Intriguing BCS matchups add sizzle to uninspiring college bowl season
Five Bowl Championship Series Games offer fans compelling reasons to watch
Boise State QB Kellen Moore faces tough task against nation's top pass defense
High-scoring Oregon heads to Rose Bowl against stout Ohio State defense
Welcome to my seventh annual ranking of this year's bowl games, No. 1 through 34, in order of anticipated entertainment value. Much like the bowl business itself, these rankings are based only marginally on the teams' actual merits. They also take into consideration star quality, fan appeal, evenness of matchup, aesthetic appeal of the two teams' colors and whether or not any NCIS reruns will be airing at the same time.
I have to hand it to the BCS: All five games this year are must-see TV. In fact, this is the first time in recent memory that I ranked all the BCS games before any other. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of many of the higher-profile non-BCS games we usually count on for quality matchups. One New Year's Day game didn't even crack the Top 15.
So read, enjoy, and remember -- just because a particular bowl checks in way down at No. 29 doesn't guarantee you'll have anything better to do that night.
1) BCS National Championship Game (Jan. 7): Alabama (13-0) vs. Texas (13-0). It's the first-ever matchup of two 13-0 teams. Colt McCoy. Mark Ingram. Rolando McClain. Sergio Kindle. Yeah, I'm thinking you might want to tune in.
2) Sugar (Jan. 1): Cincinnati (12-0) vs. Florida (12-1). It's spread vs. spread, Tim Tebow vs. Tony Pike, Mardy Gilyard vs. Joe Haden. It may be a letdown game for the Gators, but it should still be entertaining.
3) Fiesta (Jan. 4): TCU (12-0) vs. Boise State (13-0). Enough with the outrage, people: You know you're going to watch. The nation's No. 1 passer, Broncos quarterback Kellen Moore, goes up against the nation's top-ranked defense.
4) Rose (Jan. 1): Ohio State (10-2) vs. Oregon (10-2). Dangerous dual-threat star Jeremiah Masoli is what Terrelle Pryor was supposed to be. But the Buckeyes present the toughest defense the Ducks have faced since Boise.
5) Orange (Jan. 5): Georgia Tech (11-2) vs. Iowa (10-2). You remember the Hawkeyes. They love low scores and dramatic finishes. With a month to prepare, can Pat Angerer, Tyler Sash and Co. stifle Josh Nesbitt and the triple-option?
6) Capital One (Jan. 1): Penn State (10-2) vs. LSU (9-3). If the Tigers win, it's yet another example of the SEC's superiority over the Big Ten. If the Nittany Lions win, it's because LSU was without injured running back Charles Scott.
7) Gator (Jan. 1): West Virginia (9-3) vs. Florida State (6-6). While hardly the most compelling on-field matchup, there's no denying the significance of Bobby Bowden's last game. Florida native Noel Devine could ruin the party.
8) Sun (Dec. 31): Stanford (8-4) vs. Oklahoma (7-5). Admittedly, this one loses a bit of luster if injured Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck can't play, but we still get to see Toby Gerhart go against the nation's No. 7 rushing defense.
9) Las Vegas (Dec. 22): BYU (10-2) vs. Oregon State (8-4). Shootouts make for the most enjoyable bowl games, and with Sean Canfield, Max Hall, Dennis Pitta and the Rodgers brothers all on the same field, there will be points aplenty.
10) Champs Sports (Dec. 29): Miami (9-3) vs. Wisconsin (9-3). 'Canes quarterback Jacory Harris and Badgers running back John Clay, both sophomores, can set the stage for potential 2010 Heisman campaigns with big games in this one.
11) Holiday (Dec. 30): Nebraska (9-4) vs. Arizona (8-4). It's a rematch of the memorable 1998 Holiday Bowl, when Chris McAllister intercepted Eric Crouch to seal the game. Will Ndamukong Suh leave a similar stamp on San Diego?
12) Meineke (Dec. 26): Pittsburgh (9-3) vs. North Carolina (8-4). The Panthers came up a point short of the BCS, but they're still fun to watch. Freshman star running back Dion Lewis goes up against Marvin Austin and the stout UNC defense.
13) Chick-fil-A (Dec. 31): Virginia Tech (9-3) vs. Tennessee (7-5). No word whether Lane Kiffin plans to take any jabs at Frank Beamer. We can be pretty sure, however, that this will be Eric Berry's last collegiate game.
14) Cotton (Jan. 1): Oklahoma State (9-3) vs. Ole Miss (8-4). Would it be too harsh to dub this the Preseason Fraud Bowl? Rebels quarterback Jevan Snead looks to recapture the magic of his breakout performance here a year ago.
15) Emerald (Dec. 26): USC (8-4) vs. Boston College (8-4). Call it morbid curiosity, but the potential sight of Pete Carroll shivering on the sideline of a San Francisco's AT&T Park may prompt some canceled dinner reservations.
16) Poinsettia (Dec. 23): Utah (9-3) vs. Cal (8-4). This one becomes a lot more compelling if Jahvid Best manages to return from his scary concussion. If not, we're looking at a pair of teams coming off crushing losses.
17) Outback (Jan. 1): Northwestern (8-4) vs. Auburn (7-5). The thought of Guz Malzahn with a month to draw up wacky new formations should frighten Pat Fitzgerald, who may have to give Auburn fans an education in Kafka.
18) Music City (Dec. 27): Clemson (8-5) vs. Kentucky (7-5). Its C.J. Spiller's last hurrah at Clemson. Let's see if Dabo Swinney lets him run, catch, pass, return, punt and maybe even play a little linebacker, too.
19) GMAC (Jan. 6): Central Michigan (11-2) vs. Troy (9-3). In a pretty neat deal, the champions of the MAC and Sun Belt get to square off, and Dan LeFevour gets a showcase opportunity the night before Alabama-Texas.
20) Liberty (Jan. 2): East Carolina (9-4) vs. Arkansas (7-5). The Pirates' reward for withstanding 75 Case Keenum pass attempts in last week's C-USA title game? A date with Razorbacks gunslinger Ryan Mallett.
21) Texas (Dec. 31): Missouri (8-4) vs. Navy (8-4). If you haven't yet caught Missouri receiver Danario Alexander, the nation's No. 1 receiver, here's your chance. Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs is worth the price of admission, too.
22) Independence (Dec. 28): Georgia (7-5) vs. Texas A&M (6-6). It's never a good sign when you fire your defensive staff prior to the bowl game. Maybe Mark Richt felt it the only way to slow down Jerrod Johnson.
23) PapaJohns.com (Jan. 2): South Carolina (7-5) vs. Connecticut (7-5). Exactly 20 years ago, Steve Spurrier took 8-3 Duke to Birmingham for the now-defunct All-American Bowl. Apparently his career has come full circle.
24) Alamo (Jan. 2): Texas Tech (8-4) vs. Michigan State (6-6). The once-proud San Antonio game hosts a 6-6 Spartans team down eight suspended players. Next year's Pac-10 deal can't come soon enough.
25) Armed Forces (Dec. 31): Houston (10-3) vs. Air Force (7-5). Hmm. Where have we seen this before? Oh that's right -- they played in the 2008 Armed Forces Bowl. And during the 2008 regular season. Start your own conference, why don't you?
26) Hawaii (Dec. 24): Nevada (8-4) vs. SMU (7-5). Last year, Notre Dame used this game as a springboard for its latest 6-6 season. While the Irish declined a bowl trip this year; SMU will happily take its first in 25 years.
27) EagleBank (Dec. 29): Temple (9-3) vs. UCLA (6-6) or Army (5-6). Since we don't yet know the exact matchup, let's focus on more important things. Is there a parade? And if so, will Bill Cosby be the grand marshal?
28) St. Petersburg (Dec. 19): Rutgers (8-4) vs. UCF (8-4). How to get a Florida bowl trip these days: A) Play for a Florida school. Or B) Beat Howard, FIU, Maryland, Texas Southern, Army and Louisville.
29) Humanitarian (Dec. 30): Idaho (7-5) vs. Bowling Green (7-5). The Vandals get to stay close to home for their first bowl game in 11 years. That's nice. BG has a receiver, Freddie Barnes, who's made 138 catches. That's nice, too.
30) New Mexico (Dec. 19): Fresno State (8-4) vs. Wyoming (6-6). If you're hoping to see Fresno State tackle Devan Cunningham score another game-winning two-point conversion, I'm afraid you may still be waiting come next year's New Mexico Bowl.
31) Insight (Dec. 31): Iowa State (6-6) vs. Minnesota (6-6). You know it's New Year's Eve in Tempe when the Gophers are playing. And you know you're in for a long game when both teams rank 98th or lower in scoring offense.
32) International (Jan. 2): South Florida (7-5) vs. Northern Illinois (7-5). Hope your passports are in order, Bulls and Huskies fans. Otherwise you're going to have to pay the State Department's "expedited fee."
33) New Orleans (Dec. 20): Middle Tennessee (9-3) vs. Southern Miss (7-5). The Blue Raiders are the best nine-win team you've never seen. Actually, they may be the only nine-win team you've never seen.
34) Little Caesars (Dec. 26): Ohio (9-4) vs. Marshall (6-6). Per SI.com college football editor Mallory Rubin: "If the bowl's object was to pick the least interesting matchup imaginable, Ohio-Marshall would be the winner."
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