Forde-Yard Dash: Bowl Edition

College football bowl season is upon us. Pat Forde breaks down everything you need to know. (Yahoo Sports illustration)
College football bowl season is upon us. Pat Forde breaks down everything you need to know. (Yahoo Sports illustration)

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news this college football bowl season (bowling shoes sold separately in Las Cruces, where New Mexico State is playing in its first bowl game since 1960):

When it comes to picking winners, bowl season is the greatest of all crapshoots involving human competition. (Horse racing, which involves trying to predict the behaviors of mute beasts, is still the king of all crapshoots.) Coaches are absent, wandering off to other jobs and abandoning the “We-are-in-this-together” Kumbaya they preached for months previously. Players, to an increasing degree, are absent as well, making “business decisions” regarding professional futures and avoiding injury risk in glorified exhibition games. Fans, many times, are also absent, which makes the ESPN camera angles tricky as they try to avoid showing vast expanses of empty bleachers.

[Dr. Saturday ranks all the college football bowls]

But these are the last games we have, college football fans. What follows is the Great Deprivation, a period of ginned-up interest in speculative endeavors like recruiting, pro days and spring football. This is the end of the blocking and tackling against other tribes until roughly Labor Day weekend 2018, which if you check the calendar is a long damn time from now.

So, as much as the College Football Playoff has overshadowed the rest of the college postseason — for good reason — fill out a bowl pool or six, hunker down and watch what we have left. You’ll be missing it soon enough.


Who: Grambling (11-1) vs. North Carolina A&T (11-0)
When: Dec. 16, noon ET
Where: Atlanta
Why Watch: Halftime show. And to avoid stringing the Christmas lights you promised you’d put up last weekend.
Best Celebration Bowl Ever: Last year, when Grambling blocked an extra point with 2:14 remaining to beat North Carolina Central, 10-9.
Absentee Coach Factor: None. Both head coaches present and accounted for.
Dash Pick: N.C. A&T 21, Grambling 17. The Aggies not only are undefeated, they’ve only been involved in two games decided by a touchdown or less all season.
Conference scorecard: MEAC 1-0, SWAC 0-1


Who: Troy (10-2) vs. North Texas (9-4)
When: Dec. 16, 1 p.m.
Where: New Orleans
Why Watch: Two highly regarded coaches in their 30s, likely ticketed for bigger things in the coming years. And cutaways to fans still drunk from the night before on Bourbon Street.
Best New Orleans Bowl Ever: Louisiana-Lafayette 32, San Diego State 30, in 2011. Ragin’ Cajuns won on a 50-yard field goal at the gun, a kick that was moved up five yards after a controversial “illegal stemming” call on the Aztecs. Then there is the postscript: UL-L had to vacate the win (and many others) four years later due to NCAA sanctions that included academic fraud and payments to players. Another college sports feel-good story.
Absentee Coach Factor: None. Neal Brown and Seth Littrell will be on the sidelines Saturday.
Dash Pick: Troy 35, North Texas 31. Last time the Trojans were in Louisiana, they beat LSU. North Texas is nowhere near as difficult an assignment. Troy hasn’t lost in two months, won’t lose now.
Conference Scorecard: Sun Belt 1-0, C-USA 0-1.


Who: Western Kentucky (6-6) vs. Georgia State (6-5)
When: Dec. 16, 2:30 p.m.
Where: Orlando
Why Watch: The Hilltoppers are one of just eight teams nationally to throw for 4,000 yards this season. The Panthers have an inexplicable home/road record: 1-4 at home, 5-1 on the road. And because anytime you get a clash of six-win teams from the nether regions of FBS, you drop everything and watch.
Best Cure Bowl Ever: Arkansas State 31, Central Florida 13, last year. Noteworthy because it’s the last time UCF has lost a game.
Absentee Coach Factor: None.
Dash Pick: WKU 31, Georgia State 28. Hilltoppers quarterback Mike White, who has thrown for more than 8,000 yards the last two seasons, goes out in one last blaze of passing glory.
Conference Scorecard: C-USA 1-1, Sun Belt 1-1.


Who: Boise State (10-3) vs. Oregon (7-5)
When: Dec. 16, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Las Vegas
Why Watch: Some name recognition here, with the perennially strong Broncos against the Pac-12 Ducks. This game will also extend your Christmas light-stringing avoidance until after dark, when it’s a no-go.
Best Las Vegas Bowl Ever: The first one, in 1992. Bowling Green led Nevada 28-3 at halftime, fell behind 34-28, but was gifted with a red-zone possession with 1:48 left when Nevada’s punter fumbled a snap. A fourth-and-goal touchdown pass and subsequent extra point with 22 seconds left won the game for Bowling Green, 35-34.
Absentee Coach Factor: Oregon is without Willie Taggart, who jetted for Florida State. But the Ducks will be led by the guy they elevated to take Taggart’s place, assistant coach Mario Cristobal.
Dash Pick: Oregon 28, Boise State 27. Ducks players lobbied hard for Cristobal to get the job, so they’d better show up highly motivated to back up their sentiment on the field.
Conference Scorecard: Pac-12 1-0, Mountain West 0-1.

Mario Cristobal talks to reporters after being introduced as Oregon football coach Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, in Eugene, Ore. (Brian Davies/The Register-Guard via AP)
Mario Cristobal talks to reporters after being introduced as Oregon football coach Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, in Eugene, Ore. (Brian Davies/The Register-Guard via AP)


Who: Marshall (7-5) vs. Colorado State (7-5)
When: Dec. 16, 4:30 p.m.
Where: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Why Watch: CSU has the No. 10 offense in America, averaging 501 yards per game. Marshall’s last four games have all been decided by one possession. If you like green in your uniform color schemes, there will be a lot of it in this game.
Best New Mexico Bowl Ever: Arizona 49, Nevada 48, 2012. Wildcats scored 14 points in the final 42 seconds for a miracle victory. The first touchdown capped a 75-yard drive to pull within six, then Arizona recovered an onside kick and scored again in three plays for its only lead of the game.
Absentee Coach Factor: None.
Dash Pick: Colorado State 34, Marshall 28. Michael Gallup, the nation’s No. 3 receiver with 94 catches, will be a tough matchup for a solid Thundering Herd defense.
Conference Scorecard: Mountain West 1-1, C-USA 1-2.


Who: Middle Tennessee (6-6) vs. Arkansas State (7-4)
When: Dec. 16, 8 p.m.
Where: Montgomery, Alabama
Why Watch: There is a penchant for excitement in this bowl’s brief history. And it’s either watch this or make forced conversation at the lame Christmas party you’ve been dragged to.
Best Camellia Bowl Ever: Appalachian State 31, Ohio 29, in 2015. The Mountaineers trailed 24-7 in the third quarter, rallied for a 28-24 lead, fell behind on a safety and an Ohio field goal, then marched 73 yards for the game-winning field goal as time expired.
Absentee Coach Factor: None.
Dash Pick: Arkansas State 44, Middle Tennessee 35. Red Wolves quarterback Justice Hansen is third nationally in total offense, cranking out 365 yards per game. He’s a bit high-risk, having thrown 15 interceptions in 11 games, but the Blue Raiders only have four picks on the season. Advantage Hansen.
Conference Scorecard: Sun Belt 2-1, C-USA 1-3.


Who: Akron (7-6) vs. Florida Atlantic (10-3)
When: Dec. 19, 7 p.m.
Where: Boca Raton, Florida
Why Watch: To find out what the hell Cheribundi Tart Cherry is, and to hear how many times the announcing crew has to say all 12 syllables of the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl.
Best Boca Raton Bowl Ever: None of the three previous iterations of this game have been particularly close, but let’s go with Toledo 32, Temple 17, in 2015. The Rockets scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull away, including two by some guy named Kareem Hunt.
Absentee Coach Factor: They’re all expected to be there. Unless Lane Kiffin is partying on South Beach.
Dash Pick: FAU 52, Akron 28. The Owls have reeled off three straight games of more than 550 yards of offense, and have six on the season. No way the Zips are slowing them down in what is a true FAU home game.
Conference Scorecard: C-USA 2-3, MAC 0-1.

Will Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin win his first college football bowl game? (AP)
Will Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin win his first college football bowl game? (AP)


Who: Louisiana Tech (6-6) vs. SMU (7-5)
When: Dec. 20, 8 p.m.
Where: Frisco, Texas
Why Watch: It’s Wednesday night and there’s football on. You’ll watch.
Best Frisco Bowl Ever: This is the first Frisco Bowl ever, so this one wins. But since it’s also the former Miami Beach Bowl, let’s salute the 2014 version of that game. Memphis beat BYU 55-48 in double overtime, and then the teams got into an ignominious brawl.
Absentee Coach Factor: Chad Morris is off calling the Hogs in Fayetteville, Ark., so SMU will be led by interim coach Jeff Traylor.
Dash Pick: Louisiana Tech 38, SMU 37. Tech has lost three games by a single point this season, which is cruel and unusual. About time for the Bulldogs to win one by a point. Condolences to the Mustangs for not getting much of an exotic bowl experience, playing the game about 25 miles north of campus.
Conference Scorecard: C-USA 3-3, American Athletic 0-1.


Who: Temple (6-6) vs. Florida International (8-4)
When: Dec. 20, 8 p.m.
Where: St. Petersburg, Florida
Why Watch: To see whether the Tropicana Field is still the dreariest football venue in America.
Best Gasparilla Bowl Ever: This is technically the first Gasparilla Bowl, but in past lives it was the St. Petersburg Bowl, sponsored by the likes of MagicJack, Beef O’Brady’s and BitPay. Best of those would be last year: Mississippi State 17, Miami (Ohio) 16. After rallying from a nine-point deficit in the second half, the Bulldogs blocked a field goal on the final play to preserve the win.
Absentee Coach Factor: None.
Dash Pick: Temple 28, FIU 24. Big picture: Owls are the product of a tougher schedule and tougher conference. Small picture: Temple running game was quite productive over the final five games of the regular season, and FIU has given up plenty of rushing yards this season.
Conference Scorecard: AAC 1-1, C-USA 3-4.


Who: Ohio (8-4) vs. UAB (8-4)
When: Dec. 22, 12:30 p.m.
Where: Nassau, Bahamas
Why Watch: To see two great survivor coaches, Frank Solich of Ohio and Bill Clark of UAB. And to see daydreamy cutaways of palm trees and azure water in the Caribbean while freezing your rear end off.
Best Bahamas Bowl Ever: The first one will never be topped. In December 2014, Western Kentucky led Central Michigan 49-14 with 12 minutes to play. Then the Chippewas scored five straight touchdowns, the last of them on a bomb and three laterals with no time on the clock. CMU gamely went for two and the win, but WKU broke up the pass and prevailed, 49-48.
Absentee Coach Factor: None.
Dash Pick: Ohio 30, UAB 23. There aren’t many stories better than the Blazers going 8-4 in their first season back after being shut down for two years — but there are plenty of better teams. The Bobcats are one of them, despite staggering into the postseason off consecutive losses. (They were a minus-5 turnover margin in those games; clean that up and this is an Ohio win.)
Conference Scorecard: MAC 1-1, C-USA 3-5.


Who: Central Michigan (8-4) vs. Wyoming (7-5)
When: Dec. 22, 4 p.m.
Where: Boise, Idaho
Why Watch: To try and get a handle on the NFL hype accompanying Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, the seventh-rated passer in the Mountain West (if he plays). And because it’s a convenient excuse for leaving work early and getting the extended holiday weekend started.
Best Potato Bowl Ever: Idaho 43, Bowling Green 42, 2009. There were 15 points scored in the final 32 seconds — seven by the Falcons to take the lead, and then eight by the Vandals with four seconds remaining. Coach Robb Akey went for the win in regulation and got it on a two-point conversion pass.
Absentee Coach Factor: None.
Dash Pick: Central Michigan 26, Wyoming 24. Chippewas have won five straight, Cowboys have lost two straight. Take the hot team. Allen missed the last two games of the regular season with a shoulder injury but said he will play if healthy.
Conference Scorecard: MAC 2-1, Mountain West 1-2.


Who: Texas Tech (6-6) vs. South Florida (9-2)
When: Dec. 23, noon
Where: Birmingham, Alabama
Why Watch: To see USF quarterback Quinton Flowers play college football one more time. To see the venerable (but dilapidated) Capital of Football in the South, Legion Field. And to avoid the hellish nightmare of last-minute holiday mall shopping.
Best Birmingham Bowl Ever: Last year. South Carolina scored the final 18 points of regulation to force overtime, but South Florida prevailed in OT, 46-39.
Absentee Coach Factor: None.
Dash Pick: South Florida 41, Texas Tech 38. This is fifth-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s best defensive team since his first season at Tech — but that doesn’t mean it’s a good defensive team. Flowers will be difficult for the Red Raiders to stop.
Scorecard: AAC 2-1; Big 12 0-1.


Who: San Diego State (10-2) vs. Army (9-3)
When: Dec. 23, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Fort Worth, Texas
Why Watch: To see the nation’s only 2,000-yard rusher, Rashaad Penny of SDSU. And to see a team that has attempted just 61 passes all season and hasn’t thrown more than three in a game since October.
Best Armed Forces Bowl Ever: Houston 35, Pittsburgh 34, 2014 season. With 11 minutes left, Pitt led 31-6 — and with four minutes left, Pitt still led 34-13. But the Cougars somehow scored 22 points in a span of 2 1/2 minutes to win the game. Houston recovered consecutive onside kicks to make the comeback possible, and went for a two-point conversion and the win after the final score.
Absentee Coach Factor: None.
Dash Pick: San Diego State 28, Army 25. The Aztecs lead the Mountain West in rushing defense. The Cadets have no Plan B if the running game isn’t working. Advantage, SDSU.
Conference Scorecard: Mountain West 2-2, Independents 0-1.

San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny (20) has been torching defenses all season long. (AP)
San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny (20) has been torching defenses all season long. (AP)


Who: Appalachian State (8-4) vs. Toledo (11-2)
When: Dec. 23, 7 p.m.
Where: Mobile, Alabama
Why Watch: To see two of the nation’s top 16 quarterbacks in terms of efficiency: Toledo’s Logan Woodside (No. 5) and App State’s Taylor Lamb (No. 16). And because if you’ve put off the last-minute shopping this far, you can put it off until Christmas Eve.
Best Dollar General Bowl Ever: Marshall 64, East Carolina 61, in 2001. For quite a while this was the highest-scoring bowl game in history. The Thundering Herd trailed 38-8 at halftime, but stormed back to tie the game at 51 with seven seconds left — at which point Marshall missed the winning extra point. But the Herd won in double overtime, with Byron Leftwich outdueling David Garrard in a battle of future mediocre Jacksonville Jaguars quarterbacks.
Absentee Coach Factor: None, to the pleasant surprise of both schools.
Dash Pick: Appalachian State 33, Toledo 30. The Rockets can be gouged on the ground, as Ohio proved in a 28-point upset romp, and the Mountaineers have really cranked up their running game down the stretch. App State ran for 936 yards in its final three games of the regular season.
Conference Scorecard: Sun Belt 3-1, MAC 2-2.


Who: Fresno State (9-4) vs. Houston (7-4)
When: Dec. 24, 8:30
Where: Honolulu
Why Watch: To see The Dash’s 2017 national coach of the year, Jeff Tedford of Fresno, and monster Houston defensive lineman Ed Oliver. And because you have presents to wrap. This (and egg nog) will make it less monotonous.
Best Hawaii Bowl Ever: Nevada 49, Central Florida 48, in 2005. The smallest crowd in Hawaii Bowl history (16,134) saw the best game in the bowl’s history, featuring three UCF touchdown catches by future NFL star Brandon Marshall and a game-losing PAT miss by future NFL kicker Matt Prater. UCF trailed by 10 points with less than two minutes to play but scored twice to force OT, wherein Nevada prevailed.
Absentee Coach Factor: All presented and accounted for.
Dash Pick: Fresno State 23, Houston 21. Bulldogs were in Hawaii six weeks ago and will be less distracted by the surroundings than the Cougars. But they’ll need to be on point to handle the dual-threat capability of Houston’s third QB of the season, D’Eriq King.
Conference Scorecard: Mountain West 3-2, AAC 2-2.


Who: Utah (6-6) vs. West Virginia (7-5)
When: Dec. 26, 1:30 p.m.
Where: Dallas
Why Watch: First bowl matchup of Power Five teams. And because you’re about sick of all the family time from the last several days.
Best Heart of Dallas Bowl Ever: Army 38, North Texas 31, last year. Trailing by three, the Mean Green got a fourth-down stop on its own 28 and then drove for the tying field goal with less than half a minute remaining. But Army won in overtime on a fourth-down run from three yards out instead of kicking a field goal. The Cadets could have won comfortably in regulation if not for a missed PAT and three failed two-point conversions.
Absentee Coach Factor: None.
Dash Pick: Utah 35, West Virginia 31. The Dash doesn’t pick against Kyle Whittingham at bowl time (9-1 record). And the Utes are better than their record, with four one-possession losses to ranked teams.
Conference Scorecard: Pac-12 2-0; Big 12 0-2.


Who: Duke (6-6) vs. Northern Illinois (8-4)
When: Dec. 26, 5:15 p.m.
Where: Detroit
Why Watch: Would you rather return the sweater that doesn’t fit? No, you would not.
Best Quick Lane Bowl Ever: Mississippi 34, Marshall 31, in the first one, 1997. Deuce McAllister scored the winning touchdown with 31 seconds left. A Thundering Herd receiver named Randy Moss had six catches for 173 yards and a touchdown.
Absentee Coach Factor: None.
Dash Pick: Duke 27, Northern Illinois 19. Blue Devils are plus-six turnover margin in wins, minus-five in losses. So they’re happy to see the Huskies, who haven’t had a plus-turnover game since Oct. 21. Duke’s ball-control offense regained its stride at the end of the regular season.
Conference Scorecard: Atlantic Coast 1-0; MAC 2-3.


Who: Kansas State (7-5) vs. UCLA (6-6)
When: Dec. 26, 9 p.m.
Where: Phoenix
Why Watch: Might be your last chance to see the man who annually does the most with the least, K-State coach Bill Snyder. And your last chance to see potential No. 1 draft pick Josh Rosen in a UCLA uniform, if he does indeed play.
Best Cactus Bowl Ever: Texas Tech 44, Minnesota 41, 2006. The Red Raiders trailed by 24 points entering the fourth quarter and somehow tied the game without the benefit of a successful onside kick. The last drive of regulation began at the Tech 7-yard line and ended in a 52-yard field goal to send the game into overtime, and the Red Raiders won from there. Minnesota fired coach Glen Mason two days later.
Absentee Coach Factor: Jim Mora is long gone from UCLA, turning over the bowl game to offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.
Dash Pick: Kansas State 30, UCLA 24. If this is indeed Snyder’s last game, there is no way the Wildcats let him go out with an L. Especially not to this non-physical Bruins team.
Conference Scorecard: Big 12 1-2; Pac-12 2-1.

Will UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen play in the Bruins’ bowl game? (AP)
Will UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen play in the Bruins’ bowl game? (AP)


Who: Southern Mississippi (8-4) vs. Florida State (6-6)
When: Dec. 27, 1:30 p.m.
Where: Shreveport, Louisiana
Why Watch: For the altogether odd sight of the Seminoles in Shreveport. And because nothing extends the holiday hooky like Wednesday afternoon football.
Best Independence Bowl Ever: Mississippi State 43, Texas A&M 41, 2000. The game was played in a freak blizzard, and it only become more entertaining after that. Mississippi State twice came back from two-touchdown deficits, forcing overtime with a touchdown with 90 seconds remaining. The Aggies scored first in OT, but the Bulldogs blocked the PAT and ran it back for two points, then won on their overtime possession.
Absentee Coach Factor: Florida State is playing through post-Jimbo limbo, awaiting the beginning of the Willie Taggart Era.
Dash Pick: Florida State 34, Southern Mississippi 16. Even an uninterested Seminoles team without Derwin James should be too talented to lose to the Golden Eagles. FSU will feed USM a steady diet of Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick.
Conference Scorecard: ACC 2-0; C-USA 3-6.


Who: Iowa (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5)
When: Dec. 27, 5:15 p.m.
Where: New York
Why Watch: To see which Hawkeyes show up — the ones who scored 44 or more four times, or 19 or fewer six times? And to see BC fans who are also Red Sox fans try not to throw up in Yankee Stadium, especially post-Giancarlo Stanton acquisition.
Best Pinstripe Bowl Ever: Duke 44, Indiana 41, 2015. Six lead changes, the last of which came after the Blue Devils tied the game with 41 seconds left in regulation and then won it in overtime. The teams combined to produce more than 1,200 yards of offense, but the defenses produced six takeaways.
Absentee Coach Factor: None. Kirk Ferentz is a given; Steve Addazio saved his job in October and November.
Dash Pick: Boston College 21, Iowa 19. The Hawkeyes haven’t won a bowl game since 2010, and they won’t win this one against a BC team that has won five of its last six games and run for more than 235 yards in all of those games. Freshman RB A.J. Dillon is one to watch.
Conference Scorecard: ACC 3-0; Big Ten 0-1.


Who: Arizona (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6)
When: Dec. 27, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Santa Clara, California
Why Watch: To see freak athlete Khalil Tate of Arizona run and throw against the dramatically improved Purdue defense. And to see whether the Pac-12 or Big Ten gets the first win in four head-to-head matchups between two leagues that missed the College Football Playoff.
Best Foster Farms Bowl Ever: Utah 26, Indiana 24, last year. The Hoosiers led early, then trailed by 10, then rallied to take the lead in the fourth quarter. Then the Utes drove 68 yards for the winning field goal with 1:24 remaining. (See Pinstripe Bowl for more information on Indiana’s defense surrendering bowl-losing late drives.)
Absentee Coach Factor: None.
Dash Pick: Purdue 23, Arizona 20. The Wildcats hadn’t won a game in the state of California since 2013 until beating Cal in October. Time to start a new Cali losing streak, and time for the Boilermakers’ first victory in the state since 1970.
Conference Scorecard: Big Ten 1-1, Pac-12 2-2.


Who: Texas (6-6) vs. Missouri (7-5)
When: Dec. 27, 9 p.m.
Where: Houston
Why Watch: To see one of the hottest teams in the country in Mizzou, on a six-game winning streak. To check in on Tom Herman’s rebuilding project. And because this is the time to stay up late watching football, since nobody is getting anything done in the office this week.
Best Texas Bowl Ever: Texas Tech 34, Minnesota 31, in 2012. Yes, there are two dramatic Red Raiders-over-Gophers games that rank as the best in the history of a bowl. In this one, heavily favored Tech needed a touchdown with five seconds left in the first half and 10 points in the final 1:10 to pull out the victory. The Red Raiders won it on a field goal on the final play.
Absentee Coach Factor: None at the head-coaching level, but Missouri is without offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, the new head coach at Central Florida.
Dash Pick: Missouri 39, Texas 35. The Longhorns will be missing at least three players who are opting out of the bowl, possible more (linebacker Malik Jefferson is the biggest unresolved situation). Mizzou QB Drew Lock is leading an offense that has scored at least 45 points in six straight games — the Tigers won’t get that many, but they will get the victory.
Conference Scorecard: Southeastern 1-0, Big 12 1-3.


Who: Virginia (6-6) vs. Navy (6-6)
When: Dec. 28, 1:30 p.m.
Where: Annapolis, Maryland
Why Watch: For the unusual sight of Virginia in a bowl game, its first in six years. Besides, what Thursday afternoon isn’t enlivened by a mid-Atlantic matchup of 6-6 teams?
Best Military Bowl Ever: Toledo 42, Air Force 41, 2011. During a five-minute stretch of the first quarter, the two teams combined for five touchdowns. Toledo never trailed in the game but almost lost in the final minute — Air Force scored to make it 42-41, lined up for the PAT and ran a fake that fizzled, resulting in the final score.
Absentee Coach Factor: None.
Dash Pick: Virginia 28, Navy 26. Not exactly a ton of positive momentum here — the Midshipmen have lost six of their last seven games, and the Cavaliers have lost five of their last six. This is a Navy home game, but the students are likely to be away from campus for winter break. And it’s an easy drive for Virginia fans as well. Toss-up.
Conference Scorecard: ACC 4-0, AAC 2-3.


Who: Virginia Tech (9-3) vs. Oklahoma State (9-3)
When: Dec. 28, 5:15 p.m.
Where: Orlando
Why Watch: Because this is the best bowl matchup up to this point. To see Mike Gundy’s mullet one more time. And as an excuse to coordinate a Happy Hour with your friends.
Best Camping World Bowl Ever: This game has been called a million different things, but the best one was North Carolina State 38, Minnesota 30, 2000. Another blown Gophers lead? Yes, another blown Gophers lead. Minnesota raced to a 24-0 advantage in the first half before a brash freshman quarterback named Philip Rivers led the Wolfpack back.
Absentee Coach Factor: None, after Gundy turned down Tennessee.
Dash Pick: Oklahoma State 31, Virginia Tech 27. The Cowboys are 6-0 outside of Stillwater, and Orlando is definitely outside of Stillwater. Bud Foster will have a defensive game plan ready, but these are the best offensive skill players the Hokies have seen.
Conference Scorecard: Big 12 2-3, ACC 4-1.

Mike Gundy’s magnificent mullet makes it worth tuning in to the Camping World Bowl all by itself. (AP)
Mike Gundy’s magnificent mullet makes it worth tuning in to the Camping World Bowl all by itself. (AP)


Who: Stanford (9-4) vs. TCU (10-3)
When: Dec. 28, 9 p.m.
Where: San Antonio
Why Watch: When this game starts, it supplants the Camping World Bowl as the best bowl to date. This might be the last look at Bryce Love in college. And it’s the last chance this year to watch Gary Patterson hitch his trousers.
Best Alamo Bowl Ever: You know the bowl has had some doozies when TCU’s 31-point comeback against Oregon isn’t the choice. The Dash is going with Nebraska 32, Michigan 28, in 2005. The Cornhuskers stormed back late, scoring the last 15 points of the game, but it wasn’t over until after it was over. On the final play Michigan tried an eight-lateral gambit that nearly worked, with tight end Tyler Ecker running some 60 yards as both benches emptied onto the field thinking the game was over. Ecker was finally knocked out of bounds inside the Nebraska 20 to end the game.
Absentee Coach Factor: None, with Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren staying with the team for the bowl game before joining Rice full-time as its head coach.
Dash Pick: Stanford 25, TCU 23. If Love’s ankle is fully healed, he could state a retroactive Heisman case a la Christian McCaffrey in 2015 — but he’s taking on a defense that allows only 2.91 yards per carry.
Conference Scorecard: Pac-12 3-2, Big 12 2-4.


Who: Washington State (9-3) vs. Michigan State (9-3)
When: Dec. 28, 9 p.m.
Where: San Diego
Why Watch: To complete the three-good-games-at-once sensory overload. And for the Mike Leach offense vs. Mark Dantonio defense power showdown.
Best Holiday Bowl Ever: Six of the first 10 were decided by one point, which is preposterous. The most famous and dramatic of them was BYU 46, SMU 45, in 1980. The Cougars trailed Eric Dickerson, Craig James & Co. by 20 with four minutes remaining, and then Jim McMahon led them back. BYU scored, recovered an onside kick and scored again, then blocked a punt for one final possession at the SMU 41 in the final seconds. On the last play of the game, McMahon heaved a Hail Mary that Clay Brown caught. The extra point won the game.
Absentee Coach Factor: None. The Pirate did not drop anchor in the Tennessee River, staying on the Palouse.
Dash Pick: Michigan State 34, Washington State 26. Luke Falk has thrown six interceptions in Wazzu’s last three games. The Spartans have picked off six passes in their last four games. If Falk is loose with the ball again, Michigan State could win easily.
Conference Scorecard: Big Ten 2-1, Pac-12 3-3.


Who: Wake Forest (7-5) vs. Texas A&M (7-5).
When: Dec. 29, 1 p.m.
Where: Charlotte
Why Watch: There are five games Dec. 29 and four more Dec. 30; if you’re going to try to go nine-for-nine watching them, you can’t miss the first one. And for the weirdness that is the Demon Deacon mascot.
Best Belk Bowl Ever: Cincinnati 48, Duke 34, 2012. In a tie game, the Blue Devils were five yards and 80 seconds from their first bowl victory in 51 years when disaster struck — Josh Snead fumbled and the Bearcats recovered, and the game appeared destined for overtime. But then a relatively obscure tight end named Travis Kelce caught an 83-yard touchdown pass with 44 seconds left, and the Bearcats added a pick six on the last play to administer a crushing Duke defeat.
Absentee Coach Factor: Kevin Sumlin is long gone from College Station.
Dash Pick: Wake Forest 35, Texas A&M 30. John Chavis was paid $1.6 million this year to coordinate the No. 60 defense in FBS. Will he have an answer for Wake quarterback John Wolford, who has thrived even after multipurpose threat Greg Dortch was injured? We’ll see.
Conference Scorecard: ACC 5-1, SEC 1-1.


Who: North Carolina State (8-4) vs. Arizona State (7-5)
When: Dec. 29, 3 p.m.
Where: El Paso, Texas
Why Watch: On the off chance Herm Edwards is in attendance and does an on-camera interview. And to see Wolfpack pass rusher Bradley Chubb once more before he becomes a top-10 NFL pick. And because it’s the Sun Bowl, which has been plugging along since 1935.
Best Sun Bowl Ever: It most certainly was not Oregon State 3, Pittsburgh 0, in 2008. Let’s go with West Texas State 14, Cincinnati 13, in 1951. Because we can. The Buffaloes scored the winning points on a 62-yard fake-punt pass.
Absentee Coach Factor: Todd Graham is out at ASU.
Dash Pick: N.C. State 38, Arizona State 24. The Wolfpack have more than enough weapons to take advantage of a Sun Devils defense that ranks 110th nationally in yards allowed per play (6.30).
Conference Scorecard: ACC 6-1, Pac-12 3-4.


Who: Kentucky (7-5) vs. Northwestern (9-3)
When: Dec. 29, 4:30 p.m.
Where: Nashville, Tennessee
Why Watch: If you haven’t been paying attention and want to see a Stoops in charge on the sidelines, this is your only shot. Maybe alums Ashley Judd (Kentucky) and Meghan Markle (Northwestern) will show up to add some star power to the stands.
Best Music City Bowl Ever: Notre Dame 31 LSU 28, 2014. Substantial underdogs, the Fighting Irish gave redshirt freshman Malik Zaire his first start and he led them to an upset win. Trailing 28-21 with six minutes left, Zaire led two long scoring drives, the latter a 32-yard field for the victory on the final play.
Absentee Coach Factor: None.
Dash Pick: Northwestern 31, Kentucky 14. Wildcats, purple version, have a chance to end the season on an eight-game winning streak and reach the 10-win plateau for the third time in six years. Wildcats, blue version, are trying to salvage something after being outscored 86-30 their last two games.
Conference Scorecard: Big Ten 3-1, SEC 1-2.


Who: Utah State (6-6) vs. New Mexico State (6-6)
When: Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Tucson, Ariz.
Why Watch: For the rarest sight in college football — New Mexico State in a bowl game. The Aggies last played in one in 1960. That’s pretty much it; turn on the TV to confirm the Aggies made it to kickoff, then click it off. You’re done.
Best Arizona Bowl Ever: Nevada 28, Colorado State 23, two years ago in the inaugural game. Trailing by a point, Nevada drove 72 yards for the winning touchdown with 1:06 left, then made a Red Zone defensive stand to finish the game.
Absentee Coach Factor: None.
Dash Pick: Utah State 41, New Mexico State 31. In a perfect world, NMSU senior quarterback Tyler Rogers — who has thrown 50 or more passes in five games this year — would chuck it 70 times and lead the school to its first postseason win since the last time it played Utah State in a bowl game (the ’60 Sun Bowl). This is not a perfect world.
Conference Scorecard: Mountain West 4-2, Sun Belt 3-2.


Who: USC (11-2) vs. Ohio State (11-2)
When: Dec. 29, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Arlington, Texas
Why Watch: Because non-playoff bowl games get no better than this. Heavyweight tradition, heavyweight talent. And it will be a nice reward for sitting through the Arizona Bowl.
Best Cotton Bowl Ever: Notre Dame 35, Houston 34, 1979. The Chicken Soup Game, as it came to be known. In a game played in freezing temperatures after an ice storm, Fighting Irish quarterback Joe Montana was felled by the flu and spent much of the game in the locker room getting an IV and eating chicken noodle soup, trying to warm up enough to return to the field. With Houston leading 34-12, Montana returned and led a 23-0 rally capped by a touchdown pass to Kris Haines on the final play and then the winning extra point. It was Montana’s last game at Notre Dame.
Absentee Coach Factor: None.
Dash Pick: USC 28, Ohio State 24. The Trojans got healthy and got hot late in the year, reeling off five straight wins after a blowout loss to Notre Dame. The Buckeyes will have to play better than they did against Michigan and Wisconsin to win this one.
Conference Scorecard: Pac-12 4-4, Big Ten 3-2.

Sam Darnold (14) and the Trojans face a difficult test against Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. (AP)
Sam Darnold (14) and the Trojans face a difficult test against Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. (AP)


Who: Louisville (8-4) vs. Mississippi State (8-4)
When: Dec. 30, noon
Where: Jacksonville, Florida
Why Watch: This is the last college football Saturday. Do not miss a minute. And it’s likely your last chance to see Lamar Jackson in a college uniform.
Greatest TaxSlayer Bowl Ever: The most famous then-Gator Bowl was 1978, when Woody Hayes punched his way out of his job as Ohio State legend-in-residence. But the best? That was Florida 14, Tennessee 13, in 1969. The Gators stopped the Volunteers at the 1-yard line late to hold on, and linebacker Mike Kelley might have turned in the greatest defensive stat line in bowl history: 17 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery, one sack and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.
Absentee Coach Factor: Dan Mullen has left the Starkville premises and taken his defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham, with him. Along with other departures, the State staff is threadbare.
Dash Pick: Louisville 41, Mississippi State 27. Not only are the Bulldogs without Mullen, but do-everything quarterback Nick Fitzgerald obviously won’t be playing after the gruesome ankle injury he suffered in the Egg Bowl. Jackson goes out in a final blaze of quick-twitch glory.
Conference Scorecard: ACC 7-1, SEC 1-3.


Who: Iowa State (7-5) vs. Memphis (10-2)
When: Dec. 30, 12:30 p.m.
Where: Memphis, Tennessee
Why Watch: To see some great college success stories: two-way stud Joel Lanning of Iowa State; former walk-on Anthony Miller of Memphis; former fence painter Riley Ferguson of Memphis; former bench jockey Kyle Kempt of Iowa State.
Best Liberty Bowl Ever: Louisville 44, Boise State 40, 2004. This was the rare non-BCS bowl that featured two top 10 teams, with the Broncos riding a 22-game winning streak. It turned out to be the highest-scoring Liberty Bowl ever, and it wasn’t over until the Cardinals intercepted a pass in the end zone on the last play to preserve the victory.
Absentee Coach Factor: None, to the surprise and relief of both fan bases.
Dash Pick: Memphis 30, Iowa State 28. The Tigers get a home game, and catch an Iowa State team that struggled through November. Miller and Ferguson will go out on a high note, and with a school record for victories in a season.
Conference Scorecard: AAC 3-3, Big 12 2-5.


Who: Washington (10-2) vs. Penn State (10-2)
When: Dec. 30, 4 p.m.
Where: Glendale, Arizona
Why Watch: One more look at the magnificent Saquon Barkley, taking on the No. 1 rushing defense in the country. And one more look at remarkable receiver/return man Dante Pettis.
Best Fiesta Bowl Ever: Washington’s Chris Petersen coached in it — Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42. The Broncos won thanks to the all-time greatest bag-of-tricks play-calling at the end of regulation and in overtime. In order, Boise scored its final points on a hook-and-lateral, a halfback pass and a Statue of Liberty play.
Absentee Coach Factor: Both teams are without their offensive coordinators — Joe Moorhead gone to Mississippi State and Jonathan Smith to Oregon State.
Dash Pick: Washington 24, Penn State 21. Without Moorhead, how creative will the Nittany Lions be in getting Barkley outside of the tackles? Because the matchup in the trenches when Penn State has the ball is a mismatch. Underrated Huskies back Myles Gaskin might steal the show.
Conference Scorecard: Pac-12 5-4, Big Ten 3-3.


Who: Miami (10-2) vs. Wisconsin (12-1)
When: Dec. 30, 8 p.m.
Where: Miami
Why Watch: For one last look at the Turnover Chain, naturally. And for standout Badgers freshman running back Jonathan Taylor.
Best Orange Bowl Ever: Miami 31, Nebraska 30, 1984. The game that gave birth to The U as a football dynasty, and delivered a startling comeuppance to what had been an invincible Cornhuskers team. Give credit to Nebraska coach Tom Osborne, whose No. 1-ranked team scored with less than a minute left but he refused to play for a tie that likely would have ensured a national title. (There was no overtime then.) Osborne went for two, Miami broke up the pass in the end zone, and the game remains an all-time classic.
Absentee Coach Factor: None.
Dash Pick: Wisconsin 25, Miami 16. After a 9-0 start, the Hurricanes are like a balloon leaking helium, and there’s no way to pump air back in the thing. Badgers finally beat a team with both a decent record and a decent ranking, giving their gaudy record some substance.
Conference Scorecard: Big Ten 4-3, ACC 7-2.

Tune into the Orange Bowl to see if the Turnover Chain makes one final appearance this season. (AP)
Tune into the Orange Bowl to see if the Turnover Chain makes one final appearance this season. (AP)


Who: Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (8-4)
When: Jan. 1, noon
Where: Tampa
Why Watch: Because it’s New Year’s Day, and it is your American duty to watch college football on this day. All day.
Best Outback Bowl Ever: Auburn 38, Northwestern 35, 2010. Twice, the Wildcats fell behind by 14 points, and twice they rallied to tie. The final time came on a touchdown pass and two-point conversion with 1:15 left, setting the stage for the weirdest of overtimes. Auburn kicked a field goal for the lead, and Northwestern’s ensuing possession featured the following: a fumble call that was overturned; a missed field goal; an Auburn penalty for running into the kicker on a play that injured said kicker; and a fake field-goal fumblerooski. Auburn made the game-saving tackle at the 2-yard line on that play.
Absentee Coach Factor: None at the head-coaching level, but South Carolina fired offensive coordinator Kurt Roper shortly after the season ended.
Dash Pick: Michigan 17, South Carolina 15. This is not a good matchup. Both teams are a hollow 8-4, with not much in the way of flag-planting victories on the ledger. The Gamecocks aren’t great defending the pass, so we’ll see whether Brandon Peters can take advantage of that in the Wolverines’ low-wattage passing game.
Conference Scorecard: Big Ten 5-3, SEC 1-4.


Who: Central Florida (12-0) vs. Auburn (10-3)
When: Jan. 1, 12:30 p.m.
Where: Atlanta
Why Watch: To finally see UCF take on one of the big boys. How do the Knights handle the big stage? And the Auburn defensive line?
Best Peach Bowl Ever: Clemson 25, LSU 24, 2012. The victory legitimized Dabo Swinney’s tenure at Clemson and started shifting opinion against Les Miles at LSU. Clemson trailed 24-13 to start the fourth quarter, and it was down 24-22 with 1:39 left. Facing a fourth-and-16 from their own 14, Tajh Boyd hit DeAndre Hopkins to keep the drive alive and it culminated eight plays later with the winning field goal as time expired.
Absentee Coach Factor: Scott Frost is leaving for Nebraska, but he will coach the Knights one last time in pursuit of perfection.
Dash Pick: UCF 28, Auburn 26. If running back Kerryon Johnson doesn’t play, the Tigers will be in trouble offensively. (We saw that in their seven-point performance against Georgia in the SEC title game, when Johnson was very limited.) And if UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton has time in the pocket, he could have yet another huge game.
Conference Scorecard: AAC 4-3, SEC 1-5.


Who: Notre Dame (9-3) vs. LSU (9-3)
When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m.
Where: Orlando
Why Watch: To see the running back matchup of LSU’s Derrius Guice and Notre Dame’s Josh Adams. And to see whether the LSU fans simply drank all night, from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s morning to New Year’s afternoon, without stopping.
Best Citrus Bowl Ever: Iowa 30, LSU 25, 2005. Nick Saban’s last game as coach of the Tigers ended with a thunderclap of disaster. Hawkeyes quarterback Drew Tate heaved a 56-yard pass to Warren Holloway for a walk-off touchdown.
Absentee Coach Factor: None.
Dash Pick: LSU 27, Notre Dame 21. The Irish made a lot of hay with takeaways in the first half of the season, but the defense has not produced as much lately (zero fumble recoveries in the last five games, and three interceptions). They were a minus-7 in turnovers in losses to Miami and Stanford. LSU is tied for the fewest turnovers lost in the nation, with eight, and half of those came in their September loss to Troy. Without takeaways, this game is a giveaway for ND.
Conference Scorecard: SEC 2-5, Independents 0-2.


Who: Georgia (12-1) vs. Oklahoma (12-1)
When: Jan. 1, 5 p.m.
Where: Pasadena, California
Why Watch: Because it’s the playoff. And to see the best offense in college football (Sooners) against a top-five defense (Bulldogs). And to see whether Baker Mayfield balls out or acts up, or both. And to see the prettiest football venue on Earth.
Best Rose Bowl Ever: Texas 41, USC 38, 2006. You may have heard about this one. It’s the reason why Vince Young will never have to pay for a meal in Austin the rest of his life.
Absentee Coach Factor: All hands on deck for this one.
Dash Pick: Georgia 30, Oklahoma 26. While it’s strength-on-strength when the Sooners have the ball, the Oklahoma defense looks like the weakest link in this game. The Bulldogs are 13th nationally in yards per play at 6.75, while the Sooners are 68th in yards allowed per play at 5.66. If Georgia gets Nick Chubb and Sony Michel going, and Jake Fromm plays like he did in the SEC title game, the ‘Dogs will not have difficulty scoring.
Conference Scorecard: SEC 3-5, Big 12 2-6.


Who: Alabama (11-1) vs. Clemson (12-1)
When: Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m.
Where: New Orleans
Why Watch: Are you kidding? Alabama-Clemson, Parts I and II have been some of the best football of the 21st century.
Best Sugar Bowl Ever: Notre Dame 24, Alabama 23, 1973. An epic, No. 1 vs. No. 2, undefeated vs. undefeated, Bear vs. Ara showdown that lived up to all the hype. A whole lot happened in the game — including a ‘Bama touchdown on a throwback to the quarterback and a Notre Dame kickoff return TD — but the signature play was not a scoring play. Clinging to a one-point lead and backed up against its own goal line, Notre Dame dialed up a daring pass from Tom Clements out of the end zone to little-used tight end Robin Weber. The 36-yard gain allowed the Irish to run out the clock and win the national title.
Absentee Coach Factor: Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will stay with the Tide through the playoff before taking over at Tennessee. We’ll see whether he handles multitasking better than Lane Kiffin did last year.
Dash Pick: Clemson 23, Alabama 21. Part III of the Tigers-Tide trilogy will be similarly tense and competitive. But this Alabama team is not the usual brick wall against the run, and Clemson has a variety of running threats. Defensively, the Tigers’ front line is the best unit in college football and will make life difficult for a Tide offense that has been good but not overly explosive against quality defenses. Make it Dabo 2, Nick 1.
Conference Scorecard: ACC 8-2, SEC 3-6.


Who: Georgia (13-1) vs. Clemson (13-1).
When: Jan. 8, 8 p.m.
Where: Atlanta
Why Watch: If you don’t know, The Dash can’t help you.
Best Championship Game Ever: Last year, when Clemson scored with one second left to beat Alabama.
Dash Pick: Clemson 27, Georgia 21. After laying Tiger paw tracks across Saban once more, Swinney will win it all by taking down Saban’s protégé, Kirby Smart. And college football officially will be Dabo’s happy-goofy, bring-your-own-guts world.
Conference Scorecard: ACC 9-2, SEC 3-7.

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