By Stewart Mandel
December 06, 2011

I've lost track of how many years I've been writing this column, but I vaguely recall a time when I ranked "one through 28." Oh, the good old days.

Thanks to a boneheaded decision by the Sugar Bowl, the BCS lineup isn't as strong as it could have been, but there are still three blockbuster games and several intriguing mid-level offerings, including the potential Heisman winner playing on Dec. 29.

But there are also a truly staggering number of mind-numbing clunkers -- more than in any year I can remember -- highlighted by a historic matchup involving a 6-7 team and two interim coaches.

Those, of course, are the most fun for my purposes.

1. BCS National Championship Game (Jan. 9): LSU (13-0) vs. Alabama (11-1). Trent Richardson. Tyrann Mathieu. Courtney Upshaw. Morris Claiborne. Dre Kirkpatrick. Brad Wing. Even if the rematch angle offends you, the NFL combine aspect will keep you watching.

2. Fiesta (Jan. 2): Oklahoma State (11-1) vs. Stanford (11-1). The focus will be on Andrew Luck vs. Brandon Weeden, but don't overlook the running backs. Stanford will try to run right at the Cowboys, while Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith can bust loose at any moment.

3. Rose (Jan. 2): Oregon (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (11-2). Let's see. We've got Russell Wilson and Montee Ball on one side, LaMichael James and De'Anthony Thomas on the other. Throw in 72 degrees at kickoff and sunset over the San Gabriel Mountains and ... booking flight now.

4. Cotton (Jan. 6): Arkansas (10-2) vs. Kansas State (10-2). Those pesky Wildcats will try to pull off yet another upset riding Collin Klein and their defense, while the Razorbacks will try to blow them off the field with Tyler Wilson, Jarius Wright and Joe Adams.

5. Outback (Jan. 2): Michigan State (10-3) vs. Georgia (10-3). The Spartans played in two of the most entertaining games of the season, and Georgia is star-studded but flawed enough to ensure a more competitive game than last year's Michigan State bowl debacle.

6. Alamo (Dec. 29): Baylor (9-3) vs. Washington (7-5). One word: RG3. Four words: Keith Price, Chris Polk. And two words that make any bowl game that much more entertaining: defense optional. It will be fun, high scoring and a likely sendoff for Mr. Griffin.

7. Orange (Jan. 4): Clemson (10-3) vs. West Virginia (9-3). Two of the sport's most innovative offensive minds, Dana Holgorsen and Chad Morris, go toe to toe. Both offenses sometimes disappear, but there will be plenty of playmakers on the field, highlighted by Sammy Watkins.

8. Sugar (Jan. 3): Virginia Tech (11-2) vs. Michigan (10-2). Denard Robinson on the big stage isn't a bad thing, and David Wilson deserves his props. The Sugar Bowl committee, on the other hand, deserves a 4.2 TV rating for picking the utterly undeserving Hokies.

9. Capital One (Jan. 2): South Carolina (10-2) vs. Nebraska (9-3). I'd like this one a lot more if Marcus Lattimore and Jared Crick were playing. But as long as ESPN has cameras focused on Bo Pelini and Steve Spurrier, there will be something to put on YouTube.

10. TicketCity (Jan. 2): Houston (12-1) vs. Penn State (9-3). For all his myriad accomplishments, Case Keenum's last game was a fairly brutal downer. He gets a chance to go out on a better note if he can beat a ranked team with a stout defense.

11. Champs Sports (Dec. 29): Florida State (8-4) vs. Notre Dame (8-4). Two glamour teams that fell short of preseason expectations get one more chance to impress us because we just ... can't ... look ... away. Notre Dame's 2012 quarterback race begins here.

12. Insight (Dec. 30): Oklahoma (9-3) vs. Iowa (7-5). It's been a disappointing year for the Sooners, but something tells me Landry Jones, Travis Lewis and Co. will show up. If you can predict which Iowa team shows up, then nice to meet you, Nostradamus.

13. Holiday (Dec. 28): Cal (7-5) vs. Texas (7-5). Cal fans are a bitter bunch. They have not forgotten Mack Brown lobbying for the Rose Bowl in 2004, squeezing out Aaron Rodgers' team. They want blood. Never mind that the current players were in junior high when that happened.

14. MAACO Las Vegas (Dec. 22): Boise State (11-1) vs. Arizona State (6-6). Odds Kellen Moore throws for at least three touchdowns: 75 percent. Odds Vontaze Burfict commits at least two personal fouls: 60 percent. Odds the game is close in the fourth quarter: five percent.

15. Chick-fil-A (Dec. 31): Virginia (8-4) vs. Auburn (7-5). For all his renown, Gus Malzahn never discovered a passing game this season, and the Cavs are known for stuffing the run. Virginia's offense is also limited. So of course the final score will be 40-35.

16. Gator (Jan. 2): Florida (6-6) vs. Ohio State (6-6). Mute button recommended if you don't want to hear 740 references to Urban Meyer by the commentators. Shots recommended for every mention of Closed eyes recommended when Florida has the ball.

17. Liberty (Dec. 31): Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6). The Commodores are no fluke. Quarterback Jordan Rodgers (brother of Aaron) is a budding star and cornerback Casey Hayward leads a defense with a serious case of the Munchie (Legaux, the Bearcats' quarterback).

18. Pinstripe (Dec. 29): Rutgers (8-4) vs. Iowa State (6-6). You had us at Paul Rhoads. But the team that ruined Oklahoma State's title shot will have its work cut out containing Rutgers receiver Mo Sanu, who, at last count, had 10,547 career receptions.

19. (Jan. 8): Northern Illinois (10-3) vs. Arkansas State (10-2). This could be a nice matchup, but Red Wolves coach Hugh Freeze is already gone to Ole Miss, and by the time Jan. 8 gets here, his successor may well be entertaining offers.

20. Poinsettia (Dec. 21): TCU (10-2) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-4). You know Horned Frogs quarterback Casey Pachall and linebacker Tank Carder. But are you aware of Louisiana Tech's Ray Guy finalist punter, Ryan Allen? Grab the popcorn and pull up a seat.

21. Armed Forces (Dec. 30): BYU (9-3) vs. Tulsa (8-4). BYU's new ESPN deal was supposed to bring it unprecedented exposure, but I swear the Cougars haven't played a football game since September. Is that why Jake Heaps transferred?

22. Meineke Car Care (Dec. 31): Northwestern (6-6) vs. Texas A&M (6-6). Northwestern's Dan Persa and A&M's Ryan Tannehill are both athletic and entertaining quarterbacks whose teams have an unfortunate penchant for blowing enormous leads. DO NOT TURN OFF EARLY.

23. Military (Dec. 28): Toledo (8-4) vs. Air Force (7-5). The Rockets won seven of their last eight -- and scored 60 points in the one game they lost. Receiver Eric Page will catch at least three bombs where no defender is within 20 yards of him. You can be patriotic and entertained all at once.

24. Sun (Dec. 31): Georgia Tech (8-4) vs. Utah (7-5). Paul Johnson's triple option offense hasn't worked so much in bowl games (the Jackets have averaged 8.0 points in three appearances). But it can't possibly be worse than Utah's 110th-ranked unit.

25. Independence (Dec. 26): Missouri (7-5) vs. North Carolina (7-5). Mizzou's departure to the SEC means the end of an annual tradition: The Big 12's bowl partners kicking the Tigers (who finished fifth) to the curb. Next year their SEC opponents will do it for them.

26. Belk (Dec. 27): Louisville (7-5) vs. NC State (7-5). Never mind that the name of this game sounds like an unwanted Christmas present. (Can you believe the Fosters gave us another Belk Bowl?) Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will lead the young, rising Cardinals.

27. Music City (Dec. 30): Mississippi State (6-6) vs. Wake Forest (6-6). Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen's rumored job interviews-to-points-per-game ratio is currently running about 3:1. It's unclear whether that will go up or down after a date with Wake's underrated defense.

28. Hawaii (Dec. 24): Southern Miss (11-2) vs. Nevada (7-5). As Conference USA champions, the Eagles were supposed to go to Memphis but got bumped by a Big East team. Is this not an upgrade?

29. New Mexico (Dec. 17): Wyoming (8-4) vs. Temple (8-4). Owls running back Bernard Pierce is a stud. He's run for 25 touchdowns. He'll be going against a Wyoming defense that ranks 115th against the run. This could work.

30. Little Caesars (Dec. 26): Western Michigan (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6). The Broncos boast the prolific passing tandem of Alex Carder to Jordan White. The Boilers boast a quarterback who made it through the season with both legs.

31. Famous Idaho Potato (Dec. 17): Ohio (9-4) vs. Utah State (7-5). I'd love to offer you some witty one-liner involving Boise in December, but all I can think of when I hear "Idaho Potato" is Richard Pryor in Moving.

32. New Orleans (Dec. 17): San Diego State (8-4) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4). The Aztecs want to join the Big East. Lose to a third-place Sun Belt team and they'll fit in nicely.

33. Kraft Fight Hunger (Dec. 31): Illinois (6-6) vs. UCLA (6-7). Two teams with interim coaches meet in a baseball stadium on New Year's Eve. One squad just lost six in a row, the other just lost 50-0 to its archrival. Is it 2012 yet?

34. Beef 'O' Brady's (Dec. 20): FIU (8-4) vs. Marshall (6-6). FIU coach Mario Cristobal: "We're the only team in South Florida representing in the postseason." C'mon, man. Don't kick FAU while it's down.

35. BBVA Compass (Jan. 7): SMU (7-5) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6). Birmingham's Legion Field has been in decay for decades. This game will only accelerate it.

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