Bowl week is here! OK, technically it began last week, but it followed so quickly on the heels of this most irregular of regular seasons it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began.
Nevertheless, you’ll want to prioritize your viewing choices for New Year’s Week, and we’re here to help.
Standard disclaimer: these watchability rankings are completely arbitrary. It’s simply based on which games on the bowl lineup we’re most looking forward to seeing. We’ll add here that this, of all years, should have been the time when conference contracts should have been blown up in order to provide more compelling games. We’ll also add the caveat that player opt-outs could reduce some of the fun factor for certain teams.
Ordinarily, one would think the playoff games would automatically be at the top of the list, but is that actually the case? Read on. Here’s the list from worst to first (times ET).
Oklahoma cornerback Tre Brown (6) intercepts a ball intended for Iowa State wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson (8) during the fourth quarter of the Big 12 title game at AT&T Stadium. (Photo: Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports)
16. Armed Forces Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Tulsa, Dec. 31, noon, ESPN – Let’s not mince words here – pandemic year or not, Mississippi State should not be anywhere near a bowl game. The Golden Hurricane, which played valiantly in the American championship game, deserved a much better place in the lineup.
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15. Gator Bowl: North Carolina State vs. Kentucky, Jan. 2, noon, ESPN – The SEC leads the postseason in teams with losing records. Some of them at least can be fun to watch, but that really isn’t the case with the Wildcats. N.C. State for its part enjoyed a nice bounce-back season after a rough 2019.
14. Outback Bowl: Indiana vs. Mississippi, Jan. 2, 12:30 p.m., ABC – Indiana has the biggest beef with the system of any team in a power conference. The Hoosiers were not only snubbed from the New Year’s Six lineup but was also bypassed by the Big Ten for the Citrus Bowl spot. Ole Miss, at least, is one of those bad SEC teams that can be entertaining.
13. Duke's Mayo Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Wisconsin, Dec. 30, noon, ESPN – Wake’s fifth consecutive bowl appearance is an achievement in itself, but this might be a bad draw for the Demon Deacons. The Badgers don’t have that breakaway threat at running back as in years past but could enjoy a significant power advantage up front.
12. Texas Bowl: TCU vs. Arkansas, Dec. 31, 8 p.m., ESPN – This old Southwest Conference renewal of acquaintances has a bit more potential. The Razorbacks’ 3-7 is actually somewhat deceptive with three of their losses coming by a field goal or less. The Horned Frogs enter on a three-game winning streak, playing much better on offense down the stretch.
11. Cheez-It Bowl: Miami (Fla.) vs. Oklahoma State, Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m., ESPN – These squads were in the mix for their respective conference championship games for a time but faded late, so the intensity could be lacking. Still, there are enough big-play threats for both teams that there could be some highlight-worthy moments.
10. Alamo Bowl: Texas vs. Colorado, Dec. 29, 9 p.m., ESPN – The interest level for these teams could also be hard to gauge. The Buffs deserved better treatment from their own league but should enjoy this opportunity to take on a former Big 12 foe. The Longhorns figure to have the overall talent edge assuming everyone participates in what could be the final game for QB Sam Ehlinger.
9. Fiesta Bowl: Oregon vs. Iowa State, Jan. 2, 4 p.m., ESPN – The Pac-12 champ had to go somewhere, but the Ducks’ presence here along with the three-loss Cyclones makes this the least compelling of the majors. The game does feature the nation’s rushing leader, ISU’s Breece Hall, and one of the most disruptive defenders in the college game, Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux.
8. Liberty Bowl: West Virginia vs. Army, Dec. 31, 4 p.m., ESPN – The late addition of the Black Knights due to Tennessee’s COVID unavailability greatly improved this game’s position in the rankings. The Mountaineers’ unique base defense, designed to slow down the high-flying passing attacks common to the Big 12, will have to make a quick study of the Army triple option.
7. Citrus Bowl: Northwestern vs. Auburn, Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ABC – Here we have a fascinating contrast of teams whose seasons were perceived quite differently by their respective fan bases. While Auburn deemed it necessary to pay a tidy sum to make a coaching change, the Wildcats’ faithful were quite pleased with their team’s effort in 2020 that earned them a shot at the Big Ten title. It probably won’t be a high-scoring affair, but it might be tense.
Northwestern wide receiver Kyric McGowan runs the ball as Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade tries to make a tackle during the 2020 Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. (Photo: Aaron Doster, USA TODAY Sports)
6. Orange Bowl: North Carolina vs. Texas A&M, Jan. 2, 8 p.m., ESPN – Sorry, Aggies’ fans, but you had your shot at Alabama earlier. Now the team has to tune out all of the sour grapes talk and prepare for a talented if somewhat inconsistent Tar Heels squad that mixed impressive wins with some very puzzling losses. Which one will show up?
5. Arizona Bowl: San Jose State vs. Ball State, Dec. 31, 2 p.m., CBS – A real-live meeting of conference champions should be well worth your time, especially as it’s likely you haven’t seen much of either of them this year unless you have allegiance to the school. The Spartans’ well-travelled QB Nick Starkel made the most of his grad season with the help of WRs Bailey Gaither and Tre Walker. The Cardinals claimed their first MAC title since 1996, thanks to a defense that produced 13 takeaways through seven games and some timely deliveries from QB Drew Plitt.
4. Rose Bowl: Alabama vs. Notre Dame, Jan. 1, 5 p.m. , ESPN – We’ll concede that seeing the Crimson Tide offense in action is always a worthwhile experience. But that fact gives this playoff semifinal a high degree of blowout potential, unless the Fighting Irish do a better job of finishing drives and limiting big plays than they showed last time out against Clemson.
3. Sugar Bowl: Ohio State vs. Clemson, Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m., ESPN – Ah yes, Clemson. With Trevor Lawrence back at the controls, the Tigers looked the part of the team that might be able to trade blows with the Tide. They’ll get that chance unless the Buckeyes, whose offense was admittedly short-handed in the Big Ten finale, can rediscover their aerial timing. Much of that will hinge on whether QB Justin Fields had enough time to heal up after injuring his thumb in the Big Ten championship game.
2. Peach Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Georgia, Jan. 1, noon, ESPN – The Bearcats must use this stage against one of the SEC’s heavyweights to demonstrate that they should have at least gotten a shot at the playoff. Yes, it probably won’t help in the future – just ask Central Florida – but they must put their best foot forward regardless. Dynamic QB Desmond Ridder will face the toughest defense he’s seen all year, and the Bulldogs appear to have found their quarterback of the future with JT Daniels finally at full speed.
1. Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Florida, Dec. 30, 7:15 p.m., ESPN – This could be the most fun, back-and-forth shootout of the New Year’s Six lineup, even if some of the players with next-level talent from both squads will be headed to NFL draft prep early. The Gators certainly proved they can score with anybody in the SEC finale with Kyle Trask at the controls. But they’ve also shown all season that most teams can score with them, which is good news for Sooners QB Spencer Rattler as he looks to enter next season with a strong finish to his freshman campaign.
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