If there is no national championship hanging in the balance, I’ve always believed you need two things for a quality bowl game: Good teams and good storylines.
In that vein, here are my top five bowl games “outside” of the four-team playoff:
1) Peach: No. 6 TCU (11-1) vs. No. 9 Ole Miss (9-3), Dec. 31. Ole Miss has the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense (13.8 ppg) and TCU has the nation’s No. 2 scoring offense (46.8 ppg). TCU will be out to prove it, not Ohio State, deserved to be in the playoff. Ole Miss was No. 3 before brutal losses to LSU, Auburn and Arkansas followed by a redemptive win against Mississippi State.
2) Cotton: No. 5 Baylor (11-1) vs. No. 8 Michigan State (10-2), Jan. 1: Think Baylor’s Art Briles won’t try to make a statement against a Big Ten opponent? You’re talking about the Big 12 champion (don’t buy this co-champion stuff, Baylor won the head-to-head meeting) against a Michigan State team whose only losses are to No. 2 Oregon and No. 4 Ohio State. Baylor has the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense (48.8 ppg) while Michigan State is No. 7 in total defense (293.5 ypg).
3) Orange: Mississippi State (10-2) vs. Georgia Tech (10-3), Dec. 31: Mississippi State was ranked No. 1 for three weeks and No. 4 for two weeks. The Bulldogs, whose only losses are to No. 1 Alabama and No. 9 Ole Miss, have a chance to win 11 games for the first time in school history. Think about this: Only three Georgia Tech teams in history (1951, 1952, 1990) have won 11 games. This Georgia Tech team, which finished so impressively, has a chance to be the fourth.
4) Belk: Georgia (9-3) vs. Louisville (9-3), Dec. 30: There is the obvious storyline of Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham coaching against his former team. Grantham, by the way, has the nation’s No. 6 defense (293.3 ypg). And here’s another thing: DeVante Parker, who had 35 catches for 735 yards in his last five games, is going to be the best wide receiver Georgia has seen this season. Throw in the always-lovable Bobby Petrino and Georgia’s need for some redemption, and you’ve got a compelling game.
5) Outback: Wisconsin (10-3) vs. Auburn (8-4), Jan. 1: Two teams that finished the season on a disappointing note and could really use a win. The Big Ten’s and nation’s leading rusher in Melvin Gordon (179.7 ypg) vs. the SEC’s leading rusher in Cameron Artis-Payne (123.5 ypg). It will be Nick Marshall’s last game as Auburn’s quarterback. I wonder how much Gus Malzahn will use his backup quarterback, Jeremy Johnson?
Birmingham: Florida (6-5) vs. East Carolina (8-4), Jan. 3: ECU wide receiver Justin Hardy holds the NCAA record with 376 career catches. Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III is the nation’s best cover corner.
Texas: Arkansas (6-6) vs. Texas (6-6), Dec. 29: Two old Southwest Conferences foes who are on the comeback trail.
Alamo: Kansas State (9-3) vs. UCLA (9-3), Jan. 2: Kansas State’s three losses are to Auburn, TCU and Baylor. UCLA was impressive in its victory against Southern California but just collapsed in the season-finale against Stanford (31-10).
Music City: LSU (8-4) vs. Notre Dame (7-5), Dec. 30: I don’t care how good the teams are. It’s LSU vs. Notre Dame. It will be one long party in downtown Nashville.
Liberty: West Virginia (7-5) vs. Texas A&M (7-5), Dec. 29: Two wide-open offenses that are going to be fun to watch. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen would love to beat his old friends Kevin Sumlin and (OC) Jake Spavital.