BY MATT MURSCHEL
As bowl season kicks into gear later this week, here are the top 10 games I’m looking forward to watching this holiday season:
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl
Matchup: No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Clemson
When: Saturday, Dec. 31, 7 p.m. TV: ESPN
The Buzz: Both of these programs have played in the national-championship game the past two seasons, with Ohio State claiming the 2014 title. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson finished as the runner-up in the Heisman Trophy race after amassing more than 4,400 yards of total offense with 43 total TDs.
Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl
Matchup: No. 4 Washington vs. No. 1 Alabama
When: Saturday, Dec. 31, 3 p.m. TV: ESPN
The Buzz: Alabama has been so dominant this season as a double-digit favorite in all but one game (LSU), and the Crimson Tide are a 16-point pick over the Huskies. The Dogs’ challenge is facing off against a defense that’s the best in the nation thanks to players like Jonathan Allen.
Matchup: No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 11 Florida State
When: Friday, Dec. 30, 8 p.m. TV: ESPN
The Buzz: Michigan failed to land a spot in one of the playoff semifinals, providing the Wolverines with a huge chip on their shoulders. FSU’s Dalvin Cook, meanwhile, was snubbed by all of the major awards despite rushing for 1,620 yards with 18 touchdowns and could carry his own chip as well.
Matchup: No. 9 USC vs. No. 5 Penn State
When: Monday, Jan. 2, 5 p.m. TV: ESPN
The Buzz: Two of the hottest teams in the country square off in the Granddaddy of Them All. Penn State has won nine straight games, including its first outright Big Ten championship since 1994. USC, which has won eight in a row, is all too familiar with the Rose Bowl but is making its first trip back since 2008.
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
Matchup: No. 20 LSU vs. No. 13 Louisville
When: Saturday, Dec. 31, 11 a.m. TV: ABC
The Buzz: Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson headlines one of the top games outside of the New Year’s Six bowl games. Jackson became the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner after amassing more than 4,900 yards with 51 total touchdowns. Meanwhile, Leonard Fournette looks to wrap up his LSU career as the Tigers running back hopes to bounce back from an injury-riddled season.
Matchup: No. 15 Western Michigan vs. No. 8 Wisconsin
When: Monday, Jan. 2, 1 p.m. TV: ESPN
The Buzz: Western Michigan is only undefeated team in the Football Bowl Subdivision other than Alabama. The Broncos are 2-7 against Power 5 opponents under highly touted coach P.J. Fleck, with both of those wins coming this season against Northwestern and Illinois.
Matchup: No. 14 Auburn vs. No. 7 Oklahoma
When: Monday, Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. TV: ESPN
The Buzz: Oklahoma claimed its first back-to-back Big 12 championships since 2007 and 2008 after the team ran through the conference schedule with a 9-0 record. Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield and receiver Dede Westbrook were Heisman Trophy finalists and will challenge an Auburn defense that’s allowed just 15 points per game.
Matchup: No. 12 Oklahoma State vs. No. 10 Colorado
When: Thursday, Dec. 29, 9 p.m. TV: ESPN
The Buzz: Colorado is coming off its best season since 2001 thanks to a defense that ranks among the top 20 teams in the nation. The challenge for the Buffaloes will be taking on an Oklahoma State offense that is averaging more than 38 points per game under the guidance of quarterback Mason Rudolph, who has 31 total touchdowns this season.
Las Vegas Bowl
Matchup: Houston vs. San Diego State
When: Saturday, Dec. 17, 3:30 p.m. TV: ABC
The Buzz: San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey became the NCAA’s No. 2 career rusher with 6,290 yards during the Aztecs’ win in the Mountain West title game. He needs 108 yards in the bowl game to surpass Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne to become the all-time leading rusher but will have to do so against a Houston defense that is allowing just 97 yards per game this season.
Russell Athletic Bowl
Matchup: No. 16 West Virginia vs. Miami
When: Wednesday, Dec. 28, 5:30 p.m. TV: ESPN
The Buzz: West Virginia flirted with a possible spot in the College Football Playoff early in the season but stumbled in losses to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. The Mountaineers feature the third-best defense in the Big 12, forcing a league-best 25 turnovers. That could be crucial against a Miami team that has only turned over the football an ACC-low 10 times in 2016.