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Home | Sports | College / NCAA |

2012 College football bowl season: Ranking the games from worst to first

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Mike Huguenin is the epitome of a Gamedayr. He has spent over 28 years in sports journalism, with notable stints at Yahoo! Sports/, NY Times, The Sporting News, and Orlando Sentinel.  On Gamedayr, Mike provides expert analysis on Heisman updates, weekly game news, bowl projections and college basketball.


The bowl matchups were finalized Sunday night, and after about 15 hours of trying to digest them (seriously, has there ever been a worse slate of postseason games?), here’s a ranking – working from No. 35 on down – of the contests.

There were 72 bowl-eligible teams, not counting the ones who had postseason bans. The two who missed out on the festivities were a Middle Tennessee State team that finished 8-4 and tied for second in the Sun Belt and a Louisiana Tech team that was being mentioned as a potential BCS-buster but faded to finish 9-3 and in third place in the WAC. Tech evidently was offered a bid to the Independence Bowl but, thinking it had a shot at a “better” game, asked for more time. Bowl organizers said no and the Bulldogs will be home for the holidays.

[2012 BCS Settle It: Vote on which BCS Bowl game you are most excited to watch]

35. Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
Site: Detroit
Date: Dec. 26
Time/TV: 7:30 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Central Michigan (6-6) vs. Western Kentucky (7-5)
Comment: The title sponsor could give away free pizza for life and the stands still would be less than half full. (Is that a slap at the game or the title sponsor? Your call.)

34. Armed Forces Bowl
Site: Fort Worth, Texas
Date: Dec. 29
Time/TV: 11:45 a.m., ESPN
The matchup: Air Force (6-6) vs. Rice (6-6)
Comment: Rice played the fourth-easiest schedule in the nation and still went 6-6. The power of TV: This will kick off at 10:45 a.m. local time, which is ridiculous.

33. Independence Bowl
Site: Shreveport, La.
Date: Dec. 28
Time/TV: 2 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Louisiana-Monroe (7-5) vs. Ohio (8-4)
Comment: Ohio comes in having lost three in a row and four of five. Yeah, the Bobcats will be psyched to head to Shreveport.

32. Liberty Bowl
Site: Memphis
Date: Dec. 31
Time/TV: 3:30 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Iowa State (6-6) vs. Tulsa (10-3)
Comment: These teams met in the season opener, and Iowa State won by 15. Why the rematch?

Danny Hope led Purdue to a bowl game, but he still was fired. (Sandra Dukes-US PRESSWIRE)

31. Heart of Dallas Bowl
Site: Dallas
Date: Jan. 1
Time/TV: Noon, ESPNU
The matchup: Oklahoma State (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6)
Comment:Purdue administrators were so happy with the season that they fired coach Danny Hope. In Oklahoma State’s five losses, it allowed an average of 47.2 points per game.

30. BBVA Compass Bowl
Site: Birmingham, Ala.
Date: Jan. 5
Time/TV: 1 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Ole Miss (6-6) vs. Pitt (6-6)
Comment: What has Pitt done to anger the football gods? This is the Panthers’ third consecutive visit to this bowl. (And with the third different coach. Evidently, the football gods like Birmingham.)

29. Hawaii Bowl
Site: Honolulu
Date: Dec. 24
Time/TV: 8 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Fresno State (9-3) vs. SMU (6-6)
Comment: SMU coach June Jones returns to the islands, and Fresno quietly put together a solid season in its first year in the Mountain West. Seriously, though, if you carve out the time on Christmas Eve to watch this … well, let’s just say Santa will be justified in bypassing your house.

28. Belk Bowl
Site: Charlotte, N.C.
Date: Dec. 27
Time/TV: 6:30 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Duke (6-6)
Comment: Aside from the novelty factor – Duke is in a bowl game!! – who cares? Duke, by the way, comes in having lost four in a row and five of six. Cincy’s three losses came by a combined 16 points. But the Bearcats also beat just one team with a winning record.

27. Texas Bowl
Site: Houston
Date: Dec. 28
Time/TV: 9 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Minnesota (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
Comment: Minnesota finished 2-6 in the Big Ten – and remember the Big Ten was as down as it has been in some time. Texas Tech, meanwhile, has lost four of its past five.

26. Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Site: San Francisco
Date: Dec. 29
Time/TV: 4 p.m., ESPN2
The matchup: Arizona State (7-5) vs. Navy (7-4 with a regular-season game left vs. Army)
Comment: Arizona State has a shaky run defense, which means the Sun Devils could have issues with Navy’s triple-option attack. As far as we can tell, ASU coach Todd Graham is the first coach ever to take three different teams to bowls in three consecutive seasons (Tulsa in 2010, Pitt in 2011 and ASU this season).

25. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
Site: Tempe, Ariz.
Date: Dec. 29
Time/TV: 10:15 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Michigan State (6-6) vs. TCU (7-5)
Comment: Michigan State was one of the nation’s biggest disappointments. TCU started 4-0 before injuries took their toll.

24. Russell Athletic Bowl
Site: Orlando
Date: Dec. 28
Time/TV: 5:30 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Rutgers (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6)
Comment: This is the worst Hokies team in a long time. But how good, really, is Rutgers?

23. New Orleans Bowl
Site: New Orleans
Date: Dec. 22
Time/TV: Noon, ESPN
The matchup: East Carolina (8-4) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4)
Comment: ULL made its first-ever postseason appearance last season, winning in this bowl on a last-play field goal. Bowl organizers wouldn’t mind this coming down to a last-play kick again. ECU started 3-3 before finding its groove.

[Related >> East Carolina is headed to the Big East]

Rich Rodriguez has led Arizona to a bowl game in his first season as coach. (Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE)

22. New Mexico Bowl
Site: Albuquerque
Date: Dec. 15
Time/TV: 1 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Arizona (7-5) vs. Nevada (7-5)
Comment:Two of the more innovative offensive coaches in the nation (Nevada’s Chris Ault and Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez) get together. This one gets a few bonus points for being the first bowl of the season.

21. Poinsettia Bowl
Site: San Diego
Date: Dec. 20
Time/TV: 8 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: BYU (7-5) at San Diego State State (9-3)
Comment: These are former long-time conference rivals in the WAC and Mountain West, which adds a bit of intrigue. This is SDSU’s school-record third consecutive bowl appearance.

20. Sun Bowl
Site: El Paso, Texas
Date: Dec. 31
Time/TV: 2 p.m., CBS
The matchup: Georgia Tech (6-7) vs. USC (7-5)
Comment: This ranks this high because of the train-wreck aspect. Tech had to get an NCAA waiver to go bowling because it has a losing record. USC, meanwhile, was the nation’s biggest disappointment, and will the Trojans even care? This is the final college game for USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, and you have to feel for the guy: His last game – with a defense that is made up of shoddy tacklers – comes against a team that runs the triple-option.

19. Music City Bowl
Site: Nashville
Date: Dec. 31
Time/TV: Noon, ESPN
The matchup: NC State (7-5) vs. Vanderbilt (8-4)
Comment: Vandy is in uncharted waters – the Commodores are making a school-record second consecutive bowl appearance. Too bad for them they’re playing about five miles from campus. NCSU fired coach Tom O’Brien after the regular season ended.

18. Pinstripe Bowl
Site: New York
Date: Dec. 29
Time/TV: 3:15 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Syracuse (7-5) vs. West Virginia (7-5)
Comment: This should be a shootout, with Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib and WVU QB Geno Smith possessing the ability to put up huge passing numbers. And the potential for a nice-sized crowd exists for this matchup of former Big East rivals.

17. Military Bowl
Site: Washington, D.C.
Date: Dec. 27
Time/TV: 3 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Bowling Green (8-4) vs. San Jose State (10-2)
Comment: This is the best season, record-wise, in San Jose State history. Bowling Green is seventh nationally in total defense. Both lost to a team in a BCS bowl in its season-opener: San Jose State by three at Stanford and BG by 13 at Florida.

16. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl
Site: St. Petersburg, Fla.
Date: Dec. 21
Time/TV: 7:30 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Ball State (9-3) vs. UCF (9-4)
Comment: This was the consolation prize for UCF losing the Conference USA title game. Thing is, this is a better contest than the bowl for the C-USA champ (Tulsa, in the Liberty).

15. Las Vegas Bowl
Site: Las Vegas
Date: Dec. 22
Time/TV: 3:30 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Boise State (10-2) vs. Washington (7-5)
Comment: The last Pac-12 team to beat Boise State? It was Washington, in 2007.

14. Bowl
Site: Mobile, Ala.
Date: Jan. 6
Time/TV: 9 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Arkansas State (9-3) vs. Kent State (11-2)
Comment: This is a good MAC-Sun Belt matchup, with the Sun Belt champ (Arkansas State) taking on the MAC runner-up. Each team has scored at least 40 points five times and at least 30 points 10 times.

13. Orange Bowl
Site: Miami
Date: Jan. 1
Time/TV: 8:30 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Florida State (11-2) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1)
Comment: NIU becomes the first MAC team to make it into the BCS. A strong bet: This will garner the lowest ratings for any BCS game in history.

[Right now, tickets to the Orange Bowl are cheaper than a Subway footlong sub]

12. Gator Bowl
Site: Jacksonville
Date: Jan. 1
Time/TV: Noon, ESPN2
The matchup: Mississippi State (8-4) vs. Northwestern (9-3)
Comment: Northwestern beat two teams with winning records, and those wins came in Games 1 and 2 (over Syracuse and Vanderbilt). Still, that’s better than Mississippi State, which has one win (against Middle Tennessee State) over a FBS team with a winning record.

Charlie Strong will be going against his former employer when Louisville meets Florida in the Sugar Bowl. (Jamie Rhodes-US PRESSWIRE)

11. Sugar Bowl
Site: New Orleans
Date: Jan. 2
Time/TV: 8:30 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Florida (11-1) vs. Louisville (10-2)
Comment:Charlie Strong is in his third season as Louisville’s coach; before that, he had spent eight consecutive seasons as a Florida assistant, so he recruited some current Gators players. Florida beat four teams in the final BCS top 12; Louisville beat three teams with a winning record (by a combined 11 points).

10. Capital One Bowl
Site: Orlando
Date: Jan. 1
Time/TV: 1 p.m., ABC
The matchup: Nebraska (10-3) vs. Georgia (11-2)
Comment: Big-name schools but does that matter? How motivated will the Bulldogs be after their narrow loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game? As for the Huskers, they are making their second consecutive postseason trip to Orlando and this one comes on the heels of a highly embarrassing performance in the Big Ten title game.

[In-depth look at Wisconsin's thumping of Nebraska to earn its Rose Bowl berth]

9. Rose Bowl
Site: Pasadena, Calif.
Date: Jan. 1
Time/TV: 5 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5)
Comment: Wisconsin is the first five-loss team in Rose Bowl history, and it also is the first Big Ten team to make three consecutive trips to the game since Michigan from 1976-78. Stanford hasn’t been in the Rose Bowl since the 1999 season (a loss to Wisconsin) and hasn’t had a Rose Bowl victory since the 1971 season.

8. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Site: Boise, Idaho
Date: Dec. 15
Time/TV: 4:30 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Toledo (9-3) vs. Utah State (10-2)
Comment: Utah State quietly put together an excellent season; the Aggies’ two losses came by a combined five points (two to Wisconsin, three to BYU). Toledo lost three times by a TD: in OT at Arizona, to Ball State and to Northern Illinois. This has the potential to be a high-scoring affair, and games of that ilk generally are a heck of a lot of fun to watch.

7. Outback Bowl
Site: Tampa
Date: Jan. 1
Time/TV: 1 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (10-2)
Comment: This will be the final game for Michigan QB Denard Robinson and it will come in his home state. Questions remain about the Wolverines: They won once against a team with a winning record (in OT over Northwestern). South Carolina averages 31 points per game, but in their two losses (to Florida and LSU), the Gamecocks managed just 32 total.

6. Holiday Bowl
Site: San Diego
Date: Dec. 27
Time/TV: 9:45 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Baylor (7-5) vs. UCLA (9-4)
Comment: Baylor is a fun team to watch because it has both an explosive offense (No. 1 in the nation) and a horrendous defense (123rd of 124 teams). UCLA is strong offensively and mediocre defensively, so a shootout should ensue.

5. Alamo Bowl
Site: San Antonio
Date: Dec. 29
Time/TV: 6:45 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Texas (8-4) vs. Oregon State (9-3)
Comment: This basically is a home game for Texas, which has lost 16 times in the past three seasons. Expect a lot of “What is the deal with Longhorns under Mack Brown?” talk before the game, and there will be a cacophony of “Brown must go!” talk if the Longhorns were to lose to Oregon State, which was one of the nation’s biggest surprises this season.

4. Cotton Bowl
Site: Arlington, Texas
Date: Jan. 4
Time/TV: 8 p.m., Fox
The matchup: Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2)
Comment: Former Big 12 rivals meet on the big stage in Big D. A&M likely will be sporting the Heisman winner. You don’t think recruits in the state of Texas will be keeping a close eye on this one? This is the only Big 12-SEC matchup of the postseason.

[Check out Part I of former Aggies QB David 'Moon' Walker's review of A&M's season]

Dabo Swinney’s Clemson team has a tough task in its bowl matchup. (Mark Dolejs-US PRESSWIRE)

3. Chick-fil-A Bowl
Site: Atlanta
Date: Dec. 31
Time/TV: 7:30 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Clemson (10-2) vs. LSU (10-2)
Comment:Clemson opened the season by beating a team from the SEC nicknamed the Tigers in Atlanta; can they end the season the same way? Thing is, the Tigers Clemson is playing this time ain’t the version they saw in the opener (Auburn). This also is an, uh, interesting coaching matchup in that neither Clemson’s Dabo Swinney nor LSU’s Les Miles get (nor deserve) much acclaim for their X’s and O’s acumen. In short, there will be times when some big-time players will be running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

2. Fiesta Bowl
Site: Glendale, Ariz.
Date: Jan. 3
Time/TV: 8:30 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Kansas State (11-1) vs. Oregon (11-1)
Comment: These teams lost on the same Saturday (Nov. 17) to fall out of the national title hunt. It will be interesting to see how K-State’s Bill Snyder, definitely an old-school coach, and his staff handle Oregon’s high-tech offense.

1. National championship game
Site: Miami
Date: Jan. 7
Time/TV: 8 p.m., ESPN
The matchup: Alabama (12-1) vs. Notre Dame (12-0)
Comment: Perhaps the two strongest “brands” in college football meet with the national title on the line. Expect a good game and monster TV ratings.

What do you think about the Rankings, Gamedayr Nation? Which game are you most excited to see? Let us know in the comments below!

Settle It! Which team is going to win the BCS National Championship game, Alabama or Notre Dame?

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