Bowl Madness has arrived

The bowl season has arrived. It'll start slowly, pick up steam just before New Year's Eve and hit full speed on New Year's Day with six games.

Then, college football finally stages a few games that count -- the Sugar Bowl between No. 2 Miami and No. 7 Florida on Jan. 2 and the Orange Bowl between No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 3 Florida State on Jan. 3.

After those games, poll voters will determine whether there will be one national champion or split champions for the fourth time since 1990.

As the Hurricanes (10-1) prepare to renew their rivalry with the Gators (10-2) and the Sooners (12-0) get ready to go for their first national crown since 1985, there are a few intriguing sidelights.

One is in the Orange Bowl, with Florida State's Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Chris Weinke going against Heisman runner-up Josh Heupel of Oklahoma.

Others include:

-- Coaching carousel. The Oahu Bowl on Sunday has Virginia against Georgia. the Cavs' longtime coach, George Welsh, retires after this one, while Bulldogs coach Jim Donnan has already been fired, effective after the game.

-- End of a streak? West Virginia coach Don Nehlen gets a final chance to stop his bowl losing streak at eight games when his team plays Mississippi in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 28. Nehlen retires after the game, to be replaced by Rich Rodriguez.

-- QBs II. A healthy Michael Vick is set to lead Virginia Tech (10-1) against a healthy Woody Dantzler and Clemson (9-2) in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1. Both were injured late in the season, but the former Heisman contenders should be healthy for their meeting in Jacksonville.

-- Running men. The Citrus Bowl features two of the nation's top runners not named LaDainian Tomlinson or Damien Anderson. That would be Michigan's Anthony Thomas vs. Auburn's Rudi Johnson on Jan. 1. Thomas ran for 1,551 yards; Johnson 1,567 yards.

The picks: Mobile Alabama Bowl (Wednesday)

TCU (minus 7) vs. Southern Mississippi

Horned Frogs RB LaDainian Tomlinson is the difference in matchup of top two defenses. ... TCU, 21-17.

Las Vegas Bowl (Thursday)

UNLV (pick 'em) vs. Arkansas

Rebs have homefield edge, plus improving QB Jason Thomas. ... UNLV, 28-24.

Oahu Bowl (Sunday)

Virginia (plus 9½) vs. Georgia

Cavs' retiring coach George Welsh vs. 'Dawgs fired coach Jim Donnan. ... Virginia, 27-24.

Aloha Bowl (Monday)

Boston College (plus 4) vs. Arizona State

Sun Devils give fired coach Bruce Snyder a winning sendoff; Eagles without RB William Green. ... ARIZONA STATE, 28-20.

Motor City Bowl (Dec. 27)

Marshall (plus 3½) vs. Cincinnati

Herd, led by QB Byron Leftwich (3,389 yards, 21 TDs) recovering nicely after 2-4 start. ... MARSHALL, 28-24.

Galleryfurniture.com Bowl (Dec. 27)

Texas Tech (pick 'em) vs. East Carolina

Pirates pass D needs to contain Tech QB Kliff Kingsbury (3,123 yards). ... EAST CAROLINA, 34-30.

Humanitarian Bowl (Dec. 28)

Boise State (minus 6½) vs. Texas-El Paso

Miners' coach Gary Nord is staying, Broncs' coach Dirk Koetter is going. ... TEXAS-EL PASO, 33-30.

Music City Bowl (Dec. 28)

West Virginia (plus 4) vs. Mississippi

WVU coach Don Nehlen's last chance to win first bowl since '84 and end eight-game postseason losing streak. ... MISSISSIPPI, 31-24.

Micronpc.com Bowl (Dec. 28)

Minnesota (minus 4) vs. North Carolina State

Wolfpack freshman QB Philip Rivers confounds Gophers defense. ... NORTH CAROLINA STATE, 28-27.

Insight.com Bowl (Dec. 28)

Iowa State (pick 'em) vs. Pittsburgh

Cyclones just happy for first bowl since 1978; Panthers put up points. ... PITTSBURGH, 37-27.

Liberty Bowl (Dec. 29)

Colorado State (minus 1½) vs. Louisville

Coach Sonny Lubick's Rams capable of containing Cards' scoring attack of 35.7 ppg. ... COLORADO STATE, 35-31.

Sun Bowl (Dec. 29)

UCLA (plus 4½) vs. Wisconsin

Disappointment bowl for Badgers and Bruins. ... WISCONSIN, 28-21.

Peach Bowl (Dec. 29)

Georgia Tech (minus 8½) vs. LSU

Tech's Great Godsey leads offense averaging 40.7 ppg. ... GEORGIA TECH, 37-20.

Holiday Bowl (Dec. 29)

Texas (minus 7) vs. Oregon

QB Chris Simms tries to give Horns a seventh straight win. ... OREGON, 34-27.

Alamo Bowl (Dec. 30)

Nebraska (minus 14½) vs. Northwestern

Huskers put clamps on Wildcats' RB Damien Anderson. ... NEBRASKA, 41-17.

Silicon Valley Classic (Dec. 31)

Fresno State (minus 1) vs. Air Force

Falcons scoring 43-plus ppg in winning their last three games. ... AIR FORCE, 37-31.

Independence Bowl (Dec. 31)

Texas A&M (minus 1) vs. Mississippi State

Aggies have formidable duo in QB Mark Farris to WR Robert Ferguson. ... TEXAS A&M, 27-24.

Outback Bowl (Jan. 1)

Ohio State (minus 5½) vs. South Carolina

Gamecocks try to avoid ending great season with four straight losses. ... OHIO STATE, 24-17.

Cotton Bowl (Jan. 1)

Kansas State (minus 3½) vs. Tennessee

Vols looking for seventh straight win. ... TENNESSEE, 33-21.

Gator Bowl (Jan. 1)

Virginia Tech (minus 6½) vs. Clemson

One of better QB matchups -- Tech's Michael Vick vs. Tigers' Woody Dantzler. ... VIRGINIA TECH, 41-38.

Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1)

Michigan (minus 8) vs. Auburn

Wolverines QB Drew Henson-to-WR David Terrell make the difference. ... MICHIGAN, 28-21.

Rose Bowl (Jan. 1)

Purdue (minus 1½) vs. Washington

Boilermakers QB Drew Brees looking for big finish to record-setting career. ... PURDUE, 35-28.

Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1)

Oregon State (minus 3) vs. Notre Dame

Beavers' offense too quick for Irish. ... OREGON STATE, 31-24.

Sugar Bowl (Jan. 2)

Florida (plus 5½) vs. Miami

'Canes have share of title at stake in first matchup of these rivals since '87. ... MIAMI, 31-21.

Orange Bowl (Jan. 3)

Oklahoma (plus 13) vs. Florida State

So much for perfection. ... FLORIDA STATE, 41-21.

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