Dashing through the bowls

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news this bowl season (Orange Pride [1] hostess itineraries sold separately):

A lot has happened since we last convened. Brian Kelly fled his undefeated team, with flying eggs chasing him north from Cincinnati to South Bend. The Bearcats responded to yet another coaching desertion with yet another raid of Central Michigan. Charlie Weis threw a cheap parting shot at Pete Carroll. Black head coaches were hired in unprecedented numbers. Mack Brown has been fitted for platinum underwear.

And Dashette Kendra Wilkinson (2) gave birth.

But enough rehash. It's the holidays, you're busy, and you want to get to The Dash's bowl picks, either to copy them in hopes of winning your bowl pool, or to go the opposite way on all of them in hopes of winning your bowl pool. Pick your poison.

Look on in awe …

New Mexico Bowl

Fresno State vs. Wyoming
Dec. 19, Albuquerque, N.M. (ESPN, 4:30 ET)

Why to watch: You can't see them all if you don't see the first. And to see the nation's leading rusher, Ryan Mathews (3) of Fresno, who averages 151 yards per game. And, of course, to see the biker 'stache of Pat Hill (4).

Who's happier to be there: The Cowboys are playing in their first bowl game since 2004, and just their second since 1993. They're the lowest-ranked bowl team, according to Jeff Sagarin's computer, checking in at No. 99.

Moderately useful Dash fact: The Mountain West representative has won the past two New Mexico Bowls against the Western Athletic rep.

Completely useless Dash fact: Every year the teams compete in the Chili Bowl, making a green chili stew at El Pinto restaurant for taste-testing judges. The winner of the Chili Bowl has never won the New Mexico Bowl, so athlete-cooks are advised to spoil the broth.

Dash pick: Fresno State 45, Wyoming 17.

St. Petersburg Bowl presented by Beef 'O' Brady's

Central Florida vs. Rutgers
Dec. 19, St. Petersburg, Fla. (ESPN, 8 ET)

Why to watch: To see Greg Schiano manically chop wood as his 99th-ranked offense tries to figure out how to move the ball against the No. 4 rushing defense in the country. UCF averages more than three sacks per game (fifth-best in the country), and the Scarlet Knights' freshman quarterback Tom Savage (5) has been hit like an Isleworth fire hydrant this season.

Who's happier to be there: Rutgers, if only for the chance to flee Piscataway.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Rutgers leads the nation in turnover margin (plus-20). UCF is 16th (plus-8).

Completely useless Dash fact: Neither school has ever played in a Florida bowl game.

Dash pick: UCF 21, Rutgers 19.

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl

Southern Mississippi vs. Middle Tennessee
Dec. 20, New Orleans (ESPN, 8:30 ET)

Why to watch: For one last look at an underappreciated gem: Southern Miss' Damion Fletcher, the career active leading rusher in FBS with 5,224 yards in four seasons. And to see the captain of The Dash's all-name team, Middle Tennessee quarterback Dwight Dasher (6). (If you can't figure that one out, The Dash has a tutor waiting to assist you.)

Who's happier to be there: The Blue Raiders, in their first bowl since 2006 and second ever as an FBS school. While nobody is ever bored by a trip to New Orleans, Southern Miss has been there three other times since 2003, including last year.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Middle Tennessee is fairly lousy at special teams, ranking 82nd in punt returns and 96th in both net punting and kickoff returns.

Completely useless Dash fact: MT coach Rick Stockstill may or may not be nominated for an Academy Award for his riveting portrayal of a travel agent in this Web video.

Dash pick: Middle Tennessee 35, Southern Miss 31.

MAACO Bowl Las Vegas

Oregon State vs. BYU
Dec. 22, Las Vegas (ESPN, 8 ET)

Why to watch: Two stud running backs with different styles but similar production. BYU's Harvey Unga is a 239-pound power back with three 1,000-yard seasons in three years. Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers is a 193-pound darter with two 1,000-yard seasons in two years.

Who's happier to be there: Tough call. The fifth straight Las Vegas Bowl might be fatiguing for the Cougars, but the Beavers were a game away from the Rose Bowl. Slight advantage to BYU.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Oregon State coach Mike Riley (7) is 5-0 in bowl games.

Completely useless Dash fact: The first FBS overtime game was played in the Las Vegas Bowl in 1995: Toledo 40, Nevada 37.

Dash pick: Oregon State 37, BYU 28.

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl

Utah vs. California
Dec. 23, San Diego (ESPN, 8 ET)

Why to watch: To see what Cal's dynamic backup running back Shane Vereen (8) will do, since Jahvid Best won't be returning from the concussion that sidelined him in November.

Who's happier to be there: Has to be the Utes. Cal began the season at No. 12 and needed only to beat Washington to close the regular season and get a bid to the more established Sun Bowl or more nearby Emerald Bowl. Instead, the Bears were mauled by the Huskies, dropped down the pecking order and wound up here.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Utah has won eight straight bowl games in seven different bowls against opponents from six difference conferences (WAC, Pac-10, C-USA twice, Big East, ACC, SEC, plus an independent) with three different head coaches.

Completely useless Dash fact: Nobody has made a field goal of 40 yards or longer in the four-year history of the Poinsettia Bowl.

Dash pick: Utah 24, California 21.

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl

Nevada vs. SMU
Dec. 24, Honolulu (ESPN, 8 ET)

Why to watch: To see June Jones (9) come home. The former Hawaii coach will probably be looking around and wondering why he left paradise for Dallas -- until he remembers SMU is paying him enough to come back and visit whenever he wants in the offseason.

Who's happier to be there: SMU by a landslide. The Wolf Pack travel here every other year for a WAC game. Meanwhile, the Mustangs haven't been bowling since 1984. They would have been happy with Fort Worth, but lucked into Hawaii. Life is good.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick (10) has been great only when nobody's watching this season. Against Notre Dame, Missouri and Boise State, he never ran for 60 yards or threw for 150. In Nevada's other nine games, Kaepernick ran for 60 eight times and threw for 150 six times. But he's thrown just one interception since Sept. 19.

Completely useless Dash fact: SMU's previous bowl game was in Hawaii as well: a 27-20 victory over Notre Dame during the cheatin' '80s heyday.

Dash pick: Nevada 48, SMU 41.

Little Caesars Bowl

Marshall vs. Ohio
Dec. 26, Detroit (ESPN, 1 ET)

Why to watch: To get away from annoying relatives and fixing children's toys the day after Christmas.

Who's happier to be there: Both should be tickled … well, as tickled as you can be when you're spending Christmas in Detroit. Bobcats' first bowl game within comfortable driving distance in school history; Thundering Herd's first bowl game since 2004, and first within comfortable driving distance since 2000.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Marshall (11) excels at nothing. The Thundering Herd do not rank higher than 47th in any major statistical categories and are 59th or lower in 16 of 17 categories.

Completely useless Dash fact: Fans looking for a hotel stay of two or more nights might consider buying a house in Detroit. Roughly the same cost.

Dash pick: Ohio 20, Marshall 17.

Meineke Car Care Bowl

Pittsburgh vs. North Carolina
Dec. 26, Charlotte, N.C. (ESPN, 4:30 ET)

Why to watch: Any opportunity to see Panthers freshman running back Dion Lewis should not be missed. Especially running against the top-10 rush defense of the Tar Heels.

Who's happier to be there: Has to be the Heels. They get a virtual home game against a team that was one point away from playing in a BCS bowl.

Moderately useful Dash fact: UNC quarterback T.J. Yates (12) threw for more than 300 yards in both the second and third college games of his career, in 2007. In the next 28 games he's played, he's never had another 300-yard performance.

Completely useless Dash fact: The saying is that if Mama ain't happy, nobody's happy, but the Meineke Bowl makes sure Mama stays happy. Spouses of coaches and other athletic personnel get their own holiday party Dec. 22, a spa visit Dec. 23 and a shopping trip Dec. 24.

Dash pick: Pittsburgh 24, North Carolina 22.

Emerald Bowl

Boston College vs. USC
Dec. 26, San Francisco (ESPN, 8 ET)

Why to watch: To see whether the Trojans mail it in. And to see whether the notoriously uninterested Eagles fans travel across country the day after Christmas in numbers great enough to fill a cable car.

Who's happier to be there: BC, you think? The Trojans have been a monster bowl team under Pete Carroll (13) (6-2, with all the wins by a minimum of two touchdowns), but they're accustomed to BCS bowls. The Dash figures there's a good chance USC arrives in full sulk mode after a dismal season.

Moderately useful Dash fact: According to Phil Steele's 2009 College Football Preview ratings, Boston College does not have a single player who was in the national top 20 prospects at his position coming out of high school. USC has 50. Yes, 50.

Completely useless Dash fact: This is USC's ninth straight bowl bid. And BC's 11th straight.

Dash pick: USC 17, Boston College 9.

Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl

Kentucky vs. Clemson
Dec. 27, Nashville, Tenn. (ESPN, 8:30 ET)

Why to watch: To see the old lion (68-year-old Kentucky coach Rich Brooks) match wits with the young cub (first-year Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney). And to see whether Clemson's C.J. Spiller (14) does better as a senior against the Wildcats in the Music City Bowl than he did as a freshman against the Wildcats in the Music City Bowl (eight touches, 72 pedestrian yards).

Who's happier to be there: Neither should be overjoyed. Clemson was close to its first BCS bid before losing late to Georgia Tech in the ACC title game. Kentucky had its eyes on a Florida bowl until the annual season-ending loss to Tennessee relegated it to the Music City for the third time in four years. But the Wildcats should have a distinct fan advantage in nearby Nashville.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Kentucky has not surrendered a kick-return touchdown this season. Spiller has taken five to the house this year (four kickoff, one punt) and eight in his career.

Completely useless Dash fact: Brooks was in the fifth year of his coaching career when Swinney was born.

Dash pick: Clemson 28, Kentucky 27.

AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl

Texas A&M vs. Georgia
Dec. 28, Shreveport, La. (ESPN, 5 ET)

Why to watch: To see what Aggies quarterback Jerrod Johnson -- who lit up Texas' stout defense for 342 passing yards and four touchdowns -- can do to a Georgia unit under new management after it ranked 90th in pass efficiency defense. And, conversely, to see what a Georgia offense that averaged 32 points per game in its final four games can do against an Aggies D that gave up 30 or more points eight times.

Who's happier to be there: Texas A&M, which is playing closer to home and much less inclined to look at the dowdy I-Bowl as a disappointing destination.

Moderately useful Dash fact: The Aggies surrendered 48 points per game away from Kyle Field this year.

Completely useless Dash fact: Georgia is in no hurry to name an heir to the late UGA VII (15) and will somehow muddle through this game without canine sideline support.

Dash pick: Georgia 41, Texas A&M 35.

EagleBank Bowl

UCLA vs. Temple
Dec. 29, Washington, D.C. (ESPN, 4:30 ET)

Why to watch: Canada could invade from the north on Christmas Eve and it would be less shocking than the sight of Temple in a bowl game. Tune in just to make sure it's not all a giant hoax.

Who's happier to be there: The Owls, by a light-year or two. Last bowl appearance: 1979, in the prestigious (ahem) Garden State Bowl. Only other bowl appearance for the Owls: the 1935 Sugar Bowl.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Temple (16) hasn't beaten an opponent from a big-six conference since 2004 and carries a 17-game losing streak against such teams into this game.

Completely useless Dash fact: Temple had a nine-game winning streak sandwiched between two early losses and one late. UCLA had a five-game losing streak sandwiched between three early wins and three late wins (followed by a season-ending loss to USC).

Dash pick: UCLA 23, Temple 7.

Champs Sports Bowl

Miami vs. Wisconsin
Dec. 29, Orlando, Fla. (ESPN, 8 ET)

Why to watch: After a week of teeming mediocrity, this will be the first matchup of ranked teams since the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 23.

Who's happier to be there: The Badgers and their fans are always tickled to visit Florida at this time of year, but the Hurricanes (17) are even happier. It's their first in-state bowl game since 2003.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Miami is 3-0 this year against bowl-bound nonconference opponents, and looking to go 4-0. Wisconsin hasn't beaten a team in Jeff Sagarin's top 50.

Completely useless Dash fact: Current Big Ten teams are 1-6 in this bowl.

Dash pick: Miami 27, Wisconsin 17.

Roady's Humanitarian Bowl

Bowling Green vs. Idaho
Dec. 30, Boise, Idaho (ESPN, 4:30 ET)

Why to watch: To see one of the season's biggest success stories in the team division (Idaho went from 2-10 last year to 7-5 this year) and in the player division (Bowling Green wide receiver Freddie Barnes (18) went from 364 receiving yards and zero touchdown catches last year to 1,551 receiving yards and 16 TD catches this year). And both teams are good in the clutch: They're a combined 6-0 in games decided by four points or fewer.

Who's happier to be there: The Vandals are overjoyed to (A) be in a bowl for the first time since 1998 and (B) be the de facto home team on archrival Boise State's blue turf.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Idaho's defense surrendered an average of 50 points while going 1-4 over its past five games. Bowling Green averaged 35 points while winning its past four games.

Completely useless Dash fact: If you thought it was easy to drive from Idaho's Moscow campus to Boise, think again. The best route winds through two other states (Washington and Oregon) along the way.

Dash pick: Bowling Green 47, Idaho 41.

Pacific Life Holiday Bowl

Nebraska vs. Arizona
Dec. 30, San Diego (ESPN, 8 ET)

Why to watch: Who doesn't want another look at Ndamukong Suh (19) after watching him toss Colt McCoy around like a fourth-grader in the Big 12 title game? And the quarterbacks merit watching: Arizona sophomore quarterback Nick Foles might be a rising star, while Nebraska's scatter-armed Zac Lee might throw a pass into the Pacific.

Who's happier to be there: Both teams came close to earning BCS bowl bids, but San Diego isn't a bad consolation prize. Especially if you're from Ogallala, Neb.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Expect a close one. Arizona has played 10 games decided by two scores or less, and Nebraska has played eight -- including its past seven.

Completely useless Dash fact: This is a rematch of the 1998 Holiday Bowl, won 23-20 by fifth-ranked Arizona. (That victory set up the Wildcats for a famous fall the following year, when AP picked them as the preseason No. 4 and they went 6-6.)

Dash pick: Arizona 17, Nebraska 14.

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl

Houston vs. Air Force
Dec. 31, Fort Worth, Texas (ESPN, noon ET)

Why to watch: Matchup of the nation's most prolific passing offense (Houston) against nation's stingiest pass defense (Air Force). And because a noon kickoff gives you all the excuse you need to crack open your first New Year's Eve beer.

Who's happier to be there: Tossup, since both teams were in the same place at the same time last year. But The Dash will go with Air Force (20), since the Cougars were close to winning the Conference USA championship and playing in Memphis instead.

Moderately useful Dash fact: The Falcons have returned three interceptions for touchdowns this season, and Houston has served up one pick-six.

Completely useless Dash fact: Welcome to the rubber match. This is the third time the teams have met in the past two seasons; they played twice last year, with Air Force winning in the regular season by three and Houston winning in the bowl game by six.

Dash pick: Houston 29, Air Force 23.

Brut Sun Bowl

Oklahoma vs. Stanford
Dec. 31, El Paso, Texas (CBS, 2 ET)

Why to watch: To see Toby Gerhart mash headgear with the No. 7 rushing defense in the country. And to see Jim Harbaugh and Bob Stoops compare notes at midfield pregame about who was the subject of more specious coaching rumors this month.

Who's happier to be there: The Cardinal, playing in their first bowl since 2001. Meanwhile, Oklahoma is gloomily entering its first non-BCS bowl since 2005.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Oklahoma has lost six of its past seven games outside its home state.

Completely useless Dash fact: There is a 50 percent chance the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band (21) will be involved in a border incident at the intersection of El Paso and Juarez, Mexico.

Dash pick: Stanford 23, Oklahoma 19.

Texas Bowl

Navy vs. Missouri
Dec. 31, Houston (ESPN, 3:30 ET)

Why to watch: To see two of the nation's underrated stars: Missouri wide receiver Danario Alexander (22) (leads the nation with 137 receiving yards per game, and has averaged 205 ypg the past four games) and Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs (24 rushing touchdowns, a single-season FBS record for a quarterback).

Who's happier to be there: Navy. The Midshipmen are happy to play anywhere, while the Tigers are wondering how they got skunked out of the Insight Bowl by a 6-6 Iowa State team they beat last month.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Missouri did a good job against the other dangerous running quarterback it faced, Nevada's Colin Kaepernick, holding him to 59 rushing yards and 205 yards of total offense in September. But the Navy offense is a different animal.

Completely useless Dash fact: Navy has lost three straight bowl games by a total of 14 points.

Dash pick: Missouri 31, Navy 28.

Insight Bowl

Minnesota vs. Iowa State
Dec. 31, Tempe, Ariz. (NFL Network, 6 ET)

Why to watch: Because nothing gets the party started like a matchup of 6-6 teams.

Who's happier to be there: Both teams should be happy to flee the Midwest for New Year's in the desert. But the happiness edge goes to the Cyclones, who haven't been bowling since 2005.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Iowa State (23) might be the nation's ultimate rope-a-dope defense. The Cyclones are 99th in yards allowed (414 per game) but 43rd in points allowed (22.6).

Completely useless Dash fact: Iowa State's only two victories over Minnesota came in the 19th century: 1897 and '98, to be exact. Gophers lead the all-time series 22-2-1.

Dash pick: Minnesota 24, Iowa State 17.

Chick-fil-A Bowl

Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee
Dec. 31, Atlanta (ESPN, 7:30 ET)

Why to watch: To see two power programs located about three hours apart hook up on the football field for the first time since 1994, and only the second time in the last 72 years.

Who's happier to be there: The Volunteers, who did not go bowling last year. The Hokies began the season in the top 10 and were hoping for better than this.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Hokies running back Ryan Williams (24) has scored eight touchdowns in his past 49 carries -- finding the end zone roughly once every six rushing attempts in that time.

Completely useless Dash fact: Per the Tennessee Web site, "The Orange Pride is a group whose primary duty is to promote The University of Tennessee -- its strong academic programs, its rich traditions, and its winning athletic programs -- to campus visitors and potential student athletes." And sometimes you don't even have to visit campus to enjoy Orange Pride hospitality. Go Vols!

Dash pick: Virginia Tech 20, Tennessee 10.

Outback Bowl

Northwestern vs. Auburn
Jan. 1, Tampa, Fla. (ESPN, 11 a.m. ET)

Why to watch: It's New Year's Day, and it's your solemn duty as an American to spend it watching football.

Who's happier to be there: Tough call. Northwestern is playing in its first January bowl since 1997. Auburn didn't go bowling last year. Slight edge to the Wildcats, who have a chance to defend the Big Ten's damaged rep against the SEC.

Moderately useful Dash fact: The Tigers averaged 5 yards per carry while playing the nation's No. 14 schedule, according to Sagarin. Northwestern averaged 3.1 yards per carry while playing the No. 88 schedule. But the Wildcats are the hotter team (three-game winning streak versus Auburn's two-game losing streak).

Completely useless Dash fact: When founded in 1856, Auburn's original name was the East Alabama Male College (25).

Dash pick: Auburn 30, Northwestern 21.

Konica Minolta Gator Bowl

West Virginia vs. Florida State
Jan. 1, Jacksonville, Fla. (CBS, 1 ET)

Why to watch: To see Bobby Bowden (26) saunter off into the sunset.

Who's happier to be there: Has to be the Seminoles, who scammed their way past more deserving ACC teams to play Bowden's farewell game close to home.

Moderately useful Dash fact: The Seminoles haven't held anyone to fewer than 26 points since September. Which isn't the way defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews wanted to go out.

Completely useless Dash fact: As the coach at Samford, Bobby Bowden's first college win was over Maryville (Tenn.), 14-0, on Sept. 19, 1959. He's had 387 more since then.

Dash pick: Florida State 35, West Virginia 34.

Capital One Bowl

Penn State vs. LSU
Jan. 1, Orlando, Fla. (ABC, 1 ET)

Why to watch: To see whether LSU coach Les Miles (27) calls for a quick kick with his team trailing by two in the final seconds. And to see whether the Nittany Lions can dispel The Dash's season-long belief that they're vastly overrated.

Who's happier to be there: Penn State. The warm weather should be good for Joe Paterno's joints.

Moderately useful Dash fact: LSU doesn't protect the passer well, giving up 35 sacks this season. Penn State has sacked the quarterback 35 times. Memo to Jordan Jefferson: duck.

Completely useless Dash fact: Paterno still has 11 seasons to go to match Eddie Robinson's 55 as a college head coach.

Dash pick: LSU 21, Penn State 16.

Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi

Ohio State vs. Oregon
Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif. (ABC, 4:30 ET)

Why to watch: Fabulous clash of styles as ubertraditional Buckeyes meet "Just Do It" Ducks. And Ohio State's No. 5 scoring defense meets Oregon's No. 7 scoring offense.

Who's happier to be there: Mutual thrill. Oregon is in its first Rose Bowl since 1995. But surprisingly, Ohio State hasn't been there since '97.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Oregon hasn't scored fewer than 37 points since Oct. 10, when it played in the Rose Bowl against host UCLA. Ohio State hasn't allowed 37 points since being embarrassed by Florida in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game.

Completely useless Dash fact: In two trips to Los Angeles as coach of the Buckeyes, Jim Tressel (28) has seen his teams score a total of nine points (six versus UCLA in 2001, three versus USC in 2008).

Dash pick: Oregon 28, Ohio State 21.

Allstate Sugar Bowl

Florida vs. Cincinnati
Jan. 1, New Orleans (Fox, 8:30 ET)

Why to watch: To see whether either team cares after both lost chances to play for the national title and one lost a head coach. And to see whether the Superdome roof splits open and Tim Tebow (29) ascends directly to football heaven after his final college game.

Who's happier to be there: If you're Cincinnati, it at least beats most of the school's previous bowl sites (Detroit twice, Boise, Birmingham, Forth Worth, Toronto, etc.). And the Bearcats do get a chance to measure themselves against the team that stood in the spotlight of the sport all season.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Urban Meyer is 5-1 in bowls.

Completely useless Dash fact: Cincinnati has lost six straight games in New Orleans: the 2002 New Orleans Bowl to North Texas, plus five games against Tulane. Last and only victory in the city was over the Green Wave in 1976.

Dash pick: Florida 40, Cincinnati 24.

International Bowl

South Florida vs. Northern Illinois
Jan. 2, Toronto (ESPN2, noon ET)

Why to watch: To see whether Jim Leavitt gets hands-on with his players. And to see one of The Dash's favorite coaches in name and game, the underrated Jerry Kill of Northern Illinois.

Who's happier to be there: The Huskies, by a long shot.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Northern Illinois running back Chad Spann (30) has scored 20 touchdowns on just 166 touches from scrimmage this season.

Completely useless Dash fact: Between 1946 to '65, Northern Illinois played in the Turkey Bowl, the Refrigerator Bowl and three times in the Mineral Water Bowl. Look it up.

Dash pick: South Florida 41, Northern Illinois 21.

Papajohns.com Bowl

South Carolina vs. Connecticut
Jan. 2, Birmingham, Ala. (ESPN, 2 ET)

Why to watch: To see whether the Huskies can complete their tragically compelling season with the first victory over an SEC opponent in school history.

Who's happier to be there: UConn. Because you can't find any barbecue like Dreamland in Storrs.

Moderately useful Dash fact: In the first four games of the year, the Huskies allowed 15 points per game. In the last eight they allowed 30.

Completely useless Dash fact: The last time Steve Spurrier (31) coached at Legion Field, his Florida team beat Alabama 28-13 in the second SEC championship game in 1993.

Dash pick: South Carolina 28, Connecticut 19.

AT&T Cotton Bowl

Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi
Jan. 2, Arlington, Texas (Fox, 2 ET)

Why to watch: To see the all-purpose exploits of Ole Miss' Dexter McCluster (32). And to see the best offensive tackle in college football, the Cowboys' Russell Okung (33).

Who's happier to be there: Motivation could be low. Both teams expected better bowl destinations in August and are coming off season-ending embarrassments in rivalry games: Oklahoma State was routed 27-0 by 7-5 Oklahoma, and Ole Miss lost by 14 to 5-7 Mississippi State.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Mississippi quarterback Jevan Snead's 17 interceptions tied for the most among the top 100 passers in the country.

Completely useless Dash fact: Oklahoma State's past three bowl games have seen both teams score at least 31 points.

Dash pick: Oklahoma State 34, Mississippi 31.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Arkansas vs. East Carolina
Jan. 2, Memphis, Tenn. (ESPN, 5:30 ET)

Why to watch: To check out Ryan Mallett's cannon. And to see East Carolina's underrated playmaker Dwayne Harris (34), who has scored six touchdowns receiving, five rushing and three on kickoff returns.

Who's happier to be there: The Pirates are tickled to have won the Conference USA title. The Razorbacks are excited to play what should be a de facto home game in nearby Memphis.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Who protects the ball better against opportunistic defenses? East Carolina has 33 takeaways, Arkansas 27.

Completely useless Dash fact: East Carolina has not beaten an SEC opponent this century. Then again, it's played only one: Kentucky in last year's Liberty Bowl.

Dash pick: Arkansas 33, East Carolina 24.

Valero Alamo Bowl

Michigan State vs. Texas Tech
Jan. 2, San Antonio (ESPN, 9 ET)

Why to watch: To see Michigan State tackling machine Greg Jones (35), one of the few nonsuspended Spartans. And to see what Mike Leach will do next.

Who's happier to be there: The Red Raiders should be in a much better frame of mind, playing in their home state and without any late-season drama. No brawl investigations in Lubbock, and for once Leach's name isn't burning up the coaching rumor mill.

Moderately useful Dash fact: The Spartans went 1-6 against bowl-eligible teams.

Completely useless Dash fact: The Alamo Bowl Web site lists 16 recommended Mexican food options in San Antonio.

Dash pick: Texas Tech 45, Michigan State 21.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

Boise State vs. TCU
Jan. 4, Glendale, Ariz. (Fox, 8 ET)

Why to watch: One of the game's great offensive minds (Chris Petersen) against one of the great defensive minds (Gary Patterson). One of the game's great quarterbacks (Kellen Moore [36]) against one of the great pass-rushers (Jerry Hughes). And to see which team buckles in a test of undefeated wills.

Who's happier to be there: Both held out hope of playing for it all, but this is a lovely consolation prize. TCU gets its first BCS bid, and Boise returns to the site of its greatest victory.

Moderately useful Dash fact: TCU hasn't trailed in a game since Oct. 17. Boise State hasn't trailed in a game since Oct. 14.

Completely useless Dash fact: Seven of Boise's nine bowl games have been decided by six points or less, including the past six in a row.

Dash pick: TCU 27, Boise State 24.

FedEx Orange Bowl

Georgia Tech vs. Iowa
Jan. 5, Miami (Fox, 8 ET)

Why to watch: If you enjoy assignment football, this is your game. It takes a disciplined defense to handle the Yellow Jackets' option offense, and nobody coaches a more disciplined defense than Iowa's Kirk Ferentz (37).

Who's happier to be there: Both teams should be pleased with their BCS bids. The Hawkeyes were the last at-large selection and should be extra enthusiastic.

Moderately useful Dash fact: According to ESPN Stats & Information, Georgia Tech averages 6 yards per carry when running on first down. Iowa averages 3.3 yards per carry.

Completely useless Dash fact: Georgia Tech hasn't had fewer than 50 rushing attempts in a game since Sept. 17 against Miami.

Dash pick: Georgia Tech 26, Iowa 23.


Central Michigan vs. Troy
Jan. 6, Mobile, Ala. (ESPN, 7 ET)

Why to watch: To see how the Chippewas respond to once again losing their coach to Cincinnati. And to see the quarterbacks: Central Michigan production machine Dan LeFevour and Troy's Levi Brown.

Who's happier to be there: Troy, which is playing in-state while Central Michigan is playing in a state of flux.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Troy has won nine of its past 10 games. CMU has won 11 of its past 12.

Completely useless Dash fact: Troy has campuses in 16 states and 10 countries. The Dash hears they are in a frenzy on the Vietnam campus (38) about this bowl game.

Dash pick: Troy 34, Central Michigan 28.

Citi BCS National Championship Game

Alabama vs. Texas
Jan. 7, Pasadena, Calif. (ABC, 8 ET)

Why to watch: If you need to be told, you haven't been paying attention.

Who's happier to be there: Mutual ecstasy.

Moderately useful Dash fact: Texas has played two teams in the Sagarin top 30. Alabama has played seven.

Completely useless Dash fact: Mack Brown (39) now can crush $4 million man Nick Saban (40) with his wallet.

Dash pick: Alabama 21, Texas 17.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.