Some should be ignored because most people either lack the ability or the technology to watch two games at once.
Then there’s also the notion that just two of these games really matter in the big picture. The rest aren’t the menace those who lament the growth of college football’s postseason claim them to be, but they’re also not a great gauge on how good teams really are, given the distinctly different conditions these contests are played in (neutral site, multiple weeks of preparation, etc.).
Rather than sift through 40 games in far less than 40 nights (15, to be precise), here’s a top-to-bottom breakdown of what to tune in for — and what to pass on just as you would a fruitcake as dense as a hockey puck.
1. Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Oklahoma (Dec. 31, 4 p.m., ESPN)
A year ago, Clemson caught Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The Tigers wanted to be there and lock up a 10-win season … and the Sooners did not. Expect Oklahoma to show a little more interest than it did in the 40-6 clubbing it received in its last date with Clemson in the Sunshine State.
2. Alamo Bowl: Oregon vs. Texas Christian (Jan. 2, 6:45 p.m., ESPN)
For pure entertainment value, this might be the best game the postseason has to offer. Oregon finally got back to its absurd offensive ways while closing the season on a six-game winning streak, and Texas Christian can fling it around with anyone thanks to Trevone Boykin. It’s not a meaningful game, but it sure should be fun.
3. Cotton Bowl: Alabama vs. Michigan State (Dec. 31, 8 p.m., ESPN)
If any bowl game has 20-17 written all over it, it’s this one. Points will be at a premium, especially against an Alabama defense that has surrendered just 11 offensive touchdowns in its past 10 games. This could be a punt-fest, but it carries unquestioned meaning and figures to be close.
4. Fiesta Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Ohio State (Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ESPN)
A morning kickoff in the desert is a fine way to shake off some New Year’s Eve revelry. While both programs understandably harbor national title hopes on a nearly annual basis, this doesn’t seem like the sort of matchup that would disapppoint either team. Tailback Ezekiel Elliott will play his final college game for the Buckeyes, while star wideout Will Fuller will be tested as he closes out his junior year for the Irish.
5. Rose Bowl: Iowa vs. Stanford (Jan. 1, 5:10 p.m., ESPN)
The Granddaddy of Them All (not to be confused with the GoDaddy of Mobile) gets a matchup of the Pac-12 champion and a team that owned the Big Ten’s best league record in the regular season. For a game that loves its tradition, it is close enough to the way things were always done (until recently). It’s Iowa’s first trip to Pasadena in a quarter-century.
6. Sugar Bowl: Mississippi vs. Oklahoma State (Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m., ESPN)
If Iowa’s Rose Bowl drought seems long, consider that Mississippi hasn’t played in the Sugar Bowl since New Year’s Day 1970 — a game in which Archie Manning quarterbacked the Rebels. Both teams harbored bigger dreams than a New Year’s Six bid, but this at least figures to be an entertaining game featuring two formidable offenses.
7. Military Bowl: Pittsburgh at Navy (Dec. 28, 2:30 p.m., ESPN)
The stars aligned for the D.C.-based bowl, which landed the best matchup in its eight-year history. Pittsburgh won eight games and was in the ACC Coastal Division race until the penultimate week of the season, and Navy could be looking at chasing its 11th victory while giving heralded quarterback Keenan Reynolds one last game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
8. Russell Athletic Bowl: Baylor vs. North Carolina (Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m., ESPN)
This game probably would rate a little higher if Seth Russell and/or Jarrett Stidham didn’t get hurt. Then again, Baylor probably lands a little higher in the bowl pecking order if Russell and/or Stidham didn’t get hurt.
9. Las Vegas Bowl: Brigham Young vs. Utah (Dec. 19, 3:30 p.m., ABC)
The Holy War in Sin City — how perfect is that? This underrated rivalry went on hiatus last year, but the forces of college football’s postseason have brought them together as each seeks its 10th victory. Plus, Brigham Young Coach Bronco Mendenhall is looking for his 100th victory with the Cougars before he leaves for Virginia.
10. Holiday Bowl: Southern California vs. Wisconsin (Dec. 30, 10:30 p.m., ESPN)
Fun fact: The only two-time Holiday Bowl players of the game are Jim McMahon and Ty Detmer. Southern California QB Cody Kessler could join them with a strong performance that helps the Trojans topple Joel Stave and Wisconsin.
11. Peach Bowl: Florida State vs. Houston (Dec. 31, Noon, ESPN)
To get an Ohio State-Notre Dame matchup, you’ve got to pair the leftovers together. This game could go in either direction: Florida State tailback Dalvin Cook could run all over Houston, or the Cougars could shred an entirely uninterested Seminole squad. Either way, here’s guessing it’s not close.
12. Boca Raton Bowl: Temple vs. Toledo (Dec. 22, 7 p.m., ESPN)
The Miami area got quite fortunate with its non-Power Five bowl matchups this year (the Miami Beach Bowl is pretty good, too). Temple played in the American Athletic Conference title game, and Toledo has enjoyed a fine season that included a victory at Arkansas. A name to know in this one: Toledo quarterback Phillip Ely, who started his career at Alabama.
13. Outback Bowl: Northwestern vs. Tennessee (Jan. 1, Noon, ESPN2)
A perfectly decent matchup to flip to when Ohio State-Notre Dame is on a commercial break.
14. Texas Bowl: Louisiana State vs. Texas Tech (Dec. 29, 9 p.m., ESPN)
What will Texas Tech, owner of the nation’s third-worst rushing defense (271.8 yards per game) and plenty of shoddy tacklers, do to stop Leonard Fournette with a little more than three weeks’ warning? If a back is going to go full Tecmo Bo in this bowl season, Fournette has to be the odds-on favorite to do so.
15. Citrus Bowl: Florida vs. Michigan (Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ABC)
This seems to be higher-profile based on the prestige of the programs, but the most interesting part of any Florida game since the start of November is to see how long it takes to arrive at a baseball score (i.e. 9-7 or 7-5). A date with the Michigan defense does not seem like a cure for what ails the Gators’ offense.
16. Sun Bowl: Miami vs. Washington State (Dec. 26, 2 p.m., CBS)
El Paso: Where Miami goes to play out the string under interim coaches. It happened in 2010, when it lost to Notre Dame after Randy Shannon’s firing, and it happens this year more than two months after Al Golden’s dismissal. Of course, with Pirate King of Pullman (Mike Leach) around, this could be a fun, high-scoring game in large part because of the quaterbacks (Miami’s Brad Kaaya and Washington State’s Luke Falk).
17. Miami Beach Bowl: South Florida vs. Western Kentucky (Dec. 21, 2:30 p.m., ESPN)
It’s the Willie Taggart Bowl at Marlins Park, and chances are more people will pass through the turnstiles at this one than at most of the 81 baseball games there next year. Taggart saved his job at South Florida with an 8-4 season, while his former school (Western Kentucky) features the national leader in passing touchdowns (45) and completion percentage (71.8 percent) in Brendan Doughty.
18. Music City Bowl: Louisville vs. Texas A&M (Dec. 30, 7 p.m., ESPN)
The over/under on quarterbacks to be cycled through this game is right around 4.5, which is about right for a pairing of teams that will finish the season with winning records but not much of a sense of accomplishment. It’s a shame college footbal games can no longer end in ties; that would be appropriate result to close out the year for both the Cardinals and Aggies.
19. Independence Bowl: Tulsa vs. Virginia Tech (Dec. 26, 5:45 p.m., ESPN)
There’s a Beamer bump at work here for Virginia Tech’s retiring coach, but let’s face it: This is still a matchup of two 6-6 teams. Under different circumstances, it would be reasonable to wonder if the Hokies were all that interested in this sort of pairing, but they should be dialed in to send their longtime leader out a winner on the same field Virginia Tech’s 23-year bowl streak began.
20. Taxslayer Bowl: Georgia vs. Penn State (Jan. 2, Noon, ESPN)
Georgia ousted its coach right after the regular season, and Penn State fired its offensive coordinator shortly after getting demolished by Michigan State. It’s a name-brand game, but neither of these programs is operating at an optimal level (though Georgia’s a lot closer than Penn State is at this point).
21. GoDaddy Bowl: Bowling Green vs. Georgia Southern (Dec. 23, 8 p.m., ESPN)
MAC-tion is its own reward, of course, and a conference champion crowned on a weekday (in true MAC fashion) probably can’t complain too much about landing in a slot a couple days before Christmas. There’s lots of positives here, from Matt Johnson and the prolific Bowling Green passing attack to Georgia Southern bringing the No. 1 rushing offense in the land into its first-ever bowl bid.
22. Armed Forces Bowl: Air Force vs. California (Dec. 29, 2 p.m., ESPN)
It’s Air Force’s fifth trip to Fort Worth for a bowl game in the past nine seasons, including its second matchup with the Golden Bears in that span. It could be every bit as high-scoring as the 2007 game, a 42-36 California victory. Air Force brings the country’s No. 3 rushing offense into a game against Cal’s No. 102 rushing defense. The Golden Bears aren’t winning if they don’t put up a bunch of points, but then again, that’s usually the case.
23. Poinsettia Bowl: Boise State vs. Northern Illinois (Dec. 23, 4:30 p.m., ESPN)
In pretty much any other year this decade, these are two of the best non-power conference teams. In 2015? A couple strong brand names going through transitional seasons. You can do a whole lot worse (given that 17 games remain on this list), but these aren’t the BCS busters from the day of yore, either.
24. New Orleans Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Louisiana Tech (Dec. 19, 9 p.m., ESPN)
The path from Jonesboro, Ark., to the GoDaddy Bowl was a well-worn one. But after four consecutive trips to Mobile, Arkansas State finally gets a (relatively) new postseason destination. This game features a “Hey, I remember that guy” gem: Louisiana Tech quarterback Jeff Driskel spent his previous four seasons at Florida.
25. Heart of Dallas Bowl: Southern Mississippi vs. Washington (Dec. 26, 2:20 p.m., ESPN)
Southern Mississippi has climbed out of three years of misery. Washington is on the upswing under Chris Petersen. This feels like a matchup that would have a lot more going for it in 2016 or 2017 than it does right now.
26. Hawaii Bowl: Cincinnati vs. San Diego State (Dec. 24, 8 p.m., ESPN)
Quite possibly this year’s winner in the “would be a better basketball game” competition. Other contenders: Music City (Louisville-Texas A&M), Pinstripe (Duke-Indiana, though that wasn’t too close in hoops last week) and the Russell Athletic (Baylor-North Carolina).
27. Pinstripe Bowl: Duke vs. Indiana (Dec. 26, 3:30 p.m., ESPN)
Indiana beat one team that finished with a winning record (Western Kentucky), as did Duke (N.C. Central of the FCS). Both beat Wake Forest, though that’s not saying a whole lot. Excitement might be on the Hoosiers’ side; it’s their first bowl bid since 2007, and Duke plodded through the second half of the season in generally uninspiring fashion.
28. Belk Bowl: Mississippi State vs. N.C. State (Dec. 30, 3:30 p.m., ESPN)
N.C. State is 0-5 against bowl teams this season. Mississippi State, even with its losses to Alabama and Mississippi last month, is a bowl team. If Dak Prescott can start picking apart the Wolfpack early, this could be far out of hand by halftime.
29. Liberty Bowl: Arkansas vs. Kansas State (Jan. 2, 3:20 p.m., ESPN)
The question inquiring minds want to know: Will Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema have a “borderline erotic” experience if the Razorbacks take a knee in the closing seconds of a bowl game against a Big 12 team for the second consecutive year?
30. Cactus Bowl: Arizona State vs. West Virginia (Jan. 2, 10:15 p.m., ESPN)
Know how every year there’s an 8/9 game in the NCAA basketball tournament with a late tip time featuring two power conference teams that is so forgettable, it’s almost impossible a week later to recall the game even happening? This is the football equivalent of that.
31. Camellia Bowl: Appalachian State vs. Ohio (Dec. 19, 5:30 p.m., ESPN)
Appalachian State (10-2) makes it bowl debut in Montgomery, Ala., bringing the nation’s No. 6 rushing offense into the postseason. Come for Marcus Cox’s splendid rushing, staying for the three catches (on average) the sublimely named Simms McElfresh will haul in for the Mountaineers.
32. Bahamas Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Western Michigan (Dec. 24, Noon, ESPN)
Everyone yawned last year when a 7-5 Conference USA team met a 7-5 Mid-American Conference team in the Bahamas — at least until Western Kentucky proceeded to claim a 49-48 victory, but only after Central Michigan scored the last 34 points before a two-point conversion failed. Maybe the same setup produces a similar result, but that’s a tough bar to scale.
33. Foster Farms Bowl: Nebraska vs. UCLA (Dec. 26, 9:15 p.m., ESPN)
Last year, this game pitted an underachieving and ticked-off Pac-12 team (Stanford) against an overmatched Big Ten foe (Maryland), and the results were predictable. This time, another underachieving Pac-12 team gets to face a 5-7 team out of the Big Ten. If the Bruins are cranky about their 8-4 season, this could get rough for the Cornhuskers.
34. New Mexico Bowl: Arizona at New Mexico (Dec. 19, 2 p.m., ESPN)
The host Lobos return to the postseason for the first time since … the 2007 New Mexico Bowl. Ah, the perils of having a bowl game in your home stadium. Arizona went 6-6 after a 3-0 start, and dropped four of its last five. The Wildcats fit the profile of a team that might not want any part of a 13th game.
35. Birmingham Bowl: Auburn vs. Memphis (Dec. 30, Noon, ESPN)
Just about everyone has seen more than enough of Auburn this season, including Auburn’s fans. Feel free to ignore this one as two teams of Tigers play out the string.
36. St. Petersburg Bowl: Connecticut vs. Marshall (Dec. 26, 11 a.m., ESPN)
The day after Christmas carries its own traditions: The eating of the leftovers, the putting away of the gifts, the buying of next year’s Christmas cards at half price, etc. Watching a team that’s scored more 22 points just twice (Connecticut) facing a team that’s scored less than 22 points just once (Marshall) doesn’t seem like an ideal new tradition.
37. Idaho Potato Bowl: Akron vs. Utah State (Dec. 22, 3:30 p.m., ESPN)
Two decades ago, when he was Auburn’s head coach, Terry Bowden couldn’t have dreamed he would one day coach a bowl game on a blue field against a 6-6 Mountain West team. That’s partially because both the bowl game and the Mountain West didn’t exist then. In any case, this spud’s for you, Akron and Utah State.
38. Arizona Bowl: Colorado State vs. Nevada (Dec. 29, 7 p.m., American Sports Network)
A pairing of two Mountain West also-rans in a first-year bowl that won’t be nationally televised. For those haranguing against the proliferation of postseason games, this might be a better Exhibit A for their argument than the three 5-7 teams playing this month.
39. Quick Lane Bowl: Central Michigan vs. Minnesota (Dec. 28, 5 p.m. ESPN)
Among the already discarded slogans for this showdown: A 7-5 MAC team against a 5-7 Big Ten team … as exciting as an oil change.
40. Cure Bowl: Georgia State vs. San Jose State (Dec. 19, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
The first-year game pits 6-6 Georgia State (which surpassed its victory total from the last four years combined) and 5-7 San Jose State (which treks all the way to Orlando to make its first bowl appearance since 2012). There’s no nice way to put it: This isn’t one to circle on the calendar.