A ranking of this year’s 40 college football bowl games based on watchability and entertainment value for viewers and fans alike.
Every bowl game has some value. There are always interesting matchups, a player to watch one final time or a chance to get a head start on reviewing next season’s stars. But not every game shares the same value. And with a busy month ahead, from work and play to holiday time with the family, it’s important to prioritize which bowls can be casualties of a packed schedule and which absolutely, positively should not be missed.
40. Heart of Dallas Bowl – Army vs. North Texas
A rematch of a game won on Oct. 22 by the Mean Green, which enters the postseason two games below .500.
39. New Orleans Bowl – Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Southern Miss
Interesting game for fans of both programs, who’ll fill up the Superdome. However, not so compelling for the rest of the country.
38. Bahamas Bowl – Eastern Michigan vs. Old Dominion
Intensity will be running extremely high in Nassau, since this is Eastern Michigan’s first bowl game since 1987 and Old Dominion’s first-ever postseason appearance.
37. Dollar General Bowl – Ohio vs. Troy
Two of the saltier Group of Five defenses will square off at Mobile’s Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
36. Potato Bowl – Colorado State vs. Idaho
The Rams enter the postseason on a tear, led by QB Nick Stevens and a deep backfield. Idaho has been a Sun Belt surprise in its penultimate season in the FBS.
35. New Mexico Bowl – New Mexico vs. UTSA
This game is a big deal for the Lobos, whose only bowl win occurred in 1961, and the Roadrunners, who are improbably bowling for the first time in the program’s brief history.
34. Cure Bowl – UCF vs. Arkansas State
The Knights were one of the feel-good stories out of the Group of Five conferences, rising from winless in 2015 to the Cure Bowl in Scott Frost’s debut season as a head coach.
33. Arizona Bowl – Air Force vs. South Alabama
The Falcons are eyeing a 10-win season under Troy Calhoun, but the Jaguars have already defeated the Mountain West champ, San Diego State.
32. St. Petersburg Bowl – Miami (OH) vs. Mississippi State
RedHawk Gus Ragland versus Bulldog Nick Fitzgerald shapes up as a sneaky-good matchup of sophomores quarterbacks.
31. Quick Lane Bowl – Boston College vs. Maryland
Scoring will come at a premium at Ford Field, as the Eagles and the Terps both look to finish the season with a winning record.
30. Military Bowl – Temple vs. Wake Forest
No disrespect to the Deacons, who are thrilled to be bowling again, but the Owls deserved to be matched with a better opponent after finishing as the second highest ranked Group of Five team.
29. Hawaii Bowl – Hawaii vs. Middle Tennessee
Great backdrop for a Christmas Eve bowl game. Pretty good matchup, too, as the Warriors shoot for .500 in Nick Rolovich’s first season.
28. Armed Forces Bowl – Louisiana Tech vs. Navy
A classic study in offensive contrasts, with the pass-happy Bulldogs and ground-and-pound Midshipmen both capable of scoring 40-plus points in Fort Worth.
27. Miami Beach Bowl – Central Michigan vs. Tulsa
There’ll be plenty of fireworks—and not much defense—as Chippewa Cooper Rush and Hurricane Dane Evans duke it out through the air at Marlins Park.
26. Independence Bowl – NC State vs. Vanderbilt
A winning season is a really big deal for the Pack and the Dores, particularly coaches Dave Doeren and Derek Mason, respectively, who’d benefit from extra job security entering 2017.
25. Camellia Bowl – Appalachian State vs. Toledo
The Mountaineers and Rockets are two of the best Group of Five teams that didn’t win outright league titles. The App State D versus the prolific Toledo attack will be riveting in Montgomery.
24. TaxSlayer Bowl – Georgia Tech vs. Kentucky
The Yellow Jackets finished on an improbable tear. For Mike Stoops and the Wildcats, a first bowl win in seven years would qualify as another important building block.
23. Birmingham Bowl – South Carolina vs. South Florida
It’s the second season for Gamecock rookie QB Jake Bentley, the future in Columbia. The Bulls already have a star behind center, junior dual-threat Quinton Flowers.
22. Foster Farms Bowl – Indiana vs. Utah
Tom Allen’s first game as the permanent successor to ousted Hoosier coach Kevin Wilson. The Utes have plenty of talent, but will they be motivated by this trip?
21. Poinsettia Bowl – BYU vs. Wyoming
It’s a renewal of a rivalry that’s already been played 77 times. The Cowboys were this year’s Mountain West surprise, while Cougar head coach Kalani Sitake has done a nice job in Year 1.
20. Pinstripe Bowl – Northwestern vs. Pittsburgh
Few teams have been more fun this year than Pitt, which has beaten two top 5 teams, Penn State and Clemson, and is averaging more than 42 points per game.
19. Cactus Bowl – Baylor vs. Boise State
Not a bad matchup, considering the schools have never met. However, Baylor has lost its last six and will have a tough time locating the motivation for a second-tier bowl game in Phoenix.
18. Boca Raton Bowl – Western Kentucky vs. Memphis
Putting the Hilltoppers and the Tigers on the same field guarantees points and plenty of aerial firepower. Quarterbacks Mike White and Riley Ferguson will likely trade blows until the final whistle.
17. Las Vegas Bowl – Houston vs. San Diego State
Two teams that had New Year’s Six bowl aspirations—and have rosters littered with talented playmakers. Greg Ward Jr. and Donnel Pumphrey in the same building is a recipe for excitement.
16. Liberty Bowl – Georgia vs. TCU
It’ll still be 2016 for another two days, but for Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Jacob Eason the Liberty Bowl represents the beginning of the 2017 campaign.
15. Texas Bowl – Kansas State vs. Texas A&M
K-State has the Big 12’s best defense. But A&M QB Trevor Knight is healthy again, and he’s surrounded by gifted playmakers, like RB Trayveon Williams and WR Christian Kirk.
14. Holiday Bowl – Minnesota vs. Washington State
QB Luke Falk and the potent Wazzu game against an underrated Gopher defense that yielded just 23 points per game.
13. Belk Bowl – Arkansas vs. Virginia Tech
Justin Fuente looks to reach 10 wins in his Hokie debut by taking down an opponent from the SEC.
12. Outback Bowl – Florida vs. Iowa
For fans who like high-flying offenses … well, the Outback Bowl isn’t designed with them in mind. But Gators-Hawkeyes features a ton of big hitters and defensive stars.
11. Music City Bowl – Nebraska vs. Tennessee
With more than a month to rest and get healthy, can Butch Jones have the Vols playing like they did during their 5-0 start? He can ill-afford a shaky bowl effort after the way the regular season ended in Knoxville.
10. Russell Athletic Bowl – Miami vs. West Virginia
The Canes looked outstanding in November, while using a plethora of underclassmen. The Mountaineer identity is rooted in gritty veterans and a north-south running game.
9. Alamo Bowl – Colorado vs. Oklahoma State
The Buffs and the Cowboys exceeded expectations, but fell a game short of a league crown. The Oklahoma State receivers versus the Colorado secondary is one of the premier head-to-head matchups of the entire bowl season.
8. Sun Bowl – North Carolina vs. Stanford
Who’ll be more dynamic in El Paso, Cardinal RB Christian McCaffrey or Tar Heel QB Mitch Trubisky? It could be the last time to see both playing as amateurs.
7. Cotton Bowl – Western Michigan vs. Wisconsin
Can the Broncos clear their final hurdle to a perfect season? They’ll have to be better than the Badger D, which is one of the nastiest units in the country.
6. Sugar Bowl – Auburn vs. Oklahoma
The Sooners head to New Orleans looking for their tenth win in a row. Baker Mayfield and the balanced offense face their toughest defensive test since the Week 3 loss to Ohio State.
5. Orange Bowl – Florida State vs. Michigan
Sound bytes from Jim and Jimbo. And a whole lot of frosty interactions between Seminole RB Dalvin Cook and Don Brown’s rugged Wolverine defense.
4. Citrus Bowl – Louisville vs. LSU
Lamar Jackson figures to win this year’s Heisman Trophy. Derrius Guice could unseat him in 2017. The Citrus Bowl marks Ed Orgeron’s first game since being named Les Miles’ permanent successor.
3. Rose Bowl – Penn State vs. USC
The Lions’ chance to make a statement that they, not Washington, belonged in the Peach Bowl. Few are hotter than the Trojans and redshirt freshman QB Sam Darnold, who’ll battle with Penn State linchpin leader Trace McSorley.
2. Peach Bowl – Alabama vs. Washington
Jake Browning versus the suffocating Bama D. Jalen Hurts versus Husky DBs Sidney Jones and Budda Baker. Chris Petersen and Nick Saban. But will it be competitive or a repeat of last year’s Cotton Bowl?
1. Fiesta Bowl – Clemson vs. Ohio State
Pound for pound, the most compelling and competitive matchup of the postseason. The Tigers and Buckeyes are near equals, with veteran quarterbacks, talent-rich defenses and coaches who’ve led their teams to playoff wins.