Thrill of Victory

The five best non-BCS bowl games to watch

With 35 bowl games this December and January, it’s a little much to attempt to watch all of them. While most of the the BCS bowls bear watching seeing as they feature the nation’s most elite teams, but those account for just five of the games; of the remaining 30, here are the five the figure to most be worth viewing.

AT&T Cotton Bowl – Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma (Jan. 4)
Oklahoma was upset that it didn’t make the BCS. A&M would have rather been in the Capitol One Bowl after the Southeastern Conference stepped in and let it be known that it wanted Georgia there instead. Well, guess what? The fact that neither happened gives us a game that may be as good a game as any within the BCS as-is.

First, there’s familiarity – both teams were Big 12 rivals until A&M bolted for the SEC this fall (OU beat A&M 41-25 last season). Then, there’s proximity. It’s about a three-hour drive to Dallas from each campus, and of course the venue (Cowboys Stadium) can’t be beat; it would not be a surprise to see the 85,000-seat stadium at or near capacity.

And then, there’s the action on the field. OU quarterback Landry Jones didn’t win the Heisman as many in preseason expected, but he had a great year in leading an offense that put up over 500 yards a game. Of course, Jones didn’t win the Heisman because A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel did. The Aggies also have a defensive in end in Damontre Moore who bears watching.

For all those reasons, if you only watch one bowl game outside of the national title game – other BCS bowls included – this might be the one.

Outback Bowl – South Carolina vs. Michigan (Jan. 1)
Offensively, Michigan has been an interesting team to watch down the stretch. Do-it-all quarterback Denard Robinson couldn’t grip the ball the second half of the season, so coach Brady Hoke went to receiver Devin Gardner at quarterback and moved Robinson to running back. That went well down the stretch, and the Wolverines could get injured running back Fitzgerald Toussaint back for this one also.

How those athletes match up with Carolina’s athletic defense is what makes this interesting. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney may be the best defensive lineman in the country, and it’s got plenty of other good athletes in a defense that’s tough to run against. Watching these elite athletes go against each other is what makes this one worth watching in what figures to be a defensive struggle.

Valero Alamo Bowl – Oregon State vs. Texas (Dec. 29)
Here’s another game featuring a pair of teams with high-powered offenses in a game that’s nearly BCS-caliber. Texas is disappointed that it’s not in a BCS bowl, but the Longhorns have plenty of talent. OSU, on the other hand, is thrilled to be here after last year’s 4-8 season, which included a loss to Sacramento State. This year, the Beavers went 9-3, with two losses coming by a field goal each to bowl teams Washington and Stanford.

The interesting thing about this game is that Texas has had trouble stopping the run, but OSU doesn’t run well. OSU gave up just 20 points a game in the high-powered PAC-10, which is impressive. However, both teams also move the ball well through the air?

Will this be a shootout, or a defensive struggle? I honestly don’t know, but it should be a close game either way, and one well worth watching.

Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl – UCLA vs. Baylor (Dec. 27)
If you like offense – and most football fans do – this one’s for you. Baylor ranked No. 1 in the country in total offense with 579 yards per game and the Bruins (474 yards) were pretty good themselves.

Baylor was just 4-5 not long ago, but comes in hot after beating Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State to finish the season. Coach Art Briles has established himself as one of the nation’s best offensive minds, as the Bears managed to replace last year’s Heisman winner, Robert Griffin III, with senior Nick Florence, who accounted for 4,652 yards of total offense.

UCLA had a great year under first-year coach Jim Mora, just missing out on a Rose Bowl berth after it lost (by three) to Stanford in the PAC-10 title game. Quarterback Brett Hundley (3,408 yards) and running back Jonathan Franklin (1,701) form one of the nation’s best run-pass duos.

The Holiday Bowl often seems to be a shootout, and Baylor and Washington combined for 127 points in Baylor’s last bowl game, which came in last season’s Alamo Bowl. It wouldn’t be a total surprise to see this one get into triple digits as well.

Chick-fil-A Bowl – LSU vs. Clemson (Dec. 31)
If you like offensive play-makers, Clemson’s got ‘em in bunches between Tahj Boyd, Andre Ellington, DeAndre Hopkins and Sammie Watkins. Those four guys led an offense that averaged 42 points and 518 yards per game, and scored at least 37 each week in a 10-game stretch between weeks two and 11.

If you like raw defensive talent, LSU’s got perhaps as much as anybody. Defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, linebacker Kevin Minter and safety Eric Reid should all be NFL first-rounders one day, and the Tigers have plenty more draft picks on that side of the ball as well.

Strength vs. strength… who wins? I like LSU, but it should be fun either way.

Two more to watch if you like offense:
New Era Pinstripe Bowl – West Virginia vs. Syracuse (Dec. 29)
Gilden New Mexico Bowl – Arizona vs. Nevada (Dec. 15)

Two more to watch if you like defense:
MAACO Las Vegas Bowl – Boise St. vs. Washington (Dec. 22)
Russell Athletic Bowl – Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech (Dec. 28)