Brace yourselves; winter is coming, and with it, college football’s bowl season.
2013 is the final year of the Bowl Championship Series. Next year college football moves to a four-team playoff, with the teams selected by a committee of 13 people. But that’s next year.
Starting December 21, 70 teams will play in 35 bowls over 16 days. The five BCS bowls contain a variety of intriguing matchups; some teams have 50 years of history between them while other teams are meeting for the first time. The BCS championship game also has some remarkable similarities to another championship game.
An undefeated ACC-champion Florida State program, backed by a high-powered offense, heads into the national championship game against a one-loss SEC champion that’s clad in orange and blue. Florida fans might recognize this as the 1997 Sugar Bowl, but the gator has been swapped for a tiger that cries ‘War Eagle.’
Florida State’s offense is a bit more potent this time around as well. The 1996 FSU team had scored 396 points, but behind freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, 2013’s squad has scored 689 points. Winston, whose hometown of Bessemer, Alabama, is only 100 miles away from Auburn’s campus, has thrown for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns against only 10 interceptions.
“All the hard work is paying off,” said Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, who coached quarterbacks at Auburn from 1993 to 1998. “We have to get our bearings, go back, have a plan and be able to compete.”
Auburn’s offense isn’t shabby in its own right. Dual-threat quarterback Nick Marshall from Pineview, Georgia, 120 miles away from Tallahassee, has 1,759 yards passing and 1,023 yards rushing. The Tigers’ offense this season has scored 522 points in 13 games.
For Auburn, making the championship game is just the next logical step for this team that seems guided by destiny. The Tigers own two of the unlikeliest plays of the season. Against Georgia, the Tigers scored on a tipped Hail Mary pass to retake the lead after a Bulldogs comeback. Cornerback Chris Davis returned a missed field goal 109 yards on the final play of regulation to lift Auburn over Alabama and into the SEC title game.
“This year’s been very unique,” Tigers coach Gus Malzahn said. “Our team has complemented each other; when our offense hasn’t played well, our defense has played well and vice-versa.”
The two teams take the Rose Bowl’s field in Pasadena, California on January 6.
January 1 is the actual Rose Bowl game. No. 5 Stanford will take on No. 4 Michigan State, whose defeat of the Ohio State Buckeyes helped arrange Auburn’s ticket to the national championship. Michigan State holds the all-time record between the two programs, holding three wins in the five-game series that was last played in 1996.
“A lot of games, we have a size advantage,” said Stanford head coach David Shaw. “We’re going to lean on it and our guys love it. It’s a tone-setter.”
On the topic of Ohio State, they’re playing in the Orange Bowl on January 3. Urban Meyer’s No. 7 Buckeyes team faces Dabo Sweeney’s No. 12 Clemson Tigers. The teams have only met once before, in the 1978 Gator Bowl. That was OSU coach Woody Hayes’ last game, as he was fired after punching a Clemson player who had intercepted a pass to seal the Tigers’ 17-15 win.
In the Fiesta Bowl, No. 15 University of Central Florida will take on No. 6 Baylor. Both teams are 11-1 and champion of their respective conferences. The teams have never played each other before. It will be UCF’s first BCS bowl game.
“Anytime you have a first for anything, people get very excited,” George O’Leary, UCF’s head coach, said. “[There’s] a lot of excited people and a lot of people that just can’t wait to get out there and back the team and support the team like they have all year.”
The Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on January 2 showcases Nick Saban’s No. 3 Alabama squad taking on another crimson-and-white team in No. 11 Oklahoma. Alabama’s only win against Oklahoma came in the 1963 Orange Bowl, where Joe Namath led the Crimson Tide to a 17-0 win against the Sooners.
The SEC has 10 teams playing in bowls this season. Notable matchups include Missouri against Oklahoma State, Georgia versus Nebraska, LSU taking on Iowa and South Carolina facing Wisconsin. Only Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas were ineligible to play in a bowl.
The state has two teams in the BCS with UCF and the Miami Hurricanes facing Charlie Strong’s Louisville Cardinals in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando on December 28.
To hear what coaches are saying about their teams, click the links below.
Jimbo Fisher - Florida State Head Coach: “All the hard work is paying off.”
Jimbo Fisher - Florida State Head Coach: “That’s [Auburn] where I cut my teeth in Division I football.”
Gus Malzahn - Auburn Head Coach: “This year’s been very unique.”
David Shaw - Stanford Head Coach: “A lot of games, we have a size advantage . . .”
George O’Leary - Central Florida Head Coach: “Anytime you have a first for anything, people get very excited.”
Steve Spurrier - South Carolina Head Coach: “There’s something to do all the time [in Orlando].”