Bowling into the New Year

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:11 PM ET

Finally, we're getting to the really good stuff as the calendar gets set to turn.

What better way to ring in the New Year than with a bevy of college bowl games? Though you'll have to wait an extra day to start 2006 -- with New Year's Day falling on a Sunday, the home domain for the NFL, the biggest of bowl days has been shifted to Monday.

And, for the most part, these are the best of the best, although the advent of the Bowl Championship Series has now made Jan. 4 (or thereabouts) home base for the 'granddaddy of them all.'

Still, there's plenty to get excited about on Monday. Six games, every one of them matching up a pair of ranked teams.

And all of this far-from-dirty dozen actually deserves to be there.

The juiciest pairing of them all -- the Fiesta Bowl, which brings together Ohio State and Notre Dame, two of the most storied programs in college football history. Amazingly, it's only their fifth meeting ever. No wonder it's the most anticipated bowl this side of Texas-USC in the Rose (more on that one next week).

Keep an eye out, too, for the Sugar Bowl, transplanted to Atlanta this year because of Hurricane Katrina's devastation in New Orleans. Sure, it becomes a bit of a home game for SEC champion Georgia, but don't underestimate West Virginia, a Big East king that's sneaky good.

Let's take a closer look at the football fare that rings in 2006:

COTTON BOWL

(at Dallas)

No. 18 Texas Tech (-31/2) vs. No. 13 Alabama (Monday, 11 a.m., Fox) -- Major contrast in styles here. Red Raiders average 530 ypg, while Crimson Tide has only allowed 118 points all year. Alabama stumbled down the stretch after a 9-0 start. DeMeco Ryans and the defence make the most of chance for redemption against a pass-happy foe. PICK: ALABAMA.

OUTBACK BOWL

(at Tampa, Fla.)

No. 16 Florida (-11/2) vs. No. 25 Iowa (Monday, 11 a.m., TSN) -- Few teams were hotter than Hawkeyes at season's end, thanks to maturing defence. They'll be tested by QB Chris Leak and Gators, who figure to be the fan favourites here. Iowa used a last-play TD to beat an SEC team in a bowl last year. More dramatics, perhaps? PICK: IOWA.

GATOR BOWL

(at Jacksonville, Fla.)

No. 12 Virginia Tech (-8) vs. No. 15 Louisville (Monday, 12:30 p.m., NBC) -- Hokies in regrouping mode after blowing shot at Orange Bowl. QB Marcus Vick better be sharp, with Cardinals' sack master Elvis Dumeril hot on his tail all day. With QB Brian Brohm out, look for Louisville to pound away with RB Michael Bush. It won't be enough against a fierce defence. PICK: VIRGINIA TECH.

CAPITAL ONE BOWL

(at Orlando, Fla.)

No. 7 Auburn (-101/2) vs. No. 21 Wisconsin (Monday, 1 p.m., ABC)-- Tigers were the SEC's best team at season's end, and a worthy foe for any bowl team. RB Kenny Irons and QB Brandon Cox have prospered big-time behind a standout offensive line. Badgers would like to send off retiring coach Barry Alvarez with a victory. Wrong time, wrong opponent. PICK: AUBURN.

FIESTA BOWL

(at Tempe, Ariz.)

No. 4 Ohio State (-41/2) vs. No. 5 Notre Dame (Monday, 4:30 p.m., ABC/The Score) -- You've no doubt heard plenty about QB Brady Quinn, WR Jeff Samardzija and the high-octane Irish offence. But QB Troy Smith had the Buckeyes' attack in high gear by season's end, with home-run threats Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes. And Quinn and Co. haven't yet seen anything like A.J. Hawk-led Ohio State defence. They'll supply the difference in a tight one. PICK: NOTRE DAME.

SUGAR BOWL

(at Atlanta)

No. 8 Georgia (-61/2) vs. No. 11 West Virginia (Monday, 8:30 p.m., ABC/The Score) -- An untimely injury to QB D.J. Shockley might have cost Bulldogs an unbeaten season. He's healthy now, which is bad news for Mountaineers. West Virginia's offence is led by two freshman sensations, QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton. But the Dawgs' defence has way too much bite. PICK: GEORGIA.

ORANGE BOWL

(at Miami)

No. 3 Penn State (-91/2) vs. No. 22 Florida State (Tuesday, 8 p.m., ABC) -- All the pre-game talk is about college football's two winningest coaches of all time, Nittany Lions' Joe Paterno (353 wins) and Seminoles' Bobby Bowden (359). Both teams own stout defences. But Joe Pa's QB, Michael Robinson, is vastly superior. PICK: PENN STATE.

Bowl record -- 9-4 straight up; 7-5-1 ATS.

rob.brodie@ott.sunpub.com


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