With the holiday season approaching, it's time for an annual tradition: Ranking all the college football bowl matchups. There are 39 bowl games this year, starting on Dec. 16 and ending on Jan. 1, before the national championship game on Jan. 8 in Atlanta. Let's rank them all based on a subjective combination of watchability, storylines, intrigue, matchups and more.
All times Eastern.
39. Cure Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Georgia State
2:30 p.m., Dec. 16, Orlando, Fla., CBSSN
Georgia State has been an FBS team for five seasons; both of its bowl trips have been to the Cure Bowl, which has existed for only three seasons. The Panthers opened the year with a loss to Tennessee State, an FCS team, but went 5-3 in the Sun Belt under new coach Shawn Elliott. They meet a Hilltoppers squad that fell from 11-3 to 6-6 and first nationally to 82nd in scoring after losing coach Jeff Brohm to Purdue.
38. Gasparilla Bowl: Temple vs. Florida International
8 p.m., Dec. 21, St. Petersburg, Fla., ESPN
We have to be sure to spell out the entire name of the bowl formerly known as the magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl, the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl and the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl: It is now the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl. Temple had never played in back-to-back bowl before last year; now it's going to its third straight. The Owls will meet the Golden Panthers, who improved from 4-8 to 8-4 in Butch Davis' first season and are bowling for the first time since 2011.
37. Quick Lane Bowl: Duke vs. Northern Illinois
5:15 p.m., Dec. 26, Detroit, ESPN
After a 17-year postseason drought, Duke will make its fifth bowl appearance in six years. The Blue Devils fell to 4-8 last year, then started 4-0 this year, lost six in a row and beat Georgia Tech and Wake Forest in the final two games to achieve bowl eligibility. They're meeting a Northern Illinois team that also is returning to the postseason after a one-year break: The Huskies went to eight straight bowls before falling to 5-7 last year. Keep an eye on Northern Illinois defensive end Sutton Smith, who leads the nation with 14 sacks and 28 ½ tackles for loss.
36. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Central Michigan vs. Wyoming
4 p.m., Dec. 22, Boise, Idaho, ESPN
Wyoming won seven games to make back-to-back bowl trips for the first time since 1987-88, but it's mostly been because of its defense (10th nationally in yards per play allowed) and not its much-hyped NFL prospect quarterback Josh Allen. Allen ranks seventh in the Mountain West in passer rating, completing 56.2 percent for 1,658 yards, 13 TDs and six INTs in 10 games. If he plays after missing the Cowboys' final two games with a shoulder injury, this is likely to be his final college game before he becomes a polarizing draft prospect.
35. Independence Bowl: Southern Miss vs. Florida State
1:30 p.m., Dec. 27, Shreveport, La., ESPN
Florida State's December:
- Coach Jimbo Fisher, who led Florida State to a national title in 2013, leaves for Texas A&M.
- The Seminoles, who haven't missed a bowl game since 1981, play a rescheduled game against UL Monroe and win 42-10 to get to 6-6 after starting the season ranked No. 3.
- The Noles will play in Shreveport on Dec. 27 against Southern Miss as their 36th straight bowl appearance.
There is some history between these two teams: In 1989, Brett Favre led the Eagles to a 30-26 season-opening upset of the No. 6 Noles in Jacksonville. Southern Miss went on to finish 5-6 that year, and Florida State went 10-2. This year, Florida State extended its all-important bowl streak, but what the performance itself will look like under an interim coach is a lingering question.
34. Arizona Bowl: Utah State vs. New Mexico State
5:30 p.m., Dec. 29, Tucson, Ariz., CBSSN
Let's give more credit to New Mexico State for ending its bowl drought than to Florida State for extending its bowl streak. This is a rematch of New Mexico State's most recent bowl. Important note: New Mexico State's most recent bowl game happened in 1960. That's right, this is a rematch 57 years after a perfect 11-0 season ended with a No. 17 AP ranking and a 20-13 win over Utah State in the Sun Bowl. The Aggies have not been bowling since then, and they've finished with a winning record in only three of the past 38 seasons. They won their final two regular-season games to get to 6-6, and a win over Utah State would give them their first winning season since 2002, in their final season in the Sun Belt before being forced into independence.
33. New Mexico Bowl: Marshall vs. Colorado State
4:30 p.m., Dec. 16, Albuquerque, N.M., ESPN
Colorado State's two New Mexico Bowl appearances have been classics. In 2008, the Rams beat Fresno State 40-35 thanks to a fourth quarter that included touchdowns of 69 and 77 yards. In 2013, the Rams beat Washington State 48-45 despite trailing by 15 points with under three minutes left. They scored to cut the lead to eight, recovered a fumble, scored another TD and a two-pointer, recovered another fumble on the kickoff and kicked a game-winning field goal.
32. Frisco Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. SMU
8 p.m., Dec. 20, Frisco, Texas, ESPN
The Miami Beach Bowl is no more. Meet its replacement: the Frisco Bowl at Toyota Stadium, home of FC Dallas of the MLS and the FCS national title game. The first Frisco Bowl draws nearby SMU, playing in its first bowl game in five years as a member of the American Athletic Conference, and Louisiana Tech, which won its last two games to extend its bowl streak to four years. The most intriguing part of this game is SMU's receiving corps, which has three players with over 800 yards: top NFL prospect Courtland Sutton, plus Trey Quinn and James Proche.
31. Camellia Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Arkansas State
8 p.m., Dec. 16, Montgomery, Ala., ESPN
The first three Camellia Bowls have been decided by a total of 10 points, and this one has the potential to be a fun one, too. Arkansas State scores 38.5 points per game behind former Oklahoma quarterback Justice Hansen. Middle Tennessee went just 6-6 during an injury-ravaged season, but it won three of its last four games, scoring at least 30 in each, with quarterback Brent Stockstill back after missing six games to provide a jolt.
30. Boca Raton Bowl: Akron vs. Florida Atlantic
7 p.m., Dec. 19, Boca Raton, Fla., ESPN
Florida Atlantic started this season 1-3, with a road loss to Buffalo, a MAC team. But after that, Kiffin's Owls went undefeated in Conference USA play, averaging 45.5 points per game in those nine league contests. Tailback Devin Singletary has been particularly impressive, leading the nation with 29 rushing touchdowns. This is the third bowl ever for both teams, and Akron has to play a road game in the Owls' home stadium with FAU sure to be heavily favored. Yes, FAU is 0-1 against the MAC, but much has changed since September and this isn't the most intriguing opponent for Kiffin's explosive offense.
29. Heart of Dallas Bowl: Utah vs. West Virginia
1:30 p.m., Dec. 26, Dallas, ESPN
This is the second-ever meeting between the Utes and Mountaineers, who last played each other in the 1964 Liberty Bowl … indoors in Atlantic City:
This time, they'll meet outside at the 87-year-old Cotton Bowl stadium. Both teams spent a portion of this season in the top 25 early on, but they finished the regular season a combined 13-11. The game takes a big hit if injured West Virginia QB Will Grier can't play.
28. Military Bowl: Virginia vs. Navy
1:30 p.m., Dec. 28, Annapolis, Md., ESPN
Virginia will head up the road for a bowl road game against the Midshipmen on Navy's home field. In Bronco Mendenhall's second season, the Cavaliers will play in their first bowl since 2011 and second since 2007. This is the second time in three years Navy will play on its home field in the postseason after beating Pitt in 2015. These teams used to be regular opponents, with 39 all-time meetings, but they haven't played each other since 1994.
27. Pinstripe Bowl: Iowa vs. Boston College
5:15 p.m., Dec. 27, New York, ESPN
Iowa has scored over 40 points four times this season, including a 55-34 win over Ohio State. Boston College has scored at least 35 points five times in a turnaround season on offense led by tailback A.J. Dillon. And yet it still feels like it will be an upset if either team reaches the 20s in this game. It's possible that the Bronx will offer some good late-December punting weather.
26. Music City Bowl: No. 21 Northwestern vs. Kentucky
4:30 p.m., Dec. 29, Nashville, Tenn., ESPN
It's been 89 years since the two Wildcats last met: a 7-0 Northwestern win in 1928. Northwestern is quietly aiming for its third 10-win season in six years, while Kentucky is aiming for eight wins for the first time in a decade. The two players to watch are the tailbacks: Northwestern's Justin Jackson, a four-time 1,000-yard rusher, and Kentucky's Benny Snell, who has 2,409 yards in two seasons.
25. New Orleans Bowl: Troy vs. North Texas
1 p.m., Dec. 16, New Orleans, La., ESPN
Two rising stars in coaching kick off the bowl season at the Superdome. The 37-year-old Neal Brown has led Troy to back-to-back 10-win seasons, with a share of the Sun Belt title and a win at LSU this year. The 39-year-old Seth Littrell has taken North Texas from one win to five wins to nine wins and a division title. This is the first meeting between the Trojans and Mean Green since North Texas left the Sun Belt for Conference in 2013.
24. Belk Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M
1 p.m., Dec. 29, Charlotte, N.C., ESPN
The Demon Deacons are bowling for the second straight year with one of the nation's most improved offenses. In Dave Clawson's fourth year as coach, they've jumped from 125th to 30th in yards per play, with a stunning senior leap by QB John Wolford, who averages over 300 yards of total offense per game. The Demon Deacons will meet a 7-5 Aggies team led by interim coach Jeff Banks after the firing of Kevin Sumlin. A Texas A&M win would give the Aggies their fourth straight 8-5 season. A Wake Forest win would give the Demon Deacons their first eight-win season since 2008.
23. Cactus Bowl: Kansas State vs. UCLA
9 p.m., Dec. 26, Phoenix, ESPN
This is the fourth version of this bowl game that Bill Snyder has coached Kansas State in: The Wildcats won the 1993 Copper Bowl in Tucson, lost the 2001 Insight.com Bowl at the D-backs' stadium, won the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe and are back at the D-backs' stadium, Chase Field, for what's now the Cactus Bowl. The Wildcats will meet UCLA in its final pre-Chip Kelly game and, likely, final Josh Rosen game -- assuming he plays -- before he turns pro. The Bruins got to bowl eligibility with a season-finale win over Cal under interim coach Jedd Fisch.
22. Sun Bowl: No. 24 N.C. State vs. Arizona State
3 p.m., Dec. 29, El Paso, Texas, CBS
Both teams have experienced interesting coaching storylines in the past week: N.C. State's Dave Doeren went from the hot seat a year ago to an 8-4 record to flirting with the Tennessee job to a contract extension in Raleigh. Arizona State, meanwhile, fired Todd Graham and shockingly brought in former NFL head coach Herm Edwards in what is expected to be a CEO-like role. This is the first meeting of these two teams since 1974.
21. Hawaii Bowl: Fresno State vs. Houston
8:30 p.m., Dec. 24, Honolulu, ESPN
Houston's first season under Major Applewhite has been all over the map, with wins over five bowl teams -- Arizona, Temple, SMU, South Florida, Navy -- but losses to Tulsa and Tulane. The Cougars continue to be led by superstar defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who still has another college season left before he can become an inevitable first-round draft pick. The Cougars will meet one of the biggest surprises of the season in Fresno State. Under new coach Jeff Tedford, the Bulldogs went from 1-11 to 9-4 with a division title and regular-season wins over Boise State and San Diego State. This is a terrific, evenly matched Christmas Eve game in Honolulu, although only one of the past nine Hawaii Bowls has been decided by less than two touchdowns.
20. Dollar General Bowl: Appalachian State vs. Toledo
7 p.m., Dec. 23, Mobile, Ala., ESPN
This is an excellent Group of Five matchup between the MAC champion Rockets and co-Sun Belt champion Mountaineers. We also saw it last year in the same state, when Appalachian State beat Toledo 31-28 in the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery. They head south to Mobile this time, with both teams ranking in the top 20 nationally in yards per play.
19. Bahamas Bowl: UAB vs. Ohio
12:30 p.m., Dec. 22, Nassau, Bahamas, ESPN
It's undoubtedly one of the best stories of bowl season: UAB went 6-6 in 2014, which could have sent it to its second bowl ever. But the football team was disbanded and the Blazers didn't go bowling. After two years without playing, UAB returned to the field this season under the same coach, Bill Clark, and improbably went 8-4 to earn a deserved trip to the Bahamas. The Blazers will meet a fellow 8-4 team, Ohio, that is scoring 38.9 points per game.
18. Texas Bowl: Texas vs. Missouri
9 p.m., Dec. 27, Houston, ESPN
The Texas Bowl would seemingly be a perfect venue for Texas and Texas A&M to be forced to play against each other. Alas, Texas will play the other team that bolted the Big 12 for the SEC. Their last meeting was a 17-5 Missouri win in 2011, and Texas' most recent trip to the Texas Bowl was even uglier: a 31-7 loss to Arkansas in 2014 in which they had 59 total yards. The Longhorns are only 6-6, but they'll certainly be happy to go bowling again in Tom Herman's first season. So are the Tigers, who started this season 1-5, then won their next six.
17. Outback Bowl: Michigan vs. South Carolina
Noon, Jan. 1, Tampa, Fla., ESPN2
Prepare to watch Jadeveon Clowney hit Vincent Smith approximately 10,000 times before this game ends:
That Brady Hoke-Steve Spurrier matchup was the last time these two met and the most recent Outback Bowl appearance for each. Both teams have had issues on offense and have been hindered by injuries. The best unit in this game is clearly Michigan's loaded defense, which is especially strong up front and could control this game at the line of scrimmage.
16. Las Vegas Bowl: No. 25 Boise State vs. Oregon
3:30 p.m., Dec. 16, Las Vegas, Nev., ABC
Boise State swept meetings with Oregon in 2008-09, with the second game ending with LeGarrette Blount's infamous punch that got him suspended for the rest of the 2009 season. This year's version of the game makes for a fun matchup in the middle of the first day of bowl season. The Ducks were rejuvenated late in the season after the return of QB Justin Herbert, and Boise State has reached 10 wins for the 13th time in 16 seasons, with another Mountain West championship.
15. Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona vs. Purdue
8:30 p.m., Dec. 27, Santa Clara, Calif., Fox
Jeff Brohm led the Boilermakers to a 6-6 record in his first season, allowing for Purdue's first bowl trip since Danny Hope was fired in 2012. They'll be tasked with slowing down Arizona and quarterback Khalil Tate, who ignited the Wildcats after ascending to the starting quarterback job in October. Tate was slowed down in the final two games -- losses to Oregon and Arizona -- but he still has 1,353 rushing yards despite carrying the ball only 10 times in the Wildcats' first four games.
14. Birmingham Bowl: Texas Tech vs. South Florida
Noon, Dec. 23, Birmingham, Ala., ESPN
Charlie Strong has vastly improved South Florida's defense, as the Bulls jumped from 76th to 12th in yards per play allowed in his first season. However, they've also had to defend few dangerous offenses, so it's reasonable to expect an entertaining, high-scoring game in Birmingham this year. This is the Bulls' second straight trip to the bowl after they beat South Carolina 46-39 in overtime last year. Now, they'll face the pass-happy Texas Tech attack, which took down Texas in the season finale to get to six wins and bowl eligibility, ensuring that Kliff Kingsbury would stay on as head coach.
13. Armed Forces Bowl: San Diego State vs. Army
3:30 p.m., Dec. 23, Fort Worth, Texas, ESPN
Only nine teams attempt fewer passes per game than San Diego State's 20.2. One of them is Army, which attempts just 5.5 per game as part of its option offense. Army has completed one or zero passes in seven of 11 games thus far; its record is 5-2 in those games. The Black Knights are making consecutive bowl appearances for the first time since 1984-85, and they'll do it against a San Diego State team that beat Stanford, has won double-digit games three years in a row and has one of the nation's top tailbacks in Rashaad Penny.
12. TaxSlayer Bowl: No. 23 Mississippi State vs. Louisville
Noon, Dec. 30, Jacksonville, Fla., ESPN
Mississippi State and Louisville effectively swapped defensive coordinators after the 2016 season, with Todd Grantham going to Mississippi State (he's already followed Dan Mullen at Florida) and Peter Sirmon going to Louisville. Mississippi State improved from 93rd to 24th in points allowed; Louisville fell from 31st to 71st. The Cardinals finished the season strong on defense, though, with the help of a healthy Jaire Alexander. More important than the coaching storylines: This will likely be the last college game of 2016 Heisman winner and 2017 Heisman finalist Lamar Jackson, one of the most exciting college players we've ever watched. If you haven't watched him much this year after Louisville faded from the national picture early, don't miss out this time. Unfortunately, this game isn't as fun as it could be, with Mississippi State missing both Mullen and injured QB Nick Fitzgerald, but Jackson is always worth turning in for.
11. Holiday Bowl: No. 16 Michigan State vs. No. 18 Washington State
9 p.m., Dec. 28, San Diego, FS1
Washington State's Air Raid offense flopped in the Holiday Bowl last year, scoring just 12 points in a five-point loss to Minnesota. The Cougars return to San Diego for another shot at a Big Ten team with a stingy defense. Despite Wazzu's reputation, both defenses are better than the offenses: The Cougars rank 68th in yards per play on offense and 28th on defense. The Spartans rank 112th on offense and 15th on defense. There will probably be more points scored than last year's Wazzu Holiday Bowl loss, but don't be surprised if it's fairly low-scoring again.
10. Liberty Bowl: No. 20 Memphis vs. Iowa State
12:30 p.m., Dec. 30, Memphis, Tenn., ABC
After a heartbreaking double-OT loss to UCF in the AAC title game, Memphis will stay home at the Liberty Bowl as the consolation after missing out on the Peach Bowl. It's an intriguing matchup between two rising star coaches in Memphis' Mike Norvell and Iowa State's Matt Campbell, with Joel Lanning and a stellar Cyclones defense tasked with slowing down Riley Ferguson, Anthony Miller and the explosive Tigers attack. This is Iowa State's first bowl since the 2012 Liberty Bowl, which it lost to Tulsa, and this is Memphis' first home-field bowl.
9. Alamo Bowl: No. 13 Stanford vs. No. 15 TCU
9 p.m., Dec. 28, San Antonio, Texas, ESPN
The Pac-12 and Big 12 runners-up fell from possible New Year's Six bids to the Alamo Bowl thanks to their losses in conference championship games. It's likely to be the final college game for Stanford tailback Bryce Love, assuming he plays after being hobbled by an ankle injury in the second half of the season. He'll meet the Big 12's best defense.
8. Camping World Bowl: No. 19 Oklahoma State vs. No. 22 Virginia Tech
5:15 p.m., Dec. 28, Orlando, Fla., ESPN
This has the ability to be a fun one between two ranked teams that have yet to beat an opponent ranked in the current top 25. It's the final college game for the prolific Oklahoma State passing combination of QB Mason Rudolph and WR James Washington, and they'll face another stingy Virginia Tech pass defense under coordinator Bud Foster. This is arguably the best defense the Cowboys have seen this season.
7. Citrus Bowl: No. 14 Notre Dame vs. No. 17 LSU
1 p.m., Jan. 1, Orlando, Fla., ABC
These two have seen different trajectories late in the season: LSU has to be thrilled to be in Orlando at 9-3 after a September that included a 30-point loss at Mississippi State and a home loss to Troy. Notre Dame, meanwhile, was viewed as a playoff contender only a few weeks ago, but it got blown out by Miami, then lost its New Year's Six spot because of an 18-point loss to Stanford. Notre Dame appeared to be the far better team around midseason, but that's no longer the case. This is their third bowl meeting in 12 seasons, joining LSU's win in the Sugar Bowl in 2006 and Notre Dame's win in the Music City Bowl in 2014.
6. Orange Bowl: No. 6 Wisconsin vs. No. 10 Miami
8 p.m., Dec. 30, Miami, ESPN
Their most recent meeting was also in a Florida bowl game: a 20-14 Wisconsin win over Miami in the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando. This time, they'll meet in Miami in a bigger game, the Hurricanes' first major bowl and first Orange Bowl -- which, for a time, was a regular occurrence -- since 2003, the year before they joined the ACC. This is Wisconsin's fifth major bowl in the past eight seasons. Both are trying to recover from disappointing finishes after Miami lost to Pitt and was blown out by Clemson and Wisconsin lost its undefeated record to Ohio State.
5. Peach Bowl: No. 7 Auburn vs. No. 12 UCF
12:30 p.m., Jan. 1, Atlanta, ESPN
UCF has had two winless seasons in the past 14 (2004, '15). With a win in Atlanta, it would also have two major bowl victories in that span. The Knights won the Fiesta Bowl with a 12-1 record in 2013, went winless two years later and are now 12-0 and in the Peach Bowl another two years later. In his second season, Scott Frost (who will return to his alma mater, Nebraska, as the new head coach) led a massive offensive turnaround from 123rd to second in yards per play, and the Knights lead the nation in scoring at 49.4 points per game. This, of course, will be UCF's biggest test by far, in terms of the quality of defense it will face. Auburn is loaded with blue-chip talent and ranks ninth in yards per play allowed, with a front capable of putting the kind of pressure on McKenzie Milton that he hasn't seen much of this season.
4. Fiesta Bowl: No. 9 Penn State vs. No. 11 Washington
4 p.m., Dec. 30, Glendale, Ariz., ESPN
The Nittany Lions and Huskies will meet for the third time, joining the 1983 Aloha Bowl and Penn State's 1921 cross-country train trip to Seattle, both resulting in Penn State victories. Both teams are 10-2 with frustrating one-possession losses. This is an excellent matchup of teams that aren't far off from being playoff contenders, and it'll be one last college showcase for Penn State tailback Saquon Barkley against one of the nation's best defenses. This is also a long-awaited return for Penn State to the Fiesta Bowl, which the Lions helped popularize in the 1980s. They last played in the game in 1996.
3. Cotton Bowl: No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 8 USC
8:30 p.m., Dec. 29, Arlington, Texas, ESPN
The Big Ten and Pac-12 champions were both left out of the playoff, but instead of going to Pasadena for the traditional Rose Bowl, they'll go to the Dallas Cowboys' stadium for the Cotton Bowl because the Rose Bowl is part of the playoff. Ohio State has played in the Cotton Bowl only once, in 1986. USC has played in it only once, too, in 1994. Despite all the playoff heartache, this is an attractive matchup, the best of the non-playoff New Year's Six bowls. These two met in six Rose Bowls between the 1968 and '84 seasons, including memorable trilogy from 1972-74. Despite the success of both and the conference tie-ins to the Rose Bowl, this is their first postseason showdown in 33 years. If this is Sam Darnold's last game before going pro, it'll be a stiff test against one of the nation's most talented defenses.
2. Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Alabama
8:45 p.m., Jan. 1, New Orleans, La., ESPN
Tigers-Tide Part III is here, and it has a very strong case for being No. 1 on this list. But we'll put it second for a few reasons: Oklahoma-Georgia is new and has the presumed Heisman winner; Deshaun Watson is no longer involved; and it may be difficult for this game to match the impossibly high bar set by the past two national championships, both of which easily made our list of the 100 best college football games ever (No. 3 and No. 29). A third straight all-time classic is probably unlikely, but perhaps it shouldn't be ruled out. These are two powerful programs that have split the past two national titles. They both recruit at a high level, have excellent coaching staffs and recruit exceptional talent. Debate Alabama's place in the playoff as a non-conference champion all you want, but this has the ability to be another enthralling high-stakes game between the Tigers and Crimson Tide.
1. Rose Bowl: No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Georgia
5 p.m., Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif., ESPN
Oklahoma and Georgia own long, storied football histories, but they've never actually met before. The first meeting is enormous: a playoff semifinal featuring the likely Heisman winner, Baker Mayfield, with two rising star coaches in Lincoln Riley and Kirby Smart and two contrasting styles. Georgia is far better defensively, but Oklahoma has the most explosive offense in the country, with Mayfield on track to break his own FBS single-season passer rating record. Can Georgia win its first national title since 1980? Can Oklahoma win its first since 2000? Can Mayfield capture both the Heisman and a championship in his senior season? Can Riley win a title in his first season upon replacing Bob Stoops? Can Jake Fromm become the first true freshman QB to lead a national championship team since 1985? This game won't answer all those questions, but it will give the winner a chance to go on to make history in Atlanta.