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2015-2016 college football bowl watchability rankings, according to the numbers

Some bowls are more watchable than others. Let science rank all 40 games and tell you which you least want to miss.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

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.

1. Quality

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

2. 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 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)

3. 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, 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

4. Improvement

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.

5. Adjustments

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.

Appointment viewing

Quality Evenness Excitement Improvement Adjustments SUM
December 31 Cotton Michigan St.-Alabama 2 3 4 11 20
December 31 Orange Oklahoma-Clemson 1 1 2 22 26
January 2 Alamo Oregon-TCU 9 12 10 4 35

You owe it to yourself to tune in

Quality Evenness Excitement Improvement Adjustments SUM
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
January 1 Outback Northwestern-Tennessee 15 29 5 14 63
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 24 Hawaii SDSU-Cincinnati 28 21 18 2 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?

Quality Evenness Excitement Improvement Adjustments SUM
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
December 30 Holiday USC-Wisconsin 10 22 24 25 81

Hey, you're going to miss this sport soon

Quality Evenness Excitement Improvement Adjustments SUM
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 24 Bahamas MTSU-WMU 32 36 12 10 90
December 28 Military Pittsburgh-Navy 11 31 29 20 91
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 26 Pinstripe Indiana-Duke 34 17 7 40 98
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

Quality Evenness Excitement Improvement Adjustments SUM
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


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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.