- The Can't Miss - The Top 5 | The Excellent - No. 6 to No. 10
- The Solid - No. 11 to No. 15 | Just Bowls. No More, No Less - No. 16 to No. 20
- The Mediocre - No. 21 to No. 25 | The Lousy - No. 26 to No. 30
- Seriously? - No. 30 to No. 35
Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO -- Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin
Whether it was lip service or not, Bret Bielema had said he wanted to be all-in on coaching the Rose Bowl before leaving for Arkansas. While he was 0-2 in Rose Bowls, this was his team that he guided through a rocky season and in a dominant Big Ten championship win over Nebraska, but now he's a Razorback.
Alvarez could've turned to one of the assistants to steer the ship, and he could've allowed Bielema to finish out the year, but instead he's putting all the pressure on himself to mess with the legend. While coaching the Badgers to a win would elevate Alvarez's stature that much more, it will be a major embarrassment if Stanford wins in a walk, considering the way Alvarez pestered Bielema for the two losses over the past two seasons.
Gildan New Mexico Bowl -- Chris Ault, Nevada
Ault is a true living legend, having already been enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame, and he can do no wrong for a Nevada program that has become his. But he needs more bowl victories on the résumé.
It took Colin Kaepernick and the strongest team in Nevada football history to get by Boston College two years ago in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, but that's been about it for the fun over the past several years. The Wolf Pack is just 1-5 in bowls since beating Brandon Marshall and UCF in a thriller of a 2005 Hawaii Bowl, and this year would be a nice time to make a statement.
|Chris Ault is a legend at Nevada ... but a bowl win would be nice on paper.|
It wasn't the best of seasons with a 7-5 record and losses in four of the final five regular-season games, but beating a good Arizona team would be a huge moment for Ault as well as the Mountain West.
Valero Alamo Bowl -- Mack Brown, Texas
2011 was a rocky season, as Texas went 7-5 with losses in three of the last four games. But all of a sudden, there appeared to be a spark for 2012 after a strong win over California in the Holiday Bowl.
Texas is past the point of being happy by closing out the year with a bowl victory, but after losing to TCU on Thanksgiving and getting blown away by Kansas State, a loss to Oregon State in the Alamo would be a devastating blow to Brown going into the offseason. He's not going to get fired no matter what happens, but it could be a very, very long eight months if this team full of NFL talents underperforms once again in what would amount to a home loss against a Pac-12 team.
Considering Texas has won six of its past seven bowl games, a loss to the Beavers would stick out even more.
Discover Orange Bowl -- Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
All Florida State did was win the ACC Championship Game and earn a spot in the Orange Bowl, and yet it all seems a little bit underwhelming considering the team came into the season with national-title hopes.
Getting blasted by Florida had a little something to do with it, and now it's up to Fisher to make sure the season doesn't close on a true downer. For all the talk and all the rhetoric about how good Northern Illinois might be, the Seminoles can't lose to a MAC team — they just can't.
No one can ever replace Bobby Bowden, and no one ever expects the same sort of dominance during Fisher's reign, but a loss in a game like this that's suddenly in the spotlight would make for an ugly offseason. Florida State excels in bowl games, with four straight victories — and a notable 14-bowl unbeaten streak from the 1982 season through the 1995 season. This all puts Fisher is a no-win situation. If he comes out of Miami with a win, that's what he's supposed to do. If he loses? Get ready for the storm.
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl -- Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
|Adding a positive chapter to Northwestern's bowl history would go a long way for Pat Fitzgerald.|
Famously, Northwestern hasn't won a bowl game since the 1948 Rose Bowl, losing nine straight since getting back on the postseason horse in the classic Rose Bowl season of 1995.
The Wildcats were overmatched in some of the losses, like against Eric Crouch and Nebraska in the 2000 Alamo and to Peyton Manning and Tennessee in the 1997 Citrus, but there's no excuse this time around. Mississippi State is solid, but this year's Northwestern team isn't punching out of its weight class. The team has the talent to come away from the Gator Bowl with a victory.
Fitzgerald was roundly criticized for the team's late-game meltdowns in losses to Michigan and Nebraska — the 'Cats should've been playing Wisconsin for the Big Ten title — and a loss to the Bulldogs would only fuel the fire that he can't get his team to the next level.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl -- Todd Graham, Arizona State
This is what's known as a coaches' bowl, because Navy is very, very beatable when given time to prepare. The Midshipmen have won just one bowl game in the past five tries, and that came three years ago against a Missouri team that didn't appear to have any interest in being in the Texas Bowl.
Talent isn't going to be an issue — there might be three or four Navy players that could even think about cracking the ASU starting lineup — so it's all about what the Sun Devils' mindset is. If properly coached up and prepared to handle the option attack, this should be a walk in the park for a defense that's phenomenal at getting into the backfield, ranking second in the nation in both sacks and tackles for loss.
The problem is that ASU has a recent history of taking bowl games off, getting obliterated in the past three — by Boise State, Texas and Hawaii. This isn't as good a Navy team as those with the powerhouse ground games of a few years ago, so if ASU loses this, it's on Graham and his staff.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl -- Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Everyone is expecting the same magic again. West Virginia slogged through the 2011 regular season winning Big East game after Big East game by the skin of its teeth, and then came the Orange Bowl explosion against Clemson that set the tone for 2012.
However, that also raised the bar and the expectations: Why can't the Mountaineers do that against everyone? After a complete collapse over the second half of the season, Holgorsen needs to keep pulling his program out of the nosedive against Syracuse. He'll lose QB Geno Smith and a few other key players, but if his team comes out and rocks in what should be one of the wildest shootouts of the bowl season, he'll quickly become known for being a top-shelf bowl coach.
Hyundai Sun Bowl -- Lane Kiffin, USC
|The hot seat could start scalding soon for Lane Kiffin if he can't lift USC to a Sun Bowl win.|
No, Kiffin isn't on a win-or-get-fired hot seat, but coaches in LA who start out seasons with the No. 1 team in the nation and end up going 7-5 don't tend to last for long.
The problem is that his "D" has been squishy-soft this year against the run, getting pounded on by Notre Dame and ripped apart by Oregon, and now comes a battle against a run-heavy Georgia Tech team that has the indignity of going bowling with a losing record. This needs to be when Kiffin shows he can get a team prepared and jacked up for a minor game.
Though the program might be happy to finally go bowling again, this could get really ugly really fast if there isn't a major improvement over the final month of the season. A loss would mean USC closed out its season dropping five of its final six games, and then 2013 would be make-or-break time for the Kiffin era.
Capital One Bowl -- Mark Richt, Georgia and Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Mark Richt, you're wondering who's asking the question about your ability to win a really, really big game — look right here. Close doesn't count in the SEC, and while battling hard against Alabama was nice, it was yet another loss with everything on the line.
That makes the win over Florida this season the lone victory of any true substance, and while beating Nebraska wouldn't exactly stop the criticism, it could prove that he might have the second-best team in college football this season.
After clunking in a Liberty Bowl loss to UCF two years ago and giving away the overtime thriller to Michigan State in the Outback last year, Richt and Georgia have to come out roaring.
But at least Richt's team is coming off of a heartbreaker of a performance in the SEC Championship Game, when it seemed like Aaron Murray was just one more chance away from pulling out the win. Nebraska is still trying to pick up the pieces of its shattered program after a brutal loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Throw in the total disasters in the past two bowl appearances — losing to South Carolina in last year's Capital One and not showing up against Washington in the 2010 Holiday — and, all of a sudden, Bo Pelini needs to do something splashy.
Beating a team that was a heartbeat away from playing for the national title would be just the tonic.
Chick-fil-A Bowl -- Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Clemson has been like a big-budget movie loaded with explosions and special effects, but with no substance or plot whatsoever. The talent is there, and the athleticism is on par with just about anyone in the top 10. But the team, despite winning the ACC title last season, still has a prove-it factor under Swinney.
Rolling through the conference schedule was occasionally impressive, but the 12-point loss to Florida State and the beating from South Carolina were more glaring than the 10 wins. And, of course, the Tigers are still dealing with the post-traumatic stress from the 2012 Orange Bowl blowout against West Virginia.
With one win over a strong LSU team that's good enough to be playing somewhere in the BCS, Swinney's stock would go through the roof. Yes, winning an ACC title last season was nice, but to bring Clemson a second bowl win in the past seven tries and to come up with a tremendous victory over a killer from the SEC would change the way the program is viewed.