Are you one of those people who complain there are “too many bowls?” Well, I suspect you’re suffering from faux outrage. You just clicked on a headline that involves reading about 40 bowls. That means you’re going to watch them.
This year’s lineup is strong at the top, but at some point this list inevitably devolves into the realm of the absurd. For example, this year a 5-7 SEC team is playing a 6-6 MAC team in St. Petersburg, Fla. That’s the stuff of legend.
Here now, my annual ranking of this year’s bowl games, from 1 to 40.
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Fiesta (Dec. 31): Clemson (12-1) vs. Ohio State (11-1)
The last time Deshaun Watson graced University of Phoenix Stadium he carved up Alabama’s national championship defense. Can he do the same against Malik Hooker and the Buckeyes’ dominant unit? Can’t wait to find out.
Peach (Dec. 31): Alabama (13-0) vs. Washington (12-1)
Everybody’s predicting a blowout. It may well be. But don’t discount Chris Petersen’s ability to get a team ready to play on the big stage. Also — how cool would it be if he runs the Statue of Liberty against Nick Saban? C’mon, do it.
Two glamour programs return to the spotlight on presumably a gorgeous afternoon in Pasadena. Penn State QB Trace McSorley will keep lobbing up those deep balls. USC star Adoree’ Jackson will try to pick at least a couple of them off.
Orange (Dec. 30): Michigan (10-2) vs. Florida State (9-3)
Jim Harbaugh returns to the site of his most significant college victory to date, Stanford’s 2011 Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech. No Andrew Luck this time, just a ferocious defense hell-bent on slowing down FSU star Dalvin Cook.
The records don’t do justice to the intrigue as anticipated Heisman winner Lamar Jackson goes up against Tre’Davious White and the rest of LSU’s stout defense. It’s also Leonard Fournette’s last college game. Here’s guessing he’ll bring it.
Cotton (Jan. 2): Western Michigan (13-0) vs. Wisconsin (10-3)
P.J. Fleck’s undefeated team gets its moment in the sun. Broncos QB Zach Terrell has thrown 32 TDs and just three INTs. Conversely, the Badgers’ D has allowed just 22 TDs while notching 21 INTs. It’s on in Arlington.
Alamo (Dec. 29): Colorado (10-3) vs. Oklahoma State (9-3)
Colorado completes its improable rise from rags to Riverwalk. QB Sefo Liufau looks to make amends for his painful Pac-12 title game. Cowboys QB Mason Rudolph looks to impress NFL scouts against a tough pass defense.
Sooners QB Baker Mayfield’s announced he’s coming back in 2017, but it’s the last hurrah for WR Dede Westbrook and likely RBs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. Overlooked Auburn RB Kamryn Pettway looks to upstage all of them.
Russell Athletic (Dec. 28): West Virginia (10-2) vs. Miami (8-4)
You say West Virginia-Miami, I immediately think of Kellen Winslow Jr.’s one-handed catch. WVU looks to hit 11 wins for the first time in nine years. Miami looks for a momentum-building win to cap Mark Richt’s first year.
Las Vegas (Dec. 17): San Diego State (10-3) vs. Houston (9-3)
Vegas has a way of landing those sneaky-good matchups. Aztecs star Donnel Pumphrey needs 108 yards to break Ron Dayne’s career FBS rushing record (6,397). Houston’s third-ranked rushing defense is allowing 97.9.
Sun (Dec. 30): Stanford (9-3) vs. North Carolina (8-4)
UNC allowed a bowl-record 645 rushing yards by Baylor a year ago. This year’s challenge: Don’t let Christian McCaffrey do what he did to Iowa. It’s also Tar Heels QB Mitch Trubisky’s chance to show why he’s a budding draft darling.
Music City (Dec. 30): Nebraska (9-3) vs. Tennessee (8-4)
The last time we saw them, Tennessee fell to Vandy and Nebraska lost by 30 to Iowa. But bowl season is a time for redemption. And for stud Vols pass-rusher Derek Barnett to wreak havoc on whichever Nebraska QB is healthy.
If it feels like you’ve seen this movie before, well, the Hawkeyes and Gators met in both the 2004 and 2006 Outback Bowls. Florida ranks 115th nationally in total offense, Iowa 120th. But the Gators hold a distinct edge in punting (third to 68th).
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Texas (Dec. 28): Texas A&M (8-4) vs. Kansas State (8-4)
It’s that special time of year when Bill Snyder adds a new windbreaker to his collection. Kevin Sumlin just wants to add a number 9 to the win column after the Aggies’ descent from No. 4 in the country to No. 4 in the SEC West.
Belk (Dec. 29): Virginia Tech (9-4) vs. Arkansas (7-5)
The Hokies suffered a 45-24 loss to Tennessee way back in Week 2. They can end things on a more positive note by beating this SEC foe and getting revenge for the fake “Bret Bielema forgot to vote for us” controversy.
Holiday (Dec. 27): Washington State (8-4) vs. Minnesota (8-4)
Cougars QB Luke Falk has thrown 37 TDs and 10 INTs. Gophers QB Mitch Leidner has thrown seven touchdowns and 12 picks. Somehow their teams managed to wind up in San Diego having compiled the same record.
Pinstripe (Dec. 28): Pittsburgh (8-4) vs. Northwestern (6-6)
This game won’t feel right unless there’s a foot of snow on the ground. Panthers RB James Conner is coming in off three straight 100-yard games. Wildcats Biletnikoff finalist Austin Carr should go off on the Panthers’ secondary.
TaxSlayer (Dec. 31): Georgia Tech (8-4) vs. Kentucky (7-5)
Both teams ended the season with surprising upsets of their more publicized rivals. Kentucky hasn’t played in such a high-profile bowl this century. Georgia Tech ... won the Orange Bowl two years ago. Forgot that one, didn’t you?
Foster Farms (Dec. 28): Utah (8-4) vs. Indiana (6-6)
Indiana’s Tom Allen makes his head-coaching debut at Levi’s Stadium. The first challenge for the Hoosiers’ defensive coordinator: Figuring out how to contain Utes RB Joe Williams. Utes DE Hunter Dimick tries to add to his 14.5 sacks.
Cactus (Dec. 27): Boise State (10-2) vs. Baylor (6-6)
With a lame-duck coach and a six-game losing streak, Baylor’s season can’t end fast enough. It got the Big 12’s earliest bowl. Boise returns to Arizona for the second time in three years. Tell the bus driver this bowl is in Tempe.
Kirby Smart is accustomed to coaching for national championships. Gary Patterson is accustomed to coaching 10-win teams. Neither had a particularly enjoyable season with their underachieving squads. But they’re loving the extra practices.
Birmingham (Dec. 29): USF (10-2) vs. South Carolina (6-6)
Have you seen Bulls QB Quinton Flowers yet? He’s the AAC’s Lamar Jackson, throwing for 2,551 yards while rushing for 1,425. A walking defensive nightmare like Flowers calls for a healthy dose of Muschamp.
Independence (Dec. 26): NC State (6-6) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6)
In an already satisfying season for Vandy in which it beat Georgia and Tennessee and clobbered Ole Miss, any bowl is like the Rose Bowl. NC State, for its part, chose Shreveport over Annapolis. Maybe someone likes to play the slots.
Boca Raton (Dec. 20): Western Kentucky (10-3) vs. Memphis (8-4)
You like points? Good. Because the Hilltoppers average 45.1, the Tigers 39.5, and there’s very little chance either will bother playing a lick of defense during a Tuesday night bowl game played in a Sun Belt stadium.
Military (Dec. 27): Temple (10-3) vs. Wake Forest (6-6)
The Owls return to Annapolis just a few weeks after capturing an AAC title there. The Deacons return to the postseason for the first time in five years. Touchdowns will not be nearly as easy to come by as crab cakes.
The schools met 77 times before a little thing called realignment came along in 2010. Now they meet again, on the 20th anniversary of the Cougars’ famed overtime win against the Cowboys in the 1996 WAC Championship Game. You remember it.
Camellia (Dec. 17): Appalachian State (9-3) vs. Toledo (9-3)
App State is making its second Camellia Bowl appearance, impressive given the bowl is only three years old. The Mountaineers will try to prevent Rockets QB Logan Woodside from adding to his national-best 43 passing TDs.
Quick Lane (Dec. 26): Maryland (6-6) vs. Boston College (6-6)
The Terps and Eagles went a combined 5-12 in their conferences. They are ranked 69th and 80th respectively in Sagarin. If there’s been a worse bowl matchup of two power conference teams, I’ve mercifully forgotten about it.
Armed Forces (Dec. 23): Navy (9-4) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-5)
Hard to believe this is only Navy’s second Armed Forces Bowl appearance. That’s some false advertising right there. Louisiana Tech scores 44 points a game. Time for a couple of Navy’s patented 10-minute keep-away drives.
Dollar General (Dec. 23): Troy (9-3) vs. Ohio (8-5)
Troy briefly cracked the Top 25 a few weeks ago and is best known for giving Clemson a scare. Ohio is best known for seemingly immortal head coach Frank Solich. They meet in the game formerly known as the GoDaddy Bowl.
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Miami Beach (Dec. 19): Tulsa (9-3) vs. Central Michigan (6-6)
This bowl is being played on a Monday afternoon in a decidedly pro sports market between two schools located a combined 3,000 miles away. The only people who are going to see this game are the cameramen.
Cure (Dec. 17): Arkansas State (7-5) vs. UCF (6-6)
The Knights went from winless in 2015 to bowl-eligible in 2016 and still don’t get to leave Orlando. Arkansas State has a rabid fan base that may travel well. How many rides can one squeeze in at Disney World before a 5:30 p.m. kickoff?
St. Petersburg (Dec. 26): Miami of Ohio (6-6) vs. Mississippi State (5-7)
It took an Egg Bowl upset and a good APR score for the Bulldogs to go bowling. It took an 0-6 to 6-6 turnaround for the Redhawks to join them. Their reward is to play in a baseball stadium the morning after Christmas.
Hawaii (Dec. 24): Middle Tennessee (8-4) vs. Hawaii (6-7)
If your Christmas Eves haven’t felt the same lately, it’s probably because Hawaii had not made the Hawaii Bowl since 2010. The Warriors welcome stud MTSU rusher I’Tavius Mathers, who led an Oct. 22 upset of Missouri.
Bahamas (Dec. 23): Old Dominion (9-3) vs. Eastern Michigan (7-5)
Dreams really do come true. Old Dominion started its program from scratch seven years ago and it’s already going to the Bahamas. Eastern Michigan hasn’t been bowling in 29 years. Now it requires a passport.
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Idaho Potato (Dec. 22): Idaho (8-4) vs. Colorado State (7-5)
Idaho is a year away from becoming the first FBS school to drop down to FCS. Should the Vandals beat the Rams in this they’ll move to 3-0 all-time in bowl games. Just go 4-8 next year and quit while you’re still perfect.
Arizona (Dec. 30): Air Force (9-3) vs. South Alabama (6-6)
America’s favorite streaming bowl game pits Air Force against an enigmatic Sun Belt foe that beat Mississippi State and San Diego State but lost to ULM and Georgia Southern. Log on and breathe in the excitement.
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New Mexico (Dec. 17): New Mexico (8-4) vs. UTSA (6-6)
Just to clear things up, no, New Mexico does not play in the New Mexico Bowl every year (it just seems like it). And UTSA (University of Texas at San Antonio) is not to be confused with the USTA (United States Tennis Association).
Heart of Dallas (Dec. 27): Army (7-5) vs. North Texas (5-7)
It’s always good to see Army back in the realm of respectability. It should have no shortage of supporters at the Cotton Bowl. For North Texas, this game is just 40 miles from campus. It, too, should have some fans in the stands.
New Orleans (Dec. 17): Southern Miss (6-6) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (6-6)
This clash of 6-6 Group of 5 teams will likely draw 40-50,000 to the centrally located Superdome, and its Saturday primetime slot on ESPN will draw more eyeballs than an NBA game. Still think bowls are dying?