College football has 40 scheduled FBS Bowl Games this year, with a National Championship Game to follow them all. Additionally, starting last year, ESPN put together a “HBCU National Championship” called the Celebration Bowl, to be contested between the champions of the two HBCU conferences. It’s not an FBS Bowl, though, so it won’t be ranked here. A national championship game that doesn’t exist yet also can’t be ranked.
But if you’re wondering how to navigate the 2016-17 bowl season and which games are worth watching over others, here are all 40 FBS bowl games, ranked in order from the least likely to be enjoyable to the most. All times listed are Eastern. Mark your calendars accordingly.
40. St. Petersburg Bowl: Miami (Ohio) vs. Mississippi State – Dec. 26, 11 a.m. ESPN
Miami (Ohio) had an excellent turnaround this season, becoming the first team in FBS history to start 0-6 and improve to 6-6. Of course, the list of opponents it was done against is less than impressive (Eastern Michigan was the only opponent in those last six games with a winning record). ESPN specifically requested the bowl create this matchup with Mississippi State, a 5-7 SEC team who got a bowl bid based on APR scores. Many think that ESPN arranged this matchup to get an easy win for an SEC school. Miami is thoroughly outmatched in terms of talent and this matchup really makes no sense, especially for a post-Christmas bowl.
39. Arizona Bowl: South Alabama vs. Air Force – Dec. 30, 5:30 p.m. ASN/Campus Insiders
This year’s Arizona Bowl is a step up from last year’s, which was stuck with a conference matchup between Nevada and Colorado State. That’s not saying much, though. South Alabama, shocking upset of San Diego State aside, is one of the worst teams to make a bowl this year. Air Force has victories over Navy and Boise State, and only three losses — all close ones to bowl teams. Maybe the Jaguars’ defense can prepare perfectly and keep this game fun and interesting, but don’t get your hopes up.
38. Foster Farms Bowl: Utah vs. Indiana – Dec. 28, 8:30 p.m. FOX
The Big Ten’s four teams in New Year’s Six bowls puts the whole conference at a disadvantage in lower games, and this is the one where it shows the most. Utah is becoming a perennial Top 25 team, while Indiana barely squeaked into a bowl and just lost a head coach who was beloved by many players. Indiana had a knack of keeping every game (including those against elite teams and downright awful teams) close this season, and any bowl game can always be close, but it’s very unlikely that this one will be worth watching.
37. Miami Beach Bowl: Tulsa vs. Central Michigan – Dec. 19, 2:30 p.m. ESPN
We’re getting a team towards the top of the AAC matched against a team that finished fifth in the MAC West. Central Michigan started out strong, but really regressed over the course of the year. Then again, it was a lot of fun the last time the Chippewas played a team from Oklahoma.
36. Heart of Dallas Bowl: Army vs. North Texas – Dec. 27, 12:00 p.m. ESPN
It’s a regular-season rematch of a game that wasn’t enjoyable the first time around. There will be a lot to play for, as neither of these teams see bowl games very often, but it’s hard to get excited about watching this game.
35. Birmingham Bowl: South Florida vs. South Carolina – Dec. 29, 2 p.m. ESPN
It’s often fun to see good Group of 5 teams play Power 5 teams with worse records in bowl games, because that usually means a good overall matchup. That’s not the case here. South Carolina is not a very good team, while South Florida is deservedly in the Top 25. Deshaun Watson showed what a great dual-threat quarterback can do against the Gamecocks. Quinton Flowers isn’t quite Deshaun Watson, but he’s still a good dual-threat quarterback. This game could get ugly, fast.
34. Cactus Bowl: Boise State vs. Baylor – Dec. 27, 10:15 p.m. ESPN
This bowl game has the biggest discrepancy in regular-season record, with Boise State going a full four games better in regular-season play (10-2 as opposed to 6-6). Baylor is a program in turmoil and a team in free fall, with a nonexistent defense and a supposed-to-be potent offense that just isn’t. Boise State has plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. Maybe Baylor can use this month to prepare its offense, but it’s far more likely that Boise State is the more motivated team in this game.
33. Pinstripe Bowl: Pitt vs. Northwestern – Dec. 28, 2 p.m. ESPN
Like the Foster Farms Bowl, we get a 6-6 Big Ten team against a ranked opponent. Pitt is less consistent than Utah, so it’s not as bad a matchup as that game, but we usually expect something more compelling between two Power 5 teams that are supposed to be (theoretically) in the top half of their respective conferences.
32. New Orleans Bowl: Southern Miss vs. Louisiana-Lafayette – Dec. 17, 9 p.m. ESPN
Southern Miss is a team with talent that really played well last year, but regressed a bit in 2016. ULL has some momentum coming into this bowl season, earning its bowl bid by upsetting Arkansas State two weeks ago and blowing out rival ULM to close the season. The Ragin’ Cajuns are led by senior quarterback Anthony Jennings, who threw more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (11) this season. Ouch.
31. Cure Bowl: Arkansas State vs. UCF – Dec. 17, 5:30 p.m. CBS Sports Network
Arkansas State had high hopes coming into this season, but started the year by losing all four nonconference games, including to FCS Central Arkansas. UCF made a bowl by beating FIU and FCS South Carolina State in nonconference play, and winning conference games against the four worst teams in the AAC. There’s not much reason to particularly be interested in this matchup, but the teams are relatively even on paper, which is always a plus.
30. Hawai’i Bowl: Hawai’i vs. Middle Tennessee State – Dec. 24, 8 p.m. ESPN
The Warriors made a bowl at 6-7 because there weren’t enough regular bowl-eligible teams. Middle Tennessee had one of the more under-the-radar potent offenses in all of college football this year. Hawai’i always brings a little extra to games on the Islands, and this is its first bowl trip in six years. It could be fun, but it’s in the bottom third of bowl games.
29. Quick Lane Bowl: Maryland vs. Boston College – Dec. 26, 2 p.m. ESPN
This is, by far, the most boring matchup of evenly-rated P5 teams this bowl season. Maryland got to six wins in the Big Ten East, no simple feat, while Boston College struggled for most of the season, but found its own way to six wins. These two teams earned these bowl spots and their fans deserve a chance to enjoy it, but there’s nothing else to interest the average college football fan.
28. Liberty Bowl: Georgia vs. TCU – Dec. 30, 12 p.m. ESPN
This bowl game between two decently big-name teams does have actual potential, but it’s hard to hope it works out for fans. First-year coach Kirby Smart was, and still might be, expected to build Georgia into Alabama. That’s far from what happened in year one, though, as Georgia is coming off a deflating loss to rival Georgia Tech. TCU, meanwhile, had a season to forget, with a nonexistent defense and an often equally-nonexistent offense. Can Gary Patterson rally his team in the bowl game?
27. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Idaho vs. Colorado State – Dec. 22, 7 p.m. ESPN
This is actually a pretty decent matchup, and it’s always fun to watch games on the blue turf. Idaho posted a shocking record of 8-4 this year, while Colorado State closed its regular season by thrashing San Diego State. Who doesn’t love watching offenses put up tons of points in Boise?
26. Bahamas Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. Old Dominion – Dec. 23, 1 p.m. ESPN
On paper, many expect this to be a blowout. Old Dominion went 9-3 in Conference-USA while Eastern Michigan is turning around a program that hasn’t been to a bowl in almost three decades and is a perennial MAC doormat. If you look closely, though, you’ll see that Old Dominion has only beaten two teams with a pulse (UTSA and Southern Miss), and neither of those pulses are very strong. This could be a good game, and Chris Creighton might be a rising coaching star.
25. New Mexico Bowl: Texas-San Antonio vs. New Mexico – Dec. 17, 2 p.m. ESPN
This is New Mexico’s second straight year opening bowl season, and last year’s game was a pretty good one. The Lobos were outmatched against Arizona, but still made the game close and worth watching. This year, New Mexico will be the more talented team, and Bob Davie’s turnaround of the program will be complete with its first bowl win in almost a decade.
24. Poinsettia Bowl: BYU vs. Wyoming – Dec. 21, 9 p.m. ESPN
These are two talented teams and this should be a good bowl game. BYU’s season was disappointing, to say the least, just a few plays away from being in the Playoff conversation. The Cougars lost four games by a total of eight points, three of them coming to teams ranked in (or just outside of) the Top 25 at the end of the regular season. That loss to UCLA is a head-scratcher, though. Wyoming is making an incredible transition under Craig Bohl, but couldn’t quite pull out the win in the Mountain West conference championship. Still, this is a tremendous reward for a breakthrough season.
23. Independence Bowl: N.C. State vs. Vanderbilt – Dec. 26, 5 p.m. ESPN2
Each of these teams earned bowl eligibility by upsetting a rival to end the regular season. These will be two motivated teams coming in on a high note, and Vanderbilt’s unique offensive style is always fun to watch, and has actually been very successful this year. Both these teams might be 6-6, but emotions will be high and this should be a good game.
22. Armed Forces Bowl: Navy vs. Louisiana Tech – Dec. 23, 4:30 p.m. ESPN
Both of these teams are coming off CCG losses, but both are talented and have potent offenses. Navy will be missing two of its best offensive starters for this game, but the Midshipmen still have a talented offense and Louisiana Tech doesn’t have much defense to speak of. Regardless of what the line is in this game, bet the over and enjoy watching these offenses rack up points.
21. Dollar General Bowl: Ohio vs. Troy – Dec. 23, 8 p.m. ESPN
With Western Michigan off in the Cotton Bowl, Ohio gets this bowl usually reserved for the conference champion. Troy limps into bowl season having lost two out of its last three after a seven-game winning streak earlier in the season. Last year, Ohio’s bowl game against a Sun Belt team was one of the most exciting of bowl season. Do the Bobcats have a repeat performance in store for us this year against Troy?
20. Military Bowl: Temple vs. Wake Forest – Dec. 27, 3:30 p.m. ESPN
Another Go5 vs P5 game in which the Group of 5 team has a far superior record. Temple is peaking at the right time and brings a stingy defense into this game. Wake Forest has a lot of talent and was really the first team to show the blueprint of how to beat Louisville. This should be a good game and a fun defensive battle to watch.
19. Holiday Bowl: Minnesota vs. Washington State – Dec. 27, 7 p.m. ESPN
We’re smack in the middle of the rankings, which means we’re getting to the games that will probably be good ones, but there isn’t any particular reason that makes them compelling. Minnesota and Washington State are both solid teams, and it’s always fun to watch Luke Falk throw the football in every direction imaginable. Of course, there’s also the possibility that Minnesota’s defense doesn’t have the speed to slow down the Cougars. Still, it’s hard to get really excited about this game.
18. Camellia Bowl: Toledo vs. Appalachian State – Dec. 17, 5:30 p.m. ESPN
Last year’s Camellia Bowl saw Appalachian State win its first-ever bowl game with a great comeback over Ohio. This year sees that same squad face off against another talented MAC opponent. It’s a battle for double-digit wins between two good programs from the worst conferences in FBS. What’s not to love about this game?
17. Texas Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Kansas State – Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ESPN
This bowl might have job implications for Kevin Sumlin, and it’s between two teams that finished in the top half of their respective conferences, but it’s hard to really look forward to it. Kansas State has been boringly consistent all season and Texas A&M fell as flat as humanly possible once November hit. This game should be entertaining and close, but might not be remembered once bowl season is done.
16. Boca Raton Bowl: Memphis vs. Western Kentucky – Dec. 20, 7 p.m. ESPN
These are two talented Group of 5 teams that match up well against each other. Western Kentucky has one of the best offenses in the country while Memphis has a strong offense and underrated defense. This is a game worth looking forward to.
15. Russell Athletic Bowl: Miami (Florida) vs. West Virginia – Dec. 28, 5:30 p.m. ESPN
West Virginia might be the country’s most under-appreciated team this year. The Mountaineers went 10-0 against schools not from the state of Oklahoma, and the defense looked really good for most of the season. Holding a close win over BYU against them is probably unfair. The Hurricanes are trying to finish off a solid first season under new coach Mark Richt. It’s not the elite start that some were wishfully thinking about a few months ago, but 8-4 with a shot at a national ranking and a bowl win is nothing to scoff at for a coach’s first year.
14. Belk Bowl: Arkansas vs. Virginia Tech – Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. ESPN
Arkansas was really not that good this year, and still living off a reputation earned by beating a clearly overrated TCU squad back in November. Virginia Tech has been up-and-down all year, but Justin Fuente has had the team in “up” mode for all of the big games. This team was 16 yards away from possibly knocking off Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. If the team brings it’s A game, it will beat Arkansas easily. If it doesn’t, this could be a great game.
13. Sun Bowl: Stanford vs. North Carolina – Dec. 30, 2 p.m. CBS
Stanford definitely improved as the season went on, but it’s hard to forget the Cardinal’s lopsided losses to Washington and Washington State. North Carolina didn’t finish strong, but it’s also impossible to forget the Tar Heels’ upset of Florida State. This game could go either way, is a contrast of offensive philosophies, and should be fun to watch. What will Christian McCaffrey do in possibly his final game at Stanford?
12. Music City Bowl: Nebraska vs. Tennessee – Dec. 30, 3:30 p.m. ESPN
Here’s a bit of betting advice on this game. Stay away from it. Far. Don’t poke it with a 10-yard stick. These two teams are talented, but both closed the season horribly. If both teams bring their full focus and potential to this game, it could be one of the bowl season’s best. If just one does, we’ll see a blowout of incredible proportions. And if neither does, we’ll see an incredibly fun, but ugly game of football.
11. Citrus Bowl: Louisville vs. LSU – Dec. 31, 11 a.m. ABC
This all really depends on if the Louisville offensive line, nonexistent in the last two weeks of the season, shows up. If Lamar Jackson has time to scramble, this game could be great. LSU will score a few points, but not too many, methodically moving the ball. LSU’s defense will get some stops, no matter what. If Jackson can really go off, he may make this game a ton of fun. If he’s stuck behind a nonfunctioning offensive line, we won’t see much excitement from the Louisville offense.