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Nation, World Sports

Ranking all 39 college football bowl games, from the Orange to the Cure

| Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, 5:45 p.m.
Clemson’s Travis Etienne runs for a touchdown against Pittsburgh as Trevor Lawrence (16) follows in the first half of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018.
Clemson’s Travis Etienne runs for a touchdown against Pittsburgh as Trevor Lawrence (16) follows in the first half of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018.
Oklahoma tight end Grant Calcaterra hauls in a one-handed touchdown catch in front of Texas defensive back B.J. Foster during the second half of the Big 12 Conference championship on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. Calcaterra’s touchdown sealed Oklahoma’s 39-27 win.
Oklahoma tight end Grant Calcaterra hauls in a one-handed touchdown catch in front of Texas defensive back B.J. Foster during the second half of the Big 12 Conference championship on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. Calcaterra’s touchdown sealed Oklahoma’s 39-27 win.

Bowl season brings a little something for everyone.

Want to see a weekday afternoon game on a blue field? Check. Feeling the need for a contest played in a stadium in the Bahamas primarily used for soccer and sponsored by a village next door to O’Hare International Airport and home to a large industrial park? You got it. Perversely interested in who will finish under .500 thanks to a postseason excursion? That option is plenty available.

There will be farewells (Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson) and breakout games (identities unknown). There will be games in baseball stadiums. There will be #MACtion and the #Pac12AfterDark but, sadly, no intersection of the two.

And there will be post-Christmas football in Shreveport. Good old reliable Shreveport.

Two games stand taller above the rest, solely because of national title implications. But most of them have something interesting to keep an eye on before the long offseason falls across the sport’s landscape.

So let’s get to it, a 1-to-39 rundown of this year’s bowl schedule. And for those who insist upon crabbily arguing there are too many postseason games, just remember: No one is forcing you to watch.

1. Orange Bowl (Alabama vs. Oklahoma, Dec. 29, 8 p.m., ESPN)

Assuming Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s ankle is healed up, this is probably a matchup of the Heisman winner and runner-up. That hasn’t happened since 2005, when Heisman runner-up Vince Young led Texas past the winner of the stiff-arming statue, Reggie Bush, and Southern California.

Tagovailoa and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray put up video game numbers all season, and Murray is better equipped than any quarterback the Crimson Tide has faced to place stress on the Alabama defense. One problem: Tagovailoa (or, if necessary, Jalen Hurts) and the Tide offense will get theirs against the Sooners.

2. Cotton Bowl (Clemson vs. Notre Dame, Dec. 29, 4 p.m., ESPN)

It’s a pairing of undefeated teams in which points are sure to be at a premium. Clemson is tied for second nationally in scoring defense (13.7 per game), while Notre Dame is No. 9 (17.3). Tailback Travis Etienne, the ACC’s player of the year, should again be a key figure for the Tigers. Maybe this should be viewed as the de facto ACC title game given the Irish’s scheduling affiliation with the league.

3. Rose Bowl (Ohio State vs. Washington, Jan. 1, 5 p.m., ESPN)

Which is harder to believe? That these two have never met in the Rose Bowl, or that they managed to spread 11 regular-season intersectional meetings over a half-century? Ohio State (12-1), the Big Ten champs, have to get over the immediate disappointment of missing out on the playoff. The Huskies (10-3) won the Pac-12 and have an exceptional defense, which is giving up 4.62 yards per play (No. 13 nationally). It will be a fine test for Buckeyes QB Dwayne Haskins.

4. Sugar Bowl (Georgia vs. Texas, Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m., ESPN)

Okay, here’s a series history that’s even wilder than the Rose Bowl. Georgia and Texas will meet for the first time since the Cotton Bowl following the 1983 season. Incredible to think it’s been that long. The Bulldogs (11-2) just outplayed Alabama for three quarters; Texas (9-4) will try to get its first 10-win season since 2009.

5. Fiesta Bowl (Central Florida vs. Louisiana State, Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ESPN)

It feels like we’ve been here before - an undefeated Central Florida team drawing an SEC team with a great set of victories but one too many losses to warrant serious playoff consideration. The Knights (12-0) did well with that last year, landing a 34-27 victory over Auburn in the Peach Bowl. Can they do the same against LSU (9-3) without the help of injured quarterback McKenzie Milton? Well, Darriel Mack did do okay for himself in the American Athletic title game.

6. Camping World Bowl (Syracuse vs. West Virginia, Dec. 28, 5:15 p.m., ESPN)

Best non-playoff quarterback matchup? Quite possibly, assuming West Virginia’s Will Grier opts in. If he begins to prepare for the NFL draft a month early, drop this game a couple spots. Eric Dungey and the Orange (9-3) go for their first 10-win season since 2001 against an old Big East rival. The Mountaineers are 8-3 after closing the regular season with a loss to Oklahoma.

7. Citrus Bowl (Kentucky vs. Penn State, Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ABC)

There’s only one pairing of 1,200-yard rushers in this postseason. This is it. Benny Snell Jr. (1,305 yards, 14 TDs) and Kentucky are aiming for the program’s first 10-win season since 1977, while Penn State junior Miles Sanders has rumbled for 1,223 yards to keep the Nittany Lions’ offense on track in the post-Saquon Barkley era.

8. Peach Bowl (Florida vs. Michigan, Dec. 29, Noon, ESPN)

It’s two brand-name teams, so it has that going for it. But this isn’t the freshest matchup (third time in four seasons they’ll play), and after its ugly loss to Ohio State to end its Big Ten and national title hopes, Michigan is the sort of team that might not be terribly motivated. Of course, that hypothesis could look silly if the Wolverines roll to a 30-point victory, which is also a possibility.

9. Alamo Bowl (Iowa State vs. Washington State, Dec. 28, 9 p.m., ESPN)

It all depends on which Iowa State team shows up. If it’s the one that drubbed West Virginia, it’ll be fun. If it’s the one that barely squeaked past Drake on Saturday to get to 8-4, the Cyclones will probably be overwhelmed by Gardner Minshew and the explosive Cougars (10-2). Random stat: With this trip to San Antonio, Mike Leach matches Mike Price with five bowl appearances, the most for a Washington State coach.

10. Gator Bowl (N.C. State vs. Texas A&M, Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m., ESPN)

Like N.C. State (9-3) didn’t see enough of Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher during his years at Florida State. Now the Wolfpack gets a crack at the Aggies (8-4) in a New Year’s Eve tussle. It’s a fine quarterback matchup on paper: N.C. State’s Ryan Finley against Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond.

11. Outback Bowl (Iowa vs. Mississippi State, Jan. 1, Noon, ESPN2)

It’s the “Take The Under Bowl,” as Mississippi State (8-4) ranks third in the country in total defense (268.4 yards per game) while Iowa ranks seventh (289.6). On a yards-per-play basis, the Bulldogs are second nationally while the Hawkeyes (8-4) are ninth. It could be a fine day for punters in Tampa, but bank on a tight game.

12. New Mexico Bowl (North Texas vs. Utah State, Dec. 15, 2 p.m., ESPN)

The first day of the bowl season includes this sneaky-good matchup. Junior quarterback Mason Fine (3,734 yards, 27 touchdowns, five interceptions) didn’t get North Texas (9-3) back to the Conference USA title game, but he’s had an excellent season. The Aggies (10-2) counter with QB Jordan Love (3,208 yards, 28 touchdowns, five interceptions), though they’ll play under an interim coach after Matt Wells left for Texas Tech.

13. Boca Raton Bowl (Northern Illinois vs. UAB, Dec. 18, 7 p.m., ESPN)

The full list of bowls pitting conference champions: The Orange (Alabama-Oklahoma), the Rose (Ohio State-Washington) and the Boca Raton. Not bad company. The Huskies (8-5) are a perennial Mid-American Conference power, while coach Bill Clark’s work at UAB (10-3) remains one of the more remarkable developments in the sport this decade.

14. Birmingham Bowl (Memphis vs. Wake Forest, Dec. 22, Noon, ESPN)

Maybe a reach, but this game has potential. The Tigers (8-5) have the nation’s No. 2 rusher in Darrell Henderson (1,909 yards), who is averaging 8.92 yards per carry. Wake Forest, which walloped Duke to get bowl eligible in its regular season finale, has turned in strong postseason performances the past two years in victories over Temple (2016 Military Bowl) and Texas A&M (2017 Belk Bowl).

15. Holiday Bowl (Northwestern vs. Utah, Dec. 31, 7 p.m., Fox Sports 1)

It’s the Bizarro Rose Bowl, with the losers of both the Big Ten (Northwestern) and Pac-12 (Utah) title games paired together. Notable stat: Utah has allowed only one team (Arizona State) to score 30 points. Northwestern has gotten to the 30-point plateau just four times in 13 tries.

16. Dollar General Bowl (Buffalo vs. Troy, Dec. 22, 7 p.m., ESPN)

Looking to scout future Power Five coaches? This is game for you. Buffalo’s Lance Leipold led the Bulls (10-3) to their first winning season since 2013 and won six Division III national titles at Wisconsin-Whitewater before coming to the shores of Lake Erie. The Trojans (9-3) are seeking their third 10-win season in a row under Neal Brown.

17. Music City Bowl (Auburn vs. Purdue, Dec. 28, 1:30 p.m., ESPN)

For pure entertainment value, you could do a lot worse than any game involving Purdue freshman Rondale Moore. The Boilermakers (6-6), who just retained coach Jeff Brohm after Louisville tried to lure him away, are sure to be pumped. Whether the same is true of Auburn, which began the season with national title hopes but wound up 7-5, remains to be seen.

18. Quick Lane Bowl (Georgia Tech vs. Minnesota, Dec. 26, 5:15 p.m., ESPN)

One last chance to watch Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson call plays bumps this game up a few spots. Johnson, who is stepping down at season’s end, has led the Yellow Jackets (7-5) to victories in three of their past four postseason games.

19. Armed Forces Bowl (Army vs. Houston, Dec. 22, 3:30 p.m., ESPN)

A fantastic contrast in styles between the Black Knights (9-2) and their effective triple-option attack and the Cougars (8-4) and their pinball spread scheme. It would probably land a few spots higher if Houston quarterback D’Eriq King (injured) and defensive tackle Ed Oliver (preparing for NFL draft) were playing. Houston gets a full week’s head start of preparation since Army has to contend with Navy on Saturday.

20. Liberty Bowl (Missouri vs. Oklahoma State, Dec. 31, 3:45 p.m., ESPN)

Quarterback Drew Lock closes out his college career for the Tigers (8-4), who will face Oklahoma State (6-6) in the postseason for the second time since departing the Big 12 (Missouri beat the Cowboys in the Cotton Bowl after the 2013 season). Also, it’s this year’s winner for the matchup most likely to double as a 7 vs. 10 or 8 vs. 9 game on the first full night of the NCAA basketball tournament, unless …

21. Military Bowl (Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech, Dec. 31, Noon, ESPN)

… you opt for the Bearcats and Hokies, who will meet in Annapolis for the second time in five seasons. Virginia Tech (6-6) will make its 26th postseason appearance in a row.

22. Las Vegas Bowl (Arizona State vs. Fresno State, Dec. 15, 3:30 p.m., ABC)

We’ve reached the “Really Good Group of Five team vs. Hovering Around .500 Power Five team” portion of the festivities.

23. Independence Bowl (Duke vs. Temple, Dec. 27, 1:30 p.m. ESPN)

Duke (7-5) is making its sixth bowl trip in seven years. Temple (8-4) is making its sixth postseason appearance in 10 years. Of all this year’s bowl matchups, this would be the most difficult to explain to someone who time traveled from 2008.

24. Redbox Bowl (Michigan State vs. Oregon, Dec. 31, 3 p.m., Fox)

The part where a stingy Michigan State (7-5) defense tries to contain Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert in the Bay Area should be fun. The part when Oregon (8-4) sends its defense onto the field to deal with the Spartans’ No. 116-ranked offense? That’s not quite as exciting.

25. New Orleans Bowl (Appalachian State vs. Middle Tennessee, Dec. 15, 9 p.m., ESPN)

Fresh off a Sun Belt title, Appalachian State (10-2) hits the Big Easy to face Middle Tennessee (8-4) in the final game of the Blue Raiders’ father/son, coach/quarterback combination era. Brent Stockstill is completing 70.5 percent of his passes this season while wrapping up his college career under his father Rick.

26. First Responders Bowl (Boise State vs. Boston College, Dec. 26, 1:30 p.m., ESPN)

The former Heart of Dallas Bowl pits a strong passing team (Boise State’s Brett Rypien has thrown for 3,705 yards and 30 TDs) and a fine running team (the Eagles’ A.J. Dillon rushed for 1,108 yards despite missing two games and parts of others). But both teams had credible aspirations of playing much closer to New Year’s Day just a month ago.

27. Sun Bowl (Pittsburgh vs. Stanford, Dec. 31, 2 p.m., CBS)

It has to be more entertaining than Pittsburgh’s last Sun Bowl trip, a 3-0 loss to Oregon State in 2008. Right? Right?

28. Belk Bowl (South Carolina vs. Virginia, Dec. 29, Noon, ABC)

Virginia made back-to-back appearances in this game when it was called the Continental Tire Bowl in 2002 and 2003, and this is the program’s first trip back since. The Cavaliers (7-5) will try to snap a two-game slide while facing a South Carolina team that went 8-4 and will make the short trip up from Columbia to face an old conference rival.

29. Hawaii Bowl (Louisiana Tech at Hawaii, Dec. 22, 10:30 p.m., ESPN)

A plus for some, a minus for others: It won’t be up against “It’s a Wonderful Life” this year after getting bumped from its usual Christmas Eve slot by “Monday Night Football”.

30. Bahamas Bowl (Florida International vs. Toledo, Dec. 21, 12:30 p.m., ESPN)

Get your passports, everybody. Butch Davis and the Panthers meet up with Jason Candle’s Rockets in the aforementioned game in a stadium primarily used for soccer. It’s the “Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl” to be precise, sponsored by Elk Grove Village, Illinois, [elkgrove.org], which the town helpfully notes is the first time a non-tourist municipality is sponsoring a bowl game. It might be worth it just to tune in for an ad or two.

31. Arizona Bowl (Arkansas State vs. Nevada, Dec. 29, 1:15 p.m., CBS Sports Network)

Fair or not, this is the bowl whose fourth quarter will probably be seen by the fewest people. Why? The Red Wolves (8-4) and the Wolf Pack (7-5) will head into the final period at approximately the same time as Clemson/Notre Dame kicks off.

32. Pinstripe Bowl (Miami vs. Wisconsin, Dec. 27, 5:15 p.m., ESPN)

This wasn’t an easy matchup to get excited about last year, when they played in the Orange Bowl after both losing conference title games. The Hurricanes and Badgers both stumbled into disappointing 7-5 seasons this fall. At least Wisconsin tailback Jonathan Taylor (FBS-best 1,989 yards) wraps up his sophomore year in an environment (New York) almost as conducive to a raw late December day as Camp Randall Stadium.

33. Cheez-It Bowl (California vs. Texas Christian, Dec. 26, 9 p.m., ESPN)

Texas Christian (6-6) ranks 96th nationally in scoring offense, while California (7-5) is 108th. Meanwhile, Cal is 24th in scoring defense and TCU is 44th. It’s not hard to guess what sort of game the former Cactus Bowl will be this year.

34. Gasparilla Bowl (Marshall vs. South Florida, Dec. 20, 8 p.m., ESPN)

South Florida (7-5) brings a five-game losing streak into a de facto home game across Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg, which kind of dampens any sort of buzz that would come with this game. Wideout Tyre Brady (66 catches, 914 yards, nine TDs) is a player to watch for the Thundering Herd (8-4).

35. Frisco Bowl (Ohio vs. San Diego State, Dec. 19, 8 p.m., ESPN)

Two teams heading in opposite directions: Ohio (8-4) won five of its last six (and scored at least 49 points in each of the victories). The Aztecs (7-5) dropped four of their last five. It is a matchup of strength vs. strength - Ohio’s rushing attack (No. 8 in the country) vs. San Diego State’s run defense (No. 4 nationally).

36. Camellia Bowl (Eastern Michigan vs. Georgia Southern, Dec. 15, 5:30 p.m., ESPN)

There’s one stone-cold lock in this bowl season: The Eagles will leave Montgomery, Alabama, with a victory. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out which one - 7-5 Eastern Michigan, which is aiming for its first eight-win seasons since 1987, or 9-3 Georgia Southern, which niftily bounced back from consecutive losing seasons in coach Chad Lunsford’s first full season.

37. Texas Bowl (Baylor vs. Vanderbilt, Dec. 27, 9 p.m., ESPN)

On the one hand, Baylor climbed out of a self-induced crater and Vanderbilt managed to extend its season in a bowl-or-go-home regular season finale against Tennessee. On the other, both teams are 6-6.

38. Idaho Potato Bowl (Brigham Young vs. Western Michigan, Dec. 21, 4 p.m., ESPN)

Things didn’t turn out how BYU (6-6) would have thought when it opened the year at 3-1 with victories over Arizona and Wisconsin. Nonetheless, the Cougars still have a top-20 defense and will try to contain Broncos tailback LeVante Bellamy (1,172 yards, five 100-yard rushing days).

39. Cure Bowl (Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Tulane, Dec. 15, 1:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network)

A dream matchup for the New Orleans Bowl (notwithstanding that game’s lack of a tie-in with the American Athletic) will instead be played in Orlando. That’s okay. These teams met in New Orleans in Tulane’s last bowl appearance back in 2013. The Ragin Cajuns (7-6) are coming off a Sun Belt title game loss, while the Green Wave (6-6) is seeking its first bowl win since 2002.

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