Big 12 bowl thoughts/rankings

The Big 12 bowl lineup is official.

It could get ugly for the Big 12, who will play one conference champion, two divisional champions and two teams who were both prime national title contenders entering November. Five of the six Big 12 bowl opponents are in the top 15 of the final BCS rankings. That’s, uh, not easy.

Baylor may end up being the only Big 12 team favored in its bowl game, so logging a 1-5 record in six games this year is entirely possible. This is the most difficult set of bowl matchups the Big 12 has seen in quite awhile. Anything 3-3 or better would be pretty impressive, especially if the Big 12 can break its snide in the Cotton Bowl or if Oklahoma or Texas find a way to spring massive upsets.

This year, it’s at least good to see no Big 12 teams fell victim to the bowl selection process, which is about as far from a meritocracy as one can be. K-State and Missouri seemed to almost annually feel slighted (deservedly so, I should add) by the process, but this year, there didn’t seem to be much discussion about the selection order. Is that a welcome side effect to the round-robin schedule and lack of divisions that makes deciphering the order of the league’s teams a bit simpler? Perhaps.

Let’s take a closer look at the individual games. Here’s how I’d rank them by watchability, as well as some initial thoughts on the matchup.

1. AT&T Cotton Bowl (Jan. 3): Oklahoma State vs. Missouri: The Pokes didn’t get a win with the Big 12 title on the line, but this will be the best matchup of the Big 12 bowls and a whole lot of fun to watch with two good offenses. OSU and Mizzou didn’t have much history in the Big 12 outside of a massive Pokes upset in Columbia back in 2008, but the Cotton Bowl tends to get great matchups with its Big 12 and SEC ties. It’s a shame this is the last season for those tie-ins now that the game is joining the access bowls for the new College Football Playoff. Ironically, Missouri is the only “Big 12” team to win the Cotton Bowl since Texas’ win over LSU in 2003.

2. Sugar Bowl (Jan. 2): Oklahoma vs. Alabama: If Oklahoma State had taken care of business in Bedlam, we would have seen Art Briles and Baylor go head to head with Nick Saban and Alabama in a game that, at one point this season, looked like it might have happened in the BCS National Championship Game. That would be must-see TV. Alas, we get this. Oklahoma will be happy to head to Bob Stoops’ ninth BCS game, but will do so as a heavy, heavy underdog. The Sooners’ offensive and defensive lines face massive tasks, but unless we see another game like Bama’s Sugar Bowl disaster against Utah to close the 2008 season, Oklahoma looks like it may have a hard time keeping this close. Still, seeing Oklahoma take on a challenge like this will be interesting. It sounds like Trevor Knight will be ready to play, and it’s been a long, long time since Bob Stoops has been this big of an underdog in a bowl game. I’m fascinated to see how he and his team respond.

3. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Dec. 28): Kansas State vs. Michigan: I really would have rather seen old Big 12 North rivals K-State and Nebraska go head to head in this game, but K-State will try to continue its late-season run against Devin Gardner and the Wolverines. Gardner is a less physical version of Daniel Sams, so K-State’s defense should be well-prepared. Wildcats fans will gain an appreciation for Jeremy Gallon, who surely leaves Michigan’s defense well-prepared for Tyler Lockett. Gallon went for 369 receiving yards back on Oct. 19 against Indiana. I would have had this game at No. 2 on my watchability rankings if it had been Nebraska. Bo Pelini and Bill Snyder have an, uh, interesting history that goes back at least a decade. Google it if you’re confused. 

4. Alamo Bowl (Dec. 30): Texas vs. Oregon: Texas joins Oklahoma as two Big 12 teams matched up against squads that spent much of the season on the short list of national title contenders. Oregon came down to Earth late in the season after a loss to Stanford. Arizona routed the Ducks, who needed a late touchdown to beat rival Oregon State. It’ll be a huge test for Texas’ offense and it may be Mack Brown’s final game coaching the Longhorns. Can Case McCoy round up enough offense to outscore Oregon? Texas may try and get physical on offense like Stanford did, but defensive linemen Cedric Reed and Jackson Jeffcoat will try and win the battle on the line of scrimmage to slow down Oregon’s running game. One-time Heisman frontrunner Marcus Mariota will be focused after announcing his plans to return to Eugene in 2014. Texas beat Oregon State with a dramatic comeback in this game last year, and will make a return trip to San Antonio as an underdog.

5. Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1): Baylor vs. Central Florida: I feel bad for the Bears here, who finally reach their first BCS game and get a clunker of an opponent that won’t draw very many eyes nationally. Games like this and Oklahoma’s dates with Boise State and UConn in the Fiesta Bowl are part of why the Big 12 signed its recent Sugar Bowl deal to guarantee a matchup with the SEC in New Orleans. When you’re stuck annually with a BCS at-large opponent, you’re at the mercy of the bowl selection order. Sometimes that means a good Oregon team like last year or a national-title contender like Andrew Luck and Stanford at the end of the 2011 season. Some years, you get this. Unless the Bears win by 40 or so, it won’t turn many heads. Baylor impressed the country by winning an outright Big 12 title, but it’s going to be tough to earn much more national attention for its actual BCS game. A word of advice, Baylor: Don’t let UCF hang around late. The Knights are 7-1 in games decided by seven points or less, and their lone loss came to South Carolina.

6. Holiday Bowl (Dec. 30): Texas Tech vs. Arizona State: Tech hasn’t won since Oct. 19, but will try and knock off the Pac-12 South champion Sun Devils. It’s another tough matchup for the Big 12, and these two teams are mirror opposites. ASU won its final seven games to reach the Pac-12 title game before suffering a second loss to Stanford. Defensive tackle Will Sutton is an absolute stud who will test Tech’s offensive line. The Red Raiders won’t be favored to win, but it’s a winnable game that Kingsbury could really use heading into next season. My bet is we see Michael Brewer get his first career start in this one. Running back Marion Grice is a solid player who’ll break the 1,000-yard mark for the season against Texas Tech and test the Red Raiders’ defensive line.