We have reached the mouth of the postseason beast, with 29 bowl games in a 12-day torrent that starts Thursday and ends with the national championship Jan. 6.

Good luck avoiding the Belk Bowl and the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl and the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.

ESPN, which will broadcast 26 of the 29 games, won't let you.

Let's not pretend that every bowl is worth watching, but there are reasons to pay close attention over the 12-day span.

Here are 12 of them:

1. Prime prospects

Many of the presumptive top picks in the NFL draft will be on display, including Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Don't be surprised if one of them ends up being the Raiders' first-round pick.

2. Bob Stoops' mouth

The Oklahoma coach was hardly complimentary of the Southeastern Conference when speaking to a booster group last summer. He questioned the league's depth and called its claims of superiority "propaganda."

Stoops will get all the southern-fried football he could possibly want against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

3. Unheralded players

If you haven't seen BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy, Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews or Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles, they are worth a look.

Bortles could be a top-10 pick and the first quarterback selected if Bridgewater remains in school.

4. Pac-12's predicament

Talk about being set up to fail: The conference has sent nine teams into the postseason and was favored in all nine games.

Washington State already imploded -- the Cougars gave up 18 points in the final three minutes to Colorado State -- and a few more are sure to fall. The league's best season in ages could end with a thud.

5. Ka'Deem Carey's legs

The Arizona junior is the nation's best tailback, even better than his AdvoCare Bowl opponent, Boston College's Andre Williams, who has rushed for 2,102 yards.

Carey vs. Williams is the best tailback duel we have seen in the postseason in years.

6. The Rose Bowl

The 100th rendition of the Granddaddy of Them All is an old-school matchup featuring the No. 1 (Michigan State) and No. 3 (Stanford) run defenses in the country.

First team to 14 wins.

7. Bryce Petty's arm

The Baylor quarterback directs the nation's most-prolific offense. The Bears could hit their per-game average for points (53.3) in three quarters against overmatched Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl.

8. The Fight Hunger Bowl

The Bay Area's only bowl game makes its final appearance at AT&T Park with an intriguing matchup: Washington vs. BYU.

Next year, the Fight Hunger moves to Levi's Stadium, moves up the Pac-12 pecking order and welcomes a Big Ten opponent on the other side of the pairing.

9. Mack Brown's farewell

The longtime Texas coach will retire after the Alamo Bowl with a legacy that includes a national championship and too many underachieving seasons to count.

10. Florida State's talent

It's 1993 all over again: The Seminoles are as loaded with future NFL draft picks as they were during the height of their Bowden-era dominance.

11. Auburn's next miracle

The Tigers beat Georgia on a 73-yard deflected touchdown pass in the final seconds, then returned a missed field goal 109 yards to shock Alabama.

Will the football gods grant one final wish for the team that went 0-8 in the SEC last year?

12. The BCS bows out

After 16 chaotic years, the controversial Bowl Championship Series system gives way to a four-team playoff next season.

Mock the BCS and its antecedents (the Bowl Coalition and Bowl Alliance) if you like, but make no mistake: They made college football more popular and served as an essential bridge.

Without them, there would be no playoffs.

For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at jwilner@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5716.

SHOWSTOPPER
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is out to prove that he is more than just the most exciting player in college football.
Chick-fil-A Bowl Duke vs. Texas A&M Dec. 31, 5 p.m., ESPN

one-hit wonder?
South Carolina pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney caught the nation's eye last bowl season with a monster tackle on a Michigan ball carrier. But some are questioning whether he can be that dominant on a consistent basis.
Capital One Bowl
Wisconsin vs.
South Carolina
Jan. 1, 10 a.m., ABC

BACK FOR ANOTHER
Coach David Shaw and Stanford look
for their second consecutive Rose Bowl title in what should be a grind-it-out affair.
Rose Bowl Stanford vs. Michigan
Jan. 1, 2 p.m., ESPN