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BCS bowl slate finally kicks off on New Year's Day

  • By Chase Goodbread, Dan Greenspan and Mike Huguenin NFL.com
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The bowl schedule for New Year's Day includes six games, including the first two BCS games -- the Rose Bowl and Tostito's Fiesta Bowl. Also on tap are the Gator Bowl, Heart of Dallas Bowl, Outback Bowl and Capital One Bowl.

Here's a preview of each bowl, including the top draft prospects to watch in each game.

Tostito's Fiesta Bowl

Central Florida vs. Baylor

Wednesday, Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m ET (ESPN)

The best quarterback matchup of the postseason will occur in the Fiesta Bowl when Bryce Petty and Baylor take on Blake Bortles and UCF.

Both quarterbacks are juniors. Petty already has said he will return for his senior season, and Bortles -- who has been one of the fastest-rising players in the nation this season -- has said he will make his decision after the bowl game.

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Both show up on NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt's list of quarterbacks to watch in 2014.

Petty (6-3, 230), a first-year starter, has thrown for 3,844 yards, 30 touchdowns and just two interceptions and has completed 61.8 percent of his passes; he also has rushed for 11 TDs. The Bears (11-1), winners of the Big 12 conference, lead the nation in scoring offense (53.3 points per game) and total offense (623.8 yards per game). Baylor is the only FBS school averaging at least 300 passing yards (359.3 per game) and at least 250 rushing yards (265.2 per game).

Baylor has scored 639 points and needs just 14 more to set a single-season NCAA record for most points in a 13-game season. In addition, a 631-yard outing means the Bears will set a single-season NCAA record for most yards in a 13-game season.

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Bortles (6-4, 230), in his second season as the full-time starter, has thrown for 3,280 yards, 22 TDs and seven interceptions, and owns a 68.1 completion percentage for the Knights (11-1), who won the AAC. Bortles also has five rushing touchdowns. Bortles was named AAC offensive player of the year over Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater by the league's coaches.

Bortles has guided four fourth-quarter comebacks this season for UCF, and the Knights' late rally against South Carolina came up a bit short. UCF has had issues playing down to the level of its opponents this season, but whether the UCF offense can keep up is the big question in this game. UCF scored 25 points on a solid South Carolina defense in losing by three, but the Gamecocks offense is nowhere near as explosive as Baylor's. UCF's corners can be exploited, which has to be a huge concern for the Knights' coaches.

UCF defensive coordinator Jim Fleming was hired as Rhode Island's coach, and Knights coach George O'Leary will call the defensive signals in the bowl game.

The top senior prospect in the game is Baylor All-American guard Cyril Richardson (6-5, 340). Other seniors to watch are Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon (6-0, 205), UCF defensive tackle E.J. Dunston (6-2, 302), UCF guards Jordan and Justin McCray (both 6-3, 310) and Baylor wide receiver Tevin Reese (5-10, 170). Some juniors to keep an eye on are UCF strong safety Clayton Geathers (6-2, 207), UCF tailback Storm Johnson (6-0, 215) and Baylor tailback Lache Seastrunk (5-10, 210).

Rose Bowl

Stanford vs. Michigan State

Wednesday, Jan. 1, 5 p.m ET (ESPN)

Get the cold tubs ready because the 100th Rose Bowl could be as physical as the first.

Stanford and Michigan State both rely on their punishing defenses and bruising rushing offenses, so it isn't a surprise that most of the pro potential is concentrated in those two facets of the game.

The Cardinal have a defensive front seven as good as any, led by outside linebacker Trent Murphy and inside linebacker Shayne Skov. Murphy (6-foot-6, 261 pounds) ranks second in the FBS with 14 sacks, showing a variety of pass-rush moves to go along with his quickness and power. Skov (6-3, 245) is a fiery leader and showed improved range another year removed from the knee injury that scuttled his 2011 season, finishing with 100 tackles, with 10 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.

A member of the All Veterans Parachute Team drops into the stadium with an American Flag before Armed Forces Bowl NCAA college football game between the Navy Midshipmen and the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Matt Strasen)
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Best of the bowls

Check out the best images from the 2013 college football bowl season.

Behind them in terms of publicity -- but not production -- are juniors A.J. Tarpley (6-2, 238) and James Vaughters (6-2, 254), while senior defensive end Josh Mauro (6-6, 282) ranks second on the team with 11.5 tackles for loss.

The Spartans have their own impressive collection of linebackers, but will be without senior stalwart Max Bullough, who was suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules. That puts added pressure on redshirt senior Denicos Allen (5-11 218) to be a difference-maker at the point of attack, where he has amassed 44.5 career tackles for loss, 15 coming among his 91 total tackles this season.

The most decorated defender in the Arroyo Seco, however, will be cornerback Darqueze Dennard. Despite being in the recruiting hotbed of Georgia, Dennard (5-11, 197) was largely ignored coming out of high school, save for Michigan State. All he has done is emerge as one of the true lockdown corners in the country, earn All-American honors and win the Jim Thorpe Award as the top defensive back in college football.

Dennard, who has four interceptions and 10 pass breakups this season, should see plenty of junior wide receiver Ty Montgomery (6-2, 215) but is more likely to be tested in run support.

Stanford is averaging 44.8 carries over its last seven games, relying on running back Tyler Gaffney and an offensive line with difference-makers at every position. Guard David Yankey (6-5, 313) is a true road-grader with great footwork, potentially the top interior offensive lineman if he declares for the NFL draft. Junior right tackle Cameron Fleming (6-6, 318) is a steady presence.

But the real gem is true sophomore left tackle Andrus Peat, a towering presence (6-7, 320). Injured defensive end Ben Gardner compares him favorably to former first-round picks Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro.

"I was around when DeCastro and Martin were his age, and those guys were special, but I've never seen a guy as young and as special as Andrus is," Gardner told College Football 24/7. "Really the sky is the limit for him."

Peat will be lined up against redshirt sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun, another top prospect looking ahead to 2015. Already announcing his plans to return to school next season, Calhoun (6-4, 250) exploded onto the scene with 14 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries returned for touchdowns.

"He's grown, but he still is relatively inexperienced," Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio told College Football 24/7. "13 games now. This will be his 14th game as a starter. But he still has two years left to play hopefully. Hopefully."

Capital One Bowl

Wisconsin vs. South Carolina

Wednesday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET (ABC)

Of the four early games on New Year's Day, bet on this one being the best one to watch. The line-of-scrimmage battle should be epic, as both teams paved their way to a BCS bowl largely with their play on the line of scrimmage. Wisconsin does it with a dynamic rushing tandem and a 1,000-yard receiver, while the Gamecocks move the ball any way they can, be it with star running back Mike Davis or fearless senior quarterback Connor Shaw moving the chains either passing the ball or running with it.

Wisconsin Badgers tight end Brian Wozniak (85) celebrates a touchdown catch during the second quarter against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles at Camp Randall Stadium. (Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports)
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Alternate college football uniforms

Check out special college football uniforms worn during the 2013 season.

As for prospects, South Carolina features a likely top-five pick in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who is expected to forego his last year of college at some point after the game. Clowney will have a hard time making the same mark in this game as he did last year, when his helmet-removing tackle of Michigan running back Vincent Smith anchored offseason highlight reels for months. Watch to see how he handles Wisconsin's rushing attack, because he won't get as many opportunities as usual to rush the passer. Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles is expected to apply for entry into the 2014 NFL Draft, and cornerback Vic Hampton already has made known his intentions to turn pro.

On offense, South Carolina has a pro in the making in the sophomore running back Davis, who will be back for the Gamecocks next year. He's every bit as talented as either of the Wisconsin duo of Melvin Gordon and James White, and definitely one to watch for 2015. Gamecocks wide receiver Bruce Ellington is considering early NFL entry, as well. And finally, for a sneak peek at who might be the most dominant left tackle in the SEC next year (depending on this year's pending early entry decisions), keep an eye on Corey Robinson, a 6-foot-8, 340-pound monster of a run blocker whose pass protection just needs a little refinement.

The Badgers' Gordon has said he will come back to school next year, while White, a senior, will be available in this year's draft. The two combined for 25 touchdowns and more than 2,800 yards this season, splitting that production rather evenly. NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks believes this pair could snap a bad stereotype about how Badgers running backs play in the NFL. They also are on the smaller side and rely more on speed compared to the typical bruisers that Wisconsin typically puts in the backfield. Badgers linebacker Chris Borland, a senior and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, is a top prospect to keep an eye on, as well. Finally, watch for Hampton lining up on Wisconsin receiver Jared Abbrederis for a good head-to-head battle. Abbrederis had a 1,000-yard season for the Badgers and is among the best at his position available in the 2014 draft.

Outback Bowl

Iowa vs. LSU

Wednesday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)

A couple of old-school offenses clash here; both like to move the chains on the ground and win games up front. The Hawkeyes overcame a season-opening loss to Northern Illinois and a tough four-game stretch in which they went 1-3, with the only win requiring overtime against Northwestern. Those losses came against the best the Big Ten had to offer, however, in Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin. LSU dropped games to Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama, but handed Auburn its only loss and tamed Texas A&M star quarterback Johnny Manziel like he hadn't been tamed in his two-year career.

LSU cheerleaders perform in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kent State in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013. LSU won 45-13. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
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College football cheerleaders

Take a look at the cheerleaders of college football in action during the 2013 season.

While there is plenty of solid NFL talent on these teams, there aren't a lot of head-to-head matchups to watch. First, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger will be out with a torn ACL, giving way to backup Anthony Jennings, who led a stunning late comeback to end LSU's regular season against Arkansas. It will be Jennings' first full audition for the Tigers' QB job next year. Iowa's top prospect, tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, has made 26 receptions for 254 yards and a team-high six touchdown catches this season. But LSU's top linebacker prospect, Lamin Barrow, plays the weakside and doesn't figure to square off much with Fiedorowicz. Iowa has a disruptive linebacking corps led by Anthony Hitchens and James Morris, who combined for 27.5 tackles for loss on the year. The other starter, Christian Kirksey, projects as a late draft pick.

LSU could be looking at another mass exodus of departing underclassmen after this game, as defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, running backs Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue, wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham and left tackle La'El Collins are all seriously considering the NFL jump. Most or all, in fact, are expected to depart. Other than Mettenberger, there isn't much in the LSU senior class for the 2014 draft, primarily because the Tigers had 10 underclassmen declare last year. The top three NFL prospects on the field all figure to be wearing purple and gold: Hill, Collins and Beckham.

TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl

Nebraska vs. Georgia

Wednesday, Jan. 1, 12 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Given that these teams met just a year ago in the Capital One Bowl, it will be difficult for anyone but hardcore fans of either team to watch the rematch. Nevertheless, it's a nice "helmet game" from a tradition standpoint, and one of the top prospects for either the 2015 or 2016 NFL Draft, Bulldogs star running back Todd Gurley, will set the stage for what figures to be a huge junior season next year. As for 2014 draft prospects, this game will be a little light based on what one would expect from programs such as these. It looks as though there might not be a single early-entry underclassman on either sideline.

Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste figures to be drafted after a big senior season, intercepting four passes (and averaging about 35 yards per INT return) and breaking up 11 passes. But the primary offensive star for the Cornhuskers, running back Ameer Abdullah, is too small to jump to the NFL as a junior (5-9, 190 pounds). He rushed for 1,568 yards on 254 carries for NU, magnificient production for such a small back. The primary defensive star, defensive end Randy Gregory, will return to NU next year and could be a high pick in 2015. Gregory, a third-year sophomore newcomer who transferred in from the JuCo level, made 17 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks on the year, with 17 quarterback hurries.

Like Nebraska, a lot of Georgia's best NFL prospects won't be coming out until 2015 or 2016. Along with Gurley, defensive lineman Ray Drew figures to come back next season, and receiver Malcolm Mitchell will be back after missing the entire season with a torn ACL. Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray will get the draft-day call this year, but he'll be on the sidelines for the Gator Bowl, also with an ACL tear.

Heart of Dallas Bowl

UNLV vs. North Texas

Wednesday, Jan. 1, 12 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

UNLV and North Texas have been waiting a long time to make their return to the postseason -- 14 years for the Rebels between bowl games, 10 for the Mean Green -- and both teams have a handful of intriguing late-round prospects fueling their respective turnarounds.

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North Texas senior linebacker Zach Orr (6-1, 240) has been wildly productive, filling the stat sheet in every way imaginable. Orr has 114 tackles, ranking 27th in the FBS this season, with 11 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and one blocked kick.

The other name to know is wide receiver Brelan Chancellor, a solid receiver and outstanding return specialist. Chancellor (5-9, 186) averages 28.1 yards per kick return and 16.8 yards per punt return, taking one of each to the house.

Defensive back Marcus Trice is undersized (5-8, 193), but has come away with five interceptions, eight pass breakups, two forced fumbles and three blocked kicks. Offensive lineman LaChris Anyiam (6-4, 296) has experience at both guard and tackle for one of the best units in pass protection over the last two seasons, allowing just 16 sacks in that span.

For UNLV, senior running back Tim Cornett and junior wide receiver Devante Davis have been the focal points of the offense. Davis (6-3, 210) has 77 receptions for 1,194 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Cornett (6-0, 210) is the school's all-time leading rusher after adding 1,251 yards and 15 touchdowns to his totals this season.

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