Bowl season starts Saturday! Time for 40 college football games in 17 days. True, the 38 of them that aren’t part of the College Football Playoff are meaningless — but if you really think about it, isn’t everything? So, which of the nonplayoff bowls should we watch? Well, if you like football, the answer should be “all of them.” Here’s a reason to watch each game:
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: New Mexico (8–4) vs. UT–San Antonio (6–6)
Saturday, December 17, 2 p.m. (all times Eastern), ESPN
Why to watch: Because it’s bowl season! It starts how it always does: with a game named after underwear in a not-that-warm place between two not-that-great teams, including one that’s just playing a home game. This is New Mexico’s fourth “trip” to the New Mexico Bowl.
This is the first bowl ever for the UTSA Roadrunners, and they’re playing the Lobos, which are basically Spanish-speaking wolves. That makes this a classic rivalry matchup. The Lobos have seen their coyote cousins maimed and embarrassed at the hands of roadrunners thousands of times, and they’ll be looking for vengeance. New Mexico will bust out all the weapons in their arsenal; hopefully the team didn’t buy them from Acme.
Las Vegas Bowl Presented by Geico: Houston (9–3) vs. San Diego State (10–3)
Saturday, December 17, 3:30 p.m., ABC
Why to watch: Because this is actually a really good game! It’s two of the best non-power-conference teams around, and that sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen for a few more weeks.
SDSU’s Donnel Pumphrey is 108 yards from breaking Ron Dayne’s Division I career rushing record. Dayne probably won’t be watching; he’s expressed disappointment that Pumphrey’s career rushing stats include bowl games while his career numbers do not include his own impressive bowl performances.
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Appalachian State (9–3) vs. Toledo (9–3)
Saturday, December 17, 5:30 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: Because App State is back! Wait, you watched last year’s thrilling Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, right? You saw Appalachian State rally from a 24–7 fourth-quarter deficit to beat Ohio 31–29 on a last-second field goal. You didn’t? Whatever. Well, this is a second-rate bowl game, so for everybody’s sake let’s pretend App State’s quest to start a Camellia dynasty is really important. Also, Toledo QB Logan Woodside led the nation in passing touchdowns with 43, which is neat.
AutoNation Cure Bowl: UCF (6–6) vs. Arkansas State (7–5)
Saturday, December 17, 5:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Why to watch: Because neither team is 5–7 this season! I went to the Cure Bowl last year to find out whether the worst bowl game ever could be enjoyable: 5–7 San Jose State flew 3,000 miles to play 6–6 Georgia State in a 65,000-seat stadium with less than 10,000 people in it on a 40-degree day. And guess what: It was enjoyable because it was football!
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Louisiana-Lafayette (6–6) vs. Southern Miss (6–6)
Saturday, December 17, 9 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: This is a 6–6 Sun Belt team vs. a 6–6 C-USA team. Don’t you need to get used to the idea of watching college football teams play in the Superdome before the Sugar Bowl? (I’m reaching. Please enjoy your Saturday night.)
Miami Beach Bowl: Central Michigan (6–6) vs. Tulsa (9–3)
Monday, December 19, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: Because IT’S DAYTIME WEEKDAY FOOTBALL, Y’ALL. Stream this at work as a test run to see if you’ll get fired during March Madness. Plus, there’s the off chance that the Marlins’ home run sculpture goes off after a touchdown.Tulsa scores a heck of a lot, and the Chippewas have a knack for Hail Marys, although, honestly, they probably won’t be close enough for one to save them.
Boca Raton Bowl: Memphis (8–4) vs. Western Kentucky (10–3)
Tuesday, December 20, 7 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: Because points points points points points! Western Kentucky finished second in the nation in scoring (45.1 per game), and Memphis was 17th (39.5). So, the final score’s going to be 56–52.
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: BYU (8–4) vs. Wyoming (8–5)
Wednesday, December 21, 9 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: This game will be close: Every BYU game is close. If Wyoming coach Craig Bohl follows the same path he did at North Dakota State, Wyoming is about to win the next several national championships, so you might as well check this out to get a preview of what that’ll look like.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Idaho (8–4) vs. Colorado State (7–5)
Thursday, December 22, 7 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is either the best or worst bowl. It’s on blue turf, everybody is freezing because it’s in Idaho in December, the prize is a bowl of potatoes — a literal famous Idaho potato bowl — and best/worst of all, there is a horrific, always-smiling, never-blinking potato man named Spuddy Buddy.
Take a moment to appreciate Idaho’s presence in this game. The team has been to only two bowl games in its 20-plus years in the top tier of college football, and the last one was one of the best football finishes I’ve ever seen, and it came on this very same field. It’s also possibly the Vandals’ last bowl, as they are going to become the first team to self-demote from FBS to FCS after next year. I hope they win this game and never forget it. Get those damn potatoes, boys.
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl: Eastern Michigan (7–5) vs. Old Dominion (9–3)
Friday, December 23, 1 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: On second thought, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl must be the worst bowl, because I just remembered the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl is the best bowl. Who doesn’t want to go to the Bahamas to watch football and eat fried chicken? Plus, it’s Eastern Michigan’s first bowl since 1987, and Old Dominion’s first ever.
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Louisiana Tech (8–5) vs. Navy (9–4)
Friday, December 23, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: Don’t expect this game to be great: Skip Holtz’s Bulldogs score a ton, and Navy just lost its quarterback before losing to Army for the first time since 2001, so Navy might not be able to keep up. But the in-game commercials for Lockheed Martin always provide great last-minute gift ideas. Last year I watched this game and spent $11.3 billion on F-16s for my loved ones.
Dollar General Bowl: Ohio (8–5) vs. Troy (9–3)
Friday, December 23, 8 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: This is the second-oldest coach in football (Ohio’s Frank Solich, who is 72) vs. the fifth-youngest (Troy’s Neal Brown, who is 36.) It’s not much, but, hey, it’s Ohio vs. Troy. That’s the best story line I can give you.
Hawai’i Bowl: Hawai’i (6–7) vs. Middle Tennessee (8–4)
Saturday, December 24, 8 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: This is a contrast in football philosophies. Is it better to specialize in one color, like the Blue Raiders, or to have multiple, like the Rainbow Warriors? MTSU is playing to be college football’s official King of Leisure: Last year, the team went to the Bahamas and lost to Western Michigan. If the Blue Raiders can pull off two trips to two of the most beautiful places on earth and come away with two losses, I’ll have so much respect for them.
St. Petersburg Bowl: Miami (Ohio) (6–6) vs. Mississippi State (5–7)
Monday, December 26, 11 a.m., ESPN
Why to watch: Because Mississippi State is going to do everything it can to show how happy it is to be in a bowl game. The Bulldogs beat Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl to reach five wins and hold the Rebels at five wins, theoretically keeping both teams from bowl eligibility. But not enough teams won six games this year, so five-win teams were selected in order of their Academic Progress Rate. In back-to-back weeks, the Bulldogs proved they were better at football and smarter than their big in-state rival.
Also, Miami (Ohio) turned an 0–6 start into a bowl game. Houdini didn’t need to lock himself in handcuffs before escaping from locked boxes, but he did, which made the cool thing he was doing even more impressive. Then again, he died about a week after performing, which might happen to Miami as it plays an SEC team.
Quick Lane Bowl: Boston College (6–6) vs. Maryland (6–6)
Monday, December 26, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: No.
Camping World Independence Bowl: NC State (6–6) vs. Vanderbilt (6–6)
Monday, December 26, 5 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: If your goal is to watch three hours of programming originating from each of America’s 150 biggest cities in 2016, and you still haven’t knocked Shreveport off the list, here’s your chance.
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl: Army (7–5) vs. North Texas (5–7)
Tuesday, December 27, 12 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: Because this is about REVENGE. This is the only bowl-game rematch of a regular-season matchup: UNT beat Army 35–18 in October. There have been two other rematches this year — the Mountain West and C-USA championship games — and both saw a reversal of result in the second, more important game. Oh, and Army has a history of strong performances in rematches — the War of 1812 and World War II, although it let the Second Battle of Bull Run slip away.
Military Bowl: Temple (10–3) vs. Wake Forest (6–6)
Tuesday, December 27, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: Because this is the beginning of THE WAKE FOREST DYNASTY. Now that we know they had their game plans distributed to other teams by a mole, we also know they weren’t playing to their full potential. Demon Deacon Dominance starts now.
National Funding Holiday Bowl: Minnesota (8–4) vs. Washington State (8–4)
Tuesday, December 27, 7 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: I won’t ever turn down the opportunity to watch a Mike Leach–coached football team play football — no matter the time, place, or opponent. Even if that opponent is a team as bland as Minnesota, and has 10 suspended players.
Motel 6 Cactus Bowl: Baylor (6–6) vs. Boise State (10–2)
Tuesday, December 27, 10:15 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: This is probably the biggest mismatch of bowl season. As always, Boise is really, really good, and Baylor turned 6–0 into 6–6 and one-year head coach Jim Grobe is really excited about returning to retirement. So if you’re into lopsided games, here you go.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Pittsburgh (8–4) vs. Northwestern (6–6)
Wednesday, December 28, 2 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: I’ll actually be at this game! It’s going to suck. Pitt is way better than Northwestern, and it’s going to be 11 degrees outside. I’m going to hate it.
That’s why you should watch this game (from your home): I want you to appreciate how nice it is to not be outside, watching your favorite team get its face kicked in.
Russell Athletic Bowl: Miami (8–4) vs. West Virginia (10–2)
Wednesday, December 28, 5:30 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: You might notice some of the earlier games were … less than savory. They were mismatches or games between two bad teams, but Miami and West Virginia are both good football teams. This is where bowl season turns a corner.
Foster Farms Bowl: Indiana (6–6) vs. Utah (8–4)
Wednesday, December 28, 8:30 p.m., Fox Sports
Why to watch: OK, I lied. This would be a mismatch if it was just Utah, which is good, against Indiana, which isn’t great, but Indiana’s coach resigned after multiple allegations of player mistreatment. We see lots of teams enter bowl season without a coach because the previous guy left for a better gig, but this is different. And it’s in America’s worst stadium.
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Kansas State (8–4) vs. Texas A&M (8–4)
Wednesday, December 28, 9 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: They weren’t rivals, but K-State and A&M always made it lit when they shared a conference. The last time these two met was a game that started the fourth quarter at 21–14 and ended 53–50 after four overtimes. And don’t forget the 1998 Big 12 championship game. It had everything: Two overtimes, plenty of Martin Gramatica field goals, and a Sirr Parker slant on third-and-17 that turned into a walk-off touchdown and ended undefeated Kansas State’s only chance at a national title.
Birmingham Bowl: South Carolina (6–6) vs. South Florida (10–2)
Thursday, December 29, 2 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: To see Phil Steele’s fourth-team All-American long snapper Drew Williams. (Yes, Phil Steele does four All-American teams, names All-American long snappers, and therefore names a fourth-team All-America long snapper. Also, South Carolina has only one player between the four teams, and it’s the fourth-team long snapper.) South Florida’s offense, led by QB Quinton Flowers, is awesome. USF coach Willie Taggart just got hired by Oregon, so you can get a glimpse of what the Ducks will soon look like.
Belk Bowl: Arkansas (7–5) vs. Virginia Tech (9–4)
Thursday, December 29, 5:30 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: You have to watch the game to understand the best Twitter account operated by any bowl game. That’s not just our opinion — they won the first Bowl Game Twitter Heisman.
OK, there weren’t any other options. But they won.
Valero Alamo Bowl: Colorado (10–3) vs. Oklahoma State (9–3)
Thursday, December 29, 9 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: Besides this being a matchup between two top-15 teams, you need to tune in to find out the fate of Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy’s mullet. There were reports that Gundy had snuck into a Stillwater barbershop after hours to remove the party from the back, but then he showed up at an Alamo Bowl presser with the luscious locks intact. If Gundy lets it grow all the way until the Alamo Bowl, it’ll be in its most glorious shape yet.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Georgia (7–5) vs. TCU (6–6)
Friday, December 30, 12 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: A matchup of top-20 teams … from the preseason. Every year has a Disappointment Bowl that you watch to see who’s sadder.
Hyundai Sun Bowl: North Carolina (8–4) vs. Stanford (9–3)
Friday, December 30, 2 p.m., CBS
Why to watch: This is Christian McCaffrey’s last college game before he likely becomes a first-round draft pick. Also, in the past two weeks everybody has decided North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky is also a probable first-round draft pick, so watch to see what the hell that’s all about.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Nebraska (9–3) vs. Tennessee (8–4)
Friday, December 30, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: The Music City Bowl often has a really fun Boulevard of Broken Dreams feel: Your Big Ten team was almost good enough to play in the Rose Bowl, but, hey, instead you’re in 33-degree Nashville. These two teams started off the year 7–0 and 5–0, respectively. Nebraska finished by losing by 59 to Ohio State and by 30 to Iowa, and Tennessee closed it out by losing to Vandy just a few miles from the Music City Bowl. Watch if you like wistfulness and faded glory.
Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Air Force (9–3) vs. South Alabama (6–6)
Friday, December 30, 5:30 p.m., American Sports Network (??????)
Why to watch: Because it’s our most bootleg bowl. It’s barely even on TV! You’ll likely have to stream this one, which at least makes second-screening it during one of the important games easier. I’m curious to see how Air Force reacts when it has to play against USA — is their allegiance to the team, or to the nation they’ve sworn to protect?
Capital One Orange Bowl: No. 11 Florida State (9–3) vs. No. 6 Michigan (10–2)
Friday, December 30, 8 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: If I told you Michigan was playing Florida State in the Orange Bowl and you weren’t thinking about it, you’d assume it was a playoff game. Michigan was literally a foot from being in the playoff, FSU was … a bit farther away. But I’d vote this in as the best game between teams that can’t win the title.
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: No. 13 Louisville (9–3) vs. No. 20 LSU (7–4)
Saturday, December 31, 11 a.m., ABC
Why to watch: YOU GET TO WATCH LAMAR JACKSON. But you won’t get to watch Leonard Fournette.
TaxSlayer Bowl: Georgia Tech (8–4) vs. Kentucky (7–5)
Saturday, December 31, 11 a.m., ESPN
Why to watch: YOU GET TO WATCH THE TEAM THAT JUST BEAT LAMAR JACKSON. This game is on at the same time as the Citrus Bowl, and quite frankly, the Wildcats earned your viewership when they beat Louisville.
Outback Bowl: No. 17 Florida (8–4) vs. Iowa (8–4)
Monday, January 2, 1 p.m. ABC
Why to watch: Because it’s going to be absolutely hideous. Florida is 115th in yards per game, and Iowa is 120th. That doesn’t mean they’re bad teams! They both won eight games! It just means that they will make this as aesthetically unpleasing as possible. And honestly, these sorts of games are memorable. When Iowa kicks a field goal to win 9–7, we’ll all yell “FINALLY IT’S OVER,” but we’ll all have secretly enjoyed talking about how unenjoyable it was.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: No. 15 Western Michigan (13–0) vs. No. 8 Wisconsin (10–3)
Monday, January 2, 1 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: Because ROW THE DAMN BOAT, that’s why. I know Western Michigan probably isn’t going to get the win, but I’ll be rooting like hell for the Broncos to do so. The Group of Five slot in the New Year’s Six games is really hard to get: There are 61 G5 schools, and most of the time a known brand like Boise State is going to win it. WMU loses some big seniors after this year, like QB Zach Terrell and likely first-round draft pick WR Corey Davis. This is their big shot, and they may never get another. Row the damn boat.
Rose Bowl: No. 5 Penn State (11–2) vs. No. 9 USC (9–3)
Monday, January 2, 5 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: As if “it’s the freakin’ Rose Bowl” wasn’t enough reason, this is the Post-Week 4 National Championship Game. These are probably the two hottest teams in college football, excluding Alabama, which stays scalding permanently. Both started out crappily, but somebody woke them up when September ended, and neither lost in October, November, or December. Those early losses cost them playoff spots, which is a bummer, but a Rose Bowl win isn’t so bad. Do something different in training camp next year, guys.
Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 14 Auburn (8–4) vs. No. 7 Oklahoma (10–2)
Monday, January 2, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Why to watch: Because just like that, we’re done. This is the last non-national championship FBS game until August.
At the end of the day, this game, like all the others, is meaningless. Oklahoma wanted to be in the playoff, but winning the Big 12 wasn’t enough. Auburn was pretty good, but not nearly good enough to win the SEC. No champion will be decided here.
But it’s two pretty good college football teams playing college football. That’s all any of these games can be.