College football’s 2015 regular season is over and all 41 bowl and playoff matchups are set. The bowl season kicks off in Orlando with the inaugural Cure Bowl on Dec. 19 and concludes with the national championship in Glendale, Ariz. on Jan. 11. College football's postseason is bigger than ever with 41 overall games, including the national championship. Due a lack of teams with a winning record to fulfill all of the necessary bowl slots, three programs - Nebraska, Minnesota and San Jose State - with a 5-7 mark will play in a bowl this year.
Watching all 41 bowl games isn’t impossible, but it can be difficult prioritizing which matchups are must-see television around the holidays.
Athlon ranks and previews all of the matchups from the must-see to the ones you can avoid. From No. 1 to No. 41, here’s a look at the bowl matchups in terms of watchability and quality of game.
Ranking All 41 Bowl Games: Must-Watch to Must-See
1. College Football National Championship
Clemson (13-0)/Oklahoma (11-1) vs. Alabama (12-1)/Michigan State (12-1)
Jan. 11 – 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
The matchup for the national championship won’t be set until late on Dec. 31, but this year’s title game won’t be short on intrigue. The Michigan State-Alabama matchup should be a defensive slugfest, while the Oklahoma-Clemson contest could feature plenty of offensive fireworks. Regardless of which teams emerge victorious, an interesting contrast in style of play is set to play out on Jan. 11 in Glendale, Ariz. In the first lines released from Vegas, Oklahoma is a slight favorite over Clemson, and Alabama is favored by nine points over Michigan State.
2. Orange Bowl – Clemson (13-0) vs. Oklahoma (11-1)
Dec. 31 – 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
It’s a rematch of last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl, but the stakes are significantly higher for Clemson and Oklahoma in the 2015 Orange Bowl. The Tigers are the nation's lone unbeaten team and finished the regular season as the College Football Playoff committee’s No. 1 seed. Coach Dabo Swinney has elevated Clemson as a program in recent years, recording at least 10 wins in each of the last five seasons. Quarterback Deshaun Watson leads an explosive offense, as the sophomore averaged 338.4 total yards per game in 2015. However, Watson isn’t a one-man show. The Tigers are loaded with speed and talent at receiver, feature an improving offensive line and the steady Wayne Gallman at running back. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops didn’t sit idle after last year’s 8-5 record. The staff changes made by Stoops paid big dividends on both sides of the ball, including an offense that has thrived behind quarterback Baker Mayfield. Considering the firepower on both sidelines, it’s hard to imagine this game as a low-scoring affair. Can Watson or Mayfield simply carry their team into the national championship? Or will one of the defenses make a play in the clutch to seal the victory?
3. Cotton Bowl – Alabama (12-1) vs. Michigan State (12-1)
Dec. 31 – 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Similar to the Orange Bowl, the Cotton Bowl is a matchup of similar styles. Michigan State and Alabama aren’t afraid to spread the field and let their quarterbacks attack, but both teams prefer to lean on their ground attack and defense. Having nearly a month off should be a huge benefit for the Spartans and the health of quarterback Connor Cook. The senior appeared to be less than full strength in the Big Ten Championship and should return to 100 percent by Dec. 31. Cook’s health is critical, as the Crimson Tide’s secondary has been vulnerable at times. Keeping Cook upright against Alabama’s aggressive defensive front is the biggest key to victory for Michigan State. Crimson Tide quarterback Jake Coker improved throughout the year but the success of this offense rests with running back Derrick Henry and the offensive line. Expect a physical, 60-minute slugfest in Dallas on Dec. 31. That’s quite a contrast to the other playoff matchup in Miami.
4. BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl – Notre Dame (10-2) vs. Ohio State (11-1)
Jan. 1 – 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Fiesta Bowl is easily one of the biggest winners of bowl season. If a few scenarios played out differently, Notre Dame and Ohio State could be preparing for a playoff matchup. Instead, the Fighting Irish and Buckeyes are poised to meet in Glendale, Ariz. in their first meeting since 2006. Notre Dame was forced to overcome a handful of key injuries this season, including season-ending ailments to quarterback Malik Zaire, running back Tarean Folston and cornerback KeiVarae Russell. Backup DeShone Kizer filled in admirably for Zaire, and C.J. Prosise picked up the slack on the ground. The matchup of Kizer, Prosise and receiver Will Fuller against Ohio State’s defense (14 ppg) is one of the must-see matchups of bowl season. The Buckeyes had their share of inconsistency on offense in 2015 but finished on a high note (6.99 ypp) in a 42-13 win over Michigan. Will the extra time to practice help coach Urban Meyer find some of the right answers for his offense?
5. Rose Bowl – Stanford (11-2) vs. Iowa (12-1)
Jan. 1 – 5 p.m. ET, ESPN
Even though Stanford and Iowa were both on the cusp of making the College Football Playoff, a trip to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl is a nice consolation price. This will be the Cardinal’s third trip to the Rose Bowl in four years, while the Hawkeyes are returning to Pasadena for the first time since 1991. The battle in the trenches and the ground game will be two points of emphasis for both coaches. Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey leads the nation with an average of 268.9 all-purpose yards per game, but Iowa has been stingy (114.9 ypg) against the run. The Cardinal aren’t as dominant on defense as they were last season, yet still manage to hold opponents to 23.1 points a game. Assuming both teams land their share of body blows in the trenches, this game could come down to whichever quarterback – Stanford’s Kevin Hogan or Iowa’s C.J. Beathard – connect on a few timely throws in the second half.
6. Alamo Bowl – Oregon (9-3) vs. TCU (10-2)
Jan. 2 – 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Alamo Bowl should be the most intriguing bowl matchup outside of the playoff and New Year’s Six games. Needless to say, there should be no shortage of points in the Alamodome on Jan. 2, as Oregon and TCU are two of the nation’s highest-scoring offenses. The Ducks took flight once quarterback Vernon Adams returned from a broken finger and finished the regular season by scoring at least 44 points in four out of the last five games. The Horned Frogs’ hopes of getting into the College Football Playoff was derailed by injuries, including one to quarterback Trevone Boykin in November. Boykin played against Baylor and is expected to be at full strength by Jan. 2. Will either defense find a way to slow down the skill players or dynamic quarterbacks in this game?
7. Russell Athletic Bowl – Baylor (9-3) vs. North Carolina (11-2)
Dec. 29 – 5:30 p.m., ESPN
The scoreboard operator at the Citrus Bowl should have a busy night when Baylor takes on North Carolina. The Bears and Tar Heels are the top two teams in the nation in average yards per play, with both teams eclipsing the 7.2 mark. Injuries derailed Baylor’s season, but coach Art Briles has indicated there’s a chance freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham returns for the bowl. With Stidham or Chris Johnson healthy and back under center, the Bears’ offense should be operating at a high level against an improved North Carolina defense. When the Tar Heels have the ball, quarterback Marquise Williams and running back Elijah Hood will give Baylor’s defense all it can handle. Both teams could easily eclipse 40 points in this Dec. 29 matchup.
8. Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl – Houston (12-1) vs. Florida State (10-2)
Dec. 31 – Noon ET, ESPN
The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl kicks off the New Year’s Six slate for the second year in a row. New coach Tom Herman guided Houston to an American Athletic Conference title in his first season, and despite interest from a handful of Power 5 programs, signed an extension to remain with the Cougars in 2016. Herman’s specialty is on offense, and Houston is led by dynamic quarterback Greg Ward Jr. The junior’s mobility is a huge asset with an offensive line that was hit hard by injuries in the regular season. The Cougars’ explosive offense will be tested by Florida State’s defense, which is the best unit Ward has faced in 2015. The Seminoles limit opponents to 4.7 yards per play, and the secondary allowed only 10 plays of 30 or more yards. Like Herman, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is one of the best offensive minds in the nation. And it’s a credit to Fisher’s coaching ability the Seminoles finished 10-2 with the amount of roster turnover this team experienced after last season. Houston’s rush defense has been stingy all season, but Florida State running back Dalvin Cook will be tough to keep in check.
9. Sugar Bowl – Ole Miss (9-3) vs. Oklahoma State (10-2)
Jan. 1 – 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
It’s been a while since Ole Miss or Oklahoma State has played in the Sugar Bowl. The last trip for the Rebels took place 1969, and the Cowboys last played in this game in 1945. And interestingly enough, the only meetings between these two teams in program history both took place in the Cotton Bowl. Ole Miss has played in back-to-back New Year’s Six games, but coach Hugh Freeze is looking for a better result than last year’s 42-3 loss against TCU. Oklahoma State rebounded from last season’s 7-6 record with a 10-2 mark in 2015 – the program’s fourth double-digit win total over the last six years. Quarterback play will be under the microscope for the Cowboys, as starter Mason Rudolph had foot surgery after the loss to Oklahoma. Rudolph is expected to play, but J.W. Walsh will also see his share of snaps. An intriguing matchup to watch will be Ole Miss’ passing game (quarterback Chad Kelly and receiver Laquon Treadwell) against Oklahoma State’s secondary. The Cowboys will bend on defense, but coordinator Glenn Spencer’s group will create havoc around the line of scrimmage and with takeaways.
10. Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl – BYU (9-3) vs. Utah (9-3)
Dec. 19 – 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
The Holy War. Bitter rivals BYU and Utah did not meet in the regular season for the first time since 1945. In addition to the rivalry storyline, this is the final game at BYU for coach Bronco Mendenhall. After 11 seasons with the Cougars, Mendenhall is leaving to be the coach at Virginia. BYU has lost four in a row to the Utes, but four out of the last five meetings in this series were decided by a touchdown or less. Utah’s offense managed only 29 points over its last two games and won’t have star running back Devontae Booker due to a knee injury suffered against Arizona on Nov. 14. The absence of Booker puts more pressure on backup Joe Williams and quarterback Travis Wilson against a tough BYU defense. When the Cougars have the ball, quarterback Tanner Mangum (21 TDs, 7 INTs) is the player to watch. However, this won’t be an easy matchup for Mangum, as Utah has forced 29 turnovers and held opponents to 5.2 yards per play. This should be the best game on the opening Saturday of bowl action.
11. Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl – Michigan (9-3) vs. Florida (10-3)
Jan. 1 – 1 p.m. ET, ABC
A defensive slugfest should be expected when Michigan and Florida meet on Jan. 1 in the Citrus Bowl. The Wolverines were one of the nation’s most improved teams under new coach Jim Harbaugh and two of this team’s three losses – including the insane last-second loss to Michigan State – came by a touchdown or less. Harbaugh helped the Michigan offense show signs of life, and this unit is expected to have quarterback Jake Rudock under center for this game after suffering a shoulder injury against Ohio State. The Wolverines are still a work in progress up front, which is a huge problem against Florida’s defensive line. The Gators held opponents to 16.5 points a game this season and need another shutdown performance from this group. Florida quarterback Treon Harris struggled over the final three games and faces another tough assignment against Michigan’s defense (4.4 yards per play allowed).
12. AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl – Texas Tech (7-5) vs. LSU (8-3)
Dec. 29 – 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
After ending the season with turmoil and uncertainty surrounding coach Les Miles, the Tigers head into the bowl with a few answers. Miles will return to Baton Rouge but changes could be coming on offense. However, don’t expect much to change in time for the bowl. LSU running back Leonard Fournette (158.3 ypg) and the offensive line has to be licking their chops for an opportunity to take on Texas Tech. The Red Raiders struggled mightily against the run, allowing a whopping 271.8 yards per game. Stopping Fournette is going to be a monumental task for coordinator David Gibbs’ defense, but Texas Tech can counter with an offense averaging 46.6 points per game. LSU’s secondary has experienced its share of issues in stopping the pass, which is problematic against a Red Raider offense led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, running back DeAndre Washington and receiver Jakeem Grant.
13. Holiday Bowl – USC (8-5) vs. Wisconsin (9-3)
Dec. 30 – 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Holiday Bowl is known for its high-scoring, entertaining bowl matchups. However, this year’s version could feature more defense and a lower-scoring game. Wisconsin’s defense led the nation by holding opponents to just 13.1 points per game and ranks third in yards per play (4.39 yards) allowed. Dave Aranda is one of the nation’s rising stars in the coordinator ranks, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets an opportunity to be a head coach at the FBS level. The challenge for Aranda and the Wisconsin defense is to stop a dangerous and athletic USC attack. The Trojans are led by quarterback Cody Kessler and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, but new coach Clay Helton also wants to emphasize the ground attack. The Badgers lead the Big Ten in time of possession and their physical style of play is going to challenge a USC defense ranked fifth in the Pac-12 against the run. Coach Paul Chryst’s team may have reinforcements on the way, as running back Corey Clement is expected to play after missing most of 2015. Can the Badgers establish their style of play and prevent the Trojans’ explosive offense from getting on track?
14. GoDaddy Bowl – Georgia Southern (8-4) vs. Bowling Green (10-3)
Dec. 23 – 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
The GoDaddy Bowl features an intriguing mix of styles. Bowling Green’s “Falcon Fast” offense averaged 43.4 points per game this season, and quarterback Matt Johnson finished second nationally with 43 touchdown tosses. However, the Falcons will be under the direction of interim coach Brian Ward after Dino Babers took the head coaching job at Syracuse following the MAC Championship. Georgia Southern’s rushing offense led the nation (355.6 ypg) and will look to control the line of scrimmage and time of possession to keep the Falcons on the sideline. The Eagles had four players rushing for 600 or more yards in 2015, including explosive running back Matt Breida (8.2 ypc).
15. Marmot Boca Raton Bowl – Toledo (9-2) vs. Temple (10-3)
Dec. 22 – 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Just like it was last season, the Boca Raton Bowl should be one of the better pre-Christmas matchups on the postseason slate. The Rockets have won nine games in three out of the last four years and will be looking for their first double-digit win total since 2001. With Matt Campbell leaving for Iowa State, this program will be under the direction of former offensive coordinator and new head coach Jason Candle. Running back Kareem Hunt (894 yards) is the best player on an explosive Toledo offense, but the strength of Temple’s team is its defense. The Owls ranked second in the American Athletic Conference against the run and first in fewest yards allowed per play. If Temple wins, it will be the first time in program history to record 11 victories in a season.
16. Miami Beach Bowl – WKU (11-2) vs. South Florida (8-4)
Dec. 21 – 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Last season’s Miami Beach Bowl was one of the better postseason games and produced plenty of storylines from the BYU-Memphis postgame fight. This year’s game also has its share of storylines, as this South Florida coach Willie Taggart’s first opportunity to take on his alma mater. Taggart guided the Hilltoppers to a 16-20 record in three years and helped the Bulls improve from 4-8 in 2014 to 8-4 in 2015. WKU owns one of the nation’s top offenses behind quarterback Brandon Doughty and a loaded group of receivers. However, South Florida’s defense has been stingy (5.01 yards per play allowed) and finished fourth in the American Athletic Conference in points allowed (21.1 ppg). While stopping Doughty will be a challenge, the Bulls can use their rushing attack (243.4 ypg) to keep WKU’s high-powered attack on the sidelines.
17. Outback Bowl – Northwestern (10-2) vs. Tennessee (8-4)
Jan. 1 – Noon ET, ESPN2
Northwestern recorded one of the nation’s quietest 10-win campaigns this year, but the Wildcats are going to have their hands full against Tennessee. The Volunteers finished the regular season with five consecutive victories and all four of their defeats came by a touchdown or less. Northwestern’s strength rests with its defense, holding offenses to 4.48 yards per play and 3.45 yards per carry. Can the Wildcats find a way to slow down Tennessee’s backfield duo of Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara? If the Volunteers jump out to an early lead, it’s hard to envision Northwestern possessing the necessary firepower in its passing attack to keep this one close.
18. TaxSlayer Bowl – Georgia (9-3) vs. Penn State (7-5)
Jan. 2 – Noon ET, ESPN
In terms of name value, it’s hard to beat the TaxSlayer’s Penn State-Georgia matchup. However, the on-field play may not live up to that billing. For different reasons, both programs struggled to find the right answers on offense in 2015. Georgia lost star running back Nick Chubb to a season-ending knee injury against Tennessee and never developed a consistent passing attack under first-year coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Penn State’s offensive line took its share of criticism over the last two years, while quarterback Christian Hackenberg struggled to get comfortable in coach James Franklin's scheme. However, changes are coming to both teams. John Donovan was fired as the Nittany Lions’ play-caller, and Mark Richt was fired as the Bulldogs’ coach after the win over Georgia Tech. Receivers coach Bryan McClendon will serve as the team’s interim coach for the bowl. Points will be at a premium.
19. Hyundai Sun Bowl – Miami (8-4) vs. Washington State (8-4)
Dec. 26 – 2 p.m. ET, CBS
The offenses should be on display in this Dec. 26 matchup. Miami is still under the direction of interim coach Larry Scott, but it’s safe to assume new coach Mark Richt will be keeping a close watch on this game. Scott went 4-1 after Al Golden was fired, but the Hurricanes will have their hands full in El Paso against a Washington State offense averaging 32.4 points a game. Quarterback Luke Falk is expected to play after missing the season finale against Washington due to a concussion. The sophomore tossed 36 scores and is surrounded by a deep group of receivers that will test Miami’s pass defense. Assuming this one turns into a shootout, the Hurricanes can keep pace behind quarterback Brad Kaaya and running back Joseph Yearby. Washington State coach Mike Leach should be a popular draw in the Sun Bowl after coaching at Texas Tech from 2000-09.
20. Belk Bowl – NC State (7-5) vs. Mississippi State (8-4)
Dec. 30 – 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Belk Bowl features an underrated quarterback battle between NC State’s Jacoby Brissett and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott. This is the final collegiate game for both quarterbacks, and it’s also an opportunity for both programs to end the year on a high note after losses to their biggest rival in Week 13. The Wolfpack allowed 20 passing scores this season and will have their hands full against Prescott and Mississippi State’s solid group of receivers. When NC State has the ball, keep an eye on fullback Jaylen Samuels (315 rushing yards and a team-leading 64 catches). This could be a high-scoring affair.
21. Music City Bowl – Louisville (7-5) vs. Texas A&M (8-4)
Dec. 30 – 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
It’s tough to put too much stock into bowl games, but as we have mentioned a couple of times in this article, the postseason game is an opportunity to build momentum and develop some younger players through pre-bowl workouts. Both teams in the Music City Bowl fall into this category. Louisville closed out its regular season with a huge win over rival Kentucky, and freshman Lamar Jackson should have a strong grip on the starting job. The extra practices should be a huge help for Jackson, but the Cardinals also have to find more help on the offensive line. That’s especially critical against an aggressive Texas A&M defensive line headlined by end Myles Garrett and true freshman tackle Daylon Mack. Similar to Louisville, the Aggies head into the postseason looking for answers on offense. Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray each made starts at quarterback, but neither played well enough to claim a clear hold on the top spot. However, Allen announced his intention to transfer on Dec. 10, which leaves Murray as the starter for the Dec. 30 matchup against Louisville. Will coach Kevin Sumlin find a spark for his struggling offense? And will this offense benefit from a clear No. 1 at quarterback?
22. Birmingham Bowl – Memphis (9-3) vs. Auburn (6-6)
Dec. 30 – Noon ET, ESPN
The motivation level for both teams in this bowl will be an interesting storyline. Memphis lost coach Justin Fuente to Virginia Tech and Darrell Dickey will work as the team’s interim coach for the bowl. Coaching uncertainty also surrounds Auburn after defensive coordinator Will Muschamp left to be the head coach at Auburn. Additionally, the Tigers were one of the nation’s biggest disappointments after beginning the season with playoff and SEC title hopes. Auburn ranked near the bottom of the SEC in pass defense and drew a tough assignment against Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch. This is also Auburn’s first game in Birmingham since 1998.
23. Cactus Bowl – West Virginia (7-5) vs. Arizona State (6-6)
Jan. 2 – 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Arizona State had high expectations entering 2015, but coach Todd Graham’s team needed a win over rival Arizona in late November just to get bowl eligible. The Sun Devils regressed on offense behind a shaky offensive line and surrendered 6.07 yards per play on defense. West Virginia navigated one of the nation’s toughest schedules in October to win four out of its final five games. Coach Dana Holgorsen is known for his prolific passing attacks, but he was forced to tweak his offense to utilize the Mountaineers’ strength at running back this season. Arizona State won’t have to travel far for this matchup, as the Sun Devils can make the short trip from campus to Chase Field in less than 20 minutes. This game is the final postseason matchup before the national championship. Could we have one more “Pac-12 After Dark” moment?
24. Military Bowl – Navy (9-2) vs. Pittsburgh (8-4)
Dec. 28 – 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
If Navy wins its rivalry game against Army on Dec. 12, this matchup against Pittsburgh will be an opportunity to set a school record in the most victories in a season (11). The time to prepare should benefit the Panthers against the Midshipmen’s option attack. Of course, stopping Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds (25 total scores in 2015) is easier said than done. Pittsburgh ranked third in the ACC against the run but tied for ninth in the conference after giving up 10 runs of 30 yards or more. The Panthers lost running back James Conner to a season-ending knee injury in the first game of the year and changed starting quarterbacks (Chad Voytik to Nathan Peterman) in September. Pittsburgh’s offense isn’t particularly explosive (11 plays of 40 yards or more), but receiver Tyler Boyd and running back Qadree Ollison will be a tough matchup for the Midshipmen.
25. Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl – Washington (6-6) vs. Southern Miss (9-4)
Dec. 26 – 2:20 p.m. ET, ESPN
Washington and Southern Miss are two programs on the rise and this bowl is a good opportunity to build momentum for 2016. The Huskies needed a win over rival Washington State to clinch a trip to the postseason, and the extra bowl practices will be a boost for a team with a lot of promising young talent. Coach Chris Petersen’s team is led by the talented freshman duo of quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin, along with a defense that led the Pac-12 by holding opponents to 17.8 points per game. Southern Miss averages 40.6 points per game but failed to top more than 28 points in two matchups against Power 5 opponents this year. Fun matchup to watch: Golden Eagles’ quarterback Nick Mullens (36 TDs) against Washington’s secondary.
26. Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl – California (7-5) vs. Air Force (8-5)
Dec. 29 – 2 p.m. ET, ESPN
If you enjoy contrasting styles of play on offense, then this is the game for you. California’s Bear Raid attack is fifth nationally in passing offense (368.8 ypg), guided by quarterback Jared Goff and a receiving corps with six players with 36 or more catches. On the other sideline, it’s the ground attack leading the way for Air Force. The Falcons rank third nationally in rushing offense (322.1 ypg), with Jacobi Owens and quarterback Karson Roberts the team’s leading rushers. Which defense will get enough stops? Can Air Force grind out the clock and keep Goff on the sidelines? Or will California’s offense force the Falcons to get out of their comfort zone and throw more to keep up?
27. Hawaii Bowl – San Diego State (10-3) vs. Cincinnati (7-5)
Dec. 24 – 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
The final pre-Christmas bowl features the Mountain West’s top defense (San Diego State) against a high-powered Cincinnati offense (36.1 ppg). The Aztecs won their first outright conference title since 1986 with a win over Air Force in the conference championship game and a win over the Bearcats would tie the program record for most victories in a season (11). San Diego State quarterback Maxwell Smith missed the Mountain West title game due to a knee injury, but the senior could return for this game. But if he can’t, the offense will be in good hands with Christian Chapman. Regardless of who starts under center, the Aztecs will lean heavily on running back Donnel Pumphrey (1,544 yards, 16 TDs). Cincinnati’s offense averages 36.1 points per game but also struggled with giveaways (30 turnovers lost) in 2015. Can quarterback Gunner Kiel hold onto the ball and put pressure on San Diego State’s run-first attack on offense?
28. R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl – Arkansas State (9-3) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-4)
Dec. 19 – 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
For the first time since 2010, a Sun Belt team other than UL Lafayette will make an appearance in the New Orleans Bowl. After four consecutive trips to this bowl by the Ragin’ Cajuns, Arkansas State is back in New Orleans for the first time since 2005. The Red Wolves lost three out of their first four games but finished with eight consecutive wins. Quarterback Fredi Knighten guides an offense that averages 41 points per game and has plenty of help at the skill positions, including running back Michael Gordon (6.4 yards per carry). Louisiana Tech is making the short five-hour trip to the Big Easy, and coach Skip Holtz is looking for consecutive nine-win seasons. Florida transfer Jeff Driskel finished his only season in Ruston with 24 touchdown tosses, while running back Kenneth Dixon will challenge an Arkansas State defense ranked third in the Sun Belt against the run.
29. Poinsettia Bowl – Boise State (8-4) vs. Northern Illinois (8-5)
Dec. 23 – 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Boise State and Northern Illinois have been two of the top Group of 5 programs and meet for the first time on the gridiron on Dec. 23 in San Diego. Additionally, both teams were hit hard by the injury bug this season. The Huskies lost starting quarterback Drew Hare in early November and backup Ryan Graham missed the MAC Championship due to an ankle injury. It’s uncertain if Graham will return in time for this game or if Tommy Fielder will make his second start. Regardless of which quarterback starts, Northern Illinois will rely on its ground attack and running back Joel Bouagnon. Boise State’s offense led the Mountain West by averaging 37.8 points per game but also lost 20 turnovers. Even though the Huskies have been solid on defense (25.5 ppg), the Broncos – led by quarterback Brett Rypien and running back Jeremy McNichols – have too much firepower. Full disclosure - this game would be higher if we knew who was starting at quarterback for Northern Illinois.
30. Liberty Bowl – Arkansas (7-5) vs. Kansas State (6-6)
Jan. 2 – 3:20 p.m. ET, ESPN
Arkansas and Kansas State haven’t met in a regular season game since 1967 and have only one matchup since (2012 Cotton Bowl), but there’s a lot of familiarity between these two programs. Bret Bielema worked as a co-defensive coordinator at Kansas State under Bill Snyder from 2002-03. Bielema has Arkansas trending in the right direction after a 7-5 regular season, as the Hogs rebounded from a 1-3 start to win five out of their last six games. A big reason for the late-season improvement was the play of quarterback Brandon Allen, and the 1,392-yard season from running back Alex Collins. Kansas State was hit hard by injuries on offense this year and average only 4.94 yards per play. If the Razorbacks are motivated, the Wildcats will have a tough time keeping this one close.
31. Gildan New Mexico Bowl – New Mexico (7-5) vs. Arizona (6-6)
Dec. 19 – 2 p.m. ET, ESPN
New Mexico is staying home for the bowl season. However, the Lobos probably won’t complain too much about another contest in Albuquerque, as this is the program’s first bowl trip since 2007. Coach Bob Davie has made steady progress in his tenure at New Mexico, and the program scored victories over Air Force, Boise State and Utah State this year. The Lobos rank second in the Mountain West in rushing offense, while the defense improved from 11th in the conference in points allowed to a tie for fourth this season. However, Arizona’s offense figures to test New Mexico’s improved defense. The Wildcats battled a handful of injuries this year, yet still averaged 36.8 points per game. This is the fourth consecutive postseason trip for Arizona under coach Rich Rodriguez and the second appearance in the New Mexico Bowl over the last four years.
32. Foster Farms Bowl – UCLA (8-4) vs. Nebraska (5-7)
Dec. 26 – 9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
It’s safe to say both UCLA and Nebraska had higher preseason expectations than meeting in the Foster Farms Bowl. However, this game is an opportunity to finish the year on a high note and build momentum for spring practice. True freshman quarterback Josh Rosen had a solid debut for the Bruins, throwing for 20 touchdowns and only nine picks in 2015. Nebraska’s defense had its share of issues this season and gave up 27.8 points per game. That’s not ideal with Rosen and standout running back Paul Perkins up next. In addition to the defensive issues, the Cornhuskers have to find a way to hold onto the ball. Coach Mike Riley’s team finished the regular season with a minus-13 in turnover margin, with 16 of those turnovers coming on interceptions by quarterback Tommy Armstrong.
33. New Era Pinstripe Bowl – Indiana (6-6) vs. Duke (7-5)
Dec. 26 – 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
A matchup between Indiana and Duke in New York would normally mean a contest on the hardwood. But make no mistake – the bowl in Yankee Stadium between the Hoosiers and Blue Devils could see its share of points. Indiana led the Big Ten by averaging 36.2 points per game, and quarterback Nate Sudfeld (24 TDs, 5 INTs) is a good matchup for a Duke secondary that features likely All-American safety Jeremy Cash. While scoring points hasn’t been a problem for Indiana, the defense has struggled mightily. The Hoosiers rank last in the Big Ten by surrendering 37.1 points per game. Stopping dual-threat quarterback Thomas Sirk is a must for Indiana defensive coordinator Brian Knorr.
34. Bahamas Bowl – Western Michigan (7-5) vs. MTSU (7-5)
Dec. 24 – Noon ET, ESPN
Last season’s Bahamas Bowl matchup between WKU and Central Michigan was one of the most entertaining bowl games of the 2014-15 postseason schedule. The game featured 97 points, 1,254 total yards and one crazy ending. Could we see some similar fireworks in the Bahamas this season? It’s possible. Coach P.J. Fleck has guided Western Michigan to consecutive bowl trips for the first time in program history. The Broncos are led by a dynamic offense (35.3 ppg), with quarterback Zach Terrell and receiver Daniel Braverman forming a potent combination to test a MTSU defense giving up 25.1 points per game this year. The Blue Raiders also have their own dangerous connection on offense. Freshman quarterback Brent Stockstill threw for 3,678 yards and 27 scores this year, with receiver Richie James grabbing 100 receptions for 1,220 yards. This is MTSU’s fifth bowl appearance under coach Rick Stockstill since 2006.
35. Camping World Independence Bowl – Tulsa (6-6) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6)
Dec. 26 – 5:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
The swan song for Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer ends in the same place his career started to take off for the Hokies – Shreveport, La. The Hokies’ first bowl under Beamer was in Shreveport in 1993 – a 45-20 victory over Indiana. Can Virginia Tech send Beamer out on top? For the Hokies to end the Beamer era on a high note, defensive coordinaor Bud Foster has to find a way to slow down Tulsa’s high-powered offense. New coach Philip Montgomery is a former assistant at Baylor and brought a similar system to Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane average 35.9 points per game, while quarterback Dane Evans has helped this offense connect on 42 plays of 30 yards or more in 2015. Evans and receiver Keyarris Garrett will test a secondary that limited opposing quarterbacks to a 47.9 completion percentage. However, Tulsa’s opportunities on offense could be limited if its defense (238.5 rushing yards per game allowed) can’t find a way to slow down the Hokies.
36. Raycom Media Camellia Bowl – Appalachian State (10-2) vs. Ohio (8-4)
Dec. 19 – 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Appalachian State finishes its second year at the FBS level with a trip to Montgomery, Ala. and a date against an Ohio team making its sixth trip to a bowl in seven years. The Mountaineers are led by their ground attack, which features three running backs over 430 yards, including standout Marcus Cox (1,261 yards). But this offense will be tested by an Ohio defense limiting opponents to 24.8 points per game and held two of its last three opponents to 80 or less rushing yards. Injuries hit the Bobcats hard on offense, but this unit still averaged 5.76 yards per play in 2015.
37. Quick Lane Bowl – Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Minnesota (5-7)
Dec. 28 – 5 p.m. ET, ESPN2
The ACC failed to have enough bowl-eligible teams, opening the door for Central Michigan to make the short trip from Mount Pleasant to Detroit for its postseason destination. The Chippewas – led by new coach John Bonamego and prolific quarterback Cooper Rush – are trying to win more than seven games for the first time since 2009. Tracy Claeys was promoted from interim to full-time coach after Jerry Kill retired during the regular season. Claeys was unable to guide Minnesota to a winning record, but the Golden Gophers are still making their fourth consecutive bowl trip. Minnesota’s secondary has allowed only 13 passing scores this season, and this group will be tested by Rush and top receiver Jesse Kroll.
38. St. Petersburg Bowl – Marshall (9-3) vs. UConn (6-6)
Dec. 26 – 11 a.m. ET, ESPN
The St. Petersburg Bowl is the first post-Christmas matchup, and there’s plenty of motivation for both teams in this unique stadium setup (home of the Tampa Bay Rays). With a victory, Marshall will earn its third consecutive season of 10 or more wins, while UConn is looking for its first winning season since 2010. Second-year coach Bob Diaco guided the Huskies to a four-game jump in victories this year. UConn’s offense is a work in progress, but the defense is limiting opponents to 19.8 points per game. Marshall’s offense isn’t as explosive as the 2014 version, as quarterback Rakeem Cato left big shoes to fill. However, freshman quarterback Chase Litton is promising and finished the regular season by throwing eight touchdowns over the final three games.
39. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl – Akron (7-5) vs. Utah State (6-6)
Dec. 22 – 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Points could be at a premium on the blue turf when the Zips and Aggies meet on Dec. 22. Akron’s defense ranked second in the MAC by holding opponents to 21.5 points per game, and this unit features a handful of Power 5 transfers, including Rodney Coe (Iowa State), Se’Von Pittman (Ohio State) and Darryl Monroe (Washington State). This unit will be a tough matchup for a Utah State offense averaging 5.49 yards per play and has uncertainty at quarterback with Chuckie Keeton and Kent Myers both receiving significant playing time in 2015. Running back Devante Mays (842 yards) emerged as a solid option for coach Matt Wells in his first year from the junior college ranks. This is Akron’s second bowl appearance in program history, while Utah State is making its fifth consecutive postseason trip.
40. NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl – Colorado State (7-5) vs. Nevada (6-6)
Dec. 29 – 7:30 p.m. ET, Campus Insiders
Considering the long offseason, it’s tough to complain about having more bowl games in December. However, considering the need for 5-7 teams and this matchup in the Arizona Bowl, it’s safe to say college football’s postseason has reached its limit on adding more bowls. Colorado State and Nevada are Mountain West rivals but did not play in 2015 and are not slated to match up in conference action until 2017. Mike Bobo guided the Rams to a 7-5 mark in his first season, while the Wolf Pack are back in the postseason for the second year in a row under coach Brian Polian.
41. Cure Bowl – Georgia State (6-6) vs. San Jose State (5-7)
Dec. 19 – Noon ET, CBS Sports Network
The bowl season starts in Orlando, Fla. with the inaugural Cure Bowl. This is the third game played at the Orlando Citrus Bowl (Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus and Russell Athletic Bowl) during the postseason. Continuing with the new theme with this bowl, Georgia State is making its postseason debut after a huge win over Georgia Southern improved coach Trent Miles’ team to 6-6. The Panthers just moved to the FBS level in 2013 and showed steady improvement with Miles guiding the program. Georgia State quarterback Nick Arbuckle is one of the nation’s most underrated passers at the Group of 5 level, while the defense showed marked improvement in 2015 (43.3 points allowed in 2014 to 28.4 in 2015). San Jose State is back in the postseason for the first time since 2012 and is one of three teams with a 5-7 record in a bowl this year. Running back Tyler Ervin finished second in the Mountain West by averaging 122.4 rushing yards per game, while quarterback Kenny Potter stabilized the offense by throwing at least three touchdowns in each of the team’s last three games.