Ranking all 43 bowl games from most entertaining to least entertaining
Bowl season is upon us. I am not shy about my feelings about bowl games. As someone who wants the playoff as big as possible, with as many rounds at home fields as possible, I am not a fan of bowl games - if only because I know there is a better alternative.
So, when Aaron asked me if I was interested in ranking all forty-three bowl games in terms of watchability, I had just the guy to help. My good friend, sportswriter Trevor King, @TrevorKingWV on Twitter, loves bowl games.
Every year I try to tell them they are a waste of time, and every year he is watching them all. So, between the two of us, we came up with an incredibly unscientific method of ranking the forty-three games. We simply gave each game a score of 1 to 100 and combined the scores to make this very official list. Criteria for our rankings included time slot, storylines, prestige of the bowl, and whatever else we decided for that particular game. Again, very scientific.
(Point spreads for all bowl games can be found at the DraftKings Sportsbook - which is currently offering a great deal for first-time users during bowl season)
1. Orange Bowl: Michigan vs Georgia (Miami, Florida 7:30PM 12/31 ESPN)
This is, quite clearly the most anticipated game of the bowl season. Two fanbases that border on crazy take each other on in a national semifinal both teams feel like they should win. If Georgia does lose, the (irrational) chorus for Georgia to move on from Kirby Smart will grow.
2. Cotton Bowl Classic: Alabama vs Cincinnati (Arlington, Texas 3:30PM 12/31 ESPN)
This game is here because it’s a playoff game. I don’t think it’s that intriguing, and I expect Alabama to blow them out and people will be able to take a nap in the second half before rallying for New Years’ Eve celebrations. It does actually mean something, though, so it comes in at number 2.
3. Sugar Bowl: Baylor vs Ole Miss (New Orleans, Louisiana 8:45PM 1/1 ESPN)
Aesthetics matter, and this game will have great aesthetics. It’s a great clash of colors that will split the Superdome in half, and Aranda vs Kiffin is fun if only for how different the two coaches are.
4. Rose Bowl Game: Ohio State vs Utah (Pasadena, California 5:00 PM 1/1 ESPN)
Anyone who knows me knows that I think of the Rose Bowl in the highest regard. It’s a borderline holy site for me. Why does it come in fourth, and not third? Ohio State is likely to be not exactly thrilled to be there, players will sit out for Ohio State, and with both teams being red teams, you won’t get that classic color contrast the Rose Bowl crowds are so famous for.
5. Liberty Bowl: Texas Tech vs Mississippi State (Memphis, Tennessee 6:45PM 12/28 ESPN)
Mike Leach coaching against a university he feels wronged him and derailed his career in primetime on a Tuesday? Sign me up.
6. Gaspirilla Bowl: Florida vs UCF (Tampa, Florida 7PM 12/23 ESPN)
UCF has something to prove in this game, and they get to do it in front of what should be a packed house in Tampa.
7. New Orleans Bowl: Louisiana vs Marshall (New Orleans, Louisiana 9:15PM 12/18 ESPN)
This game being so high will surprise some, but it’s early in the bowl schedule, features two great fan bases, including a Louisiana fan base that will absolutely jam the Superdome, and should be highly competitive with a great uniform contrast.
8. Fiesta Bowl: Notre Dame vs Oklahoma State (Glendale, Arizona 1PM 1/1 ESPN)
This will be higher on the lists of some, but there are a lot of other games on at this time, and the playoff will have taken place the night before. Not sure I’ll be as excited for this as I would be in basically any other time slot. It will be fun to see how Notre Dame plays for Marucs Freeman, though.
9. Duke's Mayo Bowl: North Carolina vs South Carolina (Charlotte, North Carolina, 11:30AM 12/30 ESPN)
I love natural rivalries in bowl games, and UNC-South Carolina certainly counts as one. It should be a packed house with a perfectly neutral location. Points off for kicking off before noon, though.
10. Arizona Bowl: Central Michigan vs Boise State (Tucson, Arizona 2PM 12/30 Barstool YouTube)
How much you will enjoy this game is a direct correlation to how much you enjoy Barstool. If you like Barstool, you’ll love it. The lead singer of Creed, the band that put on the most *incredible* halftime show ever, on Thanksgiving day in 2001, is doing the halftime show.
11. Holiday Bowl: NC State vs UCLA (San Diego, California 8PM 12/28 FOX)
It’s a prestigious game with a lot of tradition in a great time slot. Gus Johnson is likely to be calling the game, which always helps.
12. Celebration Bowl: Jackson St vs Prairie View A&M (Atlanta, Georgia 12PM 12/18 ABC)
This is a game everyone should watch. This matchup of HBCU teams, with Jackson State coached by Deion Sanders, will feature good football, great bands, and great fans.
13. Cheez-It Bowl: Clemson vs Iowa State (Orlando, Florida 5:45PM 12/29 ESPN)
There’s a very high likelihood that I, like many of us, will be quite bored four days after Christmas, and I like to root against Clemson. Plus, could be Brock Purdy’s final game in an Iowa State uniform.
14. Frisco Bowl: San Diego State vs UTSA (Frisco, Texas 7:30PM 12/21 ESPN)
This game features two G5 teams that had great seasons and features San Diego State punter Matt Ariaza, who has been deemed “punt god” and is worth watching.
15. Armed Forces Bowl: Missouri vs Army (Fort Worth, Texas, 8:00PM 12/22 ESPN)
I love triple option football, and I love that Army gets to play a bunch of P5 players who are less than thrilled that they have to get cut blocked at practice the next two weeks, let alone on gameday.
16. Hawaii Bowl: Memphis vs Hawaii (Honolulu, Hawaii, 8PM 12/24 ESPN)
The Hawaii Bowl being on television with my family on Christmas Eve is a lasting image of childhood. It’s the perfect thing to have on in the background.
17. Bahamas Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs Toledo (Nassau, Bahamas,12PMET 12/17 ESPN2)
This game has produced some classics, both teams get to go to the Bahamas and there are dozens of high school stadiums in Texas nicer than this venue. I love it.
18. Music City Bowl: Tennessee vs Purdue (Nashville, Tennessee 3PM 12/30 ESPN)
There could be a lot of points in this game, and though I mock the Tennessee program a lot, I think they may have something with Josh Heupel.
19. Peach Bowl: Michigan State vs Pitt (Atlanta, Georgia 7PM 12/30 ESPN)
I will admit my bias plays a part in this being the lowest ranked New Years’ Six game, but this game isn’t particularly appealing unless you want to see Kenny Pickett throw for 600 yards against a brutal Sparty pass defense. Again, my bias, but I dislike both programs very much.
20. Independence Bowl: UAB vs. BYU (Shreveport, Louisiana, 3:30PM 12/18 ABC)
BYU fans think they should’ve been playing in a much better bowl, and that this is anti-Mormon discrimination. There is some truth to both of those things, and it will be fun to see if BYU plays pissed off or if they throw in the towel for a less than appetizing trip.
21. Outback Bowl: Arkansas vs Penn State (Tampa, Florida, 12:00PM 1/1 ESPN2)
This is about as low as a game with these two programs could rank, but the time slot stinks. As someone who lives and dies with Penn State football, there’s still a nonzero chance I miss the first few drives of the game nursing a New Years’ Day hangover. If I may miss some of it, what’s that say about a casual fan?
22. Guaranteed Rate Bowl: Minnesota vs West Virginia (Phoenix, Arizona, 10:15PM 12/28 ESPN)
We didn’t plan it this way, but our two alma maters (Trevor is a WVU grad) are back-to-back. The time slot isn’t great in terms of a late kick, but I think this could be competitive game and the colors will be awesome. If your job gives you that week after Christmas off, there are worse things you could do with your Tuesday night.
23. Cure Bowl: Northern Illinois vs Coastal Carolina (Orlando, Florida, 6PM 12/17 ESPN2)
These are two really underrated G5 programs that run fun offenses and come early in the bowl season where they won’t be overshadowed by bigger matchups.
24, Alamo Bowl: Oregon vs Oklahoma (San Antonio, Texas 9:15PM 12/29 ESPN)
The names are flashy, and the Alamo Bowl has had a ton of interesting games, but it’s hard to see a lot of stars playing in this one for either team as both coaches have moved on.
25. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Kent State vs Wyoming (Boise, Idaho 3:30PM 12/21 ESPN)
We’re getting to the point where a lot of these games are in the same ballpark of watchability. It’s higher than some others because of the quirky location and blue turf.
27. Myrtle Beach Bowl: Tulsa vs Old Dominion (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina 2:30PM 12/20 ESPN)
This game should be lower. I’m not sure why it’s here. If, for some reason, you have nothing do on the Monday before Christmas at work, turn this on, I guess.
28. Birmingham Bowl: Houston vs Auburn (Birmingham, Alabama 12:00PMET 12/28 ESPN)
Dana Holgorsen has famously packed it in for Bowl games, and I can’t imagine Auburn players thrilled about a noon kick in Birmingham.
29. Las Vegas Bowl: Wisconsin vs ASU (Las Vegas, Nevada 10:30PM 12/30 ESPN)
I can personally guarantee this game will not be fun to watch.
30. Pinstripe Bowl: Virginia Tech vs Maryland (Bronx, New York, New York 2:15PM 12/29 ESPN)
For some reason we like putting bowl games in cold baseball stadiums in the Northeast. I love New York City. It’s a pretty easy trip for me. There was a chance Penn State would end up here and I was absolutely not going to go. Can’t imagine many fans of these two teams will disagree. The game looks awful on TV, too, as Yankee Stadium was, believe it or not, not built with football in mind.
31. Gator Bowl: Wake Forest vs Texas A&M (Jacksonville, Florida 11AM 12/31 ESPN)
This game, played right before the two semifinal's, is an appetizer to the playoff games in the same way that a ham and cheese Lunchable would be an appetizer to a four-course meal at the best restaurant in the city.
32. Military Bowl: East Carolina vs Boston College (Annapolis, Maryland 2:30PM 12/27 ESPN)
This game is a nothingburger. It’s pretty funny that it’s the Military Bowl and one team is the Pirates and the other school was founded by a Catholic Sect that is famously anti-war.
33. Texas Bowl: Kansas State vs LSU (Houston, Texas 9PM 1/4 ESPN)
There are a lot of reasons why you won’t watch this game, but the biggest is that three days after the New Year’s Day bowls, you will forget that there are any games left other than the National Championship.
34. LA Bowl: Oregon State vs Utah State (Inglewood, California 7:30 PM 12/18 ABC)
Both of these teams had good years they both can be proud of, but I have to question the social life of someone who has nothing better to do than watch this game the Saturday evening before Christmas.
35. Boca Raton Bowl: Appalachian State vs Western Kentucky (Boca Raton Stadium 11 AM 12/18 ESPN)
I thought these two teams would have more history with each other, given the relative proximity and similar institutional and athletic profiles. That’s not the case and there aren’t any good reasons to watch this game in a horrific time slot where many of us will be recovering from office holiday parties the night before.
36. First Responder Bowl: Air Force vs Louisville (Dallas, Texas, 3:15PM 12/28 ESPN)
These are two not very good football teams and there are other good games on this day. Watch one of the other games, please.
37. Fenway Bowl: Viriginia vs SMU (Boston, Massachusetts 11AM 12/29 ESPN)
The only worse idea than playing postseason football in Yankee Stadium is playing it at Fenway Park, a city that may somehow be more apathetic about college football than New York.
38. New Mexico Bowl: Fresno State vs UTEP (Alburquerque, New Mexico 2:15PM 12/18 ESPN)
This game would be a lot higher, but with Fresno State Coach Kalen DeBoer and star quarterback Jake Haener off to Washington, it’s lost all of its luster.
39. Cirtus Bowl: Iowa vs Kentucky (Orlando. Florida 1PM 1/1 ABC)
The sport of football will regress during this game thanks to the Hawkeyes. 2021 Iowa may be the least fun ten-win team in the history of the sport. Their offense is always worse than you think, no matter how low your expectations are.
40. Sun Bowl: Washington State vs Miami (FL) (El Paso, Texas 12PM 12/31 CBS)
Two teams who will not have the head coach that started the season as the head coach for this game will almost assuredly look past it. I can’t imagine this game has more than 20,000 people in attendance.
41. LendingTree Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs Liberty (Mobile, Alabama, 5:45PM 12/18 ESPN)
If someone wants to watch Malik Willis, the Liberty quarterback that some NFL team will draft four rounds too high, I guess this could be entertaining. Otherwise, stay away.
42. Quick Lane Bowl: Western Michigan vs Nevada (Detroit, Michigan, 11AM 12/27 ESPN)
Nothing says bowl football like a Monday in Detroit at 11AM. I know that ESPN puts a lot of these games on for their own ratings, but SportsCenter really couldn’t attract higher viewership than this?
43. Camellia Bowl: Ball State vs Georgia State (Montgomery, Alabama 2:30PM 12/25 ESPN)
There’s NFL on Christmas day this year, and this game will overlap with the top two teams in the NBA, the Warriors and Suns, facing off. Count me out.
44. Frisco Football Classic: Miami (OH) vs North Texas (Frisco, Texas 12/23, TBA TBA)
Trevor gave this game a score of one, and mine wasn’t much higher. The name sounds stupid. It’s played in a soccer stadium. The game doesn’t even have a time slot or tv station assigned to it, as of 12/5. When you think of an excess of bowl games, the Frisco Football Classic should come to your mind.
Follow Garrett Carr on Twitter @RealGarrettCarr
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