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Bowl Previews: Non-SEC New Year's Day (Gator, Rose, Orange)

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Two more relatively good days move me to 14-8 on the bowl season, though it's a bit of a blow that two of the three wrong picks came on the two SEC games I chose. That's what I get for trying to avoid homerism. However, I picked up two more wins on the score, moving me to 3-19.

Enough self-evaluation. Onto the games:

Gator Bowl, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

What it is: A way to boost the ACC's ego after the annual ratings slaughter called the ACC Championship Game.

The Teams: Nebraska, Clemson

How Nebraska got here: The Huskers were the darling in some preseason media, expectations based almost entirely on the hiring of Bo Pelini. Much of the hype died with losses to Virginia Tech, Missouri and Texas Tech, which moved Nebraska's record to 3-3. But the Huskers took advantage of a turn in the schedule, lost only to Oklahoma the rest of the way, and finished 8-4. Pelini's defense wasn't a great unit; it allowed 29 ppg and 361.5 ypg. But the Huskers played well on offense, piling up 458.3 ypg and scoring fewer than 28 points just once, against Missouri. QB Joe Ganz was efficient, throwing for 3,332, 23 TDs and 10 INTs on 384 attempts.

How Clemson got here: By mooing loudly. Sorry; old habits die hard. Clemson was all but written off after starting the season getting waxed 34-10 by Alabama in a nationally televised game. The hangers-on were convinced by a three-game losing streak that included losses to Maryland, Wake and Georgia Tech; with a 3-4 record, Clemson's bowl hopes seemed to be gone, and their head coach was. Interim leader Dabo Swinney's name brought derision, but the new coach brought results, going 4-1 after the Georgia Tech loss, with wins over Boston College and South Carolina among his victories. But there will always be doubts about what might have been after early underuse of RBs C.J. Spiller and James Davis left the duo with "only" 1,337 yards rushing at the end of the season.

College football fans care because: Any team wearing orange and purple must be defeated; our retinas depend on it.

SEC fans care because: Again, ACC looking better makes us look better, and it would be a Big XII loss to boot. Just don't count me among those cheering for the Huskers.

Watch this game if ... : You have the proper shielding for your eyeballs.

The result: Nebraska 24, Clemson 21

Rose Bowl, 4:30 p.m. ET, ABC

What it is: A chance for Musberger to bellow more about how great the tradition of the Rose Bowl (presented by Citi) is the most historic and traditional game (presented by Citi) in college football. For those of you who have been watching ESPN: Yes, this game is being held this year, and it's being played on Thursday. You might have missed it; they've really been very judicious about promoting this game.

The Teams: No. 6 Penn State, No. 5 Southern Cal (BlogPoll)

How Penn State got here: The Nittany Lions weren't the favorites in the Big Ten -- that honor went to Ohio State -- but fighting JoePas were expected to be pretty good. That they were. They rang up 452.2 ypg, allowed just 263.9 ypg, and rolled through the Big Ten. But for a last-minute upset against Iowa, Penn State would be playing Oklahoma or Florida for the national title next week. But the consolation prize for that 24-23 defeat is still the Rose Bowl (presented by Citi) -- not too bad. A key but little-noticed part of the offense has been RB Evan Royster, who rushed for 1,202 yards and 12 TDs on 185 carries.

How Southern Cal got here: Yes, as everyone predicted, Southern Cal ended up in the national champio... What? This isn't the national championship game? You mean, Southern Cal didn't get there? Again? How are they supposed to be the GREATEST TEAM OF ALL TIME if they haven't made the BCS title game since the end of the 2005 season? I guess that's what happens when you lose to Oregon State, your demolition of Virginia doesn't look so impressive and your actually decent nonconference opponent has the reputation of losing the big games. While this version of the Trojans doesn't have the same offense firepower you remember -- they still average 37.5 ppg -- the defense is stifling, allowing just 7.8 ppg and 206.1 ypg, both ranked first in the nation.

College football fans care because: It is the Rose Bowl (presented by Citi), and the Rose Bowl (presented by Citi) is still a big deal.

SEC fans care because: It's a win-win. If Southern Cal loses, we can laugh at the GREATEST TEAM OF ALL TIME. If Penn State loses, we can laugh at the Big Ten.

Watch this game if ... : You like college football.

The result: Penn State 23, Southern Cal 17

Orange Bowl, 8:30 p.m. ET, FOX

What it is: The worst thing to happen to BCS ratings since Pittsburgh played Utah.

The Teams: No. 11 Cincinnati, No. 19 Virginia Tech

How Cincinnati got here: For reasons passing understanding, the Big East still has an automatic berth in the BCS. But don't let the league's ... um ... interesting brand of college football fool you; the Bearcats are a good team. They got blown out by Oklahoma -- who didn't -- and lost to Connecticut in one of those "huh?" games that happen only in the Big East and the ACC, but otherwise defeated everyone they played. Few of the Cats' numbers leap out at you -- though WR Marshwan Gilyard is one of the best wideouts in the country, grabbing 74 passes for 1,118 yards and 10 TDs; he rarely disappears. The defense knows how to disrupt things; they average about 6.5 TFL a game.

How Virginia Tech got here: For reasons only slightly more understandable than those for the Big East, the ACC also has an automatic BCS berth. This year, as usual, it's the Hokies. After one of the most bizarre races in recent memories, Virginia Tech ended up as ACC champions and Orange Bowl participants. It wasn't pretty -- they lost to East Carolina, Boston College, Florida State and Miami along the way -- but Tech finally ended up in winner's circle. A solid defense, which held opponents to 277.1 ypg, saved a sluggish offense, which ground out just 296.2 ypg.

College football fans care because: The games are dwindling at this point, and it's the only one you're getting Thursday night, so enjoy it.

SEC fans care because: Actually, Virginia Tech didn't play any SEC teams this year, but the ACC doing well still helps us generally.

Watch this game if ... : You can stand the way FOX covers college football.

The result: Cincinnati 23, Virginia Tech 21