A record setting nine bowl teams will be part of postseason play this year starting with Baylor's appearance vs UCLA in San Diego and culminating with Oklahoma taking on Heisman winner Johnny Manziel in the Cotton Bowl.
Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl - Baylor vs #17 UCLA - Thursday, December 27th - 8:45 PM CST - ESPN
The first of three bowls that match the Big XII and PAC 12 and what both teams have in offense they lack in defense. We all know about Baylor's struggles on defense, and by that comparison UCLA looks like Alabama after finishing the regular season ranked 73rd in total defense. However, with both offenses ranking in the top 20 in the nation we can expect a shootout in San Diego.
Lache Seastrunk has went on record declaring himself to be a Heisman contender in 2013 and this came could serve as a springboard for that. On the other end of the field UCLA trots out senior running back Johnathan Franklin who is averaging over 6 yards per carry this season with 13 TDs. In a match up that showcases two excellent running backs I think this one will come down to the quarterback play of Baylor's Nick Florence against UCLA's Brett Hundley. This is the first starting appearance for both in a bowl game but I think Hundley has more weapons around him and can do more with his feet than Florence (who is no slouch here).
UCLA 41, Baylor 31
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas - Minnesota vs Texas Tech - Friday, December 28th - 8:00 PM CST - ESPN
Up until Tommy Tuberville left for Cincinnati I considered not even previewing this game seriously. Now that he's gone and offensive line coach Chris Thomsen will coach the game I'll provide a few sentences, but this is still Minnesota. This is Seth Doege's last appearance for Texas Tech and he'll be facing a Minnesota defense ranked 11th nationally against the pass but gave up over 300 yards passing to Taylor Martinez last month.
This game is going to be a virtual home game for Tech with it in Houston, and added to the emotion surrounding Tuberville's departure and how that can galvanize a team, this one will end up with Tech running away in the 2nd half.
Texas Tech 34, Minnesota 17
New Era Pinstripe Bowl - West Virginia vs Syracuse - Saturday, December 29th - 2:15 PM CST - ESPN
Syracuse pounded West Virginia on a Friday night in 2011 and now they meet again in a classic Big East match up in New York City. Geno Smith and company will find a way to get their yards in Yankee Stadium but has the West Virginia defense improved enough against the pass during bowl preparation to slow down an Orange attack that ranks 21st nationally in passing?
For reference, West Virginia faced four teams ranked higher than 21st in passing this season and of those only beat Baylor, and they even managed to put up 63 points in Morgantown. The question will be whether or not the firing of secondary coach Daron Roberts will be enough to boost a secondary that caused West Virginia to rank 123rd against the pass this year.
Buckle up for another shootout involving a Big XII team, but this one goes the wrong way.
Syracuse 48, West Virginia 45
Valero Alamo Bowl - #23 Texas vs #13 Oregon State - Saturday, December 29th - 5:45 PM CST - ESPN
The second match up of Big XII and PAC 12 teams is played in the Lone Star State to a partisan crowd. Oregon State was the surprise in the PAC 12 this season after knocking off Wisconsin and UCLA early in the season and taking Stanford to the wire in November. Texas on the other hand has had an up and down season but due to expectations may be the quietest 8-win team in the country.
Oregon State ranks 29th in the nation against the run and will provide a salty test against a Texas offense that has done one thing well this year and that is run the ball. Conversely the Beavers rank 15th nationally passing the ball and is going against one of the most talented, but statistically terrible, defenses in the nation.
On paper this looks like a game for Oregon State's taking but the game is in Texas and Oregon State struggled against rushing giants Oregon and Stanford.
Texas 31, Oregon State 27
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl - TCU vs Michigan State - Saturday, December 29th - 9:15 PM CST - ESPN
TCU fans think with how they finished the season they can contend for the Big XII next year but they need to get past a middling Big 10 team before they can focus on 2013. Michigan State has failed to wow anyone this year and the loss of Kirk Cousins looks even bigger after his relief effort of RGIII a few weeks ago. Michigan State is going to run their offense through Le'Veon Bell, who has already carried the ball 350 times this season. If he doesn't break down in the bowl game he certainly will sometime in 2013. Bell will be running into a defense ranked 10th against the run.
Two spots higher on that ranking sits Michigan State, so TCU isn't going to run away with this game. As a matter of fact this will be a good test for Trevone Boykin and his maturity as a quarterback. Without a standout rusher I expect the Horned Frogs to really focus on passing the ball and getting Boykin into space to open up the middle of the field. End of day though this may be the most boring game of the Big XII bowl season. Definitely tune in if you like defense and interior line play.
TCU 17, Michigan State 9
AutoZone Liberty Bowl - Iowa State vs Tulsa - Monday, December 31st - 2:30 PM CST - ESPN
Check back at Noon on Friday for our Liberty Bowl preview.
Heart of Dallas Bowl - Purdue vs Oklahoma State - Tuesday, January 1st - 11:00 AM CST - ESPNU
Even calling plays by committee like the Cowboys will be doing won't be enough to keep the Boilermakers in it. Chelf, Lunt, and Walsh all see the field in this one.
Oklahoma State 56, Purdue 24
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl - #4 Oregon vs #5 Kansas State - Thursday, January 3rd - 7:30 PM CST - ESPN
The game that everyone thought would be for the national championship is now a side dish in the overcooked dinner that is the BCS. A lot has been written about the contrasting styles of the teams. Oregon is fast paced and aggressive like their young coach Chip Kelly and Kansas State plods along with a walker like their seasoned veteran coach Bill Snyder.
Believe it or not there was a point not too long ago where the methodical pace employed by Kansas State was more effective in yards per play than the hair on fire pace favored by Oregon. Then Kansas State ran into Baylor, Collin Klein imploded his Heisman hopes, and Kansas State was out of the national championship. This would have been a disaster but the same thing happened to Oregon no more than an hour later and before you know it the SEC "reigned" again.
This game will not all be about pace, however. While both teams are stuck to their systems enough that we are unlikely to see one take on the identity of the other we will see some interesting match ups.
Oregon employs a relatively simple triple option scheme in their offense but does it from multiple looks. Kansas State does something similar but brings a much bigger power element into it than Oregon does. Both offenses are going to run the ball and both are going to do it with a mix of their quarterback and running backs. Both will also use it to set up the play action pass.
Where this game will be decided will be on defense and special teams. Both teams rank in the 40s for total defense but Kansas State has a decided advantage against the run with a 17th national ranking. They are going to have to out scheme Oregon to win this game because they don't have the athletes outside of Meshak Williams and Arthur Brown to keep up with Oregon. I think giving the Wizard over a month to prepare for a triple option attack he saw every year playing Nebraska is going to give Kansas State a decided advantage in this game. Enough of an advantage that they minimize Oregon's explosive plays and hang tight despite the apparent speed disadvantage.
This one goes down as a dud or an instant classic. I'm leaning towards classic.
Kansas State 35, Oregon 34
AT&T Cotton Bowl - #9 Texas A&M vs #11 Oklahoma - Friday, January 4th - 7:00 PM CST - FOX
Oklahoma has made a living under Bob Stoops feasting on dual threat quarterbacks and they face one of their best ones with Heisman winner Johnny Manziel coming to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl. Manziel's loss of his offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury won't be as detrimental as some think due to his improvisational ability but it will hurt when Oklahoma finds ways to contain him and force him to throw the ball.
Manziel got his credibility after beating Alabama on the road in one of the most viewed games of the season but people overlooked his performance against LSU where he completed barely 50% of his passes, threw three interceptions, and rushed for only 27 yards on 17 attempts. This entire year Manziel has relied on his legs to win games and Oklahoma is no stranger to dual threat quarterbacks in a league full of them. Oklahoma's rushing defense stats won't wow anybody (86th nationally) but I've seen enough of their games to know that Stoops is going to focus on keeping Manziel handcuffed and force him to beat the Sooners with his arm.
With all this talk about Manziel it's easy to forget about his counterpart, Landry Jones. Jones is playing in his last game in an Oklahoma uniform and will be facing a passing defense ranked 81st nationally after playing in the rush heavy SEC. It's strength on weakness on this side of the ball and it definitely favors the Sooners.
The Heisman curse follow Johnny Manziel and Oklahoma wins this one going away.
Oklahoma 38, Texas A&M 24