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 Colorado State vs. Nevada (and you might not be able to), but we damn sure will.
Still, there are very 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 and rivalry -- like BYU playing Utah -- but once the game starts, it has to be watchable.) Using statistical tools, let's measure the watchability of 2015-16's 40 bowl games, sans the National Championship.
I'll measure quality by adding together the F/+ ratings of each bowl's participants.
By setting the bar at 6-6, and then at 5-7 with good Academic Progress Rate scores in the event that there are too few 6-6 teams, the sport opens the door for some poor teams to go bowling. In fact, four teams ranking worse than 90th in the F/+ ratings -- No. 93 Tulsa, 5-7 No. 96 San Jose State, No. 98 New Mexico and No. 99 Nevada -- 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. Oklahoma vs. Clemson
2. Michigan State vs. Alabama
3. Notre Dame vs. Ohio State
4. Michigan vs. Florida
5. North Carolina vs. Baylor
And here are your bottom three:
38. San Jose State vs. Georgia State
39. Arizona vs. New Mexico
40. Nevada vs. Colorado State
We want competitiveness. No matter what bowl game Alabama is in, the combined quality is going to be high. But if the Tide played Nevada, that wouldn't be very watchable.
To measure evenness, we'll look at the difference in F/+ rankings between the two participants. This will tell us which games are most likely to go down to the wire.
Here are your top six games in F/+ evenness:
1. (tie) Oklahoma vs. Clemson and Notre Dame vs. Ohio State
3. (tie) Michigan State vs. Alabama and Miami vs. Washington State
5. (tie) BYU vs. Utah and Texas A&M vs. Louisville
And here are your bottom three:
38. Tulsa (No. 93) vs. Virginia Tech (No. 53)
39. Georgia Southern (No. 63) vs. Bowling Green (No. 18)
40. Kansas State (No. 77) vs. Arkansas (No. 15)
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, sacks and interceptions are fun. Hurry-up offenses are fun.
Here are your top five games in combined Havoc and Tempo rankings:
1. West Virginia vs. Arizona State
2. Oklahoma vs. Clemson
3. Boise State vs. Northern Illinois
4. Michigan State vs. Alabama
5. Northwestern vs. Tennessee
And here are your bottom three:
38. Kansas State vs. Arkansas
39. Penn State vs. Georgia
40. Central Michigan vs. Minnesota
Bowls bring together teams that are ecstatic about going bowling or being in a certain bowl and teams that have no interest in continuing their season.
Let's rank improvement by comparing bowl teams' current F/+ ratings to their midseason ratings. Which bowls feature teams that finished on a higher note than they expected? Which feature teams that had far greater visions?
Here are your top five games for happy overachievers:
1. Western Kentucky vs. South Florida
2. San Diego State vs. Cincinnati
3. San Jose State vs. Georgia State
4. Oregon vs. TCU
5. Washington vs. Southern Miss
And here are your bottom three.
38. Akron vs. Utah State
39. Miami vs. Washington State
40. Indiana vs. Duke
The bottom of this list features two teams (Akron and Indiana) that haven't bowled in a while. They'll probably be happy! But that could mean extra effort or that could mean a massive hangover. So we'll avoid integrating that factor for now.
Since this list is only sort of statistical, we're leaving the floor open for adjustments.
Teams that are undergoing head coaching changes might be more likely to lay an egg for an interim or the guy who's leaving. A team with key injuries (Baylor) might be less likely to hold up its end of the bargain. A team playing its last game under a retiring, legendary coach (Virginia Tech) should add some pomp to an otherwise less-watchable contest. A team that watched its coach flirt with every possible open job (Cal) might struggle with motivation. And two teams that acquitted themselves well in their season finales and barely missed the CFP (Iowa and Stanford) might have a point to prove.
Or not! We're guessing here.
The bowl watchability rankings
So here are your combined watchability rankings. The lower the sum, the better the score, so minus adjustments move games closer to the top.
|December 31||Cotton||Michigan St.-Alabama||2||3||4||11||20|
You owe it to yourself to tune in
|December 22||Boca Raton||Toledo-Temple||14||15||6||11||10 (Coaching change)||56|
|January 1||Fiesta||Notre Dame-Ohio St.||3||1||36||19||59|
|December 29||Russell Athletic||North Carolina-Baylor||5||9||17||24||5 (Injury)||60|
|December 19||Las Vegas||BYU-Utah||16||5||20||33||-15 (Rivalry!)
5 (Coaching change)
|December 19||New Orleans||Arkansas St.-La. Tech||33||7||8||16||64|
|January 1||Sugar||Oklahoma St.-Ole Miss||7||27||19||14||67|
|December 21||Miami Beach||WKU-USF||12||31||23||1||67|
|December 26||Foster Farms||UCLA-Nebraska||18||8||27||16||69|
|December 30||Belk||NC St.-Mississippi St.||17||24||15||9||5 (awkward flirtation)||70|
|December 30||Music City||Texas A&M-Louisville||21||5||8||36||70|
You really think you have better plans?
|December 23||Poinsettia||Boise St.-NIU||27||9||3||36||75|
|January 1||Citrus||Michigan-Florida||4||12||21||35||5 (Will Grier)||77|
|January 1||Rose||Stanford-Iowa||5||23||28||33||-10 (Nearly made it!)||79|
|January 2||Cactus||WVU-Arizona St.||24||25||1||29||79|
|December 26||Heart of Dallas||Washington-So. Miss||19||35||22||4||80|
|December 31||Peach||Houston-Florida St.||8||29||26||18||81|
Hey, you're going to miss this sport soon
|December 19||Cure||SJSU-Georgia St.||38||9||37||2||86|
|December 29||Armed Forces||California-Air Force||26||20||13||25||5 (Awkward flirtation)||89|
|December 23||GoDaddy||Ga. Southern-BGSU||22||39||16||7||10 (Coaching change)||94|
|December 30||Birmingham||Auburn-Memphis||19||27||35||6||10 (Coaching change)||97|
|December 28||Quick Lane||CMU-Minnesota||31||15||40||13||99|
|December 26||Independence||Tulsa-Va.Tech||37||38||11||30||-15 (Retiring coach)||101|
|December 29||Texas||LSU-Texas Tech||13||37||25||27||102|
Addiction is painful
|January 2||Liberty||Kansas St.-Arkansas||25||40||38||7||110|
|December 19||Camellia||Ohio-App. St.||30||34||14||32||110|
|December 19||New Mexico||Arizona-New Mexico||38||17||33||20||3 (Awkward flirtation)||111|
|January 2||Taxslayer||Penn St.-Georgia||23||12||39||28||10 (Coaching change)||112|
|December 26||St. Petersburg||UConn-Marshall||35||25||30||22||112|
|December 26||Sun||Miami-Wazzu||29||3||32||39||10 (Coaching change)||113|
|December 29||Arizona||Nevada-Colorado St.||40||17||34||31||122|
|December 22||Potato||Akron-Utah St.||35||33||31||38||137|
It is no surprise that the December 30-January 1 corridor has a good portion of the best games. The ridiculousness of housing the semifinals on New Year's Eve means January 1 lost a little bit of punch, but you've still got Notre Dame-Ohio State. And, with Oregon-TCU rounding out January 2, you'll have headlining battles for each of the final three days of bowl season (with a decent undercard on December 29-30).
There are some gems early, too. BYU-Utah and Arkansas State-Louisiana Tech are fun and evenly matched. Plus, both are taking place near each respective fan base. And while we don't know how Toledo will play without Matt Campbell, the Rockets and Temple are two of the best teams in the mid-major universe.
So there you have it. Science tells you not to miss Arkansas State vs. Louisiana Tech and to stay home on New Year's Eve.