It is the most beautiful day of the NCAA bowl season. From the moment people wake up to face their New Year’s Eve hangovers on January 1st, they have around 12 hours of football waiting to help ease the pain. Not only is it 12 hours of football, but it is some of the biggest bowl games on the bowl schedule. In the old days, my childhood years mostly, the day encompassed all of the major bowl games. With the expansion of the bowl season, only a few of the top bowl games take place on New Year’s Day. The good thing to come from this schedule expansion is that, over the years, nearly all of the games played on this day have decent to significant importance.
Gator Bowl: Northwestern Wildcats vs. Mississippi St. Bulldogs
The Bulldogs major weakness has been their defense, and everybody has witnessed that. Thankfully for them, the Wildcats are familiar with giving up big points and more specifically, giving up leads. It cost the Wildcats in several conference games. And while I want to believe in the Bulldogs considering their first three losses were all against high quality opponents, the Ole Miss Rebels run at the end of the regular season included a convincing win against the Bulldogs. The Wildcats ended their season a lot stronger and could have theoretically gone undefeated this season had it not been for their ability to blow leads.
Heart of Dallas Bowl: Purdue Boilermakers vs. Oklahoma St. Cowboys
Not the most appealing game. A five-game losing streak killed the Boilermakers’ season from being anything other than pedestrian while the Cowboys’ season turned out the way it did because of a mix of bad luck and poor defense late in games with three of their five losses coming by a combined 15 points. Expect the Cowboys to come out looking for the deep ball right away. Whether or not the Boilermakers are going to be able to keep up will decide this game.
Outback Bowl: Michigan Wolverines vs. South Carolina Gamecocks
As a fan of the Wolverines, I must say that I don’t feel the same dread I would feel if they were playing an SEC team like the Florida Gators or LSU Tigers. At the same time, this is a defense that is more physical and better than any the Wolverines had to deal with since September. The silver lining for the Wolverines in this one is that the Gamecocks have had their troubles on offense this season with inconsistency being the biggest problem. The Wolverines’ best hope would be for Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner to both have big days, and the defense needs to force some turnovers.
Capital One Bowl: Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Georgia Bulldogs
I expect the Bulldogs to come into this one and play angry. They were only seconds from potentially playing for the national title. The Cornhuskers, on the other hand, are coming off their worst outing in seasons and may still be too destroyed from that game to come into another big game and play well. The Cornhuskers do have a running attack that could do some damage to the Bulldogs’ defense as the running game of the Alabama Crimson Tide did, but that really depends on the level of play the Cornhuskers put out in Orlando. If they come out flat, this game is going to be all dawgs all day.
Rose Bowl: Wisconsin Badgers vs. Stanford Cardinal
With the recent loss of Bret Bielema as head coach, athletic director Barry Alvarez being inserted as head coach for one game, this one has a totally different outlook. It’s still likely that the Cardinal will emerge victorious, but the game itself is a fun looking one when you match the teams up side-by-side. Both are supported greatly by a power running game, though the Badgers running game has the potential to be a better one if they run it the way they did in their conference title game. The Cardinal has a good edge in rush defense and overall defense due to playing a stronger schedule and getting a lot more practice on defense against teams that focus on the run (Oregon Ducks, Notre Dame Fighting Irish). The Badgers have let multiple games get away from them in the fourth quarter and have done the same thing in their Rose Bowl appearances over the last two seasons. If the game is close going into the fourth, it could go either way. The Badgers may have a specific mental edge with Alvarez being on the sidelines: he knows how to win this bowl game and the team has already expressed that they are behind him. This kind of mental boost can make the difference in a major sports game, and the Badgers have that boost in this case. It’s not cut and dry for the Cardinal, but they do have the edge.
Orange Bowl: Florida St. Seminoles vs. Northern Illinois Huskies
The Huskies have snuck in looking to crash the BCS party. And if the Seminoles play the way they did against the Gators and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, the Huskies may do just that. The Seminoles have a tremendous running attack to go against the Huskies’ passing attack. The key to this one will be who can use their defense the best. And this is where the Seminoles are likely going to be able to pull away as they have a greater ability to keep teams off the scoreboard than the Huskies have been. The best stat for this game from a defensive point of view is that the Seminoles have only allowed more than 20 points two times during the season; against the Gators (37) and Virginia Tech Hokies (22). The Huskies, on the other hand, couldn’t do that once against any of the top dogs in the MAC that they ran into during the season. There will be plenty of scoring, but the Seminoles should pull away late in this one after a valiant effort from the Huskies.