Commentary

Ranking the bowls from 1 to 35

Originally Published: December 7, 2010
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

The BCS bowl matchups were announced Sunday night. Bowl season begins in only 12 days, when three games kick off the schedule.

What can we expect between now and the Jan. 10 Tostitos BCS National Championship Game?

Here's a list of the best bowl games to watch from No. 1 to No. 35:

[+] EnlargeCameron Newton
AP Photo/Butch DillIt could be a classic BCS Championship Game when Cam Newton and Auburn take on Oregon.
1. Tostitos BCS National Championship Game
No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 1 Auburn
8:30 p.m. ET, Jan. 10

All the ingredients for a classic are there: No. 1 vs. No. 2, East Coast vs. West Coast, and potential Heisman Trophy winner (Cam Newton) vs. potential Heisman runner-up (LaMichael James). It doesn't get any better than the game that will decide the BCS national championship.

2. Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO
No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 3 TCU
5 p.m. ET, Jan. 1

TCU, the country's other undefeated team, takes on what might be the sport's hottest team. The Horned Frogs' No. 3 run defense (89 yards per game) will try to contain Wisconsin's three-headed monster in the backfield.

3. Allstate Sugar Bowl
No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 8 Arkansas
8:30 p.m. ET, Jan. 4

It's a great quarterback matchup, with Arkansas' Ryan Mallett taking on Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor. The Buckeyes will try to end a nine-game losing streak against SEC teams in bowl games.

4. Discover Orange Bowl
No. 4 Stanford vs. No. 13 Virginia Tech
8:30 p.m. ET, Jan. 3

The Hokies won their past 11 games after opening the season with consecutive losses against Boise State and FCS foe James Madison. Stanford's only loss came at No. 2 Oregon. Quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Tyrod Taylor both put up Heisman-like performances this season.

5. Capital One Bowl
No. 16 Alabama vs. No. 9 Michigan State
1 p.m. ET, Jan. 1

Michigan State shared the Big Ten championship with Ohio State and Wisconsin, but was left out of a BCS bowl game. Its reward: a date with defending BCS national champion Alabama and former Spartans coach Nick Saban.

6. AT&T Cotton Bowl
No. 10 LSU vs. No. 17 Texas A&M
8 p.m. ET, Jan. 7

Tigers coach Les Miles won't like the taste of the Cotton's Bowl turf if LSU can't slow down Aggies running back Cyrus Gray and quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Texas A&M went 3-3 in its first six games, but won its last six games.

7. MAACO Las Vegas Bowl
No. 19 Utah vs. No. 11 Boise State
8 p.m. ET, Dec. 22

Two of the sport's best teams from non-BCS conferences square off in Las Vegas. Boise State was headed to a BCS bowl game until it was stunned at Nevada 34-31 in overtime Nov. 26. The Utes won their first eight games before losing consecutive games to TCU and Notre Dame in November.

8. Valero Alamo Bowl
No. 14 Oklahoma State vs. Arizona
9:15 p.m. ET, Dec. 29

The Cowboys couldn't beat Oklahoma's Bob Stoops to win the Big 12 South title, but now they get a chance to defeat his brother, Arizona coach Mike Stoops. The Wildcats lost their past four games, but quarterback Nick Foles might be good enough to keep up with the Pokes' high-octane offense.

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Tim Heitman/US PresswireWill Landry Jones change Oklahoma's fortunes in recent BCS bowl games?
9. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
Connecticut vs. No. 7 Oklahoma
8:30 p.m. ET, Jan. 1

The Huskies won the Big East with an 8-4 record and finished with a five-game winning streak. Oklahoma has been a heavy favorite in the Fiesta Bowl before, and it didn't turn out well. The Sooners will try to end a five-game losing streak in BCS bowl games, which includes three BCS national championship games and two Fiesta Bowls.

10. Hyundai Sun Bowl
Notre Dame vs. Miami
2 p.m. ET, Dec. 31

It won't quite be Catholics versus Convicts, but the Sun Bowl features one of the sport's greatest rivalries. Notre Dame finished the season with a flurry under first-year coach Brian Kelly, beating Utah, Army and Southern California to become bowl-eligible. The Hurricanes lost their last two games and coach Randy Shannon was fired.

11. Insight Bowl
No. 12 Missouri vs. Iowa
10 p.m. ET, Dec. 28

The Tigers and Hawkeyes have been two of the sport's most consistent teams over the past five seasons, but Iowa comes in riding a three-game losing streak. It's a good border rivalry between schools that couldn't reach an agreement to play each other.

12. Chick-fil-A Bowl
No. 20 South Carolina vs. No. 23 Florida State
7:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 31

Both the Gamecocks and Seminoles lost badly in their respective conference championship games, but it's always fun when South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier gets a chance to coach against FSU. Seminoles quarterback Christian Ponder should be ready to play in the bowl game, which might turn into a high-scoring shootout.

13. Outback Bowl
Florida vs. Penn State
1 p.m. ET, Jan. 1

Both teams limp into the Outback Bowl with late-season slides, but it's still a matchup of big-name schools and big-name coaches. Does anyone else believe Penn State's Joe Paterno might coach longer than Florida's Urban Meyer?

14. Gator Bowl
No. 21 Mississippi State vs. Michigan
1:30 p.m. ET, Jan. 1

The Bulldogs finished 8-4, and each of their losses came against ranked teams. Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez could really use a bowl victory to improve his job security.

15. Champs Sports Bowl
No. 22 West Virginia vs. North Carolina State
6:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 28

The game features two teams that narrowly missed out on a chance to win their respective conferences. West Virginia was the Big East's highest-ranked team and won its last four games by an average of 20 points. NC State was headed to the ACC championship game until it lost at Maryland 38-31 in its regular-season finale.

16. Sheraton Hawaii Bowl
No. 24 Hawaii vs. Tulsa
8 p.m. ET, Dec. 24

Expect a shootout on the island. The Warriors lead the country in passing with 387.8 yards per game and have won nine of their past 10 games. Tulsa won its past six games and averages 39.7 points per game.

[+] EnlargeParker
Joshua S. Kelly/US PresswireClemson's Kyle Parker is expected to start in the Meineke Bowl later this month.
17. Meineke Car Care Bowl
South Florida vs. Clemson
Noon ET, Dec. 31

It might be a defensive struggle between a team that overachieved (South Florida) and a team that underachieved (Clemson). The game will be much better if quarterbacks Kyle Parker of Clemson and B.J. Daniels of South Florida are healthy.

18. AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl
Air Force vs. Georgia Tech
5 p.m. ET, Dec. 27

Don't flip the channel during this game, or you might miss an entire quarter. Georgia Tech led the country in rushing with 327 yards per game; Air Force was No. 2 with 317.9 yards. The teams combined to throw only 299 passes in 2010.

19. Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl
No. 18 Nebraska vs. Washington
10 p.m. ET, Dec. 30

It's a rare bowl rematch from the regular season, and the Cornhuskers routed the Huskies 56-21 in Seattle on Sept. 18. Washington quarterback Jake Locker will try to rebound from the worst outing of his career; he completed only 4 of 20 passes with two interceptions against Nebraska's Blackshirt defense.

20. AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Georgia vs. No. 25 UCF
3:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 31

The Bulldogs face a familiar foe in Central Florida coach George O'Leary, who had a 3-4 record against them as Georgia Tech's coach from 1995 to 2001. The game features two of the country's best freshman quarterbacks -- Central Florida's Jeff Godfrey and Georgia's Aaron Murray, who rank Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in pass efficiency among freshmen.

21. New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Kansas State vs. Syracuse
3:20 p.m. ET, Dec. 30

Syracuse coach Doug Marrone engineered one of the sport's best turnarounds this season, leading the Orange to a 7-5 record. Kansas State's Bill Snyder produced one of college football's greatest turnarounds in history when he built the Wildcats into Big 12 contenders.

22. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
North Carolina vs. Tennessee
6:40 p.m. ET, Dec. 30

Few coaches got more out of their teams this season than North Carolina's Butch Davis and Tennessee's Derek Dooley. The Tar Heels lost a slew of starters to suspensions and other off-field problems, and Dooley guided the Volunteers to an improbable 6-6 record after starting 2-6.

23. Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
No. 15 Nevada vs. Boston College
9 p.m. ET, Jan. 9

Led by linebacker Mark Herzlich, the Eagles lead the country in run defense, allowing only 80.2 yards per game. The Wolfpack's two-headed monster of tailback Vai Taua and quarterback Colin Kaepernick will provide a stiff test. Taua ranks No. 6 nationally in rushing with 127.8 yards per game; Kaepernick is No. 9 in total offense with 308.8 yards.

24. San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
Navy vs. San Diego State
8 p.m. ET, Dec. 23

San Diego has become the Midshipmen's second home, but it really is the Aztecs' home. San Diego State fans are giddy after the Aztecs qualified for a bowl game for the first time since 1998 and locked up coach Brady Hoke to a new contract.

25. Texas Bowl
Illinois vs. Baylor
6 p.m. ET, Dec. 29

Both teams struggled down the stretch, but both have potentially potent offenses. The Bears are led by quarterback Robert Griffin III and are playing in their first bowl game since 1995. The Illini are led by running back Mikel Leshoure, who ranks No. 8 nationally with 126.1 yards per game.

26. TicketCity Bowl
Northwestern vs. Texas Tech
Noon ET, Jan. 1

The Red Raiders like to play two quarterbacks -- Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield -- and the Wildcats aren't sure they have even one. Northwestern struggled in its past two games after losing star quarterback Dan Persa to a season-ending Achilles tendon injury.

27. Beef 'O' Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl
Southern Miss vs. Louisville
8 p.m. ET, Dec. 21

Charlie Strong did a remarkable job leading Louisville to a 6-6 record in his first season. He built the Cardinals around defense, which they'll need in trying to slow down Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis, who threw eight touchdowns in his last three games.

[+] EnlargeDanny O'Brien
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireDanny O'Brien could feast on ECU's defense after throwing 15 TDs in the final six games.
28. Military Bowl Presented By Northrop Grumman
East Carolina vs. Maryland
2:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 29

The Terrapins deserved a better bowl destination after finishing 8-4. Terps quarterback Danny O'Brien might have a big day against an ECU defense that allowed 54.8 points per game in its final five contests. O'Brien threw 15 touchdowns in his past six games.

29. uDrove Humanitarian Bowl
Northern Illinois vs. Fresno State
5:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 18

It will be interesting to see how the Huskies react without Jerry Kill coaching on the sideline. Kill won't coach in the bowl game after being named Minnesota's new coach Sunday.

30. BBVA Compass Bowl
Pittsburgh vs. Kentucky
Noon ET, Jan. 8

Both teams struggled at the end of the season, but it might be your last chance to watch receivers Randall Cobb of Kentucky and Jon Baldwin of Pittsburgh play in a college game.

31. Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Army vs. SMU
Noon ET, Dec. 30

The game features two more coaches who have led remarkable turnarounds. Army's Rich Ellerson has led the Black Knights to a 6-5 record going into Saturday's game against Navy, after they won more than three games only five times in the past 14 seasons. June Jones has guided the Mustangs to consecutive bowl games for the first time since 1983-84.

32. New Mexico Bowl
BYU vs. UTEP
2 p.m. ET, Dec. 18

It was an uncharacteristic season for BYU, which finished 6-6 after starting 1-4. Freshman quarterback Jake Heaps played well down the stretch, when the Cougars won four of their last five games. UTEP, which is also 6-6, is playing its first bowl game since 2005.

33. Little Caesars Bowl
Florida International vs. Toledo
8:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 26

FIU won its first conference championship and is playing in its first bowl game. The Rockets are playing in their first bowl game since 2005 and defeated the Panthers 41-31 in Miami last season.

34. GoDaddy.com Bowl
Middle Tennessee vs. Miami (Ohio)
8 p.m. ET, Jan. 6

Former Notre Dame assistant Michael Haywood might have done the best coaching job in the country this season, leading the RedHawks from a 1-11 record in 2009 to 9-4 this season. They won the MAC championship by upsetting Northern Illinois 26-21 on Friday.

35. R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Ohio vs. Troy
8 p.m. ET, Dec. 18

It might actually be an entertaining game with Troy's spread offense going up against Ohio coach Frank Solich's defense. The Bobcats have never won a bowl game; the Trojans have won in the postseason only once.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

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