Christmas is fast approaching, which means the start of the college football bowl season is heading our way even faster.
From the Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 21 to the VIZIO BCS National Championship on Jan. 6, 70 teams will head to bowls around the country trying to finish off 2013 with a resounding victory.
Will Florida State earn its first BCS national championship since 2000? Can Auburn make it a fifth straight year—and its second in that time span—that a team from Alabama wins the national title?
On the local scene, can BYU win its fifth straight bowl game? The Cougars will face a daunting task in trying to beat 8-4 Washington, though the Huskies will be captained by an interim coach.
Will Utah State be able to topple No. 24 Northern Illinois, which appeared headed for a BCS bowl game before collapsing in the MAC Championship Game? Northern Illinois will surely prove formidable with Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch leading the Husky attack.
Over the next few weeks, we'll have answers to these questions. For now, members of the Deseret News online sports staff put on their prognosticating caps to take a glimpse at the 2013-14 bowl season.
(Note: All game times listed are MST)
Washington State (6-6, 4-5 Pac-12) vs. Colorado State (7-6, 5-3 MWC)
Dec. 21, Noon at University Stadium, Albuquerque, N.M.
It's been a while since both the Cougars and Rams have been to a bowl game. This is Washington State's first bowl since 2003, and the last time Colorado State made a bowl appearance was the 2008 New Mexico Bowl.
Washington State is famous for Mike Leach's air-raid offense and sits at No. 9 in the country in passing yards with 330.4 yards per game. Colorado State's defense will have its hands full trying to stop Connor Halliday, who has 4,187 yards and 28 touchdowns this season. While the Rams have RB Kapri Bibbs, who has rushed for 1,572 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, they also haven't beaten a team with a winning record.
Prediction: Washington State 34, Colorado State 24
No. 21 Fresno State (11-1, 7-1 MWC) vs. USC (9-4, 6-3 Pac-12)
Dec. 21, 1:30 p.m. at Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
Fresno State was just one win away from busting the BCS, but San Jose State broke the Bulldogs' heart and kept them from an elite bowl. Still, Fresno State can't complain as it takes on one of the nation's powerhouse programs, the Trojans.
And it's an interesting matchup.
On the one hand, you have Bulldog quarterback Derek Carr. Carr is just 134 yards passing away from breaking the 5,000-yard mark. On the other hand, USC has one of the more solid defenses in the nation, allowing just 214.5 passing yards and 341.5 total yards per game.
Unstoppable force, meet immovable object.
As good as USC's defense is, however, expect the Bulldogs' high-octane offense to win the day.
Prediction: Fresno State 28, USC 21
Buffalo (8-4, 6-2 MAC) vs. San Diego State (7-5, 6-2 MWC)
Dec. 21, 3:30 p.m. at Bronco Stadium, Boise, Idaho
San Diego State had a rough start to 2013, falling to Eastern Illinois of the FCS 40-19 and going 0-3 to start the season. It's remarkable that the Aztecs are bowling at all. Buffalo can sympathize as it took them five overtimes to escape Stony Brook of the FCS to narrowly avoid starting 0-3 as well.
SDSU has had four overtime games this season, and to its credit it won three of them. Both teams are No. 98 or worse in passing yards and No. 48 or better in rushing offense, so expect both teams to keep things mostly on the ground. Adam Muema and Donnel Pumphrey have 1,765 yards on the season for SDSU, and Buffalo's Branden Oliver has 1,421 yards. This is a tossup, but given the Aztecs' struggles with teams with losing records, such Hawaii, Nevada and Air Force, Buffalo has a slight edge.
Prediction: Buffalo 31, SDSU 28
Tulane (7-5, 5-3 C-USA) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4, 5-2 Sun Belt)
Dec. 21, 7 p.m. at Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
Neither team is traveling too far for this one. Lafayette is a two-hour drive from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, while Tulane is a mere nine-minute drive away.
Tulane has no rushing game to speak of as it averages just 39.9 yards per game. Meanwhile, the Ragin' Cajuns have a good balance on offense, averaging 261.5 yards passing and 193.5 yards rushing per game. That balance is what will win the day.
Prediction: Louisiana-Lafayette 35, Tulane 24
East Carolina (9-3, 6-2 C-USA) vs. Ohio (7-5, 4-4 MAC)
Dec. 23, Noon at Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.
This bowl could be renamed the "best quarterbacks that few have even heard of" bowl.
East Carolina has Shane Carden, who has a respectable 3,866 yards and 32 touchdowns on the season to just 10 interceptions. Tyler Tettleton doesn't have quite the stats with 2,623 yards and 20 touchdowns, but he does boast a QB rating of 144.2.
Carden has the better resume and appears to be the better quarterback. That's why the Pirates are picked to win this one.
Prediction: East Carolina 37, Ohio 23
Boise State (8-4, 6-2 MWC) vs. Oregon State (6-6, 4-5 Pac-12)
Dec. 24, 6 p.m. at Aloha Stadium, Honolulu
Chad Hedrick, who took over the starting quarterback role after Joe Southwick went down with an injury against Nevada, has led the Broncos to a 4-2 record.
Hedrick has been helped by Jay Ajayi, who has carried the load as he's rushed for more than 1,300 yards to go along with 17 touchdowns. Ajayi has also emerged as a receiver as he's hauled in six receptions for 160 yards and a touchdown in the last two games.
Oregon State has had quite the season this year. The Beavers this year had a five-game winning streak followed by a five-game losing streak. Quarterback Sean Mannion has become one of the top quarterbacks in the nation as he's amassed more than 4,400 passing yards to go along with 36 touchdowns, 15 of which have gone to standout receiver Brandin Cooks.
This game should be an offensive thriller with all of the firepower these teams bring. However, with Chris Peterson leaving to take over the head coaching job at Washington, the Broncos will come up short against the Beavers.
Prediction: Oregon State 40, Boise State 27
Pittsburgh (6-6, 3-5 ACC) vs. Bowling Green (10-3, 7-1 MAC)
Dec. 26, 4 p.m. at Ford Field, Detroit
Heading into this game, Bowling Green is looking for its 11th win on the year, which would tie a school record. The MAC champions are making their third bowl appearance in five years but have come away with losses the last two trips.
Is the third time the charm? Chances look good for the Falcons, thanks to having Travis Greene in the backfield. Greene, who has rushed for more than 1,500 yards on the year, will look to carry the load for the Falcons.
Pittsburgh hopes to represent the ACC well after joining the league this past year. The Panthers also have a two-game bowl losing streak coming into the bowl game.
Prediction: Bowling Green 37, Pittsburgh 28
Utah State (8-5, 7-1 MWC) vs. No. 24 Northern Illinois (12-1, 8-0 MAC)
Dec. 26, 7:30 p.m. at Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
Northern Illinois was just one game away from playing in its second straight BCS bowl, but Bowling Green stunned the Huskies in the MAC Championship Game, 47-27. Utah State also played in a conference championship game, but likewise the Aggies weren't able to hang with Fresno State and lost 24-17.
Utah State's biggest challenge will be containing quarterback Jordan Lynch. Lynch has 2,676 yards passing, 1,881 yards rushing and 45 total touchdowns. Those numbers made him a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Still, the Aggies went on a nice five-game winning streak behind freshman quarterback Darell Garretson to capture the MWC's Mountain Division title. That run helped build confidence throughout the program and earned head coach Matt Wells conference coach of the year honors.
While USU is No. 7 nationally in scoring defense (15.4 points allowed per game), the MAC runner-up will be too much for the Aggies to handle.
Prediction: Northern Illinois 34, Utah State 24
Marshall (9-4, 7-1 C-USA) vs. Maryland (7-5, 3-5 ACC)
Dec. 27, 12:30 p.m. at Navy Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Md.
After losing 18 games during Randy Edsall's first two years as coach, Maryland opened the 2013 season with four straight wins and even cracked into the national rankings for the first time since 2008. Maryland is looking to end its relationship with the ACC on a good note as the program heads to the Big Ten next season.
Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato led the Thundering Herd to the nation's seventh highest-scoring offense. Cato threw for more than 3,500 yards and 36 touchdowns. The running game is no slouch either as Essray Taliaferro and Steward Butler combined to rush for 1,821 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Prediction: Marshall 23, Maryland 20
Syracuse (6-6, 4-4 ACC) vs. Minnesota (8-4, 4-4 Big Ten)
Dec. 27, 4 p.m. at Reliant Stadium, Houston
Syracuse had a respectable year during the team's inaugural season in the ACC. This marks the first time since 1998-99 that the Orange have been to bowl games in back-to-back years. Some of the biggest wins on the year for the Orange have come against Boston College and Maryland.
Minnesota is going bowling for the second season in a row, a big accomplishment considering the Gophers won only six games over the last couple of seasons. Minnesota ranks as one of the worst offensive teams in the nation, but its defense more than makes up for it. Some of the biggest wins on the year for the Gophers have come against Penn State, Nebraska and Northwestern.
Prediction: Minnesota 20, Syracuse 17
BYU (8-4, Independent) vs. Washington (8-4, 5-4 Pac-12)
Dec 27, 7:30 p.m. at AT&T Park, San Francisco
BYU started the season with disappointing losses to Virginia and Utah in September. The Cougars responded in October as they went on a five-game winning streak that included wins over Boise State, Houston, Georgia Tech and Utah State.
Still, a 2-2 record in November — with losses at Wisconsin and Notre Dame — has stalled some of the Cougars' momentum.
Sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill has done it all for the Cougars this year as he passed for 2,645 yards and 19 touchdowns, to go along with 1,211 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
Washington is heading into its fourth consecutive bowl game this year thanks to the program's eight wins, which are the most since 2001. The only downside for Husky fans and players is that head coach Steve Sarkisian was recently hired away to become the coach at USC. This leaves Marques Tuiasosopo as the interim coach for the bowl game.
Keith Price, who has battled injuries as of late, is a dual-threat quarterback that must be contained. The Huskies have one of the best running backs in the nation in Bishop Sankey, who has rushed for 1,775 yards and 18 touchdowns on the season.
Prediction: BYU 30, Washington 24
Rutgers (6-6, 3-5 American) vs. No. 25 Notre Dame (8-4, Independent)
Dec. 28, 10 a.m. at Yankee Stadium, The Bronx, N.Y.
These teams are neck and neck in many statistical categories, including total offense (Notre Dame 398.5, Rutgers 375.9), passing yards (Notre Dame 249.5, Rutgers 242.3), rushing yards (Notre Dame 149.0, Rutgers 133.7) and scoring offense (Notre Dame 27.1, Rutgers 27.4).
However, the big difference in this game is defense. The Irish are No. 32 in scoring defense, allowing 22.9 points per game, while the Scarlet Knights are No. 82 in the country, allowing 29.8 yards per game.
Defense is what gives the Irish the advantage here.
Prediction: Notre Dame 30, Rutgers 10
Cincinnati (9-3, 6-2 AAC) vs. North Carolina (6-6, 4-4 ACC)
Dec. 28, 1:20 p.m. at Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
While North Carolina enjoys a de-facto home-field advantage, the Tar Heels have a tough task of slowing down the Bearcat offense. Cincinnati is No. 21 in total offense with 482.3 yards per game and No. 16 in passing offense with 313.8 yards per game. Senior QB Brendon Kay will be difficult to stop as he has 3,121 yards and 22 touchdowns on the season.
But North Carolina can score points of its own. Only 1.1 points on average separate the two teams, and Marquise Williams has proven himself an able quarterback since taking over as the starter in the middle of the season. Williams has 1,527 yards passing, 490 yards rushing and 20 total touchdowns while starting in just five games this season.
Still, it's hard to go against the Bearcats, particularly since they took No. 18 Louisville to overtime.
Prediction: Cincinnati 41, North Carolina 33
Miami (Fla.) (9-3, 5-3 ACC) vs. No. 18 Louisville (11-1, 7-1 AAC)
Dec. 28, 4:45 p.m. at the Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla.
Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has one more game before he likely departs for the NFL, so this is his last chance to impress NFL scouts before the combine. His season has been pretty impressive with 3,523 yards passing and 28 touchdowns.
However, Miami is back in its first bowl game since before the Nevin Shapiro scandal broke, and the Hurricanes will make the most of this game. Stephen Morris is no slouch with 2,868 yards and 21 touchdowns. Plus, they have Duke Johnson, who has 1,393 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns.
However, you can't go against Bridgewater in what could be his farewell to college football.
Prediction: Louisville 42, Miami (Fla.) 39
Michigan (7-5, 3-5 Big Ten) vs. Kansas State (7-5, 5-4 Big 12)
Dec. 28, 8:15 p.m. at Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
Michigan's season ended with a thud as the Wolverines lost five of their last seven after starting 5-0, including a tough loss against archrival Ohio State.
Meanwhile, Kansas State started its season with a thud as they lost to North Dakota State Week 1 and dropped four of its first six games. Clearly, these are two programs headed in different directions.
Which is why Kansas State is the pick here.
Prediction: Kansas State 34, Michigan 31
Middle Tennessee State (8-4, 6-2 C-USA) vs. Navy (8-4, Independent)
Dec. 30, 9:45 a.m. at Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas
Given that this game kicks off before 10 in the morning Mountain Time, clearly ESPN doesn't think much of this game.
Navy is going to bring a heaping dish of the old triple option, and Middle Tennessee State may have eight wins, but only one of those teams (Marshall) has a winning record. Navy has zero wins over teams with winning records in the FBS. Their best win is against Pitt, who went 6-6 during the regular season.
This is a game to skip, in other words.
However, if you have to pick a winner, go with Navy.
Prediction: Navy 24, Middle Tennessee State 17
Ole Miss (7-5, 3-5 SEC) vs. Georgia Tech (7-5, 5-3 ACC)
Dec. 30, 1:15 p.m. at LP Field, Nashville, Tenn.
Ole Miss secured its second bowl appearance in as many seasons under coach Hugh Freeze and is looking to earn a school-record sixth consecutive bowl victory.
The Rebels are balanced on offense as running backs I'Tavius Mathers and Jeff Scott have rushed for a combined 998 yards and five touchdowns. Receivers Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan have combined for more than 1,400 yards and eight touchdowns.
Georgia Tech has continued to be a ground-first attack under Paul Johnson as the Yellow Jackets rank third in rushing touchdowns and 11th in yards per carry. The rushing duo of Sims and Godhigh have produced more than 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Some of the biggest wins on the year for the Yellow Jackets have come against Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse and Pittsburgh.
Prediction: Ole Miss 27, Georgia Tech 24
No. 10 Oregon (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12 ) vs. Texas (8-4, 7-2 Big 12)
Dec 30, 4:45 p.m. at Alamodome, San Antonio
Oregon fans are used to seeing their team play in BCS bowls over the years. While a 10-2 record is great by Oregon standards, winning 10 games is expected now.
The good news for Duck fans is that sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota has decided to return to Eugene for another season and not leave early to go into the NFL. Mariota has put up huge numbers this year with 3,412 passing yards and 582 rushing yards.
After a rocky 1-2 record to start the year, not to mention the firing of Manny Diaz after the 40-21 loss to BYU, the Longhorns have responded by winning seven of their last nine games, including six in a row.
Things will be interesting as head coach Mack Brown announced his resignation after 16 seasons at Texas. Brown will coach in his last bowl game before making way for the next coach to push the Longhorns back into the spotlight.
Prediction: Oregon 40, Texas 24
No. 16 Arizona State (10-3, 8-1 Pac-12) vs. Texas Tech (7-5, 4-5 Big 12)
Dec. 30, 8:15 p.m. at Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
Arizona State's remarkable regular season ended on a sour note as the Sun Devils were one win away from going to the Rose Bowl, losing to Stanford in the league title game. The last time the Sun Devils went to the Rose Bowl was back in 1996.
On the bright side, the Sun Devils can still claim their 11th victory of the season, which would be just the sixth time in program history. The Sun Devils will have to overcome history if they want to reach that milestone. The Sun Devils are 0-3 all time in the Holiday Bowl.
After starting the season 7-0, the Red Raiders lost five straight to end the season. Texas Tech's passing offense is one of the best in the nation, which will put Arizona's secondary to the test. A high scoring games looks to be in the works when these high-octane teams meet on Dec. 30.
Prediction: Arizona State 41, Texas Tech 31
Arizona (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) vs. Boston College (7-5, 5-5 ACC)
Dec. 31, 10:30 a.m. at Independence Stadium, Shreveport, La.
The battle between these two teams will come down to which running back is going to have the biggest game. Boston College running back Andre Williams had more than 2,100 yards, which put him first in the nation to go along with 17 touchdowns.
After racking up the most yards last year, Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey continued to impress as the junior running back had more than 1,700 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns for the Wildcats this year.
Prediction: Arizona 34, Boston College 20
Virginia Tech (8-4, 5-3 ACC) vs. No. 17 UCLA (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12)
Dec. 31, Noon, El Paso, Texas
Virginia Tech is not the Virgina Tech of old under Frank Beamer. The Hokies have lost some very winnable games this year and have put some pressure on Beamer. Quarterback Logan Thomas has thrown for 16 touchdowns on the year but has also thrown 13 interceptions. Willie Byrn and Demitri Knowles have become hot targets for Thomas as they've combined to catch more than 1,200 yards and five touchdowns.
UCLA has had quite the turnaround ever since Jim Mora took over the coaching duties at UCLA. Not only are the Bruins beating the likes of USC, they are also putting together a team that has the potential to compete for national championships.
Sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley has more than 3,400 total yards and 31 touchdowns on the season. If Virginia Tech wants to pull off an upset, it will have to stop Hundley. Will it be able to? Probably not.
Prediction: UCLA 27, Virginia Tech 17
Rice (10-3, 7-1 C-USA) vs. Mississippi State (6-6, 3-5 SEC)
Dec. 31, 2 p.m., Memphis, Tenn.
Rice made history when it ended a 56-year title drought with a 41-24 victory over Marshall in the C-USA championship game. The Owls are led by star running back Charles Ross, who has more than 1,200 yards rushing (6.2 yards per carry) and 14 touchdowns. With a win, Rice would have 11 wins and one of the best years the program has ever had.
Mississippi State is entering its four straight consecutive bowl game. Getting there wasn't easy as the Bulldgos had to beat Ole Miss and Arkansas in overtime to get to bowl eligibility. Mississippi State enters the bowl season with a balanced offense. The Bulldogs come in with an average of 237 yards passing and 143 yards rushing per game.
Prediction: Mississippi State 31, Rice 17
No. 22 Duke (10-3, 6-2 ACC) vs. No. 20 Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4 SEC)
Dec. 31, 6 p.m. at the Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Duke's season is a major surprise, while Texas A&M's season is a mild disappointment. That said, the only quarterback the Blue Devils have faced this season that is near the level of Johnny Manziel is Florida State's Jameis Winston.
Duke lost that game 45-7.
Granted, the Aggies don't have the same quality of defense as the Seminoles, but the Blue Devils will have their hands full trying to stop Manziel in what could be his final game in college.
Prediction: Texas A&M 45, Duke 21
Nebraska (8-4, 5-3 Big Ten) vs. No. 23 Georgia (8-4, 5-3 SEC)
Jan. 1, 10 a.m., at Everbank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
Perhaps more fitting than the Gator Bowl would be to call this game the injury bowl. Coming into the season, Nebraska and Georgia had high expectations. After numerous injuries hit both teams, those expectations were never realized.
Senior quarterback Taylor Martinez went down with a foot injury that cost him his senior year. Martinez, a four-year starter, was looking to become one of Nebraska's all-time greats. Instead he has had to watch his team from the sidelines.
Georgia was one of the most injury-plagued teams in all of college football this year. Starting running back Keith Marshall, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell and star quarterback Aaron Murray were all lost to season-ending injuries. This killed Bulldogs fans and players of the chance for a national title this year.
Prediction: Georgia 23, Nebraska 20
UNLV (7-5, 5-3 MWC) vs. North Texas (8-4, 6-2 C-USA)
Jan. 1, 10 a.m. at Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Texas
It's been awhile since either team has been to a bowl game: The Rebels last went to the postseason in 2000 and the Mean Green in 2004. Nerves could play a factor early on in this contest because of the long bowl droughts.
UNLV comes into the game with some momentum, winning its last two games — including beating San Diego State 45-19 in the regular-season finale one week after the Aztecs knocked off Boise State. The Mean Green, meanwhile, have a stout defense, giving up just 18.1 points per game. That is ninth nationally.
Prediction: UNLV 20, North Texas 17
No. 19 Wisconsin (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) vs. No. 8 South Carolina (10-2, 6-2 SEC)
Jan. 1, 11 a.m. at Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla.
This game matches up a pair of teams good enough to challenge for a BCS berth that fell short. Still, it should be one of the top non-BCS games on tap this bowl season.
Former USU coach Gary Andersen has a dangerous ground attack at Wisconsin, with Melvin Gordon and James White combining for more than 2,800 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns. The Gamecocks feature defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and an offense that averaged 453.5 yards per game.
From quarterback play to points scored, these two teams appear on paper to be a close matchup.
Prediction: South Carolina 31, Wisconsin 28
Iowa (8-4, 5-3 Big Ten) vs. No. 14 LSU (9-3, 5-3 SEC)
Jan. 1, 11 a.m. at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
The ranked Tigers are the only team this season to beat Auburn, who will be playing for the national title. While a young LSU team finished third in the SEC West, it has shown it can hang around — and beat — some of the top teams in the country.
Iowa enters the game having won four of its past five games, and a win could vault it into the final Top 25. The Hawkeyes boast All-Big Ten linebackers Anthony Hitchens (102 tackles, 13 tackles for loss) and James Morris (98 tackles, 14.5 TFL) on a defense that ranks seventh nationally in total defense (303.2).
When these two teams met in the 2005 Capital One Bowl, the Hawkeyes won on a Hail Mary pass. Don't expect that to happen to LSU this time around.
Prediction: LSU 27, Iowa 21
No. 5 Stanford (11-2, 7-2 Pac-12) vs. No. 4 Michigan State (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten)
Jan. 1, 3 p.m. at Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, Calif.
Expect a whole lot of defense at "The Granddaddy of Them All."
Michigan State is No. 1 in total defense and rushing defense, No. 4 in scoring defense and No. 6 in passing defense. Stanford is No. 14 in total defense and No. 10 in scoring defense.
Points are going to come at a premium in this game.
Stanford has the better offense with Tyler Gaffney and his 1,618 yards rushing this season. However, the Cardinal is about to hit a brick wall. Plus, Stanford is vulnerable against the pass (247.8 yards allowed per game) while Michigan State is not (167.4 yards allowed per game). That will be Stanford's downfall.
Prediction: Michigan State 20, Stanford 17
No. 15 Central Florida (11-1, 8-0 AAC) vs. No. 6 Baylor (11-1, 8-1 Big 12)
Jan. 1, 6:30 p.m. at University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Two teams with high-octane offenses match up in this New Year's bowl.
Central Florida advanced to its first BCS bowl game in school history by winning close conference games and slipping up just once in a close loss to top 10 South Carolina. Blake Bortles has thrown for 3,280 yards and 22 touchdowns, and the Knights' defense ranks in the top 20 nationally in several categories: total defense, scoring defense, pass efficiency defense and rushing defense.
UCF will need all that defense, and then some. The Bears have averaged 53.3 points per game, tops in the country, and 624.5 yards per game. Quarterback Bryce Petty is efficient, having thrown 30 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Baylor's defense is no slouch, either, ranking in the top 20 in scoring defense (21.2 ppg) and total defense (344 ypg).
Prediction: Baylor 44, Central Florida 34
No. 11 Oklahoma (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) vs. No. 3 Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC)
Jan. 2, 6:30 p.m. at Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
Alabama would have been in the BCS National Championship Game if it weren't for the fantastic end to the Iron Bowl against hated-rival Auburn. But as a consolation prize, the Tide will face off against the Sooners in the Sugar Bowl.
Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops has repeatedly called out the SEC this year, and it's put up or shut up time for Stoops and the Sooners. Oklahoma can't count on Alabama to look past this game, which means it could be a very long day for Stoops and Oklahoma.
How much motivation will the Crimson Tide have after missing out on a title-game berth for the first time in three years? More than enough to win this one.
Prediction: Alabama 41, Oklahoma 14
No. 12 Clemson (10-2, 7-1 ACC) vs. No. 7 Ohio State (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten)
Jan. 3, 6:30 p.m. at Sun Life Stadium, Miami, Fla.
It's all about the quarterbacks in this BCS tilt.
Tajh Boyd has thrown for 3,473 yards and 29 touchdowns for Clemson and added 272 yards and nine scores on the ground. On the other side, Braxton Miller's dual-threat capabilities have been on display all year, with 1,860 passing yards and 22 TDs to go along with 1,033 rushing yards and 10 more scores.
Clemson's receiving duo of Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant will be a handful for a struggling Buckeye secondary, but expect Ohio State to find a way to rebound behind Urban Meyer, a self-described "awful loser," after falling for the first time all season in the Big Ten title game.
Prediction: Ohio State 24, Clemson 21
No. 13 Oklahoma State (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) vs. No. 9 Missouri (11-2, 7-1 SEC)
Jan. 3, 5:30 p.m. at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Two former Big 12 rivals face off in what could be a high-scoring affair. Both teams rank in the top 15 in the country in scoring offense — Oklahoma State averages 39.8 points per game, Missouri 39.0.
Yet defense could be the determining factor here. The Cowboys give up just 132.5 yards rushing per game and rank fourth nationally in turnover margin, forcing 30 turnovers this season. The Tigers entered the SEC Championship Game second in the league in rush defense, but gave up 545 yards on the ground in a 59-42 loss to Auburn.
With two teams coming off devastating losses — OSU fell to rival Oklahoma, missing out on the Big 12 title — both teams have something to prove.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 35, Missouri 31
Vanderbilt (8-4, 4-4 SEC) vs. Houston (8-4, 5-3 AAC)
Jan. 4, 11 a.m. at Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.
Houston heads into this post-New Year's Day game with little momentum, having lost three in a row before ending the regular season with a win. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, has rolled off four straight victories, including wins at Florida and Tennessee.
The Cougars boast one of the nation's best young quarterbacks in John O'Korn, who has thrown for 2,889 yards, 26 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. The Commodores will also be without quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, who had surgery to repair a torn ACL.
Still, Vanderbilt has the better defense, giving up just 352.3 yards per game, and its experience playing SEC opponents should come in handy here.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 35, Houston 17
Arkansas State (7-5, 5-2 Sun Belt) vs. Ball State (10-2, 7-1 MAC)
Jan. 5, 7 p.m. at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Ala.
What does the final game before the national title contest have in store? Two teams from conferences near the bottom of FBS football.
Ball State looks to have the clear edge here. The Cardinals won eight of their last nine games, the lone loss coming against ranked Northern Illinois. Plus, quarterback Keith Wenning has thrown for 34 touchdowns and 3,933 yards. Arkansas State also lost its head coach, as Bryan Harsin was hired to replace Chris Petersen at Boise State.
Prediction: Ball State 42, Arkansas State 17
No. 1 Florida State (13-0, 8-0 ACC) vs. No. 2 Auburn (12-1, 7-1 SEC)
Jan. 6, 6:30 p.m. at Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, Calif.
At the beginning of this season, Auburn was the one of the great longshots to make it to the national championship game. Before the season began, the Tigers were given a 500-1 to 1,000-1 chance of winning it all.
And here they are, thanks in large part to miracle plays against Georgia and Alabama.
However, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and the stifling Florida State defense haven't needed any miracles to get to the title game. The only team to even come close to the Seminoles this season was Boston College, and the Eagles lost by 14. They absolutely destroyed good teams, such as Clemson (51-14), Miami (Fla.) (41-14) and Duke in the ACC title game (45-7).
The SEC's grasp on the national championship ends here.
Prediction: Florida State 41, Auburn 31