Ranking all 40 college football bowl games for 2016-17: From Heart of Dallas to CFP

Rankings play a major role in the sport of college football in general, and that impact is felt in the bowl system. With the College Football Playoff being played within the bowl system, not only do rankings determine which four teams will play in the semifinals, but they also determine the non-playoff teams in the rest of the New Year's Six bowls.

So with rankings being such a major part of the bowl process, it only makes sense to rank the bowls, right?

That's what I've done. I've ranked every single bowl for you. All 40 of them. The method I used to do this wasn't incredibly scientific, but I did have somewhat of a method to my madness. I factored in where the teams in each game rank in the same formula I use to compile the Fornelli 50 and Bottom 25, the gaps between the teams, and then a bit of my own opinion as to how I think they match up.

The results are the best bowl rankings you'll find anywhere. I swear these rankings will be accurate or your money back.

So let's get to ranking.

All times Eastern

40. Heart of Dallas Bowl -- Army West Point Black Knights vs. North Texas Mean Green -- Dec. 27, 12 p.m.: Using the rankings in my formula, North Texas is the worst bowl team in 2016. Combine that with an Army team that is a surprise this season, but isn't exactly a bundle of excitement, and this one probably won't be very fun.

39. Hawaii Bowl -- Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. Hawaii -- Dec. 24, 8 p.m.: Do you think Hawaii players dream of getting to go to Idaho Vandals or something on a bowl trip?

38. Birmingham Bowl -- South Florida Bulls vs. South Carolina Gamecocks -- Dec. 29, 2 p.m.: This is the third straight season that a team with Will Muschamp on its coaching staff will play in the Birmingham Bowl. It's the first time Muschamp will be there.

37. Miami Beach Bowl -- Tulsa Golden Hurricane vs. Central Michigan Chippewas -- Dec. 19, 2:30 p.m.: This game has a chance to get interesting, but I just think there's such a gap between these teams that it could easily become a blowout.

36. Arizona Bowl -- Air Force Falcons vs. South Alabama Jaguars -- Dec. 30, 5:30 p.m.: South Alabama is a strange team. It beat both Mississippi State Bulldogs and San Diego State Aztecs , but it lost to teams like Louisiana-Monroe and Georgia Southern Eagles . Hopefully the good USA shows up, even if USA vs. Air Force is some kind of Civil War.

35. St. Petersburg Bowl -- Miami (Ohio) vs. Mississippi State -- Dec. 26, 11 a.m.: The Redhawks are a great story this season, recovering from an 0-6 start to get to 6-6, but I have a hard time imagining they give Mississippi State much of a fight.

34. New Orleans Bowl -- Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles vs. UL-Lafayette -- Dec. 17, 9 p.m.: These two teams aren't very good, but they do have a hint of insanity in them. Maybe this one gets strange.

33. Military Bowl -- No. 24 Temple Owls vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons -- Dec. 27, 3:30 p.m.: I wouldn't expect this game to last very long, so that's good. I just don't know how competitive it will be.

32. New Mexico Bowl -- UTSA Roadrunners vs. New Mexico -- Dec. 17, 2 p.m.: New Mexico games tend to feature a lot of points, and I can definitely see that being the case in this game. The question is whether or not it'll be close.

31. Bahamas Bowl -- Old Dominion Monarchs vs. Eastern Michigan Eagles -- Dec. 23, 1 p.m.: Two great stories, as Old Dominion plays in its first bowl game after joining the FBS in 2014 and Eastern Michigan plays in its first bowl game since since 1987 (only its second ever). Like I said, great stories. I just don't know how great the game will be.

30. Cure Bowl -- Arkansas State Red Wolves vs. UCF Knights -- Dec. 17, 5:30 p.m.: I was tempted to bump this game up a few spots just because it has the threat of a scoring bonanza living just beneath the surface.

29. Poinsettia Bowl -- Brigham Young Cougars vs. Wyoming Cowboys -- Dec. 21, 9 p.m.: BYU absolutely refuses to play in anything but a close game, and Wyoming's defense absolutely refuses to ever let the Cowboys pull away. This ranking isn't great, but there's a lot of upside possibilities here.

28. Quick Lane Bowl -- Boston College Eagles vs. Maryland Terrapins -- Dec. 26, 2:30 p.m.: I don't know how exciting this game was going to be, but I have a sneaking suspicion it'll be close. For now, that's enough to get this game to No. 28, but this one has the potential to be Not Good.

27. Cactus Bowl -- Baylor Bears vs. Boise State Broncos -- Dec. 27, 10: 15 p.m.: A lot of this depends on whether Baylor shows up excited to play in this game. If it does it could prove to be great. If it doesn't, it'll likely be a stinker.

26. Potato Bowl -- Colorado State Rams vs. Idaho -- Dec. 22, 7 p.m.: Another fantastic story as Idaho goes 8-4 and reaches only its third bowl game in program history (first since 2009) ... and prepares to drop down to the FCS level in 2018.

25. Independence Bowl -- NC State Wolfpack vs. Vanderbilt Commodores -- Dec. 26, 5 p.m.: All right, so maybe my own personal affinity for Vanderbilt and its defense is causing me to rank the one a little higher than I should. Still, I think this one has a good chance of being good in that ugly kind of way.

24. TaxSlayer Bowl -- Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets vs. Kentucky Wildcats -- Dec. 31, 11 a.m.: Two teams you probably didn't pay a lot of attention to this season that could get your New Year's Eve started off right. I'm telling you, I have a sneaking suspicion about this one. Just not a strong enough one to move it above No. 24.

23. Dollar General Bowl -- Ohio Bobcats vs. Troy Trojans -- Dec. 23, 8 p.m.: Some of my favorite bowl games are the ones that offer a matchup between Group of Five teams that fly under-the-radar but are better than you think. This game does just that. It also features a 72-year-old coach (Ohio's Frank Solich) going against a 36-year-old coach (Troy's Neal Brown). Solich will literally be facing a coach half his age. It feels like the plot to a terrible Seth Rogen movie just waiting to be made.

22. Belk Bowl -- No. 22 Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Arkansas Razorbacks -- Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m.: I really wanted to rank this game a lot higher, but Arkansas' defense has just been so bad this season that there's too much blowout potential here. But there's upside, too.

21. Foster Farms Bowl -- Indiana Hoosiers vs. No. 19 Utah Utes -- Dec. 28, 8:30 p.m.: It's hard to know what kind of Indiana will show up following the dismissal of Kevin Wilson , but if the Hoosiers show up ready to play, they could give Kyle Whittingham's bowl record a real test.

20. Armed Forces Bowl -- Louisiana Tech Bulldogs vs. No. 25 Navy Midshipmen -- Dec. 23, 4:30 p.m.: Louisiana Tech's had a sturdy run defense this season, allowing only 3.68 yards per carry, but it hasn't really had to deal with anything like what Navy will be throwing at it. This one could get shootout-y.

19. Liberty Bowl -- TCU Horned Frogs vs. Georgia Bulldogs -- Dec. 30, 12 p.m.: Here's the thing about this game. Both teams have talent, and both teams failed to live up to their own expectations this season. So the hope is that both are motivated to end the year on a high note. If that happens, we could have a very fun game on our hands.

18. Boca Raton Bowl -- Memphis Tigers vs. Western Kentucky -- Dec. 20, 7 p.m.: WKU coach Jeff Brohm won't be around for this game as he's off to Purdue. Even so, these are two offenses that like to move quickly and run a lot of plays. I'd advise setting aside at least four hours for this one, because it's going to last a while.

17. Pinstripe Bowl -- Northwestern Wildcats vs. No. 23 Pitt -- Dec. 28, 2 p.m.: Pitt and Northwestern just tend to play a lot of close games, even if they both tend to take very different routes getting there. It will be an interesting clash of styles, one that should be quite entertaining.

16. Music City Bowl -- Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. No. 21 Tennessee Volunteers -- Dec. 30, 3:30 p.m.: For a few hours on a late December afternoon, two fan bases will descend upon the city of Nashville and live their greatest dream: pretending it's still the 90s.

15. Texas Bowl -- Kansas State Wildcats vs. Texas A&M -- Dec. 28, 9 p.m.: An old Big 12 matchup as the Wildcats and Aggies reunite. This is one of those games between a couple of solid teams that maybe doesn't look all that sexy at first but could prove to be a thriller.

14. Camellia Bowl -- Toledo Rockets vs. Appalachian State Mountaineers -- Dec. 17, 5:30 p.m.: This situation is always a dilemma for me. I like seeing good Group of Five teams get shots at Power Five opponents to see if they can prove themselves, but I also like seeing when they're pitted against one another in bowl games. It's like two underdogs trying to prove they're the underdog-iest, and it has all the makings of a great game.

13. Holiday Bowl -- Washington State Cougars vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers -- Dec. 27, 7 p.m.: A couple of Power Five teams that have been good the last couple of years but are always overlooked. They both have their own styles, and they're both good at what they do. As soon as I saw this matchup, I knew it was going to be near the top of these rankings.

12. Hyundai Sun Bowl -- North Carolina Tar Heels vs. No. 18 Stanford Cardinal -- Dec. 30, 2 p.m.: Remember what Baylor did to North Carolina's run defense in the bowl game last season? Well, now that same run defense gets to go against the Stanford offensive line and Christian McCaffery. We could see one helluva show here because the Tar Heels' offense is rather potent itself.

11. Outback Bowl -- No. 17 Florida Gators vs. Iowa Hawkeyes -- Jan. 2, 1 p.m.: This game should be ugly, but sometimes ugly is good. I don't expect a lot of points, and I don't expect a bunch of big plays. What I do expect is a lot of angry football and two teams fighting in a close game for four quarters. May the best punter win.

10. Russell Athletic Bowl -- Miami vs. No. 16 West Virginia Mountaineers -- Dec. 28, 5:30 p.m.: The Mountaineers struggled with the two Oklahoma Sooners schools in conference play, but don't get it twisted, this is still a good team. And Miami, for all of its failures to ever exceed expectations, has plenty of talent on its roster. There's a good chance this one is lit.

9. Las Vegas Bowl -- Houston Cougars vs. San Diego State -- Dec. 17, 3:30 p.m.: Year in and year out the Las Vegas Bowl always finds itself with a great matchup. This season is no different as Houston (minus Tom Herman) gets to take on the Mountain West champions. These are two good teams that should provide a compelling game.

8. Citrus Bowl -- No. 20 LSU Tigers vs. No. 13 Louisville Cardinals -- Dec. 31, 11 a.m.: Lamar Jackson faded a bit toward the end of the season, but I'd still bet that he's Heisman Trophy-winning Lamar Jackson by the time this game is played, and he'll have a chance to attack what is a very good defense. That matchup alone makes this one a must-watch.

7. Alamo Bowl -- No. 12 Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. No. 10 Colorado Buffaloes -- Dec. 29, 9 p.m.: This is just a game featuring two good teams that match up pretty well with one another. Colorado has been one of my favorite teams to watch all season long, and Oklahoma State is a team that can make any game interesting.

6. Sugar Bowl -- No. 7 Oklahoma vs. No. 14 Auburn Tigers -- Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m.: This game lacks a little flair on the surface just because Alabama Crimson Tide was the only good SEC team this year, so we get a Big 12 champion Oklahoma taking on an 8-4 Auburn. But it's also an 8-4 Auburn with a month to prepare, as well as an Oklahoma team that can put up points in a hurry. I'm not sure what the number will be for this one, but I'm already leaning toward the over.

5. Cotton Bowl -- No. 15 Western Michigan Broncos vs. No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers -- Jan. 2, 1 p.m.: Twice this season P.J. Fleck and Western Michigan have rowed their boats across Lake Michigan to beat Northwestern and Illinois Fighting Illini . Now, once again, the Broncos will take on a Big Ten team from the other side of Lake Michigan, but this time they'll fly the plane down to Texas to do it. This game could be an absolute blowout, or it could be an epic upset. Either way, I want to watch it to see what happens.

4. Orange Bowl -- No. 11 Florida State Seminoles vs. No. 6 Michigan -- Dec. 30, 8 p.m.: I'm sure plenty of people envisioned this matchup as a possible CFP semifinal before the season began. While neither team made it that far, this is still a really exciting pairing. Two powerful programs looking to make a statement heading into 2017.

3. Rose Bowl -- No. 5 Penn State Nittany Lions vs. No. 9. Southern California Trojans -- Jan. 2, 5 p.m.: Once it became clear that Penn State would be in the Rose Bowl, I was hoping that it would be facing Colorado. That isn't what happened, but it's really hard to complain about a Rose Bowl matchup against USC. These are both teams that got off to slow starts and then tore things up down the home stretch.

2. Fiesta Bowl -- No. 2 Clemson Tigers vs. No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes -- Dec. 31, 8:30 p.m.: A rematch of the 2014 Orange Bowl. If you don't remember that one, Clemson beat Ohio State 40-35 in an awesome game. If we can get that kind of contest again, that would be just fine with me.

1. Peach Bowl -- No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Washington Huskies -- Dec. 31, 3 p.m.: Here's the thing. I never expect Alabama to lose anymore because it just happens so rarely. I don't expect Alabama to lose this game either, but -- BUT! -- giving Chris Petersen a month to prepare for an opponent has led to very surprising results in major bowl games in the past.

CBS Sports Writer

Tom Fornelli has been a college football writer at CBS Sports since 2010. During his time at CBS, Tom has proven time and again that he hates your favorite team and thinks your rival is a paragon of football... Full Bio

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