‘Tis the season of interim coaches, player gifts, weeks between games, goofy title sponsor names and some half-empty stadiums.
The bowls have arrived with the first of 35 kicking off Saturday in Albuquerque, N.M., with Washington State taking on Colorado State in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.
Blood pumping yet?
Give it time. The bowl season builds to a crescendo, with mostly undercards before Christmas — the exception in Las Vegas on Saturday between Fresno State and Southern California — and gains momentum through New Year’s Day.
Most of the BCS matchups are appealing, and Florida State is favored to end the Southeastern Conference’s seven-game winning streak in the national championship game. Auburn awaits in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 6.
The last year of the BCS brings the Seminoles back to the title game. They participated in the first three title games, and fell to an SEC team — Tennessee — in the inaugural game after the 1998 season.
Next year, things will be different. There’s the College Football Playoff, more major bowls that will be anchored on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, new agreements and new bowl games in places like the Bahamas and Boca Raton, Fla.
Until then, feast at this year’s bowl buffet with our viewer’s guide. Stars by the bowl game indicated the quality of the matchup; the bowls are ranked with 1 to 5 stars, with the more stars signifying the better matchups.
GILDAN NEW MEXICO BOWL **
WHO: Washington State (6-6) vs. Colorado State (7-6)
WHEN/WHERE: 1 p.m. Saturday in Albuquerque, N.M. (ESPN)
Nice reward for programs that combined for seven victories last season. Mike Leach’s Cougars are bowling for the first time since 2003 and are making progress ahead of schedule in the tough Pac-12. Quarterbacks Connor Halliday of Washington State and the Rams’ Garrett Grayson have combined to pass for 7,514 yards.
ROYAL PURPLE LAS VEGAS BOWL ****
WHO: Fresno State (11-1) vs. Southern California (9-4)
WHEN/WHERE: 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Las Vegas (ABC)
An early Christmas present. Fresno was one victory away from a BCS bowl, and quarterback Derek Carr leads the nation in total offense, passing yards and touchdowns (48). The Trojans saved their season under interim coach Ed Orgeron, but now the second interim coach, Clay Helton, works the bowl game.
FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL *
WHO: Buffalo (8-4) vs. San Diego State (7-5)
WHEN/WHERE: Saturday, 4:30 p.m., Boise, Idaho, ESPN
The player to watch here is Bulls linebacker Khalil Mack, a Butkus Award finalist and projected first-round draft pick. He had 2 ½ sacks against Ohio State. Plus, he and his teammates should be better acclimated to the conditions in Boise.
R+L CARRIERS NEW ORLEANS BOWL *
WHO: Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) vs. Tulane (7-5)
WHEN/WHERE: Saturday, 8 p.m., New Orleans, ESPN
An all-Louisiana production. In their third straight New Orleans Bowl, the Ragin’ Cajuns should feel at home in the Superdome, but not as comfortable as the Green Wave. This has been Tulane’s home field for 38 years. The time off has helped Green Wave quarterback Nick Montana, Joe’s son, recover from a shoulder injury.
BEEF O’BRADY BOWL *
WHO: East Carolina (9-3) vs. Ohio (7-5)
WHEN/WHERE: Monday, 1 p.m., St. Petersburg, Fla., ESPN
Ohio must try to stop a powerful Pirates offense that averages 460 yards and 40 points per game. East Carolina, loser of four straight bowl games, looks to quarterback Shane Carden, who has completed 71 percent of his passes.
SHERATON HAWAII BOWL ***
WHO: Boise State (8-4) vs. Oregon State (8-4)
WHEN/WHERE: Tuesday, 7 p.m., Honolulu, ESPN
Gone is Boise Coach Chris Petersen. Linebackers coach Bob Gregory is the interim leader. Oregon State dropped its final five games, but watch Beavers wide receiver Brandin Cooks, the Biletnikoff Award winner who’s caught 120 passes for 1,670 yards and 15 touchdowns.
LITTLE CAESARS PIZZA BOWL *
WHO: Bowling Green (10-3) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6)
WHEN/WHERE: Thursday, 5 p.m., Detroit, ESPN
In MAC tradition, a head coach has moved on — the Falcons’ Dave Clawson to Wake Forest — so assistant Adam Scheier takes over league champion Bowling Green. For the first time since 2010, Pittsburgh is not playing in the BVAA Compass Bowl.
SAN DIEGO COUNTY CREDIT UNION POINSETTIA BOWL ***
WHO: Northern Illinois (12-1) vs. Utah State (8-5)
WHEN/WHERE: Thursday, 8:30 p.m., San Diego, ESPN
Northern Illinois lost out on a BCS bowl with the Bowling Green loss, but quarterback Jordan Lynch, who finished third in the Heisman voting, gets a final opportunity on the college stage.
MILITARY BOWL PRESENTED BY NORTHROP GRUMMAN *
WHO: Marshall (9-4) vs. Maryland (7-5)
WHEN/WHERE: Dec. 27, 1:30 p.m., Annapolis, Md., ESPN
The game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is 27 miles from the Maryland campus, but the Terps haven’t played there since 1965. It’s Maryland’s final football game as a member of the ACC. Marshall won the Conference USA East with an offense that averaged 43 points per game.
WHO: Syracuse (6-6) vs. Minnesota (8-4) **
WHEN/WHERE: Dec. 27, 5 p.m., Houston, ESPN
Since 1906, the Gophers have won at least nine games in a season once (2003). That’s on the line for a Minnesota team that had victories over Nebraska and Penn State. The Orange changed conferences, coaches and quarterbacks and had a respectable debut in the ACC.
FIGHT HUNGER BOWL ***
WHO: Brigham Young (8-4) vs. Washington (8-4)
WHEN/WHERE: Dec. 27, 8:30 p.m., San Francisco, ESPN
Steve Sarkisian is off to Southern California, and Marques Tuiasosopo coaches the Huskies, who are bidding for a nine-victory season for the first time since Rick Neuheisel’s 2000 club won 11 and the Rose Bowl. It’s a running back showdown between the Huskies’ Bishop Sankey (1,775 yards) and BYU’s Jamall Williams (1,202), with Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill in the mix (1,211 yards). For the first time, two female officials will work a Football Bowl Subdivision game. The Conference USA crew will include line judge Sarah Thomas and Maia Chaka as head linesman.
NEW ERA PINSTRIPE BOWL **
WHO: Rutgers (6-6) vs. Notre Dame (8-4)
WHEN/WHERE: Dec. 28, 11:15 a.m., New York, ESPN
An ideal matchup for Yankee Stadium, where the Irish authored some of the biggest moments in college football history. Knute Rockne delivered his “Win one for the Gipper” speech here in 1928 to inspire the team against Army. The 1946 battle against Army featured four Heisman Trophy winners and ended in a scoreless tie.
BELK BOWL **
WHO: Cincinnati (9-3) vs. North Carolina (6-6)
WHEN/WHERE: Dec. 28, 2:20 p.m., Charlotte, N.C., ESPN
The Bearcats looked to be trouble when starting quarterback Munchie Legeax went down early with a season-ending injury, but Brandon Kay was terrific in coach Tommy Tuberville’s first season. It’s the second straight trip to Charlotte for Cincinnati, which beat Duke here last year. Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams also was an injury replacement and leads the team in rushing with 531 yards.
RUSSELL ATHLETIC BOWL ***
WHO: Miami Fla. (9-3) vs. Louisville (11-1)
WHEN/WHERE: Dec. 28, 5:45 p.m., Orlando, Fla., ESPN
This is Teddy Bridgewater’s final college game, right? He’s made some noise about returning to college next season. He was solid this year, with 28 touchdowns and four interceptions but the Heisman campaign faltered as the season progressed. The Hurricanes climbed to No. 7 in the polls but faded late.
BUFFALO WILD WINGS BOWL **
WHO: Kansas State (7-5) vs. Michigan (7-5)
WHEN/WHERE: Dec. 28, 9:15 p.m., Tempe, Ariz., ESPN
Teams with the same record feel differently about the season. K-State won five of its last six; the Wolverines lost four of their last five. The Wildcats look to end a five-game bowl losing streak, four by Bill Snyder teams. Michigan is coming off its most impressive game of the season, a 42-41 loss to Ohio State.
BELL HELICOPTER ARMED FORCES BOWL **
WHO: Middle Tennessee State (8-4) vs. Navy (8-4)
WHEN/WHERE: Dec. 30, 10:45 a.m., Fort Worth, Texas, ESPN
The first time for Navy in this bowl. The Midshipmen’s Keenan Reynolds has rushed for 29 touchdowns to break the record for quarterbacks. Navy’s triple option has produced 47 rushing touchdowns, the most in FBS. Both teams are streaking. The Blue Raiders have won five straight, Navy four in a row.
FRANKLIN AMERICAN MORTGAGE MUSIC CITY BOWL **
WHO: Mississippi (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (7-5)
WHEN/WHERE: Dec. 30, 2:15 p.m., Nashville, Tenn., ESPN
Both teams started 3-0 and had visions of bigger seasons. But the Ole Miss offense bogged down toward the end of the season. Still, the Rebels are a good bowl program with victories in five straight and nine of 10. Tech averages 311 rushing yards and has 45 touchdowns on the ground from its option attack.
VALERO ALAMO BOWL ***
WHO: Oregon (10-2) vs. Texas (8-4)
WHEN/WHERE: Dec. 30, 5:45 p.m., San Antonio, ESPN
Can the Longhorns win one for the Mack-er? It’s Mack Brown’s final game, and Texas pulled a tough assignment in Oregon, which averages 573 yards per game behind quarterback Marcus Mariota.
NATIONAL UNIVERSITY HOLIDAY BOWL **
WHO: Arizona State (10-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
WHEN/WHERE: Dec. 30, 9:15 p.m., San Diego, ESPN
Which Texas Tech team shows up, the one that started 7-0 or the one that finished 0-5? But Arizona State has to be in a fouler mood, blowing a Rose Bowl berth by falling at home to Stanford in the Pac-12 title game. Tech averages 392 passing yards per game. This game could extend well into New Year’s Eve.
ADVOCARE V100 BOWL ***
WHO: Arizona (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5)
WHEN/WHERE: Dec. 31, 11:30 a.m., Shreveport, La., ESPN
The nation’s top two rushers square off: Boston College’s Andre Williams (175.2 yards) and Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey (156.0). Williams was a Heisman finalist, and Carey was the Pac-12 offensive player of the year.
HYUNDAI SUN BOWL ***
WHO: Virginia Tech (8-4) vs. UCLA (9-3)
WHEN/WHERE: Dec. 31, 1 p.m., El Paso, Texas, CBS
The Hokies bring the defense, yielding 270 yards per game, and the Bruins have one of the Pac-12’s most productive offenses with quarterback Brett Hundley competing 68 percent of his passes with 22 touchdowns. UCLA also features All-America linebacker Anthony Barr. The first bowl game in Tech history happened in El Paso in 1947.
AUTOZONE LIBERTY BOWL *
WHO: Rice (10-3) vs. Mississippi State (6-6)
WHEN/WHERE: Dec. 31, 3 p.m., Memphis, Tenn., ESPN
Gotta have more cowbell, baby. The Bulldogs will bring their cowbell tradition to the Liberty Bowl for the first time since 2007, qualifying for the postseason after their dramatic victory over Mississippi. Rice is rolling, coming off a victory over Marshall in the Conference USA title game.
CHICK-FIL-A BOWL ***
WHO: Duke (10-3) vs. Texas A&M (8-4)
WHEN/WHERE: Dec. 31, 7 p.m., Atlanta, Ga., ESPN
Also would have been a great bowl matchup in 1939 when A&M went 11-0 and Duke 8-1. The Blue Devils are in a bowl game in consecutive years for the first time in school history. It should be the final college hurrah for Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel.
TAXSLAYER.COM GATOR BOWL **
WHO: Nebraska (8-4) vs. Georgia (8-4)
WHEN/WHERE: Jan. 1, 11 a.m., Jacksonville, Fla., ESPN2
Cornhuskers and Bulldogs are back at it after Georgia won last year’s matchup in the Capital One Bowl 45-31. Nebraska is riding a three-game bowl losing streak and seeks to avoid its first five-loss campaign in Bo Pelini’s six seasons.
HEART OF DALLAS BOWL *
WHO: UNLV (7-5) vs. North Texas (8-4)
WHEN/WHERE: Jan. 1, 11 a.m., Dallas, Tex., ESPNU
North Texas returns to the postseason after a 12 year drought and the Mean Green aren’t traveling far, down the road to Dallas. The key matchup is North Texas’ run defense, which yielded 125 yards per game, against UNLV running back Tim Cornett, who has 1,251 yards and 15 touchdowns.
CAPITAL ONE BOWL ****
WHO: Wisconsin (9-3) vs. South Carolina (10-2)
WHEN/WHERE: Jan. 1, 11 a.m., Orlando, Fla., ABC
This is a point-of-attack game, with the Gamecocks’ defensive front meeting the Wisconsin running game, led by Melvin Gordon and James White and a stout offensive line. The Badgers were tripped up in their finale against Penn State, and South Carolina took care of business against Clemson. The SEC has won four of the last five Capital One meetings.
OUTBACK BOWL ***
WHO: Iowa (8-4) vs. LSU (9-3)
WHEN/WHERE: Jan. 1, noon, Tampa, Fla., ESPN
The only other game between these programs ended on a long Iowa touchdown pass on the game’s final play in the 2005 Capital One Bowl. It also was Nick Saban’s final game at LSU’s coach. Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger is out with a knee injury, and the Tigers will need more from the running game, led by Jeremy Hill. Freshman Anthony Jennings is expected to get his first start at quarterback for the Tigers.
ROSE BOWL GAME PRESENTED BY VIZIO ****
WHO: Stanford (11-2) vs. Michigan State (12-1)
WHEN/WHERE: Jan. 1, 4 p.m., Pasadena, Calif., ESPN
In an old school venue (Rose Bowl), the Spartans and Cardinal look to play some defensive-minded football. They both rank near the top nationally in scoring defense, but both quarterbacks — Stanford’s Kevin Hogan and Michigan State’s Connor Cook — upped their games in conference championship victories.
TOSTITOS FIESTA BOWL ***
WHO: Central Florida (11-1) vs. Baylor (11-1)
WHEN/WHERE: Jan. 1, 7:30 p.m., Glendale, Ariz., ESPN
This may be a more competitive game than you think, if Central regains its early season form. The Golden Knights struggled to put away non-bowl teams Temple, South Florida and SMU down the stretch to clinch the first American Athletic Conference championship. Baylor beat Texas to win its first Big 12 title. The quarterbacks, Baylor’s Bryce Petty and Central’s Blake Bortles, were among college football’s most productive.
ALLSTATE SUGAR BOWL ****
WHO: Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Alabama (11-1)
WHEN/WHERE: Jan. 2, 7:30 p.m., New Orleans, ESPN
Will the play match the glamor of the matchup? That will be up to Oklahoma, which won its way into the BCS by upsetting Oklahoma State. Not covering a missed-field goal return against Auburn is why the Crimson Tide is here. The last time Alabama found itself in this situation, it was embarrassed by Utah. Blake Bell or Trevor Knight behind center for the Sooners? No decision for Nick Saban. A.J. McCarron is one of the game’s greatest winners.
AT&T COTTON BOWL ****
WHO: Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Missouri (11-2)
WHEN/WHERE: Jan. 3, 6:30 p.m., Arlington, Tex., Fox
The best of the non-BCS bowl games and better than some BCS matchups. Both were a victory away from greater things, and whoever manages the disappointment better has the advantage. A good matchup here could develop between Mizzou wideout Dorial Green-Beckham and Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert.
DISCOVER ORANGE BOWL ****
WHO: Clemson (10-2) vs. Ohio State (12-1)
WHEN/WHERE: Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m., Miami, ESPN
The only other meeting between these programs cost Woody Hayes his job when the Ohio State coach took a swing at Clemson player at the 1978 Gator Bowl. Good quarterback matchup between the Tigers’ Tajh Boyd and the Buckeyes’ Braxton Miler. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer won his first 24 games in Columbus, but is coming off the loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.
BBVA COMPASS BOWL **
WHO: Vanderbilt (8-4) vs. Houston (8-4)
WHEN/WHERE: Jan. 4, noon, Birmingham, Ala., ESPN
Houston quarterback John O’Korn enjoyed a solid freshman season with 26 touchdowns, but the Cougars dropped three of their final four games. Vanderbilt fell in the SEC’s bowl pecking order but its strong pass defense should give it an edge here.
GODADDY BOWL *
WHO: Arkansas State (7-5) vs. Ball State (10-2)
WHEN/WHERE: 8 p.m. Jan. 5 in Mobile, Ala. (ESPN)
Another bowl in Mobile for Arkansas State, another Red Wolves coach moves on. Bryan Harsin is off to Boise State and follows Gus Malzahn and Huge Freeze to other jobs after taking Arkansas State to the bowl. Ball State, which averages 486 yards, should be handful for Arkansas State.
BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME *****
WHO: Florida State (13-0) vs. Auburn (12-1)
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif. (ESPN)
Had this matchup in your preseason pool ,right? The Seminoles have been dominant all year; the Tigers have been a combination of excellent and fortunate. Florida State has to stop Tre Mason and the Auburn ground game. Missouri couldn’t in the SEC title game and was burned for 545 rushing yards, 304 by Mason. The Tigers have to contain Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston. Nobody could this season.