On December 20, at 11 A.M. Eastern (8 A.M. Pacific), the 2014-15 college football bowl season will kick off, with the matchup of Nevada and Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The college football postseason will culminate on January 12, 2015, when two of the four College Football Playoff teams, from Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State, square off for a new version of the national championship. In between are 37 other bowl games, involving 74 other schools.
Aside from the two CFP semifinal bowls – the Rose Bowl, featuring #2 Oregon and #3 FSU; and the Sugar Bowl, pairing #1 Alabama with #4 Ohio State – and the four games which make up the remainder of the newly formed “Big Six” rotation (Orange, Fiesta, Cotton and Peach) – here are a few other bowls which present intriguing matchups this month.
Outback Bowl (Auburn vs. Wisconsin; Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.; January 1, 12 noon Eastern): This and the Citrus Bowl, also on New Year’s Day, are the next best New Year’s bowls after the Big Six; and this year’s pairing in Tampa features Auburn, who was in the final BCS national-title game last year, with Wisconsin, the Big Ten’s winner last year and runner-up this year. This will be the final college game for Badgers running back Melvin Gordon, who has announced that he will make himself eligible for the 2015 NFL draft; Gordon is the latest in a lengthy line of Wisconsin running backs. As for Auburn, they looked for a while like a possible CFP contender until taking a pair of conference losses and then falling short in the Iron Bowl against their in-state rivals from Tuscaloosa.
Texas Bowl (Arkansas vs. Texas; NRG Stadium, Houston; December 29, 9 P.M. Eastern): Once upon a time, this would have been a classic regular-season matchup between Southwest Conference rivals; but the Razorbacks bolted the SWC for the neighboring Southeastern Conference in 1991, starting that conference on a death spiral that culminated in that conference’s breakup in 1995-96. This year’s matchup features a Razorback squad that broke through in head coach Bret Bielema’s second year to make its first bowl game since 2011, and is led by a pair of 1000-yard rushers in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. Texas, under first-year coach Charlie Strong, developed into a very strong, top-20 nationally defensive squad; the offense had to battle through several key injuries but finally had things clicking by the end of the season. The Longhorns will be playing essentially a glorified home game in Houston.
Music City Bowl (Notre Dame vs. LSU; LP Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.; December 30, 3 P.M. Eastern): This pre-New Year’s bowl is not where either of these two squads expected to end up when the season started – especially the Irish, who started a downward spiral this season after falling in a close game to FSU. The Golden Domers, especially quarterback Everett Golson, will be looking to salvage some respect after dropping their last four games of the regular season. LSU stormed the heights and plumbed the depths during their season, occasionally in consecutive weeks (losing 17-0 to Arkansas, followed by a 23-17 win over Texas A&M as an example).
Pinstripe Bowl (Boston College vs. Penn State; Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y.; December 27, 4:30 P.M. Eastern): This young bowl features a pair of big East Coast fan bases, and marks the postseason return of Penn State, who was under sanction previously in the wake of the Sandusky scandal. The Nittany Lions started their season 4-0, including a win over B1G newcomer Rutgers; but won just two more games the rest of the season, over Indiana and Temple. A win would reward the seniors who stuck with the PSU program through its scandal. Boston College had a mixed season in the ACC, with missed upset opportunities against Clemson and Florida State. Head coach Steve Addazio will be looking for his first bowl win as Eagles coach.
Holiday Bowl (Nebraska vs. USC; Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego; December 27, 8 P.M. Eastern): Here’s the Pac-12 vs. Big Ten, once upon a time a classic matchup up the road at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Nowadays, it could be called “Rose Bowl Lite.” Nebraska was potentially en route to the B1G conference championship – then they allowed Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon to run for over 400 yards in three quarters; after the season, head coach Bo Pelini was let go. The Trojans, on the other hand, were a last second “Hail Mary” loss to South Division rival Arizona State from winning the division – and attempting to hold off Oregon. Still, the Trojans can point to some solid wins this season, over Stanford, Arizona, and Notre Dame.
Honorable mention, Boca Raton Bowl (Marshall vs. Northern Illinois; FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Fla.; December 23, 6 P.M. Eastern): This is a brand new bowl on the schedule, and probably the best of the pre-Christmas bowl games on the schedule. Marshall was one point away from a 13-0 undefeated season, falling 67-66 in overtime to Conference USA rival Western Kentucky (who is also in a bowl game, the inaugural Bahamas Bowl). Thundering Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato has at least one touchdown pass in over 40 games, which is a new NCAA FBS record. Northern Illinois is two years removed from appearing in the Orange Bowl, where they were blitzed by a pre-Jameis Winston Florida State squad. The Huskies rattled off 12 wins last year, but lost their last two, and finished 11-2 this season.