Little Caesars Pizza Bowl: Pittsburgh vs. Bowling Green
December 26, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN
The ACC had 11 bowl-eligible teams this season, with Pitt tying for both the worst overall record (6-6, with North Carolina and Syracuse) and conference record (3-5, with Maryland) among them. The Panthers did beat three other bowl teams this season, with an early-year win over Duke and late-season victories over Notre Dame and Syracuse.
The Panthers are led on offense by Rutgers transfer Tom Savage at quarterback. The senior transfer threw 21 touchdown passes this season and was a fairly steady part of Paul Chryst's run-first offense, which is still finding its bearings in Pittsburgh. Isaac Bennett and James Conner have been solid on the ground, each averaging 4.8 yards per carry, but the story has been the Panther defense and SB Nation Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. The senior had 26.5 tackles for a loss this year.
Bowling Green pulled off the upset in the MAC Championship Game, dispatching undefeated Jordan Lynch and the Northern Illinois Huskies. They're led by sophomore quarterback Matt Johnson, listed at just 6' but likely shorter than that, who threw for 393 yards and five touchdowns in the historic win for the Falcons.
Military Bowl: Marshall vs. Maryland
December 27, 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Ralph Friedgen's final game as Maryland's head coach came in the 2010 Military Bowl -- the game was also the Terrapins' last bowl game. Athletic director Kevin Anderson made the change from Friedgen to Randy Edsall, saying he wanted the program to go from "good to great," and three years later, the Terps get to go to the same place.
The future is bright for Maryland as they head to the Big Ten -- they have an extremely talented corps of young stars on both sides of the ball, and if they can manage to (at least partially) avoid the injury bug for one season, the team could see great success. This year, the Terrapins suffered injuries to their star wide receivers (Deon Long and Stefon Diggs) and cornerbacks (Jeremiah Johnson and Dexter McDougle), knocking all four of them out for the regular season. Only Johnson is expected to return for the bowl game.
The Terps went 7-5 this season, with only one victory against a bowl team -- Virginia Tech. Marshall, meanwhile, posted a 9-4 record, defeating bowl-eligible UTSA, Florida Atlantic and East Carolina (but losing in triple-overtime to the Hokies). Both teams are led by their quarterbacks -- dual-threat C.J. Brown (23 total touchdowns) for the Terps and SB Nation's Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year Rakeem Cato (36 passing touchdowns) for the Thundering Herd -- but Marshall is also supported by 1,000-yard rusher Essray Taliaferro.
Texas Bowl: Syracuse vs. Minnesota
December 27, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN
Well, how about that? Both of the new teams in the ACC this season made a bowl game. The Orange are another 6-6 ACC bowl team, with wins over bowl teams Tulane, Maryland and Boston College. Syracuse has a workhorse back in Jerome Smith and a dual-threat quarterback in Terrel Hunt. The Orange also sport a strong defense capable of breaking into the opposing backfield, and will look to make some noise against a solid Gopher team.
Minnesota was one of the surprise success stories of the Big Ten this season, going 8-4 with wins over Nebraska, Penn State and Northwestern (back when the WIldcats were 4-2). The Gophers sport a 1,000-yard rusher in David Cobb, but are led by SB Nation First-Team All-America defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, an absolute monster in the middle who will be playing on Sundays next season.
Belk Bowl: Cincinnati vs. North Carolina
December 28, 3:20 p.m. ET, ESPN
You'd be forgiven if, in mid-November, you didn't expect North Carolina to be playing a bowl game -- much less one against a major-conference opponent. The Tar Heels began the season 1-5, including a blowout loss to East Carolina, before miraculously finding their season in late October and rattling off five straight wins to clinch bowl eligibility (including victories over Boston College and Pittsburgh). Starting quarterback Marquise Williams leads the team in rushing, but not in passing (injured former starting quarterback Bryn Renner still holds that mark), and Williams has one of the best tight ends in the nation in Eric Ebron.
Cincinnati fell one game (and some fortuitous poll results) short of the AAC crown and a BCS bowl, and yet here they are, playing a 6-6 ACC school. It was a relatively successful season for the Bearcats, who lost star quarterback Munchie Legaux in the second game of the season. Tommy Tuberville's squad was able to ride a strong performance from Brendon Kay through an easy AAC schedule, with wins over SMU, Rutgers and Houston preceding their overtime loss to Louisville in the finale.
Russell Athletic Bowl: Miami vs. Louisville
December 28, 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
This has the potential to be a very intriguing matchup. Both teams have a ton of talent (much of it from the Miami area), and had aspirations for a BCS bowl game (or at least one on New Year's Day -- ACC commissioner John Swofford reportedly strong-armed the Chick-fil-A bowl into picking Duke over the Hurricanes).
Miami started the season 7-0, earning a top-10 ranking largely off the strength of beating a ranked Florida team ("ranked Florida team!"). Then they came up against the unstoppable juggernaut that is Florida State, losing 41-14 and subsequently losing their next two games to Duke and Virginia Tech -- the two teams that finished above the 'Canes in the Coastal standings. Miami's offense has suffered without star running back Duke Johnson, but Stephen Morris has thrown for 21 touchdowns and Dallas Crawford has run for 12 more.
Louisville looked to a fringe national title contender after their hot 6-0 start, but the concerns with their strength of schedule meant they would have to win every game -- and by a wide margin. They slipped up on a Friday night home game, falling to a solid UCF team 38-35 -- a result that would eventually send the Golden Knights to the Fiesta Bowl. The Cardinals have one of the best players in the country in SB Nation American Offensive Player of the Year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who threw 28 touchdowns against just four interceptions this season and can do stuff like this:
Music City Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech
December 30, 3:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Another disappointing season for Georgia Tech means Paul Johnson's seat might be starting to warm up. After a 3-0 start (including wins over Duke and North Carolina), the Yellow Jackets dropped three in a row, including games to Coastal competitors Miami and Virginia Tech. They then went on another strong stretch, beating Syracuse, Virginia and Pittsburgh before finishing the year with a win against Alabama A&M sandwiched between losses to Clemson and Georgia. With Johnson's Jackets, you can expect more of the same -- the triple-option, now with passing! Vad Lee is likely the best passer Johnson has had in his system.
Ole Miss also started the year 3-0 (with wins over Vanderbilt and Texas) before three straight losses (Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M -- it's forgivable). A win over LSU put the Rebels on the national radar and helped boost a four-game winning streak. Losses to Missouri and Mississippi State ended the season on a sour note, and Hugh Freeze will be hoping to turn things around against the Yellow Jackets. Ole Miss is led on offense by quarterback Bo Wallace, whose touchdown total fell from 31 last year to 21 this season (although his interceptions have dropped as well, from 17 to nine).
AdvoCare V100 Bowl: Arizona vs. Boston College
December 31, 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Boston College entered the year with high expectations -- a fifth-year senior at quarterback with a talented top target, a powerhouse running back among the best in the nation and an inventive defensive coordinator known for causing turnovers and disruption in the backfield. After having to come from behind to beat Villanova in the opener, some of those expectations were tampered, but the Eagles still ended up with a seven-win season. The quarterback, Chase Rettig, struggled, but the running back, Andre Williams, more than picked up the slack. A Heisman finalist and SB Nation First-Team All-American, Williams bullied his way to 2,102 yards and 17 touchdowns, but will have significant competition on the other side of the field.
Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey, also an SB Nation First-Team All-American, is the name most often brought up as the back who could challenge Williams' stake as best in the nation. The Wildcats won all three of their games in an easy non-conference schedule, and then lost their first two Pac-12 games to Washington and USC (with new interim head coach Ed Oregon). After wins over Utah, Colorado and Cal, Arizona lost to UCLA and Washington State before a shocking blowout win over Oregon. Carey ran for 1,716 yards and 17 touchdowns on the year, while quarterback B.J. Denker chipped in with 26 total touchdowns.
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. UCLA
December 31, 2 p.m. ET, CBS
Even after a season-opening 35-10 loss to Alabama, Virginia Tech was supposed to win the Coastal Division. The division was weak (people said), and Alabama was unstoppable (people said). People were wrong on both counts, as it was Duke who ended up winning the Coastal with a 10-win season, while Virginia Tech suffered conference losses to the Blue Devils, Boston College and Maryland. Logan Thomas struggled with turnovers, but the dual-threat finished with 20 total touchdowns against 13 interceptions, with one of the better defensive units in the country.
UCLA was also supposed to win their division this year, but fell short of high expectations and finished behind Arizona State in a tough Pac-12. Many of those expectations came after a dominating 41-21 road win over Nebraska, and many of them fell apart after multiple-score losses to Stanford and Oregon -- very good teams that Bruin fans hoped to compete with this season. UCLA won their next three games, but lost a must-win situation to Arizona State before finishing the year with a win over USC. Quarterback Brett Hundley, once thought of as a Heisman contender, finished the year with 32 total touchdowns, and SB Nation First-Team All-America linebacker Anthony Barr is one of the top talents in the nation.
Chick-fil-A Bowl: Duke vs. Texas A&M
December 31, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Swofford allegedly campaigned the Chick-fil-A Bowl to include Duke here over Miami -- a well-deserved reward for the Coastal Division winners. The Blue Devils ended the regular season with eight straight wins -- including victories over Virginia Tech and Miami -- en route to their first-ever division title and a very good bowl opportunity. Quarterback guru David Cutcliffe has molded two good ones in Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette -- the former more of a passer, while the latter is a dangerous short-yardage rusher (26 total touchdowns).
Texas A&M went a disappointing 8-4 this season, with losses to Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Missouri -- safely four of the best five teams in the conference, along with South Carolina (whom the Aggies did not play). Yes, the Aggies' best wins come against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Rice, but they do have 2012 Heisman winner and human highlight reel Johnny Manziel, who had 41 total touchdowns this year (slightly down from his 47 last season).
Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State
January 3, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Were it not for the rule that no more than two teams per conference can play in BCS games, Clemson might not be here. After all, they finished the season with a convincing loss to South Carolina (after an earlier and even more convincing loss to Florida State), but here they are, hanging their hat on an impressive opening week win over Georgia. Don't let the Bulldogs' slide fool you -- Clemson's win over them was impressive, as it was just about the only time this year Georgia was at full strength.
While Clemson may just be happy to have a BCS bowl berth, Ohio State is certainly not. The Buckeyes' 24-game win streak ended with a thud one Saturday night in Indianapolis, when they lost to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game and sending their national title hopes out the window.
BCS National Championship Game: Florida State vs. Auburn
January 6, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Florida State was, undoubtedly, the best team in college football this season. If you want to go by no other metric, feel safe with this one -- they were the only team to win every game on their schedule, and they did it with great gusto, winning by an average of nearly 43 points.
The Seminoles have the Heisman-winner in quarterback Jameis Winston, who threw for 38 touchdowns and ran for four more, and one of the best defenses in the nation. Nearly every starter on the team is expected to be drafted, and they are a fearful sight to behold as an opponent.
One year after going winless in SEC play, Auburn is in the national title game. Sporting new head coach Gus Malzah, SB Nation's national Coach of the Year, and an exciting, run-first offense, the Tigers overcame an early-season loss to LSU, winning nine straight games with victories over Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia, Alabama and Missouri.
Former defensive back Nick Marshall has shown he'll be just fine as a quarterback, with 23 total touchdowns and over 1,000 yards rushing, while workhorse back Tre Mason ran for over 1,600 yards and 22 touchdowns by himself.