There’s nothing quite like bowl season. If you’re a college football die-hard, it’s the best time of the year. There’s a college football game on nearly every day during three weeks in December, meaning you always have something to do that isn’t work, or errands, or interacting with other human beings outside your domicile. It’s wonderful.
Of course, this is still college football, and one of the foundations of the sport is that we must rank things, so as I do every year here at CBS Sports, I’ve ranked every single bowl game. The rankings aren’t entirely scientific, but I do use the same rating system I use to rank all 129 bowl eligible teams (the one that ) to help determine these bowl rankings. Essentially, these rankings boil down to three main factors.
- The strength of the teams: Generally speaking, games with good teams will more often lead to better games.
- How even the matchup looks: A team can be good, and rated highly in my system, but if it’s going against a team that it’s going to be favored by at least two touchdowns over it, odds are the game won’t be that entertaining.
- The styles involved: Styles make fights, and every team has its style. Some may make for intriguing matchups, while others could lead to a dull, boring game.
Then there are other factors like potential storylines, as well as the possibility of teams playing under interim coaches and things of that nature. What I’m trying to do is rank these games based on how entertaining they’ll be because that’s what bowl games are created to do: entertain you.
And to be clear, all bowls are wonderful and should be cherished. Even the bad ones are good because they’re football games, and we’re only a month away from a long offseason in which we won’t have any games. So cherish these weeks while you can.
All times Eastern
39. Idaho Potato Bowl
38. Hawaii Bowl
Louisiana Tech vs. Hawaii — Dec. 22, 10:30 p.m.: I was reminded while putting these rankings together that the Hawaii Bowl won’t be played on Christmas Eve this year. That means I won’t have a distraction from family. I want to think this didn’t affect the game’s ranking, but I can’t be sure.
37. Quick Lane Bowl
Minnesota vs. Georgia Tech — Dec. 26, 5:15 p.m.: This has a chance to be a very entertaining game, and there’s the storyline of Paul Johnson’s retirement behind it. Still, even if it isn’t good, it should be over in a timely fashion.
36. Gasparilla Bowl
35. Cheez-It Bowl
California vs. TCU — Dec. 26, 9 p.m.: I wouldn’t expect a lot of points to be scored in this one. Cal is averaging 20.9 points per game while TCU is at 21.9. So, odds are it will be close, but it might not be the most thrilling affair.
34. Cure Bowl
Tulane vs. Louisiana — Dec. 15, 1:30 p.m.: I’m surprised this matchup isn’t taking place in the New Orleans Bowl seeing as how that game usually likes to get local teams. The Green Wave have a chance for their first seven-win season since 2013 and just their second since 2002. Catch this game live on CBS Sports Network.
33. New Orleans Bowl
32. Birmingham Bowl
Memphis vs. Wake Forest — Dec. 22, 12 p.m.: It may not be ranked all that highly, but this game certainly has plenty of sleeper potential. Both of these offenses are capable of going off, and against these two defenses, the odds of it happening only increase.
31. Bahamas Bowl
Florida International vs. Toledo — Dec. 21, 12:30 p.m.: I would have had this game higher, but FIU has had a tendency to struggle against teams on its level, or better than it this year, and I fear that will be the case again against a good Toledo team.
30. Arizona Bowl
Arkansas State vs. Nevada — Dec. 29, 1:15 p.m.: This is one of those games that could sneak up on you. Odds are you haven’t seen much of either of these teams, but Nevada’s offense can be entertaining when its working, and Nevada’s defense helps keep things interesting. Against an Arkansas State team that’s averaged nearly 32 points per game, this could turn into a shootout. Catch this game live on CBS Sports Network.
29. Texas Bowl
28. Military Bowl
Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech — Dec. 31, 12 p.m.: Another game with sleeper potential. I think the question that needs to be answered is will Virginia Tech merely be happy with extending its bowl streak, or will it show up motivated to win. If it’s the latter, this one could be a lot of fun.
27. Holiday Bowl
No. 22 Northwestern vs. No. 17 Utah — Dec. 31, 7 p.m.: I will probably like this game a lot more than you will. Expect it to be quite physical, and expect it to be won by controlling the ball and field position.
26. New Mexico Bowl
North Texas vs. Utah State — Dec. 15, 2 p.m.: This game would have been higher but Utah State has already lost coach Matt Wells to Texas Tech, and I wouldn’t be surprised if North Texas’ Seth Littrell accepts a job elsewhere before its played. He’s a hot commodity on the coaching carousel, and for good reason.
25. Belk Bowl
South Carolina vs. Virginia — Dec. 29, 12 p.m.: Last year’s Belk Bowl, , was nuts. I don’t think these two teams will be putting on the same kind of offensive showcase. But they’re evenly matched, and it could prove to be a close, entertaining game.
24. Camellia Bowl
Georgia Southern vs. Eastern Michigan — Dec. 15, 5:30 p.m.: Georgia Southern is an entertaining option team you’ve probably never seen, and I like the potential of this matchup against an Eastern Michigan team you’ve probably never seen. Plus, Eastern Michigan plays everybody close.
23. Liberty Bowl
No. 23 Missouri vs. Oklahoma State — Dec. 31, 3:45 p.m.: It’s nice to see these former conference mates reunite, and there is definitely the potential for fireworks. It’s just a question of which Oklahoma State team shows up. I’m optimistic, though, because while the Cowboys have been tough to read from week to week, they tend to play up to good opponents and down to lesser teams.
22. Pinstripe Bowl
Wisconsin vs. Miami — Dec. 27, 5:15 p.m.: This matchup might have been a lot more interesting if we hadn’t just seen it in last year’s Orange Bowl. It also would be more interesting if last year’s teams were playing in it. I’m also concerned about Miami’s level of “want to” considering this game will be played in New York in late December. I don’t expect it to be warm!
21. Frisco Bowl
San Diego State vs. Ohio — Dec. 19, 8 p.m.: If the final margin of this game is more than three points I’ll be surprised. This is just a matchup of two evenly-matched teams, but I can’t go any higher than this because neither offense is explosive, so it could be a rock fight.
20. Sun Bowl
Stanford vs. Pittsburgh — Dec. 31, 2 p.m.: I enjoy offensive line play. Not everybody does, but if you do, you’ll like this game. Pitt has one of the better run-blocking lines in the country, and Stanford’s offensive line is a Stanford offensive line, even if it’s not quite up to the standards of previous Stanford offensive lines.
19. Camping World Bowl
No. 16 West Virginia vs. No. 20 Syracuse — Dec. 28, 5:15 p.m.: It’s a good thing these teams are in the Camping World Bowl because you might want to bring a tent and a sleeping bag. This game should last at least four hours, and will likely creep closer to five given the way these offenses work, and the defenses don’t.
18. Gator Bowl
NC State vs. No. 19 Texas A&M — Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m.: This game falls right in the middle of the rankings because that’s just how I feel about both of these teams. They certainly aren’t bad, but I don’t know how good they truly are, either. They’re just kind of there. And that could lead to a great game.
17. Outback Bowl
No. 18 Mississippi State vs. Iowa — Jan. 1, 12 p.m.: I wouldn’t expect a lot of points to be scored in this game, but it should be close, and it could be quite entertaining. I’d guess it comes down to one of the better pass-blocking offensive lines in the country (Iowa) going against one of the best defensive lines in the country (Mississippi State).
16. Music City Bowl
Purdue vs. Auburn — Dec. 28, 1:30 p.m.: A fan base that was relieved its coach didn’t leave against a fan base that’s wishing its coach would. An offensive mastermind against someone once considered to be an offensive mastermind. If both of these teams show up ready to play this game could be great.
15. Redbox Bowl
14. Independence Bowl
Temple vs. Duke — Dec. 27, 1:30 p.m.: When you get to this middle third of the bowl games there’s very little separating any one game from the other, but this one gets a boost not only because it should be close, but there’s potential for it to get loose.
13. Citrus Bowl
No. 14 Kentucky vs. No. 12 Penn State — Jan. 1, 1 p.m.: I like the style matchup here. Both teams have been led by their defenses, and both teams are better at running the ball than passing it. While Penn State’s rushing attack is a little better than Kentucky’s, the Wildcats’ defense is a bit better stopping the run than the Nittany Lions’. Penn State’s passing offense is better, however, and that could prove to be the difference here. Still, plenty of potential in this matchup of top-15 teams.
12. Boca Raton Bowl
UAB vs. Northern Illinois — Dec. 18, 7 p.m.: I won’t lie to you. I would have preferred to see UAB taking on Buffalo in this game because I think it would have made a slightly better matchup, but this will still be an interesting game. Just don’t expect a lot of points! These are two teams that win with their defense, and both will be trying to do that in Boca.
11. Sugar Bowl
No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 15 Texas — Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m.: I know it looks like a great game based on the history and tradition of the programs. Plus, both of these teams finished as runners-up in their conference title games. I can’t rank it higher than this, though, because Georgia’s strengths line up with Texas’ weaknesses, and I worry this one won’t be very close.
10. Armed Forces Bowl
Houston vs. Army — Dec. 22, 3:30 p.m.: This game would have ranked higher had Houston’s Ed Oliver been playing in the game, but considering his earning potential at the next level, I wouldn’t want to be facing an option team and its blocking scheme in my final college game, either. This game will still present an intriguing matchup of conflicting offensive styles that should be entertaining to watch.
9. Fiesta Bowl
No. 11 LSU vs. No. 8 UCF — Jan. 1, 1 p.m.: I was hoping to see UCF in a New Year’s Six game against Florida just for the state-rivalry aspect of it, but we can’t always get what we want. What we do get is a game that should still prove to be interesting, as UCF’s offense will be tested against an excellent LSU defense. The question is whether or not UCF’s defense will be capable of stopping an LSU offense that will try to overpower it. I just wish McKenzie Milton were healthy and able to play.
8. Peach Bowl
No. 10 Florida vs. No. 7 Michigan — Dec. 29, 12 p.m.: I couldn’t downgrade it too much because it’s a matchup of top 10 teams from the Big Ten and SEC. That’s what bowl season is about. The problems are that, while it should be close, I don’t know how thrilling a contest it will be given the offenses. Plus, this will be the third meeting between these two since 2016. It would have been so much better having Florida face UCF and Michigan take on LSU. Michigan and LSU have never played before. We could have called it The Les Miles Bowl.
7. Dollar General Bowl
Buffalo vs. Troy — Dec. 22, 7 p.m.: I know you weren’t expecting to see the Dollar General Bowl ranked this high, but it is. I love this matchup between two of the better teams in the Group of Five. It should be a close game, and it should be exciting as well. The lone fear is that Troy’s Neal Brown has been mentioned as a candidate for other jobs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody tries to poach Buffalo’s Lance Leipold as well.
6. First Responder Bowl
Boston College vs. No. 25 Boise State — Dec. 26, 1:30 p.m.: The Heart of Dallas Bowl is no more, and the first edition of the First Responder Bowl has an intriguing matchup for all of us to enjoy. Boston College sputtered down the stretch a bit, but it’s a good team, and it matches up well with Boise State.
5. Las Vegas Bowl
No. 21 Fresno State vs. Arizona State — Dec. 15, 3:30 p.m.: The Las Vegas Bowl always rates high in these rankings, but unfortunately it hasn’t always lived up to my expectations the last few years. I believe it will this season, though, as this matchup of one of the Group of Five’s best going against an Arizona State team that should prove to be a fun matchup for it. Plus we get Herm Edwards in Vegas. Something good has to come of that.
4. Alamo Bowl
No. 24 Iowa State vs. No. 13 Washington State — Dec. 28, 9 p.m.: The Alamo Bowl has a hell of a legacy in recent years. The 2013 and 2016 games were duds, but every other Alamo Bowl since 2011 has been a banger, and I’m not expecting anything less from this matchup. Washington State had a bad finish to the season, but its offense will fair much better indoors than it did in a snowstorm against Washington. And Iowa State’s fully capable of putting up points too. Buckle up and remember to watch the Alamo.
3. Rose Bowl
No. 9 Washington vs. No. 6 Ohio State — Jan. 1, 5 p.m.: The matchup here is interesting. Ohio State’s offense will be tested by a tough Washington defense, and Dwayne Haskins against the Washington secondary should be a thrill. Washington’s offense hasn’t been the most explosive unit in the country, but it’s facing an Ohio State defense prone to allowing big plays. It’s two top 10 teams that are on par with one another, and will likely play a close game. Oh, and it will be played in one of the most bucolic settings available in the world of college football: the Rose Bowl.
2. Cotton Bowl
No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Notre Dame — Dec. 29, 4 p.m.: It’s a College Football Playoff semifinal, so it’s hard to rank it anywhere lower than second. It’s a matchup of two of the five best defenses in the country this season, but while both teams are great on defense, they’re pretty damn good on offense too. Clemson enters the game averaging 45.2 points per game while Notre Dame scores 33.8 points per game. What’s even more interesting is that these teams shared four common opponents this season: Florida State, Pitt, Syracuse and Wake Forest. Clemson beat them by an average of 36.3 points per game, while Notre Dame beat them by an average of 24 points. I know the transitive property doesn’t apply, but that difference of 12 points per game, as well as the difference in their scoring averages for the season, does cause some concern that this could prove to be the one semifinal that ends in a blowout. We’ve had at least one every year of the playoff.
1. Orange Bowl
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Oklahoma — Dec. 29, 8 p.m.: How could I put anything but this game at No. 1? It’s not only a College Football Playoff semifinal, but it’s a matchup of the two quarterbacks likely to finish Nos. 1 and 2 in the Heisman Trophy vote: Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray. It’s also a matchup that provides the classic tale of great defense vs. great offense. And in this case, we might be talking about the greatest offense we’ve ever seen at the college football level. How many points can this Oklahoma offense score against an Alabama defense that might not be the best Alabama defense we’ve seen lately, but is still one of the best units in the country? And will Oklahoma’s defense be able to get enough stops to make it matter? These are the obvious questions heading into the game, and I can’t wait to find out the answers.