It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – a reader’s guide to holiday sports

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Graphic by Lea Clarin

It’s a beautiful time of the year for sports fans. Hockey, football, and basketball are back and visions of that World Series Game 7, arguably the greatest baseball game of all time, still dance inside our heads.

But, we’re still haunted by the presence of those annoying things called exams.

The worst thing you can do during the holiday season is to tune out the sporting universe and keep your head buried in those textbooks. Everything in moderation, even in the most stressful time of the year for students.

This guide will help you manage your sport-viewing time throughout exams and give you some events to look forward to after finals. These are the top sporting events going on throughout the holiday season.

College Football Bowl Season – Dec. 17 to Jan. 9

Holiday season is what NCAA college football fans live for.

Conference Champions have been crowned, rivalries have been settled, and teams are ready to finish their season on a positive note. Throughout these three glorious weeks, 42 games are played by the best teams across the nation.

The biggest games of the bowl season include the Peach and Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Eve, the two National Championship semifinals. The two winners of the semifinals then meet for the final game of the bowl season on Jan. 9 in Tampa, Florida to determine the nation’s best team.

Other highlights include the Bahamas Bowl on Dec. 23, the only bowl game played outside the United States, the Military Bowl on Dec. 27, a game likely to include one of the Armed Forces schools, and the always historic Rose Bowl on Jan. 2, at the 94-year-old Rose Bowl Stadium.

NBA on Christmas Day

The NBA and Christmas day go together like mashed potatoes and gravy. This year’s slate has five games, all of which air at different times throughout the day. If you’re up for it, you could make a 13-hour day out of it.

The best matchup of the day is none other than the rematch of the past two seasons’ NBA finalists, the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, their first meeting since the unforgettable Game 7 of the 2015 finals in which LeBron finally delivered a championship to Cleveland. Tipoff is 2:30 p.m. at “The Q” in Cleveland, where all eyes will be on how the Cavaliers handle new Warriors acquisition Kevin Durant.

An underrated matchup is the battle of Los Angeles between the Clippers and Lakers at 10:30 p.m. The Clippers have been one of the league’s best teams early in the season, and the Lakers finally seem to be showing signs of life with their youthful roster. Always a heated rivalry, it’s been a while since this matchup has been meaningful. Expect a great nightcap to the Christmas slate.

NFL Christmas Eve/Christmas Day

For the first time in over a decade we’re treated to two NFL games on Christmas Day. Two important divisional matchups highlight the day as the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Baltimore Ravens and the Denver Broncos travel to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs. The second last week of the season, the two matchups could very well decide the fate of the AFC playoff picture.

On Christmas Eve, the AFC East, NFC South, and NFC West all play games within their division. While the NBA has featured matchups, Week 16 of the NFL provides a pivotal weekend that could have major Super Bowl implications.

The excitement is also intensified by the fact that Week 16 marks the championship week of fantasy football leagues. Pride is won and lost, friends becomes foes, and your favourite player can become the goat of your team in a heartbeat. Plan your lineups accordingly.

UFC 206 – Dec. 10, UFC 207 – Dec. 30

Mixed martial arts fans were provided a treat in mid-November when the UFC debuted in New York at Madison Square Garden for UFC 205. A three-championship fight night ended with Conor McGregor, the sport’s most recognizable athlete, knocking-out Eddie Alvarez to become the first simultaneous two weight-division world champion in UFC history, holding both the Featherweight and Lightweight titles.

The fun for fans continues into the holiday season, with UFC 206 and 207.

UFC 206 will be the first UFC event hosted in Toronto since September 2013. The great card features a lot of up-and-coming combatants mixed with some grizzled veterans, including Kelvin Gastelum, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, and Montreal’s own Valerie Letourneau.

The night was supposed to be highlighted by a light-heavyweight title fight between Daniel “DC” Cormier and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. However, an unfortunate training injury forced Cormier to withdraw from the bout. The UFC promoted Max Holloway vs. Anthony Pettis to the headline fight, putting an interim-championship belt in the Featherweight division on the line. While Holloway-Pettis doesn’t have the firepower that Cormier-Johnson does, it will still be nice to have meaningful MMA back above the 49th parallel.

UFC 207 is being marketed as “The Return.”

For the first time since her shocking loss at UFC 193 to Holy Holm, Ronda Rousey makes her return to the octagon and takes on Amanda Nunes for the Women’s Bantamweight title.

The night also includes a men’s Bantamweight title fight between champion Dominick Cruz and Cody Garbrandt and has big names such as T.J. Dillashaw, Johny Hendricks, Fabricio Werdum, and Cain Velasquez.

These are two events that you don’t want to miss.

NOTE: These are two pay-per-view events. My suggestion? Grab a couple buddies, head to the bar and save the $60-$80 the events would otherwise cost.

World Junior Hockey Championships – Dec. 26 – Jan. 5

A Canadian holiday staple, Team Canada looks to avenge a disappointing sixth place finish in Helsinki last year. Back on home soil in Toronto and Montreal, the Canadians will look to find their 2015 form when Conor McDavid, Sam Reinhart, and Zach Fucale led the team to a perfect 7-0 record and a gold medal.

Team Canada should be loaded up front, as the team is hopeful they will receive the services of veterans Dylan Strome, Lawson Crouse, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and likely first overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft, Nolan Patrick.

PGA Tour – Hero World Challenge – Dec. 1 – 4

Here we have another event being looked at as “The Return.”

For the first time since August 2015, Tiger Woods will step onto the golf course competing in a PGA Tour event.

Hurt for the entire 2016 PGA Tour season, Woods will make his return at his yearly tournament in the Bahamas. Anyone who’s looking for pre-exam motivation, turn on the television to see one of the Greatest of All Time’s return to the game that just hasn’t been the same without him. After all the injuries and scandals, it will be nice to see El Tigre back playing the sport he loves.

There you have it, all the major sporting events you should be watching throughout the holiday season! A little bit of everything for everyone. Just remember, exams are important, but so is maintaining a balanced lifestyle! Happy holidays!

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