Monday with Mike: Ranking the bowl matchups

The holidays can be stressful, and once the Christmas “season” hits, free time is precious.

Kevin Prince and UCLA take on Illinois in a matchup of the mediocre and uncoached.
(Getty Images)

Thus, in the holiday spirit of selflessness, here is our annual rundown of the “attractiveness” of each of the 35 bowls, listed in reverse order, to help you best adjust your calendar around the holidays.

35. Kraft Fight Hunger, Illinois (6-6) vs. UCLA (6-7), Dec. 31: Neither has a coach. And UCLA had to get a waiver from the NCAA to be allowed to play in the game because it has a losing record. There is one positive: You get to spend New Year’s Eve in San Francisco, so drink a few Anchor Steams and hit all the great Italian restaurants in North Beach.

34. Music City Bowl, Mississippi State (6-6) vs. Wake Forest (6-6), Dec. 30: Mississippi State was 2-6 in SEC play. Wake is coming in off a 34-point beatdown at the hands of Vanderbilt.

33. Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Purdue (6-6) vs. Western Michigan (7-5), Dec. 27: Western Michigan certainly can throw the ball around but can’t play defense. Purdue lost to Rice.

32. BBVA Compass Bowl, Pitt (6-6) vs. SMU (7-5), Jan. 7: Will SMU coach June Jones be around to coach the Mustangs? This is the second season in a row Pitt will play in this game, so who, exactly, says bowls are a reward?

31. Beef O’Brady’s Bowl, Florida International (8-4) vs. Marshall (6-6), Dec. 20: FIU WR T.Y. Hilton is a big-time talent and this game is played at Tropicana Field. Other than that …

30. Pinstripe Bowl, Iowa State (6-6) vs. Rutgers (8-4), Dec. 30: A Big 12 also-ran meets a Big East also-ran. One selling point, though: That Big 12 also-ran kept Oklahoma State out of the national title game.

[Bowl Pick’em: Sign up and play today]

29. Las Vegas Bowl, Arizona State (6-6) vs. Boise State (11-1), Dec. 22: Boise State is an excellent team stuck with an opponent who … how can we say this nicely? … didn’t play as hard as it could’ve down the stretch. This will be the final game for Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson. Will his players ratchet up their intensity in an attempt to send him out a winner, or will it be business as usual?

28. New Mexico Bowl, Temple (8-4) vs. Wyoming (8-4), Dec. 17: Wyoming has had a surprisingly good season, and Temple has a strong rushing attack led by TB Bernard Pierce. This is the first bowl of the season, so it moves up a spot because of that.

27. Texas Bowl, Northwestern (6-6) vs. Texas A&M (6-6), Dec. 31: The potential exists for a lot of points. And when 6-6 teams get together, the potential for a lot of points means it might be worth tuning in, if just for a little while.

26. Hawaii Bowl, Nevada (7-5) vs. Southern Miss (11-2), Dec. 24: Southern Miss beat up on Houston in the Conference USA title game, spoiling the Cougars’ BCS hopes and earning a trip to Hawaii to boot. Not bad, huh?

25. Poinsettia Bowl, Louisiana Tech (8-4) vs. TCU (10-2), Dec. 21: TCU is in the same boat as Boise State – a really good season ends in a minor bowl. One difference is that TCU’s opponent definitely will show up ready to play.

24. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Ohio (9-4) vs. Utah State (7-5), Dec. 17: Ohio lost a heartbreaker to Northern Illinois on a last-play field goal in the MAC title game. As a result, the Bobcats get shipped to Boise to play on the blue turf. Utah State has a potent offense, and this could be a high-scoring affair. (A side note: Before the game, as part of the 75th anniversary celebration of the Idaho Potato Commission, a giant fake russet potato will be unveiled. How big is “giant”? The promotional materials say the potato is too large for a standard flatbed trailer. And, yes, we’re serious.)

23. New Orleans Bowl, Louisiana-Lafayette (9-3) vs. San Diego State (8-4), Dec. 17: ULL might be the nation’s biggest surprise, as the Ragin’ Cajuns were picked to finish last in the nine-team Sun Belt; instead, they finished second. Will SDSU have any fans in the stands? There should be a goodly number of points.

James Franklin's Commodores can deal a blow to the Big East's credibility.
(Getty Images)

22. Liberty Bowl, Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6), Dec. 31: As far as we know, this is the only bowl this season in which both participants lost to Tennessee, which is sitting at home for the holidays. Cincy tied for the Big East title and Vandy went 2-6 in the SEC, so there’s a lot on the line for the Big East.

21. Independence Bowl, Missouri (7-5) vs. North Carolina (7-5), Dec. 26: Both teams underachieved a bit relative to their talent level, so if each team is motivated, this could be quite entertaining.

20. Holiday Bowl, California (7-5) vs. Texas (7-5), Dec. 28: Both coaches have been at their schools forever, and the loser is going to hear a lot of grief in the offseason. (Actually, considering each team was so inconsistent, the winner is going to get some grief this offseason, too.)

19. Military Bowl, Air Force (7-5) vs. Toledo (8-4), Dec. 28: Neither plays all that much defense, so there should be points aplenty. And if you’re going to be watching a game on a Wednesday afternoon, you want to see points aplenty.

18. Belk Bowl, Louisville (7-5) vs. North Carolina State (7-5), Dec. 27: Louisville tied for the Big East’s regular-season title, while N.C. State was an ACC also-ran. In short, this is another important game for the Big East.

17. Sun Bowl, Georgia Tech (8-4) vs. Utah (7-5), Dec. 31: Both teams run well. Neither throws well. Thus, this could be the only bowl that takes fewer than three hours to finish.

16. Chick-fil-A Bowl, Auburn (7-5) vs. Virginia (8-4), Dec. 31: Auburn is No. 82 in scoring offense, Virginia No. 88. But both have some top-flight offensive personnel, so this actually could end up being a high-scoring game.

15. Gator Bowl, Florida (6-6) vs. Ohio State (6-6), Jan. 2: Two premier programs, but this has a car-wreck quality to it, as in, “Man, these teams aren’t that good – but I can’t turn away.” Florida is trying to avoid its first losing season since 1979; the Buckeyes haven’t had a losing season since 1988.

14. GoDaddy.Com Bowl, Arkansas State (10-2) vs. Northern Illinois (10-3), Jan. 8: This is the last pre-title game bowl, and there should be a ton of points. Considering the defenses that will be on view the next night in New Orleans, this very well could be your final chance to see a touchdown in a college football game this season.

13. Sugar Bowl, Michigan (10-2) vs. Virginia Tech (11-2), Jan. 3: Or, to be more apt, the “Neither Truly Belongs in the BCS Bowl.”

[Forde: Rematch deserved, but Sugar Bowl a travesty]

12. Insight Bowl, Iowa (7-5) vs. Oklahoma (9-3), Dec. 30: After the 1998 season, both these schools were looking for new coaches. The assumption was that Bob Stoops, Florida’s defensive coordinator at the time, would take over at Iowa, his alma mater. Instead, he spurned the Hawkeyes and went to Oklahoma. Iowa hired Kirk Ferentz instead. This will be the first time they’ve met.

11. Armed Forces Bowl, BYU (9-3) vs. Tulsa (8-4), Dec. 30: Both have good records, but neither really has beaten anyone. BYU owns one win over a bowl team, and Tulsa has two. So, are the good offensive numbers for both teams legit or a result of beating up on overmatched foes?

10. Champs Sports Bowl, Florida State (8-4) vs. Notre Dame (8-4), Dec. 29: Two of the bigger brand names in college football (even if both brands have lost a lot of luster in recent seasons).

Dana Holgorsen's Mountaineer offense could find itself in a track meet with Clemson.
(Getty Images)

9. Orange Bowl, Clemson (10-3) vs. West Virginia (9-3), Jan. 4: An intriguing meeting of the (offensive) minds between WVU coach Dana Holgorsen and Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris. Each defense has been inconsistent, so there could be a lot of points. A sub-plot: This is the ACC champ vs. the Big East champ.

8. Alamo Bowl, Baylor (9-3) vs. Washington (7-5), Dec. 29: This likely will be the final game for Baylor QB Robert Griffin III, a junior who seems NFL-bound. Washington QB Keith Price has had a good season, too, with 29 TD passes. Both secondaries are suspect, so a game in the 30s (or even 40s) is possible.

7. Cotton Bowl, Arkansas (10-2) vs. Kansas State (10-2), Jan. 6: Both teams depend heavily on their quarterbacks. K-State’s Collin Klein can’t throw, but he heads a powerful rushing attack. Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson leads the SEC in passing. K-State’s pass defense was torched often this season – but the Hogs’ rushing defense hasn’t been that good, either.

6. Capital One Bowl, South Carolina (10-2) vs. Nebraska (9-3), Jan. 2: Both teams have been inconsistent on offense and neither wants to have to throw the ball. This is all about defense and the running game. And each coach, Nebraska’s Bo Pelini and South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, should be good for a dozen or so sideline shots of anguish.

5. TicketCity Bowl, Houston (12-1) vs. Penn State (9-3), Jan. 2: This will be the final college game for Houston QB Case Keenum, who will graduate with almost every important NCAA passing record. He is 4-4 vs. Big Six opponents in his career. Penn State is the team no bowl wanted (with good reason), but the Nittany Lions’ defense will be the best Keenum has seen in a long, long time. Can he go out with a flourish?

4. Outback Bowl, Georgia (10-3) vs. Michigan State (10-3), Jan. 2: The Big Ten runner-up vs. the SEC runner-up. Michigan State was smoked by Alabama in last season’s Capital One Bowl. Will the Spartans have a better showing this time around?

3. Title game, Alabama (11-1) vs. LSU (13-0), Jan. 9: Alabama gets its second bite of the apple, this time away from home. Obviously, the defenses will be at the forefront again.

[Wetzel: SEC reaps reward of rejected playoff plan]

2. Rose Bowl, Oregon (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (11-2), Jan. 2: Wisconsin’s brute force likely will work well against the Ducks. Conversely, Oregon’s sheer speed likely will work well against the Badgers. In short, this is a fascinating study of contrasting styles.

1. Fiesta Bowl, Oklahoma State (11-1) vs. Stanford (11-1), Jan. 2: Both lost in November to end their national title hopes, and this will be the final game for each team’s stud quarterback. You have to think that at some point during the game, Stanford QB Andrew Luck will gaze wistfully at the field and wonder what kind of numbers he could put up with Oklahoma State’s wide receivers. At the same time, you have to think Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden will gaze wistfully at the field and wonder what it would be like to play on a team whose defense ranks 25th nationally instead of 107th.

Grid bits

• Wisconsin TB Montee Ball scored four more TDs in the Badgers’ thrilling 42-39 win over Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game. That gives him 38 touchdowns this season, which is second on the NCAA’s single-season list, behind only former Oklahoma State TB Barry Sanders’ 39 in 1988. Given that Ball has scored at least two touchdowns in each game this season, it seems a good bet he will set the record in the Rose Bowl against Oregon. Worth noting, though, is that Ball will have played 14 games. Sanders scored his 39 in 11 games; bowl stats did not count at the time, and Sanders scored five more TDs in the Cowboys’ 62-14 Holiday Bowl bludgeoning of Wyoming.

• In addition, give it up for North Texas senior TB Lance Dunbar, who finished his career by rushing for 313 yards and four TDs in the Mean Green’s 59-7 demolition of Middle Tennessee State. In the process, he became only the sixth player in NCAA history to have 4,000 rushing yards (4,224) and 1,000 receiving yards (1,033). The others: Stanford’s Darrin Nelson (1978-81), Colorado State’s Steve Bartalo (1983-86), Miami of Ohio’s George Swarn (1983-86), Boise State’s Brock Forsey (1999-2002) and Tulane’s Mewelde Moore (2000-03).

• The second round of the FCS playoffs were this past weekend, and each of the top five seeds moved on. But you can extrapolate the other seeds from the bracket, and there were two upsets: No. 6 Appalachian State losing to No. 11 Maine and No. 7 Towson falling to No. 10 Lehigh. If you used the final BCS standings as a guide for FBS playoffs, those upsets would equate to No. 6 Arkansas losing to No. 11 Virginia Tech and No. 7 Boise State losing to No. 10 Wisconsin.

• After South Carolina whipped Clemson last week to close out its regular season, a tweet made the rounds, supposedly from Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier: “We may not be Alabama or LSU, but we ain’t Clemson, folks.” The quote actually was from South Carolina play-by-play man Todd Ellis at the end of the game and it was tweeted via the football team’s official Twitter account, leading many – including, apparently, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney – to believe it came from Spurrier. Swinney wasn’t happy and reportedly spent four minutes discussing the matter during a news conference last week. As his is wont, Spurrier got the last word. Spurrier told reporters that his daughter, Lisa, let him know Wednesday night that the quote was making the rounds and being attributed to him. “I said, ‘Well, what do you want me to do? I didn’t say it,’ ” Spurrier said. “Smart people don’t believe everything they read, and they don’t believe hearsay. … I guess Dabo believed it.”

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Mike Huguenin is a Yahoo! Sports college sports editor. Send Mike a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Dec 5, 2011