Bowl season is here! That means you’ve got a whole lot of football to watch while slamming eggnog and knocking over plastic reindeer. Let’s get right to a viewing guide! Each game will be rated on a scale of one to five footballs.
Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl: North Carolina Central vs. Grambling (Dec. 17, Noon ET, ABC): It’s rather remarkable that Grambling has returned to a bowl game after years of institutional dysfunction which left the players without basic weightlifting necessities and impossibly long bus rides to road games. It’s also the kickoff of bowl season if you’re college football fix is overwhelming.
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: New Mexico vs. UTSA (Dec. 17, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN): Pass. But check in for former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie!
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Southern Mississippi vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (Dec. 17, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN): This one will probably be heavily attended, as it’s in New Orleans with two nearby teams. It’s also a football game.
Miami Beach Bowl: Central Michigan vs. Tulsa (Dec. 19, 2:30 p.m ET., ESPN): Phillip Montgomery’s Tulsa offense is fun. That’s probably the best selling point here.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Idaho vs. Colorado State (Dec. 22, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN): It’s hard to find anything too exciting about this game except the frigid temperatures these teams will subject themselves to.
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. Old Dominion (Dec. 23, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN): The ambience is cool and this game produced one of the most magical games ever in 2014.
Hawai’i Bowl: Hawai’i vs. Middle Tennessee (Dec. 24, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN): Hawai’i’s travel schedule is always absurd, but for first-year coach Nick Rolovich to get them to a bowl game after starting the season in Australia, then to Michigan, then back home is impressive. Consider that this team was rumored to be shuddering its program as soon as last season and it’s even more of an accomplishment.
TaxSlayer Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Kentucky (Dec. 31, 11 a.m. ET, ESPN): The biggest upside for these two teams is that they get an extra month of practice and returned to a bowl game. Otherwise, this one will be a snoozer.
Quick Lane Bowl: Maryland vs. Boston College (Dec. 26, 2:30 p.m. ESPN): This is a forgettable game between two forgettable teams. Going to Detroit in the middle of December feels more like punishment than reward for six wins.
Camping World Independence Bowl: NC State vs. Vanderbilt (Dec. 26, 5 p.m., ESPN2): Vanderbilt was one of the more exciting teams in the second half of the season (capped by its upset win over Tennessee), but NC State is one of the most maddeningly inconsistent teams in the Power 5 conferences. It’s a bit of a bottom-feeder game, but hopefully both teams will enjoy Shreveport in December.
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl: Army vs. North Texas (Dec. 27, Noon ET, ESPN): Assuming Army loses to Navy this weekend, the combined records of these teams will be 11–13. I’m not one for the “too many bowls” argument, but even this one is a tough sell.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Georgia vs. TCU (Dec. 30, Noon ET, ESPN): Two lackluster teams mired in disappointing seasons square off in an early game. I suggest sleeping in or taking a winter walk.
Outback Bowl: No. 17 Florida vs. Iowa (Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET, ABC): Please no. Not these two offenses against one another. Your football addiction will be tested because your eyes are due to bleed by the third quarter of this one.
AutoNation Cure Bowl: UCF vs. Arkansas State (Dec. 17, 5:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network): Head coach Scott Frost did a magnificent job turning around a downtrodden UCF program in his first season as head coach, but the Knights were barely competitive in their final two games of the season (losses to Tulsa and South Florida). Arkansas State has a coach (Blake Anderson) who will be a prime candidate for a more high-profile coaching job next year (he was considered for the Baylor job), and brought his team back from an 0–4 start to finish 7–5.
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. No. 25 Navy (Dec. 23, 4:30 ET, ESPN): Navy lost starting quarterback Will Worth in the AAC championship game to Temple, so the Midshipmen’s punishing triple-option offense probably won’t be at its best, but it’s still a joy to watch when it gets going. That and Louisiana Tech doesn’t offer much defensively.
Dollar General Bowl: Ohio vs. Troy (Dec. 23, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN): Frank Solich rode an excellent Ohio defense all the way to the MAC title game, where the Bobcats fell to Western Michigan. Troy’s Neal Brown led the Trojans to an impressive 9–3 campaign and almost knocked off Clemson. As far as two unheralded teams go, this is a nice matchup.
St. Petersburg Bowl: Miami (Ohio) vs. Mississippi State (Dec. 26, 11 a.m. ESPN): Mississippi State was this year’s master of playing up or down to its competition. You also get to watch quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who is a pretty exciting player. Trivia, do you know which other team was heavily recruiting Fitzgerald? Dan Mullen has your answer.
Military Bowl: No. 24 Temple vs. Wake Forest (Dec. 27, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): This one is worth checking out for Temple’s smothering run defense. Hopefully the Owls will remain motivated despite losing their star head coach, Matt Rhule, to Baylor on Tuesday.
Motel 6 Cactus Bowl: Boise State vs. Baylor (Dec. 27, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN): Bryan Harsin led Boise to another great season, but playing a hamstrung Baylor side late at night in Phoenix feels like punishment for an otherwise impressive Broncos season.
Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl: South Alabama vs. Air Force (Dec. 30, 5:30 p.m. ET, Campus Insiders): It’s a streaming game! So if you want to watch Air Force cut block South Alabama into oblivion, you’ll have to do so on your computer.
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: BYU vs. Wyoming (Dec. 21, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN): Wyoming enjoyed an excellent turnaround season under head coach Craig Bohl and have a strong quarterback in Josh Allen. BYU is always a fun side during bowl season, and first-year head coach Kalani Sitake did a remarkable job navigating the Cougars through a brutal schedule to an 8–4 record.
National Funding Holiday Bowl: Minnesota vs. Washington State (Dec. 27, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN): This might be the last chance to see Luke Falk, who is only a junior but projected to receive a different NFL draft grade. Falk has etched himself into Washington State lore and has one of the nation’s most underrated receivers in Gabe Marks. Put them up against a strong Minnesota defense (23rd in the nation) and you’ve got yourself some nice early-evening football.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: No. 23 Pittsburgh vs. Northwestern (Dec. 28, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN): It’s James Conner’s last ride, as the cancer survivor and all-time leading school rusher faces a stingy Northwestern defense in the Bronx. Given how many Northwestern grads work in New York media, the Wildcats may experience their first real home-field advantage in years.
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Kansas State (Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN): This feels like a Bill Snyder special. The Aggies have flailed since the loss of starting quarterback Trevor Knight, and the Wildcats usually limit spread offenses.
Birmingham Bowl: South Florida vs. South Carolina (Dec. 29, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN): If Willie Taggart is still coaching South Florida by the time this game kicks off, then the speedy offense will be a fascinating clash of styles with South Carolina’s physical defense.
Las Vegas Bowl: San Diego State vs. Houston (Dec. 17, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC: Tom Herman won't be on the sidelines, but this remains one of the most intriguing matchups of bowl season. The second-leading rusher in NCAA history (Donnel Pumphrey) gets to clash with one of the nation's best freshmen (defensive tackle Ed Oliver), and two of the nation's best Group of Five teams clash. It's worth it. Tune in.
Boca Raton Bowl: Memphis vs. Western Kentucky (Dec. 20, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN): Put the over/under on this one at about 115. It’s too bad Western Kentucky won’t have one last ride with Jeff Brohm (now the head coach of Purdue), but the Hilltoppers’ quick-strike spread offense against Mike Norvell’s similarly vertical attack should produce some high-flying football.
Russell Athletic Bowl: No. 16 West Virginia vs. Miami (Dec. 28, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): It’s an intriguing clash between Mark Richt’s revitalized Miami and a West Virginia side that can smother you on defense despite its occasionally clunky offense. Miami QB Brad Kaaya will likely be back for another season, but if he performs well enough then those NFL evaluators may get in his ear.
Foster Farms Bowl: Indiana vs. No. 19 Utah (Dec. 28, 8:30 p.m. ET, FOX): This one will probably be low-scoring, but will be fascinating to see how Indiana plays after the controversial firing of head coach Kevin Wilson. Utah’s offense is slow and plodding, but has a strong running back in Joe Williams to combat Indiana’s tough run defense.
Belk Bowl: Arkansas vs. No. 22 Virginia Tech (Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Arkansas has been inconsistent all season (dominant win over Florida, a 53-point loss to Auburn), and now the Hogs will have to limit Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans, who accounted for over 4,000 total yards and 37 touchdowns under first-year coach Justin Fuente.
Hyundai Sun Bowl: No. 18 Stanford vs. North Carolina (Dec. 30, 2 p.m. ET, CBS): It’s hard to make sense of this one. Stanford’s offense showed promise late in the season once quarterback Keller Chryst received more reps and Christian McCaffrey recovered from injury. North Carolina sputtered toward the end of the season but still has an offense that can light up the scoreboard spearheaded by quarterback Mitch Trubisky and wide receiver Ryan Switzer. Perhaps El Paso will feature snow flurries like last year’s game between Miami and Washington State.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Nebraska vs. No. 21 Tennessee (Dec. 30, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Tennessee’s season was pretty disappointing, so a matchup against a good Nebraska team is a fairly plum assignment. The Vols were ravaged by injuries, so whoever they trot out there will have to stop a consistent, if unspectacular Husker offense.
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: No. 20 LSU vs. No. 13 Louisville (Dec. 31, 11 a.m. ET, ABC): Ed Orgeron’s first test as LSU’s permanent head coach is to limit likely Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. After watching the sophomore superstar all season, there’s compelling proof that the limit does not exist.
Cotton Bowl: No. 15 Western Michigan vs. No. 8 Wisconsin (Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN): The crown jewel of the Group of Five clashes with a Wisconsin side who suffered a heartbreaking, if thrilling defeat in the Big Ten championship game. P.J. Fleck may not be the head coach of Western Michigan by the time this game arrives, but there’s no denying the magnificence of his work in Kalamazoo.
Sugar Bowl: No. 14 Auburn vs. No. 7 Oklahoma (Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m., ESPN): If Auburn QB Sean White can’t go (there are concerns surrounding his shoulder injury), then this is going to be tough for the Tigers. Aside from Penn State, Oklahoma is the hottest non-playoff team in football. With two Heisman finalists (Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook) plus two star running backs (Joe Mixon and SamajePerine), the offense flies. The difference is the Sooners haven’t faced a great defense since losing to Ohio State in September. A potential difference-maker is that an Oklahoma judge ruled that the video of Mixon punching a woman, which resulted in a one-year suspension, be ruled public. That will be a major talking point if the public sees it before kickoff.
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Appalachian State vs. Toledo (Dec. 17, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Toledo was one of the Group of Five’s most exciting programs under new head coach Jason Candle, posting just under 40 points per game (good for 19th in the nation) and playing frequently entertaining games. Appalachian State should have beat Tennessee in its season opener and posted an excellent 9–3 season under promising head coach Scott Satterfield. For bowl season, this is a superb matchup.
Valero Alamo Bowl: No. 12 Oklahoma State vs. No. 10 Colorado (Dec. 29, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN): A lot depends if Colorado starting quarterback Sefo Liufau is healthy, but this is an exciting matchup between two of the nation’s best second-tier teams. The Buffs have the secondary to limit quarterback Mason Rudolph, but underestimating Mike Gundy’s offense is a fool’s errand.
Capital One Orange Bowl: No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 11 Florida State (Dec. 30, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN): Dalvin Cook vs. Michigan’s all-world defensive line is enough of a sales pitch for this one. Let’s just hope Michigan isn’t too hungover from its playoff exclusion. This is the best non-playoff game of the lot.
Peach Bowl: No. 4 Washington vs. No. 1 Alabama (Dec. 31, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN): Top-ten defenses, a glut of future first-round picks and two of the game’s best coaches. Call in sick if you’re assigned to work that day.
Fiesta Bowl: No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Clemson (Dec. 31, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN): Clemson has proven itself as a college football powerhouse, and it’ll get a chance to knock off one of the ultimate bluebloods in its tilt with Ohio State. Deshaun Watson shined in the second half of the season to earn another Heisman nomination, but he’ll have to beat future pro defensive backs Malik Hooker and Marshon Lattimore if he wants to return to the title game. The Ohio State offense struggled to contain Michigan’s defensive line in The Rivalry, and now it’ll need to contain stars Carlos Watkins and Christian Wilkins.
Rose Bowl: No. 9 USC vs. No. 5 Penn State (Jan. 2, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN): The hottest non-playoff team in college football clashes with one of the nation’s most promising young players in USC quarterback Sam Darnold. Plus, the Rose Bowl gets a default five stars.