Welcome to the extreme college football postseason.
A playoff will conclude the season for the first time.
And there’s even a return to New Year’s Day significance.
The bowl season will build to the big show, the College Football Playoff semifinal doubleheader on Jan. 1. Alabama meets Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, and Oregon takes on Florida State in the Rose Bowl.
These are college football’s first national semifinal games, and it remains to be seen how the winners will celebrate. Until now, winning a bowl game was the final act for a college football team. For the two winners, there will be more work ahead, 11 days later in the College Football Playoff national title game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
But Rose and Orange winners will get a trophy, like winners of the AFC and NFC championship games.
The games are listed chronologically with a rating of one to five stars next the bowl, indicating the quality of the matchups. The more stars, the better the matchup.
Outback Bowl ***
▪ WHO: Auburn (8-4) vs. Wisconsin (10-3)
▪ WHEN/WHERE: 11 a.m. Jan. 1 in Tampa, Fla. (ESPN2)
▪ BOTTOM LINE: The Badgers are coming off one of their worst performances ever, a 59-0 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, and coach Gary Andersen left for Oregon State. Athletic director and former coach Barry Alvarez takes over on an interim basis for the second time in three years, while looking for a successor and while serving on the College Football Playoff committee. Auburn has won five of its last six bowl games, falling short in last year’s BCS title game.
Cotton Bowl *****
▪ WHO: Michigan State (10-2) vs. Baylor (11-1)
▪ WHEN/WHERE: 11:30 a.m. Jan. 1 in Arlington, Texas (ESPN)
▪ BOTTOM LINE: The Bears’ high-flying offense meets the Spartans’ hard-nosed defense. Baylor wasn’t ready for its major bowl game last year, falling to Central Florida in the Fiesta. Michigan State lost a chance to play for the Big Ten title when it fell to Ohio State at home, and it dropped an early game at Oregon. In both cases, the defense didn’t come up big in the second half.
Citrus Bowl ***
▪ WHO: Missouri (10-3) vs. Minnesota (8-4)
▪ WHEN/WHERE: Noon Jan. 1 in Orlando, Fla. (ABC)
▪ BOTTOM LINE: The Tigers qualify as one of college football surprise teams, again, winning their second straight SEC East division. The Gophers are riding high under coach Jerry Kill and are playing on New Year’s Day for the first time since 1962.
Rose Bowl *****
▪ WHO: Oregon (12-1) vs. Florida State (13-0)
▪ WHEN/WHERE: 4 p.m. Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif. (ESPN)
▪ BOTTOM LINE: How will the knee injury to All-America cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu affect the Ducks? It puts more on the shoulders of quarterback Marcus Mariota and the offense. The game features the previous two Heisman Trophy winners, Mariota and last year’s winner Jameis Winston. Florida State has danced with danger all season but somehow finds a way to pull out a victory. It’s 29 straight wins for the Seminoles.
Sugar Bowl *****
▪ WHO: Alabama (12-1) vs. Ohio State (12-1)
▪ WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 1 in New Orleans (ESPN)
▪ BOTTOM LINE: The last time Alabama played here, the Tide lost to Oklahoma in last season’s Sugar Bowl. Wide receiver Amari Cooper has allowed Alabama’s quarterback transition to Blake Sims to run more smoothly than it otherwise might have. Cardale Jones makes his second start for Ohio State at quarterback and hopes it approaches his first, a 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.
Armed Forces Bowl *
▪ WHO: Houston (7-5) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6)
▪ WHEN/WHERE: 11 a.m. Jan. 2 in Fort Worth, Texas (ESPN)
▪ BOTTOM LINE: Houston got moving after Greg Ward Jr., once a wide receiver, took over at quarterback. He averaged 291 total yards in his seven starts, winning five. Pitt running back James Conner (1,675 yards) was the ACC player of the year.
TaxSlayer Bowl *
▪ WHO: Iowa (7-5) vs. Tennessee (6-6)
▪ WHEN/WHERE: 2:20 p.m. Jan. 2 in Jacksonville, Fla. (ESPN)
▪ BOTTOM LINE: Formerly the Gator Bowl. Vols quarterback Joshua Dobbs posted three victories in his four starts. Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff could be an NFL Draft top 10 selection.
Alamo Bowl ****
▪ WHO: Kansas State (9-3) vs. UCLA (9-3)
▪ WHEN/WHERE: 5:45 p.m. Jan. 2 in San Antonio, Texas (ESPN)
▪ BOTTOM LINE: One last chance to see Tyler Lockett in a K-State uniform is enough reason to tune in. Also, this is the best of the non-access bowls, matching top 15 teams. UCLA quarterback Bret Hundley will try to impress the scouts, and Jake Waters can become only the second Wildcats quarterback with two bowl victories.
Cactus Bowl *
▪ WHO: Washington (8-5) vs. Oklahoma State (6-6)
▪ WHEN/WHERE: 9:15 p.m. Jan. 2 in Tempe, Ariz. (ESPN)
▪ BOTTOM LINE: The Cowboys are without Tyreek Hill, tossed from the team after domestic-violence allegations. Huskies linebacker Shaq Thompson ranks among the nation’s best.
Birmingham Bowl *
▪ WHO: East Carolina (8-4) vs. Florida (6-5)
▪ WHEN/WHERE: 11 a.m. Jan. 3 in Birmingham, Ala. (ESPN)
▪ BOTTOM LINE: The Pirates’ four victories over power five conference schools in the last two years are the most by anybody after Brigham Young. Freshman quarterback Treon Harris had a nice finish, is 3-2 as a starter and, like many Gators, will try to impress new coach Jim McElwain.
GoDaddy Bowl *
▪ WHO: Toledo (8-4) vs. Arkansas State (7-5)
▪ WHEN/WHERE: 8 p.m. Jan. 4 in Mobile, Ala. (ESPN)
▪ BOTTOM LINE: Rockets running back Kareem Hunt has rushed for 1,360 yards and 11 touchdowns. Arkansas State quarterback Fredi Knighten passed for 19 touchdowns and rushed for 11.
CFP National Championship Game *****
▪ WHO: Rose Bowl winner vs. Sugar Bowl winner
▪ WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas (ESPN)
▪ BOTTOM LINE: College football has its first playoff, and no matter who meets at AT&T Stadium, the matchup will be excellent.
All times Central