Sports Challenged

The 2014 Dummies’ Guide to College Football Games

Stanford, Florida State, Baylor, Fiesta, oh my! If all the teams and game names have you confused, look no further than our New Year’s football cheat sheet—including probable winners.

01.01.14 10:45 AM ET

New Years means Champagne, “Auld Lang Syne,” and good college football. After nearly a monthlong drought after the end of the regular season, where the only games feature also-rans in obscure bowls, the days around January 1 feature the top teams in the top games. Here are the teams squaring off in the BCS bowls this year, culminating in the face-off that will decide the national championship on January 6.

Rose Bowl

Who: No. 5 Stanford (11-2) v. No. 4 Michigan State (12-1)

When: January 1, 5 p.m.

Matchup: This year marks the 100th Rose Bowl, and the traditional matchup between the Big Ten champion and the Pac-12 champion should be a good one, with Stanford aiming to win its second consecutive Rose Bowl against Michigan State, which upset Ohio State in the Big Ten championship to earn its first conference title since 1987. Both teams feature stout defenses and strong rushing attacks, but the difference may be the suspension of Michigan State senior linebacker Max Bullough for a violation of team rules. Bullough was a third-team all-American and a cornerstone of the Spartan defense.

Edge: Stanford

Fiesta Bowl

Who: No. 15 Central Florida (11-1) v. No. 6 Baylor (11-1)

When: January 1, 8:30 p.m.

Matchup: If you like high-scoring offenses, you’ll love this game. Under Coach Art Briles, Baylor has installed a high-octane, record-setting offense that spreads the field and then runs plays at a relentless pace. Central Florida can put up a lot of points too. The Knights, led by junior quarterback Blake Bortles, a likely top 10 pick in the NFL draft, won the inaugural title in the American Athletic Conference (which consists of the schools with Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the former Big East) on the strength of their formidable passing attack. But it’s unlikely that UCF can keep pace against a Baylor team that averaged 53 points a game playing in the Big 12.

Edge: Baylor

Sugar Bowl

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Who: No. 11 Oklahoma (10-2) v. No. 3 Alabama (11-1)

When: January 2, 8:30 p.m.

Matchup: Alabama came within a hair of making its third consecutive national championship game after winning in 2012 and 2013. The team’s field goal kicker missed several easy kicks in the Iron Bowl against Auburn before the Crimson Tide finally went down on a last second missed field goal return. In contrast, it’s a matter of debate whether Oklahoma is even the best team in the Sooner State. Alabama has a capable offense led by senior quarterback A.J. McCarron and perhaps the most dominating defense in college football. The only question is whether the players can stay focused for what is essentially a consolation game for them.

Edge: Alabama

Orange Bowl

Who: No. 12 Clemson (10-2) v. No. 7 Ohio State (12-1)

When: January 3, 8:30 p.m.

Matchup: Ohio State might have gone undefeated last year, but the school faced a postseason ban stemming from NCAA infractions involving players selling memorabilia and receiving discounted tattoos. (Yes, those are major crimes in the NCAA’s rulebook—as opposed to, say, doing dangerous, highly skilled work for no pay). This year, Ohio State lost the Big Ten Championship to Michigan State, but it is still a formidable team with an offense led by quarterback Braxton Miller and a dynamic running back in third team All-American Carlos Hyde. While Clemson’s offense, led by quarterback Tajh Boyd, is a pretty solid unit as well, the Tigers will likely be outmatched. And even if the game stays close, there’s a reason the term “Clemsoning” is listed in the Urban Dictionary.

Edge: Ohio State

BCS Championship

Who: No. 1 Florida State (13-0) v. No. 2 Auburn (12-1)

When: January 6, 8:30 p.m.

Matchup: Florida State, led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback (and accused rapist) Jameis Winston, was the only team in the Football Bowl Subdivision to go undefeated this year. But the Seminoles did so playing a relatively light schedule against relatively lackluster opponents. (After all, despite years of PR and realignment, the ACC is still a basketball conference.) Auburn was lucky to make the BCS championship. The Tigers beat Alabama by returning a missed field goal at the end of regulation in the Iron Bowl to earn a bid to the SEC Championship. Even then, after beating Mizzou to win the SEC, Auburn still needed Ohio State to choke the Big Ten Championship Game to become the No. 2 team in the BCS standings. Like Winston, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall is also tarred with scandal; he was kicked out of the University of Georgia for stealing money from a teammate. The difference is that Marshall is a far less accomplished passer than Winston and could face major issues if the Seminole defense can force him to throw the ball and make plays with his arm.

Edge: Florida State