The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. The Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl. The Ikea Monkey Bowl. The TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl. The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Only one of those is fake.
There are 35 college football bowl games played from Dec. 15 to Jan. 7. That’s 35 hours of gridiron action and more than 400 minutes of halftime bloviating.
For some, it’s not enough. The bowl games are a culmination of a year of crunching statistics, Saturday tailgating, and contorting faces in agony. For the rest of us, it’s a time of reflection: Oklahoma’s good, right? Does Tostitos still make chips? Is this really the only thing on television on New Year’s Day?
Here, a highly unscientific primer on the best bowl games.
Discover BCS Championship Game, Notre Dame (12-0) vs. Alabama (12-1) When: Jan. 7, Miami
Storyline: The BCS, or Bowl Championship Series, historically has ticked off fans because of its ability to gyp good teams of a chance to play on a national level. (That’s why they’re moving to a four-team playoff for the 2014 season.) This season, however, there’s no argument. Notre Dame and Alabama are ranked 1 and 2 in virtually every poll, and undefeated Notre Dame takes on ’Bama, a team shooting for its third championship in four years.
Mascot matchup: Leading the Alabama Crimson Tide is Big Al, a jersey-wearing elephant. Big Al is a shape-shifter of sorts: in cartoon form he can look fierce or refined, like Babar; when plush he’s rather cuddly. Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish are repped by a balding leprechaun ready for fisticuffs. Sometimes he brandishes a club.
Edge: Alabama. You have to lose sometime, don’t you? Fifteen thousand–pound pachyderms trump earnest leprechauns.
AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, Texas A&M (10-2) vs. Oklahoma (10-2)
When: Jan. 4, Arlington, Texas
Storyline: Twenty-year-old Johnny Manziel led Texas A&M to an epic victory over Alabama at the end of the year. Now the Heisman winner looks to cap his monster season with a bowl victory against Oklahoma.
Mascot matchup: The Texas A&M Aggies (which means “agricultural school”) are represented by Reveille, a cute dog. The school is currently on Reveille VIII, and all iterations have been female. A Sooner is a person who ran for land back in the day in Oklahoma. The university’s mascot, however, is the Sooner Schooner, a wagon pulled by white ponies. White ponies named Boomer and Sooner, that is.
Edge: Texas A&M. Can’t bet against Manziel and Reveille.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1)
When: Jan. 3, Glendale, Ariz.
Storyline: In the only game named after a chip, fourth-ranked Oregon’s explosive offensive meets fifth-ranked Kansas State and quarterback Collin Klein—a Heisman finalist nicknamed “the Tim Tebow of the Midwest.”
Mascot matchup: The Oregon Ducks are led by, er, the Duck. He suffers from the plush curse as well—fierce on paper, but undeniably huggable on the field. The Kansas State Wildcats, meanwhile, are protected by a Thundercats-inspired Willie the Wildcat. He has a horrifying gray head on top of a human body.
Edge: Kansas State. No one messes with God. And anyway, “the Duck” is sometimes nicknamed Puddles.
Allstate Sugar Bowl, Florida (11-1) vs. Louisville (10-2)
When: Jan. 2, New Orleans
Storyline: Defensive machine Florida attempts to shut down 21st-ranked Louisville. If that’s not dramatic enough, Louisville’s head coach used to be the defensive coordinator for Florida. Soap opera, anyone? Mascot matchup: The Florida Gators have Albert and Alberta, happily married middle-aged alligators. The Louisville Cardinals are led by Louie, the Cardinal Bird. He even scowls in plush form.
Edge: Florida. Alligators eat cardinals. Albert and Alberta are America’s mascot. Oh yeah, Florida’s better too.
** The Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio, Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5)
When: Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif.
Storyline: In one of the best-known bowl games (nothing says Jan. 1 like the Rose Parade), No. 6 Stanford takes on Wisconsin. Despite lighting up Nebraska for 70 points in the Big Ten championship, Wisconsin is the first ever five-loss team to play in the famed bowl game. Stanford will look to avenge its 2000 Rose Bowl loss to Wisconsin.
Mascot matchup: Stanford’s nickname is the Cardinal (the color, not the bird), but its unofficial mascot is the Stanford Tree. The Wisconsin Badgers are piloted by Buckingham U. Badger, who goes by Bucky. He’s a striped turtleneck-wearing badger with a serious mean streak.
Edge: Stanford. Despite Stanford’s botanical shortcomings, Bucky’s turtleneck and Wisconsin’s record give this win to the West Coast.
Outback Bowl, South Carolina (10-2) vs. Michigan (8-4)
When: Jan. 1, Tampa Storyline: This could get ugly. In this SEC versus Big Ten matchup, powerhouse South Carolina goes up against Ann Arbor’s finest. Eighteenth-ranked Michigan might be 8-4, but its road record is 1-4.
Mascot matchup: The South Carolina Gamecocks—named after a rooster pure- bred to beat the crap out of other roosters—are captained by Cocky. He’s a pudgy bird whose sweater resembles a skirt. That said, the Michigan Wolverines don’t have an actual mascot.
Edge: South Carolina. Cocky lives up to his name.
Chick-fil-A Bowl, LSU (10-2) vs. Clemson (10-2)
When: Dec. 31, Atlanta
Storyline: Louisiana State is known for its defense. Clemson’s known for its offense. In this rumble of No. 8 versus 14, Clemson looks to avenge a 70–33 embarrassment in its last bowl game. LSU, meanwhile, will look to avoid disappointing its millions of rabid fans. Again.
Mascot matchup: In this battle of tiger against tiger, LSU has Mike, a generally nondescript feline. Clemson has “the Tiger,” who has terrifying yellow and black eyes and looks as though he’s tripping out on something.
Edge: Clemson. Google “Clemson the Tiger.” Just do it.