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Bowl season brings choice matchups, duds

Pat Forde
Yahoo Sports

One of the great things about working for Yahoo! Sports is that there is no reason to pretend a 35-game bowl onslaught is a truly delightful way to finish the season.

Let's call it what it is: a bloated, ridiculous postseason, rife with mediocrity and bad matchups and clunky bowl names.

Don't get me wrong: I will watch plenty of bowl games between Dec. 17 and Jan. 9. I love college football more than everything but a perfect steak, a cold beer and select few family members. But that doesn't mean I love Florida International vs. Marshall in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl. (Though it must be said that both those teams beat Big East co-champion Louisville. Another feather in John Marinatto's tattered cap.)

So as a service to my fellow college football consumers who are trying to balance football watching with holiday shopping, merriment and family obligations, I've categorized the bowl games in ascending order of viewing importance. Print this and post it on your refrigerator, so your loved ones will know when to leave you alone and when you can be dragged out to a boring office party.

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As a survivor of covering past Motor City, Humanitarian and GMAC bowls, I know bad bowl games when I see them. And these are bad bowl games:

Beef O'Brady's Bowl, Dec. 20. When the No. 88 team in the Sagarin Ratings (Marshall) meets the No. 90 team in the Sagarin Ratings (Florida International), what do you have? The equivalent of an FCS semifinal game.

Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl, Dec. 27. Western Michigan vs. Purdue. Just because the Boilermakers are in the Big Ten doesn't mean they're must-see TV. They wheezed into bowl eligibility at 6-6 by rallying to beat Middle Tennessee State (2-10) in the season opener and rallying to beat Indiana (1-11) in the season finale.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Dec. 31. Illinois vs. UCLA. An absolute dog. Two interim coaches. Two teams that finished the season in dismal fashion – the Illini losing six in a row, the Bruins losing three of their last four and still invited despite a 6-7 record. You don't need this New Year's Eve buzz kill.

BBVA Compass Bowl, Jan. 7. SMU vs. Pittsburgh. Low-level bowl games that are played after Jan. 1 qualify as clutter, especially when they match a 6-6 Big East team against a 7-5 Conference USA team at crumbling Legion Field. Bowl, Jan. 8. Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois. At least it's in Mobile, where the weather should be nice for players and spectators. But that doesn't mean anyone has to watch at home.


New Mexico Bowl, Dec. 17. Wyoming vs. Temple. Owls running back Bernard Pierce is the lone saving grace.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Dec. 17. Ohio vs. Utah State. I've had an abnormal interest in the Aggies all season after watching them snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the season opener at Auburn. They lost five games by a total of 25 points, but won their last five by a total of 19 points to gain bowl eligibility for the first time since 1997. A close game is all but guaranteed.

New Orleans Bowl, Dec. 17. San Diego State vs. Louisiana-Lafayette. Tune in for Aztecs running back Ronnie Hillman. And to see what a Ragin' Cajun looks like.

Hawaii Bowl, Dec. 24. Nevada vs. Southern Miss. You can watch while wrapping presents, and to see the trash blowing across the field in Aloha Stadium. But that's it.

Belk Bowl, Dec. 27. Louisville vs. North Carolina State. The Cardinals at least are in the top half of the country, according to Sagarin (No. 58). The Wolfpack, not so much (No. 64). Chance to appraise some intriguing young talent for Louisville, where the quarterback and top three wide receivers are freshmen.

Military Bowl, Dec. 28. Air Force vs. Toledo. The Rockets are a Sagarin top-50 program, at least. That's enough (barely) to qualify for this category.

Armed Forces Bowl, Dec. 30. BYU vs. Tulsa. Not a bad matchup, but it's at noon on a Friday. Lunch-hour viewing only.

Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 30. Rutgers vs. Iowa State. The Cyclones are .500 but fascinating after shocking Oklahoma State. The Scarlet Knights are 8-4 and not very interesting.

Music City Bowl, Dec. 30. Mississippi State vs. Wake Forest. Two ho-hum 6-6 teams from glam leagues that mostly lost to good teams and beat bad ones. Lone exception: Wake's victory over Florida State.

Texas Bowl, Dec. 31. Northwestern vs. Texas A&M. Yee-haw, more .500 football.

Chik-Fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31. Auburn vs. Virginia. The Tigers haven't done anything noteworthy since Oct. 1, and the Cavaliers are No. 61 in the Sagarin Ratings.


Poinsettia Bowl, Dec. 21. TCU vs. Louisiana Tech. The Mountain West Conference champion Horned Frogs went 10-2 in something of a transition season and have won six consecutive games. The Western Athletic Conference champion Bulldogs have won seven in a row. Works for me.

Independence Bowl, Dec. 26. Missouri vs. North Carolina. The Tigers have at least played a top-10 schedule and own three victories over Sagarin top-30 competition. And the Tar Heels will wear sharp uniforms.

Holiday Bowl, Dec. 28. California vs. Texas. Much like Louisville, this is an opportunity to gauge the future of the Longhorns' young skill-position players. Is Texas on the way back or not?

Champs Sports Bowl, Dec. 29. Florida State vs. Notre Dame. Big names, not great teams. Best reason to watch is to see which team salvages some element of a disappointing season.

Insight Bowl, Dec. 30. Iowa vs. Oklahoma. Kickoff is at 10 ET, which makes watching all of this game a chore. But the opportunity to see whether the Sooners are going to finish a disappointing season with one more dud of a performance is compelling.

Sun Bowl, Dec. 31. Georgia Tech vs. Utah. You never know in El Paso. Could have snow like last year, or it could be 75 degrees. Could have a good game, or it could be a dud.

Liberty Bowl, Dec. 31. Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt. Two things you don't see very often: the Commodores in a bowl game and a starting quarterback named Munchie. (That's Munchie Legaux, the Bearcats' quarterback since Zach Collaros broke his ankle.)

Gator Bowl, Jan. 2. Ohio State vs. Florida. The Urban Meyer Bowl – only Urban isn't coaching either team. But he should be there, which will make for some entertainingly awkward moments.

[Bowls: Full 2011 postseason schedule]


Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 22. Arizona State vs. Boise State. The Sun Devils are here just for decoration; the allure of the game is the chance to watch all-time FBS victory leader Kellen Moore for the last time in a college uniform – and given his iffy pro future, maybe the last time he's seen on a national stage. Then, the big question: Will Boise keep winning big without him?

Alamo Bowl, Dec. 29. Washington vs. Baylor. Something tells me we'll be watching the Heisman winner in this one.

[Heisman: QBs Robert Griffin, Andrew Luck among five finalists]

TicketCity Bowl, Jan. 2. Houston vs. Penn State. Could well be two interim coaches squaring off, but there's much more to this matchup than that. Pyrotechnic offense against shutdown defense. End of the line for all-time passing leader Case Keenum. And the end of a wrenching season for the Paterno-less Nittany Lions.

Outback Bowl, Jan. 2. Michigan State vs. Georgia. Second-best team in the Big Ten squares off with the SEC East champion in a good matchup of teams that finished the season well. Spartans will be motivated to atone for massive bowl flop vs. SEC last year.

Capital One Bowl, Jan. 2. Nebraska vs. South Carolina. Another Big Ten-SEC matchup. A Huskers offense that wore down in the second half of the season takes on a very good Gamecocks defense.

Sugar Bowl, Jan. 3. Michigan vs. Virginia Tech. A joke of a matchup given the spurious presence of the Hokies, but still better than the majority of the bowls.

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

Orange Bowl, Jan. 4. West Virginia vs. Clemson. You like offense? There will be offense.

Cotton Bowl, Jan. 6. Kansas State vs. Arkansas. Two teams more deserving of a BCS bowl bid than several that received them.


Rose Bowl, Jan. 2. Wisconsin vs. Oregon. The visual appeal of this game's setting never gets old, no matter who is playing – and the teams playing this season are really good. Two great running backs in Heisman finalist Montee Ball and Oregon's LaMichael James. Two dynamic quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and Darron Thomas. Two coaches who figure to be at the forefront of the game for years to come in Bret Bielema and Chip Kelly.

Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 2. Stanford vs. Oklahoma State. The odds-on No. 1 NFL draft choice (Andrew Luck) against the best team not playing for the national title. Nice storyline.

BCS championship game, Jan. 9. LSU vs. Alabama. There will be a touchdown this time. Maybe even two. And unless something goes haywire, it will be close again. And brutally physical. A three-hour immersion in tough-man football is never a bad way to end the season.

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