Bowl Watchability Rankings: Which Games Can You Absolutely Not Miss?
There are a lot of bowls. College football nuts will savor each of the postseason’s 40 bowl games, from the New Mexico Bowl to the national championship game, but for most of the country it isn’t practical to watch all of them. With plenty of holiday plans to get to, it’s important to prioritize which games you need to make time for.
So just as we did last year, we’ve ranked the 37 non-College Football Playoff games in terms of their watchability (we shouldn’t need to tell you that Alabama-Oklahoma and Clemson-Notre Dame are must-see TV). There’s no exact science to this. Factors considered include high-scoring potential, individual stars, how well the teams are playing right now, the game’s timing and many more. Let’s get to it.
37. Arizona Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Nevada (Dec. 29, 1:30 p.m. ET)
Let’s be real: No one is watching a game that starts during the Peach and Belk Bowls and ends during the first half of Notre Dame–Clemson.
36. Cure Bowl: Tulane vs. Louisiana (Dec. 15, 2:30 p.m. ET)
This game is buried on CBS Sports Network and sandwiched between two matchups that crack our top 15. You can do better on day one of bowl season.
35. Camellia Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. Georgia Southern (Dec. 15, 5:30 p.m. ET)
34. Cheez-It Bowl: Cal vs. TCU (Dec. 26, 9 p.m. ET)
This is pretty clearly the least watchable bowl between two Power 5 teams. These offenses are disgustingly bad, especially Cal’s, which broke 20 points once in its final five games.
33. Independence Bowl: Temple vs. Duke (Dec. 27, 1:30 p.m. ET)
Duke QB Daniel Jones has garnered NFL interest. He has also been awful in three of Duke’s last four games.
32. Texas Bowl: Baylor vs. Vanderbilt (Dec. 27, 9 p.m. ET)
Congrats to these teams for winning rivalry games that earned them bowl eligibility. Now they face off for a chance to end the year with a winning record and some momentum. Charlie Brewer against Kyle Shurmur is a pretty solid QB matchup.
31. Potato Bowl: BYU vs. Western Michigan (Dec. 21, 4 p.m. ET)
BYU’s wins over Arizona and Wisconsin didn’t turn out to be as impressive as the Cougars might have hoped. This feels like a close game.
30. Gasparilla Bowl: Marshall vs. South Florida (Dec. 20, 8 p.m. ET)
There isn’t much excitement around these teams right now. Marshall’s attempt to end Virginia Tech’s bowl streak ended in a beatdown and USF has lost five in a row by double-digits.
29. Armed Forces Bowl: Houston vs. Army (Dec. 22, 3:30 p.m. ET)
This would be significantly higher if Houston quarterback D’Eriq King (injury) and defensive lineman Ed Oliver (skipping for the NFL draft) were playing. Without them, it’s in the bottom ten.
28. Frisco Bowl: San Diego State vs. Ohio (Dec. 19, 8 p.m. ET)
This is the only game on Dec. 19, so the diehards will be watching. Something has to give between Ohio’s run-heavy attack and the Aztecs’ stingy run defense.
27. Military Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech (Dec. 31, Noon ET)
Virginia Tech’s bowl streak stretched to 26 by the skin of its teeth. Justin Fuente’s team gets a tough matchup against the Bearcats’ defense as its reward.
26. Quick Lane Bowl: Minnesota vs. Georgia Tech (Dec. 26, 5:15 p.m. ET)
PJ Fleck has the Gophers headed in the right direction. A bowl win would be another step in that process, though a matchup with Georgia Tech’s option offense won’t be easy. The Yellow Jackets will look to send coach Paul Johnson out on a high note.
25. Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii vs. Louisiana Tech (Dec. 22, 10:30 p.m. ET)
I commend anyone who plans on spending their Saturday night watching this game. This will be at its most entertaining when Hawaii is on offense: quarterback Cole McDonald taking deep shots to John Ursua, the nation’s leader in receiving touchdowns, while being chased by Jaylon Ferguson, who is tied for the national lead in sacks, should be fun. Make sure to check if it’s close after you come back from a night out.
24. Outback Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Iowa (Jan. 1, Noon ET)
Don’t expect much in the way of flashy offense in Tampa. This projects as a low-scoring affair, as the strength of both teams lies in the front seven. Montez Sweat and AJ Epenesa are future NFL defensive ends.
23. Boca Raton Bowl: UAB vs. Northern Illinois (Dec. 18, 7 p.m. ET)
Like the Frisco Bowl, this game has an entire day to itself. UAB (which didn’t have a football program two years ago) trying for its first ever bowl win against playmaking defensive end Sutton Smith and NIU makes for an interesting matchup between Group of Five conference champs.
22. Bahamas Bowl: Toledo vs. Florida International (Dec. 21, 12:30 p.m. ET)
Touchdowns should be in abundance in the Bahamas. FIU quarterback James Morgan will need a big day to keep pace with Toledo’s 41 points per game.
21. Belk Bowl: South Carolina vs. Virginia (Dec. 29, Noon ET)
Virginia probably doesn’t have the offensive weapons to hang with South Carolina, even without Deebo Samuel. It doesn’t help this game’s case that it’s at the exact same time as a fun Peach Bowl.
20. Holiday Bowl: Northwestern vs. Utah (Dec. 31, 7 p.m. ET)
It’s tough to have two division winners this low, but this game projects as a slog between stout defenses and less-than-explosive offenses. Utah is coming off a three-point effort in the Pac-12 title game; Rose Bowl execs are glad they got Ohio State and Washington instead.
19. New Orleans Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Appalachian State (Dec. 15, 9 p.m. ET)
App State is a legitimately terrific team, one with a great defense and running game that nearly took down Penn State in the season opener and went 10-1 the rest of the way. This will only be close if Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill has a big-time performance in his final college game.
18. Pinstripe Bowl: Miami vs. Wisconsin (Dec. 27, 5:15 p.m. ET)
Prior to the season, if someone had said these teams would be meeting for a rematch of the 2017 Orange Bowl, fans on both sides might’ve dreamed that it would be in the playoff. Instead, these preseason top-10 squads fell all the way to the Pinstripe. Jonathan Taylor is always a candidate to rush for 200 yards, but the Hurricanes have a nasty defensive front.
17. Dollar General Bowl: Buffalo vs. Troy (Dec. 22, 7 p.m. ET)
Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson is an intriguing pro prospect because of his 6'7", 245-pound frame. He’ll lead the Bulls against one of the Sun Belt’s best teams in a game that has no competition for the Saturday night slot.
16. Redbox Bowl: Michigan State vs. Oregon (Dec. 31, 3 p.m. ET)
Oregon’s Justin Herbert is in a group of roughly five players with a shot to be the first QB off the board in the 2019 NFL draft. How he does against an awesome Michigan State defense could determine a lot.
15. Sun Bowl: Stanford vs. Pitt (Dec. 31, 2 p.m. ET)
This will be an interesting battle of offensive approaches. Pitt loves to run the ball; the Panthers nearly ran for 500 yards against Virginia Tech. Stanford is usually run-heavy too but has become pass-focused thanks to Bryce Love’s disappointing senior year. The Cardinal’s jump ball specialist, 6'3" JJ Arcega-Whiteside, could be one of the first wide receivers drafted.
14. Las Vegas Bowl: Fresno State vs. Arizona State (Dec. 15, 3:30 ET)
If you haven’t watched Fresno State play this season, now is the time to rectify that. The Bulldogs have a fantastic defense that will be tested by running back Eno Benjamin, who finished third in the country with 1,524 rushing yards.
13. Birmingham Bowl: Memphis vs. Wake Forest (Dec. 22, Noon ET)
Memphis averages over 43 points per game behind Darrell Henderson, the nation’s leader with 2,204 yards from scrimmage. Wake Forest’s offense is coming off of a 59-point outing against Duke to clinch a bowl bid. The shootout potential is there.
12. New Mexico Bowl: Utah State vs. North Texas (Dec. 15, 2 p.m. ET)
Two of the best Group of Five quarterbacks will be on display in this one, with Utah State’s Jordan Love battling North Texas’s Mason Fine (combined 55 TDs and 10 picks).
11. First Responder Bowl: Boston College vs. Boise State (Dec. 26, 1:30 p.m. ET)
Quarterback Brett Rypien and Boise State’s offense battling a strong BC defense (featuring projected first-rounder Zach Allen) gives this game plenty of intrigue. The Eagles got off to a great start, then fizzled after losing to Clemson. What else are you going to do on the day after Christmas?
10. Gator Bowl: NC State vs. Texas A&M (Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET)
NC State quarterback Ryan Finley is a potential first-round pick (his top receiver Kelvin Harmon is too, but Harmon has announced he'll skip the game), and Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams is one of the best in the nation. The Aggies were part of two of the best games of the regular season: a narrow loss to Clemson in September and a seven-overtime win over LSU on Thanksgiving weekend.
9. Alamo Bowl: Iowa State vs. Washington State (Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET)
This game lost some of its luster on Saturday when Iowa State nearly lost to FCS non-scholarship program Drake. Still, it’s absolutely worth watching to see Gardner Minshew’s last college game. He had a phenomenal year and kept Washington State in the playoff discussion deep into November.
8. Citrus Bowl: Kentucky vs. Penn State (Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)
The Citrus brings together two very solid teams that came up short against the elite opponents in their division (Ohio State, Michigan, Georgia). Each side boasts an outstanding defense led by individual studs: Kentucky’s Josh Allen could be a top-five pick and Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos and Amani Oruwariye are underrated nationally. But if you only have one screen (if so, you should fix that), there’s a better game to watch in this time slot. Keep reading.
7. Liberty Bowl: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State (Dec. 31, 3:45 p.m. ET)
This should be a high-scoring affair between two great offenses. Missouri’s Drew Lock is another member of the group of candidates to be the first QB taken in April, and Oklahoma State’s Taylor Cornelius–Tylan Wallace connection is a good bet for several big plays.
6. Sugar Bowl: Texas vs. Georgia (Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m. ET)
Georgia came oh-so-close to making it back to the playoff, so it’s natural to wonder how motivated the Bulldogs will be for this consolation game. If they show up and play well, Texas is going to be in big trouble, which is the reason this game isn’t higher. The Longhorns weren’t the same team in the second half of the season. This one is absolutely worth watching for Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Georgia’s D’Andres (Walker, the linebacker, and Swift, the running back), but it doesn’t quite make our top five.
5. Camping World Bowl: West Virginia vs. Syracuse (Dec. 28, 5:15 p.m. ET)
If you like points, this is the game for you. West Virginia and Syracuse both average over 40 points per game and are led by dynamic senior QBs in Will Grier and Eric Dungey. This will almost certainly turn into a shootout in Orlando.
4. Music City Bowl: Purdue vs. Auburn (Dec. 28, 1:30 p.m. ET)
This ranking might seem high, but hear me out. Purdue’s offense, led by Rondale Moore and senior quarterback David Blough, is a ton of fun to watch. The Boilermakers are feeling good after Jeff Brohm chose not to leave for Louisville, and they’ll want to send Blough out with a win. Auburn’s physical defense will try to shut down said offense, making for a fascinating clash.
3. Peach Bowl: Michigan vs. Florida (Dec. 29, Noon ET)
This will be the third time in four seasons that Michigan and Florida have face off. They played in the 2015 Citrus Bowl and in Arlington to kick off the 2017 season, both resulting in Michigan victories. Points are a big factor on this list, but the Peach Bowl is not one of the games where that’s part of the appeal. These teams have talent all over the defensive side of the ball, from the Wolverines’ Chase Winovich and Devin Bush to the Gators’ Jachai Polite and Vosean Joseph. This will be a physical, intense game that comes down to which offense can make more plays.
2. Rose Bowl: Washington vs. Ohio State (Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET)
This year’s Granddaddy of Them All pits an explosive Ohio State offense against Washington’s fantastic defense. Buckeyes quarterback Dwayne Haskins is coming off an incredible performance in the Big Ten title game and can boost his draft stock even further if he has a big day against Ben Burr-Kirven, Taylor Rapp, Byron Murphy and the rest of playmakers within the Huskies’ D. On the other side of the ball, Myles Gaskin should find plenty of running room against Ohio State’s defense.
1. Fiesta Bowl: LSU vs. UCF (Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET)
Snubbed from the playoff after another perfect season, UCF will face the biggest threat yet to its winning streak (now at 25 games) on New Year’s Day. The Knights will be fired up to once again prove they can hang with the big boys in the SEC, and LSU figures to be more excited to play UCF than Auburn was last year. No McKenzie Milton is unfortunate, but Darriel Mack Jr. showed he’s no slouch with six total touchdowns in the AAC championship game. His dual threat ability against LSU’s defense—which will be without Greedy Williams but will have safety Grant Delpit and hopefully linebacker Devin White—should be fascinating to watch. This one is a great start to a fun day of football.