There are a record 40 bowl games this season (plus the playoff championship game), a number so preposterous that three teams with losing records were plucked to play in them because there weren’t enough bowl eligible teams.
Out of 127 eligible FBS teams in 2015, 80 get to appear in a bowl game, a record 63 percent. We might also set another precedent as, if San Jose State (5-7) beats Georgia State (6-6) in the Cure Bowl, it’ll mark the first time that teams in the same bowl would finish the season both with losing records.
But why complain about having all these bowl games? It’s more football! In a few weeks you’ll be lamenting that it’ll be another seven months before the next season kicks off Down Under. Your only problem should be deciding which of these bowls are must-see TV if you can’t fit all 40 games in.
Fear not. We’ve found more than a few games that feature interesting plots, fascinating matchups and of course, berths in the Jan. 11 championship games at stake. These are the best baker’s dozen in the 2015 bowl season:
(All Times Pacific)
13. Independence Bowl (Shreveport)
Virginia Tech (6-6) vs. Tulsa (6-6)
Dec. 26, 2:45 p.m. (ESPN)
Virginia Tech -13.5
This only made the list because it’ll mark the final game of Frank Beamer’s storied coaching career, one that began in 1972 as a graduate assistant at Maryland but blossomed in his 29 seasons as the head coach at Virginia Tech. Beamer’s teams have made it to a bowl in 23 consecutive seasons, and it’ll fittingly end where it all started: Beamer made – and won – his first bowl game at the 1993 Independence Bowl.
12. Armed Forces Bowl (Fort Worth)
Air Force (8-5) vs. Cal (7-5)
Dec. 29, 11 a.m. (ESPN)
Talk about a contrast in style. Air Force runs an option attack that rarely throws the ball (yes, an Air Force that rarely engages in aerial assaults) while Cal operates the “Bear Raid” pass-happy offense as engineered by Jared Goff, likely the first quarterback taken in the next NFL Draft. Neither team has an elite defense so expect lots of scoring.
11. Russell Athletic Bowl (Orlando)
Baylor (9-3) vs. North Carolina (11-2)
Dec. 29, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)
This game would rank higher if Baylor’s quarterback situation isn’t so uncertain. Chris Johnson, the Bears’ third stringer, will be making the start though Jared Stidham, who began the season as the backup, might be available. Both teams came off agonizing and disappointing losses in their final games to fall out of contention for a New Years bowl, so motivation may be an issue.
10. Peach Bowl (Atlanta)
Florida State (10-2) vs. Houston (12-1)
Dec. 31, 9 a.m. (ESPN)
Florida State -7
Even with the departure of Jameis Winston, Florida State still managed to contend for the ACC title and land in a New Year’s Six bowl game. The ‘Noles will be facing upstart Houston, which is the surprise team of the season under first-year coach Tom Herman. With a healthy Greg Ward Jr. at quarterback, the Cougars might have one more signature win in them.
9. Holiday Bowl (San Diego)
USC (8-5) vs. Wisconsin (9-3)
Dec. 30, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
The Trojans are back in San Diego for a second consecutive year, but this time with a different head coach and even more drama. Clay Helton lost his debut after being tabbed USC’s permanent head coach, but the Trojans have never lost to the Badgers, going 6-0 against all-time. And every team Wisconsin beat this season finished with a losing record.
8. Texas Bowl (Houston)
LSU (8-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
Dec. 29, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Texas Tech has already beaten an SEC teams this season (Arkansas) and would like nothing more than to take down another giant. LSU’s late-season skid nearly got coach Les Miles fired, but it still has running back Leonard Fournette, a one-time Heisman frontrunner. Tech probably won’t be able to stop Fournette, so it’ll have to score a whole bunch to keep pace.
7. Citrus Bowl (Orlando)
Florida (10-3) vs. Michigan (9-3)
Jan. 1, 10 a.m. (ABC)
Jim Harbaugh’s first season as head coach at his alma mater was a rousing success and he can cap it off with a 10th win over a Florida team that’s as stout on defense as it’s inept on offense. These teams met eight years ago in this bowl game, with the Wolverines taking down Heisman winner Tim Tebow in Lloyd Carr’s final game as Michigan coach.
6. Cotton Bowl (Arlington, Texas)
Alabama (12-1) vs. Michigan State (12-1)
Dec. 31, 5 p.m. (ESPN)
The Crimson Tide come in as heavy favorites, just as they were a year ago against Big Ten champion Ohio State (and lost). With a healthy quarterback Connor Cook, Michigan State can score enough points to keep up with Alabama, which has a one-dimensional attack (i.e. run the ball with Derrick Henry). This won’t be a blowout.
5. Las Vegas Bowl (Las Vegas)
BYU (9-3) vs. Utah (9-3)
Dec. 19, 12:30 p.m. (ABC)
The “Holy War” is one of college football’s best rivalries but it became a casualty of realignment as the series went on hiatus after the 2013 season. The series will resume next year but the fan bases are already fired up for this matchup in, appropriately, Sin City. The bowl will also mark the farewell of Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall, who’s leaving for Virginia after the game.
4. Rose Bowl (Pasadena)
Iowa (12-1) vs. Stanford (11-2)
Jan. 1, 2 p.m. (ESPN)
These are the highest ranked teams not to make the playoff, but their consolation prize is as good as it gets. Stanford features do-it-all Christian McCaffrey, who torched USC in the Pac-12 championship game. Iowa, coming off a crushing last-minute loss in the Big Ten title game, will try to keep the score low and McCaffrey off the field.
3. Alamo Bowl (San Antonio)
Oregon (9-3) vs. TCU (10-2)
Jan. 2, 3:45 p.m. (ESPN)
Both teams’ season got torpedoed when their respective quarterbacks went down with injuries. But both Vernon Adams Jr. (Oregon) and Trevone Boykin (TCU) should be fully healthy for this bowl game, so there’ll be plenty of fireworks. Neither team plays stout defense: TCU allowed five opponents to score at least 30 points, Oregon, seven.
2. Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, Ariz.)
Notre Dame (10-2) vs. Ohio State (11-1)
Jan. 1, 10 a.m. (ESPN)
Ohio State -6.5
Two of college football’s biggest brand names meet again 10 years after the Buckeyes thrashed the Fighting Irish in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl. Both Ohio State and Notre Dame lost late-season games on last-second field goals to be knocked out of the playoff race, so motivation against disappointment will be paramount for this game.
1. Orange Bowl (Miami Gardens, Fla.)
Clemson (13-0) vs. Oklahoma (11-1)
Dec. 31, 1 p.m. (ESPN)
Even though Clemson is top-ranked and the only unbeaten team in FBS, it is an underdog to the resurgent Sooners. A year ago, the Tigers crushed OU, 40-6, in the Russell Athletic Bowl, but the stakes are immeasurably higher this time. And Oklahoma now has Baker Mayfield at quarterback, whose play has gotten coach Bob Stoops off the hot seat.