Since you’ve been gone, Longhorns …
The FBS bowl bash begins Saturday with five games. Texas, absent since 2014, rejoins the party a few days after Christmas, but a lot has happened in the interim:
• Clemson and Alabama are college football’s one-two punch. They played for the past two national championships, earning a split, and sure enough, a trilogy of sorts is coming Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl semifinal.
• Coaches jump ship faster than ever — nine bowl teams are under new direction — and the latest trend is for NFL prospects to skip the bowl game, as the Horns’ Connor Williams and DeShon Elliott are doing this year.
• Jimbo Fisher will rake in $75 million to be Texas A&M’s savior. Jeff Banks will collect $75,000 as the Aggies’ interim coach in the Belk Bowl.
• New Mexico State snapped the nation’s longest bowl drought of 57 years (now it’s on you, Kansas) and, by coincidence, will play the team it faced in the 1960 Sun Bowl.
• Florida State extended, barely, its record streak of 36 straight bowls, but FSU might get tagged with its first losing season since 1976.
• Butch Davis, the last man to coach the Cleveland Browns to the NFL playoffs, is taking Florida International to a bowl.
There is a new postseason game in Texas, the DXL Frisco Bowl, giving the Lone Star State seven bowl games, just one behind national leader Florida.
• And we’ve got plenty of silly new names for you, including the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl, the Dollar General Bowl and our favorite: the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.
So, Texas fans, enjoy your trip to the Academy Sports & Outdoors Texas Bowl after just missing on the Camping World Bowl.
Now for our annual project, Ranking the Bowls: From Worst to First, a feature we’ve been doing for close to a decade. We generally give the locals — meaning Big 12 and state teams and state bowls — a bit of a bump. We skip the national title game for obvious reasons. After it’s all over, we will return with our new — and possibly improved — rankings:
RANKING THE BOWLS
Saturday / Orlando, Fla.
Western Kentucky (6-6) vs. Georgia State (6-5): The Cure Bowl? For what, insomnia? Surely, you can find something better to do.
Saturday / Montgomery, Ala.
Arkansas State (7-4) vs. Middle Tennessee (6-6): Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill bought $10,000 in tickets to coax fans into traveling to Alabama for this one.
Dec. 21 / St. Petersburg, Fla.
Temple (6-6) vs. Florida International (8-4): The Owls miss Matt Rhule. And Baylor misses Art Briles — OK, on the field.
36. Boca Raton
Dec. 19 / Boca Raton, Fla.
Akron (7-6) vs. Florida Atlantic (10-3): Lane Kiffin gets a home game, and his C-USA champion Owls are the biggest favorite of the bowl season, by a whopping 22½ points.
35. New Mexico
Saturday / Albuquerque
Marshall (7-5) vs. Colorado State (7-5): The Thundering Herd have the nation’s longest bowl winning streak at five. The Rams will showcase the Nick Stevens-to-Michael Gallup hookup, which worked 94 times for 1,345 yards this year.
34. Quick Lane
Dec. 26 / Detroit
Northern Illinois (8-4) vs. Duke (6-6): Has it really been five seasons since the Huskies played in the Orange Bowl? NIU’s Sutton Smith topped the NCAA with 14 sacks and 28½ tackles for loss.
Dec. 29 / Tucson
New Mexico State (6-6) vs. Utah State (6-6): It’s Aggies vs. Aggies, with Texas A&M taking on the winner. Just kidding. New Mexico State burying its nation-long 57-year bowl drought is no joke.
Dec. 28 / Annapolis, Md.
Virginia (6-6) vs. Navy (6-6): The Cavaliers have to play on the Midshipmen’s field, but they don’t care. They were 2-10 a year ago.
31. Famous Idaho Potato
Dec. 22 / Boise
Central Michigan (8-4) vs. Wyoming (7-5): If Cowboys QB Josh Allen, tabbed to be a 2018 first-round pick, is healthy enough to play, this could be decent.
30. Foster Farms
Dec. 27 / Santa Clara, Calif.
Arizona (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6): Wildcats QB Khalil Tate rushed for 1,353 yards, a 10.2 average and 12 scores in just 10 games. The Boilermakers are bowling for the first time in five years.
Dec. 27 / Bronx, N.Y.
Iowa (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5): Hawkeyes consensus All-America LB Josey Jewell is a gem of a player. Nobody will score much, unless Giancarlo Stanton shows up at Yankee Stadium.
Dec. 22 / Nassau
UAB (8-4) vs. Ohio (8-4): The Blazers, who won eight games despite shutting down their football program for 2015 and ’16, face 73-year-old Frank Solich, still going strong 14 years after leaving Nebraska.
SMU (7-5) vs. Louisiana Tech (6-6): The Mustangs are in a bowl for the first time in five years, though the architect, former Lake Travis coach Chad Morris, won’t be around to see it after jumping to Arkansas.
26. New Orleans
North Texas (9-4) vs. Troy (10-2): The Sun Belt co-champ Trojans, who beat LSU in Baton Rouge, meet the Mean Green, who averaged 40 points during a late five-game winning streak.
Dec. 27 / Shreveport, La.
Southern Miss (8-4) vs. Florida State (6-6): The Seminoles’ 36 straight bowl appearances are a record. But they’ve never been to Shreveport.
24. Heart of Dallas
West Virginia (7-5) vs. Utah (6-6): No injured QB Will Grier, and now no RB Justin Crawford, who will save himself for the NFL. First team to 20 wins. FYI: The Utes are 10-1 in bowls under Kyle Whittingham.
Dec. 29 / El Paso
24-North Carolina State (8-4) vs. Arizona State (7-5): Wolfpack DE Bradley Chubb, a projected top-10 pick, was second in the nation with 26 tackles for loss and added nine sacks.
22. Music City
Dec. 29 / Nashville, Tenn.
21-Northwestern (9-3) vs. Kentucky (7-5): The Wildcats from Chicago are hotter than the Cats from Lexington. NU has grabbed seven wins in a row.
Dec. 26 / Phoenix
Kansas State (7-5) vs. UCLA (6-6): Bruins QB Josh Rosen is playing his last game. You never know when Bill Snyder could be coaching his last game. Then again, he’s only 78.
Dec. 24 / Honolulu
Houston (7-4) vs. Fresno State (9-4): It’s hard to throw yourself into a game on Christmas Eve, but who can take their eyes off Cougars’ Outland Trophy-winning DT Ed Oliver, plus Major Applewhite decked out in a Hawaiian shirt and a lei?
19. Dollar General
Dec. 23 / Mobile, Ala.
Toledo (11-2) vs. Appalachian State (8-4): The MAC champ vs. the Sun Belt co-champ. Two programs that punch above their weight. The Rockets’ Logan Woodside and Mountaineers’ Taylor Lamb combined for 55 touchdown passes this year.
Dec. 29 / Charlotte, N.C.
Texas A&M (7-5) vs. Wake Forest (7-5): Jimbo isn’t coaching yet, so Kevin Sumlin’s staff will make its farewell. WR Christian Kirk is probably playing his last college game, too. Demon Deacons dual-threat QB John Wolford could confound the Aggie defense.
Jan. 1 / Tampa, Fla.
Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (8-4): Vegas says this will be the lowest-scoring game of the bowl season (over/under: 42). What it really needs is Jadeveon Clowney. Remember him rocking Vincent Smith’s world in the 2013 Outback?
Dec. 23 / Birmingham, Ala.
Texas Tech (6-6) vs. South Florida (9-2): Charlie Strong wasn’t much good at Texas, but he did go 2-1 vs. Kliff Kingsbury. This should be an entertaining shootout.
Dec. 27 / Houston
Texas (6-6) vs. Missouri (7-5): Not the former conference rival most Longhorn fans hoped to see, but the Tigers have plenty of bite. Mizzou scored 68, 52, 45, 50, 45 and 48 points in a 6-0 run to close the campaign. The stifling Texas defense might meet its match in QB Drew Lock.
Dec. 30 / Jacksonville, Fla.
Louisville (8-4) vs. 23-Mississippi State (8-4): This should be the last chance to watch 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, who totaled just shy of 5,000 yards this year. He’ll face a stiff SEC defense.
13. Las Vegas
25-Boise State (10-3) vs. Oregon (7-5): The Mountain West champion Broncos always have a few tricks up their sleeves. The Ducks average 37 points and 454 yards. Crank it up for four hours.
12. Armed Forces
Dec. 23 / Fort Worth
San Diego State (10-2) vs. Army (9-3): NCAA rushing leader Rashaad Penny (2,027 yards, 7.4 average, 19 TDs) of the Aztecs vs. the Cadets’ top-rated ground attack (355.8 yards per game). What is this thing you call a forward pass?
Dec. 30 / Memphis, Tenn.
Iowa State (7-5) vs. 20-Memphis (10-2): Fun times and a sellout crowd here. The Cyclones are one of the country’s top surprises, and the Tigers are the No. 2 scoring offense (47.7), showcasing WR Anthony Miller (92 catches, 1,407 yards, 17 TDs).
Dec. 28 / San Diego
18-Washington State (9-3) vs. 16-Michigan State (9-3): The crazy pirate Mike Leach vs. the stiff school headmaster Mark Dantonio. The Spartans did a 180, bouncing back from a 3-9 campaign.
Dec. 30 / Miami
6-Wisconsin (12-1) vs. 10-Miami (10-2): The Badgers drew the short straw, having to tackle the Hurricanes in their home stadium. The Cheeseheads will descend on south Florida, though.
8. Camping World
Dec. 28 / Orlando, Fla.
19-Oklahoma State (9-3) vs. 22-Virginia Tech (9-3): One last rodeo for Cowboys senior QB Mason Rudolph and NCAA receiving leader James Washington. Don’t forget about Big 12 rushing king Justice Hill, either.
Jan. 1 / Orlando, Fla.
14-Notre Dame (9-3) vs. 17-LSU (9-3): Two elite running backs — Josh Adams of the Irish and Derrius Guice of the Tigers — and recruiting powers square off.
Dec. 28 / San Antonio
13-Stanford (9-4) vs. 15-TCU (10-3): Heisman runner-up Bryce Love will try to find holes in the Horned Frogs’ No. 4 rush defense, which allows fewer than 100 yards per game. The only non-New Year’s Six bowl with a top-15 matchup.
Dec. 30 / Glendale, Ariz.
9-Penn State (10-2) vs. 11-Washington (10-2): Big Ten MVP Saquon Barkley, meet the No. 1 rush defense in the NCAA. The Nittany Lions’ two losses were by a combined four points.
Jan. 1 / Atlanta
7-Auburn (10-3) vs. 12-Central Florida (12-0): The Tigers already knocked off unbeaten Georgia and Alabama in November. Can they conquer the only remaining unbeaten? If the Knights win, we’re left to wonder whether they should have replaced Bama in the playoffs.
Dec. 29 / Arlington
5-Ohio State (11-2) vs. 8-Southern Cal (11-2): What a great traditional Big Ten vs. Pac-12 Rose Bowl matchup … deepintheheart of the Metroplex. Buckeye stars QB J.T. Barrett and RB J.K. Dobbins and Trojans RB Ronald Jones return to their home state.
Jan. 1 / New Orleans
1-Clemson (12-1) vs. 4-Alabama (11-1): The rubber match. What would a playoff be without the Tigers and Tide, right? The national semifinal will feature the top two scoring defenses in the country and two of the five best total defenses.
Jan. 1 / Pasadena, Calif.
2-Oklahoma (12-1) vs. 3-Georgia (12-1): Big 12 offense vs. SEC defense. The Sooners have never had much trouble dusting off the SEC, and they’ve got the Heisman guy, Baker Mayfield. The Dawgs counter with Butkus Award winner Roquan Smith. Bring it.