A viewer's guide: Ranking every bowl game from top to bottom
The college football bowl slate is long, and seems to get longer every year. Watching every one is a near-impossibility that could, at times, be classified as torture. Not all matchups are created equal. And that, friends, is where we come in. Below, Rivals.com has ranked every bowl game from most watchable to least watchable. From the can’t-miss to the should-skip, every game has been accounted for.
1. SUGAR BOWL: CLEMSON VS. ALABAMA
Jan. 1: 8:45 p.m., ESPN (All times Eastern)
A rematch of last year’s national title game features two of the game’s marquee coaches in Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban. The Tide and the Tigers have the athletes and the defenses needed for an exciting four quarters and a possible dramatic finish. Add in the fact that the stakes are high, and this is the clear choice for the top spot. Oh, and we stand to gain the added bonus of jilted Ohio State fans melting down all over again should Alabama lose. After all, they told you the Tide didn’t belong here and the playoff selection was rigged for the SEC or whatever.
2. PEACH BOWL: AUBURN VS. UCF
Jan. 1: 12:30 p.m., ESPN
Undefeated UCF will continue its quest for respect against an Auburn team that has beaten two of this year’s college football playoff participants. And while some of the luster has been removed, due to UCF head coach Scott Frost’s decision to bail on the Knights for Nebraska, this game should still provide fireworks. UCF is the country’s most exciting team and Auburn is capable of scoring points in a hurry, as well. Frost will coach the Knights in the bowl game despite not being there for much of the preparations, which is so perfectly college football. This is appointment viewing.
3. ROSE BOWL: OKLAHOMA VS. GEORGIA
Jan. 1: 5 p.m., ESPN
Oklahoma is equipped with college football’s most exciting quarterback in Baker Mayfield. Georgia is equipped with an impressive rushing attack led by star tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, so the matchup will test the Big 12-doesn’t-play-defense narrative. Either Kirby Smart will play for a national title in his second season as a head coach or Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley will play for one in his first, which provides a nice storyline in addition to the whole win-or-go-home thing.
4. FIESTA BOWL: PENN STATE VS. WASHINGTON
Dec. 30: 4 p.m., ESPN
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley will run up against a solid Washington defensive line, and the fact that the Nittany Lions' offensive coordinator is now at Mississippi State adds another wrinkle to a game that features a number of interesting matchups. Washington quarterback Jake Browning can pick apart a defense. This game may surprise some people as far as excitement goes because it may pack more scoring than some might expect.
5. COTTON BOWL: OHIO STATE VS. USC
Dec. 29: 8:30 p.m., ESPN
The Buckeyes and Trojans both think they deserved to be in the playoff, but instead they get a meaningless exhibition game against each other. The only certainty here is that the fans of the losing team will say they “mailed it in” or “failed to get up for the game.” The upside is that both teams are playing their best football. USC enters the contest having won five straight, while the Buckeyes will arrive in Dallas with a streak of four. The sheer number of NFL prospects on display will make this watchable even if both teams decide not to try, which is a possibility.
6. ALAMO BOWL: STANFORD VS. TCU
Dec. 28: 9 p.m., ESPN
Stanford star running back Bryce Love clashing with a Gary Patterson defense is interesting enough. The Alamo Bowl has a reputation for hosting thrilling shootouts, and while this matchup doesn’t seem to be that kind of party on the surface, never count out Alamo magic. TCU has had its moments of absolute greatness this season but also lost to Iowa State, so there’s an aura of unpredictability here.
7. ORANGE BOWL: MIAMI VS. WISCONSIN
Dec. 30: 8 p.m., ESPN
A fan base featuring larger-than-average men that nearly drank an entire town dry earlier this season will travel to a city known for its parties. When it arrives, it’ll mix it up with a fan base known for swagger and concourse brawls. What could go wrong? Come for two teams with impressive athletes and bright futures. Stay for the fight videos that will almost certainly hit the internet in the game’s aftermath.
8. TAXSLAYER BOWL: LOUISVILLE VS. MISSISSIPPI STATE
DEC. 30: 12 p.m., ESPN
Interim head coach Jim Knox will lead Mississippi State into a game against a Louisville team lead by the dynamic Lamar Jackson, who can make almost any game worth watching. Neither program was particularly consistent this season, but each is capable of putting together an impressive four quarters. The fact that Mississippi State will be without injured quarterback Nick Fitzgerald takes a lot of the luster off this one. Still, the real possibility of this being Jackson’s last college game makes it worth checking out.
9. CAMPING WORLD BOWL: VIRGINIA TECH VS. OKLAHOMA STATE
Dec. 28: 5:15 p.m., ESPN
Oklahoma State’s offense is guaranteed fun and worth watching regardless of opponent. The fact that Virginia Tech and creative defensive coordinator Bud Foster and his defense - a unit that ranks top-five nationally - will have plenty of time to prepare for impact makes this one even more intriguing. Added aesthetic bonus: The game’s participants boast two of the best color schemes in the country. This game may not rank No. 1, but it’s certainly worth ignoring your family for.
10. CITRUS BOWL: NOTRE DAME VS. LSU
Jan. 1: 1 p.m., ABC
The contrast in head coaches is enough to keep my attention. LSU’s Ed Orgeron is the working-class guy with a Cajun accent that often seems like an impression, while Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly could easily play a millionaire villain attempting to turn the community center into a country club in a movie. The teams they lead both run the ball especially well. LSU running back Derrius Guice is a full-fledged star, while Note Dame boasts a number of players, including quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who are capable of putting up gaudy yard totals on the ground. If you like power football, this game is for you.
11. BIRMINGHAM BOWL: TEXAS TECH VS. SOUTH FLORIDA
Dec. 23: 12 p.m., ESPN
Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury likely saved his job by beating Texas, and now he’ll get to take on a former Texas coach, as Charlie Strong will lead his 9-2 Bulls team into … Birmingham? The good news is that this game should bring the points. USF quarterback Quinton Flowers is absolutely electric and deserves more national exposure than he gets. Meanwhile, Texas Tech averages 468.4 yards per game. This promises to be a delightful track meet and the most exciting thing in Birmingham since Sloss Fest.
12. FOSTER FARMS BOWL: PURDUE VS. ARIZONA
Dec. 27: 8:30 p.m., Fox
What Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate has done since winning a starting job is nearly as impressive as what Purdue’s Jeff Brohm has done since taking over as his team’s head coach. The Boilermakers are in a bowl game for the first time since 2012 and will now need to find a way to check Tate, who averages more than 10 yards per rushing attempt and is likely to garner some Heisman buzz next season. Purdue’s offense is capable of lighting it up, as well, so this meeting between marquee names that were relative unknowns before the season is something you’ll not want to miss. This may be the sleeper of the bowl season.
13. LIBERTY BOWL: MEMPHIS VS. IOWA STATE
Dec. 30: 12:30 p.m., ABC
Two of America’s hottest young coaches makes this a bit like seeing band in a bingo hall before they make it big. Iowa State’s Matt Campbell and Memphis’ Mike Norvell are probably destined for big-time jobs in the years ahead, so tune in to brag to your friends down the road. If you need added reason to watch, (legally) pluck down a few bucks on the Cyclones to cover, as they are an impressive 10-2 against the spread this season. Don’t say I never did anything for you. Conversely, Memphis’ offense is a blast to watch and can put up points in a hurry. So don’t blame me if you lose your house.
14. BELK BOWL: WAKE FOREST VS. TEXAS A&M
Dec. 29: 1 p.m., ESPN
The Belk Bowl’s fantastic Twitter account is more interesting than this game, as interim head coach Jeff Banks will lead Texas A&M against a Wake Forest team that lost to Florida State. The Demon Deacons are a nice story with a couple of good pieces on offense, but beating a painfully mediocre SEC team without a coach won’t prove much. Aggies wide receiver Christian Kirk is one of the country’s most exciting players, so maybe tune in for a quarter or two to check out his final game.
15. HOLIDAY BOWL: MICHIGAN STATE VS. WASHINGTON STATE
Dec. 28: 9 p.m., Fox
Washington State’s high-powered offense had it in the Pac-12 title hunt until the final week of the season, and will now run into a Michigan State team that derives its success from defense. Who wouldn’t want to watch a Big Ten squad try to slow down a team that throws on every down? The Spartans are led by quarterback Brian Lewerke, who has been brilliant and less-than-brilliant at different times this season. Michigan State feels like it should have been selected to a more prestigious bowl game, and a solid opponent will provide it with a chance to prove it.
16. TEXAS BOWL: TEXAS VS. MISSOURI
Dec. 27: 9 p.m., ESPN
It’s not the matchup of old Big 12 foes the country wants to see, but there’s still plenty of intrigue at work. Mizzou decided it was a decent football team halfway through the season and comes equipped with a dangerous passing attack led by Missouri native Drew Lock. Texas’ season has been a sometimes-bewildering hodgepodge of impressive moments and head-scratching shortcomings. Despite that, Tom Herman’s squad has plenty of talent. Does it have the defense to hold the Tigers in check? We'll see. This game should feature plenty of points. Everyone loves points.
17. BOCA RATON BOWL: FAU VS. AKRON
DEC. 19: 1 p.m., ESPN
FAU gets what is essentially a home game, which, to be honest, should be the reward for having Lane Kiffin as your coach. That said, the Owls are a blast with an explosive offense and the occasional trick play. Kiffin is one of the most creative play-callers in college football. And while Akron quarterback Kato Nelson has had his bad games, he’s also had his good ones in which he’s a thrilling weapon. This promises to be fun.
18. OUTBACK BOWL: MICHIGAN VS. SOUTH CAROLINA
Jan. 1: 12 p.m., ESPN2
A rematch of the 2013 game in which Jadeveon Clowney produced his trademark highlight. Teams with identical records are always at least a little interesting. Add in the fact that the entire SEC seems to share an illogical collective disdain for Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and South Carolina is, in a way, looking to score a win for the league. Is it a lame reason to watch? You bet it is. But neither team is particularly exciting this season, so that’s the best storyline we can manufacture. But there is also this: Gamecock quarterback Jake Bentley is a wildly interesting prospect and will likely become one of the top quarterbacks in the country next season.
19. MUSIC CITY BOWL: KENTUCKY VS. NORTHWESTERN
DEC. 29: 4:30 p.m., ESPN
Two underpublicized 1,000-yard rushers will get together as Northwestern’s Justin Jackson and Kentucky’s Benny Snell occupy the same field in Nashville. Sadly, two teams that rely so heavily on the run game may not make for a thriller. Kentucky is a remarkable 3-9 against the spread this season, in case you’re interested in that kind of thing. Also, “that kind of thing” may be one of the only ways to make this one fun. Northwestern likely deserves a better matchup than the one it was dealt, but what else are you going to do at 4:30 in the afternoon?
20. CACTUS BOWL: KANSAS STATE VS. UCLA
Dec. 26: 9 p.m., ESPN
Two teams that failed to live up to preseason expectations will get together at a baseball stadium in the desert. UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen says he’s playing. And while there’s plenty of reasons to be skeptical of such a claim, that’s a good thing for anyone interested in watching. Injuries forced K-State to accidentally find a wildly impressive quarterback sitting third on its depth chart midway through the season, and the chance to see freshman Skylar Thompson, who has NFL tools, square off with Rosen makes this worth checking out.
21. LAS VEGAS BOWL: BOISE STATE VS. OREGON
Dec. 16: 3:30 p.m., ABC
Everyone likes a debut. Now at Florida State, Willie Taggart won’t coach the Ducks in their bowl game but his replacement, Mario Cristobal, is already in place. Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert is a difference-maker and should be seen by all, as he missed a chunk of the season due to injury. Mountain West champion Boise State is coached by Bryan Harsin, who is one more solid season away from being heavily pursued by Power Five programs. This is game that should have its share of scoring, and boasts some underappreciated star power.
22. PINSTRIPE BOWL: IOWA VS. BOSTON COLLEGE
Dec. 27: 5:15 p.m., ESPN
Boston College managed to win seven games for the second consecutive season under ultra-likable head coach Steve Addazio. A year ago, the Eagles beat Maryland in their bowl game, and will now get a crack at another Big Ten squad in Iowa, the team responsible for knocking Ohio State out of the playoff. These teams are both capable of playing an entertaining game, but are also threats to lay an egg. This is worth monitoring in case it's worth tuning in at halftime.
23. SUN BOWL: N.C. STATE VS. ARIZONA STATE
Dec. 29: 3 p.m., CBS
Arizona State will be led by a fired coach, while N.C. State, like half the other teams in the country, will be led by a coach that recently told Tennessee to kick rocks. These are two of the most inconsistent teams on the slate, which creates some uncertainty about how this game might go. The Wolfpack are looking for their first nine-win season since 2010, while ASU is looking to send Todd Graham off with a victory. N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley doesn’t get the publicity he deserves as a high-level NFL prospect, so it’s worth tuning in if you’ve not checked him out.
24. HEART OF DALLAS BOWL: UTAH VS. WEST VIRGINIA
Dec. 26: 1:30 p.m., ESPN
West Virginia quarterback Will Grier missed the end of the season with a hand injury and may or may not play against Utah. Just how watchable this game is hinges on that, because the Mountaineers' offense is a shell of itself without Grier under center. Utah’s starting quarterback is freshman Tyler Huntley ,whose peaks are high and valleys are low. Huntley looks like a future star, but with youth comes erratic play. Watching this game is a bit of a gamble.
25. DOLLAR GENERAL BOWL: APPALACHIAN STATE VS. TOLEDO
Dec. 23: 7 p.m., ESPN
Kareem Hunt is in the NFL, but Toledo is still a blast to watch. The Rockets lost to Appalachian State in last year’s bowl game, and the two conference champions will get together again. Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside is exciting, and I’m sure Appalachian State has some dude that will make a tackle or two in a Thursday Night NFL game in a few years. The matchup is a good enough distraction from an uncomfortable pre-Christmas Eve-Eve conversation with your mother, who wants to know when you’re going to provide her with grandchildren.
26. FRISCO BOWL: LOUISIANA TECH VS. SMU
Dec. 20: 8 p.m., ESPN
A Sonny Dykes-led squad does battle with Louisiana Tech in a bowl game with a name that sounds like it was submitted on a tight deadline. SMU has a pair of exciting receivers in Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn, and the Mustangs are typically entertaining. Louisiana Tech has an exciting target of their own in Teddy Veal, who has 69 catches on the year. There are worse ways to spend a few hours than watching this. The big draw here is the fact that Dykes will coach the game despite being hired just a few weeks back. The situation is a recipe for weird, and weird is often fun.
27. FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL: CENTRAL MICHIGAN VS. WYOMING
Dec. 22: 4 p.m., ESPN
Everyone decided Josh Allen was great before the season started. Then, those same people decided he was a fraud as an NFL prospect. Now, he may or may not play in the bowl game named after a “famous” vegetable, depending on his health (he missed the last two games with a shoulder injury). Allen is great at his best and exciting at his worst. He has a massive arm, but is prone to mistakes. That makes him unpredictable, which adds some excitement to this game … if he plays. If Allen skips the game, you’re left with Michigan transfer Shane Morris quarterbacking Central Michigan to a comfortable victory.
28. NEW MEXICO BOWL: MARSHALL VS. COLORADO STATE
Dec. 16: 4:30 p.m., ESPN
A matchup of 7-5 teams from Group of Five leagues can be great. It can also be a boring disaster. This one could go either way. Colorado State features a solid passing attack highlighted by wide receiver Michael Gallup, who posted gaudy stats this season. Marshall limps into this game as losers of four of its last five Still, the spread is less than a touchdown, which provides hope for a thriller. What else are you doing at 4:30 on a Saturday? Tune in, but have a backup plan in place in case things go horribly wrong.
29. HAWAII BOWL: FRESNO STATE VS. HOUSTON
Dec. 24: 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Fresno State went from 1-11 to 9-4 in its first season under Jeff Tedford, but nice as that story is it doesn’t make this game exciting. Houston boats one of the country’s best defensive players in Ed Oliver, but it also boats a 7-5 record that includes losses to Tulsa and Tulane. Tune in at your own risk. This one could surprise, but don’t blame me if you hate yourself for watching.
30. ARMED FORCES BOWL: ARMY VS. SAN DIEGO STATE
Dec. 23: 3:30 p.m., ESPN
I can’t name a single player on Army’s roster, and I’m not going to insult anyone’s intelligence by looking one up and pretending to know him. What I do know is that the Black Knights will come out in a flexbone offense and throw the ball six times. Maybe a better football mind than mine can find enjoyment in that, but I’m out. San Diego State has an aura of fun because head coach Rocky Long is likely going for it on fourth and whatever inside Army territory. Deal with it, traditionalists.
31. QUICK LANE BOWL: DUKE VS. NORTHERN ILLINOIS
Dec. 26: 5:15 p.m., ESPN
An ACC team that lost six games in a row at one point this season takes a December trip to Detroit to play a MAC team with a defensive superstar. Huskies defensive end Sutton Smith has 12 sacks on the season and is definitely worth seeing for yourself. The problem is, aside from Smith, reasons to tune in to this one are scarce. Elect to help your mom set up whatever electronic Christmas gift is currently confusing her.
32. GASPARILLA BOWL: FIU VS. TEMPLE
Dec. 21: 8 p.m., ESPN
FIU looks to reach nine wins for the first time in program history, so that’s a thing … sorta. Butch Davis coaching a Conference USA team at 66 years old after a quasi-retirement that lasted more than half a decade is another thing. I don’t know. Watch if you want. Whatever.
33. NEW ORLEANS BOWL: TROY VS. NORTH TEXAS
Dec. 16: 1 p.m., ESPN
This game feels like it should be on Thursday because of Troy, but it will be played on a Saturday and it will feature the Trojans taking on co-Sun Belt champs North Texas. You don’t need to know much about these teams to be interested, as the gaudy point totals should draw you in. There should be plenty of passing and plenty of scoring here. Remember, defense is fascist. Even worse, it’s boring.
34. MILITARY BOWL: VIRGINIA VS. NAVY
Dec. 28: 1:30 p.m., ESPN
Navy, with its boring-but-effective triple-option offense, gets to play a home game against a 6-6 ACC team in the middle of the afternoon. On the surface, this one isn’t so attractive, but the fact that Bronco Mendenhall has the Cavaliers in a bowl game for the first time since 2011 is notable. UVA quarterback Kurt Benkert holds the school’s single-season passing record and defensive back Quin Blanding will play on Sundays. Those two Cavaliers are worth checking out and could bring some excitement to an otherwise bland matchup.
35. CELEBRATION BOWL: GRAMBLING STATE VS. NORTH CAROLINA A&T
Dec. 16: 12 p.m., ABC
North Carolina A&T is undefeated and, regardless of division, everyone likes a perfect-season storyline. Grambling’s only loss this season came to FBS' Tulane, and the Tigers' defense leads the FCS in sacks. A&T brings an impressive offense led by quarterback Lamar Raynard, who has tossed 26 touchdowns on the season. There are a lot of worse ways to spend your time, and this promises to be tight in the fourth quarter.
36. CAMELLIA BOWL: ARKANSAS STATE VS. MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE
Dec. 16: 8 p.m., ESPN
The game named after a flower native to Southern Asia features two teams that aren’t exactly brand names, but each side boasts a quarterback capable of bringing some excitement. Arkansas State’s Justice Hansen has had a nice season and MTSU’s Brent Stockstill seems to always put up big numbers. Take a flyer here if you’re bored.
37. CURE BOWL: WESTERN KENTUCKY VS. GEORGIA STATE
Dec. 16: 2:30 p.m., CBSSN
Two first-year coaches lead largely unremarkable teams against into an unremarkable game that may or may not be close. Georgia State wide receiver Penny Hart has a cool name. So, you know, there’s that. Surely there’s a "Friends" rerun on TBS (hopefully the one where Chandler locks Joey in a box as payback for kissing his girlfriend) or something on one of those networks that run shows about murders 24 hours a day.
38. BAHAMAS BOWL: UAB VS. OHIO
Dec. 22: 12:30 p.m., ESPN
UAB is a great story. After two years without a football program, the Blazers are back in the postseason. But that can only take a team so far in a ranking system based on watchability. Ohio limped into the postseason with back-to-back losses, but are quarterbacked by Nathan Rourke, who has 21 rushing touchdowns on the season. So that’s something.
39. INDEPENDENCE BOWL: FLORIDA STATE VS. SOUTHERN MISS
Dec. 27: 1:30 p.m., ESPN
This game will be played in Shreveport, which is fitting because it’s the Shreveport of bowl matchups. Avoid it if you can. Visit with family. Take down your Christmas decorations. Get a head start on your taxes. Florida State became bowl eligible by beating ULM in a hurricane makeup game. Now the 6-6 Seminoles and interim coach Odell Haggins will take on 8-4 Southern Miss, a team that probably does something or other pretty well.
40. ARIZONA BOWL: NEW MEXICO STATE VS. UTAH STATE
Dec. 29: 5:30 p.m., CBSSN
Hurray for New Mexico State, which has qualified for its first bowl game in 57 years. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make this game any more interesting to the average fan. These are two below-average teams with boring uniforms and few players of national note getting together in Arizona’s second-most famous city. You can take this time to go return the gifts you pretended to like on Christmas.