The holidays are a time for excess: the food, the presents, the ugly sweaters — and the bowl games. Saturday brings the first of 41 games.
That’s too many ... until you remember we’ll soon be without college football for eight months.
So maybe watching one more bowl in an ugly sweater isn’t a bad idea.
Sifting through the best bowl season storylines from coast to coast:
New lang syne
A byproduct of the new College Football Playoff is that, two out of every three years, the national semifinal bowls will be played on New Year’s Eve instead of New Year’s Day.
The big showdowns were Jan. 1 last season in the Sugar and Rose bowls. But this season, the semis will be Dec. 31 in the Cotton and Orange, while next season they will be Dec. 31 in the Peach and Fiesta.
No one really knows what impact this scheduling will have on TV ratings. ESPN was concerned enough to request the semifinals be moved this season to Saturday, Jan. 2, which the CFP management committee quickly rejected.
The Cotton Bowl between Alabama and Michigan State, set for a 7 p.m. Central time kickoff, may still be going when the big ball drops in Times Square at midnight in the East. Will college football fans/new year’s revelers be watching between sips of champagne as the confetti falls, or will traditional celebrations prevail?
Bowl-worthy below .500?
With 80 FBS teams needed for 40 bowls, three 5-7 teams were required to fill out the field: San Jose State on Saturday in the Cure Bowl, Nebraska on Dec. 26 in the Foster Farms Bowl and Minnesota on Dec. 28 in the Quick Lane Bowl.
The NCAA allowed teams to be invited based on their Academic Progress Rate, Nebraska being the best at 985. Missouri was second-best at 976 but decided to keep its 5-7 team at home, opening the door for San Jose State.
“It sends a message to teams that says, ‘Hey, take care of your academics, because it might make a difference down the road,’ ” said Wright Waters, executive director of the Football Bowl Association.
Perhaps, but the idea of sending teams with losing records to bowls smacks of youth league participation trophies.
The Holy War
We don’t think much of BYU-Utah in this part of the country, but the rivalry is intense, known in the Beehive State as “The Holy War.”
The schools agreed to take a two-year hiatus in 2014-15, but the bowl season threw them together Saturday in, of all places, the Las Vegas Bowl. The game, by the way, reportedly sold out in 22 minutes.
In one last bit of drama, Bronco Mendenhall will coach BYU before heading east to take over at Virginia.
Beamer Ball bows out
Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer is retiring after 29 seasons as coach of the Hokies, with his career coming full circle in one respect.
Beamer’s first bowl game was a 45-20 victory over Indiana in the 1993 Independence Bowl. His 23rd straight and last bowl game also will be in Shreveport: Beamer leads the Hokies on Dec. 26 against Tulsa.
LSU is playing in its 16th straight bowl, the second-longest active streak among Southeastern Conference teams behind Georgia (19). ... Ole Miss is in the Sugar Bowl for the first time since the 1969 season, when Archie Manning was a junior quarterback for the Rebels. … Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez will lead his Wildcats against his old team, West Virginia, on Jan. 2 in the Cactus Bowl.
The College Football Playoff semifinals
Orange Bowl: No. 1 Clemson (13-0) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (11-1)
WHEN: 3 p.m. Dec. 31
WHAT TO WATCH: Clemson orange-crushed Oklahoma 40-6 in last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl, but the oddsmakers make the one-loss Sooners a slight favorite over the unbeaten Tigers. The difference is QB Baker Mayfield, who conducts an offense that’s third in the FBS averaging 45.8 points. Clemson, of course, has Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson at QB and All-America DE Shaq Lawson. Maybe Vegas is expecting the Tigers to “Clemson” one game short of the title bout.
Cotton Bowl: No. 2 Alabama (12-1) vs. No. 3 Michigan State (12-1)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Dec. 31
WHAT TO WATCH: Alabama has the look and feel of Nick Saban’s three national championship teams: a rock-hard defense led by Reggie Ragland and A’Shawn Robinson and a rock-solid running game built around Heisman winner Derrick Henry. But Michigan State, where Saban coached before coming to LSU in 2000, is a tough out, as evidenced by its three-day-long touchdown drive against Iowa in the Big Ten title game. QB Connor Cook has lost four games in three years.
Five bowls to watch — other than the CFP games, of course
Russell Athletic Bowl: Baylor (9-3) vs. North Carolina (11-2)
WHEN: 4:30 p.m. Dec. 29
WHAT TO WATCH: In a tasty appetizer to the Texas Bowl, expect fireworks aplenty from the Bears and Tar Heels — IF they can both get over their late-season disappointments of flirting with and falling short of CFP contention. Baylor looks like it will be without QB Jarrett Stidham (broken foot) and could rely on converted WR Chris Johnson again. In a breakout year, UNC leads the nation with 7.33 yards per play.
Texas Bowl: LSU (8-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
WHEN: 8 p.m. Dec. 29
WHAT TO WATCH: Even neutral observers will find this a compelling contrast in styles. The Tigers and Leonard Fournette line up to run right at a Red Raiders rush defense ranked 125th of 127 FBS teams, while Texas Tech will unleash its No. 2 offense and passing game on an LSU secondary that hasn’t lived up to the billing. The Red Raiders have won four straight bowls; the Tigers have dropped three of their past four.
Fiesta Bowl: Notre Dame (10-2) vs. Ohio State (11-1)
WHEN: Noon Jan. 1
WHAT TO WATCH: (Pope) Urban Meyer leads the Buckeyes against the Fighting Irish in a matchup that could have been a national semifinal. Despite just one loss, Ohio State never matched the hype until the pressure was off and it clubbed rival Michigan 42-13 in the finale. Notre Dame came up two points short in its two biggest games — at Clemson and at Stanford — and needs to prove it can beat an elite team.
Rose Bowl: Iowa (12-1) vs. Stanford (11-2)
WHEN: 4 p.m. Jan. 1
WHAT TO WATCH: Both teams head to Pasadena feeling they should be in the CFP, but once they see the Rose Parade, perhaps the disappointment will fade. All eyes are on Christian McCaffrey, who broke Barry Sanders’ 27-year-old NCAA record with 3,496 all-purpose yards (with Barry Sanders Jr. as his backup). If Iowa TB Jordan Canzeri gets over his ankle injury, the Hawkeyes will give the Cardinal all they want.
Alamo Bowl: Oregon (9-3) vs. TCU (10-2)
WHEN: 5:45 p.m. Jan. 2
WHAT TO WATCH: The fireworks won’t be reserved just for New Year’s Eve. There should be plenty in the Alamodome when the Ducks and Horned Frogs go at it. Oregon rallied strongly after a 3-3 start with six straight wins, averaging 48.6 points in the past five. TCU saw its CFP aspirations plummet with a late-season injury to quarterback Trevone Boykin, but he should be back and healthy for this one.