Some people say the inception of the College Football Playoff renders the bowl system less meaningful now than ever. I am not one of those people.
I love bowl games. I organize my life around them. I analyze them. I pick them. I compete with others who also pick them. I watch them. I listen to them. I consume them.
I get why some don’t like bowl games. I just don’t agree. Bowl season is so much fun, and I want the world to see why. There are 40 games this year (41, if you count the title tilt), and each one is uniquely interesting. Here is a list of superlatives from all across the spectrum that might help you enjoy bowl season a little bit better.
Best Made-for-TV Matchup: Clemson-Ohio State, Dec. 31. Dabo Swinney vs. Urban Meyer. Deshaun Watson vs. J.T. Barrett. The 2015 runner-up vs. the 2014 champion. Two highly touted offenses and two absurdly talented defenses. Can’t imagine anything better than this one.
Most Likely to Make You Browse Netflix: South Alabama-Air Force, Dec. 30. The Arizona Bowl is only being televised online, so you’re already pretty close to Netflix. It’s being played at a strange venue (Tucson, AZ) and features two easy-to-ignore teams.
Most Excited to Be Here: Eastern Michigan-Old Dominion, Dec. 23. Too many undeserving teams are invited to bowl games now, so it cheapens the accomplishment for most programs. But this is Eastern Michigan’s first bowl appearance since 1987, while Old Dominion’s upstart program has never made one. That’s the kind of excitement the bowl system gives us in its purest form.
Most Embarrassed to Be Here: Miami (OH)-Mississippi State, Dec. 26. The RedHawks started the year 0-6 before taking advantage of the weakest MAC I’ve ever seen to get to the .500 mark. The Bulldogs are 5-7 and are only here because of a high APR score. This game makes me shudder.
Best Non-Playoff Matchup: USC-Penn State, Jan. 2. This feels like a classic Rose Bowl matchup, and it should look like it, too. The Trojans’ rise has been well documented, but they have actually won fewer consecutive games (8) than the Nittany Lions (9). I expect this to be a high-level, back-and-forth contest.
Most Likely Blowout: Minnesota-Washington State, Dec. 27. Minnesota was already in trouble given its weak pass defense, but after ten Golden Gopher players were suspended, this feels like a classic Mike Leach beatdown-in-waiting. It’s hard to take any team that considered boycotting the game very seriously.
Most Likely to Need Triple Digits on the Scoreboard: Boise State-Baylor, Dec. 27. Baylor quit on its season long ago, but it can score points in its sleep. Pitting an efficient Broncos offense against a Bears defense that isn’t interested in stopping anyone just isn’t fair. Take the over, folks.
Best Homefield Advantage: New Mexico-UTSA, Dec. 17. The first game of the bowl season features the nation’s top-ranked rushing offense playing at home in the New Mexico Bowl. Good luck with that roadie, Roadrunners.
Worst Homefield Advantage: Western Michigan-Wisconsin, Jan. 2. It’s just less than 300 miles from Kalamazoo, MI to Madison, WI. It’s more than 1,000 miles from both locales to Arlington, TX. I nominate this as the weirdest Cotton Bowl matchup ever.
Most Likely to Induce Nap Time: Maryland-Boston College, Dec. 26. On the day after Christmas, right after a hefty lunch, this game exists to allow you to drift off to sleep. Wake me up when either of these teams scores a touchdown. I’ll be asleep forever.
Most Likely to Induce a Heart Attack: BYU-Wyoming, Dec. 21. BYU only plays close games with crazy finishes against quality competition. Meanwhile, Wyoming has hit its stride and seems up to the challenge. The Poinsettia Bowl should continue its tradition of giving us entertaining pre-Christmas football.
Best Rematch: Army-North Texas, Dec. 27. North Texas—the other 5-7 bowl team—beat Army 35-18 on October 22. The Midshipmen uncharacteristically turned the ball over six times in that game, so a reprisal of that outcome seems unlikely. Plus, Army has been much better since then, and the Mean Green has not.
Most Likely to Surprise: Houston-San Diego State, Dec. 17. Okay, so this one won’t be much of a surprise. However, there are some sneaky good storylines in this matchup. Houston has the best QB in the Group of 5 (Greg Ward) and a new coach (Major Applewhite), while SDSU’s Donnel Pumphrey is Marshall Faulk 2.0.
Most Likely to Disappoint: Washington-Alabama. Washington has destroyed almost everyone it has played this season, but Bama is a different beast. Michigan State found out last year what Nick Saban can do to perceived threats that haven’t been adequately exposed throughout the year.