Detroit News bowl preview: Ranking the games

Matt Charboneau
De'Veon Smith puts on the winged helmet for the last time for Michigan.

While most are getting in the holiday spirit, it’s about that time for college football junkies to hunker down in front of the TV.

That’s because the long list of 40 bowls kicks off Saturday, and while the diehards likely will be tuned-in to most games, the casual fan might be waiting for the big ones that will come near the end of the month — some taking place Jan. 2.

Obviously, the two playoff games will draw the most attention, but there are interesting storylines throughout the bowl season. Some are more watchable than others, so we’ve put together this list of the best, not quite the best and, well, the rest.

Here’s a rundown of all 40 games and where they rank in watchability.

What you should watch

Fiesta Bowl (semifinal)

2 Clemson (12-1) vs. 3 Ohio State (11-1)

Kickoff: 7 p.m. Dec. 31, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.


Outlook: This is probably the best matchup — Clemson is in the playoff for the second straight season and Ohio State won the title two years ago. The numbers are nearly even as Ohio State allows 14.2 points and Clemson 18.4, both among the top 12 in the nation. Offensively, they’re each in the top 15 as Ohio State scored 42.7 and Clemson 40.2.


Alabama is No. 1 in the nation in total defense and allows 11.8 points.

Peach Bowl (semifinal)

1 Alabama (13-0) vs. 4 Washington (12-1)

Kickoff: 3 p.m. Dec. 31, Georgia Dome, Atlanta


Outlook: Just the notion of a possible upset is worth tuning in for this one and the Huskies and QB Jake Browning will give it a shot. Getting it done against easily the best team in the nation with one of the most intimidating defenses will be a challenge. The Crimson Tide is No. 1 in the nation in total defense and allows 11.8 points.

Rose Bowl

5 Penn State (11-2) vs. 9 USC (9-3)

Kickoff: 5 p.m. Jan. 2, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.


Outlook: This is easily the best game outside the playoffs and features two of the hottest teams. First-year coach Clay Helton has the Trojans on an eight-game winning streak after opening 1-3 and hearing rumblings about job security. James Franklin led the Nittany Lions to a Big Ten championship in the midst of a nine-game winning streak.

Orange Bowl

6 Michigan (10-2) vs. 11 Florida State (9-3)

Kickoff: 8 p.m. Dec. 30, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.


Outlook: Jim Harbaugh … that should be enough for some to watch, but the matchup alone is intriguing. Many believe the Wolverines are one of the best four teams while the Seminoles bring as much talent as any team. Michigan is coming off the overtime loss to Ohio State while Florida State has won four straight after early losses to Louisville, North Carolina and Clemson.

Cotton Bowl

8 Wisconsin (10-3) vs. 15 Western Michigan (13-0)

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Jan. 2, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas


Outlook: Believe it or not, this won’t be the final game on the sidelines for Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck, who will stay in Kalamazoo after not landing a job with a Power Five school. This will be the toughest test for the Broncos, who beat up on the little guys of the Big Ten but will have their hands full with a team that played in the Big Ten title game.

Citrus Bowl

13 Louisville (9-3) vs. 20 LSU (7-4)

Kickoff: 11 a.m. Dec. 31, Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla.


Outlook: Two teams that intended to play on New Year’s Eve, just not in Orlando. The Cardinals will try and finish strong and feature Heisman Trophy winning QB Lamar Jackson while new coach Ed Orgeron will try and have the Tigers heading in the right direction as they move on without former coach Les Miles.

Alamo Bowl

10 Colorado (10-3) vs. 12 Oklahoma State (9-3)

Kickoff: 9 p.m. Dec. 29, Alamodome, San Antonio


Outlook: The old Big 8 rivals square off for the first time since 2009 and there is plenty at stake as the winner likely will finish in the top 10. The Buffaloes surprised almost everyone by winning the Pac 12 South while Oklahoma State bounced back from tough losses to Central Michigan and Baylor to win seven straight before falling to rival Oklahoma.

Pinstripe Bowl

23 Pittsburgh (8-4) vs. Northwestern (6-6)

Kickoff: 2 p.m. Dec. 28, Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y.


Outlook: Spartans fans surely will be interested in seeing what Pat Narduzzi has done in two years at Pittsburgh (the former Michigan State defensive coordinator has a team that knocked off Clemson and Penn State). The Panthers face a familiar Big Ten team that was up and down all year and had to beat Illinois in the final week to become bowl eligible.

Las Vegas Bowl

San Diego State (10-3) vs. Houston (9-3)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas


Outlook: Houston had high hopes after a victory over Oklahoma to open the season, but faltered midway through the year with losses to Navy and SMU before coming up short against Memphis to close the season. San Diego State was another team with big dreams, but losses to South Alabama and Colorado State derailed any thoughts of a New Year’s Six bowl.

Music City Bowl

21 Tennessee (8-4) vs. Nebraska (9-3)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Dec. 30, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.


Outlook: To say the Volunteers had a tumultuous season would be an understatement, and a team some thought could be in the playoffs was able to keep it together. The Cornhuskers opened with seven victories before losing three of their last five and hope they can be the latest to score a bunch of points against the Volunteers.

What you might watch

Outback Bowl

17 Florida (8-4) vs. Iowa (8-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Jan. 2, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.


Outlook: Florida won the SEC East, but it was hardly a banner year as it closed going in the wrong direction, falling to rival Florida State and then getting crushed by Alabama in the SEC championship game. The Hawkeyes never got rolling despite having high hopes after last year’s perfect regular season. But they did upset Michigan this year.

Sugar Bowl

7 Oklahoma (10-2) vs. 14 Auburn (8-4)

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. Jan. 2, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans


Outlook: Oklahoma won the Big 12, but early losses to Ohio State and Houston derailed any hopes of a playoff spot for a talented team led by QB Baker Mayfield and WR Dede Westbrook. Auburn played a difficult schedule and came up short against Alabama, Clemson and Texas A&M along with a disappointing loss to Georgia.

Russell Athletic Bowl

16 West Virginia (10-2) vs. Miami (8-4)

Kickoff: 5:30 p.m. Dec. 28, Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla.


Outlook: An old Big East rivalry is rekindled as first-year Miami coach Mark Richt tries to get the Hurricanes their first bowl victory since 2006. West Virginia won 10 games for the first time since 2011, its last in the Big East and looks to finish with 11 wins for the first time since Rich Rodriguez was at the helm.

Sun Bowl

18 Stanford (9-3) vs. North Carolina (8-4)

Kickoff: 2 p.m. Dec. 30, Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas


Outlook: It wasn’t the way the Cardinal expected to be ending the season, but one last shot to see RB Christian McCaffrey play is almost enough to tune in. North Carolina won four of six to close the season but is still stinging from the loss to N.C. State and hopes to end on a high note.

Poinsettia Bowl

BYU (8-4) vs. Wyoming (8-5)

Kickoff: 9 p.m. Dec. 21, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego


Outlook: BYU opened 1-3 but closed 7-1 to help first-year coach Kalani Sitake take the Cougars to their 12th straight bowl. It, however, will be without QB Taysom Hill (elbow). Wyoming had a five-game winning streak in the middle of the season but lost three of its final four to reach a bowl for the first time since 2011.

Boca Raton Bowl

Western Kentucky (10-3) vs. Memphis (8-4)

Kickoff: 7 p.m., Tuesday, FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Fla.


Outlook: Memphis gets to its second straight bowl after it closed the season with an upset of Houston in coach Mike Norvell’s first season. QB Riley Ferguson is the spark for the offense, throwing for 3,326 yards and 28 TDs. Western Kentucky is coming off a second straight Conference USA title and will throw the ball, averaging 336.8 yards, fifth in the country.

Belk Bowl

22 Virginia Tech (9-4) vs. Arkansas (7-5)

Kickoff: 5:30 p.m. Dec. 29, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.


Outlook: Arkansas, under Bret Bielema, continues to deliver nothing but mediocrity. It will have its hands full against a Virginia Tech team that gave Clemson all it could handle in the ACC title game. First-year coach Justin Fuente appears to have the Hokies positioned to be a perennial contender in the ACC.

Liberty Bowl

Georgia (7-5) vs. TCU (6-6)

Kickoff: Noon Dec. 30, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, Tenn.


Outlook: A frustrating season for both teams ends in what could be a game that signals the start of a turnaround. The Bulldogs won seven games under first-year coach Kirby Smart but will expect to compete to win the SEC East in 2017. TCU, on the other hand, will try and shake of a year that ended for short of its goals.

Texas Bowl

Texas A&M (8-4) vs. Kansas State (8-4)

Kickoff: 9 p.m. Dec. 28, NRG Stadium, Houston


Outlook: A former Big 12 showdown. Texas A&M, which started 6-0, will try and shrug off a 2-4 finish in the SEC and head into next season on a high note. Veteran coach Bill Snyder leads a Kansas State team that will feel right at home in Texas, having compiled a perfect 4-0 mark against teams from the state this season, beating Texas Tech, Texas, Baylor and TCU.

Miami Beach Bowl

Tulsa (9-3) vs. Central Michigan (6-6)

Kickoff: 2:30 p.m. Monday, Marlins Park, Miami


Outlook: Central Michigan started strong, including a last-second victory at Oklahoma State on the final play. It, however, lost four of its final five games. Tulsa has an explosive offense that averaged 522.5 yards, including 261.8 rushing. James Flanders ran for 1,529 yards and 17 TDs while D’Angelo Brewer ran for 1,330 yards.

Taxslayer Bowl

Georgia Tech (8-4) vs. Kentucky (7-5)

Kickoff: 11 a.m. Dec. 31, EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.


Outlook: Georgia Tech is buoyed by its upset of Georgia in the final game and will unleash its triple-option attack on Kentucky. Kentucky, meanwhile, is coming off a big upset of Louisville and will look to finish with eight victories for the first time since 2007.

Foster Farms Bowl

19 Utah (8-4) vs Indiana (6-6)

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. Dec. 28, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.

TV: Fox

Outlook: Things are far from stable at Indiana as the Hoosiers have reached their second straight bowl but coach Kevin Wilson was fired in the process. It should put Utah at a significant advantage, though it will be looking for a strong finish after losses to Washington, Colorado and a struggling Oregon derailed the regular season.

Holiday Bowl

Minnesota (8-4) vs. Washington State (8-4)

Kickoff: 7 p.m. Dec. 27, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego


Outlook: Washington State had an eight-game winning streak but couldn’t get it done against the likes of Colorado and Washington. Minnesota was fairly similar as three of its losses came against ranked opponents. In his first full season, coach Tracy Claeys has the Gophers in their fifth straight bowl.

Cactus Bowl

Boise State (10-2) vs. Baylor (6-6)

Kickoff: 10:15 p.m. Dec. 27, Chase Field, Phoenix


Outlook: The start of the season looked promising for both teams, but hopes faded for one and crashed for another. Boise State had hopes of a New Year’s Six bowl, but late losses to Wyoming and Air Force ended that. For the Bears, a six-game winning streak was followed by a six-game skid as more people talked about the Art Briles controversy than the product on the field.

Bahamas Bowl

Old Dominion (9-3) vs. Eastern Michigan (7-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m, Dec. 23, Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas


Outlook: This will be the first time Eagles fans get to see their team play in a bowl since 1987 when the then-Hurons played in the California Bowl.

What they hope you watch

Military Bowl

24 Temple (10-3) vs. Wake Forest (6-6)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Dec. 27, Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Md.


Outlook: This one will be worth a watch if Wake Forest can manage to keep it even remotely close. Temple captured its first AAC title this year.

Birmingham Bowl

South Florida (10-2) vs. South Carolina (6-6)

Kickoff: 2 p.m. Dec. 29, Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.


Outlook: The real draw is South Florida QB Quinton Flowers, who has thrown for more than 2,500 yards and 22 TDs and rushed for 1,425 yards and 15 TDs.

Arizona Bowl

Air Force (9-3) vs. South Alabama (6-6)

Kickoff: 5:30 p.m. Dec. 30, Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz.

TV: Campus Insiders

Outlook: Air Force is flying high after winning five straight to close the season and knocking off Boise State and keep Broncos from the Mountain West title game. Air Force also beat Navy and Army to win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.

Armed Forces Bowl

25 Navy (9-3) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-5)

Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. Dec. 23, Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas


Outlook: Both teams came close to conference championships but have to settle for battling it out in Fort Worth. Louisiana Tech will try to outscore Navy as its defense could be in for a long day against the Midshipmen’s triple-option.

Dollar General Bowl

Troy (9-3) vs. Ohio (8-5)

Kickoff: 8 p.m. Dec. 23, Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Ala.


Outlook: Ohio nearly upset Western Michigan in the MAC title game behind coach Frank Solich and a defense that has given many fits.

Camellia Bowl

Appalachian State (9-3) vs. Toledo (9-3)

Kickoff: 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Ala.


Outlook: Toledo couldn’t overcome Western Michigan in the MAC West but does have a high-powered offense that will push Appalachian State as it finished fourth in the nation total offense and second in passing efficiency.

Cure Bowl

Arkansas State (7-5) vs. Central Florida (6-6)

Kickoff: 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla.


Outlook: First-year coach Scott Frost took Central Florida from 0-12 to a bowl, and is seeing his name floated for bigger jobs. Arkansas State lost its first four games before winning seven of its final eight, including a victory over then-No. 25 Troy.

New Orleans Bowl

Southern Mississippi (6-6) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (6-6)

Kickoff: 9 p.m. Saturday, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans


Outlook: Southern Mississippi had to win in the final week, snapping a three-game skid, to become bowl eligible a season after it won nine games.

Idaho Potato Bowl

Idaho (8-4) vs. Colorado State (7-5)

Kickoff: 7 p.m. Dec. 22, Albertsons Stadium, Boise, Idaho


Outlook: Colorado State won four of its final five games, including a victory over Mountain West champion San Diego State in the finale.

Hawaii Bowl

Middle Tennessee (8-4) vs. Hawaii (6-7)

Kickoff: 8 p.m. Dec. 24, Aloha Stadium, Honolulu


Outlook: After traveling more than 19,000 miles to play California in Australia and Michigan in Ann Arbor to open the season, Hawaii is more than happy to stay home for a bowl.

St. Petersburg Bowl

Miami (Ohio) (6-6) vs. Mississippi State (5-7)

Kickoff: 11 a.m. Dec. 26, Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.


Outlook: Hardly a pair of world-beaters, but both had fairly interesting paths to the Gulf Coast.


QB Perry Hills was named Maryland team MVP this season.

Quick Lane Bowl

Maryland (6-6) vs. Boston College (6-6)

Kickoff: 2:30 p.m. Dec. 26, Ford Field, Detroit


Outlook: First-year coach and former Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has his team in a bowl after winning three times last year.

Independence Bowl

N.C. State (6-6) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6)

Kickoff: 5 p.m. Dec. 26, Independence Stadium, Shreveport, La.


Outlook: These teams followed the upset path.

Heart of Dallas Bowl

Army (7-5) vs. North Texas (5-7)

Kickoff: Noon Dec. 27, Cotton Bowl, Dallas


Outlook: This might seem a bit familiar, and it should, considering North Texas beat Army, 35-18, on Oct. 22.

New Mexico Bowl

New Mexico (8-4) vs. UTSA (6-6)

Kickoff: 2 p.m. Saturday, University Stadium, Albuquerque, N.M.


Outlook: This game kicks off the bowl season and features the best rushing attack in the nation: New Mexico averages 361 yards and enters winning six of its last seven.