Believe it or not, it’s already here.
Yes, the college football bowl season is upon us. The 35-game slate starts with the New Mexico Bowl this afternoon and ends with the Bowl Championship Series National Championship between Alabama and Notre Dame on Jan. 7.
For the first time ever, Northern Illinois will be playing in a BCS game, as the Huskies will take on Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1 at 7:30 p.m.
NIU’s contest vs. the Seminoles is easily the most compelling game featuring a Mid-American Conference team.
However, there still are six other bowls featuring MAC teams. We break down each MAC bowl game, ranked in order of the most interesting matchups:
1. FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL
Toledo (9-3) vs. No. 18 Utah State (10-2)
Today, 3:30 p.m.
Bronco Stadium, Boise, Idaho
Line: Utah State favored by 10.5
Scouting the Rockets: Toledo was picked to win the MAC West in the league’s preseason media poll, but the Rockets still are searching for their first conference title since 2004.
Still, going to Boise to face a very underrated Aggies team isn’t a bad consolation prize. Toledo was in the top 25 heading into its game against Ball State on Nov. 6, but the Rockets lost two of three games to end the season.
Toledo features great players at the skill positions with quarterback Terrance Owens (3,058 yards of total offense), running back David Fluellen (1,460 rushing yards) and wide receiver Bernard Reedy (1,051 receiving yards). Linebacker Dan Molls led the nation with 166 tackles.
Scouting the Aggies: Utah State’s two losses came at Wisconsin and at BYU. The Aggies also feature impressive wins against Louisiana Tech, San Jose State and Utah. Running back Kerwynn Williams has been pretty dynamic for Utah State, having run for a team-high 1,277 yards this season. He also has team highs in catches (43) and receiving yards (663).
Utah State’s WAC title was the school’s first outright conference title in 76 years.
Pick: Utah State
2. GODADDY.COM BOWL
No. 25 Kent State (11-2) vs. Arkansas State (9-3)
Jan. 6, 8 p.m.
Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Ala.
Line: Arkansas State favored by 4
Scouting the Golden Flashes: If only for a different outcome in the MAC Championship game, it would have been Kent State in the Orange Bowl instead of NIU.
However, the Golden Flashes still had a memorable season, and will compete in their first bowl game since 1972. Head coach Darrell Hazell, who has accepted the job at Purdue, will coach the Flashes down in Mobile.
NIU did a pretty good job against Kent State RB Dri Archer in Detroit, but he’s still a load to stop, amassing 2,460 all-purpose yards.
Scouting the Red Wolves: Arkansas State is back in Mobile for the second year in a row, and once again the Red Wolves will be without their head coach, as Gus Malzahn is off to Auburn. Last season, Hugh Freeze already had taken the Ole Miss job when his team faced NIU at Ladd Peebles.
Arkansas State can score. The Red Wolves average 36 points a game, which ranks 21st in FBS. Quarterback Ryan Aplin has completed 68 percent of his passes and has thrown for 3,129 yards and 23 touchdowns compared to just four interceptions.
Pick: Kent State
3. MILITARY BOWL
Bowling Green (8-4) vs. No. 24 San Jose State (10-2)
Dec. 27, 2 p.m.
RFK Stadium, Washington D.C.
Line: San Jose State favored by 7
Scouting the Falcons: Bowling Green’s defense is good, and defensive tackle Chris Jones, a third-team AP All-American, is a beast.
The Falcons rank ninth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in scoring defense (16 points a game). Jones, the MAC Defensive Player of the Year, has a league-high 12.5 sacks, a great total for a DT, and is second in the MAC with 19 tackles for loss.
Scouting the Spartans: San Jose State is yet another team without a head coach for the bowl season, as Mike MacIntyre is off to rebuild Colorado’s program.
The Spartans have good wins over BYU and Louisiana Tech, and their only losses came against Stanford and Utah State.
Spartans QB David Fales is third in the nation with a passing efficiency mark of 170.91. He has completed 72 percent of his passes for 3,798 yards and 31 touchdowns.
Pick: Bowling Green
4. BEEF ‘O’ BRADY’S BOWL
Ball State (9-3) vs. Central Florida (9-4)
Dec. 21, 6:30 p.m.
Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Line: UCF favored by 7
Scouting the Cardinals: Ball State really flew under the radar this season, and second-year coach Pete Lembo has done a heck of a job in Muncie, Ind. He could be in line for bigger job opportunities should the Cards have a strong year in 2013.
Ball State won six in a row to end the regular season and a bowl win would provide a nice jump into 2013. However, the Cardinals could be without QB Keith Wenning, who suffered an ankle injury against Ohio on Nov. 14. Wenning has thrown for 2,878 yards and 22 touchdowns this season.
Scouting the Golden Knights: UCF was hoping to earn a spot in the Liberty Bowl with a win in the Conference USA Championship game, but the Golden Knights fell to Tulsa in overtime.
UCF head coach George O’Leary has put together a pretty solid nine years in Orlando. Maybe people will eventually forget about his extremely short stint at Notre Dame.
Watch for Golden Knights running back Latavius Murray, a first team all-conference selection who has run for 1,035 yards.
5. INDEPENDENCE BOWL
Ohio (8-4) vs. Louisiana-Monroe (8-4)
Dec. 28, 1 p.m.
Independence Stadium, Shreveport, La.
Line: UL-Monroe favored by 7
Scouting the Bobcats: Ohio was picked to win the MAC at the beginning of the year, but the Bobcats stumbled to a 1-4 finish after being ranked in the top 25. Ohio still is searching for its first MAC title since 1969.
Quarterback Tyler Tettleton didn’t have as good of a season as he did in 2011, but the junior still threw for 2,512 yards and 16 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions.
Scouting the Warhawks: Remember when UL-Monroe’s win over Arkansas at the beginning of the year looked like a huge upset? Well, the win doesn’t look as good as it did then, but it was still a solid victory for the school.
UL-Monroe averages 35 points per game, and quarterback Kolton Browning is the team’s leading passer (2,830 yards, 27 touchdown passes) and rusher (441 yards, seven touchdowns).
6. LITTLE CAESARS PIZZA BOWL
Central Michigan (6-6) vs. Western Kentucky (7-5)
Dec. 26, 6:30 p.m.
Ford Field, Detroit
Line: Western Kentucky favored by 5.5
Scouting the Chippewas: I know this bowl loves having Michigan schools, but I was surprised the game, which had the MAC’s first pick, reached all the way to a .500 Central Michigan squad, who will be going bowling for the first time since 2009. The Chippewas had to win their last three contests just to become bowl-eligible.
Central Michigan’s biggest offensive threat is running back Zurlon Tipton, who has run for 1,391 yards (6.1 yards per carry) in 2012.
Scouting the Hilltoppers: This game would be a lot more interesting if new WKU coach Bobby Petrino were on the sidelines. Unfortunately, defensive coordinator Lance Guidry will be coaching the team. Maybe the ESPN crew will at least interview Petrino.
The Hilltoppers’ Antonio Andrews has run for 1,609 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Pick: Central Michigan
Top 5 non-BCS bowl games to watch
1. Cotton Bowl, No. 10 Texas A&M vs. No. 12 Oklahoma
It’s almost like the Aggies never left the Big 12. This game features two great quarterbacks in Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Oklahoma’s Landry Jones. I still liked this game better when it was on New Year’s Day.
2. Chick-Fil-A Bowl, No. 9 LSU vs. No. 14 Clemson
Seriously, can they please go back to calling this the Peach Bowl? I understand corporate sponsors are part of the deal, but I can’t stand when good, traditional games like this one are named after fast food restaurants.
Even so, this should be a good game, with Tajh Boyd and Co. against the Tigers’ stingy defense.
3. Capital One Bowl, No. 6 Georgia vs. No. 23 Nebraska
Sure, this game is always a tune-up for the Rose Bowl. But, you still have a team which could easily be playing for a national title and a Nebraska squad which has had a good season, despite its terrible performance in the Big Ten Championship.
4. Gator Bowl, No. 21 Northwestern vs. Mississippi State
The Wildcats haven’t won a bowl game since beating California in the 1949 Rose Bowl, and Northwestern has lost nine consecutive bowls. Is this the year the Wildcats finally get it done? Northwestern has also played some great postseason games in recent memory, such as the 2009 Alamo Bowl and 2010 Outback Bowl. Both games went into overtime.
5. New Mexico Bowl, Arizona vs. Nevada
This game is on my list for two reasons: Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey and Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson. Carey leads the nation with 1,757 rushing yards, and Jefferson is second with 1,703. Oh yeah, Jefferson is a junior and Carey is only a sophomore.
It’ll be fun watching these two run.