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Your perfect bowl season: Sizing up top 20 bowl games to watch

There's a lot of bowl games coming up, and while all football is good, some games are better than others. Here are the 20 best bowl games and what to watch for in each of them.

Bowl games are like pizza. Even bad bowl games are better than having no bowl games at all. If there’s a bowl game in front of you, you’re going to consume it. You don’t really complain. That being said, truly good (or great!) bowl games -- also like pizza -- are memorable and seem like another category entirely.

This year’s bowl slate has a lot of very high-potential games, with storylines and matchups to entice even the most fickle palate. So put on your football pants, work up an appetite and get ready.

Bowl season is upon us, the merriest of the merry. Here’s a spotlight on 20 games to watch because I care about you all so much.

On the marquee

Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual: Oregon vs. Florida State

Jan. 1, 5 p.m., ESPN

Most of the focus will deservedly be on Marcus Mariota vs. Jameis Winston, but there’s an undercard of a matchup that’s almost as intriguing. That’s the battle of freshman running backs Royce Freeman and Dalvin Cook, without whom the Ducks and Seminoles probably wouldn’t be in the playoff in the first place.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Ohio State

Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Nick Saban coaching against Urban Meyer again is a treat in and of itself. That coupled with two of the best offensive coordinators in college football looking for answers against defenses stacked with speed and athleticism should make for an incredible football game. This game is exactly why we begged and pleaded for a playoff in the first place.

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Ole Miss vs. TCU

Dec. 31, 12:30 p.m., ESPN

The Horned Frogs might still be a bit salty over missing out on the College Football Playoff, but the Peach Bowl is a heck of a consolation prize. Watching Trevone Boykin operate against that Landshark defense will be more than enough reason to start watching football early on New Year’s Eve.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: Michigan State vs. Baylor

Jan. 1, 12:30 p.m., ESPN

Now we’re talking. Had things gone a bit differently this season, this might have been one of your playoff semifinals. Instead it’s just one really, really good bowl game.

The lead-ins

Capital One Orange Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech

Dec. 31, 8 p.m., ESPN

Dak Prescott vs. Paul Johnson’s option attack should make for a pretty darn good Orange Bowl. The Bulldogs have never won 11 games in a year. To get there this season, they’ll have to survive the Yellow Jackets, who just gave undefeated Florida State four quarters of a scare in the ACC title game.

SI Recommends

Valero Alamo Bowl: Kansas State vs. UCLA

Jan. 2, 6:45 p.m., ESPN

It might seem like an afterthought with all the playoff madness swirling, but the Alamo Bowl leaves plenty to watch for whether you’re a fan of Myles Jack, Brett Hundley, Jake Waters or Tyler Lockett.

VIZIO Fiesta Bowl: Boise State vs. Arizona

Dec. 31, 4 p.m., ESPN

Boise State’s Bryan Harsin is up for Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year honors and for good reason. In his first year as head coach of the Broncos, Harsin helped them become the Group of Five’s highest ranked team, which means a big time bowl bid against a Wildcats team that came out on top of a stacked and competitive Pac-12 South division.

Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Wisconsin

Jan. 1, 12 p.m., ESPN2

Are you going to be the one person in the country who decides to skip watching Melvin Gordon in a bowl game? I didn’t think so.


Tantalizing matchups

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: Missouri vs. Minnesota

Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ABC

I would be remiss to leave out Minnesota, the team that inspired so much discussion each week as the playoff committee rolled out its rankings. Plus both the Tigers and Golden Gophers are extremely well-coached, which typically makes for strong play on New Year’s Day.

Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona State vs. Duke

Dec. 27, 2 p.m., CBS

I’m not sure if the bowl reps did this on purpose, but the Sun Devils playing the Blue Devils in the Sun Bowl is an A+ mascot fight. Beyond that, this is two really good teams who were just a few plays away from winning their respective divisions.

Russell Athletic Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Clemson

Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m., ESPN

Both Oklahoma and Clemson have looked like top 15 teams at times this year, but injuries to quarterbacks Trevor Knight and Deshaun Watson and a few bad breaks kept the Sooners and Tigers from reaching their potential. There’s always a chance that one team comes out flat and gets blown out, but if that doesn’t happen, this could be competitive *and* entertaining.

Belk Bowl: Georgia vs. Louisville

Dec. 30, 6:30 p.m., ESPN

The Bulldogs’ potent rushing attack goes up against one of the best defensive teams in the country in a bowl game that invites insanity and wonderment while answering the immortal question posed by anyone outside of the South: What in the world is a Belk?


Momentum builders

AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Arkansas vs. Texas

Dec. 29, 9 p.m., ESPN

Hopefully Texas A&M and West Virginia have some points leftover and remembered to wrap them up in a foil swan to give to the Texas Bowl. This game will need it. Arkansas and Texas really improved on the defensive side of the ball over the course of the season and should give everyone a really fun battle in the trenches.

Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman: Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech

Dec. 27, 1 p.m., ESPN

The Hokies kept their bowl streak alive with a win over Virginia in the final week of the season, and fans responded with vigor, buying up most of the bowl allotment in the first 24 hours after it was announced Virginia Tech would be playing Cincinnati. The Bearcats have a solid offense with quarterback Gunner Kiel throwing to a batch of very good receivers.

Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Miami vs. South Carolina

Dec. 27, 3:30 p.m., ABC

Steve Spurrier in Shreveport? Yes, please. As far as on-field play is concerned, this might be your last time to enjoy Duke Johnson at the college level, so that alone is worth your attention for a few hours.

National University Holiday Bowl: Nebraska vs. USC

Dec. 27, 8 p.m., ESPN

I’m breaking a personal rule of usually avoiding games with teams whose coaches have been fired, but there are too many good players in this game between Nebraska and USC to stay away. We get Ameer Abdullah, Randy Gregory, Leonard Williams, Cody Kessler, Buck Allen, Kenny Bell, Tommy Armstrong Jr., Nelson Agholor, Adoree’ Jackson and more.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Texas A&M vs. West Virginia

Dec. 29, 2 p.m., ESPN

Do you like points? Who are we kidding? Of course you do. This matchup will inevitably end in a game-winning field goal to give one team a 58-55 win, causing Twitter to erupt in a flurry of jokes and GIFs the likes we usually reserve for the Belk Bowl.


Opening acts

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Utah vs. Colorado State

Dec. 20, 3:30 p.m., ABC

As lower-tier bowl games before Christmas go, this is like finding an Eames chair at Goodwill. Jim McElwain, now the coach at Florida, built Colorado State up to a 10-win team with a trio of fabulous playmakers on offense -- quarterback Garrett Grayson, running back Dee Hart and wide receiver Rashard Higgins -- while Utah used its brand of solid defense and special teams play to grab wins over UCLA and USC.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Western Michigan vs. Air Force

Dec. 20, 5:45 p.m., ESPN

There’s something magical about two of the better Group of Five teams battling in the shadow of a dancing potato mascot. Factor in the facts that P.J. Fleck is one of the more emotional (and quotable) coaches in college football and Air Force can pick up rushing yards in bunches, and you have the recipe for an underrated bowl game.

Boca Raton Bowl: Marshall vs. Northern Illinois

Dec. 23, 6 p.m., ESPN

There are 23 wins this season between these two teams. Northern Illinois has won at least 11 games in five straight seasons, and the Thundering Herd, behind quarterback Rakeem Cato, were an overtime two-point conversion stop away from being undefeated. For the inaugural edition of the Boca Raton Bowl, you couldn’t have asked for a better pairing.