Welcome to the bowl season, with 35 games accounting for approximately 122 hours of television programming over the next three weeks. Much of it will appear on ESPN, which would otherwise be forced to show a lot of billiards.

For all but the most rabid followers, it is difficult to differentiate the GoDaddy.com Bowl from the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, or the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl from the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

But we're here to help. If you're a Bay Area football fan with keen interest but limited time, these 10 games are worth your attention:

1. National championship game, Jan. 7: Alabama vs. Notre Dame

This showdown of traditional powers - they have combined for 17 national titles - should be a ratings blockbuster. Whether it is competitive is another matter: Both teams play old-fashioned power football, but Alabama has better players and the best coach (Nick Saban) in the country.

2. Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 3: Oregon vs. Kansas State

These 11-win teams have combined to average 91.5 points per game. But the most compelling aspect of this matchup is the game that wasn't: The Wildcats canceled a home-and-home series with Oregon that was scheduled for 2011-12. They can't hide any longer.

3. Cotton Bowl, Jan. 4: Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M

The Sooners, who were squeezed out of the BCS by party crasher Northern Illinois, face their former Big 12 foe, led by Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

4. Rose Bowl, Jan. 1: Stanford vs. Wisconsin

The Badgers have more losses (five) than any other team in Rose Bowl history. But their brand of power football mirrors Stanford's. Wear protective clothing, even if watching the game from your couch.

5. Holiday Bowl, Dec. 27: UCLA vs. Baylor

Whenever Baylor is involved, the potential for a 100-point game exists. Add UCLA's potent offense, and we could see an RGIII-less repeat of the 2011 Alamo Bowl (Baylor 67, Washington 56).

6. Military Bowl, Dec. 27: San Jose State vs. Bowling Green

The Spartans' first bowl appearance since 2006 also qualifies as a tryout for interim coach Kent Baer. Although Bowling Green gave Florida trouble three months ago, SJSU is the better team and should record victory No. 11. Unreal.

7. Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 22: Washington vs. Boise State

Anytime the Broncos face a Pac-12 opponent, it is worth watching. In this case, it is a Pac-12 opponent that they will see again in nine months: The teams meet in the 2013 season opener.

8. Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Dec. 29: Navy vs. Arizona State

The Bay Area's only bowl game features two entertaining offenses: Navy with its triple option and Arizona State with its spread, which features tailback Cameron Marshall, a former Valley Christian High star playing his final college game.

9. Poinsettia Bowl, Dec. 20: BYU vs. San Diego State

The former WAC and Mountain West rivals tangle in a dream matchup for the San Diego-based Poinsettia. Of the 35 games, this is the best bet to include a brawl - if not on the field, then in the stands.

10. Sun Bowl, Dec. 31: USC vs. Georgia Tech

The Trojans began the season with designs on the national title, which makes this the Letdown Bowl for Matt Barkley and Co. and a worthwhile investment of time for viewers: How will the Trojans respond?

(c)2012 San Jose Mercury News

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