BCS bowls, Cotton Bowl the cream of this year's bowl crop

BY BLAIR KERKHOFF The Kansas City Star Published: December 25, 2011
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The 24-day bowl season is well underway. Here's a breakdown of the remaining games chronologically with a value ratings. By the way, the more stars means a better matchup.


INDEPENDENCE BOWL (**)

Missouri (7-5) vs. North Carolina (7-5)

SEC-bound Mizzou heads to Louisiana. Might as well get used to the territory. The Tigers finished strong, and North Carolina is between coaches. But the Tar Heels have excellent playmakers in freshman running back Giovanni Bernard (1,222 rushing yards) and wide receiver Dwight Jones (1,119 receiving yards).

Best swag: Timely Watch Co., watch

LITTLE CAESARS BOWL (*)

Western Michigan (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6)

The Boilermakers are bowling for the first time since 2007, Western for the first time since 2008, and the Broncos should bring a nice following. Kalamazoo is 140 miles from Ford Field. Western's Jordan White leads the nation in receiving with 127 receptions.

Best swag: Timely Watch Co., watch

BELK BOWL (**)

North Carolina State (7-5) vs. Louisville (7-5)

Belk is a North Carolina-based department store, by the way. Both teams feel good about the season. Louisville tied for first in the Big East, and it's a young team with 10 freshman starters, including quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The Wolfpack, like Louisville, finished strong. They routed ACC champ Clemson along the way.

Best swag: $400 shopping spree at Belk.

MILITARY BOWL (**)

Toledo (8-4) vs. Air Force (7-5)

Rockets coach Tim Beckman has moved to Illinois, and Toledo will be coached in the bowl game by offensive coordinator Matt Campbell. Air Force's 320 rushing yards per game ranks second nationally.

Best swag: Amazon Kindle Fire

HOLIDAY BOWL (**)

Texas (7-5) vs. California (7-5)

Two ugh seasons. Both finished below .500 in conference play, but the Golden Bears had a nice finish. Texas' strong defense will try to slow down Cal running back Isi Sofele, who rushed for 1,270 yards.

Best swag: Best Buy gift card

CHAMPS SPORTS BOWL (***)

Florida State (8-4) vs. Notre Dame (8-4)

Both had aspirations for better bowls after good starts, but here are the traditional powers battling in Orlando. The Irish has a quarterback battle. Tommy Rees will start, but Andrew Hendrix, who came in relief at Stanford, will play.

Best swag: $420 shopping trip to Best Buy

ALAMO BOWL (***)

Baylor (9-3) vs. Washington (7-5)

Didn't this one become more interesting with the Heisman Trophy winner on the field? Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III has elevated his program and this game, and bids to make the Bears a 10-game winner.

Best swag: $400 Best Buy gift card

ARMED FORCES BOWL (**)

BYU (9-3) vs. Tulsa (8-4)

After a slow start, the Cougars warmed up, winning eight of nine in their first year as an independent. Tulsa's only losses came to teams ranked in the top 10 at kickoff.

Best swag: Sony gift suite

PINSTRIPE BOWL (**)

Iowa State (6-6) vs. Rutgers (8-4)

Both are back in bowl games after missing 2010. Iowa State needed to take down Oklahoma State to gain eligibility; the Scarlet Knights didn't have a victory in that ballpark (description apropos for game at Yankee Stadium).

Best swag: Bowl doesn't release info, but a Yankees hat probably is involved.

MUSIC CITY BOWL (*)

Miss. State (6-6) vs. Wake Forest (6-6)

Looks lousy at first blush, but the Demon Deacons were 3-9 last year and are thrilled by this opportunity. Bulldogs running back Vick Ballard has rushed for 1,009 yards this year and has 29 touchdowns over two seasons.

Best swag: Reactor watch

INSIGHT BOWL (**)

Oklahoma (9-3) vs. Iowa (7-5)

Sooners coach Bob Stoops faces his alma mater for the first time. Oklahoma, the preseason No. 1 team, fell hard this season. The Hawkeyes have good memories of this bowl. They defeated Missouri here last season.

Best swag: Fossil watch

MEINEKE CARE CAR BOWL OF TEXAS (*)

Texas A&M (6-6) vs. Northwestern (6-6)

Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter coaches the Aggies on an interim basis before becoming Fresno State's head coach. Good QB battle between A&M's Ryan Tannehill and Wildcats' Dan Persa.

Best swag: Toshiba 32-inch flat screen TV

SUN BOWL (**)

Georgia Tech (8-4) vs. Utah (7-5)

Unusual offense, Georgia Tech's triple option, against Utah's stout defense should make this one entertaining. The Utes can run it, too, with John White rushing for 1,404 yards.

Best swag: Helen of Troy hair dryer (OK, not the best, but most unusual)

LIBERTY BOWL (**)



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