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Sunday, December 7, 2008
Updated: December 8, 12:22 PM ET
Best (or worst) in show: Ranking all 34 bowls

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

Welcome to the 2008 college football bowl season.

The BCS offers fans at least three great games, including the showdown between No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 2 Florida in the Jan. 8 BCS National Championship Game at Dolphin Stadium in South Florida.

If you look a little harder, you'll see other intriguing matchups among the non-BCS bowl games.

Here are the 34 bowl games, ranked best to worst:

1. FedEx BCS National Championship Game
No. 2 Florida vs. 1 Oklahoma
8 p.m. ET, Jan. 8
In a round-about way, the BCS probably got this one right. Two explosive offenses, with at least one stingy defense. It might be a matchup of two Heisman Trophy winners (maybe even a two-time winner) and two coaches who love to "finish" games.

Mark Sanchez
Quarterback Mark Sanchez leads USC to Pasadena, the Trojans fourth straight appearance in the Rose Bowl.
2. Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi
No. 8 Penn State vs. No. 5 USC
4:30 p.m., Jan. 1 (ABC)
Each team was one victory away from playing for the national championship. The Nittany Lions are playing in the Rose Bowl for the only the third time; the Trojans will be in Pasadena, Calif., for the fourth consecutive season. Penn State's first appearance was a 14-3 loss to USC on New Year's Day 1923 -- a little more than three years before coach Joe Paterno was born.

3. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
No. 10 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Texas
8 p.m., Jan. 5
The Longhorns are still peeved they didn't get a chance to play for the national championship, but they might have received the next-best thing: playing Ohio State in a BCS bowl game. The powerhouse programs have never met in a bowl game.

4. San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
No. 9 Boise State vs. No. 11 TCU
8 p.m., Dec. 23 (ESPN)
The bowl match-makers tried to pit the unbeaten Broncos against Ball State. The Horned Frogs present a better game and a tougher out. Don't be surprised if the Horned Frogs spoil Boise State's unbeaten season.

5. Allstate Sugar Bowl
No. 6 Utah vs. No. 4 Alabama
8 p.m., Jan. 2
Sugar Bowl officials can only hope this game is better than the 2007 edition, in which Georgia routed unbeaten Hawaii 41-10. Alabama might have too much defense for the Utes, who are rather pedestrian on offense. At least Utah has been more battled tested than Hawaii was last season, beating Michigan, TCU and BYU.

6. Capital One Bowl
No. 15 Georgia vs. No. 18 Michigan State
1 p.m., Jan. 1 (ABC)
The game features two great running backs: Georgia's Knowshon Moreno and Michigan State's Javon Ringer. Bulldogs fans are hoping the Capital One Bowl isn't the last college game for Moreno and quarterback Matthew Stafford, but it probably will be.

7. Pacific Life Holiday Bowl
No. 13 Oklahoma State vs. No. 17 Oregon
8 p.m., Dec. 30 (ESPN)
The Ducks could go a long way in restoring the Pac-10's pride with a victory over the Cowboys. This game should be an exciting shootout, as both teams rank in the top eight nationally in scoring offense, combining to put up more than 83 points per game.

LeSean McCoy
Pitt RB LeSean McCoy finished 10th in the country in yards per game this season.
8. Sun Bowl
Oregon State vs. No. 20 Pittsburgh
2 p.m., Dec. 31
The game features two former NFL head coaches -- Oregon State's Mike Riley and Pittsburgh's Dave Wannstedt -- who have had far more success at the college level. Two of the country's more dynamic running backs, Beavers freshman Jacquizz Rodgers and Pitt sophomore LeSean McCoy, also square off in El Paso, Texas.

9. GMAC Bowl
Tulsa vs. No. 22 Ball State
8 p.m., Jan. 6 (ESPN)
Two of the country's most underrated quarterbacks -- Ball State's Nate Davis and Tulsa's David Johnson -- face off at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. Both passers will be looking to redeem themselves after surprisingly ugly performances in their respective conference championship games.

10. Cotton Bowl
No. 25 Ole Miss. vs. No. 7 Texas Tech
2 p.m., Jan. 2
The Red Raiders were more than worthy of playing in a BCS bowl game, but they'll have their hands full against the much-improved Rebels. Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead returns to his native Texas, where he'll try to out-duel Heisman Trophy candidate Graham Harrell.

11. Chick-fil-A Bowl
LSU vs. No. 14 Georgia Tech
7:30 p.m., Dec. 31 (ESPN)
The defending national champion Tigers have struggled on defense all season. It won't get any easier against Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson's triple-option spread offense. The Yellow Jackets will be playing only a few blocks from home, and can finish the season with a 10-3 record by beating LSU.

12. FedEx Orange Bowl
No. 12 Cincinnati vs. No. 19 Virginia Tech
8:30 p.m., Jan. 1
The Bearcats and Hokies each do little for the eyes offensively, but they're good, sound football teams. Despite losing a handful of quarterbacks, the Bearcats went 11-2 and won the Big East for the first time. The Hokies lost a boatload of players to the NFL last season, but still won the ACC for the second season in a row.

13. Gator Bowl
Clemson vs. Nebraska
1 p.m., Jan. 1
Both teams finished strong after disappointing 3-3 starts. Clemson's 7-5 finish was good enough to help interim coach Dabo Swinney get the head-coaching job for 2009. The Cornhuskers won five of their last six games in coach Bo Pelini's first season.

14. Champs Sports Bowl
Wisconsin vs. Florida State
4:30 p.m., Dec. 27 (ESPN)
The Badgers and Seminoles meet for the first time, and both teams limped to the finish of the regular season. Wisconsin struggled to beat Cal Poly 36-35 in its finale and finished 7-5. FSU lost two of its last three games, including a 45-15 rout against Florida, and went 8-4.

15. Valero Alamo Bowl
No. 21 Missouri vs. No. 23 Northwestern
8 p.m., Dec. 29 (ESPN)
Wildcats senior quarterback C.J. Bacher ranked ninth in the Big 10 in pass efficiency. He'll surely move up after going against Missouri's defense, which ranked 117th nationally in pass defense. Tailback Tyrell Sutton also should be back from a dislocated wrist. Northwestern is aiming for only the second 10-win season in school history.

Max Hall
BYU QB Max Hall threw for over 3,600 yards and 34 touchdowns this season.
16. Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl
No. 16 BYU vs. Arizona
8 p.m., Dec. 20 (ESPN)
BYU might want to set up a satellite campus in Las Vegas. The Cougars will play in the Las Vegas Bowl for the fourth consecutive season, after beating Oregon 38-8 in 2006 and UCLA 17-16 in 2007. The Wildcats lost three of their last five games, but beat rival Arizona State 31-10 in their finale.

17. Sheraton Hawaii Bowl
Hawaii vs. Notre Dame
8 p.m., Dec. 24 (ESPN)
At least Notre Dame's nine-game losing streak in bowl games -- the longest in NCAA history -- will continue on the scenic Pacific island. The Fighting Irish haven't won a bowl games since defeating Texas A&M 24-21 in the 1994 Cotton Bowl. Hawaii has won four of its last six games and will be playing at home.

18. Outback Bowl
South Carolina vs. Iowa
11 a.m., Jan. 1 (ESPN)
The Gamecocks have won four bowl games in more than 100 years of playing football. Two of their victories came in the Outback Bowl and both were against Ohio State: 31-28 in 2002 and 24-7 in 2001. It will be Iowa's third appearance in the Outback Bowl in the last five seasons.

19. Meineke Car Care Bowl
West Virginia vs. North Carolina
1 p.m., Dec. 27 (ESPN)
The game features two of the more inconsistent teams in the country. Each went 8-4 after never really battling for a conference title. Mountaineers quarterback Pat White plays his final college game against a very stingy North Carolina pass defense.

20. Emerald Bowl
Miami vs. California
8 p.m., Dec. 27 (ESPN)
Miami's young defense struggled to stop the run, which isn't a good thing when playing the Bears. Cal tailback Jahvid Best ran for 1,394 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.

21. PapaJohns.com Bowl
NC State vs. Rutgers
3 p.m., Dec. 29 (ESPN)
Who could have imagined either of these teams playing in a bowl game two months ago? The Scarlet Knights lost five of their first six games, but won six in a row to finish 7-5. The Wolfpack started the season 2-6, but won four in a row to finish 6-6.

22. Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Houston vs. Air Force
Noon, Dec. 31 (ESPN)
How is this for contrasting styles? Houston quarterback Case Keenum threw for 4,768 yards with 43 touchdowns. Air Force freshman Tim Jefferson passes for 557 yards with five touchdowns.

23. Insight Bowl
Kansas vs. Minnesota
5:30 p.m., Dec. 31
The Gophers go back to the Insight Bowl, where two years ago they blew a 31-point lead to Texas Tech in a 44-41 overtime loss. That loss was the final game for then-Minnesota coach Glen Mason, and might have turned around the fortune of Texas Tech's program.

Colin Kaepernick
Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick can do it with his arm (19 TDs) and his legs (16 TDs).
24. Roady's Humanitarian Bowl
Maryland vs. Nevada
4:30 p.m., Dec. 30 (ESPN)
The Terrapins squandered the ACC's Atlantic Division crown by losing their last two games. A trip to not-so-balmy Boise, Idaho, was their reward. The Terps will have their hands full against Wolf Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a two-way threat, and bruising runner Vai Taua.

25. Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl
No. 24 Boston College vs. Vanderbilt
3:30 p.m., Dec. 31 (ESPN)
Here's what's music to the Commodores' ears: They're playing in a bowl game for the first time in 26 years. Vanderbilt last played in the postseason in 1982, losing to Air Force 36-28 in the Hall of Fame Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. The Commodores best get better on offense before they play the Eagles' swarming defense.

26. Eagle Bank Bowl
Wake Forest vs. Navy
11 a.m., Dec. 20 (ESPN)
Haven't we seen this game before? Yes, we have. Navy upset the Demon Deacons 24-17 on Sept. 27. Because of final exams and other scheduling problems, the inaugural bowl game in Washington, D.C., didn't have a choice but to select a rematch.

27. AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Kentucky vs. East Carolina
5 p.m., Jan. 2 (ESPN)
The Pirates are starting to look like the team that stunned Virginia Tech and West Virginia to start the season. They stunned Tulsa 27-24 in Saturday's Conference USA championship game to earn a trip to Memphis. Kentucky is just glad it isn't back in Nashville, after playing in the Music City Bowl each of the previous two seasons.

28. International Bowl
Buffalo vs. Connecticut
Noon, Jan. 3 (ESPN2)
The Bulls stunned previously unbeaten Ball State 42-24 in the MAC championship game on Friday night. They were rewarded with their first-ever trip to a bowl game -- in Toronto.

29. Texas Bowl
Rice vs. Western Michigan
8 p.m., Dec. 30
Talk about offensive fireworks. The teams' starting quarterbacks -- Rice's Chase Clement and Western Michigan's Tim Hiller -- combined to throw for more than 7,300 yards with 75 touchdown passes.

30. New Mexico Bowl
Colorado State vs. Fresno State
2:30 p.m., Dec. 20 (ESPN)
Great first year for Rams coach Steve Fairchild, a former Buffalo Bills assistant. He became the first coach in Colorado State history to direct his team to a bowl game in his first season.

31. magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl
Memphis vs. South Florida
4:30 p.m., Dec. 20 (ESPN2)
The Bulls once again faded down the stretch, losing four of their last five games after starting 5-0. South Florida won't play far from campus, about 30 minutes away at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

32. Motor City Bowl
Florida Atlantic vs. Central Michigan
8 p.m., Dec. 26 (ESPN)
The Chippewas would have preferred to have played at Ford Field for last week's MAC championship game. Instead, they'll play the Owls in the Motor City Bowl. The game is a matchup of two of the country's most unheralded quarterbacks: Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour and Florida Atlantic's Rusty Smith.

33. R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Southern Mississippi vs. Troy
8:15 p.m., Dec. 21 (ESPN)
First-year Golden Eagles coach Larry Fedora kept intact former coach Jeff Bower's streak by guiding his team to a bowl game for the seventh consecutive team. Southern Miss will have to beat Sun Belt champion Troy to keep intact another one of Bower's streaks: six consecutive seasons with at least seven victories.

34. Independence Bowl
Northern Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech
8:15 p.m., Dec. 28 (ESPN)
The SEC and Big 12 didn't have enough bowl-eligible teams to fill these spots, so the Huskies and Bulldogs are headed to Shreveport, La. Louisiana Tech is playing in its first bowl game since 2001 and leans heavily on its running game. Northern Illinois finished 6-6 under first-year coach Jerry Kill.