Even for the most diehard college football fans, 40 bowl games is a lot to consume. But here’s why you should care about every game, from the Bahamas Bowl to the semifinals:
Buffalo (7-5) vs. Charlotte (7-5)
Charlotte is making history by playing in its first bowl game and has an NFL-caliber edge rusher, Alex Highsmith. Plus Buffalo’s top receiver (Antonio Nunn) is from Jefferson High.
Utah State (7-5) vs. Kent State (6-6)
Kent State’s 0-3 bowl record includes a loss in the 1954 Refrigerator Bowl and one to the University of Tampa in the 1972 Tangerine Bowl. This is also the last college game for Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, an intriguing NFL draft prospect.
Alcorn State (9-3) vs. North Carolina A&T (8-3)
The bands are awesome, and it’s a great stage for Jefferson High alumnus Niko Duffey, Alcorn State’s leading rusher (831 yards, six touchdowns).
New Mexico Bowl
Central Michigan (8-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3)
The last time Jim McElwain coached in this game (for Colorado State in 2013), his Rams scored 18 points in the final three minutes for a 48-45 triumph over Washington State. A quality win here would finish off a great turnaround for the ex-Gators coach and Central Michigan.
Liberty (7-5) vs. Georgia Southern (7-5)
Coach Hugh Freeze’s visits to Florida are always entertaining.
Boca Raton Bowl
SMU (10-2) vs. Florida Atlantic (10-3)
New coaches have limited impacts on bowls, but this will still be the first glimpse of the Owls under former USF/FSU coach Willie Taggart.
Florida International (6-6) vs. Arkansas State (7-5)
The Red Wolves will make this entertaining, either because of their offense (Omar Bayless was the country’s No. 2 receiver) or defense (No. 115 nationally in scoring).
Las Vegas Bowl
No. 18 Boise State (12-1) vs. Washington (7-5)
Washington coach Chris Petersen’s last game before his self-imposed hiatus comes against a Broncos team he helped build into a Group of Five juggernaut. Boise State’s Curtis Weaver, one of the best pass rush prospects in the draft.
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New Orleans Bowl
No. 20 Appalachian State (12-1) vs. UAB (9-4)
How well does App. State — one of this year’s best Group of Five teams —fare now that coach Eliah Drinkwitz has left for Missouri?
UCF (9-3) vs. Marshall (8-4)
Although the Knights expect more than another trip to Raymond James Stadium, they’re still playing for something meaningful. A win would make UCF one of only eight teams in the country to earn double-digit victories each of the last three seasons.
Hawaii (9-5) vs. BYU (7-5)
Only five teams in Division I-A history have had a trio of 1,000-yard receivers. Hawaii can become No. 6; Jared Smart (987 yards) and JoJo Ward (975) are close to joining Cedric Byrd with that milestone.
Miami (6-6) vs. Louisiana Tech (9-3)
Former USF coach Skip Holtz has a chance to improve to 6-0 in bowl games for the Bulldogs. But the more interesting story is Miami, which needs a win to find some sort of momentum (and long-term quarterback clarity) heading into Manny Diaz’s second year.
Quick Lane Bowl
Pitt (7-5) vs. Eastern Michigan (6-6)
Great if you hate offense, because Pitt’s offense is bad and its defense should destroy the Eagles’ offensive line.
North Carolina (6-6) vs. Temple (8-4)
Get to know Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell (the former longtime FSU commit), who has already set UNC and Division I-A true freshman records with 35 touchdown passes this season.
Michigan State (6-6) vs. Wake Forest (8-4)
The mediocre Spartans have a pair of defenders (edge rusher Kenny Willekes and lineman Raequan Williams) who can prove they’re early-round draft picks against a fun Demon Deacons offense.
No. 25 Oklahoma State (8-4) vs. Texas A&M (7-5)
Cowboys coach Mike Gundy called A&M “the best 7-5 team in the history of the NCAA,” which is … something. Regardless, Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard is one of the nation’s most exciting players, and Jimbo Fisher could use a win to add offseason buzz for his Aggies.
No. 22 USC (8-4) vs. No. 21 Iowa (9-3)
College fans should watch to see if Clay Helton can start rescuing his Trojans. Pro fans should focus on Iowa’s pair of elite draft prospects, edge rusher A.J. Epenesa and offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs.
No. 24 Air Force (10-2) vs. Washington State (6-6)
You won’t find a cooler offensive matchup than Air Force’s triple option against Mike Leach’s Air Raid.
Camping World Bowl
No. 14 Notre Dame (10-2) vs. Iowa State (7-5)
A Cyclones win in Orlando would be Iowa State’s 24th over the last three years, tying a school record and creating another milestone for coach Matt Campbell … who might eventually be Brian Kelly’s replacement in South Bend.
No. 13 Penn State (10-2) vs. No. 15 Memphis (12-1)
Florida State fans should watch the Tigers in their first New Year’s Six bowl game to see the explosive collection of playmakers new ’Noles coach Mike Norvell amassed there.
No. 1 LSU (13-0) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1)
A semifinal between two of the five highest scoring teams in the nation is a must-see matchup, especially since it could be Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts’ final college game.
No. 2 Ohio State (13-0) vs. No. 3 Clemson (13-0)
Given that almost every semifinal has been a dud, this showdown between the nation’s two most complete teams has a chance to be the best opening-round game of the College Football Playoff era.
First Responder Bowl
Western Kentucky (8-4) vs. Western Michigan (7-5)
East Bay High product Gaej Walker has transitioned from defensive back to Western Kentucky’s leading rusher (1,115 yards, eight touchdowns).
Music City Bowl
Mississippi State (6-6) vs. Louisville (7-5)
Scott Satterfield can become the second Louisville coach to win a bowl in his first year. The other? Charlie Strong, who beat Southern Miss in the 2010 Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl at Tropicana Field.
Cal (7-5) vs. Illinois (6-6)
A breakthrough season by Lovie Smith’s Illini creates a matchup between the nation’s two leading tacklers: Cal’s Evan Weaver (173) and Illinois’ Dele Harding (147).
No. 6 Florida (10-2) vs. Virginia (9-4)
The game within the game will be how the Gators’ NFL-bound defensive ends (Jabari Zuniga and Jonathan Greenard) contain dynamic Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins.
Virginia Tech (8-4) vs. Kentucky (7-5)
The final challenge of Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s legendary career will be to corral one of the nation’s most dynamic players, Kentucky receiver-turned-quarterback Lynn Bowden.
Florida State (6-6) vs. Arizona State (7-5)
The first look at how FSU’s offense fares without star Cam Akers will be against Herm Edwards’ solid Sun Devils defense.
No. 21 Navy (10-2) vs. Kansas State (8-4)
Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry (2,831 yards of total offense this season) is already one of the most prolific players in program history. A win would bolster his legacy by helping the Midshipmen finished ranked in the AP Top 25 for the third time in the last 56 years.
Wyoming (7-5) vs. Georgia State (7-5)
This will make you feel old: Wyoming’s second-leading receiver is Raghib Ismail Jr., the son of the former Notre Dame star.
No. 12 Utah (11-2) vs. Texas (7-5)
A prove-it game for both teams. The Utes can show they’re better than the egg they laid in the Pac-12 title game, while Tom Herman needs every win he can get to help convince fans he’s the one who can finally lead the Longhorns back.
No. 17 Michigan (9-3) vs. No. 9 Alabama (10-2)
A great coaching matchup in Orlando between Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh (all sizzle, no steak) and Alabama’s Nick Saban (all steak, no sizzle).
No. 16 Minnesota (10-2) vs. No. 9 Auburn (9-3)
A Raymond James Stadium homecoming for former Bucs assistant P.J. Fleck gives the Gophers a shot at their first season with at least 11 wins since 1904.
No. 7 Oregon (11-2) vs. No. 11 Wisconsin (10-3)
Enjoy what will probably be the last college game for Badgers star running back Jonathan Taylor, who has a chance to leave as the fifth leading rusher in NCAA history.
No. 5 Georgia (11-2) vs. No. 8 Baylor (11-2)
This might be the collegiate farewell for Baylor’s Matt Rhule, who could take his ugly smock to an NFL head coaching job this offseason.
Boston College (6-6) vs. No. 23 Cincinnati (10-3)
A victory would give the Bearcats back-to-back 11-win seasons for second time ever and the first time since 2008-09 under Brian Kelly.
Indiana (8-4) vs. Tennessee (7-5)
Tom Allen can tie a program record by leading the local-laden Hoosiers to their ninth victory.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Ohio (6-6) vs. Nevada (7-5)
No Bobcat has ever scored more points (425) than kicker Louie Zervos (Tarpon Springs High). He can pad his record on an Ohio team that put up 118 points over its final two games.
Armed Forces Bowl
Southern Miss (7-5) vs. Tulane (6-6)
The Green Wave has a chance to win back-to-back bowl games for the first time ever, which would be big for the program and the AAC.
Louisiana (10-3) vs. Miami (Ohio) (8-5)
If you don’t know Louisiana coach Billy Napier’s name yet, you should. He’s following Nick Saban’s blueprint in Lafayette and will be a Power Five head coach soon.