It used to be that six- and seven-win teams wouldn't sniff a January bowl game, so what a treat it must be for the Pittsburgh Panthers and the Houston Cougars to square off in the Armed Forces Bowl this year.
For Pitt, you look back at the schedule and quite frankly, there isn't a whole lot to like as far as big wins and memorable moments. The Panthers started 3-0, which included a 30-20 victory at Boston College, but followed it up with six losses in their next seven games, counting a 21-10 loss to Akron.
But quarterback Chad Voytik and company rallied in the final two weeks of the regular season with impressive victories against Syracuse and Miami to reach the all-important six-win mark and become bowl-eligible. The late-season push paid off, and the program will get an additional month of practice to not only prepare for Houston, but continue to get better as a whole.
Most folks are familiar with Houston from the occasional flirtation with an undefeated season or the offense that has, for so many years, put up plenty of big numbers through the air. The 2014 campaign got off to a slow start and the Cougars sat at 2-3 heading into an Oct. 11 contest with Memphis in which Houston emerged victorious.
That led to four more wins in the final six games of the season, an on Saturday Houston put up an admirable fight in a 38-31 loss to Cincinnati on the road. The Cougars will now have a chance to reach eight wins for a third straight year.
Here's what you need to know:
Date: Friday, January 2
Time: 12 p.m. ET
Place: Fort Worth, Texas
The Texas Longhorns have a chance to finish year one of the Charlie Strong era with a record better than .500 in the Advocare Texas Bowl. But the game will be anything but easy for the Longhorns.
Texas will face 6-6 Arkansas, which made significant strides toward the end of the 2014 season.
The Longhorns control the overall series record against their former Southwest Conference foe and have won 56 games compared to the Razorbacks' 21.
But all-time record will not impact what happens when the two teams take the field on December 29. What team will leave Houston with a winning 2014 season record?
Let's take a look.
When: Monday, Dec. 29, 9 p.m. EST
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
Last meeting: Sept. 27, 2008, Austin, Texas
Last meeting outcome: Texas 52, Arkansas 10
The North Carolina Tar Heels (6-6) will meet the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (7-5) in the 2014 Quick Lane Bowl.
It was the inaugural season for Rutgers in the Big Ten, and it started quite well for the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers got off to a 5-1 start before dropping four of its final six games.
The Scarlet Knights dealt with several injuries throughout the season, but to be bowl-eligible in their first season in the Big Ten is a good accomplishment.
The high point of Rutgers' 2014 season was its victory over Michigan back on October 4.
For the Tar Heels, it was another disappointing season. At 6-6 (4-4 ACC), it goes down as another mediocre season in a year where the ACC Coastal Division was UNC's for the taking.
Back-to-back wins over Pittsburgh and Duke in November were the highest points in UNC's season.
This is the first year that Ford Motor Company is the official sponsor for this bowl game, formerly known as the Motor City Bowl.
- When: Friday, December 26, 2014
- Where: Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan
- Time: 4:40 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN
- Radio: ESPN Radio
- Spread: The spread is not currently available; we will update once it does become known.
On Jan. 2, the Tennessee Volunteers (6-6) will face off versus the Iowa Hawkeyes (7-5) in the TaxSlayer Bowl (formerly known as the Gator Bowl) in Jacksonville, Florida.
This game represents an interesting dynamic. Both teams pride themselves upon playing extremely well on the defensive side of the ball. Tennessee allowed 23.9 points per game this season, and Iowa allowed only 24.0 points a game.
The big difference comes in the category of experience. Iowa is a veteran-laden bunch. Tennessee relies primarily upon underclassmen. Regardless, this game presents an opportunity for both programs to begin the new year on a positive note.
Here's everything you need to know:
Date: Friday, January 2
Time: 3:20 p.m. ET
Place: EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida
Radio: ESPN Radio
Penn State will play in its first bowl game since the 2011 postseason as the Nittany Lions (6-6) will face Boston College (7-5) in the Pinstripe Bowl.
This is Penn State's first bowl game after a two-year absence due to sanctions imposed as part of the Jerry Sandusky case.
The teams haven't played since 2004, when BC won 21-7.
Let's take a look a the Pinstripe Bowl, which will be played on Dec. 27 at 4:30 p.m. (ESPN).
The Clemson Tigers and Oklahoma Sooners are set to square off in the Russell Athletic Bowl, played on Dec. 29 in Orlando, Florida.
The Tigers (9-3) are coming off a 35-17 win over their in-state rival South Carolina, while the Sooners (8-4) are limping into the postseason after losing to Oklahoma State this past Saturday.
Both of these teams came away with big bowl wins last season—Clemson in the Orange Bowl and Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl—so this matchup should be much anticipated.