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Watch every bowl? Here’s why they are all must-see TV

By Ralph D. Russo

AP College Football Writer

This bowl season starts a bit earlier and ends a bit later. The number of games is the same, but they are spread over more days.

That means more days with at least a little bit of college football, ending with the national championship game Jan. 13 in New Orleans.

We will save the playoff picks for another time. Do you really need a reason to watch the games that determine the national championship? For the other 38 games, you might need a little convincing. We’re here to help.

The picks and a reason to watch every bowl game (all times EST):

•••

Friday, Dec. 20

Bahamas Bowl

Buffalo vs. Charlotte, 2 p.m (ESPN)

Line: Buffalo minus 6.5

Why watch? Three words: Early happy hour.

Pick: CHARLOTTE 24-21.

•••

Frisco (Texas) Bowl

Utah State vs. Kent State, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

Line: Utah State minus 7.

Why watch? Impress your friends when you inform them Kent State coach Sean Lewis is both the youngest (33) and tallest (6-foot-7) coach in FBS.

Pick: UTAH STATE 35-24.

Saturday, Dec. 21

Celebration Bowl

North Carolina A&T vs. Alcorn State, noon (ABC)

Line: NC A&T minus 3.

Why watch? FCS football, but major college bands at halftime.

Pick: NC A&T 24-21.

•••

New Mexico Bowl

Central Michigan vs. San Diego State, 2 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: San Diego State minus 3.5.

Why watch? You are that rare Florida fan who thought Jim McElwain, now coaching at CMU, really got a raw deal in Gainesville, and you want to root him on to a bowl victory.

Pick: SD STATE 20-16.

•••

Cure Bowl

Liberty vs. Georgia Southern, 2:30 p.m. (CBSSN)

Line: Georgia Southern minus 5.

Why watch? Remember when Liberty coach Hugh Freeze began the season coaching from a hospital bed? Tune in to find out how he’s doing.

Pick: Ga. SOUTHERN 21-19.

•••

Boca Raton (Florida) Bowl

SMU vs. FAU, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

Line: SMU minus 3.

Why watch? The program that survived the NCAA death penalty vs. the program that survived Lane Kiffin.

Pick: SMU 35-30.

•••

Camellia Bowl

FIU vs. Arkansas State, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Arkansas State minus 2.5.

Why watch? FIU gave up 50 points to Middle Tennessee and then beat Miami for the biggest victory in program history. How does that happen?

Pick: ARK. STATE 31-27.

•••

Las Vegas Bowl

Boise State vs. Washington, 7:30 p.m. (ABC)

Line: Washington minus 3.5.

Why watch? Chris Petersen’s final game before stepping down as Washington coach comes against his former team. Should be a quality sendoff for one of the most successful coaches of the past two decades.

Pick: WASHINGTON 27-21.

•••

New Orleans Bowl

UAB vs. Appalachian State, 9 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Appalachian State minus 17.

Why watch? App State beat two Power Five teams and probably deserves better than the New Orleans Bowl. The least you could do is watch the Mountaineers try to wrap up a 13-win season.

Pick: APP STATE 35-14.

•••

Monday, Dec. 23

Gasparilla Bowl

UCF vs. Marshall, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: UCF minus 17.

Why watch? Remember when UCF was a big deal? Ahh, those were the days.

Pick: UCF 38-17.

•••

Tuesday, Dec. 24

Hawaii Bowl

BYU vs. Hawaii, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: BYU minus 1.5.

Why watch? When you’re putting together that bicycle you got your kid for Christmas, the Hawaii Bowl can distract you from worrying about all those “extra” parts.

Pick: BYU 24-21.

•••

Thursday, Dec. 26

Independence Bowl

Miami vs. Louisiana Tech, 4 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Miami minus 6.5.

Why watch? At some point, the 6-6 Hurricanes will break out the Turnover Chain … in Shreveport …. against a Conference USA team … without a shred of irony or self awareness.

Pick: MIAMI 28-20.

•••

Quick Lane Bowl

Pittsburgh vs. Eastern Michigan, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Pitt minus 11.5.

Why watch? Feeling bloated and weary the day after Christmas? Have we got a bowl game for you.

Pick: PITT 35-17.

•••

Friday, Dec. 27

Military Bowl

North Carolina vs. Temple, Noon (ESPN)

Line: North Carolina minus 5.

Why watch? Catch the best freshman quarterback in the country: Sam Howell of the Tar Heels threw for 3,347 yards and 35 touchdowns.

Pick: UNC 28-24.

•••

Pinstripe Bowl

Wake Forest vs. Michigan State, 3:20 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Michigan State minus 4.5.

Why watch? The Pinstripe Bowl has been the only opportunity to see a trophy ceremony at Yankee Stadium for a decade.

Pick: WAKE 24-21.

•••

Texas Bowl

Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M, 6:45 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Texas A&M minus 7.

Why watch? Same reason to watch most Oklahoma State bowl games in recent years: You miss the original Big 12. Since the conference splintered in 2011, this will be the fourth time the Cowboys have played a former Big 12 member in the postseason.

Pick: Texas A&M 31-27.

•••

Holiday Bowl

Iowa vs. Southern California, 8 p.m. (FS1)

Line: Iowa minus 2.

Why watch? Did you know that Clay Helton is still USC’s coach? Really!

Pick: USC 26-23.

•••

Cheez-It Bowl

Air Force vs. Washington State, 10:15 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Air Force minus 3.

Why watch? Last year’s Cheez-It Bowl was a glorious 10-7 OT debacle between Cal and TCU. So bad it was great. This year features the yin and yang of college football. Air Force’s triple-option averages 57 rushes per game. Wazzu’s Air Raid attack averages 56 passes per game.

Pick: Air Force 31-27.

•••

Saturday, Dec. 28

Camping World Bowl

No. 14 Notre Dame vs. Iowa State, noon (ABC)

Line: Notre Dame minus 4.

Why watch? The Cyclones pretty much play only close games. Nine of their 12 games were decided by 10 points or fewer. Should be a good one.

Pick: N. DAME 28-23.

•••

Cotton Bowl

Penn State vs. Memphis, noon (ESPN)

Line: Penn State minus 6.5.

Why watch? Memphis has fun playmakers on offense such as RB Kenneth Gainwell and WR Antonio Gibson. Penn State has its next great linebacker in All-American Micah Parsons to chase them down.

Pick: MEMPHIS 33-30.

•••

Monday, Dec. 30

SERVPRO First Responder Bowl

Western Kentucky vs. Western Michigan, 12:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Western Kentucky minus 4.

Why watch? Find out which Western is the Best Western. (rim shot)

Pick: W. KENT. 31-21.

•••

Music City Bowl

Mississippi State vs. Louisville, 4 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Mississippi State minus 4.

Why watch? One team (Louisville) went 7-5, ended the season getting whipped by its rival and its fans are feeling optimistic about the future. The other team went 6-6, ended the season by beating its rival and its fans are feeling pessimistic. Expectations are everything in college football.

Pick: MISSISSIPPI STATE 28-22.

•••

Redbox Bowl

Illinois vs. California, 4 p.m. (FOX)

Line: California minus 7.

Why watch? Tired of all those pesky points in college football? The RedBox bowl produced 13 last year and probably won’t do much more than that this year.

Pick: CAL 17-14.

•••

Orange Bowl

Florida vs. Virginia, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Florida minus 14.

Why watch? The Cavaliers have not played in a bowl this big since they lost in the Sugar Bowl to Tennessee in 1991. And, hey, that game was close.

Pick: FLORIDA 38-23.

•••

Tuesday, Dec. 31

Belk Bowl

Charlotte

Kentucky vs. Virginia Tech, noon (ESPN)

Line: Virginia Tech minus 3.

Why watch? Longtime Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s last assignment: Stop Kentucky’s receiver-turned-quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr., an All-American who has run for 1,245 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Pick: KENTUCKY 23-21.

•••

Sun Bowl

Florida State vs. Arizona State, 2 p.m. (CBS)

Line: Arizona State minus 5.

Why watch? Four words: Early happy hour margaritas.

Pick: ARIZ. STATE 21-14.

•••

Liberty Bowl

Kansas State vs. Navy, 3:45 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Navy minus 2.

Why watch? Long for the days when games took less then three and half hours to play? K-State and Navy like to keep that clock rolling and the number of possessions down.

Pick: NAVY 24-20.

•••

Arizona Bowl

Wyoming vs. Georgia State, 4:30 p.m. (CBSSN)

Line: Wyoming minus 7.5.

Why watch? SEC haters special. The Cowboys and Panthers both beat SEC East opponents in September.

Pick: WYOMING 26-21.

•••

Alamo Bowl

Texas vs. Utah, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Utah minus 7.5.

Why watch? How back will Texas be heading into this offseason?

Pick: UTAH 31-21.

•••

Wednesday, Jan. 1

Citrus Bowl

Michigan vs. Alabama, 1 p.m. (ABC)

Line: Alabama minus 7.5.

Why watch? No matter what happens, this game should create enough offseason content to get The Paul Finebaum Show through June.

Pick: ALABAMA 35-17.

•••

Outback Bowl

Minnesota vs. Auburn, 1 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Auburn minus 7.

Why watch? Defensive linemen wearing single digit jersey numbers is one of the best things about college football. That makes Auburn stars Derrick Brown (No. 5) and Marlon Davidson (No. 3) even more far to watch.

Pick: AUBURN 24-18.

•••

Rose Bowl

Oregon vs. Wisconsin, 5 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Wisconsin minus 3.

Why watch? Over the next year you will be hearing a lot about Oregon OT Penei Sewell. The sophomore is already the best offensive lineman in the country.

Pick: WISCONSIN 28-23.

•••

Sugar Bowl

Georgia vs. Baylor, 8:45 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Georgia minus 7.5.

Why watch? At least one of these teams is going to be really into this game.

Pick: GEORGIA 26-20.

•••

Thursday, Jan. 2

Birmingham (Alabama) Bowl

Cincinnati vs. Boston College, 3 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Cincinnati minus 7.

Why watch? There’s no way you’re putting in a productive work day this close to the weekend so might as well cut out early.

Pick: CINCINNATI 27-16.

•••

Gator Bowl

Indiana vs. Tennessee, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Indiana minus 2.

Why watch? The Hoosiers could win nine games in a season for the first time since 1967.

Pick: INDIANA 24-20.

•••

Friday, Jan. 3

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Ohio vs. Nevada, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Ohio minus 7.5.

Why watch? Blue field.

Pick: OHIO 34-21.

•••

Saturday, Jan. 4

Armed Forces Bowl

Southern Miss vs. Tulane, 11:30 a.m. (ESPN)

Line: Tulane minus 7.

Why watch? Conference USA nostalgia. The Golden Eagles and Green Wave played every year from 1979-2010, with Southern Miss going 23-7.

Pick: TULANE 27-17.

•••

Monday, Jan. 6

Lendingtree Bowl

Miami (Ohio) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Line: Louisiana-Lafayette minus 14.

Why watch? If you like smashmouth football, the Ragin’ Cajuns are for you, averaging 6.39 yards per carry (second only to Clemson) behind All-America guard Kevin Dotson.

Pick: LOUISIANA 38-10.

•••

Championship week: 6-4 straight; 5-5 against the spread.

Season: 255-69 straight; 177-135-9 against the spread.

Upset specials: 3-13 (straight up).

Best bets: 7-6-1 (against the spread).

___

Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen http://www.westwoodonepodcasts.com/pods/ap-top-25-college-football-podcast/

___

More AP college football: https://apnews.com/APTop25CollegeFootballPoll and https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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