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The 10 coolest bowl matchups of college football’s 2017-2018 bowl season

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Other than the Playoff, of course.

Bowls are divisive. There are too many! They are an outdated concept! They are a celebration of mediocrity! We should expand the College Football Playoff and get rid of them!

To some degree, all of the exclamations above are true. But it doesn’t matter. Bowls are amazing. They are expensive participation medals, sure, but they are true sports socialism in the best possible way. They are also bonus football. Why would you want less bonus football?

To get primed for the 2017-18 bowl season, let’s look at the 10 coolest matchups of bowl season.

10. The Basketball Score Bowl

NCAA Football: South Florida at Central Florida
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
USF’s Quinton Flowers

Birmingham Bowl: USF vs. Texas Tech (December 27)

Yes, some people actually like defense. Yes, if every game was 59-52, it would probably get boring. But having the occasional 100-point, 1,000-yard track meet can be delightful.

While neither USF nor Texas Tech completely fit their own stereotypes — USF’s defense didn’t allow more than 31 points to anyone not named UCF, and Texas Tech was a little worse than normal on offense and a little better than normal on defense — let’s not pretend we’d be surprised if this game went bonkers. Fingers crossed.

9. The Brett Favre Bowl

Brett Favre So. Miss.
Southern Miss’ Brett Favre

Independence Bowl: Florida State vs. Southern Miss (December 27)

In the eight seasons between 1987 and 1994, Florida State suffered only 11 losses: six to Miami, one each to Florida, Notre Dame, Clemson, and Auburn … and one to Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles opened the 1989 season with a victory over the No. 6 Noles. The 30-26 win was capped by a touchdown pass thrown by future NFL gunslinger Brett Favre with under 30 seconds left.

This year’s battle in Shreveport won’t carry quite the same level of gravitas. Florida State isn’t Florida State, and Southern Miss doesn’t have a Favre. But anything that allows us to reminisce is fun.

8. The DeLoss Dodds Bowl

Texas v Missouri
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Missouri vs. Texas, 2011

Texas Bowl: Missouri vs. Texas (December 27)

  • Early-November 2011: Missouri announces it is following Texas A&M in escaping the Big 12 for the SEC.
  • Mid-November 2011: Missouri and Texas play for the last time.
  • February 2013: Now-former Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds accidentally reveals he’s still a little miffed about it by bringing up Missouri without prompt.

“We’re going to have good years again,” Dodds promised. “Our bad years are not that bad. Take a school like Missouri. Our bad years are better than their good years.”

Fans of both schools have already been reminded of that quote a few times, and the bowl pairing isn’t even 24 hours old yet.

7. The Turnaround Bowl

Arizona v Oregon
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Arizona’s Khalil Tate

Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona vs. Purdue (December 27)

Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm is one of the best tacticians in college sports and engineered a stunning turnaround, both in the macro (the Boilermakers improved from 3-9 to 6-6) and micro (they lost four of five, then rallied to get to six wins) senses.

Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez was on a very hot seat after falling from 10 wins in 2014 to three in 2016 and starting this season 2-2. But then he handed his fate to sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate, who proceeded to rush for nearly 1,500 yards, throw for almost 1,300 more, and engineer a 5-1 stretch that saved Rodriguez’s job and made the Wildcats one of the most exciting teams in the country.

You’re interested in fun tactics, big plays, and two teams that are excited to be playing, right? Thought so.

6. The Zombie Bowl

NCAA Football: Alabama-Birmingham at Florida
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Bahamas Bowl: UAB vs. Ohio (December 22)

UAB’s football program was killed for spectacularly stupid reasons, then brought back to life with a completely rebuilt roster. Somehow the school kept head coach Bill Clark, however, and he has pulled off a feat of a lifetime: in the Blazers’ first year back as a zombie program, they were not only competitive — they won eight games and played genuinely good defense.

Their reward: a trip to the Bahamas to face an Ohio that was one of the best in the mid-major universe in October but stumbled down the stretch.

5. The Redemption Bowl

ACC Football Championship - Clemson v Miami
Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

Orange Bowl: No. 6 Wisconsin vs. No. 10 Miami (December 30)

Wisconsin started 12-0 but came one score short of a Playoff bid. If the Badgers can rebound with a win in South Florida, they’ll likely finish in the top five for the first time since 1999.

Miami started 10-0 but collapsed over the final two weeks, first getting upset by Pitt over Thanksgiving weekend, then getting humiliated by Clemson in the ACC title game. Still, a win over Wisconsin would prompt their first top-10 finish since 2003.

Both teams are dealing with disappointment; only one will find redemption.

4. The Statement Bowl

South Florida vs Central Florida
Photo by Logan Bowles/Getty Images

Peach Bowl: No. 7 Auburn vs. No. 12 UCF (January 1)

It is one of the cruelest things about college sports: half of FBS begins the year hoping for a “told you so” opportunity, not actually a shot at the national title. UCF has been awesome in 2017 but couldn’t even crack the top 10 of the CFP rankings because of a schedule its players and coaches had no control over.

Regardless, the Knights certainly still have a chance to prove themselves. Auburn’s maybe the least favorable matchup of any major bowl team they could have been pitted against — the Tigers have a dynamite defensive front (like Washington) and an efficiency offense that could run them ragged (perhaps unlike Washington). Still, UCF can send a message for all of the Group of Five with an excellent showing.

3. The S&P+ Bowl

Nebraska v Penn State
Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Fiesta Bowl: No. 9 Penn State vs. No. 11 Washington (December 30)

If S&P+ were used to determine an eight-team Playoff (which I don’t necessarily recommend), one of the quarterfinal matchups would have been No. 4 Washington vs. No. 5 Penn State.

The Huskies flashed as much upside as anyone in the country but laid a couple of eggs offensively. The Nittany Lions lost two games to top-20 teams, on the road, by a combined four points. These are tremendous football teams with all sorts of star power — Penn State’s Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley, Washington’s Vita Vea and Jake Browning — and one will finish with 11 wins.

2. The Finally Bowl

NCAA Football: New Mexico State at Arizona State
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Bowl: New Mexico State vs. Utah State (December 29)

If you think bowl games are overrated, if you would simply prefer some giant, 24-team playoff that ends bowls or whatever, then I’m not sure we can be friends.

One of my favorite subplots of the 2017 season — as any Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody listener knows — was tracking New Mexico State’s quest for its first bowl since 1960. The Aggies were competitive in early losses to Arizona State and Troy, and they rallied to win three of their final four games to finish 6-6. And their fans rushed the field like they had won the national title.

Winning football games is really hard. Hell, fielding a football team is hard considering the number of moving pieces and the volume of people required. New Mexico State has been fielding a team for decades and will finally get a postseason reward for it. Endless kudos to head coach Doug Martin and everyone involved. Watch this game.

1. The Nostalgia Bowl

Ohio State v USC
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Cotton Bowl: No. 8 USC vs. No. 5 Ohio State (December 29)

USC and Ohio State have played in the Rose Bowl seven times and claim 19 national titles between them. This is the definition of a nostalgia bowl. It is a celebration of two blue blood programs, a combination of uniforms* that should make everyone happy.

It should also be a hell of a game. S&P+ likes the Buckeyes quite a bit more than the Trojans, but USC looked mostly excellent after that mid-October dud against Notre Dame. And the quality of the matchup should mean neither team suffers too much of a “shoulda made the Playoff” hangover heading into kickoff.

* I echo ESPN’s Rece Davis, by the way: let’s make sure that the uniforms are the uniforms, not some sort of gaudy, gross alternate jerseys. Looking at you, Buckeyes. Scarlet and gray, please.

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