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Column: Bowl season back to normal, why to watch them all

Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams (1) misses the catch against Georgia defensive back Derion Kendrick (11) during the first half of the Southeast...
UTSA running back Sincere McCormick (3) leaps through the hands of Western Kentucky defensive back Miguel Edwards (13) for a touchdown during the seco...
Oklahoma State running back Dezmon Jackson (27) is tackled by Baylor linebacker Dillon Doyle (5) at the goal line in the second half of an NCAA colleg...
Notre Dame's Kevin Austin Jr., left, runs as Stanford's Kyu Blu Kelly, right, tries to close in during the second half of an NCAA college football gam...
Baylor cornerback Raleigh Texada breaks up a pass in the end zone intended for Texas Tech wide receiver J.J. Sparkman in the first half of an NCAA col...
Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder celebrates after catching a touchdown pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game against SMU, ...

Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams (1) misses the catch against Georgia defensive back Derion Kendrick (11) during the first half of the Southeast...

UTSA running back Sincere McCormick (3) leaps through the hands of Western Kentucky defensive back Miguel Edwards (13) for a touchdown during the seco...

Oklahoma State running back Dezmon Jackson (27) is tackled by Baylor linebacker Dillon Doyle (5) at the goal line in the second half of an NCAA colleg...

Notre Dame's Kevin Austin Jr., left, runs as Stanford's Kyu Blu Kelly, right, tries to close in during the second half of an NCAA college football gam...

Baylor cornerback Raleigh Texada breaks up a pass in the end zone intended for Texas Tech wide receiver J.J. Sparkman in the first half of an NCAA col...

Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder celebrates after catching a touchdown pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game against SMU, ...

To be frank, last year's bowl season felt a little sad.

A bunch of bowls were canceled by the pandemic even before the matchups were set. More had to be called off on relatively short notice. Teams decided to pass on playing in a bowl altogether after rocky seasons. Fans were grateful for the 25 bowls they got, but it just wasn't the same.

The full bowl lineup is back this season. There will be 43 games, 42 involving FBS teams, before the College Football Playoff championship game Jan. 10 in Indianapolis.

And there is a reason to watch every single one ( lines from FanDuel Sportsbook ):

Friday, Dec. 17

Bahamas Bowl, Nassau

Toledo vs. Middle Tennessee

Why watch? Kicking off at noon ET on a Friday, the Bahamas Bowl marks the official start of the "this can probably wait until after the new year" season when it comes to work.

Pick: Toledo minus 10. Score: Toledo 35, MTSU 21.

Cure Bowl, Orlando, Florida

Northern Illinois vs. Coastal Carolina

Why watch? Coastal QB Grayson McCall's efficiency rating of 207.95 is well ahead of the pace to break the record of 203.06 Alabama's Mac Jones set last year. Fire up your calculator and follow along as McCall chases history.

Pick: Coastal Carolina minus 10 1/2. Score: Coastal 35, NIU 21.

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Saturday, Dec. 18

Boca Raton (Fla.) Bowl

Western Kentucky vs. Appalachian State

Why watch? Hilltoppers QB Bailey Zappe needs 288 yards passing —- a good half for him — to break the FBS single-season record of 5,833 set by Texas Tech's B.J. Symons in 2003.

Pick: WKU plus 3. Score: WKU 38, App State 35.

Celebration Bowl, Atlanta

South Carolina State vs. Jackson State

Why watch? Coach Prime! Deion Sanders led Jackson State to its first SWAC title in 14 years, with his son, freshman Shedeur Sanders, playing quarterback.

Pick: South Carolina State plus 10. Score: Jackson State 24, South Carolina State 17.

New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque

Fresno State vs. UTEP

Why watch? Miners try to make a little history. UTEP has not played in the postseason since 2014 and it has not won a bowl since 1967, when it beat Ole Miss at its home Sun Bowl.

Pick: UTEP plus 11 1/2. Score: Fresno State 27, UTEP 17.

Independence Bowl, Shreveport, Louisiana

No. 12 BYU vs. UAB

Why watch? The Independence Bowl has slipped down the bowl pecking order over the years, but BYU is the highest-ranked team to play in Shreveport since No. 15 LSU beat Notre Dame in 1997.

Pick: UAB plus 6 1/2. Score: BYU 27, UAB 24.

LendingTree Bowl, Mobile, Alabama

Eastern Michigan vs. Liberty

Why watch? If the NFL draft is your thing, get a look at Liberty quarterback Malik Willis, who has a chance to rise up the draft boards in a so-so QB class.

Pick: Liberty minus 6 1/2. Score: Liberty 31, Eastern Michigan 21.

Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl, Inglewood, California

Oregon State vs. Utah State

Why watch? Safe bet that at some point Jimmy Kimmel is going to show up in some way. Is that a reason to watch or to flip to another game? That's for you to decide.

Pick: Oregon State minus 7 1/2. Score: Oregon State 42, Utah State 28.

New Orleans Bowl

No. 16 Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Marshall

Why watch? Ragin' Cajuns are New Orleans bowl regulars, with five appearances but none since 2016. With a late kickoff, should be good atmosphere at the Superdome.

Pick: Louisiana-Lafayette minus 1/2. Score: Louisiana-Lafayette 24, Marshall 20.

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Monday, Dec. 20

Myrtle Beach Bowl, Conway, South Carolina

Old Dominion vs. Tulsa

Why watch? The game kicks at 2:30 p.m. EST, but it's always happy hour somewhere. Actually, isn't it always happy hour in Myrtle Beach?

Pick: Tulsa minus 8 1/2. Score: Tulsa 28, Old Dominion 14.

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Tuesday, Dec. 21

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Boise, Idaho

Kent State vs. Wyoming.

Why watch? Last year, the winning coach of the Potato Bowl had French fries dumped on him instead of the traditional Gatorade bath. This year, maybe mashed potatoes?

Pick: Wyoming minus 3. Score: Wyoming 34, Kent State 28.

Frisco (Texas) Bowl

No. 24 UTSA vs. San Diego State

Why watch? Only the playoff games have two teams that combined for more victories than the Roadrunners (12-1) and Aztecs (11-2). Plus, punt god Matt Araiza of San Diego State.

Pick: San Diego State plus 3. Score: San Diego State 23, UTSA 21.

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Wednesday, Dec. 22

Armed Forces Bowl, Fort Worth, Texas

Army vs. Missouri

Why watch? Find out what happens when Army's triple-option matches up against the Southeastern Conference's worst run defense.

Pick: Army minus 4. Score: Army 28, Missouri 21.

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Thursday, Dec. 23

Frisco (Texas) Football Classic

Miami (Ohio) vs. North Texas

Why watch? Last season, bowls were getting canceled left and right. This game was ADDED to the lineup a few weeks before it will be played. It's the Anti-2020 Bowl and deserving of your respect.

Pick: North Texas plus 3. Score North Texas 34, Miami 24.

Gasparilla Bowl, Tampa, Florida

UCF vs. Florida

Why watch? Don't think this is how UCF was hoping to get its first crack since 2009 at the Gators, who limp in with an interim coach and .500 record. Still, the winner will hold it over the loser as if it was a playoff game.

Pick: Florida minus 7. Score: Florida 31, UCF 23.

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Friday, Dec. 24

Hawaii Bowl, Honolulu

Memphis vs. Hawaii

Why watch? How many times do you need to watch “It's a Wonderful Life,” really?

Pick: Hawaii plus 7. Score: Memphis 21, Hawaii 17.

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Saturday, Dec. 25

Camellia Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama

Ball State vs. Georgia State

Why watch? How many times do you need to watch “A Christmas Story,” really?

Pick: Georgia State minus 4 1/2. Score: Georgia State 24, Ball State 16.

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Monday, Dec. 27

Quick Lane Bowl, Detroit

Nevada vs. Western Michigan

Why watch? Two winning football teams playing at Ford Field, the home of the Lions. That doesn't happen often.

Pick: Nevada minus 3. Score: Nevada 27, Western Michigan 21.

Military Bowl, Annapolis, Maryland

Boston College vs. East Carolina

Why watch? Get a jump on your 2023 NFL draft QB class with a look at Phil Jurkovec of BC.

Pick: East Carolina plus 3. Score: Boston College 26, ECU 24.

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Tuesday, Dec. 28

Birmingham (Ala.) Bowl

No. 21 Houston vs. Auburn

Why watch? Transitive property playoff preview: Auburn lost to Alabama in overtime. Houston was routed by Cincinnati in the AAC title game. How do the Cougars and Tigers match up? Will it reveal anything about how the Cotton Bowl will play out? Probably not, but somebody on social media is bound to suggest it does.

Pick: Auburn minus 3. Score: Auburn 26, Houston 20.

SERVPRO First Responder Bowl, Dallas

Air Force vs. Louisville

Why watch? Last chance to see the triple-option until next season.

Pick: Score: Air Force plus 1. Score: Air Force 31, Louisville 28.

Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tennessee.

Mississippi State vs. Texas Tech

Why watch? According to Mississippi State coach Mike Leach, Texas Tech still owes him money from when he was fired more than a decade ago ago. How funny would it be if Tech delivered it at halftime, but in the form of one of those oversized golf tournament checks?

Pick: Texas Tech plus 8 1/2. Mississippi State 35, Texas Tech 28.

Holiday Bowl, San Diego

UCLA vs. North Carolina State

Why watch? If he plays —- always an open-ended question with top NFL prospects in bowl games —- North Carolina State All-American Ikem Ekwonu might be the best offensive lineman in the country.

Pick: North Carolina State minus 1. Score: N.C. State 35, UCLA 31.

Guaranteed Rate Bowl, Phoenix

Minnesota vs. West Virginia

Why watch? The Gophers lost to Bowling Green this season, scoring 10 points. Not really a reason to watch, but three months later, still trying to figure out how that happened.

Pick: Minnesota minus 4. Score: Minnesota 23, West Virginia 10.

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Wednesday, Dec. 29

Fenway Bowl, Boston

Virginia vs. SMU

Why watch? You miss baseball.

Pick: Virginia minus 1 1/2. Score: Virginia 38, SMU 28.

Pinstripe Bowl, New York

Virginia Tech vs. Maryland

Why watch? You really miss baseball.

Pick: Maryland plus 2 1/2. Score: Maryland 27, Virginia Tech 17.

Cheez-It Bowl, Orlando, Florida

No. 19 Clemson vs. Iowa State

Why watch? Two preseason top-10 teams expected better, but could both be motivated to end the season on a high note.

Pick: Clemson plus 1 1/2. Score: Clemson 24, Iowa State 21.

Alamo Bowl, San Antonio

No. 14 Oklahoma vs. No. 15 Oregon

Why watch? Sooners QB Caleb Williams starts his 2022 Heisman Trophy campaign.

Pick: Oregon plus 4 1/2. Score: Oklahoma 31, Oregon 28.

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Thursday, Dec. 30

Duke’s Mayo Bowl, Charlotte, North Carolina

South Carolina vs. North Carolina

Why watch? No team in the country was more excited to go 6-6 than South Carolina in year one under coach Shane Beamer. No team in the country was more of disappointed to go 6-6 than North Carolina, which started the season ranked No. 10 under coach Mack Brown.

Pick: North Carolina minus 9. Score: North Carolina 35, South Carolina 17.

Music City Bowl, Nashville

Purdue vs. Tennessee

Why watch? Reminisce about the Bluebonnet Bowl, the postseason game once played in the old Houston Astrodome that was the setting for the only pervious matchup of the Boilermakers and Volunteers in 1979.

Pick: Tennessee minus 4 1/2. Score: Tennessee 35, Purdue 24.

Peach Bowl, Atlanta

No. 11 Michigan State vs. No. 13 Pittsburgh

Why watch? Two of the country's most surprising double-digit win teams. Think of how cool this would be if it was a playoff game.

Pick: Pittsburgh plus 2 1/2. Score: Pitt 31, Michigan State 23.

Las Vegas Bowl

Wisconsin vs. Arizona State

Why watch? See the best 17-year-old in college football. Badgers RB Braelon Allen completed high school early and won't turn 18 until January. The 238-pounder ran for 1,109 yards and 12 touchdowns despite hardly playing the first four games.

Pick: Wisconsin minus 7. Score: Wisconsin 28, Arizona State 17.

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Friday, Dec. 31

Gator Bowl, Jacksonville, Florida

No. 20 Wake Forest vs. No. 23 Texas A&M

Why watch? Classic good offense vs. good defense. Demon Deacons are fifth in the country, scoring 41 points per game. Aggies allow 16 per game, third best in the nation.

Pick: Texas A&M minus 5. Score: Texas A&M 34, Wake Forest 21.

Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas

Washington State vs. Miami

Why watch? One of the many bowls canceled last season because of the pandemic, but this one was especially missed. Only the Rose is older and the Sun Bowl remains the only bowl televised by CBS. It feels like nostalgia.

Pick: Miami minus 2 1/2. Score: Miami 31, Washington State 23.

Arizona Bowl, Tucson

Central Michigan vs. Boise State

Why watch: Maybe the best running back in the country you have never heard of is CMU's Lew Nichols III, who leads the nation at 142.5 yards per game. MACtion fans are familiar with his work.

Pick: Boise State minus 7 1/2. Score: Boise State 28, Central Michigan 16.

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Saturday, Jan. 1

Outback Bowl, Tampa, Florida

No. 22 Arkansas vs. Penn State

Why watch? The Razorbacks and Nittany Lions have never played. How often do you get to see something that has never happened before?

Pick: Arkansas plus 1 1/2. Arkansas 23, Penn State 20.

Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida

No. 17 Iowa vs. No. 25 Kentucky

Why watch? It's like a science experiment on the randomness of turnovers. The Hawkeyes have 30 takeaways and lead the nation with a plus-14 turnover margin. The Wildcats have the second-worst margin in the country (minus 13), with 22 giveaways.

Pick: Kentucky minus 3. Score: Kentucky 20, Iowa 16.

Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Arizona

No. 5 Notre Dame vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State

Why watch? Can the Fighting Irish snap their nine-game losing streak in what can be called major bowl games in coach Marcus Freeman's coaching debut?

Pick: Notre Dame minus 2 1/2. Score: Notre Dame 27, Oklahoma State 23.

Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Utah

Why watch? The late-blooming Utes are the type of team that could be dangerous in an expanded playoff. Then again, so are the Buckeyes.

Pick: Ohio State minus 6 1/2. Score: Ohio State 38, Utah 27.

Sugar Bowl, New Orleans

No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 8 Mississippi

Why watch? Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin's offense vs. Baylor coach Dave Aranda's defense. Interesting chess match.

Pick: Ole Miss minus 3. Score: Ole Miss 28, Baylor 23.

Tuesday, Jan. 4

Texas Bowl, Houston

LSU vs. Kansas State

Why watch? New LSU coach Brian Kelly won't be on the sideline, but is a good bet to be interviewed during the game. How's that Southern accent coming along?

Pick: Kansas State plus 1. Score: Kansas State 24, LSU 21.

College Football Playoff

Dec. 31

Orange Bowl semifinal, Miami Gardens, Florida

No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Georgia

Why watch? Jim Harbaugh in a big game. Win or lose, think of the hot takes!

Pick: Georgia minus 8 1/2. Score: Georgia 31, Michigan 14.

Cotton Bowl semifinal, Arlington, Texas

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Cincinnati

Why watch? Can the Bearcats, the playoff's first true Cinderella team, stay with the mighty Tide?

Pick: Alabama minus 13 1/2. Score: Alabama 35-17.

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Championship weekend: 3-7 straight; 4-6 against the spread.

Season: 196-96 straight; 154-136 against the spread.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com

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