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Fresh title-game pairing takes top billing in annual bowl rankings

No question, college football has the most clunky, illogical and head-scratching postseason in sports. But to call it the "worst" implies people don't enjoy it. They do. Lots of them. You included.

Sure, your eyes may glaze over as you read the following 35 nuggets on the varying levels of prestige, quality of teams and awkwardness of sponsor names for each bowl. But on Dec. 18, you'll find yourself strangely invested in the Fresno State-Northern Illinois game, shouting at the TV when a receiver drops a pass. If UCF and Georgia played on regular-season Saturday, you'd never watch, but on the afternoon of Dec. 31, you'll be loving the fact that there's football on in the middle of the day.

And years from now, you'll remember some game on this list you never could have imagined, like last year's crazy Humanitarian Bowl shootout between Idaho and Bowling Green. You know you watched.

So let's get on with it, then. From No. 1 to No. 35, here is my eighth annual ranking of the bowl matchups:

1. BCS National Championship Game (Jan. 10):Auburn (13-0) vs. Oregon (12-0). How will the Ducks stop Cam Newton? Which is faster, Oregon's offense or Nick Fairley's first step? What uniforms will Oregon wear? I don't know. But I can't wait to find out.

2. Rose (Jan. 1):TCU (12-0) vs. Wisconsin (11-1). Bret Bielema calls the Badgers' smashmouth offensive style "American football," and what better place to play it than in America's most iconic football stadium? Be warned, however: TCU plays fast American defense.

3. Sugar (Jan. 4): Ohio State (11-1) vs. Arkansas (10-2). In an alternate universe, Ryan Mallett and Terrelle Pryor would have faced each other three times by now -- in the Ohio State-Michigan game. But SEC-Big Ten has turned into a pretty heated rivalry of its own.

4. Orange (Jan. 3): Stanford (11-1) vs. Virginia Tech (11-2). Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is a future NFL darling, but Hokies counterpart Tyrod Taylor is a darn good passer himself. Enjoy watching them both in what should be a very entertaining shootout.

5. Capital One (Jan. 1): Michigan State (11-1) vs. Alabama (9-3). Nick Saban faces one of his former schools, looking to restore order in Tuscaloosa before Mark Ingram and Julio Jones likely bolt to the NFL. Meanwhile, Mark Dantonio looks to pull off his 12th surprise win of the season.

6. Cotton (Jan. 7): LSU (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (9-3). Friday nights are normally reserved for crazy WAC games on ESPN2, but what happens when it's Les Miles on FOX? Please tell me Terry Bradshaw will conduct the halftime interview.

7. Las Vegas (Dec. 22): Boise State (11-1) vs. Utah (10-2). The Utes canceled a three-game series with Boise upon joining the Pac-10, but the Broncos aren't letting them get away just yet, even if it means returning to dreaded Nevada.

8. Alamo (Dec. 29): Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Arizona (7-5). Justin Blackmon, meet Juron Criner. You're both exceptionally talented receivers, and since defense is optional in bowl games, we fully expect you to combine for about 23 catches and 283 yards.

9. Chick-fil-A (Dec. 31): Florida State (9-4) vs. South Carolina (9-4). The Old Ball Coach reunites with Free Shoes University, but one year too late for another faceoff with Bobby. Hopefully he'll chuck it around a little for old time's sake.

10. Insight (Dec. 28): Missouri (10-2) vs. Iowa (7-5). The Hawkeyes are better than their record (or at least they were at one point) and should play like it. Adrian Clayborn and the D-line could cause problems for Mizzou quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

11. Fiesta (Jan. 1): Oklahoma (11-2) vs. Connecticut (8-4). So you figure the overmatched Huskies don't have a chance, right? Then either you're forgetting the Sooners' recent history against Fiesta Bowl underdogs or you've just seen UConn's offensive stats.

12. Gator (Jan. 1): Mississippi State (8-4) vs. Michigan (7-5). This could either be Rich Rodriguez's swan song or his crucial turning point. One thing's for certain: A rested, recovered Denard Robinson could put up a lot of yards.

13. Champs Sports (Dec. 28): West Virginia (9-3) vs. N.C. State (8-4). Wolfpack quarterback Russell Wilson is usually good for at least 300 yards per game, but the Mountaineers' defense has been stingy all year. This is strength vs. strength.

14. Sun (Dec. 31): Miami (7-5) vs. Notre Dame (7-5). Sometimes you tune in for the names alone, and this will be one of those times. It will be worth it just to see CBS show the old highlights from the teams' late '80s/early '80s classics.

15. Kraft Fight Hunger (Jan. 9): Nevada (12-1) vs. Boston College (7-5). It's the last chance to see Colin Kaepernick run the Pistol to perfection, and to see whether Eagles All-America linebacker Luke Kuechly can stop it by himself.

16. Poinsettia (Dec. 23): San Diego State (8-4) vs. Navy (8-3*). This time next year, Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs could be stationed on a ship in San Diego. Time to get acquainted with the Aztecs' star freshman running back, Ronnie Hillman.

17. Liberty (Dec. 31): UCF (10-3) vs. Georgia (6-6). Knights freshman Jeff Godfrey boasts the NCAA's No. 8 passer rating, one spot below Andrew Luck. Wearing No. 8 for the Bulldogs will be receiver A.J. Green. He catches touchdowns.

18. Hawaii (Dec. 24): Hawaii (10-3) vs. Tulsa (9-3). It's been eight years since the winner of this game scored fewer than 41 points, and these two teams both field top 10 scoring offenses. It will be Christmas morning by the time the last pass is thrown.

19. Independence (Dec. 27): Air Force (8-4) vs. Georgia Tech (6-6). Do you like the triple-option? You better. Injured Jackets quarterback Joshua Nesbitt could return for one last hurrah. Over/under on the number of pass attempts: 11.

20. Holiday (Dec. 30): Nebraska (10-3) vs. Washington (6-6). The worst idea for a sequel since Weekend at Bernie's II.

21. Texas (Dec. 29): Baylor (7-5) vs. Illinois (6-6). There were times when I thought I'd never see Baylor or Ron Zook get back to a bowl game. They did it, along with star Bears quarterback Robert Griffin III and stud Illini tailback Mikel Leshoure.

22. Outback (Jan. 1): Florida (7-5) vs. Penn State (7-5). I know this one sounds glamorous, but Florida's offense has been dreadful and Penn State's hasn't been much better. At least we don't have to watch Florida's 15 extra practices.

23. Humanitarian (Dec. 18): Northern Illinois (10-3) vs. Fresno State (8-4). The Bulldogs agreed to return to the blue turf less than a month after their 51-0 loss to Boise State. The formerly ranked Huskies will provide more even competition.

24. Music City (Dec. 30): North Carolina (7-5) vs. Tennessee (6-6). Derek Dooley hopes this will be the first of many postseason ventures for his young Vols. Butch Davis hopes this won't be his scandal-ridden program's last bowl game.

25. TicketCity (Jan. 1): Texas Tech (7-5) vs. Northwestern (7-5). The game's at 11 a.m. on New Year's Day in Cotton Bowl Stadium -- but it's not the Cotton Bowl. What gave it away, the teams' combined 6-10 conference records?

26. Military (Dec. 29): Maryland (8-4) vs. East Carolina (6-6). Pirates quarterback Dominique Davis has accounted for more points per game (22.7) than any other player this season. His defense has given up more points (43.4) than all but two.

27. BBVA Compass (Jan. 8): Pittsburgh (7-5) vs. Kentucky (6-6). What a great advertisement for this obscure banking chain. Unfortunately, according to its website, there are no branches within 240 miles of either Pittsburgh or Lexington.

28. Pinstripe (Dec. 30): Kansas State (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5). Donovan McNabb vs. Michael Bishop in the 1997 Fiesta Bowl. Ell Roberson vs. Dwight Freeney in the 2001 Insight Bowl. A bowl rivalry renewed -- in the Bronx in December.

29. Meineke Car Care (Dec. 31):USF (7-5) vs. Clemson (6-6). The Tigers rank 86th in scoring offense, the Bulls 88th. So you might as well go get your muffler changed because there's a good chance you won't miss a touchdown.

30. Armed Forces (Dec. 30): SMU (7-6) vs. Army (6-5*): I feel un-American for ranking this game so low, but the Black Knights aren't exactly an entertaining team to watch. Unless, of course, they break out their bad-ass combat uniforms.

31. Beef 'O' Brady's (Dec. 21): Southern Miss (8-4) vs. Louisville (6-6): For $175, you can watch the game from a hospitality suite at the 50-yard line just above the Southern Miss bench. The only downer: The buffet is catered by Beef 'O' Brady's.

32. Little Caesars (Dec. 26) Toledo (8-4) vs. Florida International (6-6). Don't be fooled by the records. Toledo went 7-1 in the MAC and FIU won the Sun Belt. This is their reward for losing to Boise State, Texas A&M, Arizona, Pittsburgh ...

33. New Mexico (Dec. 18): BYU (6-6) vs. UTEP (6-6). For their last game as members of the Mountain West, the Cougars travel to ... a Mountain West stadium they played in earlier this year. They miss Las Vegas already.

34. (Jan. 6): Miami of Ohio (9-4) vs. Middle Tennessee (6-6). The RedHawks deserved better for winning the MAC a year after going 1-11. They're stuck in a game that a lot of guys will be watching solely for the commercials.

35. New Orleans (Dec. 18): Ohio (8-4) vs. Troy (7-5). The Bobcats lost their last regular-season game 28-6 to Kent State. Troy recently lost 69-24 to South Carolina. You just hate to see teams back their way into the New Orleans Bowl.