Remaining College Football Bowl Games with the Most Entertainment Value
The opening weekend of college football's 2018-19 bowl season was nothing special. Fresno State picked up a nice win over Arizona State, and Eastern Michigan lost by a one-possession margin for approximately the one billionth time in the past two seasons, but you didn't miss much if you forgot there were games on.
The good news is there's a whole lot of excitement ahead, beginning Tuesday with the Boca Raton Bowl.
Excitement comes in all shapes and sizes. Some people love high stakes. Others love high scores. You might be partial to defensive battles, but your best friend may prefer individual greatness or historical significance. Most of all, though, everyone enjoys a game that comes down to the wire. All of those elements were considered in compiling this list of the games you just have to watch over the next two weeks.
The following nine games are listed in chronological order, with the exception of the College Football Playoff semifinals, which are reserved until the end.
Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl
The Matchup: Northern Illinois (8-5) vs. UAB (10-3) on Dec. 18
This one is low on most radars, but there are several exciting factors for the Boca Raton Bowl.
First of all, this is the unofficial "there's football on every day now" game. The five games Saturday were a fun appetizer, but we're used to that. Tuesday night football is a rare delicacy, and it should be viewed as an entertaining start to the two-week descent into bowl mania. Having this game on its own day will give it an Army-Navy type of feel, insomuch as it has to be the game we'll all be watching and tweeting about.
Second, Bill Clark's work with UAB is one of the best stories of the past few years. The Blazers have already won two more games than in any other season in program history, and now they're trying to win their first bowl game.
Third, both of these teams won their conference championship games, making this a pseudo-playoff game. It's a shame the winner won't get a shot at UCF to prove it deserved to be in a better bowl game, but maybe it can declare itself the Group of Five national champion anyway.
The final and most noteworthy cause for excitement is that these are two excellent defenses. Led by Sutton Smith, Northern Illinois paced the nation in sacks, averaging nearly four per game. Clemson was No. 2, and UAB finished at No. 3. There aren't going to be many bowl games in which defensive playmakers are the primary selling point, so soak up this 17-14 type of affair while you can.
Jared Birmingham Bowl
The Matchup: Memphis (8-5) vs. Wake Forest (6-6) on Dec. 22
Then you're going to enjoy the Birmingham Bowl.
Memphis had one of the best offenses in the nation this year, ranking fourth in yards per game and seventh in scoring average. Sure, it was primarily against the AAC, which only has two competent defenses, both of which (Cincinnati and Temple) Memphis didn't have to play this season. But this team still displayed a lot of firepower.
Even though backfield phenom Darrell Henderson will be sitting out to prevent injury before the draft, the Tigers still have a QB who threw for more than 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns (Brady White), a wide receiver with more than 1,100 yards (Damonte Coxie), a "backup" running back who had 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns (Patrick Taylor Jr.) and an all-purpose performer who averaged 9.0 yards per touch (Tony Pollard). They can still score in bunches.
The Tigers will get to face a Wake Forest defense that allowed at least 34 points in seven of 12 games and gave up 220 or more rushing yards on five occasions. But the Demon Deacons also scored at least 50 points four times, and they should be able to do work against a Memphis defense that couldn't stop anything for most of the year.
This could be the season's highest-scoring bowl game. It would be Wake Forest's second straight season holding that title following last year's 55-52 win over Texas A&M in the Belk Bowl.
Camping World Bowl
The Matchup: West Virginia (8-3) vs. Syracuse (9-3) on Dec. 28
Excitement for the Camping World Bowl took a bit of a hit when West Virginia quarterback Will Grier and offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste announced their intentions to skip the game to prepare for the NFL draft.
Or did it?
Maybe the people who watch bowl games to do one last bit of draft scouting are disappointed, but this makes the game more intriguing to the throngs of fans who are only interested in college football. Now we get a chance to see the Mountaineers' QB of the future, Jack Allison.
Allison originally went to Miami, but he transferred to West Virginia after redshirting the 2016 season. He also sat out 2017 because of transfer rules, and he only played enough to attempt 10 passes in a few blowouts this season. That makes this bowl game the first time he has taken a meaningful snap since he was in high school in 2015.
That will be fun to watch, but also informative for anyone trying to cobble together way-too-early rankings for next season.
If you're looking for familiar faces, Allison will still be throwing passes to senior wide receivers David Sills V and Gary Jennings. And Syracuse dual-threat senior QB Eric Dungey will suit up for one final game, 29 rushing yards away from finishing his career with more than 2,000 rushing yards and 9,000 passing yards. The only other player since 2000 to hit those plateaus in fewer than 40 career games was Lamar Jackson.
Valero Alamo Bowl
The Matchup: Iowa State (8-4) vs. Washington State (10-2) on Dec. 28
Who's ready for one last chance to fear the 'stache?
Washington State QB Gardner Minshew II was one of the best breakout stories of the year, transferring in from East Carolina and throwing for 4,477 yards and 36 touchdowns as the leader of Mike Leach's air raid. Prior to dealing with a blizzard in the Apple Cup, he had at least 319 passing yards in each of his first 11 games. And there's no need to worry about snow in San Antonio.
But he'll need to contend with an Iowa State secondary that shut down West Virginia and caused major problems for Texas Tech—two teams that thrived in the passing game for most of the year. Only four opponents threw for more than 226 yards in a game against the Cyclones, and they still went 3-1 in those contests.
Iowa State's offense is no joke either. David Montgomery has been one of college football's best workhorse backs over the past two seasons, rushing for more than 1,000 yards as both a sophomore and a junior. And Hakeem Butler led the nation in yards per reception at a clip of 22.1. Of his 51 receptions, 10 went for at least 40 yards.
Bonus excitement factor for the history buffs in the crowd: Iowa State could tie a school record for wins in a season, matching its nine-win marks in 2000 and 1906. And Washington State is looking to set a program record with its 11th win. The Cougars have reached 10 wins five times—most recently in 2003—but never 11 or more.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
The Matchup: Missouri (8-4) vs. Oklahoma State (6-6) on Dec. 31
Bring on the passing yards.
Led by Taylor Cornelius, Oklahoma State averaged better than 300 passing yards per game, including a 501-yard game against Oklahoma in Bedlam. The Cowboys lost basically their entire passing attack from last season, yet they didn't lose much in potency, ranking 12th in the nation in passing yards per game.
Missouri was No. 25 in that category, but much of that can be attributed to the tough sledding in the SEC. The Tigers had to face Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Florida and South Carolina, which could stifle anyone's numbers. But Missouri had at least 370 passing yards, three passing touchdowns and 40 points in each of its four nonconference games.
The Tigers will be looking to rekindle that flame in Drew Lock's final college game, which shouldn't be much of a problem against an Oklahoma State secondary that struggled with every competent quarterback it faced. Same goes for Missouri's secondary, which allowed 572 passing yards against Purdue in the first of four consecutive games giving up at least three passing touchdowns and 37 points.
The Liberty Bowl doesn't mean as much as most of the other games taking place around New Year's Day, but that doesn't mean it'll be any less fun to watch this thing approach 100 combined points.
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl
The Matchup: LSU (9-3) vs. UCF (12-0) on Jan. 1
Like the Camping World Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl will be missing a few key players. Star LSU cornerback Greedy Williams is skipping the game to prepare for the draft, and it won't surprise anyone if linebacker Devin White—No. 4 overall on Matt Miller's latest big board—decides to do the same. Also, UCF will be without its starting quarterback of the past two seasons as McKenzie Milton recovers from a devastating leg injury suffered late in the regular season.
And yet, this might be the most important non-playoff game of bowl season.
UCF is seeking its 26th consecutive win, and it is hoping to knock off an SEC powerhouse for the second straight year. If the Knights are able to get the job done, it would be the first case of back-to-back undefeated seasons since Nebraska did it in 1994-95. As the discussion about expanding the playoff to eight teams approaches critical mass, a UCF win would give more credibility to the argument that there should be a spot reserved for a Group of Five team to compete for a national championship.
But this is also an important game for LSU, which is seeking its first 10-win season since 2013 and its first Top 12 ranking in the final AP poll since 2011. Les Miles got fired two years ago in large part because he kept getting mediocre production out of elite recruiting classes. Though Ed Orgeron has done a fine job with this team, a second consecutive 9-4 campaign would seem to be proof that things aren't improving in the bayou.
The Matchup: Ohio State (12-1) vs. Washington (10-3) on Jan. 1
You're going to watch the Rose Bowl because it's the Rose Bowl. Even in an era of so many bowl games that it's easy to lose count, this remains one of the most iconic sporting events of the year on an annual basis.
Better yet, it's usually doggone competitive. Six of the last eight Rose Bowls were decided by seven points or fewer. That includes last year's double-overtime affair between Oklahoma and Georgia, as well as the previous year when USC staged a fourth-quarter comeback to beat Penn State on a last-second field goal.
Could this be the most exciting non-championship game for a third consecutive year?
It's certainly possible, as this should be a great battle between an unstoppable Ohio State passing attack and a fierce Washington secondary.
Dwayne Haskins has averaged 433.3 yards and 4.7 passing touchdowns as the Buckeyes have put up 53.0 points over their last three games. But Washington has limited its last three opponents to 13.7 points, 172.7 passing yards and just one touchdown against five interceptions. Haskins destroyed Michigan's defense, but maybe the Huskies will have better luck.
Those strengths will give way to weaknesses when Washington has the ball. The Huskies have struggled on offense for most of the season, but Ohio State's defense has been about as effective as a sieve. And quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin, four-year starters for Washington, are hoping to make one final, positive impression.
Gaskin is 57 yards away from passing Herschel Walker for 15th on the all-time rushing list, and he could conceivably end his career as high as No. 12 with a big game in Pasadena.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl
The Matchup: Notre Dame (12-0) vs. Clemson (13-0) on Dec. 29
There's no rule mandating that the College Football Playoff semifinals be considered the most exciting, but it's also hard to argue against them as the two most entertaining bowl games, given the stakes at play.
Even though the Cotton Bowl is the only game that pits two undefeated teams against one another, it might be a little less exciting than the Orange Bowl because the top players involved aren't quite as noteworthy. That isn't to say the likes of Ian Book, Dexter Williams, Julian Love, Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne and Clemson's entire defensive line are no-name schlubs, but the quarterback battle in the Orange Bowl is more of a crowd-pleaser.
That said, this game has the potential to be incredible and should be the more competitive of the two CFP games.
Clemson was one of the preseason favorites to reach the national championship, and it has not disappointed. The Tigers had a couple of close calls in September, but they have been mowing down the competition for the past two months, winning eight straight by at least a 20-point margin. The Clemson offense has been great, and its defense—with the exception of the South Carolina game—has been a brick wall.
While Notre Dame spent most of the season as "that other undefeated team" behind Alabama and Clemson, the Fighting Irish are no fluke. They have also been dominant on defense, holding each opponent to 27 points or fewer. And their early offensive woes became a thing of the past when Book took over at quarterback and when Williams returned at running back.
Notre Dame has quietly averaged at least 6.25 yards per play in eight of its last nine contests, and it is going to make Clemson work its butt off to set up a fourth Tide-Tigers playoff showdown.
Capital One Orange Bowl
The Matchup: Oklahoma (12-1) vs. Alabama (13-0) on Dec. 29
If you need our help getting excited about this game, you probably found this article by accident and don't actually watch college football.
On top of being one of the semifinals for the national championship, it's Kyler Murray vs. Tua Tagovailoa (assuming his ankle doesn't keep him from playing) in a Heisman showdown for the ages.
This is the first time the Heisman winner and runner-up have squared off in a bowl game since USC's Reggie Bush vs. Texas' Vince Young in the 2006 Rose Bowl—which happened to be one of the greatest college football games ever.
For Murray, this is his chance to silence the naysayers who griped that he didn't deserve to win the Heisman because he never had to face an elite defense. And for Tagovailoa, this is his chance to take out some frustration on one of the worst defenses in the country.
Even though Alabama is a heavy favorite, there's a good chance this will be the highest-scoring bowl game of the year. If watching punts is your idea of entertainment, there are much better options out there. For the rest of us, this will be a can't-miss shootout full of fun as the winner advances to the national championship game.
Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.