While the age of every bowl game being played on New Year’s Day is long gone — in 1960, there were just eight games compared to today’s 35 in a postseason that runs from Dec. 15 through Jan. 7 — the day still belongs to college football.
With a slate that includes two BCS games in the Rose and Orange bowls, three SEC-Big Ten clashes and the likes of Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones and Aaron Murray, Michigan’s Denard Robinson and Florida State’s Bjoern Werner, there’s no shortage of intriguing matchups and stars to keep you satiated.
Here’s what to watch in our viewer’s guide to the six New Year’s Day bowls.
Gator Bowl Mississippi State (8-4) vs. No. 20 Northwestern (9-3) Noon ET (ESPN2) Why you should watch: Because the Wildcats are trying to end a bowl drought that dates back to the Truman administration.
Northwestern hasn’t won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl, dropping nine straight postseason appearances. If the Wildcats can end that skid against a Bulldogs team that slid after a 7-0 start, look for it to come courtesy of a potent running game.
Behind Venric Mark (1,310 yards and 11 rushing TDs) and dual-threat QB Kain Colter (a team-high 12 rushing TDs) the Wildcats average 230.9 yards per game on the ground and would seem a tough draw for a Bulldogs defense that’s given up an average of 223 yards per game in their four losses.
But Mississippi State will counter with an efficient QB in Tyler Russell (2,791 yards, 22 TDs and six interceptions) who can give Northwestern’s 97th-ranked pass defense fits.
Also weighing in the Bulldogs’ favor: They’re tested. They’ve already faced Alabama, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and LSU, while just one Northwestern opponent (Penn State) was ranked at the time of the game.
Heart of Dallas Bowl Purdue (6-6) vs. Oklahoma State (7-5) 1 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Why you should watch: This has all the makings of an offensive showcase for the Cowboys.
Despite having All-American Kawann Short at defensive tackle, the Boilermakers ranked 11th in the Big Ten and 69th in the nation allowing an average of 407.3 yards per game. Those numbers could balloon after facing Oklahoma State RB Joseph Randle (1,351 yards and 14 rushing TDs) and the Cowboys, whose offense is generating an average of 44.7 points (fourth in FBS) and 548.9 yards (fifth) a game.
The Cowboys have defensive issues of their own, but Purdue may not have the firepower to take advantage. The Boilermakers surpassed 28 points just once in Big Ten play when they scored 56 on four-win Indiana.
Purdue has the added trouble of dealing with coaching upheaval. The Boilermakers will be playing under receivers coach Patrick Higgins, who was named the interim coach as the team transitions between fired Danny Hope and Darrell Hazell, who was hired from Kent State.
Outback Bowl No. 18 Michigan (8-4) vs. No. 10 South Carolina (10-2) 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Why you should watch: One of the nation’s most dominant players will be on display in Jadeveon Clowney.
The Gamecocks star’s sophomore year includes being a first-team All-American, SEC Defensive Player of the Year and the Hendricks Award winner as the nation’s top end. He’s tied for second in the nation with 13 sacks and headlines a 12th-ranked scoring defense that’s held opponents to an average of 17.4 points per game.
But Clowney could be in for a stiff test against a Wolverines unit that has allowed a Big Ten-low 15 sacks and has shown dangerous potential when getting Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner on the field at the same time.
Gardner came into his own after taking over at QB when Robinson injured his elbow on Oct. 27, throwing for 1,005 yards and eight TDs in five games — four of them starts. His emergence has allowed the Wolverines to give defenses headaches by using the dynamic Robinson at quarterback, wide receiver and running back since he returned Nov. 17 from an elbow injury.
Capital One Bowl No. 16 Nebraska (10-3) vs. No. 7 Georgia (11-2) 1 p.m. ET (ABC)
Why you should watch: To see if these teams can put disappointment behind them.
Georgia was 5 yards short of playing in the BCS Championship Game as it lost to Alabama in the SEC title game, and Nebraska gave up 70 points in dropping the Big Ten title game to Wisconsin.
While there’s plenty to like about a matchup of Georgia QB Aaron Murray (3,466 yards and 31 TDs) facing the Huskers’ top-ranked pass D (average of 148.2 yards per game), of bigger concern is whether either team can stop the run.
Bulldogs freshman Todd Gurley led the SEC with 1,260 yards and added 16 rushing TDs. He will be going against a Nebraska defense that allowed 539 yards against the Badgers and 1,254 yards combined in its three losses. Meanwhile, Nebraska, which averages 254.5 yards per game behind RBs Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah and QB Taylor Martinez, will get a crack at a Georgia defense that gave up 350 yards vs. the Crimson Tide and will be without run-stopper John Jenkins, who is ineligible.
Rose Bowl Wisconsin (8-5) vs. No. 6 Stanford (11-2) 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Why you should watch: Because they’re going to run. And run some more.
Yes, Hall of Fame coach Barry Alvarez is making his return to the sideline, but the ground games will take center stage in “The Granddaddy of Them All,” headlined by two of the nation’s premier running backs in the Badgers’ Montee Ball and Cardinal’s Stepfan Taylor.
Ball, the NCAA’s all-time leader with 82 touchdowns and 76 rushing TDs, fuels a Badgers attack that averages 237.8 rushing yards per game, while Taylor has rushed for 1,442 yards and 12 TDs in his third straight 1,000-yard season.
Both teams have had plenty of issues through the air, with the Badgers sitting 111th in average passing yards per game, while Stanford is 92nd, but the Cardinal have shown improvement since dual-threat QB Kevin Hogan took over.
If it comes down to which passer is able to come through, Hogan, who has a 72.9 percent completion percentage, would seem more capable than Wisconsin’s Curt Phillips (59.3) or Joel Stave (55.4), who has been cleared to play.
Orange Bowl No. 15 Northern Illinois (12-1) vs. No. 12 Florida State (11-2) 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Why you should watch: The Huskies are out to prove all their doubters wrong.
There were plenty of eyebrows raised when Northern Illinois became the seventh non-automatic qualifying team to earn an at-large invitation to a BCS game, largely because of its 120th-ranked schedule and a loss to 4-8 Iowa.
Northern Illinois, however, is no pushover. Fueled by QB Jordan Lynch, the MAC Offensive Player of the Year whose 4,733 yards of total offense are second in the nation, the Huskies are averaging 40.8 points per game.
Trying to follow Boise State, TCU and Utah, all of which pulled off upsets in past BCS matchups, the Huskies chances ride with how Lynch and Co. deal with one of the nation’s stingiest defenses.
Florida State is ranked second in FBS in total defense (253.8 average yards per game), fifth against the rush (93.0) and sixth in scoring defense (15.1 average points per game). The Seminoles are led by All-American end Bjoern Werner (13 sacks), but are without their coordinator in Mark Stoops, who was hired as Kentucky’s head coach.