That bowl season appetizer that started with Temple-Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 17 and continued until Wednesday night with TCU-Louisiana Tech in the Poinsettia Bowl included three games decided by a touchdown or less and -- more importantly for ESPN -- relatively inexpensive programming that draws decent ratings.
Starting tonight, with No. 7 Boise State vs. Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl, things kick into a higher gear. There are no games Dec. 23 or Christmas Day, but from Dec. 24 through Jan. 2 the schedule includes 23 games. Only one of those games, the Sun Bowl between Georgia Tech and Utah on Dec. 31 (2 p.m., CBS), will not air on ESPN or a related network.
At its busiest, the blitz features 14 games in four days (Dec. 30 to Jan. 2) on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, EPSN3 and ESPN 3D.
What's missing will be true New Year's Day games, though. Because Jan. 1 falls on a Sunday, bowl organizers and their TV partners (of course, ESPN actually owns a few games) have ceded that day to the pro game.
After Jan. 2, the number of games on TV drops significantly, with one a night leading to the BCS National Championship between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama on Jan. 9.
If you're limited to watching just a few games during the next couple weeks, some best bets include:
- California vs. No. 24 Texas (Holiday Bowl), Dec. 28 (8 p.m., ESPN)
- Florida State vs. Notre Dame (Champs Sports Bowl), Dec. 29 (5:30 p.m., ESPN)
- No. 19 Houston vs. No. 22 Penn State (TicketCity Bowl), Jan. 2 (Noon, ESPNU)
- No. 17 Michigan State vs. No. 16 Georgia (Capital One Bowl), Jan. 2 (1 p.m. ESPN)
- No. 13 Michigan vs. No. 11 Virginia Tech (Sugar Bowl), Jan. 3 (8:30 p.m., ESPN)
Maybe the biggest challenge of bowl season will be for the LSU-Alabama rematch to attract as many viewers as last season's national championship game. While many college football experts consider the 1-2 matchup an obvious matchup of the two best teams in the nation, some administrators and programmers worry that the rematch of a regular season game that LSU won in Alabama might not draw as much TV interest.
Last season's game, matching No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 2 Oregon, attracted an average of 27.3 million viewers and 17.7 million households. It was the most-watched program in the history of cable television.