1. Fiesta Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State, Dec. 28, 5 p.m., ESPN
It’s the only game with two undefeated teams other than a possible national title game between the winner of this game and Louisiana State. Ohio State finally looked somewhat mortal in the Big Ten title game, while it’s a 50-50 bet Clemson coach Dabo Swinney will claim his Tigers are 50-point underdogs to the Buckeyes. This will rightfully be the primetime game on Semifinal Saturday.
2. Peach Bowl: Louisiana State vs. Oklahoma, Dec. 28, 1 p.m., ESPN
The reimagined SEC champion Tigers rarely were slowed during the regular season; even when they edged Auburn 23-20, they piled up 508 total yards. Now coach Ed Orgeron, quarterback Joe Burrow and the rest of the LSU program encounter an old foe: Former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, who led Oklahoma to its third consecutive playoff berth.
3. Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Wisconsin, Jan. 1, 2 p.m., ESPN
There’s something just right about the Pac-12 vs. Big Ten matchup in Pasadena on New Year’s Day. Both the Pac-12 champion Ducks and the Big Ten West-winning Badgers have Top 25 defenses and offenses built around stars who stuck around the Heisman conversation for much of the year: Oregon QB Justin Herbert and Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor. It lines up as the best bet of the nonplayoff matchups.
4. Cotton Bowl: Memphis vs. Penn State, Dec. 28, 9 a.m., ESPN
There are coaches staying (Penn State’s James Franklin) and going (Memphis’ Mike Norvell, who left for Florida State) in the game featuring the Group of Five’s entry into the New Year’s Six schedule. Can Memphis, with its Top 10 offense and plethora of offensive weapons, do damage to a Penn State team whose only losses came in November against Minnesota and Ohio State?
5. Boca Raton Bowl: Southern Methodist at Florida Atlantic, Dec. 21, 12:30 p.m., ABC
It won’t decide a national title, but it sure should be fun – even with Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin off to Ole Miss. The host Owls crushed UAB to win Conference USA, while SMU has won 10 games for the first time since 1984 – and last won 11 in the Eric Dickerson/Craig James “Pony Express” era in 1982.
6. Sugar Bowl: Baylor vs. Georgia, Jan. 1, 5:45 p.m., ESPN
The question of who actually wants to be in a bowl game is an annual theme, and it will be repeated again further down these rankings. Georgia is back in the Sugar Bowl (and outside the playoff) for the second year in a row. Compared to Baylor, which was 1-11 just a couple years ago, this could be a far-from-excited Bulldogs bunch – and that’s not even factoring players likely to be first- and second-day NFL draft picks who might choose not to play.
7. Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Minnesota, Jan. 1, 10 a.m., ESPN
Wherever Auburn goes, wackiness usually follows. It’s also a chance for Minnesota to cap its breakout season with a flourish as it seeks its fourth consecutive bowl triumph. The Gophers are playing a January postseason game for just the fourth time.
8. Citrus Bowl: Alabama vs. Michigan, Jan. 1, 10 a.m., ABC
Not one but two teams that could either be ultra-engaged or ready to move onto the 2020 season. Both are coming off rivalry losses; Alabama at Auburn that ended its playoff hopes and Michigan in a rout at Ohio State that further validated the chasm between the two programs.
9. Cheez-It Bowl: Air Force vs. Washington State, Dec. 27, 7:15 p.m., ESPN
What a delightful clash of contrasts. Air Force (10-2) ranks third in the country in rushing offense while Washington State leads the FBS in passing. Both teams have quirky coaches (Air Force’s Troy Calhoun and the Cougars’ Mike Leach), and last year’s edition of this game was a glorious absurdity, with Cal and TCU combining for nine interceptions in the Horned Frogs’ 10-7 overtime win. It’s all enough to help you ignore Wazzu’s 6-6 record.
10. Liberty Bowl: Kansas State vs. Navy, Dec. 31, 12:45 p.m., ESPN
This game looks better than it does at first glance. K-State owns the season’s lone victory over Oklahoma, is coming off a Farmageddon defeat of Iowa State and settled in nicely under first-year coach Chris Klieman. Quarterback Malcolm Perry and Navy, which handily beat Army on Saturday, has enjoyed one of the country’s best bounceback seasons.
11. Holiday Bowl: Iowa vs. Southern California, Dec. 27, 5 p.m., Fox Sports 1
There’s nothing sneaky good about the matchup, just a solid pairing of teams that largely have played well during the back half of the season. Trojan freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis getting a shot at Iowa’s capable defense is a fine showcase.
12. Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State vs. Washington, Dec. 21, 4:30 p.m., ABC
The Chris Petersen Bowl. The former Boise State coach has spent the past six seasons at Washington but is stepping aside after this game. His Huskies are a disappointing 7-5, but their losses came by a combined 26 points. Meanwhile, 12-1 Boise State just missed out on a Cotton Bowl nod.
13. Orange Bowl: Florida vs. Virginia, Dec. 30, 5 p.m., ESPN
There’s no doubting the quality of the coaching in this game with Florida’s Dan Mullen and Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall. Virginia (9-4) joins 2016 Auburn and 2018 Texas as the only four-loss teams to earn New Year’s Six invitations.
14. Texas Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M, Dec. 27, 3:45 p.m., ESPN
The former Big 12 South rivals meet for the first time since Texas A&M bolted for the SEC. It’s not Aggies-Longhorns deep in the heart of Texas, but it will have to do. Oklahoma State tailback Chuba Hubbard needs 64 rushing yards for a 2,000-yard season.
15. Alamo Bowl: Texas vs. Utah, Dec. 31, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
There’s no better time for Texas to proclaim “wait until next year” (again!) than on New Year’s Eve. Plenty of Longhorn fans will probably make the trip to San Antonio for the game against the 11-2 Utes, who have to be deeply disappointed in their Pac-12 title game no-show. Both teams are on the “will they really want to be here” watch list.
16. Gasparilla Bowl: Central Florida vs. Marshall, Dec. 23, 11:30 a.m., ESPN
Central Florida won’t make any national title proclamations after losing three games (by a combined seven points) this season, but the Knights have a long-term answer in freshman QB Dillon Gabriel. Marshall (8-4) won six of its past seven, but few noticed outside West Virginia since no one from Conference USA was a national factor this season.
17. Camping World Bowl: Iowa State vs. Notre Dame, Dec. 28, 9 a.m., ABC
It’s difficult for Iowa State to be disappointed in a 7-5 season, but four one-possession losses make it seem like the Cyclones were a close-but-not-quite team. Notre Dame chugs into Orlando with a 10-2 record but was a national afterthought after a late-October blowout loss at Michigan.
18. Belk Bowl: Kentucky vs. Virginia Tech, Dec. 31, 9 a.m., ESPN
Two teams revitalized by rush-oriented quarterbacks who took over at the position in the middle of the season. Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden began the year as a wideout before injuries forced him to shift to QB and enjoy a stellar season as a runner. Hendon Hooker helped the Hokies get on track after an ugly opening month. A perfectly solid matchup.
19. New Orleans Bowl: Appalachian State vs. UAB, Dec. 21, 6 p.m., ESPN
Appalachian State, the Sun Belt champions, go for their fifth consecutive bowl victory while facing the 9-4 Blazers. UAB is in its third consecutive postseason, and it never gets old pointing out what a near-miracle that is after the school shelved the program for two seasons.
20. Gator Bowl: Indiana vs. Tennessee, Jan. 2, 4 p.m., ESPN
It’s the first January bowl game for Indiana since the 1987 season and the Hoosiers’ first trip to Florida for the postseason. Tennessee, left for dead after early home losses to Georgia State and Brigham Young, regrouped to go 7-5. Both programs should feel good about themselves, and that counts for something at the midpoint of the rankings.
21. Military Bowl: North Carolina vs. Temple, Dec. 27, 9 a.m., ESPN
Mack Brown got North Carolina back in the postseason in his first year back in Chapel Hill. Next stop: trying to finish with a winning record against the rock-solid 8-4 Owls, who beat a pair of power conference teams (Maryland and Georgia Tech) this season.
22. LendingTree Bowl: Miami Ohio vs. UL-Lafayette, Jan. 6, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
The former Mobile Bowl pairs the Mid-American champions (Miami) and the Sun Belt runners-up (UL-Lafayette). It’s the last of the non-championship postseason games, and at least it pits two league contenders.
23. New Mexico Bowl: Central Michigan vs. San Diego State, Dec. 21, 11 a.m. ESPN
San Diego State ranks fifth nationally in total defense and 115th in total offense, and the Aztecs have played exactly one game all season in which both teams scored 20 points. Central Michigan is 8-0 when it scores 38 or more points and 0-5 when it doesn’t. Chances are the Chippewas won’t get to their magic number in this one.
24. Hawaii Bowl: Brigham Young vs. Hawaii, Dec. 24, 5 p.m., ESPN
Ah, an old-school Western Athletic Conference matchup to enjoy on Christmas Eve and edge out “A Christmas Carol” as a viewing option. A related note: The Alastair Sim version of the film was released in 1951, making it closer in time to BYU’s 1984 national title than the present day. Yes, you are old.
25. Bahamas Bowl: Buffalo vs. Charlotte, Dec. 20, 11 a.m., ESPN
26. Cure Bowl: Georgia Southern vs. Liberty, Dec. 21, 11:30 a.m., CBS Sports Network
A pair of first-time bowl teams are lumped together. Charlotte went 7-5 under first-year coach Will Healy and now gets the challenge of slowing down the University of Buffalo’s Jaret Patterson, whose 298 rushing yards in the Bulls’ season finale was the most of any FBS player in a game this season. Liberty (7-5) faces Georgia Southern in Orlando in a matchup of programs that aren’t all that far removed from their FCS days.
27. Music City Bowl: Louisville vs. Mississippi State, Dec. 30, 1 p.m., ESPN
A matchup between Louisville and Tennessee, which seemed likely until some last-second finagling, would have bumped up this game a few spots. Nonetheless, the Cardinals (7-5) had a fine season under first-year coach Scott Satterfield and return to the site of their last postseason victory, the 2015 Music City Bowl when Louisville was led by a freshman quarterback named Lamar Jackson.
28. Sun Bowl: Arizona State vs. Florida State, Dec. 31, 11 a.m., CBS
ACC teams have not done well in El Paso this decade, running up a 2-7 Sun Bowl record. That may not improve with a wobbly 6-6 Florida State team that saw its coach fired in the middle of the season. Then again, 7-5 Arizona State is anything but a consistent force.
29. Redbox Bowl: California vs. Illinois, Dec. 30, 1 p.m., Fox
It’s a shame this game isn’t being played a few days closer to Christmas. It would provide Illinois coach Lovie Smith a chance to show off his magnificent beard and wear a Santa hat on the sideline. Not that he shouldn’t after delivering the Illini’s first bowl trip since 2014 to all the good boys and girls in the Land of Lincoln.
30. Birmingham Bowl: Boston College vs. Cincinnati, Jan. 2, noon, ESPN
31. Independence Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. Miami, Dec. 26, 1 p.m., ESPN
The 6-6 ACC teams vs. more-than-capable Group of Five schools portion of the festivities. Cincinnati’s only losses have come against Memphis (twice) and Ohio State while Boston College is playing for an interim coach after firing Steve Addazio. Here’s hoping the Eagles and star tailback A.J. Dillon actually get to finish their bowl game this year.
In Shreveport, Louisiana Tech gets a de facto home game against Miami, which sputtered to the end of the regular season with losses to Florida International and Duke.
32. Camellia Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Florida International, Dec. 21, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
One good reason to take a peek: Florida International’s sixth-ranked pass defense (and No. 19 pass efficiency defense) must contend with the nation’s No. 2 receiver in Arkansas State’s Omar Bayless (84 catches, 1.473 yards, 16 TDs).
33. Armed Forces Bowl: Southern Mississippi vs. Tulane, Jan. 4, 8:30 a.m., ESPN
About 115 miles separate these old Conference USA rivals who had a traveling trophy (the Battle for the Bell) last decade and a four-game series schedule for the 2020s. At the very least, there should be excitement from fans of both schools.
34. First Responder Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Western Michigan, Dec. 30, 9:30 a.m., ESPN
It’s been quite the season for Western Kentucky, which improved by five games in Tyson Helton’s first season as coach and crushed Arkansas on the road in November. Now the Hilltoppers get a shot at the other “Western” directional school at the FBS level.
35. Arizona Bowl: Georgia State vs. Wyoming, Dec. 31, 1:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
It’s a matchup of 7-5 teams that bagged early defeats of SEC East teams (Georgia State over Tennessee and Wyoming over Missouri). Unlike last year, the end of this game won’t go head to head with one of the playoff semifinals, so at least there’s a chance someone sees it.
36. Quick Lane Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. Pittsburgh, Dec. 26, 5 p.m., ESPN
Pittsburgh was good enough to beat Central Florida and put a scare into Penn State. It also limped home with a lifeless showing at Virginia Tech and a home setback against Boston College. Eastern Michigan is 6-6, but it has stunned Big Ten schools in each of the past three years (Rutgers in 2017, Purdue in 2018 and Illinois in 2019).
37. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Nevada vs. Ohio, Jan. 3, 12:30 p.m., ESPN
Nevada would have taken a four-game winning streak into the postseason had it defeated UNLV for the Fremont Cannon. It didn’t, but it still can win bowl games in back-to-back years for the first time ever if it can slow down the Bobcats, who scored 118 points in their past two games to get to 6-6. The action will play out on the famous blue “Smurf Turf” of Albertsons Stadium at Boise State University.
38. Pinstripe Bowl: Michigan State vs. Wake Forest, Dec. 27, 12:20 p.m., ESPN
Michigan State just isn’t much fun to watch most of the time, and Wake Forest lost its best defensive player (linebacker Justin Strnad) and one of the ACC’s top wideouts (Sage Surratt) to season-ending injuries. If there’s a spot to pace yourself, this is it with the playoff semifinals scheduled for the next day.
39. Frisco Bowl: Kent State vs. Utah State, Dec. 20, 4:30 p.m., ESPN2
Neither team ranks in the Top 50 nationally in offense, though it is possible porous defenses (Utah State is 96th and Kent State is 120th) contribute to a somewhat entertaining game.
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