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December 15, 2010

Primer: Picking all the bowl games

While you're decking the halls, shopping in the malls and making holiday calls, don't forget about football. The bowls begin Saturday, and 23 days later, the national title will be contested in a once-arid desert that now is known as Glendale, Ariz.

Here's a rundown of the 35 postseason matchups.

New Mexico Bowl

BYU (6-6) vs. UTEP (6-6)
WHEN: Dec. 18, 2 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: Albuquerque
THE BUZZ: Former WAC foes get together in this one. BYU's Jake Heaps will be the first freshman quarterback to start a bowl for the Cougars. This will be BYU's 30th bowl appearance in the program's history and its sixth in a row. This is UTEP's first bowl since 2005. UTEP is going for just the 18th seven-win season in school history and has won its final game in a season just once in the past 23 years (last season).
THE LINE: BYU by 11.5. THE PICK: BYU 35-17

Humanitarian Bowl

Fresno State (8-4) vs. Northern Illinois (10-3)
WHEN: Dec. 18, 5:30 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: Boise, Idaho
THE BUZZ: NIU fell in an upset to Miami of Ohio in the MAC title game, then saw coach Jerry Kill leave for the Minnesota job. How psyched are the Huskies going to be for this one? Fresno is in a bowl for the 11th time in the past 12 seasons.
THE LINE: NIU by 1. THE PICK: NIU 27-21

New Orleans Bowl

Ohio (8-4) vs. Troy (7-5)
WHEN: Dec. 18, 9 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: New Orleans
THE BUZZ: This is the fifth bowl all-time for both programs. Troy is better offensively, Ohio is better defensively. Both have been hurt by turnovers; each has turned it over 30 times, which is 112th nationally.
THE LINE: Troy by 2. THE PICK: Ohio 31-27

Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl

Louisville (6-6) vs. Southern Miss (8-4)
WHEN: Dec. 21, 8 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: St. Petersburg, Fla.
THE BUZZ: This is a matchup of former Conference USA rivals, and Southern Miss will be looking to make a statement against a Big Six opponent. Louisville is making its first bowl appearance since the 2006 season, which ended in the Orange Bowl. This is the ninth bowl in a row and the 13th in 14 seasons for Southern Miss.
THE LINE: Louisville by 3. THE PICK: Southern Miss 30-24

MAACO Las Vegas Bowl

Boise State (11-1) vs. Utah (10-2)
WHEN: Dec. 22, 8 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: Las Vegas
THE BUZZ: These are two of the three best non-Big Six programs in the nation. Neither really wants to be here, though. Boise would've been in the BCS if not for a loss at Nevada, and you wonder about the Broncos' motivation. This is the final football game for Utah as a member of the Mountain West before it bolts for the Pac-10. Boise, meanwhile, is headed to the Mountain West, making this its final game in the WAC. Utah will be without QB Jordan Wynn (shoulder); his injury likely will cause him to miss spring drills, as well.
THE LINE: Boise State by 17. THE PICK: Boise State 41-20

Poinsettia Bowl

Navy (9-3) at San Diego State (8-4)
WHEN: Dec. 23, 8 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: San Diego
THE BUZZ: This is a home game for San Diego State, which is in the postseason for the first time since 1998; Navy, meanwhile, is making its eighth consecutive bowl appearance. San Diego State is 11th in the nation in pass offense, and Navy is fifth nationally in rush offense. Navy has won seven of its past eight (losing only to lowly Duke). San Diego State has won five of seven, with the losses coming to TCU and Utah.
THE LINE: San Diego State by 5. THE PICK: San Diego State 35-28

Hawaii Bowl

Tulsa (9-3) at Hawaii (10-3)
WHEN: Dec. 24, 8 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: Honolulu
THE BUZZ: Both are prolific offensively -- Tulsa is fifth nationally in total offense, Hawaii eighth -- which means the ending of this could bump up against the midnight hour in the Eastern time zone. Indeed, with the way these teams throw it around, Santa and his reindeer may need to dodge some footballs. Hawaii is one of three teams playing a bowl game in its home stadium, joining San Diego State and SMU.
THE LINE: Hawaii by 10.5. THE PICK: Tulsa 48-44

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

Florida International (6-6) vs. Toledo (8-4)
WHEN: Dec. 26, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: Detroit
THE BUZZ: This is the first bowl for FIU, which never has had a winning season. These teams have split two games; Toledo won last season and FIU won in 2008, which was its first non-conference victory over a FBS school. Toledo comes in having won five of six, while FIU has won six of eight.
THE LINE: Toledo by 1.5. THE PICK: FIU 24-20

Independence Bowl

Air Force (8-4) vs. Georgia Tech (6-6)
WHEN: Dec. 27, 5 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: Shreveport, La.
THE BUZZ: Expect a fast game, as neither one of these option-based offenses wants to throw the ball. Georgia Tech leads the nation in rush offense at 327.0 yards per game; Air Force is second, at 317.9 yards per game. Neither is that proficient against the run; Tech is 78th nationally in rush defense (169.7 ypg) and Air Force is 100th (195.1 ypg). These teams have combined for 135 pass completions.
THE LINE: Air Force by 3. THE PICK: Air Force 28-23

Champs Sports Bowl

NC State (8-4) vs. West Virginia (9-3)
WHEN: Dec. 28, 6:30 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: Orlando
THE BUZZ: WVU was a tri-champ in the Big East, thanks to a defense that is the only one in the nation not to allow more than 21 points in any game this season. NC State was a surprise contender in the ACC Atlantic Division, and the Wolfpack need a big game from QB Russell Wilson. This likely will be the final football game for Wilson, a junior who is expected to turn pro in baseball next summer.
THE LINE: WVU by 3. THE PICK: WVU 23-17

Insight Bowl

Iowa (7-5) vs. Missouri (10-2)
WHEN: Dec. 28, 10 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: Tempe, Ariz.
THE BUZZ: Iowa's offense was inconsistent this season, and the Hawkeyes will be without their leading rusher (Adam Robinson) and their best receiver (Darrell Johnson-Koulianos). Robinson is suspended and Johnson-Koulianos was arrested earlier this month on drug charges. Missouri had hoped for a higher-profile bowl, so the Tigers' hearts may not be in this one.
THE LINE: Missouri by 1. THE PICK: Missouri 24-17

Military Bowl

East Carolina (6-6) vs. Maryland (8-4)
WHEN: Dec. 29, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: Washington, D.C.
THE BUZZ: Maryland was perhaps the ACC's biggest surprise this season. So what's the Terps' reward? Basically staying at home for their bowl. ECU is tremendous offensively (445.0 ypg, 38.2 ppg) but atrocious defensively (478.8 ypg, 43.4 ppg). This is the fourth ACC foe of the season for ECU, which upset NC State but lost to North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Maryland also beat NCSU and didn't play UNC or the Hokies.
THE LINE: Maryland by 7. THE PICK: Maryland 47-38

Texas Bowl

Baylor (7-5) vs. Illinois (6-6)
WHEN: Dec. 29, 6 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: Houston
THE BUZZ: Both teams were mild surprises this season. Baylor is strong offensively but comes in on a three-game losing streak. Illinois is solid defensively but comes in having lost three of four. Baylor QB Robert Griffin and Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure are among the best players in the nation at their positions.
THE LINE: Baylor by 1.5. THE PICK: Baylor 30-24

Alamo Bowl

Arizona (7-5) vs. Oklahoma State (10-2)
WHEN: Dec. 29, 9:15 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: San Antonio
THE BUZZ: Arizona collapsed down the stretch and comes in having lost four in a row. Oklahoma State was one of the nation's most pleasant surprises, thanks to its extremely potent offense. Can Arizona regain its lost mojo? If so, this will be entertaining.
THE LINE: Oklahoma State by 5.5. THE PICK: Oklahoma State 41-31

Armed Forces Bowl

Army (6-6) at SMU (7-6)
WHEN: Dec. 30, noon, ESPN
WHERE: Dallas
THE BUZZ: This usually is played in Fort Worth, at TCU, but that stadium is under renovation, so the game was moved to SMU. And, lo and behold, SMU is the Conference USA representative in the game. Can the Mustangs' run defense hold up against Army's triple-option attack? Army's pass defense isn't much, so SMU QB Kyle Padron could be in line for a big day.
THE LINE: SMU by 8. THE PICK: SMU 27-21

Pinstripe Bowl

Kansas State (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5)
WHEN: Dec. 30, 3:15 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: New York
THE BUZZ: This is a first-year bowl and it's played at Yankee Stadium. This is Syracuse's first bowl appearance since 2004, and the Orange are in the postseason thanks to their solid defense. K-State is bowling for the first time since 2006. RB Daniel Thomas is a big-timer and he'll be looking for yardage against a tough Syracuse front seven headed by LBs Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith.
THE LINE: Pick 'em. THE PICK: K-State 21-17

Music City Bowl

North Carolina (7-5) vs. Tennessee (6-6)
WHEN: Dec. 30, 6:45 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: Nashville
THE BUZZ: Tennessee won its final four regular-season games to become bowl eligible, and the Vols should have a nice "home-field advantage" of sorts. UNC survived a lot of turmoil this season, and QB T.J. Yates was one of the most effective passers in the ACC. Two key UNC starters, LB Bruce Carter and G Alan Pelc, had surgery earlier this month and will miss the game.
THE LINE: North Carolina by 2. THE PICK: North Carolina 28-23

Holiday Bowl

Nebraska (10-3) vs. Washington (6-6)
WHEN: Dec. 30, 10 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: San Diego
THE BUZZ: Not only is this a rematch of a regular-season game, it's a rematch of a horrible regular-season game. The Huskers rolled by 35 in Seattle. Still, you have to wonder about the Huskers' psyche. They lost in the Big 12 title game and fell way down the league's bowl pecking order (as in, "Don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out of the league, guys.").
THE LINE: Nebraska by 14. THE PICK: Nebraska 38-17

Meineke Car Care Bowl

Clemson (6-6) vs. USF (8-4)
WHEN: Dec. 31, noon, ESPN
WHERE: Charlotte
THE BUZZ: A matchup of two stout defenses and two -- ahem -- mediocre offenses. USF is 21st nationally in total defense, two spots better than Clemson. But the Tigers are 83rd nationally in total offense, while the Bulls are 103rd. Clemson has allowed just eight offensive TDs in its past seven games. USF won at Miami, and the Canes won by nine at Clemson.
THE LINE: Clemson by 4.5. THE PICK: Clemson 20-10

Sun Bowl

Miami (7-5) vs. Notre Dame (7-5)
WHEN: Dec. 31, 2 p.m., CBS
WHERE: El Paso, Texas
THE BUZZ: Neither is close to where it wants to be, but this is a sexy matchup, especially for the Sun Bowl. Miami will be led by interim coach Jeff Stoutland, who took over when Randy Shannon was fired. The Irish overcame a 1-3 start and enter on a three-game winning streak. These teams last met in 1990.
THE LINE: Miami by 3. THE PICK: Miami 27-21

Liberty Bowl

Georgia (6-6) vs. UCF (10-3)
WHEN: Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: Memphis
THE BUZZ: UCF, which has won eight of its past nine, rode a stout defense and a better-than-expected offense to the Conference USA title. The Knights have lost nine in a row to Big Six opponents. Georgia has won five of its past seven and beat Georgia Tech in the regular-season finale to become bowl eligible. Two talented freshmen quarterbacks will be on view in Georgia's Aaron Murray and UCF's Jeffrey Godfrey.
THE LINE: Georgia by 6.5. THE PICK: Georgia 24-20

Chick-fil-A Bowl

Florida State (9-3) vs. South Carolina (9-4)
WHEN: Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: Atlanta
THE BUZZ: Steve Spurrier goes against his old nemesis, but it won't be the same without Bobby Bowden on FSU's sideline. Both teams lost their league title games, FSU to Virginia Tech in the ACC and South Carolina to Auburn in the SEC. That SEC game also was in the Georgia Dome, meaning the Gamecocks will be playing back-to-back games at that stadium.
THE LINE: South Carolina by 3. THE PICK: South Carolina 28-20

TicketCity Bowl

Northwestern (7-5) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
WHEN: Jan. 1, noon, ESPNU
WHERE: Dallas
THE BUZZ: This game will be played at the Cotton Bowl stadium because the postseason game of that name moved last season to the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium. As for the contest itself? It's a Big Ten vs. Big 12 matchup, but the teams involved are middling squads from those leagues.
THE LINE: Texas Tech by 9.5. THE PICK: Texas Tech 38-23

Outback Bowl

Florida (7-5) vs. Penn State (7-5)
WHEN: Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ABC
WHERE: Tampa
THE BUZZ: Neither team played all that well this season, but Urban Meyer's resignation gives this contest some cachet. Maybe Meyer's departure will provide the impetus for Florida to actually have a clue on offense.
THE LINE: Florida by 7. THE PICK: Florida 23-20

Capital One Bowl

Alabama (9-3) vs. Michigan State (11-1)
WHEN: Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: Orlando
THE BUZZ: Michigan State is, well, irked it's not in the BCS; Alabama is, well, miffed that it lost three times this season and that archrival Auburn has a chance for the national title. In short, this one matches two teams with a chip on their shoulder, and it should be one of the best postseason matchups.
THE LINE: Alabama by 10. THE PICK: Alabama 27-23

Gator Bowl

Michigan (7-5) vs. Mississippi State (8-4)
WHEN: Jan. 1, 1:30 p.m., ESPN2
WHERE: Jacksonville
THE BUZZ: The job status of Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez continues to be the source of numerous rumors. Perhaps we'll know for sure whether he's coming back by the time this game kicks off. If we don't, it might be fair to wonder about the Wolverines' motivation. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has become a hot commodity, and his team truly could be dangerous once he finds a quarterback who can throw the ball.
THE LINE: Mississippi State by 5. THE PICK: Mississippi State 31-27

Rose Bowl

TCU (12-0) vs. Wisconsin (11-1)
WHEN: Jan. 1, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: Pasadena, Calif.
THE BUZZ: TCU missed out on the national title game, but the Horned Frogs received a nice consolation prize. TCU can silence the remaining doubters if it can knock off Wisconsin, which has been mauling opponents of late. This is strength (Wisconsin's rush offense) vs. strength (TCU's rush defense) and a brawn (Wisconsin) vs. speed (TCU) matchup, as well.
THE LINE: TCU by 2.5. THE PICK: TCU 24-20

Fiesta Bowl

Connecticut (8-4) vs. Oklahoma (11-2)
WHEN: Jan. 1, 8 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: Glendale, Ariz.
THE BUZZ: UConn is making its first BCS appearance, and though the Huskies don't really deserve to be in a BCS bowl, they won the Big East and the rules say the Big East champ gets a BCS bid. If a big, physical Huskies offensive line can carve out some running room for RB Jordan Todman, this could be closer than expected. Still, OU should have a lot of success in the air.
THE LINE: Oklahoma by 17. THE PICK: Oklahoma 31-17

Orange Bowl

Stanford (11-1) vs. Virginia Tech (11-2)
WHEN: Jan. 3, 8 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: Miami
THE BUZZ: Virginia Tech has won 11 in a row, and its offense has been able to overcome some defensive issues. Stanford has won seven in a row since falling at Oregon, and the Cardinal offense is a nice mix of speed and brute strength. Virginia Tech has allowed 15 TD passes, but the Hokies are second in the nation with 22 interceptions.
THE LINE: Stanford by 3. THE PICK: Stanford 38-24

Sugar Bowl

Arkansas (10-2) vs. Ohio State (11-1)
WHEN: Jan. 4, 8 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: New Orleans
THE BUZZ: Ohio State has had all sorts of trouble with SEC teams in bowl games, which means this is an opportunity for the Buckeyes to regain some respect. Arkansas has won six in a row and has scored at least 31 in all six and at least 38 in five of the six.
THE LINE: Ohio State by 3.5. THE PICK: Arkansas 27-24

GoDaddy.com Bowl

Miami of Ohio (9-4) vs. Middle Tennessee (6-6)
WHEN: Jan. 6, 8 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: Mobile, Ala.
THE BUZZ: This used to be called the GMAC Bowl, and one thing the new sponsorship means is that viewers likely will see a few ads featuring Danica Patrick. Miami might be the surprise team in the nation; the RedHawks won once last season and are the MAC champs this season. A victory in this one means they will tie the NCAA record for biggest one-season turnaround.
THE LINE: Miami by 1.5. THE PICK: Miami 31-23

Cotton Bowl

LSU (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (9-3)
WHEN: Jan. 7, 8 p.m., Fox
WHERE: Arlington, Texas
THE BUZZ: A&M has won six in a row, and its offensive balance should cause LSU some problems. Also in question is whether A&M can handle LSU's physical rushing attack. The good news for the Aggies is that if they can stifle LSU's rushing offense, they'll be in good shape because the Tigers really struggle when they pass.
THE LINE: LSU by 1. THE PICK: LSU 26-21

BBVA Compass Bowl

Kentucky (6-6) vs. Pittsburgh (7-5)
WHEN: Jan. 8, noon, ESPN
WHERE: Birmingham, Ala.
THE BUZZ: Pitt already has fired Dave Wannstedt, but he will coach in the bowl game. UK comes in having lost six of nine, and two of those wins were over Vanderbilt and FCS member Charleston Southern.
THE LINE: Pitt by 3. THE PICK: Pitt 33-27

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

Boston College (7-5) vs. Nevada (12-1)
WHEN: Jan. 9, 9 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: San Francisco
THE BUZZ: BC comes in on a five-game winning streak and has the nation's No. 1 rush defense (80.2 ypg). That's relevant because Nevada has the nation's No. 3 rush offense (305.9 ypg). BC has an excellent group of linebackers, headed by sophomore tackle machine Luke Kuechly, and how they fare against Nevada's high-powered "Pistol" offense actually is one of the most under-the-radar storylines of this postseason. BC's offense stinks, but Nevada's defense is mediocre.
THE LINE: Nevada by 9.5. THE PICK: Nevada 27-20

BCS national championship game

Auburn (13-0) vs. Oregon (12-0)
WHEN: Jan. 10, 8 p.m., ESPN
WHERE: Glendale, Ariz.
THE BUZZ: Will either team be able to stop the other? Auburn is No. 7 in total offense and No. 6 in scoring offense; Oregon is No. 1 in total offense and No. 1 in scoring offense. Auburn is No. 11 nationally against the run, while Oregon is No. 16. Auburn is trying to become the fifth straight SEC team to win the national title.
THE LINE: Auburn by 3. THE PICK: Auburn 37-35

SEASON: 584-188 straight up, 335-333-12 against the spread
(games involving FCS schools don't have a spread)

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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