Ultimate Guide to College Football Bowl Season
The College Football Playoff is the most exciting time of the season, but 37 other bowl games provide a near-daily entertainment buildup to the sport's championship tournament.
Midweek mayhem returns in a major way, since every day from Dec. 19 through Jan. 1—excluding one Sunday and Christmas, as usual—features at least one game.
Without question, our focus is on the two national semifinals, as the winners will square off for the national title. However, the final stretch of college football is stuffed with intriguing contests beyond the Rose and Sugar Bowls.
In addition to semifinals previews, Bleacher Report's guide covers underrated tilts, a Thursday loaded with terrific matchups, the best bowl giveaways and a ranking of all 39 pre-championship games.
Rose Bowl Game: Georgia vs. Oklahoma
When: Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)
That smug, Heisman Trophy-winning face hasn't faced a defense of this caliber.
Georgia hasn't needed to stop a quarterback like Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield.
If the national semifinal that interests you most is the Rose Bowl, we understand. Unlike the Sugar Bowl—we'll get to that in a moment—this showdown features a contrast of styles.
Mayfield, who has accounted for 46 touchdowns to only five interceptions, guided the country's most efficient and prolific offense. The Sooners tallied 8.4 yards per snap and 583.3 yards per game while averaging 44.9 points, the fourth-best mark in the FBS.
Oklahoma left tackle Orlando Brown highlights one of the nation's best offensive lines, but Georgia's front seven is loaded with NFL-caliber players. Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter, Trenton Thompson and D'Andre Walker are the biggest names to watch.
"I love a challenge," Mayfield said, per Andrew Astleford of SEC Country. "It's going to be a physical matchup. We like that."
Per OddsShark, Georgia is a two-point favorite. But we know better than to count out Mayfield.
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Clemson
When: Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Of any scenario that included both Clemson and Alabama in the College Football Playoff, this might be the most ideal.
For those of us who appreciate sustained excellence, we get Round 3. The first two matchups, both in the national title game, resulted in a thrilling fourth quarter and then an instant classic. The Crimson Tide celebrated the first, and the Tigers the second.
Plus, anyone who prefers varied championship matchups can be content since this CFP is guaranteed to promote one new team.
Clemson and Alabama thrived this season thanks to their defenses, earning top-six finishes—along with Georgia—in three major categories. It's no surprise the over/under is 47, according to OddsShark. Just five bowls have a lower over/under.
"We've obviously played each other last two years," Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said, per Grace Raynor of the Post and Courier. "It's come down to a few plays, and I don't doubt this one will be the same."
If Clemson can contain the Alabama rushing attack, Jalen Hurts will be forced to win the game through the air. That was a primary reason Auburn won the 2017 Iron Bowl. After all, only Calvin Ridley has 15 or more catches for the Tide.
Otherwise, the Tigers will need Kelly Bryant to put together his best Deshaun Watson impression and shred the Alabama defense.
Best Group of 5 Matchups
Yes, the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC garner most of the attention in the college football world. But we're not going to overlook the best matchups involving non-power conference programs.
Among meetings between two Group of Five programs, the Dollar General Bowl is the premier tilt.
Appalachian State clipped Toledo in the 2016 Camellia Bowl, when the teams alternated touchdowns until the decisive field goal late in the fourth quarter. The Rockets, whom OddsShark lists as a 7.5-point favorite, will be looking for redemption.
The Armed Forces Bowl provides the best chance for a sub-three-hour contest. Army and San Diego State rank third and 15th nationally in rushing attempts per game. Rashaad Penny needs 122 yards to record the 10th-most prolific rushing season in FBS history.
The Bahamas Bowl boasts the best location and one of the best storylines of the postseason. Following a two-year hiatus, UAB returned to the field and finished 8-4. The Blazers will take on Ohio, which quietly had the nation's No. 14 scoring offense.
It's our duty to mention Lane Kiffin and Florida Atlantic will host Akron in the Boca Raton Bowl, too.
Don't sleep on these matchups.
Don't Forget About Dec. 28
New Year's Day features the playoff semifinals (and more), and Dec. 30 holds a pair of New Year's Six games plus two intriguing matchups. There isn't much doubt Dec. 28 is the third-most appealing day, though.
Virginia and Navy start the action with a 1:30 p.m. ET kickoff. We're not suggesting you fire up the stream at work, but we're not not saying the Military Bowl would be worth your time. The Cavaliers made an unexpected charge to bowl eligibility, and the Midshipmen were 4-1 at home this season.
If you're able to get settled by 5:15 p.m. ET for the clash between Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State, we highly recommend it.
The Camping World Bowl will pit an aggressive Hokies defense against a dynamic Cowboys offense. There should be plenty of big plays in Orlando, Florida, where the Mason Rudolph-James Washington connection will feature for the final time.
A pair of 9 p.m. ET kickoffs will wrap up the night, with Washington State meeting Michigan State in the Holiday Bowl and Stanford playing TCU in the Alamo Bowl.
After enjoying those first two high-scoring matchups to begin the weekday, you can get a thumb workout by monitoring the Top 25 clashes. Or, if you have a two-screen setup (highly advised), there won't be many breaks in the action.
Best Bowl Giveaways
Sports Business Journal reported what each bowl will give its players. There is a $550 limit per individual.
Also, shoutout to Fossil, which provides a watch for 14 of the 39 games. You might have forgotten the company exists, but it dominates bowl season like no program can.
4. Peach Bowl
Please, oh please, Chick-fil-A, have a bunch of spicy chicken sandwiches available for Auburn and UCF, too. That would merit a one-spot boost in these rankings.
Nevertheless, the Peach Bowl's headliner is a $300 Visa gift card. In other words, it's effectively giving players $300 cash. That'll do. The Ultimate Ears Bluetooth speaker has received good reviews, and a Fossil watch and a football complete a wonderful gift package.
T-2. Citrus and Camping World Bowls
Orlando hosts both of these matchups, and the giveaways are the same.
Notre Dame, LSU, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State players can look forward to $400 trips to Best Buy. They'll also get Timely watches, but the shopping sprees are outstanding.
1. Fiesta Bowl
How much of a debate is this? Players will each receive a PS4 Pro bundle. Yeah, sure, they'll also get a Fossil watch and Ogio backpack, but it's a free gaming system for a college kid!
It's hard to suggest any other gift will be used more often.
All right, too-many-bowls crowd, I am talking to you.
If you don't want to watch, don't. Basketball is good. Hockey is good. Soccer is good. But as punishment, you're not allowed to complain about missing football until three weeks—the duration of bowl season—after the rest of us.
These rankings are based primarily on entertainment value and the strength of teams, while storylines were considered.
Tier 6: Happy to Be Watching Football
39. NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: Utah State vs. New Mexico State, Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. ET (CBSSN)
38. AutoNation Cure Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Georgia State, Dec. 16, 2:30 p.m. ET (CBSSN)
37. Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: Temple vs. Florida International, Dec. 21, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
36. Quick Lane Bowl: Duke vs. Northern Illinois, Dec. 26, 5:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Tier 5: Things Could Get Weird—in a Good Way
35. Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Arkansas State, Dec. 16, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
34. Walk-On's Independence Bowl: Southern Mississippi vs. Florida State, Dec. 27, 1:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
33. DXL Frisco Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. SMU, Dec. 20, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
32. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Central Michigan vs. Wyoming, Dec. 22, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)
31. Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Marshall vs. Colorado State, Dec. 16, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Tier 4: Some Sunday Talent
30. Cactus Bowl: Kansas State vs. UCLA, Dec. 26, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
29. Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl: Utah vs. West Virginia, Dec. 26, 1:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
28. Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl: Akron vs. Florida Atlantic, Dec. 19, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
27. New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Iowa vs. Boston College, Dec. 27, 5:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
26. Belk Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M, Dec. 29, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
25. R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Troy vs. North Texas, Dec. 16, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
24. Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman: Virginia vs. Navy, Dec. 28, 1:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
23. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Northwestern vs. Kentucky, Dec. 29, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
22. Hyundai Sun Bowl: North Carolina State vs. Arizona State, Dec. 29, 3 p.m. ET (CBS)
21. Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl: Texas vs. Missouri, Dec. 27, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Tier 3: Storylines and/or Scoring
20. Bahamas Bowl: UAB vs. Ohio, Dec. 22, 12:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
19. Outback Bowl: Michigan vs. South Carolina, Jan. 1, noon ET (ESPN2)
18. Hawai'i Bowl: Fresno State vs. Houston, Dec. 24, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
17. AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Iowa State vs. Memphis, Dec. 30, 12:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
16. Birmingham Bowl: Texas Tech vs. South Florida, Dec. 23, noon ET (ESPN)
15. Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: San Diego State vs. Army, Dec. 23, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
14. San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: Washington State vs. Michigan State, Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET (FS1)
13. Dollar General Bowl: Appalachian State vs. Toledo, Dec. 23, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
12. Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona vs. Purdue, Dec. 27, 8:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
11. Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State vs. Oregon, Dec. 16, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Tier 2: Great Players and Good Teams
10. TaxSlayer Bowl: Louisville vs. Mississippi State, Dec. 30, noon ET (ESPN)
9. Capital One Orange Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Miami, Dec. 30, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
8. Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford vs. TCU, Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
7. Citrus Bowl Presented by Overton's: Notre Dame vs. LSU, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET (ABC)
6. Camping World Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State, Dec. 28, 5:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Tier 1: Schedule Your Day Around These Bowls
5. PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: Washington vs. Penn State, Dec. 30, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)
4. Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: UCF vs. Auburn, Jan. 1, 12:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
3. Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: USC vs. Ohio State, Dec. 29, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
2. Allstate Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Clemson, Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m. ET (ESPN)
1. Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual: Georgia vs. Oklahoma, Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)