College football bowl season kicks off with five games on Saturday and extends through Jan. 2, giving us 40 postseason games to enjoy over the holidays before the national championship on Jan. 9.
Bowls can be fairly unpredictable, given the long layoffs and differing motivations of teams involved in what are mostly exhibition games on vacations, but that's part of what makes them an interesting and entertaining way to end the season. While it may not measure up with the ease of filling out a bracket in March Madness, confidence pools are often a way to make bowl season even more interesting, from the New Mexico Bowl to the Rose Bowl.
How does it work? Pick a winner in every game, either straight up or against the point spread, then rate your confidence in each prediction from 40 (most confident) to 1 (least confident).
Last week, right after the bowls were announced, we ranked all 40 games based on watchability and made quick score predictions. Below, influenced by last week's picks -- but with a few alterations, based on changing opinions and circumstances -- we break down every matchup and give confidence picks both straight up and against the spread. Point spreads are as of Monday afternoon via Sportsbook, and favorites are listed first in the matchups. The games are arranged by schedule, and at the bottom are tables with the picks in order of confidence.
New Mexico Bowl: New Mexico (-7) vs. UTSA
2 p.m., Dec. 17
Straight up: New Mexico, Confidence: 30
Spread: New Mexico, Confidence: 24
The Lobos will play on their home field in a bowl game for the second year in a row. Coach Bob Davie has built a dangerous ground attack, as New Mexico leads the nation in rushing with an average of 360 yards per game behind 1,000-yard rushers Teriyon Gipson and Tyrone Owens. UTSA has the better defense and the Lobos are susceptible to giving up big plays, but the New Mexico run game can control the game at home.
Las Vegas Bowl: Houston (-3) vs. San Diego State
3:30 p.m., Dec. 17
Straight up: Houston, Confidence: 22
Spread: Houston, Confidence: 27
San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey needs 108 yards to break the FBS career rushing record. He did, however, slow down a bit down the stretch, and Ed Oliver and Steven Taylor lead a Houston defense that's better than any unit the Aztecs have faced this year, ranking third nationally against the run. Motivation is a question, though: Houston had higher hopes than the Las Vegas Bowl, and it will be playing its first game under new coach Major Applewhite, promoted from offensive coordinator to replace Tom Herman.
Camellia Bowl: Toledo (-1.5) vs. Appalachian State
5:30 p.m., Dec. 17
Straight up: Toledo, Confidence: 6
Spread: Toledo, Confidence: 14
Appalachian State returns to the Camellia Bowl for the second time in two bowl appearances. The Mountaineers edged Ohio by two last year, and now they draw another MAC team in a terrific matchup of the Sun Belt's best defense (17 points allowed per game) and a dangerous Toledo offense that ranks sixth nationally in yards per play, led by QB Logan Woodside, who's second in passer rating, and standout tailback Kareem Hunt.
Cure Bowl: UCF (-6) vs. Arkansas State
5:30 p.m., Dec. 17
Straight up: UCF, Confidence: 23
Spread: Arkansas State, Confidence: 19
UCF has played in an on-campus stadium for close to a decade, but it returns to its original home field at Camping World Stadium for the second-ever Cure Bowl -- the first of three bowls in Orlando. The Knights went from 0-12 to 6-6 under new coach Scott Frost, and they meet an Arkansas State team that is winless in nonconference play but shared the Sun Belt title with a 7-1 conference record. An athletic UCF defense led by AAC defensive player of the year Shaquem Griffin gives the Knights a slight edge in what's essentially a home game.
New Orleans Bowl: Southern Miss (-3.5) vs. UL Lafayette
2 p.m., Dec. 17
Straight up: Southern Miss, Confidence: 20
Spread: Southern Miss, Confidence: 30
It's no Sugar Bowl and it's featuring two 6-6 teams, but the Superdome should nonetheless have a solid atmosphere for two fairly local teams. Southern Miss got to bowl eligibility with an impressive win over Louisiana Tech after QB Nick Mullens returned from an injury, while ULL got to bowl eligibility after blowing out Louisiana-Monroe in a game in which it completed zero passes in horrible weather. The Ragin' Cajuns won four straight New Orleans Bowls from 2011-14, but Southern Miss is the better team with a healthy Mullens.
Miami Beach Bowl: Tulsa (-12) vs. Central Michigan
2:30 p.m., Dec. 19
Straight up: Tulsa, Confidence: 35
Spread: Tulsa, Confidence: 28
Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery earned a five-year contract extension, inheriting a 2-10 team and going 6-7 (with a shootout bowl loss to Virginia Tech) and now 9-3 in his first two seasons. The Golden Hurricane run game has taken off this year with over 2,800 combined yards between James Flanders and D'Angelo Brewer to support 3,000-yard passer Dane Evans. Central Michigan has a good QB in Cooper Rush and beat Oklahoma State, but the Chippewas finished 3-5 in the MAC and lost four of their final five games.
Boca Raton Bowl: Western Kentucky (-4.5) vs. Memphis
7 p.m., Dec. 20
Straight up: Western Kentucky, Confidence: 15
Spread: Western Kentucky, Confidence: 20
Western Kentucky now leads the nation in yards per play, but it will head to Marlins Park to face a dangerous Memphis team without head coach Jeff Brohm, who got the Purdue job. If the Hilltoppers can weather the coaching change, they're an explosive team that has scored at least 44 points in nine straight games en route to the Conference USA title, winning eight of those nine. Memphis is coming off an impressive 48-44 shootout win of its own against Houston.
Poinsettia Bowl: BYU (-8.5) vs. Wyoming
9 p.m., Dec. 21
Straight up: BYU, Confidence: 25
Spread: Wyoming, Confidence: 18
Tanner Mangum is back on top of the BYU QB depth chart because of another injury to Taysom Hill. Seven of the Cougars' first eight games were decided by a touchdown or less before they rolled to four straight easy wins against weaker opponents to end the season. The competition steps up a bit here against Wyoming, a surprise team that won its division and owns wins over Boise State and San Diego State, with star RB Brian Hill leading the way.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Colorado State (-13.5) vs. Idaho
7 p.m., Dec. 22
Straight up: Colorado State, Confidence: 32
Spread: Idaho, Confidence: 21
Idaho has had a surprising 8-4 season in its second-to-last year before dropping to the FCS, losing only to Washington, Washington State and Sun Belt frontrunners Appalachian State and Troy. The Vandals won't leave their home state for their bowl, heading to Boise to take on a Colorado State squad that got hot in the second half, winning four of its past five games with at least 37 points in each game.
Bahamas Bowl: Old Dominion (-4) vs. Eastern Michigan
1 p.m., Dec. 23
Straight up: Old Dominion, Confidence: 29
Spread: Old Dominion, Confidence: 31
Old Dominion, in its eight year of football, will play in its first bowl game. Eastern Michigan will play in its first bowl game since the 1987 California Bowl. The Bahamas Bowl atmosphere is no stranger to unpredictability, and this is quite the unusual bowl matchup. The Monarchs have some impressive talent on offense, featuring RB Ray Lawry and QB David Washington.
Armed Forces Bowl: Louisiana Tech (-3.5) vs. No. 25 Navy
4:30 p.m., Dec. 23
Straight up: Louisiana Tech, Confidence: 24
Spread: Louisiana Tech, Confidence: 33
It's hard to know what to make of Navy now. The Midshipmen were on an absurd roll on offense in November, but they lost to Temple and Army and are playing with a young QB, Zach Abey, making his second career starter after Will Worth's season-ending injury. Can the Midshipmen bounce back to keep up with the explosive Louisiana Tech offense, which is putting up 44 points per game behind Ryan Higgins and a prolific passing attack?
Dollar General Bowl: Troy (-4) vs. Ohio
8 p.m., Dec. 23
Straight up: Ohio, Confidence: 1
Spread: Ohio, Confidence: 25
Frank Solich has finished at least .500 in eight straight seasons at Ohio, leading the Bobcats to a division title this season at 8-5. Troy is back to its first bowl game since 2010 under second-year coach Neal Brown, and it was terrific most of the season until late-season losses to Georgia Southern and Arkansas State. The Trojans might as well be a home team playing in Mobile, but this will be a good matchup between rock-solid defenses.
Hawaii Bowl: Middle Tennessee (TBD) vs. Hawaii
8 p.m., Dec. 24
Straight up: Middle Tennessee, Confidence: 31
Spread: TBD, Confidence: 1
Star Middle Tennessee QB Brent Stockstill missed the final three games with a broken collarbone, but there is a chance that he'll return for the Christmas Eve showdown with Hawaii in Honolulu. That uncertainty is why there's no point spread on the game, and why we'll label this as the least-confident pick against the spread, for now. Even without Stockstill, the Blue Raiders scored 77 points in their last game against Florida Atlantic by running 57 times for 495 yards.
St. Petersburg Bowl: Mississippi State (-13) vs. Miami of Ohio
11 a.m., Dec. 26
Straight up: Mississippi State, Confidence: 39
Spread: Mississippi State, Confidence: 39
OK, so maybe a 5-7 SEC team like Mississippi State might not be motivated, going into a minor bowl game against a 6-6 MAC team. Of course, Miami (Ohio) is one of the hottest teams in the country, improbably turning a 0-6 start into 6-6 and the program's first bowl since 2010. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs got to a bowl thanks to an Egg Bowl win over Ole Miss and a high APR score, and they've found a groove running the ball, led by QB Nick Fitzgerald.
Quick Lane Bowl: Maryland (-1.5) vs. Boston College
2:30 p.m., Dec. 26
Straight up: Maryland, Confidence: 14
Spread: Maryland, Confidence: 22
Embrace the mediocrity. Two 6-6 teams that have failed to beat any opponent that has a winning record. Boston College does have an advantage defensively, but it never inspires confidence on offense. This one feels like it'll be decided by a field goal.
Independence Bowl: N.C. State (-4) vs. Vanderbilt
5 p.m., ESPN2
Straight up: N.C. State, Confidence: 16
Spread: N.C. Sate, Confidence: 6
The Wolfpack and Commodores meet in Shreveport after pulling off upset wins over their rivals to earn bowl eligibility. There are two star defensive players here -- Vandy LB Zach Cunningham and N.C. State DE Bradley Chubb -- and two offenses that have not been particularly dynamic, making it feel like a coin-flip result in some respects.
Heart of Dallas Bowl: Army (-10) vs. North Texas
Noon, Dec. 27
Straight up: Army, Confidence: 26
Spread: Army, Confidence: 12
Army is a 10-point favorite despite already losing to North Texas at home earlier this season. However, the Black Knights -- who have already had a successful season after ending their 14-game losing streak against Navy -- turned the ball over seven times in that 35-18 loss to the Mean Green. They are highly unlikely to do that again and should run the ball effectively against a weak North Texas run defense.
Military Bowl: No. 24 Temple (-13) vs. Wake Forest
3:30 p.m., Dec. 27
Straight up: Temple, Confidence: 28
Spread: Wake Forest, Confidence: 4
Wake Forest earned a bowl bid with six wins and solid defense, but it did so by beating Tulane, Duke, Delaware, Indiana, Syracuse and Virginia. Temple won the AAC, has seven wins in a row and has allowed a total of 33 points in its past five the games. Temple does, however, return to a somewhat disappointing bowl destination, back in Annapolis where it just beat Navy for the AAC title, and it will play without coach Matt Rhule, who left for Baylor.
Holiday Bowl: Washington State (-7) vs. Minnesota
7 p.m., Dec. 27
Straight up: Washington State, Confidence: 38
Spread: Washington State, Confidence: 40
Three of Minnesota's four losses have been by a touchdown or less, and it has played stellar defense. However, it has thrown for fewer than half as many yards as Washington State, with Mitch Leidner posting seven TD passes and 12 INTs. It's going to be difficult for the Golden Gophers to keep pace if Wazzu gets its offense in gear against a team that hasn't faced many dangerous passing attacks. This is all assuming Minnesota actually shows up to play, after the team threatened a boycott because of 10 player suspensions.
Cactus Bowl: Boise State (-8) vs. Baylor
10:15 p.m., Dec. 27
Straight up: Boise State, Confidence: 36
Spread: Boise State, Confidence: 36
Baylor has a new coach, Matt Rhule, but first it will finish out a nightmare 2016, riding a six-game losing streak into the Cactus Bowl in Tucson. Boise State is dealing with some of its own disappointment, falling short in its division again, but the Broncos are better than the Bears defensively and have impressive weapons on offense, led by QB Brett Rypien and RB Jeremy McNichols.
Pinstripe Bowl: No. 23 Pittsburgh (-5.5) vs. Northwestern
2 p.m., Dec. 28
Straight up: Pittsburgh, Confidence: 33
Spread: Pittsburgh, Confidence: 38
While Northwestern has improved on offense, led by WR Austin Carr, it is 91st in scoring. Pitt, surprisingly, is 10th, with a multi-dimensional attack featuring RB James Conner and versatile athlete Quadree Henderson. Carr can certainly have success against this Pitt secondary, but the Panthers will still be difficult to keep up with.
Russell Athletic Bowl: Miami (-3) vs. No. 16 West Virginia
5:30 p.m., Dec. 28
Straight up: Miami, Confidence: 10
Spread: Miami, Confidence: 5
Miami has gone from 4-0 to 4-4 to 8-4 in an adventurous, streaky debut season for Mark Richt at his alma mater, and now the Hurricanes head to Orlando for an old Big East matchup with West Virginia, a surprise team at 10-2. It's been a great season for West Virginia, which plays excellent defense in the Big 12, but the Mountaineers do have only two wins against teams with winning records, by a total of four points. The Hurricanes' defense can give them some trouble.
Foster Farms Bowl: No. 19 Utah (-7.5) vs. Indiana
8:30 p.m., Dec. 28
Straight up: Utah, Confidence: 27
Spread: Indiana, Confidence: 7
Indiana begins life under promoted defensive coordinator Tom Allen, who takes over for the ousted Kevin Wilson to coach the Hoosiers' third bowl appearance since 1993. Indiana is capable of playing close games and has a chance to pull off the upset against a Utah team that has lost three of four, but ultimately, led by RB Joe Williams and an excellent defensive line, the Utes are a bit better on both sides of the ball.
Texas Bowl: Texas A&M (-2) vs. Kansas State
9 p.m., Dec. 28
Straight up: Kansas State, Confidence: 3
Spread: Kansas State, Confidence: 2
Will Texas A&M's latest second-half collapse extend into the bowl game? The Aggies beat Duke in a shootout in 2013, beat West Virginia in 2014 and lost to Louisville in the Music City Bowl last year, a game in which Lamar Jackson ran wild. Kansas State, meanwhile, is steady and reliable, a team that has lost only to ranked opponents but has yet to defeat a team that has a winning record. The Aggies have more talent, but their November performance opened the door for the Wildcats.
Birmingham Bowl: South Florida (-10) vs. South Carolina
2 p.m., Dec. 29
Straight up: South Florida, Confidence: 21
Spread: South Florida, Confidence: 13
This is the third straight Birmingham Bowl appearance for a team with Will Muschamp on its coaching staff, but this is the first time he'll actually be present for the game. South Florida is the team playing without its head coach after Willie Taggart -- who also calls the plays -- left for Oregon. South Florida is the much more explosive team, led by QB Quinton Flowers, but its offense has to get over those hurdles against a solid Gamecocks defense.
Belk Bowl: No. 22 Virginia Tech (-7) vs. Arkansas
5:30 p.m., Dec. 29
Straight up: Virginia Tech, Confidence: 19
Spread: Virginia Tech, Confidence: 23
Arkansas just hasn't been overpowering like Bret Bielema teams typically are, with a solid but unspectacular offensive line and a defense that ranks 127th in yards per carried allowed. While Virginia Tech hasn't been particularly explosive running the ball, it does have some weapons, led by QB Jerod Evans, while its defense should get plenty of pressure on Razorbacks QB Austin Allen.
Alamo Bowl: No. 10 Colorado (-3) vs. No. 12 Oklahoma State
9 p.m., Dec. 29
Straight up: Colorado, Confidence: 8
Spread: Colorado, Confidence: 10
Colorado returns to the postseason for the first time since 2007, when it was still a member of the same conference as Oklahoma State. It's an intriguing matchup in the Alamodome between Oklahoma State's explosive passing attack and Colorado's lockdown pass defense. This is easily the best defense the Cowboys have seen all season, and Colorado may also be able to run the ball effectively enough to pull off the win.
Liberty Bowl: Georgia (-1) vs. TCU
Noon, Dec. 30
Straight up: Georgia, Confidence: 7
Spread: Georgia, Confidence: 11
This matchup would have sounded more appealing in the preseason. Now they're a combined 13-11, wildly inconsistent teams that couldn't put together sustained success this season. TCU should be able to get pressure on young Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason, but it's hard to know what to expect from a Horned Frogs offense that scored six points in two of its past three games, blowout losses to Oklahoma State and Kansas State.
Sun Bowl: No. 18 Stanford (-4) vs. North Carolina
2 p.m., Dec. 30
Straight up: Stanford, Confidence: 18
Spread: Stanford, Confidence: 17
Christian McCaffrey will play in his final college game against a defense that has become known for getting gashed on the ground. He may put on a show, and it will be up to the Cardinal defense to slow down the explosive Tar Heels, who are led by a potential first-round pick at quarterback in Mitch Trubisky.
Music City Bowl: No. 21 Tennessee (-3) vs. Nebraska
3:30 p.m., Dec. 30
Straight up: Nebraska, Confidence: 13
Spread: Nebraska, Confidence: 29
Both teams had horrendous finishes to the season, as Tennessee lost to Vanderbilt and Nebraska got crushed by Iowa. Once top-10 teams in the AP poll, both teams sputtered toward the end. Tennessee, however, seems to be in greater disarray than Nebraska. The Volunteers defense has been a mess, partly because of injuries, and Butch Jones is on the verge of entering 2017 on the hot seat.
Arizona Bowl: Air Force (-13) vs. South Alabama
5:30 p.m., Dec. 30
Straight up: Air Force, Confidence: 34
Spread: South Alabama, Confidence: 16
Which South Alabama shows up? The one that beat Mississippi State and Mountain West champion San Diego State? Or the one that 2-6 in Sun Belt play? Even in a win, the Jaguars just gave up 353 rushing yards to New Mexico State to end the regular season, which isn't a great sign entering a game against Air Force.
Orange Bowl: No. 6 Michigan (-6.5) vs. Florida State
8 p.m., Dec. 30
Straight up: Michigan, Confidence: 12
Spread: Florida State, Confidence: 32
Florida State has a chance if its offensive line can figure out how to open up any sort of room for Dalvin Cook, the star tailback. Michigan has been phenomenal on defense, although it has actually given up some production on the ground to Michigan State and Ohio State in the second half of the season. The Seminoles' defense has also grown enough over the past couple months to make this a game.
Citrus Bowl: No. 20 LSU (-3.5) vs. No. 13 Louisville
11 a.m., Dec. 31
Straight up: LSU, Confidence: 11
Spread: Louisville, Confidence: 3
Louisville lost its past two games, but that didn't stop Lamar Jackson from being the obvious choice to win the Heisman Trophy. In the Citrus Bowl, he faces one of his biggest tests, an outstanding LSU defense that could pose huge problems for Louisville's offensive line and potentially force Jackson into making some mistakes. Louisville does defend the run well, tough, so it's not an easy matchup for the Tigers, either, although Derrius Guice has proven that he can shoulder the load at tailback with Leonard Fournette out.
TaxSlayer Bowl: Georgia Tech (-3.5) vs. Kentucky
11 a.m., Dec. 31
Straight up: Georgia Tech, Confidence: 17
Spread: Georgia Tech, Confidence: 26
Nobody expected Kentucky to be here after a rough start to the season, but the Wildcats took advantage of a weak SEC East and found life behind their running game, led by tailbacks Boom Williams and Benjamin Snell, who each went over 1,000 yards. These are both prolific rushing attacks, and both teams are coming off of dramatic wins over their rivals -- Georgia Tech over Georgia and Kentucky over Louisville. Neither team is stout defensively, so expect plenty of rushing production from both teams.
Peach Bowl: No. 1 Alabama (-16.5) vs. No. 4 Washington
3 p.m., Dec. 31
Straight up: Alabama, Confidence: 40
Spread: Washington, Confidence: 9
This is how dominant Alabama is: It is playing a 12-1 major conference champion in a playoff game, and it warrants the highest point spread out of all 40 bowl games. The closest is Colorado State (-13.5) against Idaho. While Washington has finally broken back through onto the national stage, its stuck with a cross country trip into Bama territory to face the nation's No. 1 defense. Chris Petersen is an excellent coach and the Washington defense could find ways to rattle freshman QB Jalen Hurts, but ultimately it's hard to see the Crimson Tide defense not overwhelming the Washington offensive line.
Fiesta Bowl: No. 3 Ohio State (-3.5) vs. No. 2 Clemson
7 p.m., Dec. 31
Straight up: Clemson, Confidence: 5
Spread: Clemson, Confidence: 35
An outstanding matchup between two talented quarterbacks who have had some difficulty throwing downfield, with offensive lines that have had occasional struggles too. Clemson needs to find a way to move the chains on the ground and avoid costly turnovers against an opportunistic defense; Ohio State needs to protect J.T. Barrett and try to loosen up a defense that has a ton of talent in its defensive front. If he avoids turnovers, Deshaun Watson has been the more effective passer than Barrett, and Clemson's defense is disruptive enough to knock the Buckeyes out of sync.
Outback Bowl: No. 17 Florida (-2.5) vs. Iowa
1 p.m., Jan. 2
Straight up: Florida, Confidence: 9
Spread: Iowa, Confidence: 8
We can make fun of how punt-happy this game may end up being, but, hey, Iowa did just score 40 points on Nebraska and Florida … well, yeah, Florida hasn't scored more than 20 in its past five games. The over/under is 41, which ties Wake Forest-Temple for the lowest of bowl season. Iowa did beat Michigan recently, too, so it proved it can't be counted out against a defense loaded with talent.
Cotton Bowl: No. 8 Wisconsin (-8) vs. No. 15 Western Michigan
1 p.m., Jan. 2
Straight up: Wisconsin, Confidence: 37
Spread: Wisconsin, Confidence: 37
Group of Five teams are 2-0 in New Year's Six bowls, as Boise State beat Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl two years ago and Houston beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl last year. Western Michigan, which already owns two wins over Big Ten West teams, gets its chance in the Cotton Bowl. The Broncos have kept their coach, too, as it appears that P.J. Fleck will stick around for another year. Meanwhile, Wisconsin has to bounce back from blowing a big lead in the Big Ten title game and squandering a chance for the Rose Bowl. Despite all that … Western Michigan is about to be tested by a defense like it has not been all year.
Rose Bowl: No. 9 USC (-7) vs. No. 5 Penn State
5 p.m., Jan. 2
Straight up: Penn State, Confidence: 4
Spread: Penn State, Confidence: 34
After posting a combined record of 3-5 in September, Penn State and USC are 17-0 since October began, emerging as red-hot teams behind stellar quarterbacks in Trace McSorley and Sam Darnold. Coaches James Franklin and Clay Helton have totally changed the conversations about them, and now these are two of the most exciting teams on the rise in college football. USC can give Penn State's offensive line trouble, but the Nittany Lions just scored five TDs against a Wisconsin defense that hadn't given up more than two in regulation in any other game.
Sugar Bowl: No. 7 Oklahoma (-4.5) vs. No. 14 Auburn
8:30 p.m., Jan. 2
Straight up: Auburn, Confidence: 2
Spread: Auburn, Confidence: 15
While Oklahoma's offense has been on a spectacular roll behind two Heisman finalists, Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook, in going 9-0 in the Big 12, don't discount Auburn's chances here. If QB Sean White and RB Kamryn Pettway are healthy, the Tigers can do damage of their own against a beatable Oklahoma defense. Plus, Auburn's defense is the best Oklahoma has seen since getting routed by Ohio State, as the Tigers rank fifth nationally in points allowed. The evaluation of this game does change if White's shoulder isn't ready to go.