New Year’s Day 2015 bowl viewing guide

The first year of the College Football Playoff may have changed the look of the postseason. One thing stays intact: a New Year’s Day packed with anticipated bowl games, including the first national semifinals. Here’s your viewing guide to the five games (all times EST):

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OUTBACK BOWL

No. 17 Wisconsin (10-3) vs. No. 19 Auburn (8-4), at Tampa, Florida, noon (ESPN2)

Line: Auburn by 6 1/2.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

Both teams are coming off losses — Wisconsin 59-0 to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game, Auburn 55-44 to No. 1 Alabama — and have undergone some change since those games. The Badgers lost coach Gary Andersen to Oregon State and the Tigers fired defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. Wisconsin will be led by athletic director and former long-time coach Barry Alvarez, who’s returning to the sideline for a bowl game for the second time in three seasons.

KEY MATCHUP

Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon leads the nation with 2,336 yards rushing and finished second in Heisman Trophy balloting. He poses quite a challenge for a defense that ranked ninth overall in the Southeastern Conference. The junior has already declared for the NFL draft was limited to 76 yards in the Big Ten title game and is 292 shy of the FBS single-season rushing record Barry Sanders set at Oklahoma State in 1988.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Wisconsin: Gordon keys a powerful ground attack, but Badgers do put the ball in the air, too. Joel Stave has started nine games at quarterback, throwing for 1,229 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. Tanner McEvoy has completed 58 percent of his passes for 709 yards, five TDs and six interceptions.

Auburn: RB Cameron Artis-Payne leads the SEC in rushing with 1,482 yards and 11 touchdowns. However, the player who makes the Tigers go is QB Nick Marshall, who’s thrown for 2,315 yards and 18 TDs, while also rushing for 780 yards and 11 TDs. Leading receiver D’haquille Williams (40 receptions, 730 yards, five TDs) will miss the game after being suspended for a violation of team rules.

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COTTON BOWL

No. 7 Michigan State (10-2) vs. No. 4 Baylor (11-1), at Arlington, Texas, 12:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Baylor by 2 1/2.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

Baylor, the first team left out of the four-team playoff, is going for its school-record 12th win and trying to prove it was worthy of a being considered for the College Football Playoff. Michigan State, the Rose Bowl champion last season, is going for its fourth consecutive bowl victory after its only two losses during the regular season were to teams in the first playoff.

KEY MATCHUP

Baylor offense vs. Michigan State defense. The Bears again have the nation’s most productive offense (581 total yards and 49 points a game). Michigan State is seventh nationally allowing 294 total yards per game, and is trying to join Florida as the only teams to finish in the top 10 in that category the past four years. This is also the last game at Michigan State for defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who will be Pittsburgh’s new coach.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Michigan State: All-Big Ten receiver Tony Lippett (60 catches, 1,124 yards) leads the league with 11 touchdown catches. He is only the fourth Spartans receiver with at least 50 catches, 1,000 yards and 10 TDs in a season.

Baylor: All-Big 12 DE Shawn Oakman, the 6-foot-9 junior who said this week he plans to return to Baylor for his senior season, has 10 quarterback sacks and 18 1/2 tackles for loss.

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CITRUS BOWL

No. 16 Missouri (10-3, 7-1 SEC ) vs. Minnesota (8-4, 5-3 Big Ten), at Orlando, Florida, 1 p.m. (ABC)

Line: Missouri by 4 1/2

WHAT’S AT STAKE

The Tigers are in their second consecutive New Year’s Day bowl for the first time since 1960-61, and are looking to post their third straight bowl win (2011 Independence, 2014 Cotton). It would be their first such three-game winning streak since the 1970s. Minnesota is back in a New Year’s Day bowl for the first time since 1962, when it beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl. The Golden Gophers are looking for their first bowl victory since 2004, having lost in their last six bowl appearances.

KEY MATCHUP

In three losses this season, Missouri’s biggest issue was neutralizing their opponent’s ability to run the ball. The Tigers gave up 241 yards to Indiana in a 31-27 loss, 210 yards to Georgia (34-0 loss), and 242 yards to Alabama in a 42-13 loss in the SEC title game. In its 10 victories, Missouri allowed opponents to average of just 102.9 yards per game. Minnesota enters the game with the 25th-ranked rushing offense in the nation, averaging 224.6 yards per contest.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Missouri: If the Tigers are going to disrupt the Golden Gophers rushing attack, they will need defensive ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden to have big games. Their 22.5 combined sacks led the SEC. They have combined for 36 1/2 tackles for a loss this season, the most of any duo in the SEC.

Minnesota: RB David Cobb will be counted on to set the offensive tone for the Golden Gophers. He set a school single-season record with 1,545 yards. He posted a career-high 220 yards rushing against Middle Tennessee and is one of seven Gophers to have multiple 200-yard games.

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ROSE BOWL

Playoff semifinal: No. 2 seed Florida State (13-0) vs. No. 3 seed Oregon (12-1), 5:10 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Oregon by 9.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

The first semifinal in the first College Football Playoff is also the 101st edition of the Rose Bowl, and there’s a Heisman Trophy winner on each sideline at the Granddaddy of Them All. Marcus Mariota leads Pac-12 champion Oregon and its offense against Florida State and Jameis Winston, who won the national championship on this same field 360 days ago before extending their current winning streak to 29 games.

KEY MATCHUP

Florida State WR Rashad Greene vs. Oregon CB Troy Hill. Greene is arguably the most accomplished receiver in the Seminoles’ rich history at the position, a precise route-runner with speed and senior smarts. The Ducks were eager to match him with All-America cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, but he injured his knee in practice. The job falls to the experienced Hill, who should be locked in on Greene all day.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Florida State: S Jalen Ramsey. The gifted sophomore could be the Seminoles’ biggest difference-maker against Oregon’s high-scoring offense. Along with his coverage and tackling skills, he has been effective lately on the blitz — which might be the only way to slow down Mariota.

Oregon: RB Royce Freeman. The Ducks’ inexhaustible collection of talented tailbacks has another star in this freshman from Southern California who has been outstanding from his first game. He racked up 1,299 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Pac-12’s top rushing offense, and the Rose Bowl could cement his place on the national stage.

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SUGAR BOWL

Playoff semifinal: No. 4 seed Ohio State (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten) vs. No. 1 seed Alabama (12-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference), 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Alabama by 9.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

Under the new College Football Playoff system, the Sugar Bowl doubles this season as a national semifinal, with the winner advancing to the national championship game in Dallas against the winner of the other semifinal, the Rose Bowl matchup between No. 2 seed Oregon and No. 3 seed Florida State.

KEY MATCHUP

Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones, who is making only his second start in place of injured J.T. Barrett, faces an Alabama secondary that has looked vulnerable at times this season. Jones passed for 257 and three TDs with no interceptions in Ohio State’s 59-0 victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. The Crimson Tide gave up 456 yards passing just two games ago to Auburn in the Iron Bowl, but won the game.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ohio State: Defensive end Joey Bosa has 20 tackles for losses, including 13 1/2 sacks. His honors this season include All-American, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a finalist for the Lombardi, Hendricks and Bednarik awards.

Alabama: Wide receiver Amari Cooper was a Heisman Trophy finalist this season. His 115 catches for a nation-leading 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns set Alabama single-season records in each category.

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Online: http://www.collegefootball.ap.org

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