College bowl season is upon us and for the first time in 23 years Notre Dame will be playing in the national title game. The bad news? That leaves Irish fans with six full weeks of anticipation for the big game on January 7th. Whether you’re addicted to college football and are clinging desperately to its approaching culmination or are simply looking for a way to pass the time until ND’s matchup with Alabama, here are the five can’t miss bowl games of 2012 (minus the Fighting Irish, of course).
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Nevada vs. Arizona
This may appear as a head-scratcher for multiple reasons, with one being the fact the game has already been played. But the matchup between the Wolf Pack and Wildcats was one I was truly looking forward to, and it more than met the hype. Any bowl game that has two teams with top 20 rushing attacks mixed with defenses ranked below 100 is a must see. The Gildan New Mexico Bowl was non-stop action, with both teams amassing over 1,200 offensive yards and four touchdowns involving plays of 20 yards or more. There was even a classic ending, with Arizona scoring two touchdowns in the last 46 seconds to pull off the win, 49-48.
Hyundai Sun Bowl: USC vs. Georgia Tech
Call it petty, classless or an extreme case of Schadenfreude, but I’m honest enough to admit I listed this game because it involves USC. Southern Cal, the preseason number one team in the land, ended up in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. In El Paso. You bet I’m going to watch the continued fall from grace.
Casting spite aside, there are several storylines that could make this matchup intriguing. This will be the first meeting between the Yellow Jackets and Trojans since 1973. In addition, USC will be facing a Georgia Tech triple option attack that is 4th in the country in yards on the ground (312 yards per game), which will be no easy task considering USC is 58th against the run and their defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, recently resigned. Could a potential upset be in the works?
Capital One Bowl: #7 Georgia vs. #16 Nebraska
A non-BCS bowl, the Capital One Bowl is all about conference pride, pitting the #2 SEC seed against the #2 Big Ten seed. This game is made all the more interesting by the fact Georgia came yards shy of winning their conference and Nebraska, the heavy favorite to win the Big Ten, was absolutely humiliated by an unranked Wisconsin team with a lackluster 7-5 record. Fair or not, Nebraska is considered to be the program carrying the de facto torch for the Big Ten, and how they play against Georgia will go a long way in determining how the rest of the college football world views the Big Ten.
Another key to watch is how Georgia responds to barely missing out on a national title game appearance. Will they come ready to play, or go through the motions like Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, resulting in a loss to the Utah Utes?
Outback Bowl: #10 South Carolina vs. #18 Michigan
The Outback Bowl matches up a pair of opponents marked by disappointing seasons. Michigan, fresh off a 2011 BCS victory, was preseason number eight, even receiving a number one vote to begin 2012. South Carolina was expected to compete for the SEC Championship. While neither had the season they hoped, the growing SEC and Big Ten rivalry appears once again in this matchup.
Will South Carolina be able to get anything going without star running back Marcus Lattimore? Will the Wolverines be able to stop former #1 high school recruit, Jadeveon Clowney, defensive star that has helped lead the Gamecocks to an SEC-leading 40 sacks?
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: #4 Oregon vs. #5 Kansas State
At one point in the season this could have been the national title matchup, earning the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl extra attention for enthusiasts of hypotheticals. Oregon boasts one of the best rushing attacks in the country, one that’s so potent that Las Vegas has been willing to make the Ducks an 8-point favorite. Lack of respect is nothing new to Kansas State, despite wins over the likes of Texas and Oklahoma and posting a 21-4 record since the beginning of 2011.
Kansas State likely won’t be intimidated given its 55-14 drubbing of West Virginia earlier in the season, a win that began to spiral the Mountaineers’ season out of control. West Virginia’s explosive offensive attack was dismantled by K-State. Geno Smith’s Heisman candidacy was in full swing when he faced Kansas State, and the Wildcats held him to 143 passing yards and two interceptions, as well as holding West Virginia to a mere 88 rushing yards.
This could be one of the best bowl games of the season outside of the national championship.