Commentary

BCS games top the ranking list

Originally Published: December 5, 2011
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

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It's the most wonderful time of the year -- unless you're an Oklahoma State fan.

Or a Kansas State fan. Or, well, an Auburn fan.

Bowl matchups were announced Sunday night, and not everyone was happy with the BCS matchups. Oklahoma State finished No. 3, and No. 2 Alabama will play No. 1 LSU in the Jan. 9 Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

No. 11 Virginia Tech is going to the Jan. 3 Allstate Sugar Bowl, at the expense of Kansas State, which is playing in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

How do the 35 bowl matchups stack up?

On The Mark ranks the games:

1. Allstate BCS National Championship Game
No. 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Alabama
Jan. 9, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Their first meeting was an absolute slugfest, as they combined for four field goals in regulation in LSU's 9-6 overtime victory on Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Both teams averaged about 40 points when they weren't playing each other, but their defenses rank Nos. 1-2 nationally in total defense and scoring defense. At least the SEC will finally lose a BCS championship game, right?

[+] EnlargeEric Reid
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesThe first time LSU and Alabama met this season was a defensive affair.

2. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
No. 3 Oklahoma State vs. No. 4 Stanford
Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The game will feature two of the country's best quarterbacks -- Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Stanford's Andrew Luck. The Pokes would have been playing in the BCS Championship Game if not for a 37-31 loss in double overtime at Iowa State on Nov. 18. The Cardinal's only defeat was a 53-30 loss to Oregon on Nov. 12.

3. The Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO
No. 5 Oregon vs. No. 10 Wisconsin
Jan. 2, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Two of the country's best running backs -- Oregon's LaMichael James and Wisconsin's Montee Ball -- will lead their teams into the Rose Bowl. Both teams will try to avenge deflating losses in their last trips to the Granddaddy of Them All. The Badgers lost to TCU 21-19 in last season's Rose Bowl; the Ducks fell to Ohio State 26-17 in 2010.

4. Allstate Sugar Bowl
No. 11 Virginia Tech vs. No. 13 Michigan
Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Hokies probably don't deserve to be in New Orleans after getting flattened by Clemson 38-10 in Saturday's ACC championship game. But if the Hokies can put that disaster behind them, the Sugar Bowl might be a very entertaining game. It's always fun watching Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson play, and Hokies tailback David Wilson is a very explosive player with more than 1,600 rushing yards.

5. AT&T Cotton Bowl
No. 6 Arkansas vs. No. 8 Kansas State
Jan. 6, 8 p.m. ET (Fox)
Both teams might have deserved to be in BCS bowl games after finishing 10-2. The Hogs' only losses came against Alabama and LSU. The Wildcats' only losses came against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Arkansas' defense will have to slow down KSU quarterback Collin Klein, who passed for 1,745 yards with 12 touchdowns, while running for 1,099 yards with 26 scores.

6. Discover Orange Bowl
No. 15 Clemson vs. No. 23 West Virginia
Jan. 4, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Orange Bowl figures to feature a lot of points, with Clemson's Tajh Boyd and West Virginia's Geno Smith combining to throw for more than 7,500 yards with 56 touchdowns this season. The Tigers are back in the Orange Bowl for the first time since Jan. 1, 1982, when they defeated Nebraska 22-15 to win the 1981 national championship.

7. Capital One Bowl
No. 9 South Carolina vs. No. 20 Nebraska
Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Gamecocks managed to win 10 games in a season for only the second time in school history, despite losing starting quarterback Stephen Garcia and tailback Marcus Lattimore. The Cornhuskers went 9-3 in their first season in the Big Ten. Nebraska handed South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier perhaps his most humbling defeat: The Huskers beat his Gators 62-24 in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.

8. Champs Sports Bowl
Florida State vs. Notre Dame
Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The two traditional heavyweights had disappointing records after entering the 2011 season with very high expectations. But both schools have storied traditions and have enough young talent to enter 2012 as BCS contenders. FSU won six of its last seven games; the Irish won four of their last five. The winner of this game gets a top-three preseason ranking.

9. Outback Bowl
No. 17 Michigan State vs. No. 16 Georgia
Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET (ABC)
The Bulldogs and Spartans suffered deflating losses in their respective conference championship games, which knocked them out of BCS bowl games. But UGA won 10 of its last 11 games; MSU won at least 10 games for the second season in a row. The Spartans need to show up mentally after getting routed 49-7 by Alabama in the Capital One Bowl last season.

[+] EnlargeCase Keenum
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireHouston QB Case Keenum will be tested against Penn State's defense.

10. TicketCity Bowl
No. 19 Houston vs. No. 22 Penn State
Jan. 2, Noon ET (ESPNU)
It will be a classic showdown of offense versus defense. Cougars quarterback Case Keenum threw for 5,099 yards with 45 touchdowns this season. Penn State's defense ranked No. 5 nationally in pass defense (162.2 yards per game) and scoring defense (15.7 points). The Nittany Lions allowed only nine touchdown passes in 12 games.

11. Insight Bowl
No. 14 Oklahoma vs. Iowa
Dec. 30, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Sooners aren't the same team that started the 2011 season ranked No. 1, after losing star receiver Ryan Broyles and tailback Dominique Whaley and losing two of their last three games. The Hawkeyes went 7-5, including a 24-16 upset of Michigan. OU and Iowa have played one previous time, with the Sooners winning 21-6 in the 1979 opener. The Hawkeyes had a freshman safety named Bob Stoops.

12. Valero Alamo Bowl
Washington vs. No. 12 Baylor
Dec. 29, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
There's always a reason to watch when Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III takes the field. The Heisman Trophy hopeful passed for 3,998 yards with 36 touchdowns, while running for 644 yards with nine scores. Washington went 7-5 after losing three of its last four games. It's the Huskies' first trip to the Alamo Bowl.

13. Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl
California vs. No. 24 Texas
Dec. 28, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Bears won three of their last four games; the Longhorns lost three of their last four games. Texas figures to be healthier by the time it faces the Bears for the first time since 1970. Cal fans probably still haven't forgotten about UT coach Mack Brown successfully lobbying for a Rose Bowl berth in 2004 -- at the Bears' expense.

14. Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl
Ohio State vs. Florida
Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Urban Meyer's old team (Florida) takes on his new team (Ohio State). OSU interim coach Luke Fickell will coach the Buckeyes in the bowl game, after leading his alma mater to a 6-6 record after replacing the fired Jim Tressel. The 6-6 Gators probably won't need any motivation to beat Meyer's new team, even if he won't be on the sideline.

15. Chick-fil-A Bowl
Virginia vs. No. 25 Auburn
Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Tigers, the defending BCS national champions, struggled without 2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, finishing 7-5 without him. The Cavaliers were one of the biggest surprises in the country, finishing 8-4 and reaching their first bowl game since 2007.

16. MAACO Las Vegas Bowl
Arizona State vs. No. 7 Boise State
Dec. 22, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
For the second season in a row, the Broncos were left out of a BCS bowl game because of a missed field goal. If not for a 36-35 loss to TCU, Boise State might have been playing LSU in the BCS National Championship Game. Instead, the Broncos will play Arizona State in coach Dennis Erickson's last game. Erickson was fired after the Sun Devils finished 6-6, losing five of their last six games.

17. Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
BYU vs. Tulsa
Dec. 30, Noon ET (ESPN)
The Cougars are 9-3 after a 1-2 start, but have defeated only one opponent (Utah State) with a winning record. The Golden Hurricane went 8-4, but each of their four losses came against opponents that were ranked in the top 10 at the time (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Boise State and Houston). BYU quarterback Riley Nelson is back after missing a couple of games with a collapsed lung.

18. Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas
Texas A&M vs. Northwestern
Dec. 31, Noon ET (ESPN)
The Wildcats and Aggies both finished 6-6. Northwestern hasn't won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl. The Aggies don't have a coach after Mike Sherman was fired. If Texas A&M had closed games out, Sherman would probably still have a job. The Aggies blew five halftime leads of 10 points or more and a nine-point lead against rival Texas. The Meineke Car Care Bowl lasts for four quarters, too.

19. Hyundai Sun Bowl
Georgia Tech vs. Utah
Dec. 31, 2 p.m. ET (CBS)
Utah's run defense ranks No. 7 nationally (97 yards per game) and will try to slow down Georgia Tech's vaunted triple-option spread offense. The Yellow Jackets, who lost four of their last six games, will try to break a six-game losing streak in bowl games.

20. New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Rutgers vs. Iowa State
Dec. 30, 3:20 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Rutgers had a chance to win the Big East and play in the Orange Bowl, but its 40-22 loss to Connecticut knocked it out of the race. Iowa State has been one of the country's most overachieving teams, finishing 6-6, including upsets of rival Iowa and Oklahoma State. Rutgers receiver Mohamed Sanu is one of the country's most underrated players with 109 catches for 1,144 yards and seven touchdowns.

21. AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl
Missouri vs. North Carolina
Dec. 26, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
The Tigers will be playing in their final game as members of the Big 12, as they're moving to the SEC in 2012. UNC will be playing its final game under interim coach Everett Withers, who guided the Tar Heels to a 7-5 record after replacing fired coach Butch Davis.

22. Sheraton Hawaii Bowl
Nevada vs. Southern Miss
Dec. 24, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Golden Eagles were rewarded for their 49-28 upset of then-No. 6 Houston with a trip to the islands. The Golden Eagles went 11-2, their first 10-win season since 1952. Quarterback Austin Davis set a Southern Miss single-season record with 28 touchdown passes. The Wolf Pack averaged better than 500 yards of offense per game in coach Chris Ault's pistol offense.

23. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Mississippi State vs. Wake Forest
Dec. 30, 6:40 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Both teams had disappointing finishes, but it should be a pretty competitive game in Nashville. The Bulldogs will rely on tailback Vick Ballard, who ran for 1,009 yards with eight touchdowns. The Demon Deacons were one of the country's most improved teams, after going 3-9 in 2010. Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price threw for 2,803 yards with 20 touchdowns.

24. Belk Bowl
Louisville vs. NC State
Dec. 27, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Both teams have been woefully inconsistent this season, but turned it on in the end. The Cardinals started 2-4, losing to Florida International and Marshall at home. But they won five of their last six games and earned a share of a Big East championship. NC State started 5-5 but upset Clemson 37-13 and then came back from a 41-14 deficit in the second half of a 56-41 victory over Maryland.

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
Kevin Jairaj/US PresswireGary Patterson's TCU squad had an outside chance at a BCS bowl but the Horned Frogs will have to settle for Louisiana Tech in the Poinsettia Bowl.

25. San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
No. 18 TCU vs. Louisiana Tech
Dec. 21, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The Horned Frogs can't be too excited about playing in San Diego, after they narrowly missed qualifying for an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game. TCU has won seven games in a row and won a Mountain West Conference title. The Bulldogs went 8-4 and won their first Western Athletic Conference championship since 2001.

26. Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman
Toledo vs. Air Force
Dec. 28, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
At least Air Force and the Rockets are playing in the Military Bowl. Toledo won seven of its last eight games, after enduring heart-breaking losses to Ohio State and Syracuse. The Rockets averaged 42.3 points per game. The Falcons won four of their last five games and average 320.3 rushing yards per game.

27. AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt
Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
The Bearcats won a share of the Big East title, even after losing starting quarterback Zach Collaros to a broken ankle. Collaros is expected to be back for the bowl game, and he'll make the offense more balanced, along with tailback Isaiah Pead. Vandy went 6-6 under first-year coach James Franklin and was very competitive in losses to Arkansas, Florida and Georgia.

28. R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
San Diego State vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
Dec. 17, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
This could end up being a really competitive game between a pair of 8-4 teams. The Ragin' Cajuns figure to have a nice home-field advantage, but they ended the regular season on a two-game losing streak. The Aztecs are pretty explosive on offense, led by tailback Ronnie Hillman, who ran for 1,656 yards with 19 touchdowns.

29. GoDaddy.com Bowl
Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois
Jan. 8, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The game features two conference champions, as Arkansas State won the Sun Belt and Northern Illinois won the Mid-American Conference. The Huskies are led by quarterback Chandler Harnish, who passed for 2,942 yards with 26 touchdowns, while running for 1,382 yards with 11 scores. The Red Wolves might be without coach Hugh Freeze, who reportedly accepted a job at Ole Miss.

30. Gildan New Mexico Bowl
Temple vs. Wyoming
Dec. 17, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The first bowl game should be pretty competitive between a pair of 8-4 teams. The Owls are led by tailback Bernard Pierce, who ran for 1,381 yards with 25 touchdowns. The Cowboys won three of their last four games to become bowl-eligible.

31. Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Illinois vs. UCLA
Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
The classifieds section might have sponsored this bowl game in San Francisco. Both teams are looking for coaches, after the Illini fired Ron Zook and the Bruins fired Rick Neuheisel. Illinois started 6-0 and was ranked as high as No. 16 before losing its last six games. The Bruins appealed to the NCAA to play in the postseason with a 6-7 record.

32. BBVA Compass Bowl
SMU vs. Pittsburgh
Jan. 7, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Both teams were hit hard by injuries late in the season, causing them to fall short of lofty preseason expectations. The Mustangs lost four of their last six games after losing running back Zach Line. The Panthers finished 6-6 after losing star tailback Ray Graham to a season-ending knee injury.

33. Little Caesar's Bowl
Western Michigan vs. Purdue
Dec. 27, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Will the Boilermakers be able to slow down the Broncos' high-powered offense? If not, we might see an upset at Ford Field in Detroit. Broncos quarterback Alex Carder threw for 3,251 yards with 28 touchdowns. Receiver Jordan White leads FBS players with 127 catches for 1,646 yards and he's second in the country with 16 touchdown receptions.

34. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Ohio vs. Utah State
Dec. 17, 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
If the Aggies hadn't treated the football like a hot potato in the closing minutes of their opener, they might have pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season. Instead, defending BCS national champion Auburn pulled off a 42-38 victory by scoring two touchdowns in the final 2:07. Utah State won its last five games to become bowl-eligible.

35. Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl
Florida International vs. Marshall
Dec. 20, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
This game is worth watching just to see Florida International's T.Y. Hilton return kickoffs. He had an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in a 34-32 victory over Toledo in the Little Caesar's Bowl last season.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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