NCAA Football Column: NCAAF with Michael Emmett
The most wonderful time of the year is here. College football's bowl season is off and running – reaching the quarter pole on the weekend. Here's everything you need to know about this season's most important 28 bowl games:
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
Western Kentucky vs. Central Michigan, Dec 26
Why Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers might want to prove they can win without former coach Willie Taggart, who left last week to become South Florida's new coach. Defensive coordinator Lance Guidry is serving as interim coach; former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino was named Taggart's replacement last week.
Why Central Michigan: The Chippewas are fortunate to be in the postseason after finishing 6-6. They won their last three games to become bowl eligible and probably would like to avoid a losing campaign.
Pick: Western Kentucky 38, Central Michigan 21
No. 24 San Jose State vs. Bowling Green, Dec. 27
Why San Jose State: The Spartans have never finished in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll and haven't been included in the final coaches' poll since they were No. 20 in 1990. They probably can finish in both polls by defeating the Falcons.
Why Bowling Green: The Falcons haven't upset a ranked opponent since a 27-17 victory over No. 25 Pittsburgh in the 2008 opener.
Pick: San Jose State 27, Bowling Green 10
Cincinnati vs. Duke, Dec. 27
Why Cincinnati: The Bearcats can win at least 10 games for the fifth time in six seasons, something only Alabama, Oregon and Oklahoma have done.
Why Duke: The Blue Devils are playing in their first bowl game since 1994 and haven't won in the postseason since defeating Arkansas 7-6 in the 1961 Cotton Bowl. Duke also needs a victory to finish with a winning record.
Pick: Cincinnati 31, Duke 13
Baylor vs. No. 17 UCLA, Dec. 27
Why Baylor: After starting 0-4 in Big 12 play, the Bears were red-hot at the end of the regular season, upsetting then-No. 1 Kansas State, Texas Tech and then-No. 23 Oklahoma State. They'd like nothing more than to take a four-game winning streak into the offseason. Their offense is the best in country at this moment in time.
Why UCLA: The Bruins probably want to prove they're better than the team that lost to Stanford twice in six days. Defeating the Bears would give them 10 wins in coach Jim Mora's first season.
Pick: Baylor 48, UCLA 24
Ohio vs. Louisiana-Monroe, Dec. 28
Why Ohio: A myriad of injuries derailed Ohio's hopes for a really special season, but the Bobcats certainly would like to avoid losing five of their last six games.
Why Louisiana-Monroe: After scaring the living daylights out of the SEC to start the season, the Warhawks didn't play particularly well at the end. They lost to Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State, and needed overtime to defeat Florida International. They're looking for a better showing in their first bowl game.
Pick: Louisiana-Monroe 33, Ohio 21
Russell Athletic Bowl
Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech, Dec. 28
Why Rutgers: Even after the late-season collapse, the Scarlet Knights can win 10 games in coach Kyle Flood's first season and have one more shot at winning the Big East in 2013 (before they leave for the Big Ten in '14).
Why Virginia Tech: The Hokies had to beat rival Virginia 17-14 in their regular-season finale to finish 6-6 and earn a trip to a bowl game for the 20th consecutive season. Virginia Tech hasn't finished with a losing record since going 2-8-1 in 1992.
Pick: Virginia Tech 34, Rutgers 21
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas
Minnesota vs. Texas Tech, Dec. 28
Why Minnesota: The Gophers are 6-6 and can finish with a winning campaign for the first time since 2008.
Why Texas Tech: The Red Raiders can win a game for themselves, after coach Tommy Tuberville left two weeks ago to become Cincinnati's new coach. Texas Tech is looking for its third coach in five seasons.
Pick: Texas Tech 45, Minnesota 13
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Rice vs. Air Force, Dec. 29
Why Rice: The Owls won their last four games to finish 6-6 and become bowl eligible. Rice is playing for only its second bowl victory since 1954.
Why Air Force: The Falcons came up just short in their bowl game last season, losing 42-41 to Toledo in the Military Bowl after their two-point conversion attempt failed with 52 seconds to go.
Pick: Air Force 38, Rice 34
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
West Virginia vs. Syracuse, Dec. 29
Why West Virginia: The Mountaineers got off to a 5-0 start in their debut season in the Big 12 but then lost five in a row before finishing 7-5. They can still prove they're better than one of the Big East's best team
Why Syracuse: After missing the postseason last year, the Orange can continue to make strides under coach Doug Marrone with a bowl victory. Syracuse defeated Kansas State 36-34 in the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl.
Pick: West Virginia 48, Syracuse 42
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Navy vs. Arizona State, Dec. 29
Why Navy: The Midshipmen played in eight consecutive bowl games before missing the postseason in 2011, but they won only one of their previous five bowl contests. Navy hasn't won in the postseason since a 35-13 rout of Missouri in the 2009 Texas Bowl.
Why Arizona State: The Sun Devils also have struggled in the postseason recently; they haven't won a bowl game since beating Rutgers 45-40 in the 2005 Insight Bowl.
Pick: Arizona State 31, Navy 23
Valero Alamo Bowl
Texas vs. Oregon State, Dec. 29
Why Texas: The Longhorns really need to produce some momentum after another mediocre season. Pressure is starting to mount on Brown, who might need a big campaign in 2013 to quiet his growing critics.
Why Oregon State: The Beavers have never beaten the Longhorns, who defeated OSU 35-0 in 1980 and 61-16 in 1987. After finishing 3-9 last season, OSU can win 10 games in a season for the first time since 2006, the biggest one-year turnaround in school history.
Pick: Texas 38, Oregon State 35
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
TCU vs. Michigan State, Dec. 29
Why TCU: The Horned Frogs are 6-1 in bowl games since 2005, including a 21-19 victory over Wisconsin in the 2011 Rose Bowl. Gary Patterson in one of the best coaches in the land when it comes to prep time – and this will be no different.
Why Michigan State: After losing five bowl games in a row, the Spartans finally broke through last season, coming from behind to beat Georgia 33-30 in three overtimes in the Outback Bowl.
Pick: TCU 31, Michigan State 21
Music City Bowl
NC State vs. Vanderbilt, Dec. 31
Why NC State: The Wolfpack didn't have the type of season they were anticipating, but this isn't a bad football team. The Wolfpack can salvage some respect -- for themselves and the ACC -- by defeating an SEC opponent.
Why Vanderbilt: The Commodores are playing in a bowl game in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. They'd like to win the game after losing to Cincinnati 31-24 in the Liberty Bowl last season. They also will finish in the top 25 with a victory.
Pick: Vanderbilt 34, NC State 17
USC vs. Georgia Tech, Dec. 31
Why USC: The Trojans certainly didn't expect their season to end in El Paso, Texas. But they'd probably like to send Barkley out a winner after his brilliant college career. He is currently listed as questionable for this post-season finale.
Why Georgia Tech: The 6-7 Yellow Jackets are here only because the NCAA approved their waiver to go to a bowl game. Upsetting the Trojans would give Tech some momentum heading into 2013, which figures to be a make-it-or-break-it season for coach Paul Johnson.
Pick: USC 40, Georgia Tech 28
Iowa State vs. Tulsa, Dec. 31
Why Iowa State: The Cyclones can finish the season with a winning record and can win their first bowl game since 2009.
Why Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane can avenge their 38-23 loss at Iowa State in their Sept. 1 opener, in which they allowed 441 yards of offense and committed three turnovers.
Pick: Iowa State 31, Tulsa 23
No. 8 LSU vs. No. 14 Clemson, Dec. 31
Why LSU: The No. 8 Tigers were left out of a BCS bowl game and didn't even land in one of the SEC's top two non-BCS bowls (Capital One and Cotton bowls). Georgia and Texas A&M beat them out. LSU also can secure at least 11 victories for the third consecutive season.
Why Clemson: The Tigers have never defeated LSU, losing 10-7 in the 1996 Chick-fil-A Bowl and 7-0 in the 1959 Sugar Bowl. LSU won the 1958 national championship after defeating Clemson.
Pick: LSU 31, Clemson 27
Mississippi State vs. No. 20 Northwestern, Jan. 1
Why Mississippi State: The Bulldogs can beat a team that played in a bowl game this season. Each of MSU's seven victories over FBS opponents came against teams left out of the postseason (Middle Tennessee State finished 8-4) and they had a combined record of 29-56.
Why Northwestern: The Wildcats will once again try to end a 64-year drought in the postseason. Northwestern hasn't won a bowl game since defeating California 20-14 in the 1948 Rose Bowl, dropping each of its past nine postseason games.
Pick: Northwestern 35, Mississippi State 26
Heart of Dallas Bowl
Purdue vs. Oklahoma State, Jan. 1
Why Purdue: The Boilermakers might try to win a game for their departing coaching staff, which is being led by receivers coach Patrick Higgins, who was named interim coach after Danny Hope was fired. Purdue hired Kent State's Darrell Hazell to replace Hope.
Why Oklahoma State: The Cowboys were a very young team this season, and an 8-5 finish wouldn't be too shabby in a rebuilding year. The Cowboys with some luck could have been 10-2.
Pick: Oklahoma State 44, Purdue 21
Capital One Bowl
No. 7 Georgia vs. No. 16 Nebraska, Jan. 1
Why Georgia: The Bulldogs lost to LSU 42-10 in the 2011 SEC championship game and then blew a big lead in a 33-30 loss in three overtimes to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl. UGA doesn't want to finish consecutive seasons with back-to-back losses.
Why Nebraska: Nebraska is a proud program, and its ugly loss to Wisconsin left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths. The Cornhuskers' defense needs to make amends after it was ripped for 539 rushing yards in the Big Ten championship game.
Pick: Georgia 49, Nebraska 27
No. 10 South Carolina vs. No. 18 Michigan, Jan. 1
Why South Carolina: The Gamecocks were embarrassed 31-10 by Iowa in their last trip to the Outback Bowl in 2008. South Carolina trailed 31-0 in the third quarter, after quarterback Stephen Garcia threw three interceptions.
Why Michigan: The Wolverines were dominated in their first meeting against an SEC opponent this season, losing to Alabama 41-14 at Cowboys Stadium in their opener. Michigan allowed 232 rushing yards and had three turnovers.
Pick: South Carolina 33, Michigan 17
Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Stanford, Jan. 1
Why Wisconsin: The Badgers are playing in their third consecutive Rose Bowl but lost in their previous two trips to Pasadena, Calif. TCU upset the Badgers 21-19 in 2011, and Oregon won 45-38 in 2012.
Why Stanford: The Cardinal are playing in their first Rose Bowl since 1999 and haven't won the Granddaddy of 'Em All since beating Michigan 13-12 in 1971.
Pick: Stanford 38, Wisconsin 31
No. 15 Northern Illinois vs. No. 12 Florida State, Jan. 1
Why Northern Illinois: The Huskies are out to prove they belong in a BCS bowl game. They've won 12 games in a row after losing to Iowa 18-17 in their Sept. 1 opener. They took a BCS spot from Oklahoma and are ready to show the world they deserve this prime time match-up.
Why Florida State: The Seminoles definitely don't want to be the team that loses to a MAC opponent in a BCS bowl game. The Seminoles lost only twice this season, falling 17-16 at NC State and 37-26 to No. 3 Florida.
Pick: Florida State 38, Northern Illinois 16
No. 21 Louisville vs. No. 3 Florida, Jan. 2
Why Louisville: The Cardinals can earn a lot of respect for the beleaguered Big East by upsetting a top team from the SEC.
Why Florida: The Gators won 11 games in coach Will Muschamp's second season and might be able to finish No. 2 in the final polls with another victory.
Pick: Florida 42, Louisville 14
No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 5 Kansas State, Jan. 3
Why Oregon: Many people think the Ducks might still be the best team in the country despite the hiccup against Stanford. Beating a top-five opponent in a BCS bowl game might go a long way in confirming it.
Why Kansas State: The Wildcats couldn't get 73-year-old coach Bill Snyder a national championship, but they can at least win him a BCS bowl game. The Wildcats have dropped their past four bowl games and haven't won a BCS game since defeating Syracuse 35-18 in the 1997 Fiesta Bowl.
Pick: Oregon 44, Kansas State 31
No. 9 Texas A&M vs. No. 11 Oklahoma, Jan. 4
Why Texas A&M: Win the Cotton Bowl, which the Aggies haven't done since beating Notre Dame 35-10 in 1987. The Aggies lost in each of their past six trips to the Cotton Bowl, most recently falling 41-24 to LSU in 2010.
Why Oklahoma: Beat Texas A&M again, which the Sooners have done in 11 of 13 tries under coach Bob Stoops. The Sooners defeated their former Big 12 rivals in eight of the past nine meetings. And Johhny Football will be overwhelmed by all the hype.
Pick: Oklahoma 41, Texas A&M 38
Pittsburgh vs. Ole Miss, Jan. 5
Why Pittsburgh: The Panthers can finish with a winning record in their last season in the Big East. They're scheduled to move to the ACC in 2013.
Why Ole Miss: A victory over the Panthers might be another springboard toward bigger things in 2013.
Pick: Ole Miss 34, Pittsburgh 16
No. 25 Kent State vs. Arkansas State, Jan. 6
Why Kent State: The Golden Flashes can send coach Darrell Hazell out as a winner. Hazell was hired as Purdue's new coach last week but will coach Kent State through its bowl game. He was named MAC coach of the year after guiding his team to an 11-2 record.
Why Arkansas State: The Red Wolves can finish what Malzahn started. He left last week to become Auburn's new coach, and defensive coordinator John Thompson will serve as interim coach.
Pick: Kent State 34, Arkansas State 27
BCS National Championship
No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama, Jan. 7
Why Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish will attempt to prove that their arrival in South Florida isn't a fluke. After closer-than-expected victories over Purdue, BYU and Pittsburgh, some college football fans are still wondering whether Notre Dame deserves to be there. The Irish can prove everyone wrong by upsetting the Tide.
Why Alabama: The Crimson Tide can win their third national championship in four seasons, which would cement their place among the sport's great dynasties. The Tide can also win the SEC's seventh BCS national championship in a row.
Pick: Alabama 34, Notre Dame 20
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