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A guide to college football's 35 bowls

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The BCS has been criticized plenty for not getting it right over the years, from all those teams that believed they should have been playing for a national title to last year's all-SEC championship game.

But for all its faults, the system seemed to work this season, producing a matchup for the ages: Notre Dame vs. Alabama.

The Fighting Irish and Crimson Tide, programs tied for the most Associated Press national titles, in Miami, playing for a national championship - yeah, this could be pretty good.

Alabama and Notre Dame also happen to be two of the most polarizing teams in the country, so if you love one, chances are you hate the other.

Of course, if you hate both, it might be a tough night of yelling at the TV, hoping that somehow neither team wins.

Either way, the good news is there's plenty of other great games and players to watch over the next three weeks.

Here's a bit of what to look for in this year's 35 bowl games:

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TOP GAMES

Fiesta Bowl, Oregon vs. Kansas State, Jan. 3, Glendale, Ariz. For the second straight year, the Fiesta Bowl has a matchup that could be 1A to the national title game. The Ducks and Wildcats were national title contenders just a few weeks ago and have two of the nation's most dynamic players in running back Kenjon Barner and K-State QB Collin Klein.

Rose Bowl, Stanford vs. Wisconsin, Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif. There might be a collision or two between these two power programs.

Cotton Bowl, Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma, Jan. 4, Arlington, Texas. Johnny Heisman and Landry Jones could combine for 1,000 yards and 10 TDs on their own.

Orange Bowl, Northern Illinois vs. Florida State, Jan. 1, Miami. Just to see if the BCS-busting Huskies do actually belong.

New Mexico Bowl, Nevada vs. Arizona, Dec. 15, Albuquerque. Two of the nation's best scoring offenses against two of the nation's worst scoring defenses. The bowl season will kick off with fireworks.

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PLAYERS TO WATCH

Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. Johnny Football broke the freshman barrier in the Heisman Trophy vote. `Nuff said. Faces Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

Manti Te'o, Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish linebacker came up just short in becoming the first true defensive player to win the Heisman. About the only thing he's missed all season.

Collin Klein, Kansas State. Another Heisman finalist, he has a just-get-it-done quality in the vein of Tim Tebow.

Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona. Led the FBS in rushing, might get a few more yards against Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl.

Tavon Austin, West Virginia. All-American lines up all over the field, and is a threat to score from anywhere. Gets Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Montee Ball, Wisconsin. He's only scored more touchdowns than anyone in FBS history.

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BOWL SPONSORS

Food is again king when it comes to sponsoring bowls. The dot-coms? About done.

Food-related companies were tops in sponsors bowls last season with seven and there's one more this season with Insight Bowl becoming the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. It joins Tostitos, Chick-fil-a, Outback, Kraft, Beef `O' Brady's, Little Caesars and the Idaho Potato Commission in bowl sponsorship.

Tying for second most are auto-related companies and financial companies with five each.

This year's lineup also includes an aerospace and defense contractor, a helicopter company, a department store, a hotel chain and a consumer electronics company.

What's missing are the dot-coms.

Once the dominant force of bowl sponsorships, online companies are down to two: the GoDaddy.com Bowl and TaxSlayer.com sponsoring the Gator Bowl.

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ODDS

A year ago, oddsmakers were predicting a tight BCS championship game, opening with a spread of one point between LSU and Alabama.

They're looking for a little more lopsided game this year, with the Crimson Tide opening as a 7 1-2-point favorite over Notre Dame on the Glantz-Culver Line.

The closest game was one point between UCLA and Baylor in the Holiday Bowl and the highest opening spread was the Heart of Dallas Bowl, where Oklahoma State was giving up 18 points to Purdue.

Despite predictions of a close game, the Holiday Bowl has the highest over/under of 79 1-2 points between UCLA and Baylor. Could be fun to watch if they live up to the prediction.

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DISTANCES

The farthest distance to travel to a bowl this season will be SMU's halfway-across-the-Pacific journey to the Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu, a trip of about 3,800 miles.

For anyone wanting to take a long road trip in a car - good luck with that - the longest non-water distance is about 2,800 miles. That's roughly how far San Jose State will go to play Bowling Green in the Military Bowl in Washington D.C. and Navy's trip to San Francisco for the Fight Hunger Bowl against Arizona State.

Vanderbilt and San Diego State have the shortest trip: nowhere.

The Commodores get to face North Carolina State in the Music City Bowl in Nashville and the Aztecs will play against BYU in the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego.

Other short trips include Central Florida in the Beef `O' Brady Bowl (about 100 miles), Duke at the Belk Bowl (140), Louisiana-Lafayette at the New Orleans Bowl and Central Michigan at the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (both around 150).

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NUMBERS

0.0404-Points by which Northern Illinois got into the coveted top 16 of the BCS standings.

1-Bowl game for Louisiana-Monroe in its history after being selected to face Ohio in the Independence Bowl.

9-Wins by Louisiana Tech, which was left out of the bowl season after failing to meet a deadline with the Independence Bowl and wasn't pick for another bowl.

10.33-Points per game allowed by Notre Dame, best in the country. Alabama is No. 2 at 10.69.

18-Years since Duke's last bowl appearance. The Blue Devils will face Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27 in Charlotte.

173.08-Passing efficiency by Alabama's A.J. McCarron, best in the country.

383.33-Yards of total offense by Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, second nationally.

578.75-Yards per game by Baylor's offense, tops in FBS.

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GAMES NOT TO WATCH

OK, we know we're going to take a little heat on this one, but truth is, with 35 bowl games, there's going to be some clunkers in there.

So, with apologies to the bowls, the teams and their fans, here's a few game you might want to skip for something more entertaining like, say, watching icicles melt from the eaves:

Sun Bowl, Georgia Tech vs. Southern California, Dec. 31, El Paso, Texas. Georgia Tech (6-7) has a losing record and had to get a waiver from the NCAA just to get in. The Trojans may be the most underachieving team in the country, losing five games after opening the season as the preseason No. 1.

Armed Forces Bowl, Rice vs. Air Force. Dec. 29, Fort Worth, Texas. We hate saying anything negative about the men and women at the service academies, but a matchup of 6-6 teams isn't particularly exciting no matter who it is.

BBVA Compass Bowl, Pittsburgh vs. Ole Miss, Jan. 5, Birmingham. See 6-6 line above.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Michigan State vs. TCU, Dec. 29, Tempe, Ariz. Not only is it a matchup of a 6-6 team (MSU) against one that's 7-5, the calling card for these two teams are their defenses. First one to six points doesn't exactly get us jazzed up.

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Follow John Marshall at www.Twitter.com/johnmarshallap

Tagged: Wisconsin, Arizona, Alabama, Notre Dame, Baylor, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Texas, Collin Klein, Johnny Manziel

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