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2014-2015 college football bowl watchability rankings, according to the numbers

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Some bowls are more watchable than others. Let science rank all 38 games and tell you which you least want to miss.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Guide

We at SB Nation love bowls for one simple reason: they're college football games. If there were fewer bowl games, there would be fewer college football games before the eight-month offseason void. We welcome bowls of all shapes, sizes, locales, and levels of importance. You don't have to watch Utah State vs. UTEP, but we damn sure will.

Still, there are watchable bowls, and there are less watchable bowls. I'm here to help you differentiate.

To me, there are four things that make for watchable bowls: quality, evenness, excitement, and happiness. (You could throw in familiarity -- like Utah playing Colorado State or Texas playing Arkansas -- but once the game starts, it has to be watchable.) Using statistical tools, let's measure the watchability of 2014-15's 38 bowl games, sans the national championship game.

Quality

I'll measure quality by adding together the F/+ ratings of each bowl's participants.

By setting the bar at six wins, the sport obviously opens the door for some poor teams to go bowling. In fact, two teams ranking worse than 100th in the F/+ ratings -- No. 101 Fresno State and No. 104 Bowling Green -- drew bids. But that's the price of doing business. If we want as many bowls as possible, we're going to let in some bad teams.

In terms of combined quality, here are your top five bowls:

1. Alabama vs. Ohio State
2. Oregon vs. Florida State
3. Ole Miss vs. TCU
4. Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech
5. Michigan State vs. Baylor

And here are your bottom three:

36. Nevada vs. UL-Lafayette
37. South Alabama vs. Bowling Green
38. Fresno State vs. Rice

Evenness

We want competitiveness. No matter what bowl game Alabama is in, the combined quality is going to be high. But if the Tide played Fresno State, that wouldn't be very watchable.

To measure evenness, we'll look at the difference in F/+ ratings between the two participants. This will tell us which games are most likely to go down to the wire. For instance, Rutgers (minus-4.4 percent, 73rd) and North Carolina (minus-4.5 percent, 74th) might not seem like exciting combatants, but they have played at the same level for the season as a whole. That might be watchable!

Here are your top five games in F/+ evenness:

1. Rutgers vs. UNC
2. Ole Miss vs. TCU
3. Western Michigan vs. Air Force
4. BYU vs. Memphis
5. Missouri vs. Minnesota

And here are your bottom three:

36. Arkansas vs. Texas
37. Houston vs. Pittsburgh
38. Marshall vs. Northern Illinois

Excitement

We all have our own ideas of what makes for exciting football games. Some people like slug-it-out, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust football. There's a place for that, but when we don't have an invested interest in one team, sometimes we're just looking for more visceral excitement, like tempo and big plays.

To measure excitement, I'm going to look at the combined rankings for each team in two fun measures: tempo and havoc. For tempo, let's use the Adj. Tempo measure found on the Football Outsiders Offensive S&P+ page. For havoc, of course, there's the Havoc Rate measure found on the Defensive S&P+ page. Tackles for loss and interceptions are fun. Hurry-up offenses are fun.

Here are your top five games in combined Havoc and Tempo rankings:

1. Michigan State vs. Baylor
2. Ole Miss vs. TCU
3. BYU vs. Memphis
4. Boise State vs. Arizona
5. Oklahoma vs. Clemson

And here are your bottom three:

36. Maryland vs. Stanford
37. Navy vs. San Diego State
38. Miami vs. South Carolina

Happiness

Bowls bring together teams that are ecstatic about going bowling and teams that have no interest in continuing their season.

Let's rank happiness by comparing bowl teams' current F/+ ratings to their preseason projected ratings. Which bowls feature overachievers? Which feature teams that had far greater visions for 2014?

Here are your top five games in terms of happy overachievers:

1. Western Michigan vs. Air Force
2. Ole Miss vs. TCU
3. Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech
4. Alabama vs. Ohio State
5. Utah vs. Colorado State

And here are your bottom three.

36. Fresno State vs. Rice
37. South Alabama vs. Bowling Green
38. Washington vs. Oklahoma State

That the Russell Athletic Bowl, which features sad, angry Oklahoma, ranks only 20th proves that the measure is flawed. Alas, we'll go with it.

Bowl watchability rankings

So here are your combined watchability rankings. I applied different weights to each category: Quality was given 4x weight, Evenness 3x, Excitement 2x, and Happiness 1x.

Date Game Quality rank Difference rank Excitement rank Happiness rank Total rank
12/20/2014 New Mexico Utah State-UTEP 35 35 26 23 38
1/2/2015 Armed Forces Houston-Pit 28 37 30 34 37
12/20/2014 New Orleans Nevada-ULL 36 27 29 32 36
12/26/2014 Heart of Dallas Illinois-Louisiana Tech 31 33 34 6 35
12/27/2014 Independence Miami-South Carolina 18 34 38 33 34
1/2/2015 Cactus Washington-Oklahoma State 30 26 23 38 33
12/23/2014 Poinsettia Navy-San Diego State 29 24 37 19 32
12/29/2014 Liberty Texas A&M-West Virginia 23 30 32 29 31
12/20/2014 Camellia South Alabama-Bowling Green 37 20 10 37 30
12/24/2014 Bahamas CMU-WKU 33 17 33 15 29
12/30/2014 Foster Farms Maryland-Stanford 16 32 36 30 28
12/24/2014 Hawaii Fresno State-Rice 38 13 13 36 27
12/26/2014 Quick Lane Rutgers-UNC 34 1 35 35 26
1/4/2015 GoDaddy Toledo-Arkansas State 32 21 9 27 25
12/29/2014 Texas Arkansas-Texas 17 36 22 13 24
12/23/2014 Boca Raton Marshall-NIU 22 38 8 10 23
12/27/2014 Pinstripe Boston College-Penn State 21 31 20 7 22
1/2/2015 Taxslayer Iowa-Tennessee 26 19 15 26 21
1/3/2015 Birmingham East Carolina-Florida 24 22 11 25 20
12/30/2014 Music City Notre Dame-LSU 11 29 21 31 19
12/27/2014 Military Cincinnati-Virginia Tech 19 23 16 24 18
12/26/2014 St. Petersburg NC State-UCF 27 8 17 28 17
12/20/2014 Las Vegas Utah-Colorado State 15 15 28 5 16
12/30/2014 Belk Georgia-Louisville 6 25 27 9 14
1/1/2015 Rose Oregon-Florida State 2 28 24 22 14
12/20/2014 Potato WMU-Air Force 25 3 18 1 13
1/2/2015 Alamo Kansas State-UCLA 9 7 31 18 12
12/27/2014 Sun Arizona State-Duke 12 12 18 14 11
1/1/2015 Citrus Missouri-Minnesota 14 5 25 12 10
1/1/2015 Outback Auburn-Wisconsin 8 18 14 16 9
12/31/2014 Fiesta Boise State-Arizona 13 14 4 17 8
12/27/2014 Holiday Nebraska-USC 10 9 12 21 7
12/21/2014 Miami Beach BYU-Memphis 20 4 2 11 6
1/1/2015 Cotton Classic Michigan State-Baylor 5 16 1 8 5
12/29/2014 Russell Athletic Oklahoma-Clemson 7 6 5 20 4
12/31/2014 Orange Mississippi State-Georgia Tech 4 11 6 3 3
1/1/2015 Sugar Alabama-Ohio State 1 10 7 4 2
12/31/2014 Peach Ole Miss-TCU 3 2 2 2 1

As one would expect, January 1 is loaded; of the five New Year's Day bowls, four rank in the top 10, and the fifth (Oregon-FSU) is a national semifinal. That's an awesome day.

But December 31 packs even more punch. Ole Miss vs. TCU could be the best game of bowl season, MSU-Georgia Tech is a study in contrasting styles and happiness, and Boise State-Arizona grades high in exciting play. All three rank in the top eight.

But you don't have to wait until December 31 to get your fill of fun football. December 20, bowl season's opening Saturday, features two top-16 games (and two bottom-three games), and BYU-Memphis could be the best pre-Christmas bowl. And hey ... there's at least one not-awful post-January 1 bowl (KSU-UCLA), right?

So there you have it. Science tells you not to miss Memphis-BYU and to stay home on New Year's Eve.