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A Very Texas Guide to 2017 College Bowl Games

So what if there are no Texas teams playing past December? Here’s what to watch for in the eleven bowl games played in Texas and/or involving Texans.

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“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”: thanks to years of ESPN commercials, that’s the cliche we associate with college football bowl seasons. But is it really wonderful for anyone not still in contention for the College Football Playoff title? I mean, it’s not terrible for everybody else—some college football is better than no college football, after all. But unless you’re a Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, or Alabama fan, you’re stuck rooting for teams in Lesser Bowls (Frisco, Texas, Belk) and Somewhat Lesser Bowls (Alamo, Sun). Cotton, Fiesta, Orange? No Texas team is even playing past December.

Still, it’s supposed to be fun, even when it’s meaningless. Especially when it’s meaningless. This is a time of year when both newly hired and recently fired coaches are nowhere to be found. Fans of disappointing teams—there may have been a few of those in Texas—can treat it like the first game of an unknown future, instead of the last game of a dismal past. When you take away the life-or-death need to win a football game, what you’re left with is just entertainment (and sometimes even an actual parade, though those are best on January 1). So bring it on, returning, already fired, interim and brand new coaches. Go for two instead of playing for overtime! Onside kick in the first quarter! Run that trick play that the assistant who already left for another job drew up!

Luckily for us—even with nobody from Texas playing past December 29—eleven out of the forty bowl games either involve a Texas team or take place in the state. (Hell, the Metroplex alone has five—surely just a matter of time before we get the Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose Bowl in Allen High School’s $60 million stadium.) Below, a guide to all the action in and/or involving Texas, with apologies to 9-5 North Texas (which already played—and lost—the New Orleans Bowl on Saturday). And condolences to 6-5 UTSA, one of three bowl-eligible teams that didn’t get a bid (see, who says there are too many bowls?).

DXL Frisco Bowl
Louisiana Tech vs. SMU
Toyota Stadium, Frisco
December 20
No sooner had SMU finished 8-4 (its first winning season since the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library) than coach Chad Morris left for Arkansas. That usually puts an interim coach on bowl game duty, but new hire Sonny Dykes (son of Texas Tech legend Spike) is taking over right away, against a school he coached from 2010 to 2012. Dykes’s first big call: should the Mustangs take the DNT or Central, and what time should they leave to miss the traffic?

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
Army vs. San Diego State
Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth
December 23
Hard to believe it’s been four years since this was the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl (at least you can’t say that the sponsorships don’t fit). This ESPN-owned military-football-industrial product—which began life as the PlainsCapital Fort Worth Bowl—has been played fourteen times, with Texas teams appearing in seven of the games. This might be as fun of a match-up as the game has ever had: led by star QB Ahmad Bradshaw, Army (9-3) just beat Navy for the second year in a row after losing in the rivalry fifteen straight times, and San Diego State (10-2) features 2,000-yard rusher and fifth-place Heisman Trophy finisher Rashaad Penny, who probably would have come in second if he wore another jersey. The service academies are 4-4 in this bowl. Will the president tweet about it?

Birmingham Bowl
Texas Tech vs. USF
Legion Field, Birmingham, Alabama
December 23
Both Charlie Strong and the University of Texas are in a bowl game, which hasn’t happened since 2014! Ironically, many of the same University of Texas players who got Strong fired last year helped Kliff Kingsbury keep his job this year when the Raiders’ big win over UT made Texas Tech bowl-eligible (then they got into this particular bowl because the SEC did not have enough teams). This is another good one, pitting South Florida star QB Quinton Flowers against newly extended Tech defensive coordinator David Gibbs, whose unit might be the thing that helps Kingsbury keep his job in future years. Can it still be a defensive struggle if both teams get to 40 points?

Hawaii Bowl
Fresno State vs. the University of Houston
Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii
December 24
This is kind of the point of the whole bowl thing right? While SMU gets an exciting 25-mile trip on their exurban thoroughfare of choice, and Texas and TCU will spend the holidays in Houston and San Antonio, respectively, Major Applewhite and the Cougars head for paradise. Mountain West runner-up Fresno State is a good team, so the Cougars will need to go easy on the Spam musubi ahead of the game (but definitely have some Spam musubi, it’s awesome).

Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
Utah vs. West Virginia
The Cotton Bowl, Dallas
December 26
The Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, formerly the TicketCity Bowl (and the Heart of Dallas Bowl presented by PlainsCapital Bank before that), is played at the Cotton Bowl, whereas the Cotton Bowl is played in a professional football stadium somewhere in Dallas a municipality that is NOT AT ALL a part of Dallas. Unfortunately, while the presence of a Texas team (last year it was UNT) will usually draw 40,000 people to the 92,100-capacity stadium, Washington-Southern Miss in 2015 drew just 20,000. But this game’s mission, besides selling chicken fingers, is donating thousands of free tickets to first responders, and general admission seats are just $25. Too bad you can’t get a Fletcher’s Corny Dog.

Academy Sports & Outdoors Texas Bowl
Missouri vs. Texas
NRG Stadium, Houston
December 27
Finally, the team that left the Big 12 for the SEC takes on the Longhorns. Hey, what if UT and A&M’s struggles are actually a curse? Or is everyone just holding out hope for the 2020 College Football Playoff? I digress, since, obviously, it’s Missouri that the Horns are playing, and Mizzou has their own bitter thing with a Big 12 ex-spouse in Kansas, albeit in another sport. No doubt the UT players (besides Connor Williams and DeShon Elliot, who should be able to do whatever they want) will want to win one for incoming athletic director Chris Del Conte and outgoing Chancellor Bill McRaven. Or maybe they just want to have a winning record for the first time since 2013. Certainly Red McCombs does. And thanks to Kevin Durant, their feet are already winners.

Valero Alamo Bowl
Stanford vs. TCU
The Alamodome, San Antonio
December 28
The Alamo Bowl is worth remembering. This the twenty-fifth game, which means this bowl is actually old enough to have included a Southwest Conference team in two of its first three years. Teams from the state of Texas are 6-6, which I suppose is better than our record at the actual Alamo. Always entertaining and occasionally close, the Alamo is basically the top not-College Football Playoff-selected bowl, even if both these schools had hoped to be in Arlington or Phoenix. Stanford is always good, and they have the best player in the country who didn’t win the Heisman in running back Bryce Love. TCU is also always good, especially on defense, but they lost to Oklahoma (and the guy who won the Heisman) twice. See y’all at Mi Tierra around 1 a.m.

Belk Bowl
Texas A&M vs. Wake Forest
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
December 29
The big story at Texas A&M right now is Jimbo Fisher, whose Florida State team was 6-1 against Wake Forest. Problem is, he won’t be here, which means that, technically, Kevin Sumlin still has a chance to win nine games for the third time in his Texas A&M career (special teams and tight ends coach Jeff Banks is the Aggies’ actual interim head coach).

The Hyundai Sun Bowl
Arizona State vs. NC State
The Sun Bowl, El Paso
December 29
A beautiful place to see a football game. Too bad its conference tie-ins (Pac-12 and ACC) mean that nobody from Texas ever gets to play in it. Do the student athletes of the Big 12 or American Athletic Conference not deserve a trip to Chico’s Tacos and a Vidal Sassoon goody bag? Couldn’t UTEP play in its own stadium like Boise State does sometimes? (Okay, not this year, as the Miners just went 0-12). Anyway, unless you’re a Rice fan who wants to give lame duck ASU coach Todd Graham a little Nelson Muntz, or are really into NC State (they’re gonna win) there’s not much reason to watch this game, especially since bizarre new Sun Devils hire Herm Edwards won’t be in El Paso. Really pretty spot though.

The Goodyear Cotton Bowl
USC vs. Ohio State
AT&T Stadium, Arlington
December 29
We’ve grown used to the Cotton Bowl being a misnomer. What’s new this year is that it’s basically the Rose Bowl—Pac-12 vs. Big 10, since the College Football Playoff is in Pasadena. If you liked going to Jerry World on the first weekend in September (when Michigan beat Florida) it should be even more fun on the last weekend of December. And after Ohio State wins, we can have three additional days of talking heads arguing about whether it should’ve been them instead of Alabama in the playoffs.

The NCAA Division I Football Championship Game
James Madison vs. North Dakota State
Toyota Stadium, Frisco
January 6
But wait, there’s more! No sponsor! No alcoholic beverages (for now)! After the Rose and Sugar, but before the College Football Playoff championship game, Frisco’s soccer pitch becomes a gridiron again for its annual hosting of the Football Championship Series (FCS) title game (or, if you prefer, the Football Championship Series Championship). Last year’s winner, James Madison, faces Alabama-of-the-FCS North Dakota State, which won five straight titles from 2011 to 2015 before losing to James Madison in last year’s semi (this year, the Bison had no trouble with Sam Houston State, as was also the case in the 2011 and 2012 championship games).

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