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Bowl predictions 2012: what to watch (and what to skip)

It may be the most glorious time of the year, but watching all 35 bowl games while handling holiday and social responsibilities is a tall order.

The pope joined Twitter for just such an occasion.
The pope joined Twitter for just such an occasion.

With everything potentially on your plate for the next month, consuming in upwards of 35 games in roughly as many days can be daunting. Luckily, we're here to help you figure out what is must see TV, and what can be safely skipped when your significant other insists on watching "It's a Wonderful Life" again (or something).

ONE STAR (for only the most degenerate football junkies):

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl-Rice vs Air Force. I can't understand some of these bowl sponsorships. What does Bell Helicopter have to gain by having their name on a 4th tier bowl game? It's not like helicopters are a consumer good that needs to be advertised, like a tortilla chip or a crappy chain restaurant. OH LOOK HONEY IT'S THE HELICOPTER BOWL AND NOW THAT I THINK OF IT WE KINDA NEED A HELICOPTER DON'T WE? As far as the game goes though, you probably can't name a single football player on either Rice or Air Force. The University named after cheap food lost to Memphis, and Air Force got boatraced by Army plus lost to UNLV. I guess Air Force will probably win because their familiarity with helicopters (and the option)? But whatever.

Heart of Dallas Bowl-Purdue vs Oklahoma State. #PrayforPurdue. One side has played the QB slot machines all season, has been blown out in several of their games with half-decent teams, and just fired their coach. The other is Oklahoma State, which seems to trot out athletes for days and just finds ways to score 40 points a game. Perhaps the only interesting storyline is if Mike Gundy sticks around Stillwater, or heads to Tennessee. The Cowpokes should run all over Purdue, but if you just want to watch carnage on TV, "Die Hard" is probably on Spike. It'll be more fun.

Little Caesars Bowl-Western Kentucky vs Central Michigan. Good for Western Kentucky in getting to their first bowl game, and good for WKU coach Willie Tagart, who has done not just a great job of rebuilding the Hilltoppers, but in trolling the hell of out of Kentucky fans and students. I wish nothing but the best for him. A game in a half-empty Ford Field against a decidedly "meh" MAC team doesn't really move the needle much, though. On the plus side, Little Caesars really is an underrated cheap pizza option. A whole pizza that's better than Dominos for less than the price of a Chipotle burrito? I wholeheartedly approve.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl-Navy vs Arizona State. Have you guys seen Navy's schedule? Games like this are great examples for why we have too many damn bowls. Even if Todd Graham takes the Army job in the middle of this one, Arizona State should be the highest of your bowl confidence picks.

Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman-San Jose State vs Bowling Green. Another example of a totally bizarre bowl sponsorship, until Halliburton and the Umbrella Corporation sign their inevitable bowl naming rights deals. Mike MacIntyre has certainly done one of the more underrated rebuilding jobs this season with SJSU, and deserves (and will probably get) a promotion to a bigger school in short order. Both teams boast surprisingly spry defenses (who knew this was possible in the WAC and MAC respectively?), so this could be low scoring. The lack of star-power and a weird location (not a whole lot of SJSU grads living in Arlington or Bethesda) make this a pretty meh game overall, though.

Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl-Fresno State vs SMU. SMU hasn't played in an exciting bowl game since before I was born. They face a strong Fresno side that gives up less than 23 points per game and hasn't scored less than 40 since October 13th. SMU lost to Tulane and Rice, and Garett Gilbert has thrown 13 picks to 14 TDs. Also, there is always garbage flying around the field in Hawaii, giving it a high school game feel. Gross.

Belk Bowl-Cincinnati vs Duke. "Holy crap, Duke is in a bowl game? For real?," you're probably asking yourself. The Blue Devils have lost five of their last six, while Cincinnati four of their last five, but were very competitive in their close loses to Big East runner ups Rutgers and Big East champs Louisville. They're also fighting to keep their coach, and also to get invited into a real conference as the Big East slowly sinks to the sea. This should not be a competitive football game, but on the bright side, it should leave Duke fans sad. It doesn't just stop at basketball, folks.

Russell Athletic Bowl-Rutgers vs Virginia Tech. Two completely impotent offense sides do battle in Orlando....yeah. Rutgers actually has a pretty good defense, and there are rumors that Logan Thomas is actually good as well (although you probably wouldn't know it from this season), but this could end up being an unwatchable 9-3 or 13-7 type game. On the plus, this is probably the best bowl game to follow on Twitter. #FF @THEKEYPLAY.

BBVA Compass Bowl-Pittsburgh vs Ole Miss. To be totally fair, Pitt has improved a lot since they were blown out by Youngstown freaking State, and Ole Miss has certainly shown a lot of fight this year. Pitt seems to play in this bowl game every year though, and they're never fun to watch. A (not so) winning combination.

R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl-East Carolina vs Louisiana-Lafayette. The Cajuns played one of the best bowl games last year, and quietly boast a pretty effective offense. East Carolina got fat by beating up on bad teams in a horrible year for CUSA, and I don't think they'll compete well in a Superdome that's actually going to be more than half full, probably with drunk, loud Cajun fans.

TWO STARS (worth alternating between commercials/keeping an eye on):

Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl-UCF vs Ball State. Is Beef 'O' Brady's disgusting? Yes it is, and this is coming from a guy that previously wrote about how he unironically loves Little Caesars. Will this game be disgusting? I doubt it. UCF quietly boasts a hyper efficient QB and a stable of strong running backs that could hang with any group of five team (and even hung with Ohio State for a while). Ball State has scored less than 30 points in a game exactly once this season, and hung 52 on Ohio. This could be a points EXPLOSION, which is always fun. Hashtag MACtion.

Meinkeke Car Care Bowl-Minnesota vs Texas Tech. #PrayforMinnesota. Hell, #PrayfortheB1G. Minnesota is playing in their first bowl game since 2009, which is great. They're probably going to get slaughtered, which is less great, but watching Minnesota lose badly feels a little less depressing than watching Purdue get killed, since the Boilermakers actually had quasi-high expectations. The Gophers are just glad to be here.

Advocare V100 Independence Bowl-Louisiana-Monroe vs Ohio. Am I bummed that Louisiana Tech decidedly they'd rather troll everybody than play in what could have been a great rivalry game? Yeah, but Ohio is a solid-to-decent consolation prize. Both of these mid-major types picked up some BCS scalps early in the season, then struggled a little bit on defense later on in conference play. Both are well coached and fun to watch on offense though, so this could be a good candidate for some weird bowl MACtion as well.

Autozone Liberty Bowl- Tulsa vs Iowa State. Really? Iowa State was better than Louisiana Tech? Iowa State has a competitive defense and Tulsa can score, so this might be worth a quick perusal. Still, you're that concerned with kissing the Big 12's ring, Liberty Bowl? Not a good look.

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl-BYU vs SDSU. This might actually be a worse bowl sponsorship than the Bell Helicopter bowl. As far as the game goes, BYU actually has an outstanding defense, but their offense makes Michigan State look like the New England Patriots. I've probably written 1,000 "heh heh, of course BYU can't score HONOR CODE VIOLATION LOLOLOL" jokes in my life, so feel free to make your own here. It's always kind of funny to see huge party schools match up with a team like the Cougars, where half the squad is like, 25, married, and has three kids already.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl-TCU vs Michigan State. Both teams have strong frontlines (Michigan State's is a little better), and both have somewhat erratic QB play (TCU's is better). If you want to watch hard hits but with slightly more offense competence than Rutgers/Va Tech, tune in here.

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl-NC State vs Vanderbilt. More like COACH Franklin bowl AMIRITE BROS? Vandy hasn't beaten a team with a winning record all year, NC State just fired their coach, but quietly has one of the most effective passing attacks in the country. They also got killed by UVA. Soooo....yeah. Plus James Franklin just got PAID.

Three Stars (these are pretty good football games! Probably!):

Gilden New Mexico Bowl-Nevada vs Arizona. The first bowl game of the season should start with a bang, as both teams bring explosive offenses. Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson is the best running back you haven't heard of, and he'll be operating out of the dangerous pistol offense. Rich Rod, Matt Scott, and the Wildcat offense should combine for a game with plenty of points and dynamic rushing plays. .Arizona is probably more complete as a team, though.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl-Toledo vs Utah State. Strong non-BCS programs who can both score and stop people from scoring? Check. The Rockets have been within a score of every game they've lost this season, and David Fluellen is a great running back. Utah State has the 8th best scoring defense in the country. Should be a fun game! Also, blue turf. Bowl-Kent State vs Arkansas State. Two teams that enjoying historic success, guided by hot name head coaches and have a penchant for wild games? Should be a great matchup, with the wild passing of Arky State meeting a formidable foe in the vaunted Kent State rushing attack. Arky State has won 7 in a row.

MAACO Las Vegas Bowl-Washington vs Boise State. Could you believe these schools have only played each other twice? The Huskies have played one of the toughest schedules in the country, and boast Keith Price, an excellent QB. They don't seem to be able to keep him upright with any regularity, but if this is the same squad that beat Oregon State and Stanford, they could play with anybody.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl-Syracuse vs West Virginia. WVU fans in New York City? Hysterical. Ryan Nassib in a losing effort potential? Extremely high. Number of points scored? Could be elevendy billion, especially with Geno Smith wanting to go out on a high note to aid his draft stock.

Hyundai Sun Bowl-USC vs Georgia Tech. Raise your hand if you thought USC was going to play an .500 team in El Paso for their bowl game. No? Yeah, I think I had them in the title game in the preseason too. On paper, this should be a huge mismatch, but USC has struggled with their interior rush defense, and the Sun Bowl is a notorious THIS IS BAT COUNTRY staple of weirdness. I'm not sure any result in this game would totally shock me.

Taxslayer Gator Bowl-Northwestern vs Mississippi State Guys, the Big Ten's best chance to win a bowl game might depend on Northwestern, who has lost approximately 400,312 bowl games in a row. These two teams are pretty evenly matched, and the Wildcats might try all sorts of unconventional stuff to break their futility streak.

Valero Alamo Bowl-Texas vs Oregon State Texas doesn't play any defense where as Oregon State plays lots of defense (while also boasting the 15th best passing attack). There isn't an In-N-Out for hundreds of miles, however, so finding a way to keep Oregon State motivated might be a sneaky storyline here.

Allstate Sugar Bowl-Louisville vs Florida. This really depends on how healthy Teddy Bridgewater is. He came off the bench to lead a heroic effort for the Cardinals against Rutgers, and if he's able to play the whole game, they might be able to make a game of it. If not, well, we get to watch an exceptional defense choke the life out of an overmatched team (see: every Sugar Bowl of this nature for the last decade).

Capital One Bowl-Nebraska vs Georgia. I am aware that Georgia is going to be a heavy favorite. I am aware that Nebraska just gave up another 41 yards rushing in the last ten minutes. Call me crazy, but I have to think that Nebraska can patch up some of those defensive holes enough to not give up 70 in a huge bowl game. If not? Well, watching a team get Clemson'd is always exciting if nothing else.

Outback Bowl-Michigan vs South Carolina. South Carolina's defensive front is absolutely terrifying. Michigan has two dynamic offensive playmakers, and a month to figure out how to call a few plays. The Wolverine defensive side, especially in the secondary, is significantly improved. They have a chance to make this a game.


Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl-Baylor vs UCLA. How many points? #ALLOFTHEPOINTS.

Discover Orange Bowl-Northern Illinois vs Florida State. I'm sick of all the whining about how it's such a travesty that NIU is in a BCS game. We celebrate Cinderella's in virtually every other sport; why not football? Do we really want to see Oklahoma lay another turd in a big game? Let Jordan Lynch and the Huskies have a shot. If Florida State is as disinterested as they were against Georgia Tech, the MAC could absolutely steal one here.

Rose Bowl-Wisconsin vs Stanford. ROSEBOWLROSEBOWLROSEBOWL *Jim Delany passes out*. Wisconsin may not be that great, but a matchup between a great front seven and a team that rushed for 3 miles in a conference title game should still be intriguing.

Chick-Fil-A Bowl-LSU vs Clemson. Clemson didn't really Clemson this year, which is strange. LSU has shown a few signs off life passing the ball as the season progresses, while Clemson boasts one of the most dynamic batch of skill players on offense in the country (offensive line not included). LSU's front seven kills people. Should be a blast.

BCS Championship Game-Notre Dame vs Alabama. You should care because it's the national title game, and both team's boast crazy good defenses, but it likely won't be as entertaining as some of the other big games near the end of the year.

AT&T Cotton Bowl-Oklahoma vs Texas A&M. Former Big 12 rivals, two of the best QBs in the country, crazy fan bases, and the possible Heisman winner? What's not to love?

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl-Oregon vs Kansas State. Not sure you could find two more different programs, with the flash and glitz of Oregon against the staid, plodding (and deadly) Kansas State. This game will feature amazing rushing QBs, strong defenses, and two teams that won't beat themselves. Should be a lot more fun than the Bama game.