Previewing the Rose Bowl and Every New Year's Day Bowl Game
You've had the appetizers, maybe even a nice salad or some soup. But when it comes to bowl games, the main course doesn't begin until Jan. 1.
The New Year's Day bowl schedule is a six-course meal with options for everyone's taste, ranging from the exotic fare (upstarts North Texas and UNLV facing off in the Heart of Dallas Bowl) to trusty menu staples like the traditional Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup in the Rose Bowl, the game so prestigious it's "presented by" Vizio rather than having its sponsor slapped onto the front of the title.
Whatever your flavor, there's something for you on the New Year's bowl schedule.
Check out our expanded previews of each game, as well as picks on which teams will take home the varied trophies and bragging rights from the first bowls of 2014.
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl
Nebraska (8-4) vs. No. 22 Georgia (8-4)
When: Noon ET
Where: Jacksonville, Fla.
Nebraska has had one of the most uneven seasons a team with a .667 winning percentage could have, but so it goes in Cornhuskers land when the defense struggles and the offense is inconsistent. Rough home losses to UCLA in September and Iowa in November bookended a year with questions at quarterback and constant questions about whether Bo Pelini's job was safe.
Georgia seemed to not go a week without losing a key piece of its team due to injury, with so many skill position players missing time that its defense couldn't fill the void. The Bulldogs had three losses by a combined 12 points, including the freakish defeat at Auburn, yet never looked like a team defeated, rallying around backup QB Hutson Mason to beat Georgia Tech in double overtime to end the season.
This is a matchup of teams that probably looked back on 2013 as being full of what-might-have-been, yet have a chance to head into recruiting season with something good to build on. It will also feature squads led by their potential quarterbacks of the future, as Pelini announced last week that Taylor Martinez would not play and his Nebraska career was over. Georgia starting quarterback Aaron Murray is out for the season after tearing his ACL on Nov. 23.
Georgia's offense has been the more consistent offensive team, which is enough to give it the edge in this rematch of the 2013 Outback Bowl, won 45-31 by Georgia.
Prediction: Georgia 34, Nebraska 30
Update: Nebraska 24, Georgia 19
Heart of Dallas Bowl
UNLV (7-5) vs. North Texas (8-4)
When: 12 p.m. ET
UNLV last played in a bowl game in 2000, and getting into one this year seemed improbable back in August considering the Runnin' Rebels were coming off three straight two-win seasons. But a talent-laden, veteran offense led by senior QB Caleb Herring (2,522 yards, 22 touchdowns, four interceptions) and senior RB Tim Cornett (1,251 yards, 15 TDs) provided enough stability to record the second-most wins in the last 30 years.
North Texas was 4-8 last season, not the best way to move into a tougher league, yet the Mean Green had no trouble transitioning from the Sun Belt to Conference USA. They won six of seven down the stretch thanks to a defense that ranks ninth nationally in points allowed (18.1 points per game) and is No. 1 overall by allowing scores on just 60.6 percent of opponents' trips to the red zone.
This is the most atypical of New Year's Day matchups, but might be one of the most entertaining games of the day because of the clubs' lack of bowl history, which could translate into a level of excitement and intensity that turns this into a great contest. It's almost a home game for North Texas, but UNLV has more playmakers.
Prediction: UNLV 28, North Texas 20
Update: North Texas 36, UNLV 14
Iowa (8-4) vs. No. 16 LSU (9-3)
When: 1 p.m. ET
Where: Tampa, Fla.
Iowa didn't look like it was headed to a New Year's Day bowl when it opened the season with a home loss to Northern Illinois, nor when the Hawkeyes dropped three of four midway through the Big Ten schedule. But while the offense took a while to get going (and averaged 33.3 points per game over a 3-0 finish) the defense has always been solid, allowing just 18.8 points per game for the year (11th-best in the nation).
LSU is the only team that's been able to beat Auburn this season, but the Tigers were unable to beat a quality opponent outside of Baton Rouge. QB Zach Mettenberger looked good before he got hurt, but now the team is in the hands of freshman Anthony Jennings, who thankfully has great weapons to choose from in RB Jeremy Hill and WRs Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.
While the onfield talent for both teams should make for a good game, it will be hard for them to top the performance members of Iowa and LSU put forth last week during pre-game meals and events hosted by the bowl's sponsor.
Prediction: LSU 29, Iowa 17
Update: LSU 21, Iowa 14
Capital One Bowl
No. 19 Wisconsin (9-3) vs. No. 9 South Carolina (10-2)
When: 1 p.m. ET
Where: Tampa, Fla.
Wisconsin looked like a dark horse BCS candidate until it laid an egg in its season finale against Penn State, pushing the Badgers out of the at-large picture. Even still, the season has to be considered a success in the first year under Gary Andersen, who has continued the program's run-heavy tradition but with a diversity that has made both Melvin Gordon (1,466 yards, 12 touchdowns) and James White (1,337 yards, 13 TDs) equally dangerous.
South Carolina was good enough to make the BCS, but qualification rules kept the Gamecocks out despite a season that featured comeback road wins over Central Florida and Missouri and a solid defeat of Clemson. Sure, Jadeveon Clowney hasn't been as impressive as everyone would have liked, but QB Connor Shaw (2,135 yards, 21 touchdowns, one interception) and RB Mike Davis (1,134 yards, 11 TDs) have more than picked up the slack with what they've done on offense.
Both of these clubs have managed to get it done without buying into the flash and flair of the spread game, using balanced offenses and punishing defenses that make as many stops as anyone else.
Prediction: Wisconsin 23, South Carolina 20
Update: South Carolina 34, Wisconsin 24
Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio
No. 5 Stanford (11-2) vs. No. 4 Michigan State (12-1)
When: 5 p.m. ET
Where: Pasadena, Calif.
Stanford is in the Rose Bowl for the second year in a row (beating Wisconsin in 2013), and with four consecutive BCS bowl appearances should be considered the flag bearer for the Pac-12 Conference over Oregon. The Cardinal do it the old-school way, with efficient offense that's centered around RB Tyler Gaffney (1,618 yards, 20 touchdowns) as well as a defense that managed to shut down several of the nation's most potent attacks.
Michigan State is making its first trip to Pasadena since 1988, and there's no secret how the Spartans did it: with defense. They allowed 12.7 points per game—fourth-best in the nation—while their ability to stop the run (80.8 yards per game, which is ranked second nationally) has been a thing of beauty. But don't discount MSU's offense, which has gotten a consistent effort from QB Connor Cook (2,423 yards, 20 touchdowns) and a breakout year from RB Jeremy Langford (1,338 yards, 17 TDs).
The Detroit Free Press' Joe Rexrode said this tradition-laden bowl game is the perfect one to watch for those longing for the good old days of smashmouth, down-and-dirty football.
Prediction: Stanford 20, Michigan State 16
Update: Michigan State 24, Stanford 20
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
No. 6 Baylor (11-1) vs. No. 15 Central Florida (11-1)
When: 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Glendale, Ariz.
Baylor is in its first-ever Fiesta Bowl and won its first league title since 1980 thanks to the nation's most explosive offense. The unit, even after sustaining some injuries at receiver and in the backfield, managed to score 30 or more points in all but one game and averaged an FBS-best 53.3 points for the season.
QB Bryce Petty (3,844 yards, 30 touchdowns, two interceptions, 11 rushing TDs) had the kind of season that should have gotten him a Heisman-ceremony invite, while an underrated defense held its own by forcing 26 turnovers.
Central Florida is the closest thing the final edition of the BCS has to a "surprise" participant, but the Knights are a legitimate team thanks to their winning the American Athletic Conference and knocking off Louisville (on the road) along the way.
QB Blake Bortles (3,280 yards, 22 touchdowns, seven interceptions) is getting the kind of NFL attention normally reserved for more household names, and UCF's defense stood out well enough to earn coordinator Jim Fleming his dream job as Rhode Island's head coach.
You can knock this game for being the least sexy of the BCS matchups, but that won't make it any less fun to watch. And there's no doubt Baylor and UCF are going to do their best to put on a big show in their respective big-stage debuts.
Prediction: Baylor 38, Central Florida 21
Update: Central Florida 52, Baylor 42