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Sunday, December 2, 2012
Updated: December 3, 8:41 PM ET
Ranking all 35 bowl games

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

We'll have to wait 36 days to watch No. 1 Notre Dame play No. 2 Alabama in the Jan. 7 Discover BCS National Championship Game in Miami.

Between now and then, college football fans will have 34 other bowl games to whet their appetites.

There's a reason to watch every game, from seniors playing for the final time to settling grudge matches from the past.

We break down the 2012 bowl games from best to worst:

1. Discover BCS National Championship Game

Notre Dame vs. Alabama
Jan. 7: ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET, Sun Life Stadium, Miami, Fla.

Undefeated Notre Dame tries to end No. 2 Alabama's attempt at winning back-to-back BCS national championships and the SEC's streak of six BCS titles in a row. The Crimson Tide is 1-5 against the Fighting Irish, including four losses by legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant.

2. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

Oregon vs. Kansas State
Jan. 3: ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

The No. 4 Ducks and No. 5 Wildcats came within one loss of playing for a BCS national championship. Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, 73, will try to slow down Oregon's high-octane offense, which is averaging 50.8 points per game.

Manziel
Johnny Football will spend bowl season at Cowboys Stadium.

3. AT&T Cotton Bowl

Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma
Jan. 4: Fox, 8 p.m. ET, Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Most Texas A&M fans probably would have preferred a bowl game against longtime rival Texas, but they'll settle for playing former Big 12 foe Oklahoma. Aggies quarterback Johnny "Football" Manziel is expected to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday.

4. Chick-fil-A Bowl

LSU vs. Clemson
Dec. 31: ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET, Georgia Dome, Atlanta

No. 14 Clemson will try to put last season's Orange Bowl debacle -- a 70-33 loss to West Virginia -- in its rearview mirror for good. No. 8 LSU is 5-0 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, including a 38-3 rout of Georgia Tech in 2008.

5. Outback Bowl

South Carolina vs. Michigan
Jan. 1: ESPN, 1 p.m. ET, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.

Who can't wait to watch Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney chasing Wolverines quarterback/running back Denard Robinson all over the field? The No. 10 Gamecocks will be making their fourth appearance in the Outback Bowl since 2001.

6. Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio

Wisconsin vs. Stanford
Jan. 1: ESPN, 5 p.m. ET, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.

Pac-12 champion Stanford has the country's third-best run defense, allowing only 87.6 yards per game. Badgers tailback Montee Ball ran for 725 yards with eight touchdowns in his last four games. The Badgers lost five games this season, but are playing in their third Rose Bowl game in a row.

7. Allstate Sugar Bowl

Louisville vs. Florida
Jan. 2: ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

The No. 3 Gators' only defeat was a 17-9 loss to Georgia on Oct. 27. Cardinals coach Charlie Strong is a former Florida defensive coordinator, who helped the Gators win BCS national championships in 2006 and '08.

8. Discover Orange Bowl

Northern Illinois vs. Florida State
Jan. 1: ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET, Sun Life Stadium, Miami

Remember when everyone assumed Alabama would destroy Utah in the 2009 Sugar Bowl? The Utes stunned the Tide, 31-17. The No. 15 Huskies might be good enough to give the inconsistent Seminoles a good fight.

9. Capital One Bowl

Georgia vs. Nebraska
Jan. 1: ABC, 1 p.m. ET, Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla.

Which is going to put up more resistance on New Year's Day? Nebraska's defense, which allowed 539 rushing yards in a 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game? Or the Bulldogs, who had their hearts ripped out in a 32-28 loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game?

10. Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl

Baylor vs. UCLA
Dec. 27: ESPN, 9:45 p.m. ET, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego

The Bears and No. 17 Bruins have never played each other, and there could be plenty of fireworks in their first meeting. Baylor ranks No. 1 in the country in total offense (587.7 yards per game) and No. 119 in total defense (513.9 yards).

11. Valero Alamo Bowl

Texas vs. Oregon State
Dec. 29: ESPN, 6:45 p.m. ET, Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas

Bevo vs. the Beavers. No. 23 Texas has won six of its last seven bowl games, including last season's Holiday Bowl. No. 13 Oregon State is playing in its first bowl game in three seasons.

12. TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl

Mississippi State vs. Northwestern
Jan. 1, ESPN2, 12 p.m. ET, EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.

The No. 20 Wildcats are still looking for their first bowl victory since winning the 1949 Rose Bowl. The Bulldogs have lost four of their last five games, but blasted Michigan 52-14 in the 2011 Gator Bowl.

Smith
Geno Smith and West Virginia should bring points to Yankee Stadium.

13. New Era Pinstripe Bowl

West Virginia vs. Syracuse
Dec. 29: ESPN, 3:15 p.m. ET, Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y.

It might not get any better than Dana Holgerson performing on Broadway. Unless, of course, you're playing West Virginia's defense, which allowed 38.1 points per game. The former Big East rivals have never met in the postseason.

14. Hyundai Sun Bowl

USC vs. Georgia Tech
Dec. 31: CBS, 2 p.m. ET, Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas

USC quarterback Matt Barkley is expected to be ready for his final college game after missing the Notre Dame game with a shoulder injury. Georgia Tech has already fired defensive coordinator Al Groh; USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin resigned last week.

15. MAACO Bowl Las Vegas

Washington vs. Boise State
Dec. 22: ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET, Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas

The No. 19 Broncos will play the Huskies for only the second time, and then they'll play again in the 2013 opener at renovated Husky Stadium in Seattle. Boise State is playing in its third straight MAACO Bowl, previously beating Arizona State and Utah.

16. San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl

BYU vs. San Diego State
Dec. 20: ESPN, 8 p.m. ET, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego

The Aztecs won their last seven games to win a share of a Mountain West Conference title. Four of the Cougars' five losses were decided by six points or fewer, including a 17-14 loss to Notre Dame.

17. Russell Athletic Bowl

Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech
Dec. 28: ESPN, 5:30 p.m. ET, Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla.

Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas looks to rebound from a disappointing regular season against one of the country's most underrated defenses. It could be a springboard to 2013 for Thomas, who looks to resurrect his NFL draft stock.

18. Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

TCU vs. Michigan State
Dec. 29: ESPN, 10:15 p.m. ET, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.

Two of the game's best defensive minds -- TCU's Gary Patterson and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio -- will match wits on late-night TV. The Spartans lost five Big Ten games by 13 points combined; the Horned Frogs lost to three ranked Big 12 foes by 23 points combined.

19. GoDaddy.com Bowl

Kent State vs. Arkansas State
Jan. 6: ESPN, 9 p.m. ET, Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Ala.

The No. 25 Golden Flashes will make their first bowl appearance in 40 years when they play the Red Wolves on the eve of the BCS National Championship Game. The contest features two of the game's up-and-coming coaches: Kent State's Darrell Hazell and Arkansas State's Gus Malzahn.

20. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Toledo vs. Utah State
Dec. 15: ESPN, 4:30 p.m. ET, Bronco Stadium, Boise, Idaho

The Aggies and Rockets played in two of last season's most exciting bowl games. Utah State lost to Ohio 24-23 in the Potato Bowl after Bobcats quarterback Tyler Tettleton ran for a 1-yard touchdown with 13 seconds left. The Rockets beat Air Force 42-41 in the Military Bowl, stopping the Falcons on a fake extra-point kick with 52 seconds to go.

James Franklin
James Franklin has made a little bowl history at Vanderbilt.

21. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

NC State vs. Vanderbilt
Dec. 31: ESPN, noon ET, LP Field, Nashville, Tenn.

The Wolfpack are excited to have a new coach; the Commodores are happy they're keeping theirs. Vanderbilt's James Franklin signed a contract extension Sunday after leading the Commodores to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history. They won't have to travel far to play the Wolfpack, who will be led by interim coach Dana Bible. Former Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren was hired as Tom O'Brien's replacement on Saturday.

22. Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

Navy vs. Arizona State
Dec. 29, ESPN2, 4 p.m. ET, AT&T Park, San Francisco

Sun Devils coach Todd Graham's first season in the desert has to be considered a success; Arizona State finished with a winning record for the first time since 2007 and beat rival Arizona, 41-34. Now he'll try to lead the Sun Devils to their first bowl victory since the 2005 Insight Bowl.

23. AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Iowa State vs. Tulsa
Dec. 31: ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET, Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn.

The Cyclones defeated the Golden Hurricane 38-23 in the Sept. 1 opener in Ames, Iowa. Tulsa finished 10-3; Iowa State finished 6-6 after losing five of their last seven games.

24. BBVA Compass Bowl

Pittsburgh vs. Ole Miss
Jan. 5: ESPN, 1 p.m. ET, Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.

Despite finishing 6-6, the Panthers and Rebels were pretty competitive under their first-year coaches. Paul Chryst nearly guided the Panthers to an upset of Notre Dame before falling 29-26 in three overtimes. Hugh Freeze nearly pulled off two upsets at Ole Miss, losing to Texas A&M 30-27 and LSU 41-35.

25. Belk Bowl

Cincinnati vs. Duke
Dec. 27: ESPN, 6:30 p.m. ET, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.

The Blue Devils, who are playing in their first bowl game since 1994, will get to play the Bearcats close to home. Duke lost five of its last six games; Cincinnati won four of its last five. The Bearcats' only Big East losses were 34-31 in overtime at Louisville and 10-3 against Rutgers at home.

26. Gildan New Mexico Bowl

Nevada vs. Arizona
Dec. 15: ESPN, 1 p.m. ET, University Stadium, Albuquerque, N.M.

It might be a wild shootout in the Southwest, as Arizona's high-powered spread attack takes on Nevada's Pistol offense. The Wildcats scored 37.3 points in coach Rich Rodriguez's first season, while allowing 34.3 points on defense. The Wolf Pack averaged 37 points, while surrendering 32.5 points per game.

27. Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl

Fresno State vs. SMU
Dec. 24: ESPN, 8 p.m. ET, Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii

June Jones returns to the islands, where he coached Hawaii for nine seasons before leaving to coach at SMU. It won't be a vacation against Fresno State, which finished 9-3 in coach Tim DeRuyter's first season. The Bulldogs rank in the top 20 nationally in total offense (488.5 yards per game) and total defense (335.3 yards).

28. AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl

Louisiana-Monroe vs. Ohio
Dec. 28: ESPN, 2 p.m. ET, Independence Stadium, Shreveport, La.

The WarHawks and Bobcats opened the season with red-hot starts before coming back to reality during conference play. Louisiana-Monroe opened the season by stunning then-No. 8 Arkansas 34-31 in overtime and nearly upset Auburn and Baylor. Ohio started 7-0 before losing four of its last five games.

29. Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

Minnesota vs. Texas Tech
Dec. 28: ESPN, 9 p.m. ET, Reliant Stadium, Houston

The Gophers will look to make amends for the greatest collapse in college football postseason history. Minnesota blew a 31-point lead in a 44-41 overtime loss to the Red Raiders in the 2006 Insight Bowl. The Gophers fired coach Glen Mason two days later. Minnesota is playing in its first bowl game since 2009.

30. Heart of Dallas Bowl

Purdue vs. Oklahoma State
Jan. 1: ESPNU, 12 p.m. ET, Cotton Bowl, Dallas

The Boilermakers are searching for a new coach after Danny Hope was fired after compiling a 22-27 record in four seasons. The Cowboys hope they can keep coach Mike Gundy, who is a target of Arkansas and Tennessee.

31. R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl

East Carolina vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
Dec. 22: ESPN, 12 p.m. ET, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

The Ragin' Cajuns won one of the most exciting bowl games last season, as Brett Baer kicked a 50-yard field goal as time expired in a 32-30 victory over San Diego State in the New Orleans Bowl. It was Louisiana-Lafayette's first bowl victory as a Division I program. The Pirates have won five of their last six games.

32. Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl

Rice vs. Air Force
Dec. 29: ESPN, 11:45 a.m., Amon G. Carter Stadium, Ft. Worth, Texas

Call it the Ken Hatfield Invitational. Hatfield coached at the Air Force Academy and Rice, which won five of its last six games to become bowl eligible. The game will be played on the TCU campus for the first time since 2009 after stadium renovations were completed.

33. Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl St. Petersburg

Central Florida vs. Ball State
Dec. 21: ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET, Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.

The Knights will be playing close to home, but they'll face a red-hot Ball State team, which won its last six games. The Cardinals, who have never won a bowl game, scored 30 points or more in 10 of 12 games.

34. Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman

San Jose State vs. Bowling Green
Dec. 27: ESPN, 3 p.m., RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.

San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre has quietly produced one of the best rebuilding jobs in the country, guiding the Spartans to a 10-2 record. They were rewarded with a bowl trip to the nation's capital -- more than 2,800 miles from home -- to play Bowling Green.

35. Little Caesar's Bowl

Western Kentucky vs. Central Michigan
Dec. 26: ESPN, 7:30 p.m., Ford Field, Detroit

After the Hilltoppers were snubbed from the postseason after a 7-5 finish, they'll play in their first bowl game against the 6-6 Chippewas. Both teams pulled off upsets of teams from BCS conferences: WKU won 32-31 in overtime at Kentucky on Sept. 15, and CMU won at Iowa 32-31 on Sept. 22.