This year’s Big Six (adding the Cotton and Chick-fil-a Peach to the old BCS four of the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta) bowl matchups offer an intriguing set of games for the college football fan. Here’s a look at the games.
Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl (Mississippi vs. Texas Christian; Georgia Dome, Atlanta; December 31, 12:30 P.M. Eastern): This is a game that could also be called the “What Could Have Been” Bowl, as both Ole Miss and TCU were in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings at times. TCU’s drop to No. 6 in the final rankings came as a big surprise, as they had been ranked third in the previous poll, and no less than data-journalist Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight had the Horned Frogs as a lock to make the playoff. The Rebels probably cemented their place as one of the teams deserving of a place in the Big Six with their Egg Bowl upset of Mississippi State in the last weekend of the regular season. Look for both teams to try to earn a statement win.
Fiesta Bowl (Boise State vs. Arizona; University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.; December 31, 4 P.M. Eastern): It’s been seven years since Boise State players Jared Zabransky, Ian Johnson, and company pulled off the trickeration – three plays that led to the 43-42 upset of Oklahoma in the 2007 edition. Those guys are long gone, as is head coach Chris Petersen. But the Broncos persevered in the interim, and find themselves back for the third time at the site of their greatest success. For Arizona, though, this bowl will be a consolation prize after their destruction by Oregon (more on them in a moment) at the Pac-12 championship game. The Wildcats had gave the Ducks their only loss of the season but could not repeat the performance several weeks later on a neutral site.
Orange Bowl (Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech; Sun Life Stadium, Miami, Fla.; December 31, 8 P.M. Eastern): This is another consolation-prize game, for the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets. Mississippi State had been in the top four of the CFP rankings all season – until in-state rival Ole Miss took them down in the Egg Bowl game. Tech, on the other hand, came this close to being the first team in two seasons to defeat Florida State; their two point loss in the ACC championship has to have the Ramblin’ Wreck wondering what if – though they likely would not have crashed the top four even after a hypothetical victory over FSU.
Cotton Bowl (Michigan State vs. Baylor; AT&T Stadium, Dallas; January 1, 12:30 P.M. Eastern): One has to wonder what might have happened if the Big XII Conference had declared a regular season champion instead of declaring Baylor and TCU co-champions; or if the conference had been big enough to have a championship game like the other Power 5 conferences. Still, there is a little vindication for the Bears in finally being ranked higher than TCU (whom the Bears beat earlier in the season) in the final CFP rankings. MSU will be looking for a statement win to show that they’re still a force to be reckoned with.
And the CFP Playoff games…
Rose Bowl (Oregon vs. Florida State; Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.; 5 P.M. Eastern): This game features the last two Heisman Trophy winners, Jameis Winston from FSU and newly-crowned Marcus Mariota of Oregon. This will also be the Seminoles’ sternest test as a team in the last two seasons; the Noles have been living on the edge all through 2014, winning six games by the slimmest of margins, usually on their last possession. Oregon, on the other hand, has dominated in nearly every game; aside from their lone loss, to Arizona (which was avenged in the conference championship game), just once have the Ducks won by less than two touchdowns, to Washington State the week before their loss to Arizona. This could be a classic…or it could get ugly fast.
Sugar Bowl (Alabama vs. Ohio State; Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans; January 1, 8:30 P.M.): The story here is clearly with Ohio State. The Buckeyes lost two-time Big Ten player of the year Braxton Miller during August practices, leading them to call upon redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett to call the signals. Despite one bad game, a home loss to Virginia Tech, Barrett put up Heisman-worthy numbers – until fracturing an ankle in the final regular season game. Enter the next man up: third-year sophomore Cardale Jones, who led the Buckeyes in a dissection of the No. 2 defense in the nation, and a 59-0 victory over Wisconsin. It remains to be seen how third stringer Jones will fare against the Crimson Tide, who have another one of the nation’s top defenses, while the offense features Amari Cooper, a Heisman Trophy finalist. It should also be noted that the Buckeyes have yet to taste victory over the Tide; their joint history is rather recent, too, going back to just 1978 and a Sugar Bowl meeting between two coaching legends, Paul “Bear” Bryant and Woody Hayes.