The bowl season is now three years removed from the last time every postseason game was played.
The pandemic whittled the 2020 bowl season down to a shell. Last year, a December spike in cases led to five games being canceled and some games using replacement teams.
So we step into this bowl season optimistic that all the games will be played, re-upping our annual plea for you to watch all 42. Why?
First, to see who is playing after all the opt-outs.
And if that doesn't get you motivated, we're here to help. So here we go, with early lines from FanDuel Sportsbook:
FRIDAY, DEC. 16
Miami, Ohio (plus 10 1/2) vs. UAB
Why watch? Bowl season starts at 11:30 a.m. ET on a Friday and if you promise to watch you get a half-day at work. No, really. It's, like, a national holiday.
Score: UAB 31-23.
Cure Bowl, Orlando, Florida
No. 22 UTSA (plus 1 1/2) vs. No. 23 Troy
Why watch? The only postseason game matching teams with more than the combined 22 victories of the Roadrunners and Trojans is the playoff. This is also the only bowl game matching conference champions.
Score: UTSA 23-20.
SATURDAY, DEC. 17
Fenway Bowl, Boston
Louisville vs. Cincinnati (plus 1)
Why watch? Find out which one of these teams Scott Satterfield is coaching now. (Trick question: Neither. Both have interim coaches while he makes the move from UL to UC.)
Score: CINCINNATI 24-20.
Celebration Bowl, Atlanta
Jackson State vs. North Carolina Central
Why watch? Get a look at some of what coach Deion Sanders is bringing to Colorado.
Score: JACKSON STATE 31-17.
New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque
BYU (plus 5 1/2) vs. SMU
Why watch? The last bowl game these teams played was one of the most thrilling ever, matching Jim McMahon's Cougars and Eric Dickerson's Mustangs. Yes, it was 42 years ago, but there is precedent.
Score: BYU 42-38.
Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl, Inglewood, California
Fresno State vs. Washington State (plus 3 1/2)
Why watch? Bulldogs' Jake Haener has been one of the toughest and most entertaining quarterbacks in the country for a couple years. The least you can do is watch his last college game for all he's fought through.
Score: WASHINGTON STATE 28-24.
LendingTree Bowl, Mobile, Alabama
Rice vs. Southern Mississippi (minus 6)
Why watch? Rice is in a bowl game for the first time since 2014 despite a 5-7 record because the Owls get good grades. Support education.
Score: SOUTHERN MISS 35-17.
Las Vegas Bowl
No. 17 Oregon State vs. Florida (plus 10 1/2)
Why watch? This could be one of the biggest moments in Oregon State football history. The Beavers are trying for their first 10-win season since 2006 and their first victory ever against an SEC school (0-11-1).
Score: OREGON STATE 27-21.
Frisco (Texas) Bowl
North Texas vs. Boise State (minus 10 1/2)
Why watch? Ever seen a 29-year-old college quarterback? You have one more chance because North Texas' Austin Aune has said he will enter the NFL draft after this game.
Score: BOISE STATE 35-23
MONDAY, DEC. 19
Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) Bowl
Marshall (minus 10 1/2) vs. Connecticut
Why watch? You thought you'd never see UConn in a bowl game again.
Score: MARSHALL 31-16.
TUESDAY, DEC. 20
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Boise, Idaho
San Jose State (minus 3 1/2) vs. Eastern Michigan
Why watch? The nation's sack leader is EMU's Jose Ramirez. The MAC's defensive MVP is averaging 1.09 per game.
Score: SAN JOSE STATE 23-17.
Boca Raton (Fla.) Bowl
Liberty (plus 4 1/2) vs. Toledo
Why watch? You long to spend the winter in Boca and this is the closest you're going to get.
Score: LIBERTY 27-24.
WEDNESDAY, DEC. 21
New Orleans Bowl
South Alabama (minus 4 1/2) vs. Western Kentucky
Why watch? Find out about South Alabama, maybe the most low-key 10-win team in the country. The Jaguars were a failed fake field goal from winning at UCLA in September.
Score: SOUTH ALABAMA 35-28.
THURSDAY, DEC. 22
Armed Forces Bowl, Fort Worth, Texas
Baylor vs. Air Force (plus 5 1/2)
Why watch? Air Force is the only service academy that qualified for a bowl game. Support the troops.
Score: BAYLOR 27-23.
FRIDAY, DEC. 23
Independence Bowl, Shreveport, Louisiana
Houston vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (plus 6 1/2)
Why watch? It's the Friday afternoon of Christmas weekend. You have completed your shopping. You have earned the Independence Bowl.
Score: HOUSTON 35-31.
Gasparilla Bowl, Tampa, Florida
Missouri vs. Wake Forest (minus 1 1/2)
Why watch? This game is no longer played at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, but the Demon Deacons are a lot like the Tampa Bay Rays of college football, excelling at optimizing their talent.
Score: WAKE FOREST 28-23.
SATURDAY, DEC. 24
Hawaii Bowl, Honolulu
Middle Tennessee (plus 6 1/2) vs. San Diego State
Why watch? The Hawaii Bowl has not been played since 2019 and wrapping presents on Christmas Eve just hasn't been the same without it.
Score: MIDDLE TENNESSEE 20-16.
MONDAY, DEC. 26
Quick Lane Bowl, Detroit
New Mexico State (plus 3) vs. Bowling Green
Why watch? Sickos Committee special, matching the team ranked 111th in the country (New Mexico State) against the team ranked 122nd (Bowling Green), according to ESPN's SP+ metric.
Score: NEW MEXICO STATE 24-20.
TUESDAY, DEC. 27
Camellia Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama
Georgia Southern (minus 3 1/2) vs. Buffalo
Why watch? Remember when Georgia Southern beat Nebraska? That was crazy, right? Also, Eagles QB Kyle Vantrease started 10 games for Buffalo before transferring. So that's interesting.
Score: GEORGIA SOUTHERN 34-23.
First Responder Bowl, Dallas
Memphis (minus 7 1/2) vs. Utah State
Why watch? Cooper Legas was one of the unexpected heroes of bowl season last year for Utah State, coming off the bench to throw two TD passes in an LA Bowl victory against Oregon State. Now Legas is the starter. Can he pull another upset?
Score: MEMPHIS 35-21.
Birmingham (Ala.) Bowl
Coastal Carolina vs. East Carolina (minus 8 1/2)
Why watch? Chanticleers QB Grayson McCall has announced he will transfer after the season, but intends to play in the bowl game. It's a new world of college football.
Score: EAST CAROLINA 38-24.
Guaranteed Rate Bowl, Phoenix
Wisconsin (minus 3) vs. Oklahoma State
Why watch? Both teams had their starting quarterbacks jump in the transfer portal after the regular season. And neither is sticking around for the bowl game. How's that going to work?
Score: WISCONSIN 20-14.
WEDNESDAY, DEC. 28
Military Bowl, Annapolis, Maryland
UCF (plus 2 1/2) vs. Duke
Why watch? Duke was one of the best turnaround stories in the country, improving by six victories to go 8-4 under first-year coach Mike Elko.
Score: UCF 31-24.
Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tennessee
Arkansas (minus 3) vs. Kansas
Why watch? Kansas is in a bowl game. Kansas! Playing in a bowl game.
Score: ARKANSAS 42-31.
Holiday Bowl, San Diego
No. 15 Oregon vs. North Carolina (plus 13 1/2)
Why watch? High probability for a retro-Holiday Bowl with lots of scoring, little defense and a couple exciting quarterbacks in Bo Nix of the Ducks and Drake Maye of the Tar Heels.
Score: OREGON 49-42.
Texas Bowl, Houston
Texas Tech vs. Mississippi (minus 3 1/2)
Why watch? Check out Rebels RB Quinshon Judkins, who leads all freshman with 1,474 yards rushing.
Score: OLE MISS 34-28.
THURSDAY, DEC. 29
Pinstripe Bowl, New York
Syracuse (plus 7 1/2) vs. Minnesota
Why watch? Relive those ESPN cut-ins during college football games to Aaron Judge chasing the seventh-best home run season in Major League history with a bowl game from Yankee Stadium.
Score: MINNESOTA 20-14.
Cheez-It Bowl, Orlando, Florida
No. 13 Florida State (minus 7 1/2) vs. Oklahoma
Why watch? Are the 'Noles back? QB Jordan Travis and FSU look for their first 10-win season since 2016.
Score: FLORIDA STATE 38-24.
Alamo Bowl, San Antonio
No. 12 Washington vs. No. 21 Texas (minus 4 1/2)
Why watch? Two good teams that could be even better next season. And so begins another offseason of pondering the question: Is Texas back?
Score: TEXAS 35-28.
FRIDAY, DEC. 30
Duke’s Mayo Bowl, Charlotte, North Carolina
No. 25 NC State (plus 1 1/2) vs. Maryland
Why watch? Two words: Mayo bath.
Score: NORTH CAROLINA STATE 24-20
Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas
No. 18 UCLA vs. Pittsburgh (plus 6 1/2)
Why watch? The last two times Pitt has been in the Sun Bowl it has allowed a combined 17 points — and lost both games. The Panthers should score more than that against the Bruins' porous defense. Maybe by halftime.
Score: UCLA 35-31.
Gator Bowl, Jacksonville, Florida
No. 19 Notre Dame vs. No. 20 South Carolina (plus 2 1/2)
Why watch? The winner is going to finish the season ranked. The loser? Maybe not.
Score: SOUTH CAROLINA 24-20.
Arizona Bowl, Tucson, Arizona
Wyoming (plus 1 1/2) vs. Ohio
Why watch? You can never have enough apps on your phone. You'll need one to stream this game.
Score: WYOMING 20-16.
Orange Bowl, Miami Gardens, Florida
No. 6 Tennessee (plus 7) vs. No. 10 Clemson
Why watch? As you’re watching two teams that would have been in a 12-team College Football Playoff play without many of their best players you’ll come to appreciate how much better the postseason will be with an expanded CFP.
Score: CLEMSON 34-28.
SATURDAY, DEC. 31
Music City Bowl, Nashville
Kentucky (plus 2 1/2) vs. Iowa
Why watch? You watched the Wildcats beat the Hawkeyes 20-17 last season in the Citrus Bowl and thought: “Boy, it would be great to see that game again, but colder."
Score: KENTUCKY 19-18.
Sugar Bowl, New Orleans
No. 5 Alabama (minus 3 1/2) vs. No. 11 Kansas State
Why watch? To find out if the Crimson Tide cares about this game. A handy guide: If Alabama wins, yes. If Alabama loses, no.
Score: ALABAMA 28-17.
MONDAY, JAN. 2
ReliaQuest Bowl, Tampa, Florida
No. 24 Mississippi State (plus 2 1/2) vs. Illinois
Why watch? The Bulldogs are playing for the late, great Mike Leach.
Score: MISSISSIPPI STATE 24-21.
Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida
No. 16 LSU vs. Purdue (plus 10 1/2)
Why watch? See the defensive player who will be getting Heisman Trophy hype heading into next season: Tigers freshman LB Harold Perkins.
Score: LSU 31-24.
Cotton Bowl, Arlington, Texas
No. 8 Southern California (minus 1 1/2) vs. No. 14 Tulane
Why watch? USC, you might have noticed, is not great at that whole tackling thing. Expect a fun showdown between Green Wave RB Tyjae Spears and Heisman winner Caleb Williams, if his hamstring is healed.
Score: USC 45-42.
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
No. 7 Utah vs. No. 9 Penn State (plus 2 1/2)
Why watch? Another of those wish-it-was-a-playoff-game bowls. But, hey, the sunset looks great.
Score: PENN STATE 28-24.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF
SATURDAY, DEC. 31
Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Arizona
No. 2 Michigan (minus 7 1/2) vs. No. 3 TCU
Why watch? Two of college football's ascending offensive coordinators will be on display in Sherrone Moore of Michigan and Garrett Riley of TCU.
Score: MICHIGAN 31-24.
Peach Bowl, Atlanta
No. 1 Georgia (minus 6 1/2) vs. No. 4 Ohio State
Why watch? The best collection of NFL talent in any game this season.
Score: GEORGIA 34-24.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com
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