The bowl season is upon us, college football fans. Over the next three weekends, 41 games will be contested in the sport’s top division. Of course, only two of them involve teams hoping to play in the 42nd game a week later that will determine the national champion, but the rest will have their moments.
Obviously you’ll seek out the game involving the school with your rooting allegiance, but you might wonder which other games present the most compelling matchups. Naturally, in a lineup of 41 bowls, some are going to be better than others. Only the most devoted football watcher will be able to catch them all, but the average fan undoubtedly has other time commitments during the holiday season and must pick and choose which games will be most worthy of attention. We’re here to help.
Before delving into this exercise, a few words of explanation. This ranking is entirely arbitrary, based simply upon our subjective view of the quality of the teams and how they are matched – or possibly mismatched. Inevitably, some of these games are going to prove more interesting than their placement on the list, while others we think have great entertainment potential will disappoint. This is, after all, the era of the transfer portal and the opt-out, and the coaching carousel has already begun to spin as well. In many cases, we won’t get the teams we thought we were going to get actually taking the field.
With all that out of the way, here are all 41 bowl games – not including the to-be-determined College Football Playoff title tilt – ranked in order of watchability.
41. Music City Bowl: Iowa vs. Kentucky, Dec. 31, noon, ABC
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They might want to just go straight to penalty kicks to decide this contest that might have more punts than points. Iowa football has been pretty unwatchable all season, and the Wildcats’ top offensive players won’t be around. The good news is it’s on at the same time as the Sugar Bowl, so there should be a good alternative.
40. Arizona Bowl: Ohio vs. Wyoming, Dec. 30, 4:30 p.m.
This game is only available on streaming platforms, so unless you’re a devoted fan of the Bobcats or Cowboys, you aren’t likely to seek it out. Wyoming was blanked by MWC champ Fresno State in its last outing, and Ohio couldn’t do much on offense without its starting QB in the MAC title game against Toledo.
39. LendingTree Bowl: Southern Miss vs. Rice, Dec. 17, 5:45 p.m., ESPN
It’s hard to get excited about seeing a 5-7 team in a bowl, but the Owls will do their best to put on a good performance against a former Conference USA rival. The Golden Eagles sprang an early upset against Tulane but went 1-3 in November to close their first run through the Sun Belt.
38. Camellia Bowl: Georgia Southern vs. Buffalo, Dec. 27, noon, ESPN
OK, we’ll admit we might be holding the MAC’s recent bowl futility against it, but the Bulls needing a win against lowly Akron just to get eligible doesn’t instill confidence. Georgia Southern was involved in a lot of close games, however, so this one might surprise.
37. Frisco Bowl: Boise State vs. North Texas, Dec. 17, 9:15 p.m., ESPN
In theory, this meeting of teams that played for their respective conference titles would be higher. But North Texas pulled the plug on its coach anyway, and the Broncos, despite an uneven season, come from the stronger league and should still have a significant talent advantage.
36. Myrtle Beach Bowl: Marshall vs. Connecticut, Dec. 19, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
It’s not that these teams aren’t excited to be in a bowl. There just isn’t much flash from either offense. It might be close, just not all that entertaining.
35. Independence Bowl: Houston vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, Dec. 23, 3 p.m., ESPN
The Cougars were in their share of tight games, some of which probably shouldn’t have been. But the Ragin’ Cajuns aren’t nearly as good this year as their teams of recent vintage.
34. Guaranteed Rate Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Wisconsin, Dec. 27, 10:15 p.m., ESPN
The late kickoff time and the combination of two teams in transition make this an iffy proposition. The Cowboys stumbled down the stretch with QB Spencer Sanders sidelined, and the Badgers, like most of their Big Ten West brethren, don’t exactly light up the scoreboard.
33. Bahamas Bowl: Miami (Ohio) vs. Alabama-Birmingham, Dec. 16, 11:30 a.m., ESPN
It’s the first bowl to kick off, so there’s that. It’s hard to know what to expect from UAB following the announcement that interim coach Bryant Vincent will be replaced by Trent Dilfer, but the Blazers should still have a significant talent edge.
32. Birmingham Bowl: East Carolina vs. Coastal Carolina, Dec. 27, 6:45 p.m., ESPN
The Chanticleers’ defense was torched in its last two outings, and now the head coach and star quarterback are out the door. The Pirates are capable of putting up a big number, and they’ll be more than happy to demonstrate this after having last year’s bowl game canceled.
31. Las Vegas Bowl: No. 16 Oregon State vs. Florida, Dec. 17, 7:30 p.m., ABC
Bright lights, big city, bad bowl? The Gators have the brand name, but the first season under Billy Napier has been rocky and QB Anthony Richardson is off to the NFL. The Beavers have all the momentum after spoiling archrival Oregon’s Pac-12 title hopes.
30. Idaho Potato Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. San Jose State, Dec. 20, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
There probably won’t be much atmosphere at this afternoon weekday game between two mid-tier group-of-five teams. EMU can claim an early victory at Arizona State, but the Spartans easily handled their lone MAC opponent, Western Michigan, and will be playing a lot closer to home.
29. Boca Raton Bowl: Toledo vs. Liberty, Dec. 20, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
This matchup might have been better in early November. But the Flames effectively checked out down the stretch as coach Hugh Freeze was being wooed by Auburn, and the Rockets won the MAC but dropped back-to-back games after clinching their division.
28. Hawaii Bowl: San Diego State vs. Middle Tennessee, Dec. 24, 8 p.m., ESPN
The offensively challenged Aztecs are a tough watch, and the Christmas Eve time slot likely dooms this one to a small audience. But give the Blue Raiders credit for landing desirable destinations after going to the Bahamas last season.
27. Quick Lane Bowl: New Mexico State vs. Bowling Green, Dec. 26, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
A pairing of 6-6 teams would normally be much lower on the list, but in this case both participants are happy to be here and should put on a decent show. The Falcons haven’t been bowling since 2015, while the Aggies are in just their fifth bowl in program history.
26. Fenway Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Louisville, Dec. 17, 11 a.m., ESPN
The renewal of the long-standing ‘Keg of Nails’ neighborhood rivalry will at least have fans of both programs engaged, but the actual product on the field will be hard to predict with each undergoing staff changes. Cincinnati’s hire of Louisville’s coach adds a bit of spice, but Scott Satterfield has recused himself from any game preparations.
25. First Responder Bowl: Memphis vs. Utah State, Dec. 27, 3:15 p.m., ESPN
Not all 6-6 records are created equal. The Aggies had to overcome an early four-game losing streak to get here, while the Tigers’ .500 finish has some fans grumbling despite playing some top American Conference teams close.
24. Liberty Bowl: Kansas vs. Arkansas, Dec. 28, 5:30 p.m., ESPN
Any bowl appearance for the perennially downtrodden KU program would be cause for celebration, but the Jayhawks’ 1-6 finish has tempered some of the enthusiasm from their 5-0 start. Razorbacks’ fans are likewise disgruntled with their team’s lack of a finishing kick, though they did come up with the victory against Ole Miss in November to clinch bowl eligibility.
23. Cheez-It Bowl: No. 13 Florida State vs. Oklahoma, Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m., ESPN
This would have been a championship-game caliber matchup 20 – or even 10 – years ago. The Seminoles at least demonstrated some upward trajectory this season despite being out of the ACC hunt by mid-October. The Sooners salvaged something from a disastrous campaign by upending Bedlam rival Oklahoma State, but their leaky defense figures to be in for a long day.
22. Military Bowl: Duke vs. Central Florida, Dec. 28, 2 p.m., ESPN
The Blue Devils enjoyed a strong bounce-back season in Mike Elko’s first year at the helm. The Knights didn’t get the hoped for sendoff in their last run through the American Athletic Conference, so their level of interest for this encounter with Duke is difficult to gauge.
21. Duke’s Mayo Bowl: North Carolina State vs. Maryland, Dec. 30, noon, ESPN
Let’s just hope no one gives anybody the business when these two former ACC foes renew acquaintances. The Terrapins for the most part won the games they should have while negotiating the difficult neighborhood that is the Big Ten East, while a spate of injuries derailed a season of lofty goals for the Wolfpack.
20. Pinstripe Bowl: Syracuse vs. Minnesota, Dec. 29, 2 p.m., ESPN
This isn’t the warm-weather destination Minnesota fans were hoping for, but a last chance to see RB Mo Ibrahim in a Golden Gophers uniform makes this game worth a look. The Orange nonetheless figure to have more rooters in attendance at Yankee Stadium, where a pitchers’ duel seems likely as Syracuse also relies heavily on the ground game with Sean Tucker, but Minnesota defends the run well.
19. Gasparilla Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Missouri, Dec. 23, 6:30 p.m., ESPN
The Demon Deacons are far less delighted than in recent years heading into this postseason after dropping four of their last five games. Their games generally provide high drama as they both score and give up bunches of points, and the Tigers, who downed Arkansas in the season finale to achieve bowl eligibility, should be equipped to make it a track meet.
18. Citrus Bowl: No. 15 LSU vs. Purdue, Jan. 2, 1 p.m., ABC
Neither of these teams were expected to win their conference championship games against playoff-bound powers, but their most recent performances were disappointing nonetheless. Despite LSU’s late struggles, Purdue enters as the underdog, and the disruption of a coaching change undoubtedly hasn’t helped the Boilermakers’ preparations.
17. Texas Bowl: Texas Tech vs. Mississippi, Dec. 28, 9 p.m., ESPN
There’s fun potential here if both teams choose to make it so. The Red Raiders enter on a three-game winning streak, but the Rebels have dropped their last three, starting with the loss to Alabama that ended their SEC title hopes.
16. New Orleans Bowl: South Alabama vs. Western Kentucky, Dec. 21, 9 p.m., ESPN
Don’t sleep on this possible hidden gem in the second week of the lineup. The Jaguars, possibly the nation’s most under-the-radar 10-win team, came within a point of UCLA in Week 2 and lost a defensive battle to eventual Sun Belt champion Troy. They’ll be ready for a challenge from the Hilltoppers, who aren’t quite as prolific as last year when Bailey Zappe was slinging it around but are still putting up over 35 points a game.
15. LA Bowl: Fresno State vs. Washington State, Dec. 17, 3:30 p.m., ABC
Among the more promising matchups of the first weekend, the Mountain West champion Bulldogs, with a healthy Jake Haener back at the controls, get a third shot at taking down a Pac-12 squad. The Cougars were last seen being overwhelmed in the Apple Cup showdown with Washington but should still arrive ready to play.
14. New Mexico Bowl: SMU vs. Brigham Young, Dec. 17, 2:15 p.m., ESPN
If both offenses bring their A-game, this could rank among the highest-scoring contests of the postseason. The Mustangs just about broke the scoreboard in their 77-63 shootout victory against Houston in early November. BYU has been inconsistent as its season didn’t live up to expectations, but the talent is there to match big plays with SMU.
13. ReliaQuest Bowl: No. 23 Mississippi State vs. Illinois, Jan. 2, noon, ESPN2
The interest level in this post-playoff bowl will be elevated as the Bulldogs take the field for the first time since the untimely death of coach Mike Leach. The Fighting Illini won’t be able to match Miss State’s emotion, but the technically sound Illinois defense will still pose a formidable challenge.
12. Armed Forces Bowl: Air Force vs. Baylor, Dec. 22, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
Just as Army did last year at this venue, Air Force will bring its best effort to this opportunity to showcase service academy football. The Bears came back to earth a bit in 2022 after winning the Big 12 a year ago, but the defense, with time to prepare, could make it difficult for the Falcons’ option attack.
11. Sun Bowl: No. 18 UCLA vs. Pittsburgh, Dec. 30, 2 p.m., CBS
The good news is there’s a fair amount of next-level talent on both teams. The bad news is a number of those players probably won’t be around. Pitt QB Kedon Slovis has already re-entered the transfer portal, and several Bruins standouts are mulling draft decisions.
10. Holiday Bowl: No. 14 Oregon vs. No. 25 North Carolina, Dec. 28, 8 p.m., Fox
This bowl that regrettably wasn’t played last year when UCLA was unable to participate was once among the best of the non-New Year’s lineup. It could be again if these teams, whose seasons ended on a down note, show what they can do. Ducks QB Bo Nix was hampered by a bad wheel late in the season but is expected to play, and Tar Heels QB Drake Maye hopes to provide a preview of big things to come in 2023.
9. Cure Bowl: No. 22 Texas-San Antonio vs. No. 24 Troy, Dec. 16, 3 p.m., ESPN
The sneaky-good pairing of the postseason kicks off right out of the gate, so don’t miss it. Believe it or not, this day-one matchup is the only contest in the entire FBS bowl lineup pitting conference champions against each other. Yes, that even includes the playoff games, although Georgia and Michigan could provide a second such meeting in the CFP final. The C-USA champion Roadrunners are led by veteran QB Frank Harris, while the Trojans, just 5-7 a year ago, made a surprising run to the Sun Belt crown in Jon Sumrall’s first season as head coach.
8. Gator Bowl: No. 19 South Carolina vs. No. 20 Notre Dame, Dec. 30, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Clemson fans can be forgiven if they give this one a pass, but for the rest of the country, this clash of spoilers should be of interest. There is also bust potential either way, however, as neither team was especially consistent this season. The Gamecocks were red-hot over the last month, but the Notre Dame defense should give QB Spencer Rattler a challenge. Fighting Irish QB Drew Pyne is transferring out, so a ground-and-pound approach seems likely.
7. Alamo Bowl: No. 12 Washington vs. No. 21 Texas, Dec. 29, 9 p.m., ESPN
We’ll put this at the top of the non-New Year’s Six list, though some of the big-name stars are likely to sit it out, including Texas RB Bijan Robinson. The Longhorns should still be able to move the ball, and the Huskies are more than capable of keeping pace as they hope to finish off a superb bounce-back campaign.
6. Orange Bowl: No. 6 Tennessee vs. No. 11 Clemson, Dec. 30, 8 p.m., ESPN
We put this last among the majors due to the number of players sitting out to prepare for the draft, but there’s still plenty of fun potential. Tigers faithful will get a look at the near future with Cade Klubnik running the offense, and the Vols will work in a lot of young pass-catchers.
5. Cotton Bowl: No. 8 Southern California vs. No. 17 Tulane, Jan. 2, 1 p.m., ESPN
This turn on the big stage is a remarkable achievement for the Green Wave, who won just two games a year ago. They already own a victory against a power-conference champion (Sorry, K-State fans), so they won’t be intimidated by USC’s brand name. We must also hope Trojans QB and Heisman winner Caleb Williams will have had enough time to rehab his troublesome hamstring that took away a big part of his game in the Pac-12 finale.
4. Rose Bowl: No. 7 Penn State vs. No. 10 Utah, Jan. 2, 5 p.m., ESPN
The Granddaddy gets a quality matchup even though both participants have multiple losses. The Utes got their first taste of this atmosphere last year and would love to come home with a victory this time. The Nittany Lions won the games they were expected to this year but would like to finish with a top-10 triumph to validate their season.
3. Sugar Bowl: No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 9 Kansas State, Dec. 31, noon, ESPN
In terms of rankings, this is the topper among the non-playoff pairings. Hypothetically, any game involving Alabama has blowout potential, but the Crimson Tide have not been the juggernaut of years past, both winning and losing their share of tight ones. As for the Wildcats, the Big 12 champs are delighted with this opportunity and would love to cap off a huge season with a signature win.
2. Fiesta Bowl: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 TCU, Dec. 31, 4 p.m., ESPN
A case could be made for this one to be in the No. 1 spot. The Horned Frogs seem incapable of playing any game that isn’t a nail-biter, and we certainly hope that tendency continues and breaks the trend of semifinal routs. Michigan, however, knows how to put games on ice in the fourth quarter, and the imposing Wolverines offensive line will look to do just that once again.
1. Peach Bowl: No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 Ohio State, Dec. 31, 8 p.m., ESPN
But we’ll give the top nod to the prime-time game, given the past success enjoyed by both programs under this format. The biggest question is whether the Buckeyes’ high-octane offense can make any headway against the Bulldogs’ defense, which doesn’t generate a ton of pressure but is superb in coverage and knows how to stop the run. But the Ohio State defense that was torched by the Wolverines also has much to prove, and UGA QB Stetson Bennett knows how to get the ball to the right place.