A viewer's guide to the most entertaining bowl games

There are 40 bowl games before the College Football Playoff National Championship, and with the average college football game lasting a little less than three-and-a-half hours, that means you have about 140 hours of football to plan for. That's a tough job, we know. You'll need to squeeze in some family time and holiday shopping, too. So we're here to help. What are the can't-miss games? Which ones can you have on in the background while you wrap gifts?

Which ones can you simply check in on with your cell phone (using the ESPN app!) while throwing elbows at Walmart? Let us help you decide with our handy-dandy ranking of each bowl game based strictly on entertainment value. No need to get us anything in return, though if you're in the mood, we're an XL and look good in earth tones.

40. AutoNation Cure Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Georgia State

(Dec. 16, 2:30 p.m. ET on CBSSN at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida)

The state of Georgia has four FBS teams and just one 1,000-yard receiver. That's Georgia State's Penny Hart, who ranks 12th nationally with 1,094 receiving yards. Bet you didn't think we had anything interesting to say about this game, did you?

39. Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Arkansas State

(Dec. 16, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama)

This is the seventh straight year Arkansas State is in a bowl game, including every season of Blake Anderson's four-year tenure. This season has taken on special meaning for the Red Wolves, as Anderson's wife, Wendy, has followed the team all season despite battling breast cancer.

38. DXL Frisco Bowl: SMU vs. Louisiana Tech

(Dec. 20, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas)

The year before Chad Morris arrived, in 2014, SMU averaged 11 points per game. This year, the Mustangs averaged 40. Morris' offense is one of the most explosive in the country, with a passing game led by a pair of 1,000-yard receivers. Now, if only they could stop anyone on defense.

37. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Wyoming vs. Central Michigan

(Dec. 22, 4 p.m. ET on ESPN at Lyle Smith Field at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho)

If we knew Wyoming QB Josh Allen would play, this might have some good NFL draft intrigue. Since we don't, you can still tune in for the blue turf.

36. NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: New Mexico State vs. Utah State

(Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. ET on CBSSN at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Arizona)

The last time New Mexico State played in a bowl game was nine years before man walked on the moon. It's not just a novelty act either. Aggies QB Tyler Rogers is second in the nation in passing yards per game.

35. Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: Temple vs. Florida International

(Dec. 21, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida)

The job Butch Davis did at FIU this year was incredible. Geoff Collins' turnaround at Temple after a brutal start was equally impressive. This game could certainly be an early preview of two of the better Group of Five programs for 2018.

34. Celebration Bowl: North Carolina A&T vs. Grambling

(Dec. 16, noon ET on ABC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta)

Grambling didn't lose a game outside of FBS opposition, and North Carolina A&T beat Charlotte. In other words, this is no second-class matchup. Add in all the history that goes with the two programs, and this could be one of the more entertaining bowls of the season.

33. Bahamas Bowl: UAB vs. Ohio

(Dec. 22, 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN at Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium in Nassau, Bahamas)

The Bahamas Bowl really should be a New Year's Six game. What better destination is out there? But as it stands, this is a nice reward for one of college football's best stories of 2017 -- the successful return of UAB after a two-year hiatus.

32. R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Troy vs. North Texas

(Dec. 16, 1 p.m. ET on ESPN at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans)

New Orleans will be hosting a great bowl game. This isn't it. Still, Troy is no pushover, as LSU can attest, and you could do worse than watching these two teams in the first bowl game of the year.

31. Quick Lane Bowl: Duke vs. Northern Illinois

(Dec. 26, 5:15 p.m. ET on ESPN at Ford Field in Detroit)

There's not much in the way of star power here, but given the way the Lions have played at home this year, this still might be the best football that the city of Detroit sees all season.

30. Dollar General Bowl: Toledo vs. Appalachian State

(Dec. 23, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama)

Toledo's Logan Woodside and Appalachian State's Taylor Lamb might be the two best QBs you've never heard of. The pair combined for almost 7,000 total yards and 61 touchdowns this year.

29. Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl: West Virginia vs. Utah

(Dec. 26, 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN at Cotton Bowl in Dallas)

At the end of September, these two teams were a combined 7-1. It has been mostly downhill since then, but let's be optimists on this one.

28. GILDAN New Mexico Bowl: Marshall vs. Colorado State

(Dec. 16, 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN at Branch Field at Dreamstyle Stadium in Albuquerque, New Mexico)

Every year, there's a bowl game that turns into an insane offensive shootout. Here's our pick for 2017. Colorado State's offense, led by receiver Michael Gallup, can put up points in a hurry. But the Rams also allowed 40 points or more four times this season.

27. Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman: Virginia vs. Navy

(Dec. 28, 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland)

This will be the 40th meeting in a rivalry that dates back to the 1889, but Virginia and Navy haven't played since 1994. That game featured Tiki and Ronde Barber. This one, as best we can tell, does not have any twins bound for NFL futures.

26. Cactus Bowl: Kansas State vs. UCLA

(Dec. 26, 9 p.m. ET on ESPN at Chase Field in Phoenix)

Josh Rosen is 20. Bill Snyder is 78. So this game should really appeal to virtually all demographics.

25. New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Iowa vs. Boston College

(Dec. 27, 5:15 p.m. ET on ESPN at Yankee Stadium in New York)

Perhaps the most under-the-radar star in college football will be on display in this one, with BC freshman running back AJ Dillon leading the Eagles. He racked up nearly 1,300 yards on the ground over his final eight games.

24. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Kentucky vs. No. 21 Northwestern

(Dec. 29, 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee)

The on-field action in this one should be interesting enough, and the likelihood of some close-ups of Prince's prepping hot chicken coming in and out of commercial breaks should make this worth a watch regardless. Mmmm ... hot chicken.

23. Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona vs. Purdue

(Dec. 27, 8:30 p.m. ET on Fox at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California)

It's really not fair that Purdue's season is book-ended by Louisville QB Lamar Jackson in Week 1 and Arizona QB Khalil Tate in the bowl, but at least Jeff Brohm will have had some time to prepare for both.

22. Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl: Florida Atlantic vs. Akron

(Dec. 19, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida)

Terry Bowden vs. Lane Kiffin. If there's a more fun coaching matchup outside the College Football Playoff, we can't think of it. Now, if only the bowl would let Kiffin tweet during the game.

21. Hyundai Sun Bowl: No. 24 NC State vs. Arizona State

(Dec. 29, 3 p.m. ET on CBS at Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas)

New Arizona State coach Herm Edwards will almost certainly make an appearance. Plus, you get to enjoy some Bradley Chubb antics as well. Reminder to Arizona State QB Manny Wilkins: Bring extra towels.

20. Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: San Diego State vs. Army

(Dec. 23, 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas)

If you're a fan of great run games, this is the game for you. Army's option offense leads the nation in rushing, averaging nearly 370 yards per game. San Diego State is led by Heisman candidate Rashaad Penny, the county's leading rusher at 2,027 yards.

19. Birmingham Bowl: Texas Tech vs. USF

(Dec. 23, noon ET on ESPN at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama)

Charlie Strong gets to face off against Texas Tech again, but it's a little different scenario than his time at Texas. USF has one of the country's most explosive offenses, and QB Quinton Flowers will get one last game in a Bulls uniform.

18. Walk-On's Independence Bowl: Southern Miss vs. Florida State

(Dec. 27, 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, Louisiana)

There's something inherently entertaining about seeing Florida State in a second-tier bowl game, like those dramatic shots of a player whose stock has fallen precipitously on draft day. It might not be pretty, but you can't look away.

17. Belk Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M

(Dec. 29, 1 p.m. ET on ESPN at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina)

Speaking of Florida State, Jimbo Fisher will likely be the talk of the Belk Bowl, as Texas A&M plays its final game before he officially takes over as head coach. But don't miss the other great storyline in this one: Wake's offense has been fun to watch behind senior QB John Wolford, who finished the regular season with 35 touchdowns and more than 3,400 yards of offense.

16. Hawai'i Bowl: Fresno State vs. Houston

(Dec. 24, 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu)

Jeff Tedford's offense vs. Ed Oliver and the Houston defense ought to be among the best Group of Five matchups of bowl season. But the real intrigue of this one might be at QB for the Cougars, where D'Eriq King has looked sharp since stepping into the starting job last month.

15. AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Iowa State vs. No. 20 Memphis

(Dec. 30, 12:30 p.m. ET on ABC at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee)

Riley Ferguson gets one final home send-off in the bowl game, and it's much deserved. The Memphis QB has nearly 3,000 yards and 32 touchdowns since the start of October.

14. San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: No. 18 Washington State vs. No. 16 Michigan State

(Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET on Fox at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego)

Mike Leach isn't sailing off to Nebraska or Tennessee, so we'll get to see him coach up QB Luke Falk one last time at Washington State. Of course, with Leach, it'll likely be the pregame media conferences that are the real can't-miss viewing.

13. Las Vegas Bowl: Oregon vs. No. 25 Boise State

(Dec. 16, 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas)

When QB Justin Herbert was healthy, Oregon was 5-1 and averaged 53 points per game. He'll be healthy for the Las Vegas Bowl, which means some fireworks are in store.

12. Outback Bowl: Michigan vs. South Carolina

(Jan. 1, noon ET on ESPN2 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida)

We dare you to find a bowl game with two more intense coaches than this one. It's the khaki-clad Jim Harbaugh vs. South Carolina's fiery Will Muschamp. First coach to start bleeding wins.

11. Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: Texas vs. Missouri

(Dec. 27, 9 p.m. ET on ESPN at NRG Stadium in Houston)

It's an old-school Big 12 showdown in Texas, and Missouri is playing some new-school Big 12-style football despite its spot in the SEC. The Tigers' offense is one of the most explosive in the nation behind QB Drew Lock, and they're riding a six-game winning streak, tied for the third-longest active streak among Power 5 teams. Oh, and Texas' defense ranks 108th nationally against the pass. Expect a few points to be scored.

10. TaxSlayer Bowl: Louisville vs. No. 23 Mississippi State

(Dec. 30, noon ET on ESPN at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida)

This could be the last time we see Lamar Jackson as a college player, so it's appointment viewing. While the Heisman buzz never really built to anything this time around, Jackson's 2017 season may have been even better than last year, posting 24 touchdowns to just four turnovers with nearly 3,000 yards of offense since October.

9. Capital One Orange Bowl: No. 6 Wisconsin vs. No. 10 Miami

(Dec. 30, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida)

Everybody loves a shootout during bowl season, but this one's for the old-school fans of great defense. Wisconsin's defense allowed just 13 points per game this year, and Miami's unit features a host of young stars, including linebackers Shaq Quarterman, Zach McCloud and Michael Pinckney.

8. Camping World Bowl: No. 22 Virginia Tech vs. No. 19 Oklahoma State

(Dec. 28, 5:15 p.m. ET on ESPN at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida)

Mason Rudolph and the Cowboys' high-powered offense vs. Bud Foster and Virginia Tech's aggressive defense should be one of the best non-New Year's Six matchups. Moreover, the Hokies have turned in some of the year's best bowl games in each of the past two seasons, with a shootout vs. Tulsa in 2015 and a dramatic comeback vs. Arkansas last year.

7. Valero Alamo Bowl: No. 13 Stanford vs. No. 15 TCU

(Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET on ESPN at Alamodome in San Antonio)

Stanford running back Bryce Love vs. TCU's fourth-ranked run defense should be one of the best matchups of bowl season, and while both teams wrapped up the year with a loss in their respective conference championship games, this Alamo Bowl matchup makes for one heck of a consolation prize.

6. PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: No. 11 Washington vs. No. 9 Penn State

(Dec. 30, 4 p.m. ET on ESPN at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona)

This is the New Year's Six game getting the least hype, but that doesn't mean it's a bad matchup. Saquon Barkley vs. Vita Vea and Washington's stellar defense alone makes this one fun, but Penn State's Trace McSorley and Washington's Jake Browning provide one of the best QB matchups of bowl season.

5. Citrus Bowl Presented by Overton's: No. 14 Notre Dame vs. No. 17 LSU

(Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET on ABC at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida)

September ended with Notre Dame as one of the hottest teams in the country and LSU fresh off a loss to Troy. What a difference two months can make. Both teams are 9-3, but it's the Tigers trending in the right direction. Still, a chance to see running backs Derrius Guice and Josh Adams makes this appointment viewing.

4. Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: No. 12 UCF vs. No. 7 Auburn

(Jan. 1, 12:30 p.m. ET on ESPN at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta)

The Knights never had a shot at the playoff, despite going undefeated. And while nothing that happens in this game will change that, UCF can strike a big blow for the Group of Five with a win. Either way, it should be a terrific matchup, with the nation's No. 1 scoring offense going against Auburn's No. 10 scoring defense. Auburn didn't allow more than 28 points in a game this season. UCF never scored less than 31.

3. Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: No. 8 USC vs. No. 5 Ohio State

(Dec. 29, 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas)

It's the Rose Bowl ... just being played in Texas. The Pac-12 champ and the Big Ten champ -- the two teams that had viable arguments for the fourth playoff spot -- get to face off in what should be easily the most intriguing game outside the playoff.

2. College Football Playoff at the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual: No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 2 Oklahoma

(Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET on ESPN at Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California)

Georgia hasn't faced a QB quite like Baker Mayfield all year. Mayfield hasn't seen a defense as tough as Georgia's. The Sooners' defense has been questioned, while Bulldogs QB Jake Fromm needs to prove a true freshman is ready for the big stage. It's a matchup of contrasts that should be a whole lot of fun to watch.

1. College Football Playoff at the Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 4 Alabama vs. No. 1 Clemson

(Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m. ET on ESPN at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans)

Not every third installment of a trilogy lives up to the hype. For every "Return of the Jedi," there's a "Godfather III." But we're sold on this one, not because of the lingering storylines from the first two installments, but for the new faces (Kelly Bryant, Raekwon Davis), new dynamics (Alabama with a chip on its shoulder?) and new stakes. The Sugar Bowl is the best of both worlds -- a fresh take on an old rivalry -- with a spot in the national championship on the line. It's hard to get any better than that.