vs Ball State (9-3, 6-2)
St. Petersburg, FL
When: Dec. 21, 6:30 p.m.
Line: UCF -7.0
Ball State will be excited about a trip to Florida, while UCF might be bored driving over from Orlando. Ball State’s only losses this season were to Clemson, Kent State and Northern Illinois — three ranked teams. I smell upset.
My pick: Ball State (Confidence points: 5)
31. New Orleans Bowl: East Carolina (8-4, 7-1) vs LA Lafayette (8-4, 6-2)
New Orleans, LA
When: Dec. 22, 11 a.m.
Line: LA Lafayette -6.0
The Ragin’ Cajuns won this game last year and they’ll make it 2-for-2 in bowl games for the program.
My pick: LA Lafayette (Confidence points: 24)
32. Hawaii Bowl: SMU (6-6, 5-3) vs Fresno State (9-3, 7-1)
When: Dec. 24, 7 p.m.
Line: Fresno State -12.0
The Bulldogs have had a sneaky good season and are a considerably better team than SMU.
My pick: Fresno State (Confidence points: 29)
33. Military Bowl: 24 San Jose State (10-2, 5-1) vs Bowling Green (8-4, 6-2)
When: Dec. 27, 2 p.m.
Line: San Jose State -7.0
San Jose State has a lot going against it in this game. The Spartans lost head coach Mike MacIntyre to Colorado (great hire) and they have to travel across the country for this one. But a closer look at Bowling Green’s schedule shows that their best win was a road win at Ohio. Not impressed.
My pick: San Jose State (Confidence points: 26)
34. Little Caesars Bowl: Western Kentucky (7-5, 4-4) vs Central Michigan (6-6, 4-4)
When: Dec. 26, 6:30 p.m.
Line: Western Kentucky -5.5
Central Michigan is by far the worst bowl team this year. Western Kentucky lost head coach Willie Taggert to USF, but the Hilltoppers should be fine in this game. Of course, both teams have to spend Christmas in Detroit so everybody loses.
My pick: Western Kentucky (Confidence points: 22)
35. Armed Forces Bowl: Rice (6-6, 4-4) vs Air Force (6-6, 5-3)
When: Dec. 29, 10:45 a.m.
Line: Air Force -1.0
These are two bad football teams playing in a bad bowl. Watch at your own risk.
My pick: Air Force. (Confidence points: 11)
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.
Fort Worth, TX