Bowl-der Dash sprints from D.C. to Miami

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news this college football bowl season (Michigan [1] bowl tickets sold … whoops, never mind):

Before The Dash runs through the predictions that are GUARANTEED* to help you win your bowl pool (*if you're competing against a pack of ferrets), let's send consolation fruit baskets to the Feeble 51 FBS teams that didn't earn bowl bids.

In a time when more than half the membership goes bowling, the Feeble 51 should feel especially bad. Don't bother with the "we were three plays away from being 6-6" rationalizations. You probably also were three plays away from losing two more games.

Just admit it: You're lousy football teams.

But you don't have to stay lousy forever. Look at Vanderbilt (2), which has stumbled into its first bowl since 1982. If the Commodores can reach the postseason, everyone can. Better luck next year, Feeble 51 -- and you, too, Western Kentucky (3), which will be eligible to compete for a bowl bid for the first time.

Now on to the picks:

Wake Forest vs. Navy
Saturday, 11 a.m. ET (ESPN)
Washington, D.C.

Why watch: Not for the aerial circus. Wake ran it 108 more times than it threw, and then there is Navy. The Midshipmen ran it 667 times this season (second-most in the nation) and threw it 86 times (by far the fewest in the nation).

40-second analysis: The bad news for the Middies is that Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe came up with the option offense as an assistant at Air Force and has coached plenty of option ball at Ohio and with the Demon Deacons. So Navy's normal element of unfamiliarity should be lacking. But Wake's offense hasn't exactly been lighting it up: The last time the Deacons hit 30 in regulation was Sept. 6 at Baylor.

Dash pick: Wake Forest 21, Navy 16.

Colorado State vs. Fresno State
Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Albuquerque, N.M.

Why watch: To see what a New Mexico Bowl looks like without New Mexico in it. The hometown Lobos played in the only two previous installments.

40-second analysis: Both teams were 1-5 against '08 bowl opponents, with the two victories coming way back in September (Fresno over Rutgers, CSU over Houston). The Rams established themselves as the Mountain West Conference middlemen, losing to the four teams that finished better than they did (Utah, BYU, TCU and Air Force) and beating the four that finished worse (UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico and Wyoming). Fresno did much the same thing, beating the nonbowling members of the Western Athletic Conference (Idaho, Utah State, New Mexico State and San Jose State) and losing to the rest (Boise State, Nevada, Louisiana Tech and Hawaii). Give the edge to the middle-of-the-pack team from the better league.

Dash pick: Colorado State 28, Fresno State 24.

Memphis vs. South Florida
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
St. Petersburg, Fla.

Why watch: To see the tortured facial expressions of Bulls coach Jim Leavitt (7). And to see what football looks like in America's dreariest baseball dome.

40-second analysis: There isn't much doubt surrounding who's happier to be here -- that would be the Tigers, who started the season 0-3 and were 3-5 before rallying to reach the dizzying heights of 6-6 in Conference USA. South Florida was expecting something much more grandiose than a bus trip over the causeway from its Tampa campus -- at 7-5, the Bulls are one of the bigger disappointments of the season. But even a Big East underachiever should be plenty good enough to maul Memphis.

Dash pick: South Florida 34, Memphis 14.

BYU vs. Arizona
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Las Vegas

Why watch: Fans of change get to see the Wildcats in a bowl game for the first time in a decade. Fans of continuity get to see the Cougars in the same bowl for the fourth straight year.

40-second analysis: Arizona either won big (7-0 in games decided by two touchdowns or more) or lost close (0-5 in games decided by 10 points or fewer). BYU was 3-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less. This figures to be a close game, and the Mountain West has had a great year against Pac-10 competition -- including a New Mexico upset of Arizona -- so advantage: Cougars.

Dash pick: BYU 31, Arizona 28.

Southern Mississippi vs. Troy
Sunday, 8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
New Orleans

Why watch: Because nothing gets a football fan's blood pumping like this annual Sun Belt versus C-USA bowl showdown. That Pac 10-Big Ten Rose Bowl has got nothing on the grandson of them all.

40-second analysis: At least we're looking at two teams with momentum -- the Trojans were a fourth-quarter collapse against LSU away from bringing a four-game winning streak into this game. The Golden Eagles do have a four-game winning streak, highlighted by an upset of eventual C-USA champion East Carolina. They improved their defense dramatically down the stretch, surrendering an average of nine points during the current streak.

Dash pick: Southern Miss 24, Troy 23.

Boise State vs. TCU
Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
San Diego

Why watch: This is a legitimately great game, one fit for January but unceremoniously placed in the pre-Christmas rotation.

40-second analysis: The Dash can't wait to see who will win the battle of offense (Boise ranks 12th nationally in scoring at 39.4 points per game) against defense (TCU ranks second nationally at 10.9 points per game). Specifically, The Dash is curious to see whether the Broncos' excellent freshman quarterback, Kellen Moore, can consistently evade the Horned Frogs' relentless rush end, Jerry Hughes. This also will be the last chance to see Mr. Bended Knee himself, Boise running back Ian Johnson (11), in a college uniform.

Dash pick: TCU 26, Boise State 21.

Hawaii vs. Notre Dame
Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Why watch: Admit it. You're dying for a look at Charlie Weis in a Hawaiian shirt.

40-second analysis: The winning team has scored at least 41 points in each of the past five Hawaii Bowls. That trend doesn't bode well for the Fighting Irish, who couldn't produce 100 yards of total offense in their last game and haven't scored that many points in regulation since the ninth game of the 2006 season -- a streak of 28 straight games. This is a home game for the Warriors, who were 5-2 on the island this season; Notre Dame was 1-4 in true road games. This will be the Irish's easiest bowl game in years, but it needs to be. We all know they haven't won a bowl since quarterback Jimmy Clausen was a preschooler.

Dash pick: Hawaii 33, Notre Dame 30.

Florida Atlantic vs. Central Michigan
Dec. 26, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Why watch: To count empty Ford Field seats -- the over/under on FAU fans who left South Florida to spend Christmas in balmy Detroit has been set at eight. Or to see whether Owls coach Howard Schnellenberger (14) can extend his lifetime perfect bowl record as a head coach -- he's currently 5-0 at three different schools, including last year's New Orleans Bowl triumph.

40-second analysis: These two heavy favorites to win their respective conferences instead fell short and wound up here. This has to be the first bowl game ever to match two teams that were involved in 100-plus-point games to close the regular season -- Central Michigan was shocked 56-52 by Eastern Michigan, and FAU beat rival Florida International 57-50. If that's any indication, expect a whole lot of touchdowns in this game.

Dash pick: Central Michigan 43, Florida Atlantic 37.

West Virginia vs. North Carolina

Dec. 27, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Charlotte, N.C.

Why watch: Last chance to see Pat White, one of the fastest quarterbacks in college football history, play for the Mountaineers.

40-second analysis: The Tar Heels might have won the ACC had they avoided some key injuries, while West Virginia failed to fulfill its preseason billing as the heavy favorite to win the Big East. Together they'll give us some insight into who might win the Big East-ACC tussle in the Orange Bowl between Cincinnati and Virginia Tech.

Dash pick: West Virginia 24, North Carolina 19.

Wisconsin vs. Florida State
Dec. 27, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Orlando, Fla.

Why watch: Fans of alliteration will enjoy the coaching matchup of Bobby Bowden versus Bret Bielema.

40-second analysis: The Seminoles have been the picture of inconsistency in the last half of the regular season -- beat eventual ACC champion Virginia Tech by 10, lost to Georgia Tech by three, beat Clemson by 14, lost to Boston College by 10, beat Maryland by 34, lost to Florida by 30. By that measure, they're due to lay a whuppin' on the Badgers. But Bucky has righted the ship a bit after a four-game losing streak soured the season.

Dash pick: Florida State 32, Wisconsin 28.

Miami vs. California
Dec. 27, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
San Francisco

Why watch: For signals that the Hurricanes are serious about a comeback to contender status. A victory here would be a nice ending to Year 2 under Randy Shannon and might signal an impending breakthrough in Year 3.

40-second analysis: The Golden Bears have been great at home all year, going 7-0 and winning by an average of three touchdowns. This is a de facto home game in the Bay Area. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, were hammered for 79 points and 957 yards in their last two games, losses to Georgia Tech and NC State. Expect a steady dose of speedy Jahvid Best until the Hurricanes prove they can stop him.

Dash pick: Cal 35, Miami 17.

Northern Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech

Dec. 28, 8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Shreveport, La.

Why watch: To see whether the old reliable I-Bowl, faithfully soldiering on far-off-Broadway, can produce a fifth straight game decided by a touchdown or less.

40-second analysis: Jerry Kill has done great work in his first year at NIU, taking a 2-10 team in 2007 to the postseason this time around. The Huskies' six losses all were to either bowl teams or BCS conference teams, and only one (a 45-14 loss to Ball State) was a blowout. Four of Tech's five losses were against bowl teams, but the fifth was damning -- 14-7 at Army. Even with a relative home-field advantage, Tech is a deserving underdog.

Dash pick: Northern Illinois 17, Louisiana Tech 16.

NC State vs. Rutgers
Dec. 29, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Birmingham, Ala.

Why watch: To see two of the hottest teams in the country and two quarterbacks at the opposite ends of the college-experience spectrum -- Rutgers senior Mike Teel in his last game versus NC State freshman Russell Wilson. This is the most interesting game in this bowl's three-year history.

40-second analysis: The Wolfpack have won four straight, the last three against bowl teams. The Scarlet Knights have won six straight, the last five of them all by 18 points or more. Rutgers' offense has scored 30 or more in five straight games after failing to score more than 23 points against FBS competition through the first seven games. That's a reflection on Teel's improved play, while the Pack have responded to freshman Wilson down the stretch.

Dash pick: Rutgers 42, North Carolina State 27.

Missouri vs. Northwestern

Dec. 29, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
San Antonio

Why watch: To see which high-powered journalism school's alumni get to chest-bump in the press box. And for your last glimpse of Chase Daniel and, in all likelihood, Jeremy Maclin, in Missouri uniforms.

40-second analysis: Given preseason expectations, one school overachieved to get here (Northwestern) and one underachieved (Missouri). They also arrive with different strengths. These are not the no-defense Wildcats of recent vintage -- they've held nine of 12 opponents to 21 points or fewer, a direct reflection of coach Pat Fitzgerald's linebacker lineage. That defense will take on a Mizzou offense that has scored 31 or more points in 11 of 13 games.

Dash pick: Missouri 44, Northwestern 28.

Maryland vs. Nevada

Dec. 30, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Boise, Idaho

Why watch: Because we all need a little blue turf in our holidays.

40-second analysis: No team in America has been harder to predict than the Terrapins, who have been the poster turtles for the enigmatic ACC. Nevada hasn't been much more consistent, never winning or losing more than two in a row. But since a bad midseason loss to New Mexico State, the Wolf Pack have played well. And you have to question Maryland's motivational level traveling across the country to play an off-brand opponent in likely frigid weather.

Dash pick: Nevada 28, Maryland 26.

Western Michigan vs. Rice

Dec. 30, 8 p.m. ET

Why watch: To see history. Either the Owls will earn their first bowl win in 54 years, or the Broncos will earn their first bowl win ever.

40-second analysis: This is a matchup of two high-powered offenses led by two prolific senior receivers -- Jarett Dillard of Rice (more than 4,000 career receiving yards and 59 touchdowns) versus Jamarko Simmons of Western Michigan (182 receptions in the past two seasons alone). Rice is playing in its hometown, which has to help, but you still wonder how many fans will be in cavernous Reliant Stadium for this one.

Dash pick: Rice 47, Western Michigan 41.

Oklahoma State vs. Oregon

Dec. 30, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
San Diego

Why watch: The Holiday Bowl is the traditional kickoff of the serious bowl games -- although that title has been usurped this season by its in-town cousin, the Poinsettia.

40-second analysis: "O" stands for Oregon, Oklahoma State and offense. The Ducks broke 60 points three times and scored 30 or more in 10 of 12 games. The Cowboys broke 50 five times and scored 30 or more nine times. But both move the ball the old-fashioned way, on the ground. Oregon ranks fourth nationally in rushing offense, Oklahoma State ranks seventh. Whichever defense can get a couple of stops and/or generate a couple of turnovers should rule the day.

Dash pick: Oregon 37, Oklahoma State 35.

Houston vs. Air Force

Dec. 31, noon ET (ESPN)
Fort Worth, Texas

Why watch: For the clash of wildly divergent styles. The Cougars have the second-ranked passing offense in the nation; the Falcons have the fifth-ranked rushing offense.

40-second analysis: First-year Houston coach Kevin Sumlin picked up where Art Briles left off, guiding the Cougars to their fourth straight bowl appearance. Air Force coach Troy Calhoun has the Falcons bowling for the second time in his two years at the school. Air Force hasn't won a bowl since 2000, but that's an eyeblink compared to Houston, which hasn't won one since beating Navy in the 1980 Garden State Bowl.

Dash pick: Houston 41, Air Force 34.

Oregon State vs. Pittsburgh
Dec. 31, 2 p.m. ET
El Paso, Texas

Why watch: To see two stud running backs go at it -- LeSean McCoy of Pitt and Jacquizz Rodgers of Oregon State. (Here's hoping Rodgers' shoulder injury is sufficiently healed for him to be at 100 percent.)

40-second analysis: McCoy & Co. have to be salivating after watching Oregon trample the Beavers for 385 rushing yards and 694 yards total with the Rose Bowl on the line for the losers. The question is whether the plummet from Pasadena to El Paso has taken the enthusiasm out of Beaver Nation. Know this: The Panthers haven't played many chumps to get here; nine of their 12 opponents are in bowl games.

Dash pick: Pitt 25, Oregon State 23.

Boston College vs. Vanderbilt

Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Nashville, Tenn.

Why watch: To see the Commodores playing football in late December. Doesn't happen often (three times previously, none since '82).

40-second analysis: Not bad work getting here for two teams the estimable Phil Steele picked to finish low in their respective six-team divisions (fifth for BC, sixth for Vandy). The Eagles never lose bowl games (eight straight wins this decade). The Commodores never go to bowl games and stopped playing good football months ago when the turnovers quit trickling in. Advantage: BC.

Dash pick: Boston College 21, Vanderbilt 13.

Kansas vs. Minnesota

Dec. 31, 5:30 p.m. ET
Tempe, Ariz.

Why watch: The Gophers tend to play must-see bowl TV. Their past four bowls have been decided by a total of 11 points -- including a collapse against Texas Tech in 2006 that was so complete and spectacular it cost coach Glen Mason his job.

40-second analysis: Divergent mindsets converge in the desert. Kansas is down several notches from last year's Orange Bowl season but comes in off the high of upsetting archrival Missouri to end the regular season. Minnesota is thrilled to be bowling but also reeling from losing its last four games of the fall. Massive postseason-experience edge to Kansas.

Dash pick: Kansas 44, Minnesota 22.

LSU vs. Georgia Tech

Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Why watch: Because the alternative is putting a stupid New Year's hat on your head and an air horn in your mouth.

40-second analysis: LSU players will look better in their sweats and in uniform, but we'll see what happens when they kick the ball off. For a Tigers defense that has disappointed far too often this season, here comes the ultimate assignment-football challenge -- tackle the right guy and the right time in Paul Johnson's triple-option attack. LSU fans have to hope that the weeks of time to prepare for this game will have allowed the Tigers to shore up their miserable quarterback play.

Dash pick: Georgia Tech 30, LSU 23.

South Carolina vs. Iowa

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

Why watch: Because it might be the best chance to see the Big Ten win a bowl game. And to watch Shonn Greene take on a pretty tough run defense.

40-second analysis: How will they answer the opening bell? Iowa has allowed only a single first-quarter field goal in its current three-game winning streak, while the Gamecocks have been outscored 31-0 in the first quarter during its current two-game losing streak. Potential drinking game for those not dealing with a crippling hangover: Take a drink every time Steve Spurrier changes quarterbacks. You could be smashed after three possessions.

Dash pick: Iowa 27, South Carolina 20.

Georgia vs. Michigan State

Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET (ABC)
Orlando, Fla.

Why watch: Two great running backs (Knowshon Moreno of Georgia and Javon Ringer of Michigan State) get to compare stiff-arms and sidesteps. And the second Big Ten-SEC matchup of New Year's Day could be key to conference bragging rights.

40-second analysis: The Bulldogs might be the most unhappy 9-3 team in America after starting the season ranked No. 1. The Spartans are tickled to be 9-3 after entering the year with modest expectations. But attitude isn't everything, and anyone who saw Michigan State get trampled by Ohio State and Penn State knows this is a very flawed team. If Georgia shows up, Georgia rolls.

Dash pick: Georgia 34, Michigan State 16.

Nebraska vs. Clemson

Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET
Jacksonville, Fla.

Why watch: To feel the 27-year-old nostalgia dating to the last time these two met in a bowl game, when Clemson won 22-15 on the way to its only national championship. Homer Jordan, anyone?

40-second analysis: In what surely has to be the first Dabo versus Bo coaching matchup in college football history, the unit most in need of proving itself is Nebraska's defense. It has surrendered 28 or more points in seven of its past nine outings, not all of them against the elite offensive units of the Big 12. Clemson's offense is nowhere near elite, but it's capable of scoring four touchdowns. Which should be enough.

Dash pick: Clemson 29, Nebraska 26.

Penn State vs. USC
Jan. 1, 4:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Pasadena, Calif.

Why watch: There is nothing not to like about this matchup, from the traditions to the coaches to the setting to the slobber-knocking defenses. Should be awesome.

40-second analysis: The Trojans' ridiculous defense is the trump card here. If the Nittany Lions can figure out a way to score 21 or more points, the obsequious Penn State administration ought to give Press Box Joe Paterno another three-year extension and tell him he doesn't need to name a successor until he turns 100.

Dash pick: USC 23, Penn State 10.

Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech

Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET

Why watch: To see the unprecedented: Cincinnati in a BCS bowl. And to jog the memories of the two living people who remember the last Bearcats-Hokies bowl matchup -- the 1947 Sun Bowl, won by the Nati 18-6.

40-second analysis: Both teams made it work with contingency quarterbacks -- Cincy with former fourth-stringer Tony Pike and Virginia Tech with a guy who started the season redshirting, sophomore Tyrod Taylor. Who knows? Maybe Brian Kelly will become the Frank Beamer of Cincinnati -- staying put and building a big winner where one hadn't existed before. Or maybe he'll bug out for Notre Dame next year if Weis gets fired.

Dash pick: Cincinnati 23, Virginia Tech 20.

Ole Miss vs. Texas Tech
Jan. 2, 2 p.m. ET

Why watch: To see whether the Red Raiders are depressed to be in Dallas or angry enough to score 60. And to see how former Texas schoolboy star and former Longhorn Jevan Snead handles the homecoming.

40-second analysis: The intangibles tilt the Rebels' way -- they should be the more enthusiastic team, and they're riding a five-game winning streak capped by a detonation of their archrival. Meanwhile, Tech coach Mike Leach must be stunned to still be coaching in Lubbock, quarterback Graham Harrell is coming off finger surgery and wide receiver Michael Crabtree can't walk five feet without being asked whether he's going pro. Upset special?

Dash pick: Yep, upset special. Mississippi 35, Texas Tech 34.

Kentucky vs. East Carolina
Jan. 2, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Memphis, Tenn.

Why watch: To see the Wildcats play in their third straight bowl game, which last happened when Paul Bryant was their coach in the early 1950s.

40-second analysis: The Pirates were a plus-six in turnover margin in the C-USA championship game -- but still won by only three points. Make of that what you will. Kentucky isn't likely to give the ball away that many times, but neither is it likely to move the ball very often or very far. Don't expect major offensive firepower here.

Dash pick: East Carolina 20, Kentucky 14.

Utah vs. Alabama

Jan. 2, 8 p.m. ET
New Orleans

Why watch: To see whether Kyle Whittingham will make a name -- a real name -- for himself. Beating Nick Saban to join Urban Meyer as coach of an undefeated Utah team would do the trick.

40-second analysis: The Utes have had a great season. But the Utes haven't seen brutes like Bama noseguard Terrance Cody, offensive tackle Andre Smith and wide receiver Julio Jones. Expect Utah's defense to hang in there, but the offense could be overmatched despite the excellent play of QB Brian Johnson this year.

Dash pick: Alabama 28, Utah 10.

Buffalo vs. Connecticut

Jan. 3, noon ET (ESPN2)

Why watch: Because you're in between BCS bowls. And feeling desperate.

40-second analysis: Donald Brown versus James Starks at least provides a compelling running back matchup. And coaches Turner Gill and Randy Edsall can chat before the game about Syracuse's attempts to hire them.

Dash pick: Buffalo 22, UConn 21.

Ohio State vs. Texas

Jan. 5, 8 p.m. ET
Glendale, Ariz.

Why watch: To see whether the scorned Longhorns can win big and state a case for an AP No. 1 vote. And to see whether the beleaguered Buckeyes can put up their first BCS fight in years.

40-second analysis: The Dash can't wait to see how much The Vest has expanded the playbook for freshman QB Terrelle Pryor in the 43 weeks since Ohio State ended the regular season. (Handy Excuse No. 1 in case the Buckeyes bomb yet again.) But keep your head on a swivel, Terrelle: Brian Orakpo is coming after you from your blind side.

Dash pick: Texas 30, Ohio State 17.

Ball State vs. Tulsa

Jan. 6, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Mobile, Ala.

Why watch: Because there will be points and passes aplenty from two proficient offenses.

40-second analysis: Ball State's fairy-tale season unraveled rapidly, starting with the upset loss to Buffalo in the MAC title game, then with the somewhat startling decision of coach Brady Hoke to bolt for San Diego State. (The Dash doesn't blame him for wanting to get away from Ball State's dysfunctional administration, but still.) The next fracture to the fairy tale could be if junior quarterback Nate Davis enters the NFL draft -- something he has said he is considering. Tulsa had its own comeuppance after an 8-0 start but at least kept its coach, Todd Graham, even though he looked into other jobs.

Dash pick: Tulsa 48, Ball State 41.

Florida vs. Oklahoma

Jan. 8, 8 p.m. ET

Why watch: Because you've been watching since Aug. 28 just to get to this one.

40-second analysis: This matchup doesn't lack for much: two monster programs that have never faced each other; two coaches seeking to be the first to win a second BCS title; two Heisman Trophy quarterbacks. What more could you want, other than Texas in Oklahoma's place? (OK, OK, The Dash is moving on.) No way will the Sooners continue their streak of scoring 60 per game. The question is whether they can score half that while containing Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and all the rest of Florida's speed. The answer: not quite. SEC commissioner Mike Slive will watch his league win a third straight national title, Meyer will move to the top rung of his profession and Tebow will turn his attention to fixing the nation's economy. It's great, once again, to be a Florida Gator.

Dash pick: Florida 31, Oklahoma 28.

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