To be frank, last year's bowl season felt a little sad.
A bunch of bowls were canceled by the pandemic even before the matchups were set. More had to be called off on relatively short notice. Teams decided to pass on playing in a bowl altogether after rocky seasons. Fans were grateful for the 25 bowls they got, but it just wasn't the same.
The full bowl lineup is back this season. There will be 43 games, 42 involving FBS teams, before the College Football Playoff championship game Jan. 10 in Indianapolis.
And there is a reason to watch every single one ( lines from FanDuel Sportsbook ):
Friday, Dec. 17
Bahamas Bowl, Nassau
Toledo vs. Middle Tennessee
Why watch? Kicking off at noon ET on a Friday, the Bahamas Bowl marks the official start of the "this can probably wait until after the new year" season when it comes to work.
Pick: Toledo minus 10. Score: Toledo 35, MTSU 21.
Cure Bowl, Orlando, Florida
Northern Illinois vs. Coastal Carolina
Why watch? Coastal QB Grayson McCall's efficiency rating of 207.95 is well ahead of the pace to break the record of 203.06 Alabama's Mac Jones set last year. Fire up your calculator and follow along as McCall chases history.
Pick: Coastal Carolina minus 10 1/2. Score: Coastal 35, NIU 21.
Saturday, Dec. 18
Boca Raton (Fla.) Bowl
Western Kentucky vs. Appalachian State
Why watch? Hilltoppers QB Bailey Zappe needs 288 yards passing —- a good half for him — to break the FBS single-season record of 5,833 set by Texas Tech's B.J. Symons in 2003.
Pick: WKU plus 3. Score: WKU 38, App State 35.
Celebration Bowl, Atlanta
South Carolina State vs. Jackson State
Why watch? Coach Prime! Deion Sanders led Jackson State to its first SWAC title in 14 years, with his son, freshman Shedeur Sanders, playing quarterback.
Pick: South Carolina State plus 10. Score: Jackson State 24, South Carolina State 17.
New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque
Fresno State vs. UTEP
Why watch? Miners try to make a little history. UTEP has not played in the postseason since 2014 and it has not won a bowl since 1967, when it beat Ole Miss at its home Sun Bowl.
Pick: UTEP plus 11 1/2. Score: Fresno State 27, UTEP 17.
Independence Bowl, Shreveport, Louisiana
No. 12 BYU vs. UAB
Why watch? The Independence Bowl has slipped down the bowl pecking order over the years, but BYU is the highest-ranked team to play in Shreveport since No. 15 LSU beat Notre Dame in 1997.
Pick: UAB plus 6 1/2. Score: BYU 27, UAB 24.
LendingTree Bowl, Mobile, Alabama
Eastern Michigan vs. Liberty
Why watch? If the NFL draft is your thing, get a look at Liberty quarterback Malik Willis, who has a chance to rise up the draft boards in a so-so QB class.
Pick: Liberty minus 6 1/2. Score: Liberty 31, Eastern Michigan 21.
Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl, Inglewood, California
Oregon State vs. Utah State
Why watch? Safe bet that at some point Jimmy Kimmel is going to show up in some way. Is that a reason to watch or to flip to another game? That's for you to decide.
Pick: Oregon State minus 7 1/2. Score: Oregon State 42, Utah State 28.
New Orleans Bowl
No. 16 Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Marshall
Why watch? Ragin' Cajuns are New Orleans bowl regulars, with five appearances but none since 2016. With a late kickoff, should be good atmosphere at the Superdome.
Pick: Louisiana-Lafayette minus 1/2. Score: Louisiana-Lafayette 24, Marshall 20.
Monday, Dec. 20
Myrtle Beach Bowl, Conway, South Carolina
Old Dominion vs. Tulsa
Why watch? The game kicks at 2:30 p.m. EST, but it's always happy hour somewhere. Actually, isn't it always happy hour in Myrtle Beach?
Pick: Tulsa minus 8 1/2. Score: Tulsa 28, Old Dominion 14.
Tuesday, Dec. 21
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Boise, Idaho
Kent State vs. Wyoming.
Why watch? Last year, the winning coach of the Potato Bowl had French fries dumped on him instead of the traditional Gatorade bath. This year, maybe mashed potatoes?
Pick: Wyoming minus 3. Score: Wyoming 34, Kent State 28.
Frisco (Texas) Bowl
No. 24 UTSA vs. San Diego State
Why watch? Only the playoff games have two teams that combined for more victories than the Roadrunners (12-1) and Aztecs (11-2). Plus, punt god Matt Araiza of San Diego State.
Pick: San Diego State plus 3. Score: San Diego State 23, UTSA 21.
Wednesday, Dec. 22
Armed Forces Bowl, Fort Worth, Texas
Army vs. Missouri
Why watch? Find out what happens when Army's triple-option matches up against the Southeastern Conference's worst run defense.
Pick: Army minus 4. Score: Army 28, Missouri 21.
Thursday, Dec. 23
Frisco (Texas) Football Classic
Miami (Ohio) vs. North Texas
Why watch? Last season, bowls were getting canceled left and right. This game was ADDED to the lineup a few weeks before it will be played. It's the Anti-2020 Bowl and deserving of your respect.
Pick: North Texas plus 3. Score North Texas 34, Miami 24.
Gasparilla Bowl, Tampa, Florida
UCF vs. Florida
Why watch? Don't think this is how UCF was hoping to get its first crack since 2009 at the Gators, who limp in with an interim coach and .500 record. Still, the winner will hold it over the loser as if it was a playoff game.
Pick: Florida minus 7. Score: Florida 31, UCF 23.
Friday, Dec. 24
Hawaii Bowl, Honolulu
Memphis vs. Hawaii
Why watch? How many times do you need to watch “It's a Wonderful Life,” really?
Pick: Hawaii plus 7. Score: Memphis 21, Hawaii 17.
Saturday, Dec. 25
Camellia Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama
Ball State vs. Georgia State
Why watch? How many times do you need to watch “A Christmas Story,” really?
Pick: Georgia State minus 4 1/2. Score: Georgia State 24, Ball State 16.
Monday, Dec. 27
Quick Lane Bowl, Detroit
Nevada vs. Western Michigan
Why watch? Two winning football teams playing at Ford Field, the home of the Lions. That doesn't happen often.
Pick: Nevada minus 3. Score: Nevada 27, Western Michigan 21.
Military Bowl, Annapolis, Maryland
Boston College vs. East Carolina
Why watch? Get a jump on your 2023 NFL draft QB class with a look at Phil Jurkovec of BC.
Pick: East Carolina plus 3. Score: Boston College 26, ECU 24.
Tuesday, Dec. 28
Birmingham (Ala.) Bowl
No. 21 Houston vs. Auburn
Why watch? Transitive property playoff preview: Auburn lost to Alabama in overtime. Houston was routed by Cincinnati in the AAC title game. How do the Cougars and Tigers match up? Will it reveal anything about how the Cotton Bowl will play out? Probably not, but somebody on social media is bound to suggest it does.
Pick: Auburn minus 3. Score: Auburn 26, Houston 20.
SERVPRO First Responder Bowl, Dallas
Air Force vs. Louisville
Why watch? Last chance to see the triple-option until next season.
Pick: Score: Air Force plus 1. Score: Air Force 31, Louisville 28.
Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tennessee.
Mississippi State vs. Texas Tech
Why watch? According to Mississippi State coach Mike Leach, Texas Tech still owes him money from when he was fired more than a decade ago ago. How funny would it be if Tech delivered it at halftime, but in the form of one of those oversized golf tournament checks?
Pick: Texas Tech plus 8 1/2. Mississippi State 35, Texas Tech 28.
Holiday Bowl, San Diego
UCLA vs. North Carolina State
Why watch? If he plays —- always an open-ended question with top NFL prospects in bowl games —- North Carolina State All-American Ikem Ekwonu might be the best offensive lineman in the country.
Pick: North Carolina State minus 1. Score: N.C. State 35, UCLA 31.
Guaranteed Rate Bowl, Phoenix
Minnesota vs. West Virginia
Why watch? The Gophers lost to Bowling Green this season, scoring 10 points. Not really a reason to watch, but three months later, still trying to figure out how that happened.
Pick: Minnesota minus 4. Score: Minnesota 23, West Virginia 10.
Wednesday, Dec. 29
Fenway Bowl, Boston
Virginia vs. SMU
Why watch? You miss baseball.
Pick: Virginia minus 1 1/2. Score: Virginia 38, SMU 28.
Pinstripe Bowl, New York
Virginia Tech vs. Maryland
Why watch? You really miss baseball.
Pick: Maryland plus 2 1/2. Score: Maryland 27, Virginia Tech 17.
Cheez-It Bowl, Orlando, Florida
No. 19 Clemson vs. Iowa State
Why watch? Two preseason top-10 teams expected better, but could both be motivated to end the season on a high note.
Pick: Clemson plus 1 1/2. Score: Clemson 24, Iowa State 21.
Alamo Bowl, San Antonio
No. 14 Oklahoma vs. No. 15 Oregon
Why watch? Sooners QB Caleb Williams starts his 2022 Heisman Trophy campaign.
Pick: Oregon plus 4 1/2. Score: Oklahoma 31, Oregon 28.
Thursday, Dec. 30
Duke’s Mayo Bowl, Charlotte, North Carolina
South Carolina vs. North Carolina
Why watch? No team in the country was more excited to go 6-6 than South Carolina in year one under coach Shane Beamer. No team in the country was more of disappointed to go 6-6 than North Carolina, which started the season ranked No. 10 under coach Mack Brown.
Pick: North Carolina minus 9. Score: North Carolina 35, South Carolina 17.
Music City Bowl, Nashville
Purdue vs. Tennessee
Why watch? Reminisce about the Bluebonnet Bowl, the postseason game once played in the old Houston Astrodome that was the setting for the only pervious matchup of the Boilermakers and Volunteers in 1979.
Pick: Tennessee minus 4 1/2. Score: Tennessee 35, Purdue 24.
Peach Bowl, Atlanta
No. 11 Michigan State vs. No. 13 Pittsburgh
Why watch? Two of the country's most surprising double-digit win teams. Think of how cool this would be if it was a playoff game.
Pick: Pittsburgh plus 2 1/2. Score: Pitt 31, Michigan State 23.
Las Vegas Bowl
Wisconsin vs. Arizona State
Why watch? See the best 17-year-old in college football. Badgers RB Braelon Allen completed high school early and won't turn 18 until January. The 238-pounder ran for 1,109 yards and 12 touchdowns despite hardly playing the first four games.
Pick: Wisconsin minus 7. Score: Wisconsin 28, Arizona State 17.
Friday, Dec. 31
Gator Bowl, Jacksonville, Florida
No. 20 Wake Forest vs. No. 23 Texas A&M
Why watch? Classic good offense vs. good defense. Demon Deacons are fifth in the country, scoring 41 points per game. Aggies allow 16 per game, third best in the nation.
Pick: Texas A&M minus 5. Score: Texas A&M 34, Wake Forest 21.
Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas
Washington State vs. Miami
Why watch? One of the many bowls canceled last season because of the pandemic, but this one was especially missed. Only the Rose is older and the Sun Bowl remains the only bowl televised by CBS. It feels like nostalgia.
Pick: Miami minus 2 1/2. Score: Miami 31, Washington State 23.
Arizona Bowl, Tucson
Central Michigan vs. Boise State
Why watch: Maybe the best running back in the country you have never heard of is CMU's Lew Nichols III, who leads the nation at 142.5 yards per game. MACtion fans are familiar with his work.
Pick: Boise State minus 7 1/2. Score: Boise State 28, Central Michigan 16.
Saturday, Jan. 1
Outback Bowl, Tampa, Florida
No. 22 Arkansas vs. Penn State
Why watch? The Razorbacks and Nittany Lions have never played. How often do you get to see something that has never happened before?
Pick: Arkansas plus 1 1/2. Arkansas 23, Penn State 20.
Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida
No. 17 Iowa vs. No. 25 Kentucky
Why watch? It's like a science experiment on the randomness of turnovers. The Hawkeyes have 30 takeaways and lead the nation with a plus-14 turnover margin. The Wildcats have the second-worst margin in the country (minus 13), with 22 giveaways.
Pick: Kentucky minus 3. Score: Kentucky 20, Iowa 16.
Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Arizona
No. 5 Notre Dame vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State
Why watch? Can the Fighting Irish snap their nine-game losing streak in what can be called major bowl games in coach Marcus Freeman's coaching debut?
Pick: Notre Dame minus 2 1/2. Score: Notre Dame 27, Oklahoma State 23.
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Utah
Why watch? The late-blooming Utes are the type of team that could be dangerous in an expanded playoff. Then again, so are the Buckeyes.
Pick: Ohio State minus 6 1/2. Score: Ohio State 38, Utah 27.
Sugar Bowl, New Orleans
No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 8 Mississippi
Why watch? Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin's offense vs. Baylor coach Dave Aranda's defense. Interesting chess match.
Pick: Ole Miss minus 3. Score: Ole Miss 28, Baylor 23.
Tuesday, Jan. 4
Texas Bowl, Houston
LSU vs. Kansas State
Why watch? New LSU coach Brian Kelly won't be on the sideline, but is a good bet to be interviewed during the game. How's that Southern accent coming along?
Pick: Kansas State plus 1. Score: Kansas State 24, LSU 21.
College Football Playoff
Orange Bowl semifinal, Miami Gardens, Florida
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Georgia
Why watch? Jim Harbaugh in a big game. Win or lose, think of the hot takes!
Pick: Georgia minus 8 1/2. Score: Georgia 31, Michigan 14.
Cotton Bowl semifinal, Arlington, Texas
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Cincinnati
Why watch? Can the Bearcats, the playoff's first true Cinderella team, stay with the mighty Tide?
Pick: Alabama minus 13 1/2. Score: Alabama 35-17.
Championship weekend: 3-7 straight; 4-6 against the spread.
Season: 196-96 straight; 154-136 against the spread.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com
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