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Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Updated: December 9, 3:28 AM ET
It's a no-brainer for No. 1

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Texas won't play for the BCS national championship for another 31 days.

Between now and then, 33 bowl games will be played from coast to coast and in Canada.

There are more than a few intriguing matchups, and there's always a reason to watch.

We rank the 2009 college football bowl games from No. 1 to No. 34:

Nick Saban
Nick Saban will have a month to create a scheme for Texas' potent offense.
1. Citi BCS National Championship Game
No. 2 Texas vs. No. 1 Alabama
8 p.m. ET, Jan. 7

The undefeated Crimson Tide versus the unbeaten Longhorns. SEC versus Big 12. Nick Saban versus Mack Brown. Defense versus offense. What more could you possibly want? Well, if you're a Crimson Tide fan, you'd probably rather play Ohio State or Oklahoma.

2. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
No. 6 Boise State vs. No. 4 TCU
8 p.m. ET, Jan. 4

Yes, it's a rematch of last season's Poinsettia Bowl, in which the Horned Frogs defeated the Broncos 17-16 in Boise's only loss of the season. But it's a heck of a lot better than trying to watch Iowa's offense score against TCU or Georgia Tech's defense trying to stop Boise State. It's a matchup of two unbeaten teams, and one of them could finish No. 2 in the country. TCU leads the country in total defense; Boise State leads the country in scoring.

3. Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi
No. 8 Ohio State vs. No. 7 Oregon
4:30 p.m. ET, Jan. 1

The Buckeyes avoided playing an SEC team in a BCS bowl game, but the Ducks might be nearly as fast as the Florida and LSU teams that beat OSU in the past couple of years. Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor gets an up-close look at the Oregon offense he might have flourished in if he'd signed with the Ducks. It also might be one heck of a fashion show: Oregon's ever-changing wardrobe against Ohio State's classic uniforms.

4. Allstate Sugar Bowl
No. 5 Florida vs. No. 3 Cincinnati
8:30 p.m. ET, Jan. 1

Notre Dame fans won't get to watch the Fighting Irish play in a bowl game, but the Sugar Bowl might offer them the next-best thing. They'll get to see Cincinnati's Brian Kelly, who might become their next coach, and Florida's Urban Meyer, who didn't want to be their coach. Meyer takes on his alma mater and coaches quarterback Tim Tebow in his final game.

5. Capital One Bowl
No. 13 Penn State vs. No. 12 LSU
1 p.m. ET, Jan. 1

It's a great matchup of traditional powers and an intriguing matchup of head coaches. LSU's Les Miles has a hard time managing time; Penn State's Joe Paterno refuses to acknowledge Father Time. The Tigers lost three games in the fourth quarter; the Nittany Lions lost the only two games that really mattered.

6. Konica Minolta Gator Bowl
No. 16 West Virginia vs. Florida State
1 p.m. ET, Jan. 1

It's the Bobby Bowden Bowl, as Florida State coach Bobby Bowden will coach the Seminoles for the final time. It's fitting that his final opponent is West Virginia, the school where he coached from 1970 to '75 before leaving for Tallahassee. In his finale, Bowden, 80, will attempt to avoid FSU's first losing season since 1976.

7. MAACO Las Vegas Bowl
No. 18 Oregon State vs. No. 14 BYU
8 p.m. ET, Dec. 22

Oddly enough, Las Vegas has become BYU's second home. The Cougars will be playing in the Las Vegas Bowl for the fifth consecutive season, and they've gone 2-2 against Pac-10 teams in the bowl. It's the first time they'll play the Beavers, who were one victory from playing in the Rose Bowl. It's the first meeting of ranked teams in the Las Vegas Bowl.

8. FedEx Orange Bowl
No. 10 Iowa vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech
8 p.m. ET, Jan. 5

Georgia Tech has the triple-option spread offense. At times, Iowa doesn't seem to have any offense. The ACC champions are playing in their first Orange Bowl since 1966, when they lost to Florida and Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier. Iowa, the Big Ten runner-up, should have back injured quarterback Ricky Stanzi.

Ryan Williams
Ryan Williams is fifth in the nation in rushing with over 1,500 yards.
9. Chick-fil-A Bowl
No. 11 Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee
7:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 31

NASCAR mogul Bruton Smith once offered the Hokies and Volunteers $20 million each to play a game at Bristol Motor Speedway. With a total payout of $6 million, Chick-fil-A Bowl officials might be getting off cheap. It's a matchup of two great running backs: Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams and Tennessee's Montario Hardesty.

10. AT&T Cotton Bowl
No. 19 Oklahoma State vs. Ole Miss
2 p.m. ET, Jan. 2

The Rebels return to the Cotton Bowl for the second straight year, after routing Texas Tech 47-34 last season. That victory propelled the Rebels into the preseason top 10, before they fell on their faces too many times in an 8-4 campaign. The Pokes fell short of their lofty preseason goals, too, finishing 9-3.

11. Pacific Life Holiday Bowl
No. 20 Arizona vs. No. 22 Nebraska
8 p.m. ET, Dec. 30

The Wildcats are riding sky-high after defeating Southern California in their regular-season finale. But watching film of Cornhuskers defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in the Big 12 championship game was probably pretty sobering. Suh alone is enough reason to watch the Holiday Bowl.

12. Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Houston vs. Air Force
Noon ET, Dec. 31

The 2008 Armed Forces Bowl was so good, with Houston defeating Air Force 34-28 to end an eight-game postseason losing streak, that bowl organizers decided to pit the same two teams against each other again. Houston quarterback Case Keenum leads the country's No. 1 passing attack. Appropriately, Air Force has the country's best air defense.

13. Brut Sun Bowl
No. 21 Stanford vs. Oklahoma
2 p.m. ET, Dec. 31

This would have been a fantastic matchup if Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford had stayed healthy. Then again, if Bradford hadn't injured his throwing shoulder in the opener, the Sooners probably wouldn't be playing in El Paso, Texas. Stanford might play without quarterback Andrew Luck, who underwent surgery to repair a finger on his right (throwing) hand. The OU defense will get a major test from Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart, a Heisman Trophy finalist.

14. San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
No. 23 Utah vs. California
8 p.m. ET, Dec. 23

This game will be even better if Cal running back Jahvid Best returns from the frightening concussion that caused him to miss the Bears' last three games. Utah has won eight bowl games in a row, including last season's 31-17 upset of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

15. Meineke Car Care Bowl
No. 17 Pittsburgh vs. North Carolina
4:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 26

Former Jimmy Johnson assistants Butch Davis of UNC and Dave Wannstedt of Pitt square off in Charlotte, N.C. The Panthers lost their last two games in heartbreaking fashion, but Wannstedt is finally showing progress at his alma mater. Davis is looking for momentum, too, after the Tar Heels finished 8-4.

16. Sheraton Hawaii Bowl
Nevada vs. Southern Methodist
8 p.m. ET, Dec. 24

SMU coach June Jones returns to the beautiful islands after leading the Mustangs to their first bowl game since 1984 (before they were given the NCAA "death penalty"). Hawaii's past two seasons only felt like NCAA probation after Jones left. The Mustangs will have to slow Nevada's highly potent running game, which features three 1,000-yard rushers.

John Clay
John Clay led the Big Ten in rushing by nearly 300 yards.
17. Champs Sports Bowl
No. 15 Miami vs. No. 25 Wisconsin
8 p.m. ET, Dec. 29

Neither team finished the season where it wanted to be, but the Hurricanes could start the 2010 season pretty high in the rankings if they beat the Badgers in Orlando, Fla. Quarterback Jacory Harris must cut down on his turnovers and mistakes, and the Hurricanes will have to slow Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay.

18. Emerald Bowl
Boston College vs. No. 25 Southern California
8 p.m. ET, Dec. 26

After finishing 8-4 and 25th in the BCS standings, there isn't much left for the Trojans. After playing in seven consecutive BCS bowl games, they could hardly view San Francisco as their most desirable destination. If USC's much-maligned defense gets ripped by BC's offense (97th in total offense and 71st in scoring), coach Pete Carroll will know he really has some problems.

19. GMAC Bowl
Central Michigan vs. Troy
7 p.m. ET, Jan. 6

Watch the GMAC Bowl and you'll see why Notre Dame decided to skip the postseason this time around. The Fighting Irish defense wanted no part of Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour, who has the NCAA record for career touchdowns. This game might be a shootout: Troy finished third nationally in total offense and 18th in scoring.

20. Outback Bowl
Northwestern vs. Auburn
11 a.m. ET, Jan. 1

Will Auburn change planes in San Francisco to get to Tampa, Fla.? Perhaps no team took more of a back door into a bowl game than the Tigers, who lost five of their last seven games in coach Gene Chizik's first season. Northwestern won four of its last five games, including upsets of then-No. 4 Iowa and No. 16 Wisconsin.

21. AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Arkansas vs. East Carolina
5:30 p.m. ET, Jan. 2

The Pirates slowed Houston's Keenum just enough to win a second straight Conference USA championship. In Memphis, East Carolina's defense will face Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, the SEC's top quarterback with 3,422 yards and 29 touchdowns. ECU coach Skip Holtz faces Arkansas, where his father, Lou Holtz, coached from 1977 to '83.

22. Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl
Kentucky vs. Clemson
8:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 27

The Tigers always seem to fall short of preseason expectations; the Wildcats always seem to exceed them. The Tigers lost their last two games: against rival South Carolina, then versus Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game. Kentucky is playing in the Music City Bowl for the third time in four years. The Wildcats will have to slow explosive tailback/kick returner C.J. Spiller; the Tigers will have to contain versatile Randall Cobb.

23. Papajohns.com Bowl
South Carolina vs. Connecticut
2 p.m. ET, Jan. 2

Who didn't root for the Huskies to make a bowl game as they rallied after the tragic death of cornerback Jasper Howard in October? Connecticut lost five games by a total of 15 points but then won their last three games, including a road upset at Notre Dame. South Carolina faded down the stretch again, losing four of its last six games.

24. Valero Alamo Bowl
Michigan State vs. Texas Tech
9 p.m. ET, Jan. 2

If only the Spartans showed as much fight on defense as they did in dorm fights. Michigan State won't have eight suspended players when it faces the Red Raiders in San Antonio. The Spartans ranked 96th nationally in pass-efficiency defense and 103rd in pass defense, which is never a good thing when facing Mike Leach's pass-happy offense.

25. Texas Bowl
Navy vs. Missouri
3:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 31

The Tigers felt they were jobbed when the Insight Bowl selected 6-6 Iowa State over them. Worse, they'll have to spend the holidays preparing for Navy's triple-option spread attack. Missouri's defense has been pretty stout against the run, allowing only 96.4 yards per game, which was 12th-best in the country. Tigers wide receiver Danario Alexander gets one more chance to impress NFL scouts.

26. Advocare V100 Independence Bowl
Texas A&M vs. Georgia
5 p.m. ET, Dec. 28

Neither team can be too excited about playing in Shreveport, La., after entering the season with higher expectations. Georgia will be playing without a defensive coordinator (Willie Martinez was fired last week); Texas A&M looks as though it simply doesn't play defense. Fortunately for both defenses, their bowl gift bags probably will include Advocare vitamins.

27. St. Petersburg Bowl
Central Florida vs. Rutgers
8 p.m. ET, Dec. 19

The UCF Knights won five of their last six games to earn a bowl invitation close to home. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, a former Miami assistant, has been trying to make inroads into Florida to bolster the Scarlet Knights' recruiting efforts. South Florida coach Jim Leavitt has to be thrilled that both teams are playing in his hometown.

Damion Fletcher
Damion Fletcher is the nation's active career leader in rushing yards by a wide margin.
28. R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Southern Mississippi vs. Middle Tennessee
8:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 20

It will be the final college game for Southern Miss running back Damion Fletcher, one of the most underrated players in the country. He has run for 5,224 yards and 44 touchdowns in his career. The Blue Raiders' defense has been stout all season, leading the country with a per-contest average of 8.83 tackles for loss and finishing fourth in sacks with 3.17 a game.

29. Insight Bowl
Minnesota vs. Iowa State
6 p.m. ET, Dec. 31

The Cyclones are really excited to be playing in the Insight Bowl after finishing 6-6 in coach Paul Rhoads' first season. The Gophers might not be as excited about playing in Tempe, Ariz., for the third time in four seasons. Bowl officials can only hope the Gophers' offense does more against the Cyclones than Nebraska's did.

30. New Mexico Bowl
Fresno State vs. Wyoming
4:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 19

Many college football fans will get to see Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews for the first time. He led the country in rushing yards per game with 151.3. Wyoming coach Dave Christensen probably would prefer not to see him after the Cowboys ranked 91st in run defense, allowing 170.5 yards per game.

31. Roady's Humanitarian Bowl
Bowling Green vs. Idaho
4:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 30

Two high-powered offenses should feel right at home on Boise State's blue turf. Will anyone be in town to see the Vandals and Falcons play with the Broncos playing in the Fiesta Bowl? Idaho averaged 31.8 points per game; Bowling Green averaged 27.3. Falcons receiver Freddie Barnes should make some All-America teams.

32. International Bowl
South Florida vs. Northern Illinois
Noon ET, Jan. 2

Another late-season collapse caused the Bulls to get shipped all the way to Toronto for a bowl game. South Florida started 5-0 before losing five of its last seven games. Quarterback B.J. Daniels has a bright future, but the Bulls had better be motivated when facing the Huskies.

33. Eagle Bank Bowl
Army/UCLA vs. Temple
4:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 29

If Army can upset Navy on Dec. 19, the Eagle Bank Bowl might feature the most unlikely bowl matchup in history. The Black Knights can punch their tickets to RFK Stadium by finishing 6-6. The Owls are playing in their first bowl game in 30 seasons after finishing 9-3. Then again, even a 5-7 Army team might be more deserving than 6-6 UCLA.

34. Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
Marshall vs. Ohio
1 p.m. ET, Dec. 26

Playing the Bobcats in Detroit was so enticing that Marshall coach Mark Snyder resigned after the Thundering Herd's final regular-season game. A new coach will lead Marshall against Ohio, which won four of its last five games and lost to Central Michigan 20-10 in the MAC championship game.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.