The 2013 college football season was chock full of weird.
Johnny Football started things off by almost signing his season away, Goliath after Goliath was felled by David after David — how, again, did Stanford lose to Utah? — and the Heisman Trophy winner spent the latter part of the season under a cloud of a sexual assault case.
How else would we expect the BCS era to end but under mass confusion, skepticism and disappointment?
The bowl season, though, offers a break from the mania. We’ll get to see star-versus-star — Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey stacked up against Boston College’s Andre Williams being the premier matchup — and guru taking on guru. Who doesn’t want to see Gus Malzahn and Auburn try to take down Jimbo Fisher and Florida State for the national title?
To get things started, enjoy our annual bowl game breakdown, in convenient A to Z format:
A Arizona — Not the team, but the state. The Wildcats and Arizona State Sun Devils are going bowling in the same season for just the third time ever.
B Briles — Baylor coach Art Briles has resuscitated the Bears from the doldrums of college football, but maybe resuscitate isn’t even the correct term. Two years after leading the team from the depths behind Robert Griffin III and a year after guiding the Bears to a 49-26 throttling of a good UCLA team in the Holiday Bowl, Briles had Baylor all the way up to No. 3 in the polls for the first time in 60 years.
C Cardinal Rules — Stanford sure hasn’t skipped a beat since Jim Harbaugh jumped to the NFL. If anything, the Cardinal has taken it up another notch, advancing to the team’s second straight Rose Bowl while putting three on most All-America teams: offensive lineman David Yankey, linebacker Trent Murphy and kick returner Ty Montgomery.
D Defensive stars — Offensive standouts may get most of the Heisman pub, but the bowl season is the perfect time to check out defensive stars such as Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald and Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard.
E Edged out — Nine bowl-eligible teams were left home for the winter, including 8-4 Western Kentucky, Toledo, San Jose State and Central Michigan.
F Faceoff — For the first time since The Associated Press All-America team named two running backs in 1980, the AP’s top two backs will face off in a bowl game. Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey and Boston College’s Andre Williams will battle for supremacy in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl on Dec. 31 in Shreveport, LA.
G Gunslingers — Quarterbacks are once again all the rage, after a down year. Winston, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel (cleared in the autograph signing scandal), Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater — these guys can sling it, and will.
H Ha Ha Clinton-Dix — The Alabama safety has the best name in college football, and maybe all of sports. We’re hoping his family tree produces more stars like LOL Clinton-Dix, ROTFL Clinton-Dix and maybe even Chuckles Clinton-Dix. Scholarships all around!
I Instant impact — Perhaps the biggest story to come out of the Pac-12 this season was UCLA freshman Myles Jack, who became the first player in conference history to win both league offensive AND defensive freshman of the year honors.
J Jameis Winston — The Florida State phenom took the nation by storm, faced tremendous scrutiny with an alleged sexual assault that went unprosecuted and came out of it unscathed to lead the Seminoles to the national title game and win the Heisman. As a redshirt freshman.
K Ka’Deem Carey — We had to mention him again. Perhaps the best player in Arizona history, and certainly the most prolific, the superstar workhorse has a chance to make it 16 straight games with 100-plus yards. Maybe this should go in A for Amazing.
L Limping in — San Diego State just barely squeaked into a mediocre bowl game — the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl — after losing its finale at UNLV 45-19.
M Gus Malzahn — Yes, it took perhaps the strangest play in college football history to send the Auburn Tigers to the national championship game, but what Good Ol’ Gus has done in one year at the helm is nothing short of breathtaking. The Tigers were 3-9 last year, 0-8 in SEC play, and a laughingstock. Who’s laughing now? Gus. That’s who. Gus.
N Naming rights — The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl? Really? What’s next, the Quiznos Battle For Excellence Bowl?
O Offensive explosion — 18 of the top 20 offenses will be on display in the bowl season, including Baylor (624.5 yards per game), Oregon (573 ypg) and Fresno State (570.6 ypg). Sorry, Indiana and San Jose State, your defenses were just that bad.
P Pirate — Mike Leach has the Washington State Cougars in the postseason for the first time since 2003. He may no longer be a Red Raider, but he’ll always be a Pirate in our hearts. Fear the sword.
Q Quiznos Battle For Excellence Bowl — A guy can dream.
R Ridiculous — We don’t need 35 bowl games. No one needs 35 bowl games. A .500 record should not equal postseason.
S Swag — Anybody need a new Xbox? Maybe Capital One Bowl and Russell Athletic Bowl participants can help a brother out. They’ll receive a $450 Best Buy gift card and shopping trip, plus a Timely Watch Co. watch and Russell Athletic workout shirt. You can keep the shirt; I’ll take 90 copies of Mona Lisa Smile from the $5 bin.
T Texas — First, blowout losses to BYU, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State and Baylor. Then, the Mack Brown debacle. Now, Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. Not a good year for the Longhorns.
U Upsets — How did we get a national championship matchup featuring the preseason No. 11 team in the nation and a team that went winless in conference play a year ago? Upsets, that’s how. Sorry, Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon and Stanford. Shoulda played better.
V Vanderbilt — James Franklin has the Commodores in their third straight bowl game, which is quite the accomplishment, considering before then, Vanderbilt had been in three. Total. Since 1890.
W What-ifs — In a year in which one of the two national championship contenders came from the absolute depths, so many teams around the country are asking themselves that devastating question.
X Xavier Su’a-Filo — The UCLA offensive guard returned from an LDS mission before last season, and he’s been the rock of the Bruins’ offensive line since, just as he was in his lone season before leaving in 2009.
Y Youngsters — Winston wasn’t the only freshman (albeit redshirt) in the country to light up the game. Arkansas running back Alex Collins led freshmen with 1,026 yards, and Pitt wideout Tyler Boyd topped the 1,000-yard mark.
Z Zero chance — Judging by the spreads, UCF (16ƒ-point underdogs to Baylor), Rutgers (15ƒ-point dogs to Notre Dame) and Texas Tech (14ƒ-point dogs to Arizona State) have very small margins for error.