Yeah, we know the bowl season is bloated, and there’s simply too many of these games. The sponsors would suggest as much (Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl?). But just because there’s an overabundance of exhibition football doesn’t mean you should just ignore the whole lot until the playoff. There’s some really intriguing matchups. Besides, what’s bad about more football? It gives us excuses to avoid the crowds, the lines, and the extended family this holiday season.
Let’s take the playoff games out of it, since there’s every obvious reason to watch those games. I’m making it easy for you. Here’s the top 10 non-playoff bowls of the season:
10) Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State vs. Oregon
It’s rare when the Ducks are playing in one of the earliest bowl games, and even rarer when their head coach is one-and-done. But this is the new reality for Oregon. Either way, it’s still a national brand and the Broncos are always good for a fun bowl game moment. It’s Vegas, let ‘er ride!
9) Boca Raton Bowl: FAU vs. Akron
There’s only one man that could’ve made Owls football interesting: Lane Kiffin. College football’s Richie Rich/Dennis The Menace love child is easily hateable from the outside. But FAU loves what he’s done, and you can’t argue it. Undefeated in C-USA and a league title. Would’ve been nice to see the Lane Train pull up on a Power 5 opponent, but he’s always must-watch.
8) Idaho Potato Bowl: Wyoming vs. Central Michigan
Before the season began Cowboys QB Josh Allen was a trendy pick as the best signal caller in the nation. But terrible games against his Power 5 opponents and an underwhelming campaign slid him to maybe the 5th or 6th best QB in this draft. It’s his last crack at wowing the scouts in game action, let’s see what he’s got.
7) Holiday Bowl: Washington State vs. Michigan State
How can you take your eyes off Mike Leach’s Air Raid? The Holiday Bowl has a history of shootouts, and Wazoo figures to throw it 60+ times. What a matchup since styles make a fight. Michigan State would prefer not to throw it 60 times over three weeks. Both programs probably deserved a better fate in the bowl selection, so let’s see how they do when paired against one another in San Diego.
6) Liberty Bowl: Iowa State vs. Memphis
The Cyclones were one of the best stories all year. ISU became the giant killers of the Big 12, and were rewarded with a matchup against one of the most potent offenses in the nation in a true road game. The Tigers will be playing in Memphis, and has one of the best receivers in football, Anthony Miller, and will be looking to finish the season undefeated at the Liberty Bowl. Could be a shootout.
5) Camping World Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Virginia Tech
What does Mason Rudolph do for a finale? He averages nearly 400 yards passing per game, and the ‘Pokes had designs on winning the Big 12 this season and heading to the playoff. Instead OSU and the Mullet has to deal with a bowl game named after a tent store. But here’s guessing Mike Gundy wants to let his star quarterback shine on the big stage, so they’ll try to blitz Justin Fuente’s Hokies through the air.
4) Cactus Bowl: UCLA vs. Kansas State
Probably didn’t even know there was a Cactus Bowl, huh? Well, it might feature the top pick in the NFL draft. Josh Rosen will try to prove to skeptics why he should be the top quarterback chosen, and concerns about his maturity can’t overshadow his talent. It’s the Bruins last game before Chip Kelly takes over, which means everything changes after this. Although nothing changes for the Wildcats, since Bill Snyder will coach until he’s 120.
3) Peach Bowl: Auburn vs. UCF
The Tigers were beaten up by the time they took the field in the SEC title game. AU had pounded both Georgia and Alabama in the regular season, but couldn’t find enough gas in Atlanta. Will they rise up after a month of rest? Or will one of the most fun offenses in the nation pull the upset? This is one of the rare moments we get Cinderella in college football, the lone non-Power 5 program in a big time bowl. Can the Knights without Scott Frost keep the good times rolling against am SEC power and add another pelt to an incredible season?
2) Fiesta Bowl: Washington vs. Penn State
A bounce of the ball, a stop on fourth down, and the Nittany Lions would be in the playoffs. All Penn State had to do was hold onto the big lead they built against Ohio State and James Franklin’s kids would be in the playoff (assuming they beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game). But instead, it’s the Fiesta against a formidable foe.The Huskies blew a shot at the playoff with some bad losses too. This could’ve been a playoff game, instead it’s a marriage of two teams that coughed away an opportunity at history… which makes it fun for us on the couch!
1) Cotton Bowl: Ohio State vs. USC.
The two best teams not playing in the playoff. The Buckeyes were the first team left out when Alabama jumped them. The Trojans had just as good an argument (two losses, a conference championship). This feels like a Rose Bowl Light, and the history between these two goes back. They faced off in 6 Rose Bowls between ’69 and ’85, the final three being decided by a field goal or less. It was the days of Woody Hayes vs. Student Body Right. The ghosts of OJ, Marcus Allen and Archie Griffin will roam the sidelines, replaced by Sam Darnold and JT Barrett. How can you not love Ohio State vs. USC? If only it was played in the California sunshine.
D.A. hosts 9am-12 pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.