The holiday season means a lot of things to a lot of people, but one thing most people can agree on is watching their favorite football team in action, especially college football bowl games. The 2016-17 College Football Playoff and bowl schedule is packed — and the further you read on, the more teams you might come across that are unfamiliar.
Most college-sports fanatics know the Alabama and Ohio States of the world. But what about the NCAA Division I-AA teams or NCAA Division I-A teams that are often overshadowed by the juggernauts? Teams like Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, North Texas, South Alabama — all the different directional schools.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, those are the least valuable — that is, least lucrative in terms of total revenue — schools in college football. All numbers in this list of the 20 least valuable college football programs appearing in a bowl game this season are directly from the U.S. Department of Education and were last updated in 2015.
Grambling State University Tigers: $2,555,220
Grambling will face North Carolina Central on Dec. 17 at noon EST on ABC in the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl. The teams will play at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
The Tigers finished the regular season atop the Southwestern Athletic Conference with a 10-1 record. They beat Alcorn State 27-20 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference football championship game on Dec. 3, the program’s 25th SWAC title.
Grambling’s quarterback, Devante Kincade, a junior, previously played for the much more lucrative Ole Miss before transferring prior to this season. Kincade is among the top three most efficient quarterbacks in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season. He is also the SWAC’s Offensive Player of the Year. Safe to say, Kincade will be a player to watch if you’re looking to be dazzled.
North Carolina Central University Eagles: $3,397,443
North Carolina Central finished the regular season first in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with an 8-0 record within conference and a 9-2 overall record. The Eagles are the 2016 MEAC Champions. The Eagles will face Grambling in the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl.
In the 2016 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted North Carolina Central cornerback Ryan Smith in the fourth round. Head coach Jerry Mack was voted American Football Coaches Association’s Regional Coach of the Year.
Appalachian State University Mountaineers: $5,947,165
Also on Dec.17, Appalachian State will face off against Toledo in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl at 5:30 p.m. EST on ESPN. The teams will play in Montgomery, Ala.
The Mountaineers opened their season against No. 9 Tennessee in a game that came down to overtime and almost featured a massive upset in Appalachian State’s favor. Instead, Tennessee prevailed, ending the game 20-13. The loss is only one of three in the season for Appalachian State, as the team finished the year 9-3 and on top of the Sun Belt.
Mountaineer running back Jalin Moore won the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year, and his teammate cornerback Clifton Duck is the conference’s Freshman of the Year.
This will be only the second-ever bowl game in Appalachian State football program history, as its introduction to bowl season came last year in a thriller at the Camellia Bowl. Appalachian State won their first bowl game by scoring at the last second.
Also in Sports: The Richest Defensive Linemen This NFL Season
University of Idaho Vandals: $6,204,214
The Idaho Vandals lucked out with this hometown draw; they’ll play in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN. The game will take place at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho. CBS Sports’ Tom Fornelli ranked all 40 bowl games and has the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl at No. 26.
The Vandals finished the regular season with an 8-4 record. Of the eight, the win that jumps off the schedule came against UNLV at UNLV in September — 33-30 in overtime.
Idaho defensive lineman Aikeem Coleman was named Sun Belt’s Newcomer of the Year. He racked up eight sacks and 11 tackles for loss this season.
Eastern Michigan University Eagles: $6,291,437
Congratulations to the Eastern Michigan Eagles for winning a trip to the Bahamas: Eastern Michigan will play Old Dominion — who just missed the cut on this list, coming in at No. 21 with a total revenue of $8,709,737 — in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl on Dec. 23. The game will kick off at 1 p.m. EST on ESPN from Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium in Nassau.
According to ESPN, Eastern Michigan hasn’t appeared in a bowl game since 1987. The Eagles finished their regular season at 7-5.
Arkansas State University Red Wolves: $6,501,109
Arkansas State will play the University of Central Florida in the AutoNation Cure Bowl on Dec. 17 at 5:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network from Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla. The Red Wolves finished second behind Appalachian State in the Sun Belt and finished the regular season with a 7-5 overall record.
Something to watch for within the game: According to ESPN, Red Wolves junior defensive end Ja’Von Rolland-Jones is just one sack away from becoming Arkansas State’s all-time career leader in the category.
Troy University Trojans: $6,962,876
On Dec. 23, Troy will play Ohio at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. in the Dollar General Bowl. The match-up will air on ESPN beginning at 8 p.m EST.
The most notable tidbit from Troy’s season is that the football program broke into the AP Top 25 rankings for the first time in school history. They were ranked No. 25 the week of Nov. 13. The Troy Trojans came within six points of beating No. 2 Clemson in a 30-24 loss on Sept. 10, ultimately finishing third in the Sun Belt with a 9-3 overall record and 6-2 in-conference record.
Central Michigan University Chippewas: $6,971,102
The Chippewas are slated to play the Tulsa Hurricane at Marlins Park in the Miami Beach Bowl on Dec. 19, 2:30 p.m. EST on ESPN. Central Michigan finished fifth in the MEAC with a 6-6 regular season record. But even with a mediocre record, the Chippewas pulled off an impressive 30-27 win at No. 22 Oklahoma State on Sept. 10.
Central Michigan’s most notable NFL prospect in program history was, without a doubt, offensive lineman Eric Fisher. Fisher became the first-ever No. 1 NFL draft pick in Mid-American Conference history. Fisher went No. 1 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers: $7,227,022
The Boca Raton Bowl will feature Western Kentucky and the Memphis Tigers on Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN. Unsurprisingly, the teams will play in Boca Raton, Fla.
Western Kentucky finished its season as the Conference USA champions. The Hilltoppers beat Louisiana Tech 58-44 on Dec. 3 to claim the conference title, and their regular season record is 10-3.
Also commendable: Western Kentucky was not completely blown out by perpetually No. 1 Alabama on Sept. 10, losing just 38-10.
University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles: $7,631,061
The Golden Eagles are matched up to play against Louisiana-Lafayette in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. The game will air from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where the NFL’s New Orleans Saints play, in New Orleans. Kickoff is Dec. 17, at 9 p.m. EST on ESPN.
Southern Mississippi finished 6-6 and third in the Conference USA – West. Conference USA honored 12 players on the team with all-league honors in early December. Another fun fact: Legendary NFL quarterback Brett Favre played at Southern Mississippi from 1987 to 1990.
University of New Mexico Lobos: $7,677,165
Another home draw, this time for the New Mexico Lobos who will play the University of Texas at San Antonio in the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 17. The game will start at 2 p.m. EST on ESPN at University Stadium in Albuquerque, N.M.
This season ended with New Mexico 8-4 overall and 6-2 against other Mountain West Conference teams. The Lobos have only won one bowl game since 1961, according to ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura.
Louisiana Tech University Bulldogs: $7,473,142
At 4:30 p.m. EST on Dec. 23, you can turn on ESPN and watch Louisiana Tech play No. 25 Navy in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. The teams will play at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.
Louisiana Tech’s head coach Skip Holtz was named Conference USA Coach of the Year and Quarterback Ryan Higgins earned the title of Conference USA Most Valuable Player. Junior wide receiver Carlos Henderson won both Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year and Special Teams Player of the Year. The Bulldogs finished at 8-5 overall and 6-2 in conference play.
University of Louisiana at Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns: $7,953,169
Louisiana-Lafayette will play Southern Mississippi in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. The game airs on ESPN on Dec. 17 at 9 p.m. EST. The Ragin’ Cajuns finished 6-6 overall and 5-3 in the Sun Belt Conference.
Ohio University Bobcats: $8,011,239
Ohio will play in the Dollar General Bowl on Dec. 23 against Troy. The game is set to start at 8 p.m. EST on ESPN from Mobile, Ala.
The Bobcats finished the regular season with an 8-5 overall record and 6-2 record in MAC play. Ohio lost the MAC Championship game 29-23 to Western Michigan on Dec. 2.
Western Michigan University Broncos: $8,041,489
Speaking of which, No. 13 Western Michigan is the MAC champion for 2016. The team finished the season undefeated at 13-0 overall and 8-0 in the MAC.
The Broncos will play in the coveted Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic against No. 8 Wisconsin on Jan. 2, 2017, which is fairly amazing for any team on this list. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. EST on ESPN from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys.
University of Toledo Rockets: $8,171,693
Toledo was selected to play against Appalachian State in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl. The game will take place on Dec. 17 at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. at 5:30 p.m. EST and air on ESPN.
Toledo finished second in the MAC – West with a 9-3 overall record. The Rockets’ last regular season game was against that undefeated Western Michigan team.
Miami (Ohio) University RedHawks: $8,172,656
Fun fact: Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played quarterback for this Ohio school from 2001 to 2003. The RedHawks will play Mississippi State on Dec. 26 at 11 a.m. EST in the St. Petersburg Bowl. The teams will play at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., and ESPN will broadcast the game.
Miami (OH) finished tied for first in the MAC – East division with a 6-6 overall record and 6-2 record in conference play. If not for a 21-20 win over Ball State in final game of the regular season, Miami (OH) would not be bowl eligible. But here they are, in a bowl game for the first time in six years. The school became the first team in college football history to finish a regular season 6-6 after losing its first six games, according to ESPN.
University of North Texas Mean Green: $8,348,300
On Dec. 27, North Texas will play in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl against Army in, yes, Dallas, Texas. The game will start at noon EST and air on ESPN.
North Texas only won five games — with a 5-7 overall record — this season and finished fourth in the Conference USA – West. That said, North Texas played Army earlier this season, and the Mean Green won 35-18.
University of South Alabama Jaguars: $8,548,788
South Alabama will play Air Force on Dec. 30 in the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl. The game will start at 5:30 p.m. EST and will air on Campus Insiders, live from Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz.
South Alabama finished eighth in the Sun Belt Conference at 6-6 overall and just 2-6 in conference play. Impressive wins this season by the Jaguars include their season opener at Mississippi State (21-20) and No. 19 San Diego State on Oct. 1.
University of Texas at San Antonio Roadrunners: $8,564,222
UTSA will play New Mexico in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 17 at noon EST on ESPN. The Roadrunners finished 6-6 overall and 5-3 in conference, and second in the Conference USA – West.
This will be the first bowl game in UTSA football program’s history, and ties the NCAA record for the fastest program to reach a bowl game as this is the Roadrunners’ sixth year of existence.
UTSA head coach Frank Wilson is in his first year and is a former Louisiana State University assistant coach. Senior running back Jarveon Williams has rushed for 2,268 yards in his four seasons in the Roadrunners backfield, which makes him the program’s all-time leading rusher.