The bowl season begins on Saturday with a slate of four games, including a couple of matchups between Mountain West and BCS-conference schools. In the lower divisions, the playoffs continue, and several national championships are set to be decided.
The full schedule of the weekend ahead:
Friday, Dec. 20
Division III Championship
Mount Union vs. UW-Whitewater (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
After a year off from the classic matchup, the two heated rivals return for what has become a tradition in the Division III national championship game. These two foes played for the title every single year from 2005 to 2011, with Wisconsin-Whitewater winning four of the seven games, but St. Thomas (MN) made it the title game in place of Whitewater last season (Mount Union still won). Both teams are 14-0 and are among the most successful programs in all of football.
New Hampshire at North Dakota State (8 p.m., ESPN2)
The Bison are two-time defending champions, and will face likely their most difficult playoff challenge yet in a New Hampshire team that beat Southeastern Louisiana to be here. North Dakota State have blown out each opponent that they've faced in the playoffs. This is head coach Craig Bohl's last run with the school before leaving for Wyoming, and two more wins will give him a third straight title.
Saturday, Dec. 21
Division II Championship
Lenoir Rhyne vs. Northwest Missouri State (Noon, ESPN2)
Unlike the Division III Championship, the Division II title game has just one team that has been a consistent power. Northwest Missouri State has made seven national title games, including five straight from 2005-09, winning it all in 1998, 1999 and 2009. Lenoir Rhyne has never made a title game before, and the tiny school with less than 2,000 students is making just its second appearance in the Division II playoffs.
Towson at Eastern Washington (2 p.m., ESPNU)
These are two very good teams -- each beat an FCS team (Connecticut and Oregon State, respectively) in the regular season -- and they will square off for the likely right to play North Dakota State in the final. The two teams have strong offenses that operate in different fashions, with Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams and wide receiver Cooper Kupp leading the way for the Eagles, and Towson running back Terrance West coming off a playoff-record 354 yards and five touchdowns in the Tigers' win over Eastern Illinois.
New Mexico Bowl
Washington State vs. Colorado State (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 (3:30 p.m., 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.
Cumberlands vs. Grand View (4:30 p.m., ESPN3)
The two remaining undefeateds in the NAIA will each make their first appearance in the title game, as the Cumberlands Patriots will take on the Grand View Vikings. The Patriots lead the nation in rushing, averaging 359.2 yards on the ground per game, and have 1,000 yard rushers in quarterback Adam Craig and running back D'Angelo Jordan. Meanwhile, the Vikings have one of the top defenses in the land, and are allowing just 85.2 rushing yards per game.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Buffalo vs. San Diego State (4:30 p.m., ESPN)
You'd be hard-pressed to find a tougher two games to open the season than Buffalo had this year. After blowout road losses to Ohio State and Baylor and a five-overtime win over FCS Stony Brook, it was hard to be too confident about the Bulls' chances in the MAC this season. After a blowout win over UConn, the Bulls were lucky to start conference play with the bottom-dwellers of the conference, winning their first three MAC games against teams who finished the season with a combined four wins. Buffalo beat just one team with a winning record -- Ohio -- and were blown out by Toledo and Bowling Green.
San Diego State opened the season with three losses -- FCS powerhouse Eastern Illinois blew them out in the opener, the Buckeyes did the same and Oregon State defeated them in a close one. The Aztecs sport just one win over a team with a winning record -- an overtime victory over Boise State -- and also defeated 6-6 San Jose State. San Diego State has a strong, balanced offense, and this should be quite the game.
New Orleans Bowl
Tulane vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8 p.m., ESPN)
Two regional rivals will face off in a local game, as the Green Wave and the Ragin' Cajuns will meet for the 27th time. Tulane holds the 21-5 lead in the all-time series, and enter this one as slight favorites despite ULL's better season. The Green Wave defeated North Texas and East Carolina en route to a fourth-place finish in the C-USA West, while also defeating local Sun Belt rival Louisiana-Monroe.
The Ragin' Cajuns lost to Monroe and South Alabama to finish out the year, but five straight wins to start conference play (including one over Arkansas State) was enough to bring home a share of the conference title (sharing it with the Red Wolves). Lafayette has a dynamic running back in freshman Elijah McGuire, who is averaging nearly nine yards per carry this season.