Date: Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET on ESPN
Location: Pasadena, California | Rose Bowl
Best moment: The Cardinal saved their best for last, at least when it came to the regular season. They locked into a fierce see-saw duel with then-No. 6 Notre Dame and fell behind with 30 seconds left. That’s when senior quarterback Kevin Hogan came to the rescue against the team he grew up rooting for. Hogan delivered a 27-yard strike to Devon Cajuste to set up Conrad Ukropina's 45-yard field goal as time expired. Stanford won 38-36, cemented a 10-win season and, at least a little longer, stayed alive in the hunt for the College Football Playoff.
Lowest moment: Stanford had two of these. The first came in the season opener at Northwestern, when the team delivered its worst offensive performance of the Jim Harbaugh-David Shaw era in an ugly 16-6 loss to the Wildcats. The Cardinal rebounded from that, ripping off eight straight victories to put themselves right back on the playoff track. Then two fumbled fourth-quarter snaps marred an otherwise dominant offensive performance against Oregon, and Stanford fell 38-36.
Key player: Again, there are two here. Running back Christian McCaffrey enjoys the publicity that the Heisman Trophy race brings -- and rightfully so, as he leads the country with 3,496 all-purpose yards and broke Barry Sanders’ NCAA single-season record there -- but Hogan has proved to be a critical hinge point of the offense. The quarterback is in the top 5 nationally in rating and yards per attempt, and he’s also won games with his legs.
Motivation level: Stanford didn't make it to the College Football Playoff but gets to play in the Rose Bowl. That's still an enviable situation.
-- David Lombardi
Best moment: Senior Day at night before the lone sellout crowd of the season against Minnesota was special. But nothing matched the emotion of the Hawkeyes’ walk out from their Kinnick Stadium locker room Sept. 19 as ex-Iowa star Brett Greenwood, four years removed from a life-threatening brain injury, led Iowa to face Pittsburgh. It didn’t hurt that the day was capped with a win thanks to Marshall Koehn’s sensational 57-yard, game-winning field goal.
Lowest moment: Being undefeated through the regular season, the Hawkeyes didn’t have a lot of lows, but the loss of a primary defensive leader definitely qualifies. Senior defensive end Drew Ott suffered a torn ACL in the third quarter Oct. 10 against Illinois. A ferocious pass-rusher, Ott had worked his way back from an elbow injury suffered a month earlier against Iowa State. He was lost for the season but has remained a co-captain active in team activities.
Key player: Second-team All-Big Ten quarterback C.J. Beathard made his coaches look smart for their January decision to elevate the junior ahead of two-year starter Jake Rudock. Beathard has served as the catalyst for Iowa’s offensive efficiency, throwing just three interceptions with an opponent-adjusted QBR that ranks 23rd nationally. He consistently makes plays with his arm and legs when Iowa needs him most.
Motivation level: While disappointed with the missed opportunity to make the College Football Playoff, the Hawkeyes have plenty of reasons to remain proud -- and a premier postseason destination lined up to complete what could be a program-best 13-win season. Their rise from 7-6 in 2014 to 12-1 this season was extraordinary. And after a short period to regroup, expect spirited practices and excellent focus throughout December.
-- Mitch Sherman