The Comprehensive New Year’s Day Football Guide
Certain days of the year are just made for watching sports. The NFL has Thanksgiving. The NBA has Christmas. And college football has New Year’s Day. Although there aren’t quite as many bowl games to ring in the new year as there used to be, there’s still plenty of matchups to keep you glued to your couch as you recover from the previous night’s festivities and try to avoid your relatives.
Without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about the sextet of games to be played on the first day of 2014.
These are the first games of the day and, while they present some interesting matchups, they’re not really necessary viewing. They’re really just a way to lead into the better games later on, so use them to get re-acclimated to the nuances of the college game if you’ve been kept from watching bowl season during the holidays.
Heart of Dallas Bowl, Presented by PlainsCapital Bank
UNLV (7-5) vs. North Texas (8-4)
12:00 PM EST, ESPNU
These are two teams that are enjoying returns to bowl games after lengthy absences. The Rebels are in their first bowl game outside of Las Vegas since Randall Cunningham was under center nearly three decades ago. Meanwhile, the Mean Green improved by four wins after going 4-8 in 2012 and are headed for a bowl game for the first time since a 2004 New Orleans Bowl loss to Southern Miss. North Texas enters the game allowing just 18.1 points per game, the ninth-best figure in the nation. The stingy defensive unit is anchored by a ball-hawking secondary that intercepted 17 passes, five of which came from senior DB Marcus Trice. They’ll have their hands full with 6’3’’ UNLV receiver Devante Davis, who caught 77 passes for nearly 1200 yards and 14 TDs from quarterback Caleb Herring.
TaxSlayer.Com Gator Bowl
Nebraska (8-4) vs. No. 23 Georgia (8-4)
12:00 PM EST, ESPN2
Everbank Field – Jacksonville, Florida
These two teams face each other in a bowl for the second consecutive season, a year after the Bulldogs beat the ‘Huskers 45-31 in the 2013 Capital One Bowl. The Bulldogs looked like BCS Title Contenders in the preseason but struggled after losing several key players to injury, including all-time SEC passing yards leader Aaron Murray and star running back Todd Gurley. Gurley is back and has averaged 6.3 yards per carry this season, but Murray is out for the game with a torn ACL and Hutson Mason, who has a 3-0 record filling in for him, will start instead.
Nebraska is also missing their senior quarterback as four-year starter Taylor Martinez is out with a foot injury. Freshman dual-threat Tommy Armstrong Jr. will start in his place, but the Cornhuskers will look to rely on their 19th-ranked run offense, led by third-team All-American Ameer Abdullah, who ran for 1,564 yards this season.
These games begin while the bread is still on the table, so to speak. They’re solid games that feature three ranked teams from automatic qualifying conferences. You’ll want to keep your remote handy after this slate of games starts because all four of the teams have playmakers on both sides of the ball. The “Last” button will be your best friend.
Iowa (8-4) vs. No. 16 LSU (9-3)
1:00 EST, ESPN
Raymond James Stadium – Tampa, Florida
LSU enters the game as a heavy favorite after being the only team to defeat SEC Champion Auburn during the season. However, these are two programs that have a history with each other. Neither will soon forget the hail mary that won the Hawkeyes the ’05 Capital One Bowl.
LSU will be without future NFL QB Zach Mettenberger due to a knee injury, but backup Anthony Jennings will have the luxury of throwing to a pair of 1000-yard receivers in Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. The Tigers will also rely on sophomore running back Jeremy Hill, who averaged 6.8 yards per carry this season. Iowa will lean on a talented, nasty defense that ranked 11th in the country in points allowed during the regular season. The unit is led by the linebacking corps of James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens that created ten turnovers by itself. Iowa could be better than their record after a season in which three of their four losses came to teams that finished with just one loss (Michigan St, Ohio St, Northern Illinois)
Capital One Bowl
No. 9 South Carolina (10-2) vs. No. 19 Wisconsin (9-3)
1:00 EST, ABC
Florida Citrus Bowl – Orlando, Florida
A second matchup of SEC vs. Big Ten, these are two teams that have built winning traditions based on toughness and physicality. Wisconsin, under first year head coach Gary Anderson, looks much the same as they did under former coach Brett Bielema — they run the ball and play defense. The Badgers ranked eighth in the nation in rushing this season, as both Melvin Gordon (1,446) and James White (1,337) eclipsed 1300 yards on the ground.
The Wisconsin ground attack will have to contend with a hard-nosed South Carolina defense that gives up just 20 point per game and is anchored by human highlight reel Jadaveon Clowney. It will likely be Clowney’s last college game as he prepares to be a top five NFL draft pick in April. South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw will also be playing his last game and will have to beat a Wisconsin ‘D’ which is even better than SC’s, giving up just 14.8 PPG. A matchup to watch is standout Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland taking on the Gamecocks’ 1100-yard rusher, Mike Davis.
The Main Course
If all goes according to plan, this should be the best game of the day. Thankfully, the NCAA gave us some time between the end of the 1:00 PM games and the start of this one, the "granddaddy of them all." If you watch one game on Wednesday, make it this one and, since there are no other games scheduled at the same time, it should be appointment viewing.
Rose Bowl Game Pres. By Vizio
No. 4 Michigan State (12-1) vs. No. 5 Stanford (11-2)
5:00 PM EST, ESPN
Rose Bowl – Pasadena, California
Think of this as an advanced version of the Capital One Bowl matchup. Both of these teams are led by nearly impenetrable defenses that each ranked in the top 10 in the country during the season. Michigan State’s unit, which ranked fourth in points allowed per game was considered by many the best in the country during a 9-game win streak that included a defeat of then No. 2 Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.
That defense will have to contend with 1600-yard rusher Tyler Gaffney and the rest of Stanford’s offense without captain and third-team All-American linebacker Max Bulllough, however. The senior was suspended for violating team rules on Christmas. The unit still boasts Thorpe Award winner Darqueze Dennard, though and comes in with plenty of confidence after the win over OSU. They will hope to confuse first-year Cardinal starting quarterback Kevin Hogan with different blitzes and coverages in the secondary.
The final game of the day provides yet another highly intriguing matchup. It’s a fitting way to polish off a full day of college football viewing and will provide plenty of offensive treats after a slate of games full what should be defensive battles. The timing of the start ensures that it should begin just as the Rose Bowl is ending, so prepare for a quick transition and have snacks ready.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
No. 6 Baylor (11-1) vs. No. 15 Central Florida (11-1)
8:30 PM EST, ESPN
University of Phoenix Stadium – Glendale, Arizona
This matchup of the Big 12 champion and the American Athletic champion (quick tangent: I refuse to call it the AAC, I always misread it as ACC) features two teams that enjoyed their best seasons in program history. Baylor looked like a BCS title contender as it started 9-0 before stumbling against Oklahoma State, while UCF went undefeated in its conference, losing only to SEC power South Carolina (and by a field goal at that).
Both teams put up points in bunches. Baylor led the nation with over 53 points per game behind coach Art Briles’ powerful spread offense and the accurate right arm of QB Bryce Petty, who threw 30 TDs and only 2 INTs during the season. Running back Lache Seastrunk, an Oregon transfer, probably had something to do with that offensive success, as well. UCF features American Athletic Conference Player of the Year (and future top five NFL draft pick) Blake Bortles under center. Don’t turn this game off or you might miss plays like this.
Have a safe and happy New Year and enjoy 12 straight hours of college football.