The most wonderful time of the year is upon us, and it is bigger and more bloated than ever. A record 40 bowl games, plus the national championship, will take place over the next several weeks, with the 80 spots proving to be too much to handle for college football's postseason.
This year's bowl lineup includes three 5-7 teams, chosen based on Academic Progress Rate scores (San Jose State, Minnesota, Nebraska), because only 77 teams made it to six wins. The size of bowl season has created some less than impressive matchups, but, as always, we'd rather not waste too much energy criticizing the fact that there will be more football to watch over the holiday season.
Sometimes the most obscure bowls turn out to be the best, because you never know where a miracle play or comeback win will happen. So, with the two College Football Playoff semifinals -- the Orange and Cotton bowls -- and the rest of the bowls selected, we break down all of them, providing initial predictions and ranking them all based on interest/intrigue/watchability.
40. Cure Bowl: San Jose State vs. Georgia State
Dec. 19, Orlando, Fla.
Let us not diminish the great story that is Georgia State. The Panthers went 1-23 over their first two FBS seasons, beating only Abilene Christian in the 2014 opener. Things appeared bleak again this year when they opened by losing to Charlotte. But after a 2-6 start, the Panthers finally found an upward trajectory, winning their last four games. The last one was the most stunning, as they upset Georgia Southern on the road 34-7 on Saturday to get to bowl eligibility. Their reward? The first-ever Cure Bowl -- Orlando's third bowl game -- against a 5-7 San Jose State team coming from 3,000 miles away. Bowl attendance records are surely in danger.
Pick: Georgia State 34, San Jose State 30
39. Arizona Bowl: Nevada vs. Colorado State
Dec. 29, Tucson, Ariz.
We all know the bowl system is bloated, with 40 games now. The Arizona Bowl is another new one, and it's not even nationally televised. It will be broadcast online on Campus Insiders, and on some regional stations. Not only is this the first bowl game not nationally televised since the 1994 Freedom Bowl, according to Deadspin's Timothy Burke, but it's the first matchup of conference opponents in a non-national title bowl game since the Big 8's Oklahoma and Nebraska met in the 1979 Orange Bowl. Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson released and angry statement about the whole process, calling the matchup a "travesty." The good news is that the 6-6 Wolf Pack and 7-5 Rams are in different divisions and did not actually play during the regular season, so it's not a rematch.
Pick: Colorado State 35, Nevada 26
38. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Akron vs. Utah State
Dec. 22, Boise, Idaho
Utah State is making its fourth trip to Boise for the postseason. It lost the inaugural Humanitarian Bowl in 1997 and played in what became known as the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in 2011-12, splitting those two. It's been a strange year for the Aggies, as they lost Chuckie Keeton to another injury for much of the season, although he returned for the final two games. They blew out Boise State, but they finished just 6-6. Akron surged to a strong finish against a weak late-season schedule, winning its last four to get to 7-5. Expect a low-scoring game in the cold, as Utah State is No. 2 in the Mountain West in yards per play allowed and Akron is No. 1 in the MAC.
Pick: Utah State 24, Akron 20
37. St. Petersburg Bowl: Connecticut vs. Marshall
Dec. 26, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Bob Diaco has UConn bowling for the first time since Randy Edsall departed in 2010, with the help of an upset of previously unbeaten Houston two weeks ago. The bowl formerly sponsored by Beef 'O' Brady's and Bitcoin has an ordinary name now, and it may be a bit of a slugfest. These are two defense-oriented teams, which is jarring for Marshall, as the Thundering Herd have struggled on offense following the loss of Rakeem Cato from last year's team. But while they plummeted from first to 86th in yards per play, they're still better than UConn on that side of the ball.
Pick: Marshall 27, Connecticut 20
36. Quick Lane Bowl: Central Michigan vs. Minnesota
Dec. 28, Detroit
It's possible that Minnesota could finish the season as a bowl team with a 5-8 record and a loss in Detroit to a MAC team. The Golden Gophers are under .500 but are in the postseason thanks to their APR, and now they'll try to win for the second time under interim-turned-permanent coach Tracy Claeys. Minnesota's only wins since September are against Purdue and Illinois, and Claeys subsequently fired the team's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. While the Chippewas are only 7-5, they are a tricky matchup, led by standout quarterback Cooper Rush.
Pick: Minnesota 29, Central Michigan 27
35. Camellia Bowl: Appalachian State vs. Ohio
Dec. 19, Montgomery, Ala.
The second Camellia Bowl matches Ohio, in sixth bowl game in seven years under Frank Solich, against Appalachian State, making its first bowl appearance ever. The Mountaineers made their return to the FBS level last year with a 7-5 record, but NCAA rules prevented them from playing in the postseason. This year, they went 10-2, finishing second in the Sun Belt with losses to only No. 1 Clemson and conference champion Arkansas State. The Mountaineers have the Sun Belt's top defense, while quarterback Taylor Lamb ranks sixth nationally in passer rating.
Pick: Appalachian State 28, Ohio 17
34. New Orleans Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. Arkansas State
Dec. 19, New Orleans
For the last four years, Louisiana-Lafayette has taken over the Superdome, winning four straight New Orleans Bowls under Mark Hudspeth. But the Ragin'-Cajuns fell apart, as they're under NCAA investigation and stumbled to a 4-8 season. That leaves the door open for newcomers. Arkansas State finished a perfect 8-0 in the Sun Belt to take the league title, meaning it breaks its streak of four straight GoDaddy Bowl appearances to head to New Orleans instead of Mobile. The Red Wolves will meet Louisiana Tech, who is making back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1977-78. The Bulldogs are 8-4 behind quarterback Jeff Driskel, who has had the best season of his career after transferring from Florida.
Pick: Louisiana Tech 35, Arkansas State 31
33. Independence Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Tulsa
Dec. 26, Shreveport, La.
Frank Beamer says farewell to college football in Shreveport on the day after Christmas. Ordinarily, an SEC team would be headed to the Independence Bowl, but Tulsa will meet the Hokies as a replacement. Both teams are 6-6, winning their season finales to get here. While Tulsa has a potent offense under new coach (and former Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery), it can't stop anybody. Virginia Tech's offense has struggled yet again, but it should be able to move the ball well enough against the Golden Hurricane to send Beamer out on a winning note.
Pick: Virginia Tech 34, Tulsa 24
32. Foster Farms Bowl: UCLA vs. Nebraska
Dec. 26, Santa Clara, Calif.
Nebraska is only 5-7, but it heads west for a bowl bid thanks to its APR score. The Cornhuskers can at least feel good knowing that they dealt a playoff team, Michigan State, its only loss of the season. Otherwise, Mike Riley has struggled in his first season in Lincoln, losing a bunch of close games. They can try to salvage some pride -- and perhaps locate the nearest In-N-Out Burger -- with an upset of the Bruins, who struggled to overcome defensive injuries and finished 8-4. Nebraska isn't as bad as its record, but its pass defense has struggled much of the year. It's an opportunity for promising UCLA freshman QB Josh Rosen to end his rookie season on a high note.
Pick: UCLA 41, Nebraska 27
31. Bahamas Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Western Michigan
Dec. 24, Nassau, Bahamas
Sadly, there is no possible way that the Bahamas Bowl can top its debut in 2014. Last Christmas Eve afternoon, Central Michigan nearly erased a 49-14 fourth-quarter deficit, with a combination Hail Mary/multi-lateral miracle touchdown to come within a point as time expired. The Chippewas elected to go for two and the win but missed.
It made for pretty fantastic, unexpected entertainment. This year still presents a solid matchup. Middle Tennessee is led by young talent, as freshman quarterback Brent Stockstill (the son of coach Rick Stockstill) is 11th nationally with 3,678 passing yards and freshman receiver is third with 100 catches. The Broncos are quite potent too, with the combination of quarterback Zach Terrell (3,229 yards) and receivers Daniel Braverman (103 catches) and Corey Davis (1,253). That means the game features three receivers with 1,000 yards and two with 100 catches, plus a coach, Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck, who has a "Row the Boat" mantra that seems quite fitting for an island bowl game.
Pick: Western Michigan 38, Middle Tennessee 31
30. New Mexico Bowl: Arizona vs. New Mexico
Dec. 19, Albuquerque, N.M.
For better or worse, New Mexico is rewarded for its first winning season since 2007 with a trip to … its own home field. The Lobos are 7-5 under Bob Davie, with an explosive running attack led by Jhurell Pressley, and they upset Utah State, Boise State and Air Force within their division. The New Mexico Bowl has provided some thrilling finishes in its nine years, including Arizona's last trip here. In 2012, the Wildcats won 49-48 against Nevada by erasing a 48-35 deficit in the final minute with a touchdown, onside kick recovery and touchdown. Making this matchup more appealing is the fact that star Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright will return from an injury that has sidelined him since September.
Pick: Arizona 44, New Mexico 35
29. Hawaii Bowl: San Diego State vs. Cincinnati
Dec. 24, Honolulu
Only one of the last seven Hawaii Bowls has been decided by single digits, and it is the type of bowl game where you never know how much focus you'll get from either team on Christmas Eve in paradise. This could be a great game, though, as San Diego State, the Mountain West champion, has won nine games in a row behind Donnel Pumphrey's running and a stingy defense. Cincinnati had a disappointing 7-5 season with erratic play, but its passing game has at times been explosive, making for a fun clash of styles.
Pick: Cincinnati 30, San Diego State 27
28. Liberty Bowl: Kansas State vs. Arkansas
Jan. 2, Memphis
Kansas State beat West Virginia by one on Saturday, meaning it gets to a bowl game the old-fashioned way by winning six games instead of advancing based on APR at 5-7. The Wildcats started 3-0, lost six times in a row and have now won their last three, although two of those last three came against Kansas and Iowa State. Despite its early-season struggles, Arkansas has clearly been the better team, with quarterback Brandon Allen leading the SEC in passer rating and Alex Collins rushing for 1,392 yards.
Pick: Arkansas 34, Kansas State 20
27. Pinstripe Bowl: Duke vs. Indiana
Dec. 26, New York
Prepare your basketball jokes. It is a rather strange bowl matchup to see, and to make things a bit weirder, it will happen on a baseball field at Yankee Stadium. This is Indiana's first bowl game since 2007 and second since 1993, as Kevin Wilson finally got to six wins thanks to season-ending victories over Maryland and Purdue. Current Duke players don't know what it's like, having made four bowl trips in a row, but before David Cutcliffe engineered a turnaround, the Blue Devils had gone to just two bowl games (1989 and 1994) from 1961-2011. Duke fell apart after its controversial loss to Miami, and Indiana's dangerous offense could give it the advantage in trying to win a bowl for the first time since the 1991 Copper Bowl. Duke's defense will have to unfortunately play without do-everything star safety Jeremy Cash after he underwent wrist surgery.
Pick: Indiana 35, Duke 27
26. Armed Forces Bowl: California vs. Air Force
Dec. 29, Fort Worth, Texas
Sonny Dykes seems to want to do anything but continue to coach at California, but with nobody else hiring him, he's still the coach of the Golden Bears. For now. He'll take his Bear Raid offense to Fort Worth, where this will likely be the last college game -- and last chance to make an on-field impression -- for quarterback Jared Goff, a junior who is coveted by the NFL. Air Force, as usual, loves to run, ranking third in rushing offense, and it won a messy division and lost by three to San Diego State in the Mountain West title game. Despite the coaching uncertainty, Goff can still finish with an impressive outing.
Pick: California 38, Air Force 27
25. Poinsettia Bowl: Boise State vs. Northern Illinois
Dec. 23, San Diego
The Broncos and Huskies meet in a showdown of mid-major powerhouses who came up short of their usual dominance this season. Boise State went just 8-4, finishing in a four-way tie for second place in its division, while Northern Illinois did win its sixth straight MAC West title but is 8-5 and lost the MAC title to Bowling Green. Northern Illinois had not won fewer than 11 games since 2009, and Boise State fell despite returning most of its starters from a Fiesta Bowl team. Forget the negativity, though: It's still a matchup of consistently good programs, with Boise's promising young quarterback Brett Rypien especially worth watching.
Pick: Boise State 34, Northern Illinois 24
24. Heart of Dallas Bowl: Washington vs. Southern Miss
Dec. 26, Dallas
Washington got over the hump to six wins thanks to its win over rival Washington State, and it draws a tricky Group of Five matchup as a result. While Southern Miss lost the C-USA title game to Western Kentucky, it has been on a roll. After three dismal, out-of-character seasons of irrelevance, the Eagles have stormed back to 9-4, behind QB Nick Mullens and an offense that scores 40 points per game. The Eagles may meet their match, though, in the Washington defense, which has been underrated much of the year. Washington appears to be a team on the rise as well under Chris Petersen, behind the freshman duo of QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin.
Pick: Washington 31, Southern Miss 24
23. Cactus Bowl: Arizona State vs. West Virginia
Jan. 2, Phoenix
The season didn't go as planned for either the Sun Devils or Mountaineers. Arizona State finished 12th last year and opened 2015 ranked 15th, but it plummeted to a meager 6-6. West Virginia is mired in mediocrity, now standing at just 25-25 over the last four seasons after Dana Holgorsen made his debut with an Orange Bowl win. West Virginia actually runs more than it passes now, running nearly 50 times per game behind Wendell Smallwood and Rushel Shell. Arizona State's aggressive defense has been much better on defense against the run than the pass, and it could pay off in what amounts to a home game at nearby Chase Field in Phoenix.
Pick: Arizona State 34, West Virginia 28
22. Military Bowl: No. 21 Navy vs. Pittsburgh
Dec. 28, Annapolis, Md.
Pitt finally got up to eight wins again, but it still can't break through to a more prestigious bowl game. Instead, it will play a road game. It is a good matchup, though, as Pat Narduzzi's Panthers defense will attempt to slow down QB Keenan Reynolds and Navy's option attack. The Midshipmen have lost to only Notre Dame and Houston this year, and Reynolds has continued phenomenal career, setting the FBS career rushing touchdowns record. This will be the final career for a player who will go down in history as one of Navy's greatest players, helping to continue the impressive, consistent success of the last decade under Paul Johnson and Ken Niumatalolo.
Pick: Navy 28, Pittsburgh 24
21. Birmingham Bowl: Auburn vs. Memphis
Dec. 30, Birmingham, Ala.
Auburn's disappointing fall from preseason No. 6 to 6-6 will end in Birmingham at Legion Field, the previous annual site of the Iron Bowl for four decades. The Tigers will be there without defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who has become the South Carolina coach, just as Memphis will go without head coach Justin Fuente, who is at Virginia Tech. Auburn's pass defense has been mediocre all season, and now the Tigers will be challenged by NFL prospect Paxton Lynch -- who threw seven TDs in one half in his last game against SMU. Beating Auburn isn't anything special this season, but Memphis beating both Ole Miss and Auburn from the SEC West in the same season would be quite memorable for the program.
Pick: Memphis 34, Auburn 27
20. Belk Bowl: N.C. State vs. Mississippi State
Dec. 30, Charlotte, N.C.
Both teams have had solid seasons, with N.C. State winning seven games and Mississippi State winning eight, but neither has racked up quality wins. In fact, the Wolfpack beat zero teams that are playing in bowl games. It's the send off for quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Dak Prescott, and while the Bulldogs finished the regular season with a thud in the Egg Bowl, look for Prescott to shine to cap one of the greatest careers in Bulldogs history.
Pick: Mississippi State 38, N.C. State 21
19. Music City Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Louisville
Dec. 30, Nashville
Louisville hoped for more than a 7-5 season, but it won five of its last six and came from behind to prevent rival Kentucky from getting to a bowl game. Texas A&M hoped for more than an 8-4 season, especially after another fast start. But the Aggies won just two of their final six SEC games, putting up three points against Ole Miss, 10 against Auburn and seven against LSU. It's been a surprising struggle for the Aggies offense, with has not capitalized on all the young skill position talent available. Perhaps something can be fixed over the month-long break before the bowl.
Pick: Texas A&M 27, Louisville 23
18. Sun Bowl: Miami vs. Washington State
Dec. 26, El Paso, Texas
Miami will play its final game before Mark Richt takes over, and given Sun Life Stadium crowds this season, it's hard to imagine many Hurricanes fans making the trek to El Paso for a game against the Cougars. It's Washington State's second bowl since 2003 and second in the last three years under Mike Leach. While they finished 8-4 after an embarrassing Apple Cup loss to Washington, the Cougars are hopeful that star quarterback Luke Falk (4,266 yards) will return from a concussion. If he's on the field, Miami could be in for a long day.
Pick: Washington State 42, Miami 27
17. TaxSlayer Bowl: Penn State vs. Georgia
Jan. 2, Jacksonville, Fla.
It's the first meeting of the Nittany Lions and Bulldogs since Penn State won the Sugar Bowl to capture the 1982 national championship. The stakes are clearly a bit lower this time around. Georgia just fired had coach Mark Richt, while Penn State let go of offensive coordinator John Donavan. Both offenses have been erratic, with Georgia struggling at quarterback and losing star tailback Nick Chubb to an injury, while Penn State's offensive line problems have dominated the conversation again in an inconsistent year for Christian Hackenberg. This may be Hackenberg's last game, if he turns pro, and Penn State will have to find a way to neutralize Georgia linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins. Georgia will play this game without more than just Richt, as coordinators Brian Schottenheimer and Jeremy Pruitt are already gone too.
Pick: Georgia 17, Penn State 16
16. Outback Bowl: No. 13 Northwestern vs. No. 23 Tennessee
Jan. 1, Tampa, Fla.
It has been a strange yet impressive season for Northwestern, who is 10-2 with an excellent defense that ranks seventh in yards per play allowed. Of course, the Wildcats are also 120th on offense in yards per play, with tailback Justin Jackson grinding out the only reliable offense. The Wildcats beat Stanford but were blown out by Michigan and Iowa and beat Ball State, Nebraska, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin all by seven points or less. Meanwhile, Tennessee has quietly improved after a rough start against a frontloaded schedule, winning five in a row. In the 1996 season, the Vols trampled the No. 11 Wildcats 48-28 behind Peyton Manning in their only meeting ever in the Citrus Bowl. They meet again in Florida with the spotlight not quite as bright, and the scoring unlikely to reach those heights.
Pick: Tennessee 24, Northwestern 16
15. Miami Beach Bowl: South Florida vs. Western Kentucky
Dec. 21, Miami
Welcome to the Willie Taggart Bowl. Taggart took Western Kentucky to its first bowl game in 2012, and he turned that into the USF job. His first two seasons were a struggle, but he has gone from two to four to eight wins, with the Bulls rolling in the second half this season. They've won seven of their last eight games, losing to Navy and beating Temple, behind QB Quenton Flowers and RB Marlon Mack. This is a tough matchup, though, as the Hilltoppers are 11-2 -- their only losses are to Indiana and LSU -- and won Conference USA with senior QB Brandon Doughty throwing for 4,594 yards. This should be an exciting game, like last year between Memphis and BYU, just hopefully without the postgame fisticuffs.
Pick: Western Kentucky 34, South Florida 33
14. Holiday Bowl: No. 25 USC vs. Wisconsin
Dec. 30, San Diego
USC's trip to the Pac-12 title game mostly served as an opportunity for Stanford's Christian McCaffrey to make a Heisman statement, and one day later new coach Clay Helton fired defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and three other assistants. So, there will be a small group prepping the Trojans for their Holiday Bowl game against Wisconsin. The Badgers are 9-3, losing to the only three .500 teams they've played (Alabama, Iowa and Northwestern on a controversial call). Their running game has been an un-Wisconsin-like mess much of the season, and while perhaps they will take advantage of USC's shorthanded coaching staff, USC may have too many weapons to handle.
Pick: USC 27, Wisconsin 21
13. Boca Raton Bowl: No. 24 Temple vs. Toledo
Dec. 22, Boca Raton, Fla.
The Owls and Rockets are a combined 19-5 and both have spent time ranked in the top 25, making this one of the most attractive Group of Five bowl matchups. Toledo will proceed without Matt Campbell as head coach -- he left for Iowa State -- although it is maintaining continuity with offensive coordinator Jason Candle promoted. Temple, meanwhile, has held onto Matt Rhule so far, after he took the Owls to their first 10-win season since 1979. Temple has an excellent defense, but the individual matchup to watch here is star Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich -- in his final college game -- against Toledo running back Kareem Hunt.
Pick: Temple 24, Toledo 23
12. GoDaddy Bowl: Bowling Green vs. Georgia Southern
Dec. 23, Mobile, Ala.
Georgia Southern opened its season with a 44-0 loss to West Virginia and ended it with a shocking 34-7 loss to Georgia State. In between, it was business as usual, with the nation's No. 1 run offense. It makes for an intriguing matchup, given that Bowling Green has the nation's No. 3 pass offense behind quarterback Matt Johnson. The MAC champion Falcons lost coach Dino Babers to Syracuse, but they should still be their explosive selves in the bowl as Johnson tries to end his career on a high note. With 4,700 yards already, there's a good chance he'll hit 5,000 passing yards for the season. Georgia Southern has some big numbers of its own, as running back Matt Breida has 1,540 yards and averages 8.2 yards per carry.
Pick: Bowling Green 51, Georgia Southern 40
11. Texas Bowl: No. 20 LSU vs. Texas Tech
Dec. 29, Houston
It's been a common theme throughout the Kliff Kingsbury era at Texas Tech: The Red Raiders cannot defend the run. They rank 126th in yards per rush allowed this year, down from 84th in 2013 and 107th last year. So while Leonard Fournette's Heisman campaign was sort of forgotten amid LSU's November struggles and all the Les Miles drama, perhaps we should remember that Fournette still leads the nation in rushing yards per game at 158.3. He has 1,741 in 11 games, and it would not be impossible for him to crack 2,000 in the bowl, given Texas Tech's run defense. That's worth the price of admission alone.
Pick: LSU 35, Texas Tech 27
10. Citrus Bowl: No. 14 Michigan vs. No. 19 Florida
Jan. 1, Orlando, Fla.
Neither season ended as hoped -- Michigan got blown out by Ohio State, Florida was dominated by Florida State and Alabama -- but both teams still exceeded expectations for most of the year to get to this point, in their debuts under Jim Harbaugh and Jim McElwain. Both have excellent defenses, and we can expect a low-scoring, hard-hitting affair. While Michigan's defense has shown some cracks recently, it is more capable of moving the ball on offense than the Gators, who continue to struggle in the passing game and just don't have explosive playmakers. Michigan is the more complete team, and even if not spectacular, Jake Rudock has been more reliable at quarterback than Treon Harris.
Pick: Michigan 20, Florida 14
9. Las Vegas Bowl: No. 22 Utah vs. BYU
Dec. 19, Las Vegas
This is what non-major bowl games should try to do as much as possible: Get disgruntled rivals to play each other. We weren't treated to a Holy War in either of the last two regular seasons, but now the Utes and Cougars will meet in Las Vegas. It will be the last game at BYU for coach Bronco Mendenhall, who will leave for the Virginia job afterward. Utah has won the last four meetings in the series, and while its defense could carry it, the absence of star running back Devontae Booker because of a season-ending injury still looms large.
Pick: BYU 24, Utah 17
8. Peach Bowl: No. 9 Florida State vs. No. 18 Houston
Dec. 31, Atlanta
Tom Herman appears to be staying at Houston for another year, after a sparkling debut season in which the Cougars are 12-1 and playing in a major bowl. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. has been terrific in Herman's offense, particularly as a runner, although he'll have a big challenge against the Florida State defense. Running back Dalvin Cook gets deserved credit for carrying Florida State to a 10-2 record on offense, but the defense ranks 12th in yards per play allowed, led by end DeMarcus Walker and defensive backs Jalen Ramsey and Derwin James. Houston is a dangerous team, but Florida State is easily the most complete team the Cougars have seen, even if its passing game still leaves something to be desired.
Pick: Florida State 34, Houston 21
7. Sugar Bowl: No. 12 Ole Miss vs. No. 16 Oklahoma State
Jan. 1, New Orleans
Let's hope a New Year's Six bowl against a Big 12 team goes better for Ole Miss this year. Last year, the Rebels capped what had been looking like a dream season, at times, with a 42-3 loss to TCU in the Peach Bowl. This time, they'll try to build off an impressive Egg Bowl win over Mississippi State against the Cowboys, who got the Sugar Bowl bid thanks to Baylor's unexpected loss to Texas. Ole Miss should be able to limit Oklahoma State's big plays, and few offensive tackles are more equipped to handle Emmanuel Ogbah than the Rebels' Laremy Tunsil. NFL fans should pay close attention to that individual matchup.
Pick: Ole Miss 42, Oklahoma State 28
6. Russell Athletic Bowl: No. 10 North Carolina vs. No. 17 Baylor
Dec. 29, Orlando, Fla.
Injuries have unfortunately derailed Baylor at quarterback, as Seth Russell and Jarrett Stidham were both lost for the season, and Chris Johnson left the Texas loss with a head injury. Johnson will likely return for the bowl, although it's still hard to know what to expect from the offense with him at the helm. Overall, we can hope for an entertaining shootout, as North Carolina is first nationally in yards per play and Baylor is second. North Carolina's stability with Marquise Williams might give it a slight edge, even if he's coming off a rough outing against Clemson, but it's also probably foolish to doubt Baylor's ability to come up with solutions on offense with a month off.
*UPDATE: In addition to the absence of Russell and Stidham, Baylor is expected to be without starting running back Shock Linwood and starting receiver Corey Coleman, the 2015 Biletnikoff Award winner.
Pick: North Carolina 42, Baylor 28
5. Rose Bowl: No. 5 Iowa vs. No. 6 Stanford
Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif.
An argument can be made that Ohio State should be ranked ahead of Iowa, but the Hawkeyes deserve a return to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1990 season, even if they came up just short of the Big Ten title. Given the preferred style of play of both these teams, expect a physical game, although Stanford has had to lean more on its offense this season, revolving around the record-breaking all-purpose ability of Christian McCaffrey. Iowa fans will travel well and likely take over the Rose Bowl, but McCaffrey can be the difference in this game.
Pick: Stanford 27, Iowa 17
4. Alamo Bowl: No. 11 TCU vs. No. 15 Oregon
Jan. 2, San Antonio, Texas
Oregon has made an impressive climb back after struggling in the first half of the season, becoming the Oregon of old. The Ducks have won six in a row to move to 9-3, now ranking third nationally in yards per play. Most notably, transfer quarterback Vernon Adams -- who struggled with a finger injury early -- now leads the nation in passer rating, living up to the preseason hype and then some. TCU, of course, should have a healthy Trevone Boykin, and it's possible receiver Josh Doctson could return from his wrist injury. Both of these offenses are explosive and among the best in the country, and both defenses have shown big holes at times. Put this game indoors on the Alamodome turf, and it's hard to see this as anything but an entertaining shootout.
Pick: Oregon 48, TCU 45
3. Fiesta Bowl: No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 8 Notre Dame
Jan. 1, Glendale, Ariz.
Any result short of the playoff is a disappointment for an Ohio State team that opened the season as the overwhelming No. 1, and the Buckeyes didn't even get a Rose Bowl consolation either. Get past that, though, and we're left with one of the best matchups of bowl season as the Buckeyes meet the Fighting Irish for the first time since the Fiesta Bowl 10 years ago. Ohio State has struggled to consistently meet huge expectations, although it closed the season with its best game in blowing out Michigan. Notre Dame has impressively hung around the top 10 despite suffering abysmal injury luck all year, but it will be tough to keep up with the Buckeyes, especially given how excellent Ohio State's defense has been.
Pick: Ohio State 34, Notre Dame 24
2. Cotton Bowl: No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Michigan State
Dec. 31, Arlington, Texas
The national semifinal at AT&T Stadium matches Alabama's physical defense against a Michigan State team that just beat Iowa because of a 22-play drive that lasted nine minutes. The key storyline will be the health of Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, who dealt with a shoulder problem late in the season. The Spartans won't be able to succeed by running straight at the Crimson Tide; they'll need to put pressure on them with Cook, receiver Aaron Burbridge and the passing game. Michigan State does have the offensive line to put up a strong fight against Alabama, but the Alabama defensive front is the best unit in college football. This feels like it may turn into a typical Alabama game: Frustrate the opposing offense, and then let Derrick Henry grind out the win.
Pick: Alabama 28, Michigan State 17
1. Orange Bowl: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Oklahoma
Dec. 31, Miami
In last year's Russell Athletic Bowl, Clemson embarrassed Oklahoma 40-6, raising further doubts about where the Sooners were heading under Bob Stoops. Stoops regrouped, hired offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and helped shape Oklahoma into a playoff team. While they did falter vs. Texas in October, it's possible that nobody has played better all-around football than the Sooners over the last several weeks, with Baker Mayfield making a Heisman push, with the help of excellent playmakers around him. Mayfield may not be the top quarterback in the Heisman race, though, because Clemson's Deshaun Watson has been on a roll in leading the Tigers to a perfect 13-0 record. Watson continues to thrive as a passer, and he's also rushed for over 100 yards in four of his last five games. Ultimately, this feels like a toss-up game that can go down to the wire in back-and-forth fashion. The very slight edge goes to Watson and Clemson's pass rush to win the semifinal and advance to the Jan. 11 national championship game.
Pick: Clemson 34, Oklahoma 31