Ah, New Year's day, a time for reflection, a time for resolution, a time to watch your favorite football team kick the heck out of their opponent. Such was the case of how I spent my January 1st, basking in the warm Florida sunshine and the feeling of victory. However, like many college football fans, this season left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Instead of having one true National Champion along with a strong sense of closure, we are left with a shared National Championship.

College football is a game of intense competition, heated rivalries and maniacal fans -- or wait, maybe that is Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) users at a technology convention. Anyway, I feel like college football fans and investors across the country deserve some sort of retribution for the way this season ended. Therefore, I am proposing a battle of the bowls. Not between the teams themselves but between the BCS bowl sponsors. We may not be able to decide who is numero uno between LSU and USC, but we should be able to decide if any of the bowl sponsoring companies deserve our attention.

First things first. Here's a list of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) bowls and their respective sponsors:

Bowl Sponsor
Rose Bowl presented by CITI Citigroup (NYSE:C)
FEDEX Orange Bowl FedEx (NYSE:FDX)
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP)
Nokia Sugar Bowl Nokia (NYSE:NOK)


In college football, the teams with the most money via fan support often win. Sponsoring a bowl is no different; the companies with all the cash get to sponsor the big bowls. You won't find Chuck's Dairy farm (Ticker: CUD) sponsoring the National Championship, that's for sure. So seeing that each of these companies has stepped onto the turf, and plopped down plenty of dough, they must be a potentially good investment, right? We'll see.

With a brief snap-shot of each company we should be able to get a feel about whether they should be considered for first string on our investment rosters or labeled liquid refreshment engineers (i.e., water boys!). For the purpose of this exercise, each company will be judged upon their last fiscal year's earnings and sales growth, net profit margin, P/E (trailing), and the most recent quarter's cash, debt, free cash flow, and Foolish Flow Ratio.

Time for the introductions...

Rose Bowl presented by CITI
They say that every rose has its thorns; well this one is no different. First the bad, Citigroup (NYSE:C) is a debt monster with over $152 billion sitting on the books. However, the worst of it is the free cash flow situation where they are $22 billion in the red. Trying to erase that debt will be like a defensive tackle trying to catch the other team's star receiver: not bloody likely.

It's not all doom and gloom for Citigroup, though. It does sport the lowest Foolish Flow Ratio of the bunch at 0.52. What's more, Citigroup boasts a strong net profit margin of 16.5%, but much of that relates to its -6.6% sales growth rate for the last fiscal year. Citigroup, have a seat on the bench for now; we'll call your number if we need you.

FEDEX Orange Bowl
With its recent acquisition of Kinko's, it's evident FedEx (NYSE:FDX) is willing to bring in the recruits to dominate its field of play. So how does it stack up on the grid iron? Well FedEx comes across as a real straight shooter, a team that likes to run between the tackles, but won't throw many surprises into the mix. With $664 million in free cash flow and 17% earnings growth, there is certainly enough to garner a Fool's interest.

However, with a net profit margin of only 3.7% and a flow ratio at 1.04, there is plenty of room for improvement. With such a slim net profit margin, higher working capital efficiency and hence a low flow ratio is very desirable. At a P/E of 31.16, Fed Ex seems to be a bit on the pricey side in comparison to its growth rate.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
Does anyone else picture a bowl piled high with Tostitos when they see the above name? Pass me the salsa! Well, PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP), the owner of Frito Lay and the Tostitos brand, is no doubt the powerhouse of all that is salty and sweet in the snack food landscape. However, do they have what it takes to score a touchdown with investors? PepsiCo seems to be solid at all the positions. They are cranking out over $3.5 billion in free cash flow and possess an earnings growth rate of over 24% in the last fiscal year. The net profit margin of 13% and over $170 million in cash after subtracting out long-term debt are also very promising. At first glance, PepsiCo certainly looks like a company that deserves consideration for the next level of scrutiny.

Nokia Sugar Bowl
Nokia (NYSE:NOK) is certainly the type of company looking to make that long pass and connect with investors. It boasts the highest free cash flow of all four companies at over $4 billion and a cash hoard of over $1.5 billion after backing out long-term debt. Even more encouraging, Nokia racked up 53% earnings growth and 11% net profit margin for the last fiscal year.

But alas, something has soured the Sugar Bowl. Nokia fumbles the ball with a -3.8% sales growth figure for the last fiscal year and a flow ratio that eclipses 2. A company with negative sales growth and inefficient use of capital can make for a very dangerous combination. However, I would definitely say this guy's got a lot of potential, and I wouldn't make him a bench warmer just yet.

Well, we've played the game. Given our blood, sweat and tears. Worked our tales off for our moment of glory. Now we can name a winner for the "Battle of the Bowls."

Oh, who am I kidding? Making an investing choice is not highlander, where "there can be only one." Investing is about more than a first glance at a company and a snap decision. If anything, this battle of the bowls should be a starting point to dig deeper into these companies (or others that catch your interest) and search for the value that is worth your hard earned investment dollars. Now if they can only make sure we have one National Champion next year....

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Jason Matthews restrained himself from heckling opposing fans as much as possible at the Gator Bowl, but at times he just couldn't help but shout "fear the turtle!" He welcomes your feedback at jasonhmatthews@yahoo.com. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.