Ranking the 28 college football bowl games from best to worst
The strangest modern bowl season has arrived.
Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, there are only two days between the end of college football season and the start of bowl season. The four teams selected for the College Football Playoffs have only 12 days between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs instead of the usual four weeks.
There are also many teams losing bowl game records this year. Losing teams play in the postseason thanks to bowl contracts and other teams across the country choosing to end their season so the players can be with their families.
Many bowls have also been canceled due to the pandemic and lack of teams. Click here for a full list of games that will not be played this year. Below we rank the games that should be played from best to worst.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is running for a touchdown against the state of Ohio in the first half of the semifinals of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football playoff on Saturday, December 28, 2019, in Glendale, Arizona. (AP Photo / Ross D. Franklin)
1. Sugar bowl (January 1st)
No. 2 Clemson (10-1) v No. 3 Ohio State (6-0)
Yes, we've seen this game before. This is the third semi-final between Clemson and the state of Ohio in the past five years, and last year's matchup set the bar pretty high. The Tigers defeated the Horse Chestnuts 29-23 in the Fiesta Bowl to advance to the national title game. The game will likely be the last for Ohio State QB Justin Fields or Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence as both were selected for the first round in the 2021 NFL draft. And the biggest key to the Buckeyes will be his ability to keep Lawrence from beating them deep in the field.
2nd Rose Bowl (January 1st)
No. 1 Alabama (11-0) v No. 4 Notre Dame (10-1)
Alabama was installed as a three-touchdown favorite immediately after this game was announced. Notre Dame's defense was phenomenal but was taken apart by Trevor Lawrence in his loss to Clemson on Saturday. And Alabama's crime is the best in the country. The Heisman Trophy could go to either QB Mac Jones or WR DeVonta Smith, and RB Najee Harris had 5 TDs in the SEC championship game. The Irish need a big game from QB Ian Book and RB Kyren Williams to keep up with the tide.
3rd Cotton Bowl (December 30th)
No. 6 Oklahoma (8-2) v No. 7 Florida (8-3)
The Big 12 champion against a team that hooked Alabama in the SEC title game? Sounds like a pretty good matchup. The Oklahoma defense was very strong in the second half and QB Spencer Rattler is getting better and better. Florida has one of the best offenses in the country, despite Kyle Pitts already announced he won't be playing in that game. Hopefully QB Kyle Trask doesn't follow college soccer fans.
4th Orange Bowl (January 2nd)
No. 5 Texas A&M (8-1) v No. 13 North Carolina (8-3)
Former Texas coach Mack Brown takes on former Big 12 rivals in the final bowl game of the season. The Tar Heels averaged over 40 points per game in 2020 and are the nation's best running-back duo with Javonte Williams and Michael Carter. The two have run over 1,000 yards each and have combined for 28 roaring TDs. Aggie's RB Isaiah Spiller isn't bad either. He has 993 yards and seven points while Senior QB Kellen Mond has completed over 63 percent of his passes and scored 23 TDs.
5th Boca Raton Bowl (December 22nd)
UCF (6-3) against No. 16 BYU (10-1)
Do you like insult UCF and BYU are both in the top 10 national offenses, averaging more than 500 yards per game. UCF is led by QB Dillon Gabriel (3,353 yards, 30 TDs) and Marlon Williams (71 catches, 1,039 yards, 10 TDs). BYU had an enormous year and only lost to the undefeated Coastal Carolina. BYU QB Zach Wilson is a possible first-round pick so this could be his last college game.
BYU quarterback Zach Wilson (1) reacts after beating North Alabama in an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo / Jeff Swinger, Pool)
6. Peach peel (January 1st)
No. 9 Georgia (7-2) v No. 8 Cincinnati (9-0)
Georgia partnered with USC Transfer J.T. Daniels at QB. Daniels didn't start the season as a top QB as he still had knee problems due to an ACL tear with the Trojans. Since taking the starting role, Georgia has scored 31 or more points in the last three games and over 40 in the last two. Cincinnati ran over the American for most of the year before winning the conference title game with a last-minute field goal. QB Desmond Ridder could have gotten a few Heisman votes if Cincinnati had played more games in November and December.
7th Cure Bowl (December 26th)
No. 12 Coastal Carolina (11-0) vs. Liberty (9-1)
From a pure record perspective, this is one of the best matchups of the bowl season. Coastal Carolina was one of the stories of the season that BYU beat unbeaten in one of the best games of the year. The Chanticleers don't play in a New Year's Six Bowl game, but they do get a fun matchup against Liberty. The two teams were scheduled to play on December 5, until Liberty's virus problems allowed BYU to intervene. Now we can see what this game would have looked like.
8th Fiesta Bowl (January 2nd)
No. 25 Oregon (4-2) v No. 10 Iowa State (9-3)
The Ducks won the Pac-12 for the second year in a row with a win over the previously undefeated USC on Friday night. Sophomore DE Kayvon Thibodeaux is quickly becoming one of the best linemen in the country and Oregon has scored 30 or more points in five of its six games. The Cyclones fell short on Saturday to win their first Big 12 title. RB Breece Hall ran for 1,436 yards and scored 21 TDs while Brock Purdy threw 18 TDs and rushed for four.
9th Outback Bowl (January 2nd)
No. 11 Indiana (6-1) vs Ole Miss (4-5)
Indiana is no longer the first team to be left out in the six bowl games of the new year, but instead plays a team under 500 SEC. It's a brutal beat. The Hoosiers deserve to play a team with a winning record. For the fans, Ole Miss is one of the most fun teams in the country, and QB Matt Corral is QB's mayhem. He has scored 31 TDs and two games with six turnovers.
10th Cheez-It Bowl (December 29th)
No. 18 Miami (8-2) v No. 21 Oklahoma State (7-3)
Manny Diaz's second season of Miami went very well for the most part as QB D'Eriq King's transfer made a huge impact. The Hurricanes had a chance to go to the Orange Bowl but were blown out by North Carolina. They'll want to end their season against Oklahoma State, a team that had been looking for a Big 12 title for a while before heading down the track.
11th Arizona Bowl (December 31st)
No. 22 San Jose State (6-0) v Ball State (6-1)
This is a fun matchup between two conference champions. San Jose State ended an undefeated season with a title win at Mountain West against Boise State, while Ball State angered Buffalo to win the MAC title game. Featured in the state of San Jose is the explosive RB Tyler Nevens, a player who ran 478 yards and 5 TDs with just 59 straps. Ball State QB Drew Pitt completes nearly 66 percent of his passes and three cardinals average more than five catches per game.
San Jose State cornerback Charlie Bostic, 25, celebrates after beating Boise State in an NCAA college football game for the Mountain West Championship on Saturday, December 19, 2020 in Las Vegas. (AP Photo / John Locher)
12th Alamo Bowl (December 29th)
No. 20 Texas (6-3) v Colorado (4-1)
After weeks of speculation about Tom Herman's job status, Texas may return against a Colorado team that was the Pac-12's biggest surprise that year. This will be the last game in a UT uniform for Longhorn's quarterback Sam Ehlinger, a four-year-old starter. He has the chance to play 4 on 4 in bowl games. Colorado, meanwhile, is aiming for its first bowl win since 2004.
13th Citrus Bowl (January 1st)
Auburn (6-4) versus No. 14 Northwestern (6-2)
The Tigers were 5-2 before losing to Alabama and Texas A&M for two straight weeks, ending the season with a win over the state of Mississippi. RB Tank Bigsby has run six yards per carry while wide receiver Seth Williams averages over 16 yards per catch. They are needed against a northwestern defense that dropped only 15.5 points per game in 2020. The Wildcats did not drop more than 29 points in any game in 2020.
14th Camellia Bowl (December 25th)
Buffalo (5-1) vs. Marshall (7-2)
A few weeks ago, both teams were unbeaten. Buffalo, led by explosively trailing Jarret Patterson, drove to the MAC East title but was surprisingly upset in Ball State's MAC championship game. Marshall, meanwhile, started 7-0 and was voted into the top 25 before losing two games to Rice and then to UAB in the Conference USA title game. The Thunder Herd has a very strong defense and will be an impressive matchup for Patterson.
15th potato peel (December 22nd)
Tulane (6-5) versus Nevada (6-2)
Nevada was one of Mountain West's top teams in 2020, led by a high-flying pass attack that involved QB Carson Strong (2,587 yards, 22 TDs) and WR Romeo Doubs (53 catches, 980 yards, 9 TDs). Tulane brings a contrasting style of offensive that Willie Fritz's unique offensive does. The Green Wave won four of their last five bowl games, losing only to Tulsa in 2OT during that stretch.
16th First Responder Bowl (December 26th)
No. 19 Louisiana (9-1) v UTSA (7-4)
Louisiana is a really good team. The Ragin ’Cajuns opened the year with an Iowa road disruption and have only one loss a year - a three-point loss to the undefeated Coastal Carolina on a last-minute field goal. With its six straight winners, Billy Napier's name has been linked to some great jobs. UTSA is after its very first bowl win. The Roadrunners had a really good season under their first year coach Jeff Traylor.
17. Duke's Mayo Bowl (December 30th)
Wake Forest (4-4) vs Wisconsin (3-3)
Wake Forest can collect points in grapes. The Demon Deacons scored 37 points per game that year, but also allowed more than 30 points per game, resulting in some high-score games. Wisconsin was the opposite. The Badgers average 22.3 points per game but only allow 15.7 per game. That style contrast could make for a pretty interesting matchup.
18th Gator Bowl (January 2nd)
No. 23 NC State (8-3) v Kentucky (4-6)
The Wolfpack enters this game with a winning streak of four that includes a win over Liberty. That was Liberty's only loss of the season. RB Zonovan Knight has completed nine touchdowns and scored 20 catches in the season. Kentucky has now lost four of its last six games and has not beaten any team with a 2020 win record. The Wildcats 21.7 points per game rank 107th in the country.
19th Music City Bowl (December 30th)
Missouri (5-5) versus No. 15 Iowa (6-2)
In the first year under Eli Drinkwitz, Missouri found its quarterback in Connor Bazelak. Bazelak has thrown 2,366 yards while completing 67 percent of his throws on an SEC-only schedule. He will face another tough test against Iowa, arguably the Big Ten's best defense. The Hawkeyes started the year 2-0 but won their last six games.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette, 6, an Iowa recipient, is attacked by Eric Burrell, 25, of Wisconsin in the first half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, December 12, 2020 in Iowa City, Iowa . (AP Photo / Charlie Neibergall)
20th Texas Bowl (December 31st)
TCU (6-4) versus Arkansas (3-7)
The Horned Frogs enter the bowl season with a three-game winning streak after beating Kansas, Oklahoma State and Louisiana Tech. It's a good rebound from a 3-1 start that included a win over Texas. Arkansas made progress under coach Sam Pittman during the freshman year and has been competitive for most of the season. This is remarkable after the Razorbacks were so lackluster.
21st New Mexico Bowl (December 24th)
Hawaii (4-4) versus Houston (3-4)
Hawaii is in its freshman year under Todd Graham and is playing in a bowl game other than the Hawaii Bowl for the first time since the 2007 season when the Rainbow Warriors Georgia played at the Sugar Bowl. Houston had possibly the worst offense of any team in the country. The Cougars didn't play until October 8th and then canceled several other games. They look forward to extending their season.
22nd Montgomery Bowl (December 23)
Memphis (7-3) vs. Florida Atlantic (5-3)
This is a matchup of two first year head coaches: Memphis' Ryan Silverfield and FAU's Willie Taggart. Silverfield, who took over Mike Norvell (who replaced Taggart at FSU), led the Tigers to a 7-3 record. Memphis enters the bowl game after winning four of its last five games. The FAU was known for high-flying crimes under Lane Kiffin, but was led by its defense that year. The owls only allowed 16.5 points per game that year, ninth best in the nation.
23rd Armed Forces Bowl (December 31st)
Mississippi State (3-7) versus No. 24 Tulsa (6-2)
The Bulldogs' first season with Mike Leach started with a win over LSU and ended with a win over Missouri. The center wasn't nearly that big. Tulsa won three more games in two fewer competitions and lost in the US title game to Cincinnati. The Golden Hurricane probably deserves better opponents and can make a statement with a convincing win.
24th Liberty Bowl (December 31st)
West Virginia (5-4) versus Tennessee (3-7)
This is not a game that is nowhere near as appetizing as it was a few years ago. West Virginia's best win is a 24-6 win over TCU, while Tennessee only beat Missouri, Vanderbilt and South Carolina. West Virginia RB Leddie Brown can reach over 1,000 yards with 56 yards or more in this game. Former five-star recruit Harrison Bailey appears to have secured the # 1 QB job for the Vols.
25th Myrtle Beach (December 21st)
Appalachian State (8-3) vs. North Texas (4-5)
App State won the Sun Belt in 2018 and 2019, but stayed behind in its first season with Shawn Clark as head coach that year. The climbers still had a strong season and will face North Texas, the highest-offense team in Conference USA. However, Jaelon Darden, UNT's star receiver, has signed up for the NFL draft and will not play.
Appalachian State Mountaineers quarterback Zac Thomas (12) plays the ball during an NCAA soccer game against the Marshall Thundering Herd on Saturday September 19, 2020 in Huntington, W.VA. (AP Photo / Emilee Chinn)
26 New Orleans Bowl (December 23)
Louisiana Tech (5-4) vs. Georgia Southern (7-5)
Louisiana Tech was a multi-year bowl team under Skip Holtz and is now playing the postseason for the seventh consecutive year. The Bulldogs have won all six bowl games they played under Holtz. This series will be tested against Georgia Southern and its triple option offense. The Eagles started the year 6-2 but have lost three of their last four. They want to end the season on a high level.
27th LendingTree Bowl (December 26th)
Western Kentucky (5-6) vs. Georgia State (5-4)
WKU was one of the favorites to win C-USA early in the season, but things were really ugly for a while. At one point the Hilltoppers were 2-6 but now have a chance to hit 500 after finishing the regular season with three straight wins. While the WKU comes into play with three wins, Georgia State has won three of its last four games.
28th Gasparilla Bowl (December 26th)
UAB (6-3) versus South Carolina (2-8)
Would anyone like to see a 2-8 South Carolina play with an interim manager in the postseason? Not even Gamecock fans would answer this question with “yes” quickly. At least the game gives UAB an opportunity to beat an SEC team. The Blazers have been a great story since the program was discontinued in 2015 and the comeback can get a boost from a win against a humble Gamecocks team.
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