SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 23: Head Coach Gary Patterson of the TCU Horned Frogs and his team celebrate their 17-16 win over Boise State Broncos during the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium on December 23, 2008 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Even the least essential bowls are capable of producing memorable games. Let's find the best game in each bowl's history. Here's the complete 2011-2012 bowl games TV schedule.
The bowl season is upon us. There are 35 bowl games, starting Saturday all the way through the Jan. 9 BCS championship game. A lot of those bowls will be dogs, completely unwatchable games between mismatched opponents.
But maybe, just maybe, you'll catch a gem in a most nondescript whatsitsname.com bowl between two middling teams. Out of all those games, there's bound to be a handful that will prove to be highly entertaining.
To make our case, we've researched each of the 35 bowl games, from the Granddaddy of 'em All, which will be hosting its 98th extravaganza, to the Pampers ... er, Pinstripe Bowl, which was born just last year. We picked out the best game in each bowl's history, in order of when they'll be played this year.
First up, the New Mexico Bowl through the Holiday Bowl:
New Mexico Bowl (first played: 2006, this year: 6th edition): The best two games in this bowl's short history both involved Fresno State, with the best being the 2009 game when the Bulldogs fell to Wyoming in overtime, 35-28.
Idaho Potato Bowl (1997, 15th): This bowl's better known for being the northernmost bowl game and Boise State's blue turf, though the 2009 game was truly memorable. After Bowling Green broke a tie by scoring a touchdown with 32 seconds left, Idaho improbably came back and scored its own TD with just four ticks left. And then Vandals coach Robb Akey shunned the PAT and got the 43-42 win on a successful 2-point conversion.
New Orleans Bowl (2001, 11th): Sugar Bowl Junior has typically featured either Southern Miss or Troy, but in 2008 they actually met each other. The game came down to a kicking contest, with USM's Britt Barefoot - but he kicked with shoes on - making a 38-yarder to end the half, 46-yarder to force overtime and a 39-yarder to produce a 30-27 win. Before this game, Barefoot had never made a kick longer than 29 yards.
Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl (2008, 4th): The 2010 game wasn't exactly a classic, but it's the only close game in the bowl's short history, with Louisville scoring the last 10 points to beat Southern Miss, 31-28.
Poinsettia Bowl (2005, 7th): In the 2008 game, TCU ruined Boise State's perfect season by overcoming a 13-0 deficit to win, 17-16. Sound familiar? Boise would return the favor the following year in the Fiesta Bowl while TCU got the best of the Broncos again this year up in Boise.
Maaco Bowl (1992, 20th): Rematches usually make for lousy bowl games, but the 2007 game was an exception. With interim coach DeWayne Walker at the helm, UCLA rallied from a 17-3 deficit and had the usually reliable Kai Forbath lining up a 28-yard field goal to win the game. But Eathyn Manumaleuna blocked the attempt to preserve BYU's 17-16 victory.
Hawaii Bowl (2002, 10th): Defense is most definitely optional in this typically high-scoring affair, and the 2003 shootout between Hawaii and Houston takes the cake. This game featured 1,158 yards of totally offense, with Hawaii's Timmy Chang finally outdueling Houston's Kevin Kolb in triple overtime, 54-48. Oh yeah, there was also a brawl after the game.
Independence Bowl (1976, 36th): This bowl is full of wacky games, but none tops the 2000 game in terms of freakishness. For one, it was the last football game played in the 20th century. But the really weird part was that just before the game, the normally mild-weathered Shreveport was belted by a snowstorm, making it like the Ice Bowl South. Finally, in overtime, with Texas A&M having just scored the opening touchdown, its PAT attempt was blocked and returned for a 2-pointer. When Mississippi State scored on the snow-blanketed field on its possession, the Bulldogs had an improbable 43-41 victory.
Little Caesars Bowl (1997, 15th): Though the setting is indoors and sterile, this game has produced a few interesting tussles, the best of which was the 2007 game between Purdue and Central Michigan in front of the bowl's largest crowd in history. The Boilermakers took a 34-13 halftime lead and looked assured of a blowout victory, but CMU came back with a 28-point third quarter to tie things up. Finally, Purdue escaped with a 51-48 victory on Chris Summers' 40-yard field goal as time expired. Purdue QB Curtis Painter threw for a school-record 543 yards before moving on to hold Peyton Manning's clipboard.
Belk Bowl (2002, 10th): The 2006 game featured contrasting styles between a Paul Johnson-coached Navy team with a relentless ground attack and a Boston College team piloted by future first-round pick Matt Ryan. BC had no answer for Midshipmen, who ran up 322 rushing yards and took a 24-16 lead into the fourth quarter. But as Navy tried to run out the clock inside two minutes and BC out of timeouts, a Reggie Campbell fumble gave Ryan just enough time to drive down the field to set up Steve Aponavicius' 37-yard field goal on the game's final play for a 25-24 Eagles victory.
Military Bowl (2008, 4th): UCLA, the guest that nobody wanted, showed up for the 2009 game. After finishing the season 6-6, the Bruins appeared to be shut out of a bowl, only to get a reprieve when Notre Dame declined an invitation after the firing of coach Charlie Weis; and when Army failed to gain bowl eligibility by falling to Navy, the Bruins had the coveted bowl berth. It turned out to be Rick Neuheisel's only bowl game as UCLA's coach. In front of a puny crowd (announced at 23,072) at frigid RFK Stadium, the Bruins overcame a 21-10 halftime deficit to beat Temple, 30-21.
Holiday Bowl (1978, 34th): For quite some time, this was the most fun bowl to watch, with high-powered offenses trading bombs in close games. In the bowl's first 10 years - appropriately coinciding with the Dan Fouts-led Air Coryell era - nine games were decided by seven points or less, including six by one or two points. The best of the best was the 1980 game, which must be considered as one of the best bowls, anywhere, of all time. SMU's Pony Express, with Craig James and Eric Dickerson combining for 335 rushing yards, ran roughshod over BYU and took a 45-25 lead with just four minutes left in the game. But Jim McMahon would not let the Cougars lose their fifth straight bowl game, rallying his team by scoring 21 points in the game's final 2:33, the last six on a Hail Mary pass caught in the end zone by tight end Clay Brown as time expired to give BYU a miraculous 46-45 victory.
Next up: Champs Sports Bowl through Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
Samuel Chi is the proprietor of BCSGuru.com and managing editor of RealClearSports. Sam's college football and BCS analysis, exclusively for SB Nation, will appear twice weekly throughout the season. Follow him on Twitter at BCSGuru.