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Ranking the 2017 bowl games 1-39: Alabama-Clemson III tops the list

Bowl season is upon us.

Before we get to the 39 matchups that will make the holiday season an even more entertaining one, let’s take a moment to remember Buffalo, Texas-San Antonio and Western Michigan. All three were bowl eligible but didn’t get to go to bowl games because there weren’t enough bowls.

Yes, that means there are no 5-7 teams in bowl games this season. Hallelujah. And there really aren’t any clunkers in the bowl lineup either. Without further ado, here’s our power ranking of this year’s bowl schedule. Spoiler alert: A familiar matchup is at No. 1.

[For a list of TV times, click here]

1. Allstate Sugar Bowl: Clemson (12-1) vs. Alabama (11-1) – Monday, Jan. 1 (New Orleans)  [College Football Playoff semifinal]

Did you expect any other game to be No. 1? Our third-straight playoff game between Clemson and Alabama may not be coming in the most expected circumstances, but it’s just as intriguing as the first matchup between the two in January of 2016. And it may decide what program has been the best in the four years of the playoff.

Alabama’s defense has been decimated by injuries over the course of the season but has a month to get healthy and figure out a way to stop a balanced Clemson attack that’s just as dynamic as it was a year ago with quarterback Kelly Bryant at the helm.

Clemson’s defensive line is the best in the country and has terrorized opposing offenses similar to Alabama’s units of the past few years. What wrinkles will Alabama offensive coordinator Brian Daboll devise to counter Clemson’s speed and power up front? We can’t wait for this rubber match.

2. Rose Bowl: Oklahoma (12-1) vs. Georgia (12-1) – Monday, Jan. 1 (Pasadena, Calif.) [College Football Playoff semifinal]

It’s strength vs. strength. The Sooners have the best offense in the country and average over nine yards a play on first down. That’s insane. Georgia’s defense is No. 4 in the country and allows less than 4.5 yards per play.

With an offense predicated on a power run game, Georgia can’t afford to let presumptive Heisman winner Baker Mayfield and the Sooners get a big lead. While freshman quarterback Jake Fromm has been efficient, it may be asking a bit much for him to carry an offense in a semifinal. The game is also a chance for Oklahoma’s defense to establish itself as more than just a complement to a high-powered offense.

Southern California quarterback Sam Darnold (14) prepares to throw a pass against Stanford during the second half of the Pac-12 Conference championship NCAA college football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

3. Goodyear Cotton Bowl: USC (11-2) vs. Ohio State (11-2) – Friday, Dec. 29 (Arlington, Texas)

Let’s call it the Yellow Rose of Texas bowl. With the Rose bowl spoken for as a College Football Playoff semifinal and Ohio State participating in the Fiesta Bowl in each of the past two seasons, the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions will meet in the Cotton Bowl.

Both teams boast offenses capable of scoring touchdowns from anywhere on the field and defenses that can give up big plays too. It’s the final game in the long career of Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett and possibly the final game of USC QB Sam Darnold’s college career. With a great game against the Buckeyes, the draft chatter around Darnold will intensify.

4. PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: Penn State (10-2) vs. Washington (10-2) – Saturday, Dec. 30 (Glendale, Ariz.)

Washington’s defensive line is one of the nastiest in the country. Watching Penn State RB Saquon Barkley search for seams will be fascinating. We’re also interested to see how Penn State attacks Washington without offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, now the head coach at Mississippi State.

Penn State’s passing defense has allowed 10 yards a completion in 2017 while Washington quarterback Jake Browning has continued to be one of the country’s most efficient passers.

5. Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl: Auburn (10-3) vs. Central Florida (12-0) – Monday, Jan. 1 (Atlanta)

This is a great test of UCF’s claim to legitimacy in 2017. The Knights are college football’s only unbeaten team and take on an Auburn that beat both Georgia and Alabama when they were at No. 1.

But both of those Auburn wins came when the Tigers were at home. Saturday, the Auburn offense looked quite pedestrian in Atlanta, where the Peach Bowl is played. UCF’s defense is not near the level of Georgia’s. And Auburn’s defensive line is nothing like UCF has seen all season.

Stanford running back Bryce Love (20) runs in front of Southern California safety Chris Hawkins (4) during the first half of the Pac-12 Conference championship NCAA college football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

6. Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford (8-4) vs. TCU (10-3) – Thursday, Dec. 28 (San Antonio, Texas)

A healthier Bryce Love against a TCU defense that had to deal with Big 12 offenses all year makes this game a must-watch. Love, who will probably finish in the top-three in the Heisman voting, has been dealing with an ankle injury for much of the second half of the season. TCU, meanwhile, would be in a New Year’s Six bowl game if the Big 12 championship game didn’t exist.

7. Camping World Bowl: Virginia Tech (9-3) vs. Oklahoma State (9-3) – Thursday, Dec. 28 (Orlando)

This should be one of the better non-New Year’s Six bowl games. Both teams were clearly at the top of the second tier of their conferences. Oklahoma State has the No. 2 offense in the country (behind Big 12 rival Oklahoma) and Virginia Tech coordinator Bud Foster can be trusted to have something creative with plenty of time to prepare for an opponent.

8. SDCCU Holiday Bowl: Michigan State (9-3) vs. Washington State (9-3) – Thursday, Dec. 28 (San Diego)

A stingy Michigan State defense that allows less than 200 yards passing a game vs. Washington State’s No. 2 ranked air attack? This is pretty intriguing to us. It’s the second-straight trip for Washington State to the Holiday Bowl. A year ago the Cougars faced Minnesota and lost. Somehow, this is Michigan State’s first Holiday Bowl appearance.

9. Capital One Orange Bowl: Wisconsin (12-1) vs. Miami (11-2) – Saturday, Dec. 30 (Miami)

First team to score two touchdowns wins? Wisconsin has the top-ranked defense in the country and Miami isn’t too far behind, allowing just 4.77 yards per play. And while Miami may be a bit behind when it comes to allowing yardage, the Hurricanes have forced 29 turnovers and lead the country in turnover margin.

Combine that with Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s propensity to turn the ball over and the absence of three of Miami’s biggest offensive weapons and you can easily see why we think this will be a defensive struggle.

Notre Dame running back Josh Adams (33) goes around Navy safety Juan Hailey (13) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

10. Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: Notre Dame (9-3) vs. LSU (9-3) – Monday, Jan. 1 (Orlando)

Notre Dame and LSU last met in the Music City Bowl at the end of the 2014 season. The game was won by a Notre Dame team led by quarterback Malik Zaire, a guy who seemed destined for great things in South Bend.

Welp.

Notre Dame stumbled down the stretch, losing to Miami and Stanford in November. But the Irish’s run game is still one of the most powerful in the country and LSU running back Derrius Guice has done a fantastic job succeeding Leonard Fournette.

11. Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State (10-3) vs. Oregon (7-5) – Saturday, Dec. 16 (Las Vegas)

Oregon started the year 4-1 but sputtered after an injury to QB Justin Herbert. With Herbert back in action, the Ducks won their last two games and now will face a big challenge with Mountain West champion Boise State. Now the question is if Willie Taggart will be there to coach the game for Oregon, or will he accept the Florida State job?

12. Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: San Diego State (10-2) vs. Army (8-3) – Saturday, Dec. 23 (Fort Worth, Texas)

Do you like running the ball? Well this is the game for you. Army, with its option attack, has the top rushing offense in the country, putting up an average of 368.1 yards per game. On the other side, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny leads the country with 2,027 rushing yards. Penny is also a dynamic returner.

13. Outback Bowl: Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (8-4) – Monday, Jan. 1 (Tampa, Fla.)

You probably remember one play from the last time these two teams met in the Outback Bowl. Yes, that’s the game when then-South Carolina linebacker Jadeveon Clowney destroyed Michigan running back De’Veon Smith.

Things have changed a lot in the five years since. Will Muschamp was at Florida then. He’s at South Carolina now. And the Wolverines are coached by Jim Harbaugh. Brady Hoke, the guy who coached Michigan in that 2013 Outback Bowl, finished the season as Tennessee’s interim coach.

And who would have guessed five years ago that we’d even consider the thought of Donald Trump presiding over the United States?

14. TaxSlayer Bowl: Louisville (7-5) vs. Mississippi State (8-4) – Saturday, Dec. 30 (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson against a Mississippi State team coached by an interim staff? This could be fun. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen is at Florida and took defensive coordinator Todd Grantham with him. The Bulldogs’ defense made a massive improvement from a year ago when it was coached by Peter Sirmon — the man who currently coordinates a Louisville defense that’s been quite lackluster at times in 2017.

This game would be in the top 10 if Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald was healthy.

Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate in the first half during an NCAA college football game against Arizona State, Saturday, Nov 25, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

15. Foster Farms Bowl: Purdue (6-6) vs. Arizona (7-5) – Wednesday, Dec. 27 (Santa Clara, Calif.)

Offenses coached by Purdue’s Jeff Brohm and Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez against each other? Heck yeah. If you hadn’t watched Arizona’s Khalil Tate at all during 2017, mark this game down as a must-see. Tate will enter 2018 as one of the Heisman favorites after averaging over 10 yards a carry and scoring 12 rushing touchdowns in 2017. The game is Purdue’s first bowl appearance since a loss in the 2012 Heart of Dallas Bowl.

16. Dollar General Bowl: Toledo (11-2) vs. Appalachian State (8-4) – Saturday, Dec. 23 (Mobile, Ala.)

A bowl rematch! Toledo, the MAC champions, and App State, the Sun Belt co-champions, squared off in the Camellia Bowl last year and the Mountaineers prevailed 31-28. The Rockets, led by star QB Logan Woodside, will be out for revenge.

17. Birmingham Bowl: South Florida (9-2) vs. Texas Tech (6-6) – Saturday, Dec. 23 (Birmingham, Ala.)

Do you like offense? South Florida averages 508.6 points per game (No. 9) while Texas Tech averages 468.4 yards (No. 17). Outside of Lamar Jackson, USF QB Quinton Flowers is probably the top dual-threat QB in the country. This will be his final college game.

18. AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Memphis (11-2) vs. Iowa State (7-5) – Saturday, Dec. 30 (Memphis)

Memphis’ offense is No. 4 in the country and led by prolific QB Riley Ferguson and star WR Anthony Miller. Iowa State’s defense held Oklahoma’s offense to 31 (the Sooners’ second-lowest total of the season) and allowed 20 or fewer points in eight games. The Cyclones, however, enter the game as losers of three of their last four.

19. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Kentucky (7-5) vs. Northwestern (9-3) – Friday, Dec. 29 (Nashville)

Do you like the run game? Enjoy this one. Northwestern’s Justin Jackson has rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons with the school. Only eight other players have accomplished that feat. Kentucky’s Benny Snell has over 1,300 yards and 18 touchdowns. Oh, and both teams are nicknamed the Wildcats. They should each run the wildcat formation at least once in homage of the matchup.

20. Hawaii Bowl: Fresno State (9-4) vs. Houston (7-4) – Sunday, Dec. 24 (Honolulu, Hawaii)

Jeff Tedford engineered one of the best turnarounds of the year at Fresno State. The Bulldogs went 1-11 last year but rebounded to win their division and nearly the Mountain West as a whole (Boise beat FSU 17-14 in the title game). Houston had an up-and-down year, but won three of four down the stretch and have one of the best defensive players in the country, DT Ed Oliver.

Missouri quarterback Drew Lock scrambles out of the pocket as he runs the ball against Arkansas during the second half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 24, 2017 in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

21. Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: Missouri (7-5) vs. Texas (6-6) – Wednesday, Dec. 27 (Houston)

Missouri’s offense has become one of the nation’s best. Texas’ defense is pretty good, but it’s going to be without two key figures in the secondary as well as offensive lineman Connor Williams. If it’s a mismatch, there’s at least the storyline of a former Big 12 team playing the school that was one of the reasons for its departure to the SEC.

22. R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Troy (10-2) vs. North Texas (9-4) – Saturday, Dec. 16 (New Orleans)

North Texas came up short to Lane Kiffin’s FAU Owls in the C-USA title game but can still reach the 10-win mark for the first time in program history against Troy, which won a share of the Sun Belt championship with Appalachian State.

23. Bahamas Bowl: UAB (8-4) vs. Ohio (8-4) – Friday, Dec. 22 (Nassau, Bahamas)

UAB, after two years without football, deserves a trip to the Bahamas. The Blazers won eight games for the first time as an FBS program this year and can make it nine against Ohio, which finished out its year with back-to-back losses. Ohio QB Nathan Rourke is second in the country with 21 rushing TDs.

24. Cactus Bowl: UCLA (6-6) vs. Kansas State (7-5) – Tuesday, Dec. 26 (Phoenix)

Jim Mora is out and Chip Kelly is in at UCLA, but it’ll be Jedd Fisch leading the Bruins against Bill Snyder and Kansas State. UCLA has the potential No. 1 NFL draft pick at quarterback in Josh Rosen — if he plays (it’s assumed he’ll declare). Kansas State won four of its last five games, including an upset over Oklahoma State and a 20-19 decision over Iowa State that was decided after time expired.

25. Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona State (7-5) vs. NC State (8-4) – Friday, Dec. 29 (El Paso, Texas)

The last game of the Todd Graham era at Arizona State is upon us. Graham was fired a day after the regular season ended but is still coaching the team through the bowl. He’ll reportedly be replaced by former NFL coach Herm Edwards. NC State, meanwhile, is trying for its first nine-win season since 2010 and still has coach Dave Doeren, who reportedly talked with Tennessee and Ole Miss about their head coaching positions.

Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin speaks to his players during the first half of the Conference USA championship NCAA college football game against North Texas, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, in Boca Raton, Fla. (Jim Rassol/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

26. Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl: Florida Atlantic (10-3) vs. Akron (7-6) – Tuesday, Dec. 19 (Boca Raton, Fla.)

FAU won the C-USA title in its first season under Lane Kiffin, winning all eight of its conference games, behind an explosive offense. Akron also lost with the conference title on the line, dropping the MAC championship game to Toledo 45-28 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score may indicate.

27. Belk Bowl: Wake Forest (7-5) vs. Texas A&M (7-5) – Friday, Dec. 29 (Charlotte)

If new Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher travels to Charlotte, how many times will the ESPN broadcast show him watching the game? An A&M win gives the Aggies a fourth-straight 8-5 season while Wake Forest is aiming for its first eight-win season in 10 years. Belk officials are just hoping no one from either team tries to steal anything on the sponsored shopping trip this year.

28. Military Bowl: Virginia (6-6) vs. Navy (6-5) – Thursday, Dec. 28 (Annapolis, Md.)

Virginia is going to a bowl game for a first time since the 2011 season and the Cavaliers’ reward is a trip to Navy’s home field to take on the Midshipmen. Congratulations to Virginia. Seriously though, the turnaround Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall has engineered is impressive and the Cavaliers have already faced one option-based offense this season in Georgia Tech.

29. New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College (7-5) vs. Iowa (7-5) – Wednesday, Dec. 27 (Bronx, N.Y.)

This is going to be fun if the Boston College that decimated Florida State and the Iowa that blew out Ohio State both show up. Otherwise, this game doesn’t do much for us on the entertainment meter. Boston College has developed into a consistent middle-tier team in the ACC and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz stands to get richer with a bowl game win.

30. Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Marshall (7-5) vs. Colorado State (7-5) – Saturday, Dec. 16 (Albuquerque)

Colorado State was a favorite in the Mountain West but lost three of four down the stretch. Still, CSU is fun to watch on offense with the Nick Stevens-to-Michael Gallup connection. Gallup is third in the country in receptions (94) and fifth in receiving yards (1,345). Marshall started the year 6-1, with its only loss coming to NC State. However, the Thundering Herd also had a rough end to the season, losing four of their final five.

31. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Central Michigan (8-4) vs. Wyoming (7-5) – Friday, Dec. 22 (Boise, Idaho)

We already know Wyoming QB Josh Allen is heading to the NFL, but will he play in the Potato Bowl? Allen missed his team’s final two games with a shoulder injury and the Cowboys lost both games. If he does play, it will be a much more competitive game against Central Michigan. CMU’s starting quarterback is Michigan transfer Shane Morris.

32. Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl: West Virginia (7-5) vs. Utah (6-6) – Tuesday, Dec. 26 (Dallas)

The big question here will be the health of WVU quarterback Will Grier. Grier had surgery on his injured finger and coach Dana Holgorsen left out some hope he could return for a bowl game. With or without Grier, WVU needs to play better defensively to beat Utah, a team with a fun, young QB in Tyler Huntley.

Southern Methodist wide receiver Courtland Sutton (16) stretches toward the endzone to score a touchdown against Memphis defensive back Tito Windham (24) in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

33. DXL Frisco Bowl: SMU (7-5) vs. Louisiana Tech (6-6) – Wednesday, Dec. 20 (Frisco, Texas)

With Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn (leads the nation with 106 catches) at wide receiver SMU’s offense is really fun and can put up big yards in a hurry. Louisiana Tech won its last two games to reach six wins and extend its bowl streak to four years.

34. Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: Temple (6-6) vs. Florida International (8-4) – Thursday, Dec. 21 (St. Petersburg, Fla.)

Arguably the best-named bowl of the year will feature two coaches in their first season at a new school. Temple needed to win three of its last four to reach a bowl in Geoff Collins’ first season while Butch Davis returned to the sideline and led FIU to an eight-win campaign. With a win over Temple, FIU can reach nine wins for the first time.

35. Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Arkansas State (7-4) vs. Middle Tennessee (6-6) – Saturday, Dec. 16 (Montgomery, Ala.)

Arkansas State had a chance to win a share of the Sun Belt but lost in the final minute to Troy. Middle Tennessee won three of its last four to reach a bowl for the fourth time in the program’s last five seasons. Quarterbacks Justice Hansen (ASU) and Brent Stockstill (MTSU) can both put up big numbers.

36. NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: New Mexico State (6-6) vs. Utah State (6-6) – Friday, Dec. 29 (Tucson, Ariz.)

Big ups to New Mexico State for making the team’s first bowl game in 57 years. 57 years! And thankfully it’s a bowl game the team could feasibly go to. The school said in November that it wasn’t sure how fiscally prudent a cross-country bowl trek would be. Utah State, meanwhile, didn’t beat a team that finished .500.

37. Quick Lane Bowl: Duke (6-6) vs. Northern Illinois (8-4) – Tuesday, Dec. 26 (Detroit)

Ah, nothing like Detroit in December. It’s not a tropical trip, but it’s still a nice reward to play in an NFL stadium. That’s especially true for Duke, which shook off a six-game losing streak to win its final two games to reach a bowl. The Blue Devils will square off against NIU, one of the better teams in the MAC. NIU’s Sutton Smith leads the nation with 12 sacks.

38. AutoNation Cure Bowl: Western Kentucky (6-6) vs. Georgia State (6-5) – Saturday, Dec. 16 (Orlando)

The Cure Bowl features two teams with first-year coaches. Georgia State, with Shawn Elliott at the helm, will play in a bowl game for the second time in its history against Western Kentucky, which lost four of its last five games to finish 6-6 in Mike Sanford’s first season.

39. Walk On’s Independence Bowl: Southern Miss (8-4) vs. Florida State (6-6) – Wednesday, Dec. 27 (Shreveport, La.)

Florida State beat Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday to earn a Christmas in Shreveport. Was it worth it, Seminoles? Southern Miss lost out on a Conference USA West division title thanks to a three-way tiebreaker. Maybe the Seminoles will be inspired under interim coach Odell Haggins, who got a Powerade bath after the ULM win.