Hartsock: There’s plenty of excitement around bowl games

Penn State is sitting out the second year of its four-year bowl ban. Pitt is playing Bowling Green in the non-descript Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl in Detroit Dec. 26. Notre Dame is headed to the equally unheralded Pinstripe Bowl in New York City Dec. 28 to play Rutgers.

But plenty of excitement still awaits true area college football fans as the bowl season swings into full gear after the Christmas holiday.

The BCS national championship game, set for Monday night, Jan. 6, in Pasadena, Calif., promises to be a competitive one, pitting 13-0 Florida State’s high-octane offense against a 12-1 Auburn team that rung up 59 points against Missouri in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

The Rose Bowl celebrates its 100th birthday Jan. 1 with a matchup befitting such an anniversary. Big Ten Conference champion Michigan State (12-1) takes on Pac-12 titlist Stanford (11-2) in the venerable bowl game which is fondly regarded as the “Grand-daddy Of Them All.”

The Orange Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Cotton Bowl also feature interesting matchups.

Following is an analysis of this bowl season’s top games, along with dates, times and television stations on which the games will be aired:

1.) Monday, Jan. 6, BCS national championship game, Pasadena, Calif., Florida State (13-0) vs. Auburn (12-1), 8:30 p.m., ESPN: Second-ranked Auburn hopes to continue its late-season roll against a top-ranked Florida State team which has averaged 53 points per game and is coming off a 45-7 drubbing of a very good Duke team in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. Whether Auburn’s defense will be up to this challenge will be one of the biggest questions surrounding this matchup. The answer, one way or another, will determine this year’s national champion.

2.) Wednesday, Jan. 1, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif., Stanford (11-2) vs. Michigan State (12-1), 5 p.m., ESPN: Pasadena warms up for the national championship game with this historic Rose Bowl pairing between two of the nation’s best teams. Fourth-ranked Michigan State punched its first Rose Bowl ticket since 1988 by upending previously-unbeaten Ohio State in the Big Ten Conference championship game. Stanford is ranked fifth nationally. The Rose Bowl is always a centerpiece of the bowl season, but this particular matchup adds even more spice to the brew.

3.) Wednesday, Jan. 1, Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Ariz., Baylor (11-1) vs. Central Florida (11-1), 8:30 p.m., ESPN: Remember when Central Florida was a fledgling program that served as early-season non-conference cannon fodder for teams like Penn State? Not anymore. Led by highly-touted quarterback Blake Bortles, UCF has become a force to be reckoned with, and this matchup with Big 12 Conference champ Baylor pits a pair of outstanding one-loss teams that should provide a desert delicacy for fans.

4.) Friday, Jan. 3, Orange Bowl, Miami, Fla., Ohio State (12-1) vs. Clemson (10-2), 8 p.m., ESPN: Buckeyes dropped from national championship hopefuls to this slot after suffering the Big Ten Conference championship loss to Michigan State. But this year’s Orange Bowl will still stir some interest.

5.) Thursday, Jan. 2, Sugar Bowl, New Orleans, La., Alabama (11-1) vs. Oklahoma (10-2), 8:30 p.m., ESPN: Sooners’ thrilling Bedlam-rivalry road victory over Oklahoma State, coupled with ‘Bama’s Iron Bowl loss to Auburn, might render the 14-point betting line in favor of the Crimson Tide a bit inflated.

6.) Friday, Jan. 3, Cotton Bowl, Arlington, Tex., Missouri (11-2) vs. Oklahoma State (10-2), 7:30 p.m., FOX: Years ago, the Cotton Bowl used to be top-tier. Years ago, so were phonograph record players and leisure suits. This game still attracts some decent teams, though, and this year’s matchup will feature two of them.

John Hartsock can be reached at jhartsock@altoonamirror.com