Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Washington State vs. Colorado State
December 21, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN
Wazzu is bowling, as head coach (and pirate captain) Mike Leach has led the Cougars to an impressive 6-6 season in a very tough Pac-12. It's the team's first bowl game since 2003 -- the first year for former head coach Bill Doba, and Leach is looking to bring Washington State back to the heights they achieved under Mike Price. His spread offense should be familiar to any who watched his Texas Tech teams -- Connor Halliday has over 4,000 passing yards and 28 touchdowns, eight players have caught at least 30 passes -- and it's always exciting to watch them play.
Former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain has taken Colorado State bowling for the first time since 2008, going 7-6 and finishing third in the Mountain division of the Mountain West. Out of those seven wins, none came against teams that finished with a winning record, but the Rams have a legitimate star in running back Kapri Bibbs. The sophomore led the nation with 28 touchdown runs this season on fewer than 20 carries per game, and has set school records in rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns and points scored.
Las Vegas Bowl: Fresno State vs. USC
December 21, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
College football fans are treated to a very good early bowl matchup, as fringe Heisman contender Derek Carr takes on the surging (?) USC Trojans. USC fired head coach Lane Kiffin after a 3-2 start, including losses to Washington State and Arizona State, and had defensive line coach Ed Orgeron take over on an interim basis. Coach O led the team to five straight conference wins, including a College GameDay upset over No. 4 Stanford, before his exit after a season-finale loss to UCLA. USC's defense has been their strength, and they'll face a tough challenge in Fresno State.
Carr is one of the very best quarterbacks in the country, passing for 48 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 yards on the season. The Bulldogs started the year 10-0, with notable wins over Rutgers, Boise State and San Diego State before a dramatic Friday night loss to San Jose State. Fresno State still won the conference, defeating Utah State in the conference title game.
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl: Boise State vs. Oregon State
December 24, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
If there's a more up-and-down season this year than Oregon State's, it's a challenge to find it. The Beavers began the year ranked, but that quickly disappeared after a loss to FCS powerhouse Eastern Washington. Oregon State rattled off six straight wins after that, securing bowl eligibility with a passing offense that briefly led the nation in yards thanks to Sean Mannion and SB Nation All-America first-teamer Brandin Cooks. Facing a tough second-half of the schedule, the Beavers lost their last five games, finishing the year at a very strange 6-6.
Boise State, meanwhile, is in a strange position themselves -- they only won eight games this year, and head coach Chris Petersen has left for Washington. The Broncos suffered a blowout loss to the Huskies in their opener, and also were dispatched by Fresno State, BYU and San Diego State. While Boise may be removed from their BCS-busting days of yore, they're still a dangerous team, with exciting offensive weapons in running back Jay Ajayi and wide receiver Matt Miller.
Fight Hunger Bowl: BYU vs. Washington
December 27, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Ready for Boise in Washington? Husky fans are, as the Chris Petersen era begins right after this game in Seattle.
This will be the final game for senior quarterback Keith Price, and could be the final game for star junior running back Bishop Sankey. After a 4-0 start to the season, the Huskies suffered losses to the three best teams in the conference -- Oregon, Stanford and Arizona State -- before rebounding with wins against the two worst teams in the conference -- Colorado and California. After a loss against UCLA, Washington beat Oregon State and Washington State to finish the year 8-4.
BYU got on the national radar early with a record-setting 40-21 win over Texas (a week after losing to 2-10 Virginia) -- a game in which the Cougars ran for 550 yards. BYU also finished the year 8-4, with other losses to Utah, Wisconsin and Notre Dame and wins over Utah State, Georgia Tech, Houston and Boise State. Quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Wiliams each topped 1,200 rushing yards, and Hill added in 19 touchdown throws.
Valero Alamo Bowl: Oregon vs. Texas
December 30, 6:45 p.m., ESPN
Well, this isn't exactly where either of these teams wanted to end up, is it? This is one of those situations where you have to decide whether you want to judge a bowl by its reputation or its matchup, because this is certainly a fun matchup.
Texas's defense has struggled against the run at times this year (see those 550 yards they gave up against BYU?), and Oregon's spread attack could give them fits. Marcus Mariota finished the year with 39 total touchdowns, and the Ducks have seemingly countless offensive weapons.
Texas won six straight following their awful 1-2 start, with a blowout win over Oklahoma as the highlight of the season, but convincing losses to Oklahoma State and Baylor knocked them out of the Big 12 title hunt. The Longhorns have seen their defense improve rapidly under Greg Robinson, but will also have offensive concerns heading into this matchup.
Holiday Bowl: Arizona State vs. Texas Tech
December 30, 10:15 p.m., ESPN
Late-night bowl action for this one, as it's hard not to see the Red Raiders as overmatched against the Pac-12 runners-up. The Sun Devils went 10-3 this season, with a very impressive win over Wisconsin and other victories over USC, Washington and UCLA. Two of their losses came to Stanford, with a third coming to Notre Dame, and Todd Graham has done a fantastic job turning this program around. Taylor Kelly and Marion Grice are legitimate stars on the offense, and the defense has been good enough to allow them to win games.
Texas Tech jumped out to a high ranking after a 7-0 start against ... just about nobody, in truth. The Red Raiders did not beat a single bowl team, and finished the year with five consecutive losses to the Big 12's five other winning teams. The Red Raiders' best player is SB Nation First-Team All-America tight end Jace Amaro, who caught 98 passes for 1,240 yards and seven scores.
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.
Rose Bowl: Stanford vs. Michigan State
January 1, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN
Both teams play a similar style of football -- run the ball, hold on to it and play smothering defense -- and it will be a clash of "who wore it better?" in Pasadena.
The Cardinal are led by quarterback Kevin Hogan (20 passing touchdowns), running back Tyler Gaffney (20 rushing touchdowns) and wide receiver Ty Montgomery (10 receiving touchdowns), and beat all seven ranked opponents that they faced. Their only two losses came to unranked teams -- Utah and USC.
Michigan State, meanwhile, has just one loss -- a September game against Notre Dame. The Spartans didn't face much competition in the regular season, and questions arose before their Big Ten Championship Game appearance against Ohio State.
Mark Dantonio's team answered those questions and then some, defeating the Buckeyes 34-24 off a career game from quarterback Connor Cook and shut-down play from perhaps the best defense in the nation.