Bowl season starts on Saturday in Atlanta with N.C. Central vs. Grambling State in the Celebration Bowl. There are 40 FBS games before the College Football Playoff championship game on Jan. 9 in Tampa, Fla.
The bowls from from A to Z:
A: Alabama. Or it could mean “All but over.” The Crimson Tide (13-0) are prohibitive favorites to win Nick Saban’s fifth title in eight years. This might be Saban’s best team in T-town.
B: Big Ten, Big 12, “bad” year for. The champions from both conferences, Penn State and Oklahoma, respectively, were left out of the College Football Playoff. The Big Ten did get a piece of the CFP pie, with Ohio State’s inclusion, but the Big 12 was shut out for the second time in three years.
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C: Conner the Cancer Conqueror. Pittsburgh senior running back James Conner is the best story in college football. He beat Hodgkin’s lymphoma and came back as good as ever this season to lead the Panthers (8-4) to a spot in the Pinstripe Bowl against Northwestern (6-6) on Dec. 28.
D: Dayes, Matt. The senior running back ended N.C. State’s 1,000-yard rusher drought (1,119 yards) and carried the Wolfpack (6-6) into the Independence Bowl on Dec. 26. Ironically enough, Dayes’ final college game will be against Vanderbilt, the school he almost chose out of high school.
E: Empty seats. There will be plenty of these across most of the games, even for the playoffs. That’s just the reality of bowl season. It’s cool that the players get a reward but most of these games exist as a means to fill ESPN’s inventory.
F: Fayetteville’s own Harold Landry. The Boston College junior defensive end tied for the national lead in sacks (15). He gets to go bowling with the Eagles (6-6) to Detroit to face former ACC foe Maryland (6-6) in the Quick Lane Bowl on Dec. 26.
G: Glendale, Ariz. Both Clemson (12-1) and Ohio State (11-1) played outside of Phoenix last year but not against each other. The Tigers lost the national title game there to Alabama and the week before Ohio State clobbered Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.
H: Hokies. Frank Beamer’s gone but Virginia Tech’s bowl streak is intact under first-year coach Justin Fuente. The 24th straight bowl trip for the Hokies (9-4) is a short one to Charlotte to face Arkansas (7-5) in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 29.
I: Independence Bowl. N.C. State goes for its first win over an SEC team since 1999 with a rematch against Vanderbilt (6-6) in Shreveport, La. The Wolfpack lost to the Commodores in the 2012 Music City Bowl and has lost five straight to SEC opponents.
J: Jackson, Lamar. Louisville’s first Heisman Trophy winner tries to break out of an end-of-season slump and break the usual Heisman jinx in bowl games with a Dec. 31 date with LSU (7-4) in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
K: Knights, Black and Golden. Army and Central Florida are both bowling. The Black Knights (7-5), coming off their first win over Navy in 15 years, get North Texas (5-7) in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Dec. 27. The Golden Knights (6-6), under first-year coach Scott Frost, take on Arkansas State (7-5) in the AutoNation Cure Bowl on Saturday in Orlando.
L: Lawrence, Dexter. The freshman defensive tackle from the Triangle might be the best defensive linemen Clemson has. Given the abilities of teammates Christian Wilkins and Carlos Watkins, that’s saying something.
M: Military Bowl. After the “Wakeyleaks” fiasco, Wake Forest (6-6) could use some good news against a tough Temple (10-3) team in Annapolis, Md. on Dec. 27.
N: Not here or Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish stumbled to a 4-8 finish and missed the chance to irritate its ACC brethren and jump them in the conference bowl order. Fret not, Golden Domers, preseason top 25 teams UCLA, Michigan State, Oregon and Ole Miss didn’t live up to the hype, either.
O: Ohio State, The. Urban Meyer has his Buckeyes back in the CFP for the second time in three years and he didn’t even have to win his own division to get here. The Buckeyes (11-1) face Clemson on Dec. 31 in the Fiesta Bowl in the CFP semifinals.
P: Peterson, Chris. The Washington coach was known for his bowl-game chicanery and trick plays at Boise State. He might need a few for the Huskies (12-1) to knock off mighty Alabama in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31 in the semifinals of the CFP.
Q: Quest Truxton. The San Diego State receiver shares the title for “Best Name” with Air Force safety Weston Steelhammer. Honorable mention to Stanford punter Jet Toner and special shout-out to Arkansas running back Rawleigh Williams III, who will be in Charlotte for the Belk Bowl.
R: Rockets. Appalachian State (9-3) draws Toledo (9-3) in the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., on Saturday. Rockets quarterback Logan Woodside threw for more touchdown passes (43) than anyone else in the country.
S: Stanford or Sun. North Carolina (8-4) gets the Cardinal (9-3) from the Pac-12 in a cross-country clash of styles in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 30 in El Paso, Texas. The Tar Heels rely on quarterback Mitch Trubisky (3,468 passing yards) while Stanford pounds the ball with Christian McCaffrey (1,603 rushing yards).
T: Tigers. Memphis, LSU and Auburn are all in bowl games but it’s Clemson’s Tigers who are in the CFP for a second straight year.
U: USC. The Trojans (9-3) have won eight in a row and Penn State (11-2) has won nine a row. They meet in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.
V: Vandals. Idaho (8-4) will fittingly play in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise on Dec. 22. The Vandals are dropping down a level next season after this tilt with Colorado State (7-5).
W: Washington, David. The senior quarterback from Southeast Raleigh High helped Old Dominion to a 9-3 record and their ever first bowl trip — Dec. 23 in the Bahamas against Eastern Michigan.
X: Xavier McCoy. The freshman receiver only had two catches this season for N.C. Central, but hey, we needed an “X” and the Eagles are playing for the Black College national title against Grambling State on Saturday.
Y: Yellow Jackets. Coach Paul Johnson has Georgia Tech (8-4) back in a bowl game after its 18-year streak was snapped in 2015. The Jackets will try to make it two straight wins vs. the SEC against Kentucky (7-5) in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Dec. 31.
Z: Zach Cunningham. N.C. State will have to get a hat on the Vanderbilt junior linebacker, who was the SEC’s top tackler (119), in the Independence Bowl.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio