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Quarterback Darron Thomas of the Oregon Ducks (right) threw for 30 touchdowns with only 6 interceptions this season. The Ducks beat UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship to earn a spot in the Rose Bowl, where they'll face Wisconsin. (Getty Images)

College Football Bowl Preview: Compelling Matchups, Dead Ahead

Dec 30, 2011 (Morning Edition)

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College football is set to enter its final week, and that means the biggest bowl games are coming up. This weekend will see teams such as Auburn, Oklahoma and Georgia Tech in action. And the first week of 2012 will feature marquee matchups like Oregon vs. Wisconsin, and Oklahoma State against Stanford.

Update at 1 p.m. ET: We'll have a separate preview of the BCS title game between Alabama and LSU later this week. Our original post continues:

Talking about the bowl season with Morning Edition guest host Linda Wertheimer in an interview for Monday's show, NPR's Mike Pesca says he'll be paying particular attention to several upcoming games, including Penn State vs. Houston, and Georgia vs. Michigan State.

"Houston has an amazing offense," Pesca says. "They average over 600 yards a game. And they're scoring about 50 points a game. It is a juggernaut. Of course, these numbers were put up against such teams as the North Texas Mean Green."

And on Monday, Jan. 2, Houston's impressive offense will meet Penn State's stout defense.

In the 2011 season, Penn State's defense has allowed opponents "only 15 points a game — one of the best defenses in the country," Pesca says. "For all the flaws of the bowl system, when you get two teams of such differing types playing against each other, it can be interesting."

Pesca says he'll also watch the Outback Bowl at 1 p.m. ET Monday, which pits Michigan State against Georgia, "just because I think the teams are good, and a little underrated."

Both of those teams finished the season with 10-3 records, having lost in their conference championship games — Michigan State to Wisconsin, and Georgia to No. 1 LSU.

For a complete rundown of this season's bowl games, visit ESPN, which is airing many of the games, or if you prefer a reverse-chronological view, CBS can help. If you want a schedule that's easy to look at on your phone, the Flickr user "encouragement" has posted an image of the 2011-2012 bowl games.

The Rose Bowl will be played at 5 p.m. ET Monday, matching two offensive-minded teams in Oregon against Wisconsin.

"Oregon does it a lot of ways," Pesca says. "They're competent through the air. They have an excellent ground game. And Wisconsin, as Wisconsin usually does, really can pound the ball. And by 'ball,' I mean their running back, Montee Ball. He's a monster on the ground."

In terms of history, Pesca gives Wisconsin a slight edge — Oregon hasn't won the Rose Bowl since 1917, he says.

But once the teams take the field, Pesca says, "perhaps the Oregon offense will have a little easier time with the Wisconsin defense than vice-versa."

Also Monday, the unofficial "Urban Meyer Bowl" kicks off at 1 p.m., when the coach's former team, Florida, meets his squad-in-waiting, Ohio State, in the Gator Bowl.

And when the Fiesta Bowl kicks off at 8:30 p.m. ET on the same day, fans will see one team that missed out on the BCS title game, in 11-1 Oklahoma State, and one player that several NFL teams are hoping they don't miss in the next draft: quarterback Andrew Luck, of 11-1 Stanford.

Oklahoma State has ridden its high-powered offense to a No. 3 ranking, Pesca says, while Stanford has relied on Luck, and a strong defense, to rise to No. 4 in the country.

"So, other than the national championship game, just in terms of rankings, this is the best possible matchup you could get," he says. "And it should be very intriguing."

And part of the draw will be to see how Luck performs in his final college game.

"He's not quite Peyton Manning — I mean, he's only 21, 22 years old," Pesca says. "But he's a master, and he's a craftsman out there on the field. I will definitely be tuning in."

The much-maligned BCS system uses several criteria to determine the top six teams — and which two schools should compete for the BCS title. Part of its formula is based on the USA Today Coaches' Poll.

If you have time before watching your next game, and you're curious about how coaches rated their own school — and, more interestingly, those from rival conferences — you can check out a sortable grid of the coaches' final ballots over at USA Today.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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