A guide to bowl season
The BCS has been criticized plenty for not getting it right over the years, from all those teams that believed they should have been playing for a national title to last year's all-SEC championship game. But for all its faults, the system seemed to work this season, producing a matchup for the ages: Notre Dame vs. Alabama. The Fighting Irish and Crimson Tide, programs tied for the most Associated Press national titles, in Miami, playing for a national championship — yeah, this could be pretty good. Alabama and Notre Dame also happen to be two of the most polarizing teams in the country, so if you love one, chances are you hate the other.Of course, if you hate both, it might be a tough night of yelling at the TV, hoping that somehow neither team wins. Either way, the good news is there's plenty of other great games and players to watch over the next three weeks. Here's a bit of what to look for in this year's 35 bowl games: Top Games Fiesta Bowl Oregon vs. Kansas State Jan. 3, Glendale, Ariz. For the second straight year, the Fiesta Bowl has a matchup that could be 1A to the national title game. The Ducks and Wildcats were national title contenders just a few weeks ago and have two of the nation's most dynamic players in running back Kenjon Barner and K-State QB Collin Klein. Rose Bowl Stanford vs. Wisconsin Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif. There might be a collision or two between these two power programs as Barry Alvarez returns to the sideline to lead the Badgers against the Cardinal, who haven't lost since an overtime defeat at No. 1 Notre Dame. Cotton Bowl Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma Jan. 4, Arlington, Texas Johnny Heisman and Landry Jones could combine for 1,000 yards and 10 TDs on their own as these former Big 12 foes renew their rivalry in what could be the best of the non-BCS bowl games this holiday season. Orange Bowl No. Illinois vs. Florida State Jan. 1, Miami Just to see if the BCS-busting Huskies actually belong when they take on the Seminoles, who could be ripe for an upset after falling short of their national title game aspirations. Players to Watch Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. Johnny Football broke the freshman barrier in the Heisman Trophy vote. 'Nuff said. He faces Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. Manti Te'o, Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish linebacker came up just short in becoming the first true defensive player to win the Heisman. About the only thing he's missed all season. Collin Klein, Kansas State. Another Heisman finalist, he has a just-get-it-done quality in the vein of Tim Tebow. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona. Led the FBS in rushing, might get a few more yards against Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl. Tavon Austin, West Virginia. All-American lines up all over the field and is a threat to score from anywhere. Gets Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl. Montee Ball, Wisconsin. He has only scored more touchdowns than anyone in FBS history. Bowl Sponsors Food is again king when it comes to sponsoring bowls. The dot-coms? About done. Food-related companies were tops in sponsorships last season with seven, and there's one more this season with Insight Bowl becoming the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. It joins Tostitos, Chick-fil-a, Outback, Kraft, Beef 'O' Brady's, Little Caesars and the Idaho Potato Commission in bowl sponsorship. Tying for second most are auto-related companies and financial companies with five each. This year's lineup also includes an aerospace and defense contractor, a helicopter company, a department store, a hotel chain and a consumer electronics company. What's missing are the dot-coms. Once the dominant force of bowl sponsorships, online companies are down to two: the GoDaddy.com Bowl and TaxSlayer.com sponsoring the Gator Bowl. Distances The farthest distance to travel to a bowl this season will be SMU's halfway-across-the-Pacific journey to the Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu, a trip of about 3,800 miles. For anyone wanting to take a long road trip in a car — good luck with that — the longest non-water distance is about 2,800 miles. That's roughly how far San Jose State will go to play Bowling Green in the Military Bowl in Washington D.C., and Navy's trip to San Francisco for the Fight Hunger Bowl against Arizona State. Vanderbilt and San Diego State have the shortest trip: nowhere. The Commodores get to face North Carolina State in the Music City Bowl in Nashville, and the Aztecs will play against BYU in the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego.