Bowl season officially starts Saturday, but the first round of games can be unrecognizable. While watching the ones with the best names is a good plan (rest in peace, Beef O’Brady’s Bowl), it doesn’t always make for the most watchable football.
But despite the lack of name value, football you don’t recognize is still better than no football. Once Christmas hits, names and games start sounding more recognizable. But until then, we decided to help you parse through the 14 Group of Five bowl games that happen before Dec. 25.
Here are five pre-Christmas bowl games you should be watching.
Las Vegas Bowl — 3:30 p.m. Saturday (ABC)
San Diego State vs. Houston
For a Group of Five bowl, this game boasts some legitimate college superstars. Even with head coach Tom Herman leaving Houston for Texas, there are some major bragging rights at stake. San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey is just 108 yards shy of breaking Ron Dayne’s all-time rushing record. He’s averaged 155 yards per game in 2016, so he should get there.
However, Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver is the best defensive lineman Pumphrey has faced since playing Noah Spence, Michael Bennett and Joey Bosa during his freshman year. Second-team All-AAC quarterback Greg Ward also will play his final game – has he saved his best for last?
Camellia Bowl — 5:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)
Toledo vs. Appalachian State
If anyone wonders whether Appalachian State is any good, just rewatch the Tennessee game. Yes, the Volunteers’ inconsistency played a part in that matchup, but the Mountaineers are no longer the FCS team that pulled the biggest upset of all time, beating Michigan. In fact, the only losses App State sustained were to then-No. 9 Tennessee, then-No. 25 Miami and an underrated Troy team.
However, Toledo might have the two most talented offensive players in this game. Running back Kareem Hunt rounded out his elite career with a 1,355-yard season. He ran for 100-plus yards seven times. Quarterback Logan Woodside is a freak, too. Not only did he complete 69 percent of his passes, he threw for 43 touchdowns and averaged an incredible 9.9 yards per attempt. Something’s got to give in this game.
Cure Bowl — 5:30 p.m. Saturday (CBS Sports Network)
UCF vs. Arkansas State
Consider this to be a futures game — UCF coach Scott Frost and Arkansas State’s Blake Anderson are both destined to become exciting Power Five head coaches. Frost is straight off the Oregon coaching tree after serving as offensive coordinator under Mark Helfrich. However, his Knights team improved tremendously on defense and got all the way to 6-6 after going winless in 2015.
Arkansas State runs an exciting offense, even though the results weren’t great in 2016. After losing a brutal nonconference slate against Toledo, Auburn, Utah State and Central Arkansas, the Red Wolves went 7-1 in conference play, including a dominant 35-3 win at Troy. Give Anderson two weeks to build a game plan and he’ll come up with something good offensively.
Boca Raton Bowl — 7 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN)
Memphis vs. Western Kentucky
If you like offense, you will love this game. Even though Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm left to take the head coaching job at Purdue, the Hilltoppers still run one of the most fun offenses in the country. WKU ranks No. 9 in offensive S&P+, ahead of even teams like Clemson, Alabama and Washington.
Justin Fuente rebuilt Memphis into a Group of Five power, and Mike Norvell kept the offense humming this year. The Tigers notably beat No. 13 Ole Miss in 2015, and followed it up by beating then-No. 20 Houston the last week of this season. Quarterback Riley Ferguson stepped in and threw for 28 touchdowns as a first-time starter. The scoreboard operator better be paying attention.
Poinsettia Bowl — 9 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN)
BYU vs. Wyoming
BYU really struggled early in the year under first-time head coach Kalani Sitake. However, after losing to Utah, UCLA and West Virginia by a combined seven points, the Cougars closed with seven wins in the final eight games, including wins over Michigan State and Mississippi State. The only loss was a crushing one-point defeat to then-No. 14 Boise State.
Wyoming shouldn’t win this game, but this is Team Chaos. Almost every game this team plays devolves into chaos. This Cowboys team, coaching by Craig Bohl of North Dakota State fame, has surprising wins over San Diego State, Boise State and Colorado State — all teams it should have lost to. It’s impossible to count this team out of games. Does it have one more surprise left?