- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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The most wonderful time of the year is nearly here.
College football's bowl season kicks off with two games Saturday and culminates with the Jan. 7 Discover BCS National Championship in Miami.
Here's everything you need to know about this season's bowl lineup:
Gildan New Mexico Bowl
Nevada vs. Arizona, Dec. 15 (ESPN, 1 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: The first bowl game of the postseason might be a high-scoring shootout between two very explosive offenses and two very porous defenses.
Who to watch: Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey led Football Bowl Subdivision players in rushing with 146.4 yards per game; Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson was No. 2 with 141.9 yards per game. They combined to run for 3,460 yards with 42 touchdowns this season.
Motivating factor for Nevada: The Wolf Pack dropped four of their final five games and would like to head into the offseason with two victories over Pac-12 foes. (They beat California 31-24 in their Sept. 1 opener.)
Motivating factor for Arizona: The Wildcats can win eight games in coach Rich Rodriguez's first season and don't want to head into the offseason with a two-game losing streak after blowing a big fourth-quarter lead in a 41-34 loss to rival Arizona State on Nov. 23.
Pick: Arizona 55, Nevada 41
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Toledo vs. No. 22 Utah State, Dec. 15 (ESPN, 4:30 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: The bowl game features two of the country's most underrated teams. Toledo upset then-No. 21 Cincinnati and lost at Arizona in overtime. Utah State defeated Utah and then-No. 20 Louisiana Tech, and lost 16-14 at Wisconsin.
Who to watch: Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton, a sophomore from Houston, completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 3,144 yards with 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while running for 527 yards with seven scores. He ranks No. 14 nationally in pass efficiency with a 156.7 rating.
Motivating factor for Toledo: The Rockets can win bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time since winning the Tangerine Bowl in 1970 and '71.
Motivating factor for Utah State: The Aggies can win the second bowl game in school history; they defeated Ball State 42-33 in the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl II.
Pick: Utah State 34, Toledo 31
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
BYU vs. San Diego State, Dec. 20 (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: San Diego State's strength is running the ball; BYU's strength is its run defense. The Aztecs, who won their last seven games after a 2-3 start, are No. 16 nationally in rushing with 229.1 yards per game. The Cougars allow only 84.2 rushing yards per game, second best in the country behind only Alabama.
Who to watch: San Diego State sophomore Adam Muema ran for 1,355 yards with 16 touchdowns, averaging 6.4 yards per carry, and might have to carry an even bigger load after top backup Walter Kazee (822 yards with eight touchdowns) tore an ACL in the regular-season finale at Wyoming.
Motivating factor for San Diego State: The Aztecs are playing at home and can win the Poinsettia Bowl for the second time in three seasons after a 41-year drought in the postseason.
Motivating factor for BYU: The Cougars get one more chance to prove they're better than their record indicates. All but one of BYU's five defeats were decided by six points or fewer, including a 17-14 loss at No. 1 Notre Dame.
Pick: BYU 21, San Diego State 17
Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl St. Petersburg
Central Florida vs. Ball State, Dec. 21 (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: These teams are better than you might think. The Knights' only losses came against Ohio State, Missouri and Tulsa (twice); the Cardinals' only defeats were against Clemson, Kent State and Northern Illinois.
Who to watch: Ball State tailback Jahwan Edwards, a sophomore from Matthews, N.C., ran for 1,321 yards with 14 touchdowns in 12 games. He had 100 rushing yards or more in five of his last six games (and ran for 98 yards in the regular-season finale against Miami-Ohio).
Motivating factor for Central Florida: It might be the Knights' last bowl game for a while. The NCAA banned UCF from playing in the postseason for one year because of rules violations, but the school appealed and is awaiting a January hearing with the NCAA. If it loses the appeal, UCF will have to sit out the 2013 postseason in its first season in the Big East.
Motivating factor for Ball State: It's another opportunity for the Cardinals to notch a big out-of-conference victory. Ball State beat two foes from BCS automatic-qualifier leagues (Indiana and South Florida) in the same season for the first time in school history.
Pick: Ball State 31, Central Florida 30
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
East Carolina vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, Dec. 22 (ESPN, noon ET)
Why to watch: The Ragin' Cajuns took No. 3 Florida to the wire Nov. 10, losing 27-20 after the Gators returned a blocked punt for a touchdown with two seconds to play. Louisiana-Lafayette recovered to win its last three games and finished 8-4.
Who to watch: Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Terrance Broadway, a Houston transfer, completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 2,526 yards with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions. A native of Baton Rouge, La., Broadway also ran for 661 yards with eight scores. He'll face an ECU defense that ranked 105th in pass defense, allowing 271.6 yards per game.
Motivating factor for East Carolina: The Pirates have dropped their past three bowl games and haven't won in the postseason since a 41-38 victory over Boise State in the 2007 Hawai'i Bowl. They haven't defeated an FBS team with a winning record this season, either.
Motivating factor for Louisiana-Lafayette: The Ragin' Cajuns had never played in a bowl game until beating San Diego State 32-30 in the 2011 New Orleans Bowl. Why not make it 2-0 in the postseason?
Pick: Louisiana-Lafayette 41, East Carolina 38
MAACO Bowl Las Vegas
Washington vs. No. 19 Boise State, Dec. 22 (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: It's a sneak peek of the 2013 season opener between the teams, which should be better next season than they were in 2012. The Broncos and Huskies have played only once before, with Washington winning 24-10 in 2007 in Seattle.
Who to watch: Washington quarterback Keith Price, a junior from Compton, Calif., might test Boise State's secondary. He completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 2,486 yards with 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The Broncos are tied for fourth nationally in pass defense and held four opponents to fewer than 100 passing yards.
Motivating factor for Washington: It's another chance for the Huskies to knock off a ranked opponent this season and a potential springboard into 2013, when they need to play more consistently. The Huskies upset then-No. 8 Stanford 17-13 on Sept. 27 and then-No. 7 Oregon State 20-17 on Oct. 27 but also blew a huge lead to rival Washington State in the Apple Cup.
Motivating factor for Boise State: This wasn't your typical Boise State team, which had to replace record-setting quarterback Kellen Moore, tailback Doug Martin and most of its defense. The Broncos lost to Michigan State and San Diego State, and haven't lost three games in a season since 2007.
Pick: Boise State 24, Washington 17
Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl
Fresno State vs. SMU, Dec. 24 (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: Check out one of the country's most underrated quarterbacks on Christmas Eve. Fresno State's Derek Carr, the younger brother of former NFL starter David Carr, threw for 3,742 yards with 36 touchdowns and only five interceptions in 457 attempts.
Who to watch: As good as Carr has been, tailback Robbie Rouse has been just as important in the Bulldogs' resurgence. He ran for 1,468 yards with 12 touchdowns and had more than 100 rushing yards in nine of 12 games.
Motivating factor for Fresno State: The Bulldogs went 9-3 in coach Tim DeRuyter's first season and can win 10 games in a season for the first time since finishing 11-3 in 2001.
Motivating factor for SMU: The Mustangs had to beat Tulsa 35-27 in their regular-season finale to finish 6-6. They'd like to finish with a winning record and give coach June Jones a victory in his return to Hawaii.
Pick: Fresno State 42, SMU 28
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
Western Kentucky vs. Central Michigan, Dec. 26 (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: The Hilltoppers might be college football's best rags-to-riches story. They lost 26 games in a row before beating Louisiana-Lafayette on Oct. 23, 2010, and then went 7-5 in each of the past two seasons.
Who to watch: WKU tailback Antonio Andrews, a junior from Fort Campbell, Ky., was sixth among FBS players in rushing with 134 yards per game. He ran for 468 yards with three touchdowns in his last two games, a 31-27 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette and 25-24 victory over North Texas.
Motivating factor for Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers might want to prove they can win without former coach Willie Taggart, who left last week to become South Florida's new coach. Defensive coordinator Lance Guidry is serving as interim coach; former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino was named Taggart's replacement Monday.
Motivating factor for Central Michigan: The Chippewas are fortunate to be in the postseason after finishing 6-6. They won their last three games to become bowl eligible and probably would like to avoid a losing campaign.
Pick: Western Kentucky 24, Central Michigan 17
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman
No. 24 San Jose State vs. Bowling Green, Dec. 27 (ESPN, 3 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: Colorado fans can take a look at the on-field product of their new coach, Mike MacIntyre, who left San Jose State on Monday to take over the Buffaloes (MacIntyre won't coach in the bowl game). The Spartans went 1-12 in his first season in 2010, before going 10-2 this season. The Spartans narrowly lost at Stanford in their opener, and beat San Diego State, BYU and Louisiana Tech.
Who to watch: Spartans quarterback David Fales, a junior from Salinas, Calif., is No. 3 in the country in pass efficiency, completing 72.1 percent of his passes (best among FBS players) for 3,798 yards with 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Motivating factor for San Jose State: The Spartans have never finished in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll and haven't been included in the final coaches' poll since they were No. 20 in 1990. They probably can finish in both polls by defeating the Falcons.
Motivating factor for Bowling Green: The Falcons haven't upset a ranked opponent since a 27-17 victory over No. 25 Pittsburgh in the 2008 opener.
Pick: San Jose State 24, Bowling Green 13
Cincinnati vs. Duke, Dec. 27 (ESPN, 6:30 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: See why bigger programs keep hiring away Cincinnati's coaches. Michigan State took Mark Dantonio, Notre Dame hired Brian Kelly and now Tennessee has swiped Butch Jones. The Bearcats must be doing something right. Defensive line coach Steve Stripling will be the Bearcats' interim coach in the bowl game.
Who to watch: Cincinnati tailback George Winn was one of the Big East's biggest surprises, running for 1,204 yards with 12 touchdowns. He averaged 100.3 rushing yards per game, more than Big East offensive player of the year Isaiah Pead averaged for the Bearcats last season.
Motivating factor for Cincinnati: The Bearcats can win at least 10 games for the fifth time in six seasons, something only Alabama, Oregon and Oklahoma have done.
Motivating factor for Duke: The Blue Devils are playing in their first bowl game since 1994 and haven't won in the postseason since defeating Arkansas 7-6 in the 1961 Cotton Bowl. Duke also needs a victory to finish with a winning record.
Pick: Cincinnati 31, Duke 20
Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl
Baylor vs. No. 17 UCLA, Dec. 27 (ESPN, 9:45 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: Remember last season, when Baylor lured Washington into a 67-56 shootout in the Valero Alamo Bowl? We might get a repeat of that game. The Bears are averaging 44.1 points and allowing 38.2. The Bruins average 35.1 points and allow 25.9.
Who to watch: Baylor receiver Terrance Williams, a senior from Dallas, might be a Texas-sized headache for UCLA's secondary. He caught 95 passes for 1,764 yards with 12 touchdowns. He had 314 receiving yards against West Virginia and 190 against Iowa State.
Motivating factor for Baylor: After starting 0-4 in Big 12 play, the Bears were red-hot at the end of the regular season, upsetting then-No. 1 Kansas State, Texas Tech and then-No. 23 Oklahoma State. They'd like nothing more than to take a four-game winning streak into the offseason.
Motivating factor for UCLA: The Bruins probably want to prove they're better than the team that lost to Stanford twice in six days. Defeating the Bears would give them 10 wins in coach Jim Mora's first season.
Pick: UCLA 42, Baylor 38
AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl
Ohio vs. Louisiana-Monroe, Dec. 28 (ESPN, 2 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: The Warhawks stunned then-No. 8 Arkansas to start the season, and then nearly beat Auburn and Baylor. They'll close the season by playing in their first bowl game. The Bobcats won their first seven games before losing four of the last five.
Who to watch: Quarterback Kolton Browning was the star in the Warhawks' 34-31 overtime upset of Arkansas on Sept. 8. He passed for 2,830 yards with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while running for 441 yards with seven touchdowns this season.
Motivating factor for Ohio: Myriad injuries derailed Ohio's hopes for a really special season, but the Bobcats certainly would like to avoid losing five of their last six games.
Motivating factor for Louisiana-Monroe: After scaring the you-know-what out of the SEC to start the season, the Warhawks didn't play particularly well at the end. They lost to Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State, and needed overtime to defeat Florida International. They're looking for a better showing in their first bowl game.
Pick: Louisiana-Monroe 24, Ohio 20
Russell Athletic Bowl
Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech, Dec. 28 (ESPN, 5:30 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: The Scarlet Knights should be playing in their first BCS bowl game, but they lost 27-6 at Pittsburgh and then blew an 11-point lead in the second half of a 20-17 loss to Louisville. The Cardinals won a tiebreaker atop the Big East standings and earned a trip to the Discover Orange Bowl.
Who to watch: Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas went into the season as a potential top-10 pick in next spring's NFL draft. Instead, he struggled throughout his junior season, completing only 52.6 percent of his attempts with 17 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Motivating factor for Rutgers: Even after the late-season collapse, the Scarlet Knights can win 10 games in coach Kyle Flood's first season and have one more shot at winning the Big East in 2013 (before they leave for the Big Ten in '14).
Motivating factor for Virginia Tech: The Hokies had to beat rival Virginia 17-14 in their regular-season finale to finish 6-6 and earn a trip to a bowl game for the 20th consecutive season. Virginia Tech hasn't finished with a losing record since going 2-8-1 in 1992.
Pick: Rutgers 27, Virginia Tech 23
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas
Minnesota vs. Texas Tech, Dec. 28 (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: These teams produced one of the most thrilling bowl games in history, after Texas Tech rallied from a 31-point deficit in the third quarter to stun Minnesota 44-41 in overtime in the 2006 Insight Bowl.
Who to watch: Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege is still putting up Air Raid-like statistics, throwing for 3,934 yards with 38 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He passed for 499 yards with six touchdowns in a 49-13 rout of West Virginia on Oct. 13.
Motivating factor for Minnesota: The Gophers are 6-6 and can finish with a winning campaign for the first time since 2008.
Motivating factor for Texas Tech: The Red Raiders can win a game for themselves, after coach Tommy Tuberville left Saturday to become Cincinnati's new coach. Texas Tech is looking for its third coach in five seasons.
Pick: Texas Tech 38, Minnesota 20
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Rice vs. Air Force, Dec. 29 (ESPN, 11:45 a.m. ET)
Why to watch: It's another opportunity to root for a military service academy. If you watched last week's Army-Navy game, it shouldn't be hard to do.
Who to watch: Air Force running back Cody Getz, a 5-foot-7 senior from Buford, Ga., ran for 1,213 yards with nine touchdowns in 10 games this season. He had three 200-yard rushing games, including 222 on 25 carries in a 42-21 victory over Colorado State on Sept. 29. The Falcons were second among FBS team in rushing with 328.8 yards per game.
Motivating factor for Rice: The Owls won their last four games to finish 6-6 and become bowl eligible. Rice is playing for only its second bowl victory since 1954.
Motivating factor for Air Force: The Falcons came up just short in their bowl game last season, losing 42-41 to Toledo in the Military Bowl after their two-point conversion attempt failed with 52 seconds to go.
Pick: Air Force 38, Rice 34
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
West Virginia vs. Syracuse, Dec. 29 (ESPN, 3:15 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: The former Big East foes will face off at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. West Virginia bolted the Big East for the Big 12 this season; the Orange leave for the ACC next year.
Who to watch: Mountaineers receiver Stedman Bailey, a junior from Miramar, Fla., led FBS players with 23 touchdown catches and had 106 receptions for 1,501 yards. He had 303 receiving yards against Baylor, 225 against Oklahoma State and 202 against Oklahoma.
Motivating factor for West Virginia: The Mountaineers got off to a 5-0 start in their debut season in the Big 12 but then lost five in a row before finishing 7-5. They can still prove they're better than one of the Big East's best teams.
Motivating factor for Syracuse: After missing the postseason last year, the Orange can continue to make strides under coach Doug Marrone with a bowl victory. Syracuse defeated Kansas State 36-34 in the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl.
Pick: Syracuse 52, West Virginia 49
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Navy vs. Arizona State, Dec. 29 (ESPN2, 4 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: Both teams are riding high after late-season victories over their biggest rivals. Arizona State rallied to defeat Arizona 41-34 on the road Nov. 23 and then celebrated again when coach Todd Graham didn't leave for another job. Navy beat Army 17-13 on Saturday, its 11th consecutive victory over the Black Knights.
Who to watch: Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton was third in the Pac-12 and 13th nationally with 10 ½ sacks, and was fifth among FBS players with 1.82 tackles for loss per game. He is the first Arizona State defensive tackle to be named a consensus All-American (by the Walter Camp Football Foundation, Sporting News and American Football Coaches Association). He'll have to help slow down Navy's potent running attack.
Motivating factor for Navy: The Midshipmen played in eight consecutive bowl games before missing the postseason in 2011, but they won only one of their previous five bowl contests. Navy hasn't won in the postseason since a 35-13 rout of Missouri in the 2009 Texas Bowl.
Motivating factor for Arizona State: The Sun Devils also have struggled in the postseason recently; they haven't won a bowl game since beating Rutgers 45-40 in the 2005 Insight Bowl.
Pick: Arizona State 31, Navy 23
Valero Alamo Bowl
Texas vs. Oregon State, Dec. 29 (ESPN, 6:45 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: Oregon State seems to get the most out of its talent under coach Mike Riley. Some Texas fans might suggest coach Mack Brown isn't getting enough out of the Longhorns' talent. Neither team has settled on a starting quarterback for the bowl game.
Who to watch: Beavers cornerback Jordan Poyer, a senior from Astoria, Ore., was tied for No. 2 in the country with seven interceptions and was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award as the country's top defensive back. Texas' quarterbacks threw five interceptions in their last two games, losses to TCU and Kansas State.
Motivation for Texas: The Longhorns really need to produce some momentum after another mediocre season. Pressure is starting to mount on Brown, who might need a big campaign in 2013 to quiet his growing critics.
Motivation for Oregon State: The Beavers have never beaten the Longhorns, who defeated OSU 35-0 in 1980 and 61-16 in 1987. After finishing 3-9 last season, OSU can win 10 games in a season for the first time since 2006, the biggest one-year turnaround in school history.
Pick: Oregon State 28, Texas 24
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
TCU vs. Michigan State, Dec. 29 (ESPN, 10:15 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: If you like defense, you might love this game, which features two of the game's best defensive minds, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and TCU's Gary Patterson. The Spartans are ranked in the top 10 in run defense, pass defense, total defense and scoring defense. TCU's defense struggled a bit this season after losing a plethora of starters.
Who to watch: The Spartans struggled to score this season, but don't blame tailback Le'Veon Bell. He was third in the country in rushing with 137.3 yards per game and carried the ball 350 times, more than any other FBS player.
Motivation for TCU: The Horned Frogs are 6-1 in bowl games since 2005, including a 21-19 victory over Wisconsin in the 2011 Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio.
Motivation for Michigan State: After losing five bowl games in a row, the Spartans finally broke through last season, coming from behind to beat Georgia 33-30 in three overtimes in the Outback Bowl. Why go back to losing them now?
Pick: TCU 20, Michigan State 13
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
NC State vs. Vanderbilt, Dec. 31 (ESPN, 12 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: See whether the upstart Commodores can continue the SEC's dominance of the ACC against the Wolfpack, who were such a disappointment that coach Tom O'Brien was fired. Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren was hired to replace O'Brien but won't coach in the postseason.
Who to watch: NC State quarterback Mike Glennon, a senior from Centreville, Va., gets one more chance to impress NFL scouts. He completed 57.7 percent of his passes for 3,648 yards with 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions this season.
Motivation for NC State: The Wolfpack didn't have the type of season they were anticipating, but this isn't a bad football team. The Wolfpack can salvage some respect -- for themselves and the ACC -- by defeating an SEC opponent.
Motivation for Vanderbilt: The Commodores are playing in a bowl game in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. They'd like to win the game after losing to Cincinnati 31-24 in the Liberty Bowl last season. They also might finish in the top 25 with a victory.
Pick: Vanderbilt 27, NC State 21
Hyundai Sun Bowl
USC vs. Georgia Tech, Dec. 31 (CBS, 2 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: It should be fun to watch USC's much-maligned defense try to stop Georgia Tech's triple-option offense. The Yellow Jackets will have just as hard a time slowing down USC quarterback Matt Barkley & Co.
Who to watch: Barkley, who entered the season as the Heisman Trophy favorite and then fell out of the race after USC's 7-5 finish, will be playing in his final college game. He completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 3,273 yards with 36 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 11 games.
Motivation for USC: The Trojans certainly didn't expect their season to end in El Paso, Texas. But they'd probably like to send Barkley out a winner after his brilliant college career.
Motivation for Georgia Tech: The 6-7 Yellow Jackets are here only because the NCAA approved their waiver to go to a bowl game. Upsetting the Trojans would give Tech some momentum heading into 2013, which figures to be a make-it-or-break-it season for coach Paul Johnson.
Pick: USC 49, Georgia Tech 21
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Iowa State vs. Tulsa, Dec. 31 (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: Louisiana Tech, which was left out of the postseason, might be watching to see how the Cyclones fare against Conference USA champion Tulsa. The Liberty Bowl passed on the 9-3 Bulldogs to take 6-6 Iowa State, which lost five of its last seven games and finished next to last in the Big 12.
Who to watch: Tulsa ranks 11th nationally in rushing with 240.2 yards per game, and it does it with a three-headed monster in the backfield. Trey Watts, Ja'Terian Douglas and Alex Singleton are each averaging more than 58 rushing yards per game. Watts, a junior from Fairfax, Va., leads the Golden Hurricane with 959 yards; Singleton, a senior from LaPlace, La., leads the team with 21 rushing touchdowns.
Motivation for Iowa State: The Cyclones can finish the season with a winning record and can win their first bowl game since 2009.
Motivation for Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane can avenge their 38-23 loss at Iowa State in their Sept. 1 opener, in which they allowed 441 yards of offense and committed three turnovers.
Pick: Tulsa 31, Iowa State 24
No. 8 LSU vs. No. 14 Clemson, Dec. 31 (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: It should be an exciting matchup between a top-10 defense and top-10 offense. Clemson ranks sixth and ninth nationally in scoring and total offense, respectively, averaging 42.3 points and 518.3 yards per game. LSU ranks eighth and 11th in total defense and scoring defense, respectively, allowing 296.1 yards and 16.9 points.
Who to watch: Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins, a junior from Central, S.C., was overshadowed by teammate Sammy Watkins last season. But Hopkins stole the spotlight this season, finishing with 69 catches for 1,214 yards with 16 touchdowns. He caught at least one touchdown in 11 of 12 games this season.
Motivation for LSU: The No. 8 Tigers were left out of a BCS bowl game and didn't even land in one of the SEC's top two non-BCS bowls (Capital One and Cotton bowls). LSU also can secure at least 11 victories for the third consecutive season.
Motivation for Clemson: The Tigers have never defeated LSU, losing 10-7 in the 1996 Chick-fil-A Bowl and 7-0 in the 1959 Sugar Bowl. LSU won the 1958 national championship after defeating Clemson.
Pick: LSU 27, Clemson 24
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl
Mississippi State vs. No. 20 Northwestern, Jan. 1 (ESPN2, 12 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: It might be the Big Ten's best opportunity at knocking off an SEC opponent on New Year's Day. The Wildcats started the season 5-0, and two of their three losses were extremely close, 29-28 versus Nebraska and 38-31 in overtime at Michigan. The Bulldogs started 7-0 and were ranked as high as No. 11 but lost four of their last five games to finish 8-4.
Who to watch: Wildcats junior Kain Colter, from Denver, is one of the most versatile players in the country. He opened the season as Northwestern's starting quarterback, before moving to receiver and then back under center. He passed for 796 yards with eight touchdowns, ran for 820 yards with 12 scores and caught 16 passes for 169 yards.
Motivation for Mississippi State: The Bulldogs can beat a team that played in a bowl game this season. Each of MSU's seven victories over FBS opponents came against teams left out of the postseason (Middle Tennessee State finished 8-4) and they had a combined record of 29-56.
Motivation for Northwestern: The Wildcats will once again try to end a 64-year drought in the postseason. Northwestern hasn't won a bowl game since defeating California 20-14 in the 1948 Rose Bowl, dropping each of its past nine postseason games.
Pick: Northwestern 34, Mississippi State 31
Heart of Dallas Bowl
Purdue vs. Oklahoma State, Jan. 1 (ESPNU, noon ET)
Why to watch: It might be a very high-scoring shootout at the Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma State has one of the country's best passing games and averaged 44.7 points per game. The Boilermakers averaged 34.3 points in their last three games, all victories, after quarterback Robert Marve returned from a knee injury.
Who to watch: The Pokes' passing game has received a lot of attention the past few seasons, but their running game has been just as good. Junior Joseph Randle ran for 1,351 yards with 14 touchdowns, including a season-high 199 yards against Texas in late September.
Motivation for Purdue: The Boilermakers might try to win a game for their departing coaching staff, which is being led by receivers coach Patrick Higgins, who was named interim coach after Danny Hope was fired. Purdue hired Kent State's Darrell Hazell to replace Hope.
Motivation for Oklahoma State: The Cowboys were a very young team this season, and an 8-5 finish wouldn't be too shabby in a rebuilding year.
Pick: Oklahoma State 37, Purdue 21
Capital One Bowl
No. 7 Georgia vs. No. 16 Nebraska, Jan. 1 (ABC, 1 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: To see which team shows up motivated to play in Orlando, Fla. The Bulldogs lost to No. 2 Alabama 32-28 in the SEC championship game, which cost them a chance to play Notre Dame for the BCS national title. The Cornhuskers were embarrassed 70-31 in the Big Ten championship game, which knocked them out of the Rose Bowl.
Who to watch: Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones was one of the country's most disruptive players, finishing with 77 tackles, 22 1/2 tackles for loss, 12 1/2 sacks, 33 quarterback hurries, seven forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. The USC transfer is considered a potential No. 1 pick in next spring's NFL draft and might be playing in his final college game.
Motivation for Georgia: The Bulldogs lost to LSU 42-10 in the 2011 SEC championship game and then blew a big lead in a 33-30 loss in three overtimes to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl. UGA doesn't want to finish consecutive seasons with back-to-back losses.
Motivation for Nebraska: Nebraska is a proud program, and its ugly loss to Wisconsin left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths. The Cornhuskers' defense needs to make amends after it was ripped for 539 rushing yards in the Big Ten championship game.
Pick: Georgia 49, Nebraska 31
No. 10 South Carolina vs. No. 18 Michigan, Jan. 1 (ESPN, 1 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: It's a classic Big Ten-SEC matchup on New Year's Day. It also will be Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson's final college game, which will be played in his home state.
Who to watch: South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was a matchup nightmare for opponents all season, finishing with 50 tackles, 21½ tackles for loss, 13 sacks and five quarterback hurries. Wolverines All-American tackle Taylor Lewan, one of the country's top pass protectors, gets the unenviable task of trying to slow him down.
Motivation for South Carolina: The Gamecocks were embarrassed 31-10 by Iowa in their last trip to the Outback Bowl in 2008. South Carolina trailed 31-0 in the third quarter, after quarterback Stephen Garcia threw three interceptions.
Motivation for Michigan: The Wolverines were dominated in their first meeting against an SEC opponent this season, losing to Alabama 41-14 at Cowboys Stadium in their opener. Michigan allowed 232 rushing yards and had three turnovers.
Pick: South Carolina 28, Michigan 27
Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio
Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Stanford, Jan. 1 (ESPN, 5 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez will return to the sideline to coach the Badgers, after former coach Bret Bielema left for Arkansas. Alvarez also is searching for Bielema's long-term replacement.
Who to watch: Badgers tailback Montee Ball, a 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist, got off to a slow start this season but still finished with 1,730 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. He ran for 702 yards with eight touchdowns in the last four games. Stanford had the country's third-best run defense, allowing only 87.6 yards per game.
Motivation for Wisconsin: The Badgers are playing in their third consecutive Rose Bowl but lost in their previous two trips to Pasadena, Calif. TCU upset the Badgers 21-19 in 2011, and Oregon won 45-38 in 2012.
Motivation for Stanford: The Cardinal are playing in their first Rose Bowl since 1999 and haven't won the Granddaddy of 'Em All since beating Michigan 13-12 in 1971.
Pick: Stanford 31, Wisconsin 21
Discover Orange Bowl
No. 15 Northern Illinois vs. No. 12 Florida State, Jan. 1 (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: It's the classic David versus Goliath matchup. The Huskies are the first non-undefeated team from a non-BCS conference to play in a BCS bowl game. The Seminoles won the ACC and are playing in a bowl game for the 31st consecutive season, the longest such streak in the country.
Who to watch: Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch probably should have been a Heisman Trophy finalist. He led all FBS players with 1,771 rushing yards and was 25th in pass efficiency with a 152.9 rating. He completed 222 of 353 passes for 2,962 yards and accounted for 43 total touchdowns.
Motivation for Northern Illinois: The Huskies are out to prove they belong in a BCS bowl game. They've won 12 games in a row after losing to Iowa 18-17 in their Sept. 1 opener.
Motivation for Florida State: The Seminoles probably don't want to be the team that loses to a MAC opponent in a BCS bowl game. The Seminoles lost only twice this season, falling 17-16 at NC State and 37-26 to No. 3 Florida.
Pick: Florida State 34, Northern Illinois 24
Allstate Sugar Bowl
No. 21 Louisville vs. No. 3 Florida, Jan. 2 (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: The Gators came within one victory of playing for an SEC championship and potentially a BCS national title. The Cardinals are coached by former Gators defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, who helped UF win two BCS national championships.
Who to watch: Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater showed his toughness by playing with a broken left wrist on his nonthrowing hand in the Cardinals' 20-17 victory at Rutgers on Nov. 29, which punched their ticket to the Sugar Bowl. Bridgewater completed 69 percent of his passes this season for 3,452 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Motivation for Louisville: The Cardinals can earn a lot of respect for the beleaguered Big East by upsetting a top team from the SEC.
Motivation for Florida: The Gators won 11 games in coach Will Muschamp's second season and might be able to finish No. 2 in the final polls with another victory.
Pick: Florida 42, Louisville 17
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 5 Kansas State, Jan. 3 (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: The Ducks and Wildcats seemed to be on a collision course to play each other in the BCS National Championship Game. But they were both upset Nov. 17; Oregon lost 17-14 in overtime to Stanford, and Kansas State was routed 52-24 at Baylor.
Who to watch: Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein has carried Kansas State's offense on his back for much of the past two seasons. This season, he completed 66.2 percent of his passes for 2,490 yards with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while running for 890 yards with 22 scores.
Motivation for Oregon: Many people think the Ducks might still be the best team in the country despite the hiccup against Stanford. Beating a top-five opponent in a BCS bowl game might go a long way in confirming it.
Motivation for Kansas State: The Wildcats couldn't get 73-year-old coach Bill Snyder a national championship, but they can at least win him a BCS bowl game. The Wildcats have dropped their past four bowl games and haven't won a BCS game since defeating Syracuse 35-18 in the 1997 Fiesta Bowl.
Pick: Oregon 44, Kansas State 38
AT&T Cotton Bowl
No. 9 Texas A&M vs. No. 11 Oklahoma, Jan. 4 (Fox, 8 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: Both of these teams were good enough to play in BCS bowl games. Plus, you can see Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who on Saturday became the first freshman to win college football's most prized individual award. In his first season as a college starter, Manziel passed for 3,419 yards with 24 touchdowns and ran for 1,181 yards with 19 scores.
Who to watch: Aggies defensive end Damontre Moore was just as valuable to Texas A&M's surprising 10-2 finish in its first season in the SEC as Manziel. Moore was fourth nationally with 12½ sacks and seventh with 20 tackles for loss. He led the Aggies with 80 tackles and is considered a probable first-round pick in next spring's NFL draft.
Motivation for Texas A&M: Win the Cotton Bowl, which the Aggies haven't done since beating Notre Dame 35-10 in 1987. The Aggies lost in each of their past six trips to the Cotton Bowl, most recently falling 41-24 to LSU in 2010.
Motivation for Oklahoma: Beat Texas A&M again, which the Sooners have done in 11 of 13 tries under coach Bob Stoops. The Sooners defeated their former Big 12 rivals in eight of the past nine meetings.
Pick: Texas A&M 38, Oklahoma 35
BBVA Compass Bowl
Pittsburgh vs. Ole Miss, Jan. 5 (ESPN, 1 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: Both of these teams are probably better than their 6-6 records indicate. The Rebels were much better in coach Hugh Freeze's first season, beating rival Mississippi State 41-24 in the Egg Bowl. Pittsburgh recovered from a 4-6 start, upsetting then-No. 18 Rutgers 27-6 and beating South Florida 27-3 to become bowl eligible.
Who to watch: Ole Miss receiver Donte Moncrief, a sophomore from Raleigh, Miss., is an explosive big-play threat on the perimeter. He averaged 15.8 yards per catch and caught 60 passes for 948 yards with 10 touchdowns.
Motivation for Pittsburgh: The Panthers can finish with a winning record in their last season in the Big East. They're scheduled to move to the ACC in 2013.
Motivation for Ole Miss: A victory over the Panthers might be another springboard toward bigger things in 2013.
Pick: Ole Miss 21, Pittsburgh 16
No. 25 Kent State vs. Arkansas State, Jan. 6 (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: The Golden Flashes and Red Wolves were two of the best teams from non-BCS leagues this season. The Golden Flashes upset then-No. 15 Rutgers 35-23 on Oct. 27 and lost to Northern Illinois 44-37 in two overtimes in the MAC championship game. Arkansas State won its last seven games in coach Gus Malzahn's first season and hasn't lost since September.
Who to watch: Kent State running back Dri Archer, a junior from Laurel, Fla., is one of the most electrifying players in the country. He ranked fifth among FBS players in all-purpose yards, averaging 189.2 yards per game. He had 1,352 rushing yards with 15 touchdowns, 539 receiving yards with four scores and 573 yards on kickoff returns with three touchdowns. He even threw a touchdown pass.
Motivation for Kent State: The Golden Flashes can send coach Darrell Hazell out as a winner. Hazell was hired as Purdue's new coach last week but will coach Kent State through its bowl game. He was named MAC coach of the year after guiding his team to an 11-2 record.
Motivation for Arkansas State: The Red Wolves can finish what Malzahn started. He left last week to become Auburn's new coach, and defensive coordinator John Thompson will serve as interim coach.
Pick: Kent State 31, Arkansas State 30
Discover BCS National Championship
No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama, Jan. 7 (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET)
Why to watch: Two of college football's traditional heavyweights will play for all the marbles in Miami. Alabama is trying to become the first consensus back-to-back national champion since Nebraska in 1994-95. The Fighting Irish are trying to win their first national title since 1988.
Who to watch: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o will leave school as one of the most decorated players in college football history. The Heisman Trophy finalist is the heart and soul of Notre Dame's defense, which has led the team's resurgence. Te'o led the Fighting Irish with 103 tackles to go along with 5½ tackles for loss, seven interceptions, 11 passes defended and two fumble recoveries.
Motivation for Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish will attempt to prove that their arrival in South Florida isn't a fluke. After closer-than-expected victories over Purdue, BYU and Pittsburgh, some college football fans are still wondering whether Notre Dame deserves to be there. The Irish can prove everyone wrong by upsetting the Tide.
Motivation for Alabama: The Crimson Tide can win their third national championship in four seasons, which would cement their place among the sport's great dynasties. The Tide can also win the SEC's seventh BCS national championship in a row.
Pick: Alabama 31, Notre Dame 17
College football's bowl season kicks off with two games Saturday and culminates with the Jan. 7 Discover BCS National Championship. Mark Schlabach provides details on all the games.