Best of the Bowls: No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Alabama, anyone?

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Best of the Bowls: No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Alabama, anyone?

So many bowls, so little time. That’s where I come in. Think of me as your bowl concierge. Time is precious. You need guidance and direction.

[ MORE: Full 2015-16 bowl schedule | Ranking the bowls, 1-40 | Big Ten bowl bags | Big Ten bowl factoids | Get all of our bowl coverage ]

With that said, before you go ahead and make any bowl-watching plans, check out my Best of the Big Ten Bowls list.

Best game: Michigan State vs. Alabama, Cotton Bowl. It has to be the national semifinal, right? Yep. There are so many good storylines, including Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban facing his former school. The Tide has won three national titles under Saban, who typically has Bama in the hunt every year. Mark Dantonio has made MSU one of the top programs in the nation.
Honorable mention: Ohio State vs. Notre Dame, Fiesta Bowl.

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Best chance for a shootout: Ohio State vs. Notre Dame, Fiesta Bowl. The Buckeyes are No. 29 in the nation in scoring (35.0 ppg), while the Fighting Irish are No. 31 (34.8 ppg). These attacks teem with talent—and they are well-coached.
Honorable mention: Indiana vs. Duke, Pinstripe Bowl.

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Best chance for an upset: Michigan State over Alabama. The Spartans are a sizable underdog to Alabama, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see them pull the upset—like Ohio State did to the Tide in the Sugar Bowl playoff last season. Michigan State’s defense figures to keep it in the game. The key to winning will be how well the Spartans can run to open room for Connor Cook to pass.
Honorable mention: Iowa over Stanford, Rose Bowl.

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Best chance for a slugfest: Michigan State vs. Alabama. The Cotton Bowl should resemble a UFC cage match. Both offenses are physical units that love to run the ball. And the defenses are loaded with future NFL players and athletic ability. In other words, keep your eye on the trenches in this one.
Honorable mention: Michigan vs. Florida, Citrus Bowl

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Best setting: Rose Bowl. C’mon. This is an easy one. The sun, the San Gabriel Mountains, the history. Soak it all in when you watch Iowa play Stanford in SoCal splendor.
Honorable mention: Pinstripe Bowl.

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Best opponent: Alabama. The Crimson Tide are the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, going 12-1 en route to winning the SEC title. Alabama has become the bellwether of the SEC—and nation, for that matter–under Nick Saban, winning national titles in 2009, 2011 and 2012.
Honorable mention: Notre Dame.

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Best bowl no one is talking about: Nebraska vs. UCLA, Foster Farms Bowl. Yes, the Cornhuskers are 5-7. But Nebraska suffered many close losses, losing on a Hail Mary (BYU) and in overtime (Miami FL) among other excruciating defeats, including by a point at Illinois and two points vs. Wisconsin and Northwestern.
Honorable mention: Indiana vs. Duke, Pinstripe Bowl.

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Player on the spot: Joel Stave, QB, Wisconsin vs. USC. If Wisconsin is going to beat USC in the Holiday Bowl, Stave has to play well. The senior has had an up-and-down season, completing 60.3 percent of his passes with just 10 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. Stave needs to avoid turnovers and make some plays down field to open room for a rushing attack that often struggles to gain traction.
Honorable mention: Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson vs. Tennessee.

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Best quarterback battle: Iowa’s C.J. Beathard vs. Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, Rose Bowl. Beathard has been revelation, winning his first 13 starts before finally losing in the Big Ten title game. He has a strong right arm and a willingness to use it, while also bringing toughness and athletic ability to the equation. Hogan has led the Cardinal to three Pac-12 titles. He has 35 career wins (more than any other active QB), is 15-6 vs. ranked teams, has over 9,000 career yards passing and is the first Stanford QB to run for more than 1,000 yards.
Honorable mention: Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld vs. Duke’s Thomas Sirk, Pinstripe Bowl.

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Best coaching matchup: Mark Dantonio vs. Nick Saban, Cotton Bowl. So many good ones. But it has to be Dantonio vs. Saban, two of the best in the business. Dantonio has won 11 or more games in five of the last six seasons with three Big Ten titles. Saban has won three national championships, making the Crimson Tide college football’s “it” program.
Honorable mention: Ohio State’s Urban Meyer vs. Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly, Fiesta Bowl.

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Best coordinator matchup: Ohio State defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Chris Ash vs. Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, Fiesta Bowl. The battle of wits between these guys should be good theater. Ash was just named Rutgers coach but will remain with OSU for the bowl. The Irish are No. 31 in the nation in total offense (34.8 ppg). The rushing game is 25th nationally (214.8 ypg), as the Irish have still thrived despite dealing with some key injuries. The Buckeyes allow just 14.0 ppg, 303.5 ypg and 127.3 yrpg. OSU has yielded just eight rushing TDs, the fewest in the Big Ten.
Honorable mention: Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker vs. Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren, Rose Bowl

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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