Ranking college football's 40 bowl games, from least to most entertaining

ByDavid M. Hale ESPN logo
Monday, December 16, 2019

There are people in this world -- poor, misguided souls -- who believe there are too many bowl games. They think having a 6-6 MAC team and a 7-5 Conference USA afterthought duke it out in a city that can't possibly have a stadium where football is played is somehow a bad thing. They think that, as we continue the sad, steady march toward a time of year when there will be no more college football that, of all things, we should have less of it now. They think that, in the land of 106-ounce fountain sodas and a Cheesecake Factory menu that reads like War and Peace, we shouldn't all enjoy more of a good thing.

Repeat after me: There is no such thing as too much college football. That being said, we've got 40 games to watch, so get your popcorn ready and let's draw up a road map from the least entertaining (note: We're not saying "worst," because they're all good) to the most entertaining.

Bowl tickets can be foundhere. All times Eastern.

40. Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl

Wyoming vs. Georgia State

Dec. 31, 4:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network

Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Arizona

In Week 1, Wyoming beat Missouri and Georgia State topped Tennessee, so the winner of this game will be officially named the third-best team in the SEC East.

39. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Ohio vs. Nevada

Jan. 3, 3:30 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Albertsons Stadium, Boise, Idaho

A 6-6 Ohio vs. a 7-5 Nevada -- two programs with virtually nothing in common -- is essentially the poster child for the idea that there are too many bowl games. But did you know Nevada has a win over a Big Ten team? Or that Ohio has scored 118 points in its last two games? There's good in every bowl game. You just have to know where to look.

38. Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl

Utah State vs. Kent State

Dec. 20, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2/ESPN App

Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas

Kent State won its last three games to get bowl eligible for the first time since 2012. The Golden Flashes are 0-2 in bowl games all time, so this could be history here. How often do you have a legitimate chance to witness history? Your parents remember the moon landing. You'll remember this.

37. FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl

Liberty vs. Georgia Southern

Dec. 21, 2:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network

Exploria Stadium, Orlando, Florida

It's fitting that a Liberty season that began with Hugh Freeze coaching from a hospital bed in the press box is ending with a date in the Cure Bowl. We're glad Freeze is doing better these days, but if he wanted to coach this one while riding a Shetland pony or slung over the hood of a 1981 Trans Am to spark the entertainment value a bit, that'd be OK by us.

36. Walk-On's Independence Bowl

Louisiana Tech vs. Miami

Dec. 26, 4 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Independence Stadium, Shreveport, Louisiana

The thing about the day after Christmas is that it's always so depressing. People are returning all the junk they didn't want. You feel bloated from all the overeating. There's discarded wrapping paper and batteries everywhere. The magic of the holiday season is over. And that's how it has felt to watch Miami all season, so this should fit right into your schedule.

35. New Mexico Bowl

Central Michigan vs. San Diego State

Dec. 21, 2 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Dreamstyle Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Aztecs won nine games despite never scoring more than 31 and topping 20 just five times. Central Michigan had the largest improvement in wins in the country in 2019, courtesy of head coach Jim McElwain. But most importantly, at some point during this game, someone on social media will post a photo of a guy who kind of looks like McElwain posing naked with a shark.

34. SERVPRO First Responder Bowl

Western Kentucky vs. Western Michigan

Dec. 30, 12:30 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Gerald J. Ford Stadium, Dallas

If you've ever wondered which state has the better western half -- Michigan or Kentucky -- well, have we got the game for you. The winner will be given full territorial rights over Middle Tennessee.

33. Quick Lane Bowl

Pittsburgh vs. Eastern Michigan

Dec. 26, 8 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Ford Field, Detroit

Eastern Michigan led the MAC, allowing pressure on just 22.6% of drop backs. Pitt has one of the most prolific defensive lines in the country. It may not be pretty, but this figures to be a solid battle in the trenches and, OK, maybe there's not much to get excited about here but Nietzsche said that life is suffering and it is incumbent upon us to find meaning in that suffering, so here's your chance.

32. Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl

Southern Mississippi vs. Tulane

Jan. 4, 11:30 a.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas

Tulane lost five of its last six games. Southern Miss was 1-4 against FBS opponents with a winning record. But this is the Armed Forces Bowl, and you owe it to the troops to watch this game anyway.

31. LendingTree Bowl

Louisiana vs. Miami (Ohio)

Jan. 6, 7:30 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Alabama

Nine days after the semifinals are played, four days after the last Power 5 team plays in a bowl, and two days after you've officially given up on your New Year's resolutions, we get the LendingTree Bowl. Good things truly are worth waiting for. Also, Louisiana's offense is really good, so you should definitely watch and probably join their booster club.

30. Celebration Bowl

Alcorn State vs. North Carolina A&T

Dec. 21, Noon, ABC/ESPN App

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta

In the five-year history of the Celebration Bowl, this marks the third time North Carolina A&T and Alcorn State have faced off. The Aggies have won the previous two, and the MEAC holds a 3-1 advantage overall. All of that info is really secondary to this: The bands will be amazing.

29. Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl

Buffalo vs. Charlotte

Dec. 20, 2 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium, Nassau

Charlotte's newest post-win hot spot is called Club Lit. The 49ers' 34-year-old head coach Will Healy has gone all out in creating a locker room that has everything: a DJ, strobe lights, that thing where the coach rips off his shirt and crowd surfs then wears scuba gear to promote bowl games in the Bahamas. No, it's not a Stefan sketch from "Saturday Night Live." This really happens.

28. SoFi Hawai'i Bowl

Hawai'i vs. BYU

Dec. 24, 8 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Aloha Stadium, Honolulu

No Power 5 schools here, but BYU and Hawaii were a combined 4-2 vs. the big boys this year (with wins over Arizona, Oregon State, Tennessee and USC). Besides, what else are you going to do at 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve? Assemble toys and spend time with family? Don't be silly.

27. TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl

Boston College vs. Cincinnati

Jan. 2, 3 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Legion Field, Birmingham, Alabama

Last year, Boston College was up 7-0 when its bowl game was canceled due to bad weather, so technically the Eagles owe you at least 12 overtime periods in this one as a make-up for all you missed last season.

26. TaxSlayer Gator Bowl

Indiana vs. Tennessee

Jan. 2, 7 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville, Florida

Indiana has a chance to get to nine wins for the first time since 1967. Think about that. The last time the Hoosiers won nine, there'd never been a man on the moon, an 11-year-old Larry Bird was shooting hoops in his driveway, and Jon Gruden had only been rumored for a Tennessee coaching vacancy once.

25. Camellia Bowl

Florida International vs. Arkansas State

Dec. 21, 5:30 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama

Arkansas State receiver Omar Bayless ranks second nationally in yards (1,473) and touchdowns (16) and is an absolute monster in the passing game. On the other hand, the Red Wolves ranked 127th in total defense. In other words, this is bound to be your annual Group of Five bowl game that ends with two teams scoring in the 50s and all of social media going crazy over two teams most people barely noticed the rest of the year.

24. Redbox Bowl

California vs. Illinois

Dec. 30, 4 p.m., Fox

Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California

Evan Weaver is the best defensive player west of the Mississippi, and Lovie Smith's beard is the best facial hair that doesn't belong to Tom Selleck. If those aren't good enough reasons to watch this game, there's something wrong with you.

23. R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl

Appalachian State vs. UAB

Dec. 21, 9 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

App State fans desperately wanted to play in the nearby Belk Bowl, but selection rules made it impossible. We hope those disappointed Mountaineers fans can find something to entertain themselves in New Orleans, a city noted for offering very little to out-of-town tourists.

22. Belk Bowl

Virginia Tech vs. Kentucky

Dec. 31, Noon, ESPN/ESPN App

Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina

This is the last year of Belk's sponsorship of this bowl game, meaning all bets are off for the Belk Bowl Twitter account during the game. Will it reveal the horrifying truth about why App State was snubbed from this game or will unseen forces use a pretty fun matchup between the Hokies and Wildcats to distract us from the awful conspiracy hiding right under our noses? To be continued ...

21. Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl

Florida State vs. Arizona State

Dec. 31, 2 p.m., CBS

Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Texas

Ranking the catch phrases for this game: 1.) Tony the Tiger's, "They're great!" 2.) Herm Edwards' "You play to win the game." 3.) Odell Haggins' "I'll be back to coach Florida State in the 2022 Birmingham Bowl." We kid. Best of luck to Mike Norvell at Florida State, where we're sure he'll do well if he can find a few offensive linemen hidden in Willie Taggart's couch cushions.

20. Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman

North Carolina vs. Temple

Dec. 27, Noon, ESPN/ESPN App

Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Maryland

There are two QBs this season who completed 60% of their throws, tossed at least 35 touchdowns and 3,300 yards, and threw less than 10 picks. The first will soon have a Heisman trophy on his bookshelf -- Joe Burrow. The other is UNC freshman Sam Howell. If you've not seen Howell play yet this year, you've been missing out.

19. New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Michigan State vs. Wake Forest

Dec. 27, 3:20 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Yankee Stadium, New York

Wake Forest has won three straight bowl games, all by eight points or fewer, including the last two by a total of six, so this one is virtually guaranteed to come down to the wire. Add in the halftime home run derby at Yankee Stadium, and this is can't-miss TV. OK, we were lying about the home run derby. Something for the Pinstripe Bowl folks to think about moving forward, though.

18. Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl

UCF vs. Marshall

Dec. 23, 2:30 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida

As an FCS member, Marshall won two national championships. And, of course, UCF is the 2017 national champs. Put two former national champs in a bowl game together, and you've got yourself some college football excitement.

17. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Mississippi State vs. Louisville

Dec. 30, 4 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee

Like defense? This is not the game for you. But if you want to see Kylin Hill run against the nation's 115th-ranked rush defense or Tutu Atwell go against a Mississippi State unit that ranked dead last in FBS in allowing explosive plays, well, hold on to your seat, because this one is going to be fun. Bettors note: Take the over.

16. Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl

SMU vs. Florida Atlantic

Dec. 21, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN App

FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida

This game will include 43 references to Lane Kiffin and 31 mentions of SMU's "death penalty" history, plus a whole heck of a lot of points. SMU finished the season sixth in total offense, while FAU was 16th -- the only bowl matchup between top-20 offenses outside the playoff.

15. Capital One Orange Bowl

Florida vs. Virginia

Dec. 30, 8 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida

Did you know this marks just the fourth time since the FBS/FCS split -- and the first since 1984 -- that the same team will play Florida State, Miami and Florida all in the same season? This one counts as the rubber match for Virginia, which toppled the Seminoles and, inexplicably, lost to the Canes.

14.Cheez-It Bowl

Air Force vs. Washington State

Dec. 27, 10:15 p.m., ESPN/ESPN AppN

Chase Field, Phoenix

Air Force vs. Air Raid in a bowl named after a snack food. This is appointment viewing. Every year, one game keeps us glued to our seats and ends with more than 100 points on the scoreboard. This is your odds-on favorite to be that game in 2019.

13. Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl

Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M

Dec. 27, 6:45 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

NRG Stadium, Houston

It's an old-school Big 12 showdown from back when the Big 12 actually had 12 teams. A&M and the Cowboys haven't faced off since 2011 when the Aggies left for the SEC, but Oklahoma State is riding a four-game win streak in the series. As for present-day drama, Chuba Hubbard needs just 64 rushing yards to top 2,000 for the year (he's had 100 in every FBS game this season) while Jimbo Fisher needs one more win to average less than $1M salary per victory in 2019.

12. AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Navy vs. Kansas State

Dec. 31, 3:45 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, Tennessee

The four teams in the 2019 playoff are a combined 51-1. That lone loss came to Kansas State. So, when we're putting together our transitive property national championship formula at the end of the year, just remember that all roads go through K-State, so this bowl game has some huge (albeit ridiculous) championship implications.

11. San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl

USC vs. Iowa

Dec. 27, 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1

SDCCU Stadium, San Diego

Fun fact: Every Iowa game this season has ended in a 16-13 score (Note: We did not confirm that fact but it feels right) so this game is virtually guaranteed to be a nail-biter. Add in the chance to see one of the country's best young QBs (USC's Kedon Slovis) throw against one of the most under-appreciated corners in Iowa's Michael Ojemudia, and this should be one of the best non-New Year's Six bowls of the year.

10. Camping World Bowl

Notre Dame vs. Iowa State

Dec. 28, Noon, ABC/ESPN App

Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida

There are 12 quarterbacks in the country who have racked up 3,300 total yards and 35 touchdowns this year. Three bowl games will feature head-to-head matchups between them: The two playoff games and this one, where Ian Book (3,303 yards, 37 TDs) takes on Brock Purdy (3,329 yards, 36 TDs).

9. Valero Alamo Bowl

Utah vs. Texas

Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Alamodome, San Antonio

Utah had its playoff hopes crushed in the Pac-12 championship game, while Texas had its playoff dreams end some time in 2012. But unlike Utah, which rarely gets much preseason hype, a Texas win here can officially gas up the Longhorns' bandwagon for 2020. Texas is back, baby! You heard it here first.

8. Allstate Sugar Bowl

Georgia vs. Baylor

Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

Both teams entered the final Saturday of the season with a shot at the playoff, which tells you all you need to know about the quality of this game. But remember, if Georgia doesn't win, it was because the game wasn't really important.

7. Outback Bowl

Minnesota vs. Auburn

Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida

P.J. Fleck's mantra is "row the boat." Minnesota is playing at Raymond James Stadium. Raymond James Stadium has a giant pirate ship adjacent to the field. That can't be a coincidence. If this game doesn't end with Fleck swinging on a rope from the ship's mast like Sloth in "Goonies," we're going to be disappointed.

6. Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl

Boise State vs. Washington

Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN App

Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas

Chris Petersen is coaching his last game at Washington against the team where his coaching career exploded into the mainstream. That's arguably the best storyline of bowl season outside of the playoff, even if it's a matchup the often reclusive Peterson certainly wouldn't have preferred. And while Washington has underperformed throughout the year, this remains one of the true powerhouse matchups of the postseason, and a chance to (hopefully) get a look at stellar freshman QB Hank Bachmeier at Boise State, who missed the latter half of the season with injury, and get (perhaps) a last look at Washington QB Jacob Eason, who could become a first-round NFL draft pick in April.

5. Vrbo Citrus Bowl

Michigan vs. Alabama

Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ABC/ESPN App

Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida

The over/under on players likely to sit out this one might be double digits, but it's still two of college football's blue bloods, still Nick Saban vs. Jim Harbaugh, and still a chance to ruminate on the fact that one second being put back on the clock in the Iron Bowl might be the reason Alabama is missing the playoff for the first time.

4. Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

Penn State vs. Memphis

Dec. 28, Noon, ESPN/ESPN App

AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Memphis' Kenneth Gainwell was thrust into action early in the year when star tailback Patrick Taylor went down with an injury. Now Gainwell is just 43 scrimmage yards away from 2,000 on the year. In the past 15 seasons, Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor is the only other freshman to do that. Meanwhile, Penn State led the nation in yards-per-rush allowed. And if that's not an impressive enough matchup for you, stick around for the myriad discussions of the American's place as the sixth Power 5 conference that are bound to come with a competitive performance by the Tigers.

3. Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual

Oregon vs. Wisconsin

Jan. 1, 5 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

There's no bowl outside the playoff better than the Rose Bowl. Who's playing? Doesn't matter. It's the Rose Bowl. From parade to postgame, every bit of the Rose Bowl is worth watching. That it just so happens to feature two teams that battled down to the wire for playoff bids certainly helps though. And if this is our last chance to see Jonathan Taylor run the ball as a college player, well, we'd be wise to savor every moment.

2. College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Oklahoma

Dec. 28, 4 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta

For the first time ever, Alabama is not in the playoff, but former Alabama QBJalen Hurtsis, and he's tasked with taking down the Tide's biggest SEC West adversary in LSU, so yeah, there's still at least a hint of Crimson in this year's march to a national title. Beyond that though, this game is all new-school. Joe Burrow's LSU offense is something to behold, and while Oklahoma is happy to talk up a rejuvenated defense, it might take the '85 Bears to stop these Tigers' attack. LSU, too, is hyping its D after closing out the season strong, but those numbers also came against a trio of less-than-spectacular offenses. Add all that up -- two elite offensive units, two shaky defenses in a playoff game -- and it sure looks like a recipe for some fireworks.

1. College Football Playoff Semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl

No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson

Dec. 28, 8 p.m., ESPN/ESPN App

State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

In the past decade, only the 2013 Florida State team that won the national championship had a higher average margin of victory than this year's Ohio State team entering the postseason. This year's Clemson comes in a close third on that list. This, in other words, is the ultimate unstoppable force vs. immovable object type of game, and the marquee matchups are all over the field. How will five-star tackle and Ohio native Jackson Carman slow down Chase Young? How will All-American corner Jeff Okudah match up against Tee Higgins? Can Isaiah Simmons corral J.K. Dobbins? Which QB -- both from suburban Atlanta, the top two recruits in the 2018 class -- will emerge victorious? This game has as much built-in excitement as any we've had in the playoff era thus far. Just sit back and enjoy.

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