Throw out the implications. Negate the BCS or non-BCS factor. When it comes right down to it, what are the most intriguing, watchable, entertaining games on the 35-game college bowl game schedule for this holiday season?
Here is how I see them breaking down with my 2011-12 bowl game rankings from the best to the worst of what to watch for the next month.
35. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Utah State vs. Ohio
When the punter of a team from Ohio who has never won a bowl game in its history bad-mouths a bowl invite, how can it not be one of the worst bowl games of/all-time? Ohio Bobcat punter Paul Hershey vented on Twitter when hearing of the invite, asking “who the f*&k” wanted to go to Idaho in December. Good question.
34. BBVA Compass Bowl
Southern Methodist vs. Pitt
Who knew the Big East representative in this game would be SMU? The Mustangs have been invited to the Big East while the Panthers are bolting from the conference. Pitt is in Birmingham for the second consecutive season where quarterback Tino Sunseri will attempt to prove once and for all he is the worst athlete in the NCAA.
33. New Orleans Bowl
UL Lafayette vs. San Diego State
The Ragin Cajuns get to play in their home state. San Diego State has to travel a long distance. However, now that they agreed to join the Big East the Aztecs better get used to it.
32. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl
Florida International vs. Marshall
This game is being played in Tropicana Field, which is used to good baseball. This game is neither baseball nor good.
31. Belk Bowl
Louisville vs. North Carolina State
If Cincinnati would have beaten Connecticut, Louisville would be in the Orange Bowl. They certainly do not belong there. Now they’re opposite North Carolina State in the Belk Bowl and I’m not sure they belong here either.
30. Little Caesar’s Bowl
Western Michigan vs. Purdue
The bowl game is named after the famous Hot-N-Ready pizzas. Neither Western Michigan nor Purdue figures to be hot or ready come kickoff Dec. 27 in Detroit.
29. Music City Bowl
Wake Forest vs. Mississippi State
This is one of four bowl games between 6-6 teams and this just happens to be the worst. Wake Forest won three more games than it did last year to land in this bowl game; Mississippi State won three fewer games than it did last year to land in this bowl game.
28. Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
UCLA vs. Illinois
Ron Zook and Rick Neuheisel will both have plenty of time to fight hunger after this game; they have both already been fired. And they were canned for good reason; Illinois is 6-6, UCLA is somehow worse at 6-7 and inexplicably in a bowl game. Both teams are closing out their season playing in a baseball park on New Year’s Eve. That is not the recipe for a contract extension.
27. Independence Bowl
North Carolina vs. Missouri
The transition bowl...UNC has a new coach but he will be coaching Southern Miss in the Hawaii Bowl and Missouri will be granted Independence from The Big 12 win or lose as they move to the SEC next season.
26. Pinstripe Bowl
Rutgers vs. Iowa State
If you want to blame someone for the LSU/Alabama rematch, blame Iowa State. They’re the team who stunned Oklahoma State. The Scarlet Knights are playing close to home in the Bronx, and you can bet Greg Schiano will pull out on the stops to try to win in Yankee Stadium.
25. Hawaii Bowl
Nevada vs. Southern Mississippi
Recently hired North Carolina coach Larry Fedora will still coach his 21st-ranked Eagles in the Hawaii Bowl, and who can blame him. This Christmas Eve primetime matchup could develop into yet another bowl shootout.
24. Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas
Texas A&M vs. Northwestern
The Meineke Bowl moves from Charlotte to Houston, but it is just another bowl game that rewards 6-6 records. Despite the average records the game will feature shaky defenses and quarterbacks Dan Persa and Ryan Tannehill, hence the total of 64.5.
23. Sun Bowl
Utah vs. Georgia Tech
It is always interesting to see how teams do when they have a month to prepare for the Paul Johnson option offense. This is a rare Pac-12/ACC matchup.
22. Liberty Bowl
Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt
This is the first time the Liberty Bowl has landed two teams from BCS conferences since 1988 (if you count the Big East as BCS). The Bearcats are 9-3 and ranked No. 24 and have a quarterback named Munchie Legaux. That should be reason enough to watch right there. Oh yeah, Vanderbilt is 6-6, but favored by 2.5, hmmm.
21. Go Daddy.com Bowl
Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois
These are a pair of 10-win teams who nobody knows about, the game is close to a "pick‘em," the total is 62 and it is being played on Sunday night after an NFL playoff doubleheader and the day before the National Championship. So all that should make up for the fact that nobody can even name the team’s mascots.
20. Armed Forces Bowl
BYU vs. Tulsa
BYU is always entertaining to watch in bowl games. They’ve knocked off Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State and UTEP in four of their last five bowls and they have scored a combined 96 points in their last two bowl games. The teams who Tulsa has lost to this season reads like a "who’s who" of college football: Boise State, Houston, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
19. New Mexico Bowl
Temple vs. Wyoming
The opener of the bowl season is an odd but potentially entertaining matchup between Temple and Wyoming. It’s unlikely any fans will be making the trip from Philly to New Mexico to watch the Owls, but both teams are 8-4, excited to be in the game and this game is a rematch, sort of. The teams played back in 1990, and Wyoming won, 38-23, so Temple should be looking for revenge.
18. Holiday Bowl
Texas vs. California
There’s a couple things working for this game—it is the Holiday Bowl which is usually entertaining by default. California has won three of its last four but is not ranked. Texas has lost three of its last four but is ranked. And then there is that little memory from 2004 when Mack Brown campaigned for a Rose Bowl berth ahead of Jeff Tedford and the Bears—and got it.
17. Poinsettia Bowl
Louisiana Tech vs. Texas Christian
A year after playing for all the roses, TCU is playing for all the Poinsettias. The Horned Frogs unfortunately fell to this game despite a No. 15 ranking and a win at Boise State. Their heartbreaking Week 1 loss at Baylor, 50-48, still haunts them as does their overtime loss to SMU.
Louisiana Tech somehow lost its first four games against Division I-A teams and not only made a bowl game, but made a bowl game opposite of TCU. The Bulldogs should be able to hang with the Horned Frogs.
16. Military Bowl
Toledo vs. Air Force
This game just makes sense. It’s the Military Bowl between the Rockets and Air Force and the ‘over/under’ is hovering around 71 points. We should see a Military Bowl shootout between two teams who have never met.
15. Chick-fil-A Bowl
Virginia vs. Auburn
Unlike a chicken sandwich, this has to be tough to stomach for Auburn fans. A year after playing for and winning a National Championship, the Tigers are playing Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. But it should still be an interesting matchup between two coaches who should be Coach of the Year nominees.
14. Insight Bowl
Iowa vs. Oklahoma
Once again Oklahoma is a two-touchdown favorite in a bowl game it feels it is above, but against Iowa they may actually get a fight. Both teams have shown positive signs this year. Oklahoma was in the running for a national title before losing three of six, and Iowa knocked off Michigan, which changed the course of the Big Ten.
13. Gator Bowl
Florida vs. Ohio State
Because of Urban Meyer, a pair of 6-6 teams lucked into a decent bowl game in Florida on Jan. 2. Meyer, who will not be coaching in the game, is the former Florida coach and future Ohio State coach. If you can avoid that distraction, it’s always fun watching a pair of college football blue bloods meet.
12. Las Vegas Bowl
Arizona State vs. Boise State
There is so much wrong with this game that it’s a must-watch. No. 6 Boise State is 11-1 and they are being paired with unranked Arizona State, who is 6-6, in a bowl game on Dec. 22. What is Boise State doing playing on Dec. 22 and what is Arizona State doing playing in a bowl game?
At last check the Sun Devils don’t even have a coach. This is a heck of a snag for the Las Vegas Bowl, and just think, the Broncos were one field goal away from playing for the National Championship.
11. Champs Sports Bowl
Notre Dame vs. Florida State
The Champs Sports Bowl pulled a no-brainer and skipped on the Big East leftovers to snag Notre Dame and pair them with No. 25 Florida State in the classic Catholics vs. Convicts matchup. These two teams used to play for a whole lot more, but this isn’t bad for a Dec. 29 matchup of 8-4 teams.
10. Alamo Bowl
Washington vs. Baylor
No. 16 Baylor and Robert Griffin III deserved better than unranked 7-5 Washington in the Alamo Bowl, but it will still be a good watch with the potential for an enormous shootout. All indications point to Griffin carrying the Heisman into this game, and it is always fun to watch how a player deals with the pressure of that Heisman (hint: usually not very well).
9. Capital One Bowl
Nebraska vs. South Carolina
This is one of the few bowl games between good teams where we might see some defense, and I’m sure no one needs to remind Steve Spurrier about the 1996 Fiesta Bowl (Nebraska 62, Florida 24).
8. TicketCity Bowl
Penn State vs. Houston
This is what bowl games are all about, seeing how teams stack up to one another. It is why we watched TCU/Wisconsin in the Rose last year, Utah/Alabama in the Sugar, Hawaii/Georgia in the Sugar and Boise State/Oklahoma in the Fiesta
Of course, Penn State is none of those teams, and Houston lost its last game. However, America will finally get to see Case Keenum against a very good defense, and hopefully the distractions around Penn State will subside just in time for this game.
7. Sugar Bowl
Michigan vs. Virginia Tech
It is doubtful anybody outside of Blacksburg, Virginia, wanted to see the Hokies in this game, but so goes college football. On one hand, Virginia Tech only lost to one team this year.
And on the other hand, they lost to Clemson by a combined 48 points in two meetings. The Denard Robinson/Virginia Tech defense matchup should still be interesting to see.
6. Outback Bowl
Michigan State vs. Georgia
Michigan State has been one of the most entertaining teams to watch this season. They came inches and seconds away from winning the Big Ten Championship. Georgia had LSU frightened for 30 minutes of football in the SEC title game. Both teams are 10-3 and the Outback Bowl has the potential to steal the show on Jan. 2, the de facto New Year’s Day.
5. Cotton Bowl
Kansas State vs. Arkansas
This has all the feel of a BCS bowl. The game will be played in Cowboys Stadium on the Friday night before the National Championship and after the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange Bowls. Kansas State is ranked No. 10 and has only lost to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and Arkansas is ranked seventh and has only lost to the two teams playing for the National Championship.
4. Orange Bowl
Clemson vs. West Virginia
Everybody involved with college football let out a giant sigh of relief when West Virginia landed the Big East’s BCS berth. Instead a repeat of Oklahoma 48, Connecticut 20 or Florida 51, Cincinnati 24 or Virginia Tech 20, Cincinnati 7, we get Clemson and West Virginia.
The Mountaineers' previous two BCS bowl games have been two of the greatest of all time. There was the 38-35 shocker upset of SEC Champion Georgia in the Sugar Bowl in 2006 and the 2008 48-28 stunner over Big 12 Champion Oklahoma. Clemson and West Virginia can score a ton and the total is 61. Both are Orange Bowl-starved and you can bet there will be fireworks and plenty of alcohol consumed by the fans in South Beach on Jan. 4.
3. Rose Bowl
Wisconsin vs. Oregon
You can look at this as either a matchup of the last two losers of the Rose Bowl (Oregon lost to Ohio State in 2010 and Wisconsin lost to TCU in 2011), or you can look at it as Pac-12 vs. Big Ten, finally. The Rose Bowl was designed to pit the best of the West verse the best of the Midwest, but it has rarely done that over the past decade.
Finally it is happening and this is not USC getting ready to slaughter Illinois, Penn State or Michigan. This is two Top 10 teams, both 11-2, both coming off conference championship wins, and the posted "over/under" is 72, the second-highest of the bowl season.
2. Fiesta Bowl
Stanford vs. Oklahoma State
If we had a four-team playoff system, the 11-1 Cardinal and 11-1 Cowboys would be playing in the semifinals. We don’t, so they are playing a consolation game instead, but an entertaining one at that. The posted total of 75 is the highest of any bowl game.
That distinction is usually reserved for some December bowl game featuring a bitter team from the WAC or Mountain West. This will be the highlight of the stellar Jan. 2 lineup.
1. BCS National Championship Game
LSU vs. Alabama
This game had to be ranked either No. 1 or No. 35, there is no middle ground. The SEC rematch is one of the most polarizing debates in sports. Some swore it was the best game they ever saw, LSU’s 9-6 win in November. Some say it isn’t fair. Some say they will vote LSU National Champion regardless of what happens in the National Championship Game.
Only one thing is certain, you’ll be watching.
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports football picks Web site.
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