Ranking the bowl games for quality, from No. 1 to No. 40
There are 40 bowl games this year, which is way too many. But don’t tell that to those teams at the bottom of the food chain, who are looking forward to playing and extra game.
As for the big boys, there are plenty of great matchup this bowl season. Here they are in order of greatness, from No. 1 to No. 40. Get the popcorn ready.
TEN GAMES THAT ARE MUST-SEE TV
1. Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (Alabama vs. Michigan State, Dec. 31 in Arlington, Texas): Alabama is the only team to get invited back to the playoffs, and it’s hoping for a better showing vs. the Big Ten this time around.
2. Capital One Orange Bowl (Clemson vs. Oklahoma, Dec. 31 in Miami Gardens, Fla.): Clemson is No. 1 in the country, and an underdog is this playoff game. This should be a shootout. It’s the best QB vs. QB matchup of all the bowls.
3. Battle Frog Fiesta Bowl (Notre Dame vs. Ohio State, Jan. 1 in Glendale, Ariz.): Both teams thought they were going to be in the playoffs a few weeks ago but came up short. This should be a great game, provided the motivation is there on both sides.
4. Rose Bowl by Northwestern Mutual (Iowa vs. Stanford, Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif.): Iowa came so close to completing an unbeaten season, losing the Big Ten title on a late score by Michigan State. The Rose Bowl is a nice consolation prize, and this is a great matchup.
5. Allstate Sugar Bowl (Ole Miss vs. Oklahoma State, Jan. 1 in New Orleans): First team to 50 wins? This could be the highest-scoring game of them all, especially if Chad Kelly goes nuts early for Ole Miss.
6. Russell Athletic Bowl (North Carolina vs. Baylor, Dec. 29 in Orlando): Carolina has had a magical season and they hung tough with No. 1 Clemson. Baylor had title aspirations, but then ran out of quarterbacks, literally. Someone will be healthy by the end of the month.
7. Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Florida State vs. Houston, Dec. 31 in Atlanta): FSU’s non-descript season still ends in a New Year’s Six bowl. Tom Herman has done great things in his first year at Houston, so the Noles need to be on upset alert.
8. Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl (BYU vs. Utah, Dec. 19 in Las Vegas, Nev.): The “Holy War” rivalry dates back to 1896 but the annual regular season battle went away last year. It’s great it’s being played again in a bowl game, even in Sin City.
9. Outback Bowl (Tennessee vs. Northwestern, Jan. 1 in Tampa): Tennessee has won five in a row, but the Wildcats are tough. The Vols want to carry a lot of momentum into 2016, so a win here is a must.
10. Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl (Florida vs. Michigan, Jan. 1 in Orlando): It’s a classic matchup of great programs, so let’s hope the Florida offense decides to show up. It’s the first bowl game for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, and he’s expecting better than the Citrus Bowl in the years ahead.
TEN GAMES THAT WILL HOLD YOUR INTEREST
11. Valero Alamo Bowl (TCU vs. Oregon, Jan. 2 in San Antonio, Texas): Two exciting offenses that know how to play well in bowl games. Both expected better this year, but this matchup will provide a quality win for somebody.
12. Miami Beach Bowl (South Florida vs. Western Kentucky, Dec. 21 in Miami): South Florida has been one of the hottest teams in the country the last half of the season and Western has a great offense. This is a great matchup for early in the bowl season.
13. Camping World Independence Bowl (Virginia Tech vs. Tulsa, Dec. 26 in Shreveport, La.): It’s Frank Beamer’s final game as coach of the Hokies, and he’s had an incredible career. Can’t see him going out without a victory.
14. AutoZone Liberty Bowl (Arkansas vs. Kansas State, Jan. 2 in Memphis, Tenn.): The Razorbacks have been a lot of fun the last half of the season and look for QB Brandon Allen to have a nice send-off.
15. Belk Bowl (Mississippi State vs. N.C. State, Dec. 30 in Charlotte, N.C.): This is a nice QB matchup with Dak Prescott and former Florida Gator Jacoby Brissett. College football is going to miss Dak Prescott. He’s been a heck of a player to watch all these years.
16. Franklin American Mortgate Music City Bowl (Texas A&M vs. Louisville, Dec. 30 in Nashville, Tenn.): This will be a good test for A&M to see if they can get their offense going. Louisville (7-5) has won five of its last six, but the Cards do give up some points.
17. National University Holiday Bowl (Wisconsin vs. USC, Dec. 30 in San Diego): Two high-profile programs prefer Pasadena to San Diego, but they’ll take it. Clay Helton has shed the interim label at USC, and this is his first chance for a signature win in a bowl game.
18. TaxSlayer Bowl (Georgia vs. Penn State, Jan. 2 in Jacksonville, Fla.): Penn State coach James Franklin is very familiar with the Bulldogs from his days at Vanderbilt. It’s a time of transition for Georgia, but a win still means a 10-win season, which is always nice.
19. AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl (LSU vs. Texas Tech, Dec. 29 in Houston): Leonard Fournette is going to have a field day against the weak Texas Tech defense.
20. Birmingham Bowl (Auburn vs. Memphis, Dec. 30 in Birmingham, Ala.): Auburn needs a win to have a winning season, but it’s going to be really tough to get it with Memphis.
TEN GAMES THAT HAVE ARE WORTH A PEEK
21. Marmot Boca Raton Bowl (Temple vs. Toledo, Dec. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla.): These two mid-majors made some noise this year. Temple beat Penn State and Memphis and scared the heck out of Notre Dame as an unbeaten. Toledo beat Arkansas in September.
22. New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Indiana vs. Duke, Dec. 26 in New York): Two iconic basketball schools playing a football game in an iconic baseball stadium. Only in bowl season.
23.Foster Farms Bowl (Nebraska vs. UCLA, Dec. 26 in Santa Clara, Calif.): Nebraska is one of those 5-7 teams that’s lucky to be playing in a bowl game and look out for them making the most of it.
24. R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl (Louisiana Tech vs. Arkansas State, Dec. 19 in New Orleans): Former Florida QB Jeff Driskell has had a big year for Louisiana Tech. He’s thrown for 3,575 yards and 24 touchdowns. And the Gators have QB problems. Imagine that.
25. Military Bowl (Pittsburgh vs. Navy, Dec. 28 in Annapolis, Md.): It’s the final game for Keenan Reynolds, who’s had a memorable career as QB for the Midshipmen. He’s sure to get a rousing send-off.
26. Hyundai Sun Bowl (Miami vs. Washington State, Dec. 26 in El Paso, Texas): The last game for the Hurricanes before former Georgia coach Mark Richt starts patrolling the sidelines. Mike Leach has Wazzou playing well.
27. Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl (Washington vs. Southern Miss, Dec. 26 in Dallas): Southern Miss has made a great comeback after going 0-12 and 1-11 in back-to-back years in 2012 and 2013. To win nine games this year and make a bowl game, now that’s a turnaround.
28. Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (Air Force vs. California, Dec. 29 in Fort Worth, Texas): One last look at Cal QB Jared Goff before he heads off to the first round of the NFL draft.
29. Quick Lane Bowl (Minnesota vs. Central Michigan, Dec. 28 in Detroit): The Gophers snuck into bowl season with a 5-7 record, so those extra practices are going to come in handy.
30. Motel 6 Cactus Bowl (West Virginia vs. Arizona State, Jan. 2 in Phoenix): Two teams with disappointing seasons try to make up for it one last time.
TEN GAMES THAT ARE TEN TOO MANY
31. St. Petersburg Bowl (Marshall vs. Connecticut, Dec. 26 in St. Petersburg, Fla.): UConn hasn’t been bowling since 2010, so they’re sure to enjoy this trip to Tropicana Field. The basketball team won an NCAA title in the same building in 1999.
32. Hawaii Bowl (Cincinnati vs. San Diego State, Dec. 24 in Honolulu): Gunner Kiel has had an interesting college career, with all the flirtations with Notre Dame and LSU and Indiana before finally settling in at Cincinnati. The QB has a big arm and he’s had some big games for the Bearcats.
33. San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl (Boise State vs. Northern Illinois, Dec. 23 in San Diego): The trip to San Diego out of the cold will be nice for both schools.
34. GoDaddy Bowl (Georgia Southern vs. Bowling Green, Dec. 23 in Mobile, Ala.): Georgia Southern is used to playing late in the year from all their FCS playoff runs. Now, they go bowling.
35. Popeyes Bahamas Bowl (Middle Tennessee vs. Western Michigan, Dec. 24 in Nassau, Bahamas): Who cares about X’s and the O’s. It’s the Bahamas!
36. Gilman New Mexico Bowl (Arizona vs. New Mexico, Dec. 19 in Albuquerque, N.M): Rich Rodriguez was being looked at to coach elsewhere, but he’s saying he wants to stick around Arizona. Winning a bowl game might be a spark.
37. Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl (Nevada vs. Colorado State, Dec. 29 in Tucson, Ariz.): Jim McElwain’s old school, Colorado State, keeps winning even after he’s gone.
38. Raycom Media Camellia Bowl (Ohio vs. Appalachian State, Dec. 19 in Montgomery, Ala.): App State, like Georgia Southern, is used to playoff runs this time of year. Welcome to bowl season.
39. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Akron vs. Utah State, Dec. 22 in Boise, Idaho): In the cold. On the blue turf. No big story lines.
40. AutoNation Cure Bowl (Georgia State vs. San Jose State, Dec. 19 in Orlando): Georgia State became eligible and San Jose State got a pass after going 5-7 and is playing in a game 2,848 miles from home. Will there be more than 500 San Jose fans there?