Ranking the 28 college football bowl games from best to worst

The weirdest modern bowl season is here.

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic there’s just two days between the end of the college football season and the start of bowl season. The four teams that were selected for the College Football Playoff have just 12 days between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoff instead of the customary four weeks.

There are also a lot of teams with losing records in bowl games this year. Losing teams are playing in the postseason thanks to bowl contracts and other teams across the country choosing to end their seasons so players can be with their families.

A lot of bowls have been canceled too because of the pandemic and a lack of wanting teams. For a full list of the games that aren’t being played this year, click here. Below, we’re ranking the games that are still scheduled to be played from best to worst.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence runs for a touchdown against Ohio State during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football playoff semifinal Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence runs for a touchdown against Ohio State during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football playoff semifinal Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

1. Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1)

No. 2 Clemson (10-1) vs. No. 3 Ohio State (6-0)

Yes, we’ve seen this game before. This is the third semifinal meeting between Clemson and Ohio State in the last five years and last year’s matchup set a pretty high bar. The Tigers beat the Buckeyes 29-23 in the Fiesta Bowl to advance to the national title game. The game will probably be the last for either Ohio State QB Justin Fields or Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence as they’re both projected first-round picks in the 2021 NFL draft. And the biggest key for the Buckeyes will be its ability to prevent Lawrence from beating them deep down the field.

2. Rose Bowl (Jan. 1)

No. 1 Alabama (11-0) vs. No. 4 Notre Dame (10-1)

Alabama was immediately installed as a three-touchdown favorite after this game was announced. Notre Dame’s defense has been phenomenal but got picked apart by Trevor Lawrence in its loss to Clemson on Saturday. And Alabama’s offense 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 are going to need a big game from QB Ian Book and RB Kyren Williams to keep up with the Tide.

3. Cotton Bowl (Dec. 30)

No. 6 Oklahoma (8-2) vs. No. 7 Florida (8-3)

The Big 12 champion vs. a team that took Alabama to the wire in the SEC title game? Sounds like a pretty good matchup. Oklahoma’s defense has been really strong through the second half of the year and QB Spencer Rattler keeps getting better and better. Florida has one of the best offenses in the country, though surefire first-round pick Kyle Pitts has already announced he won’t be playing in this game. Hopefully, for the sake of college football fans, QB Kyle Trask does not follow suit.

4. Orange Bowl (Jan. 2)

No. 5 Texas A&M (8-1) vs. No. 13 North Carolina (8-3)

Former Texas coach Mack Brown gets to take on his former Big 12 rival in the final bowl game of the season. The Tar Heels have averaged over 40 points per game in 2020 and feature the nation’s best running back duo in Javonte Williams and Michael Carter. The two have each rushed for over 1,000 yards and combined for 28 rushing TDs. Aggies RB Isaiah Spiller isn’t too bad either. He has 993 yards and seven scores while senior QB Kellen Mond has completed over 63 percent of his passes and scored 23 TDs.

5. Boca Raton Bowl (Dec. 22)

UCF (6-3) vs. No. 16 BYU (10-1)

Do you like offense? UCF and BYU both rank in the top 10 nationally in total offense and average more than 500 yards per game. UCF is led by QB Dillon Gabriel (3,353 yards, 30 TDs) and wideout Marlon Williams (71 catches, 1,039 yards, 10 TDs). BYU had a tremendous year, only losing to undefeated Coastal Carolina. BYU QB Zach Wilson is a possible first-round pick, so this could be his final college game.

BYU quarterback Zach Wilson (1) reacts after their win against North Alabama in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/Jeff Swinger, Pool)
BYU quarterback Zach Wilson (1) reacts after their win against North Alabama in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/Jeff Swinger, Pool)

6. Peach Bowl (Jan. 1)

No. 9 Georgia (7-2) vs. No. 8 Cincinnati (9-0)

Georgia has looked great with USC transfer J.T. Daniels at QB. Daniels didn’t start the season as the top QB because of lingering knee issues from an ACL tear with the Trojans. Since he took over the starting role Georgia has scored 31 or more points in its last three games and over 40 in its last two. Cincinnati ran roughshod over the American for most of the year before winning the conference title game on a last-second field goal. QB Desmond Ridder could have gotten a few Heisman votes if Cincinnati had played more games in November and December.

7. Cure Bowl (Dec. 26)

No. 12 Coastal Carolina (11-0) vs. Liberty (9-1)

From a pure records perspective, this is one of the best matchups of bowl season. Coastal Carolina has been one of the stories of the season going undefeated and beating BYU in one of the best games of the year. The Chanticleers won’t be playing in a New Year’s Six bowl game, but they get a fun matchup against Liberty. The two teams were supposed to play on Dec. 5 until Liberty’s virus issues allowed BYU to be subbed in. Now we can see what that game would have looked like.

8. Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 2)

No. 25 Oregon (4-2) vs. No. 10 Iowa State (9-3)

The Ducks won the Pac-12 for the second consecutive year with a win over 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 came up short on Saturday in their bid to win a first Big 12 title. RB Breece Hall has rushed for 1,436 yards and has scored 21 TDs while Brock Purdy has thrown 18 TDs and rushed for four.

9. Outback Bowl (Jan. 2)

No. 11 Indiana (6-1) vs. Ole Miss (4-5)

Indiana goes from being the first team left out of the New Year’s Six bowl games to playing a sub.-500 SEC team. That’s a brutal beat. The Hoosiers deserve to play a team with a winning record. On the bright side for fans, Ole Miss is one of the more entertaining teams in the country and QB Matt Corral is the chaos QB. He’s scored 31 TDs and has two games with six turnovers.

10. Cheez-It Bowl (Dec. 29)

No. 18 Miami (8-2) vs. No. 21 Oklahoma State (7-3)

For the most part, Miami’s second season under Manny Diaz has gone really well with the addition of grad transfer QB D’Eriq King having a huge impact. The Hurricanes had a chance to go to the Orange Bowl, but were blown out by North Carolina. They will want to end their season on a high note against Oklahoma State, a team that was in the hunt for a Big 12 title for a while before fading down the stretch.

11. Arizona Bowl (Dec. 31)

No. 22 San Jose State (6-0) vs. Ball State (6-1)

This is a fun matchup of two conference champions. San Jose State capped an undefeated season with a Mountain West title game win over Boise State while Ball State upset Buffalo to win the MAC title game. San Jose State features explosive RB Tyler Nevens, a player who has rushed for 478 yards and 5 TDs on just 59 carries. Ball State QB Drew Pitt is completing nearly 66 percent of his passes and three Cardinal receivers are averaging over five catches a game.

San Jose State cornerback Charlie Bostic (25) celebrates after defeating Boise State in an NCAA college football game for the Mountain West championship, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
San Jose State cornerback Charlie Bostic (25) celebrates after defeating Boise State in an NCAA college football game for the Mountain West championship, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

12. Alamo Bowl (Dec. 29)

No. 20 Texas (6-3) vs. Colorado (4-1)

Following weeks of speculation about Tom Herman’s job status, Texas gets to return to the field against a Colorado team that was the biggest surprise of the Pac-12 this year. This will be the last game in a UT uniform for Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger, a four-year starter. He gets the chance to go 4-for-4 in bowl games. Colorado, meanwhile, is seeking its first bowl victory since 2004.

13. Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1)

Auburn (6-4) vs. No. 14 Northwestern (6-2)

The Tigers were 5-2 before losing to Alabama and Texas A&M on back-to-back weeks and ended the season with a win over Mississippi State. RB Tank Bigsby has rushed for six yards a carry while wide receiver Seth Williams is averaging over 16 yards a catch. They’ll be needed against a Northwestern defense that gave up just 15.5 points per game in 2020. The Wildcats never gave up more than 29 points in any game in 2020.

14. Camellia Bowl (Dec. 25)

Buffalo (5-1) vs. Marshall (7-2)

A few weeks ago, both of these teams were undefeated. Buffalo, led by explosive running back Jarret Patterson, cruised to the MAC East title but were surprisingly upset in the MAC championship game by Ball State. Marshall, meanwhile, started 7-0 and was ranked in the Top 25 before losing back-to-back games to Rice and then UAB in the Conference USA title game. The Thundering Herd have a very strong defense and will be a formidable matchup for Patterson.

15. Potato Bowl (Dec. 22)

Tulane (6-5) vs. Nevada (6-2)

Nevada was one of the Mountain West’s top teams in 2020 and was led by a high-flying passing attack that features QB Carson Strong (2,587 yards, 22 TDs) and WR Romeo Doubs (53 catches, 980 yards, 9 TDs). Tulane brings a contrasting style of offense running Willie Fritz’s unique offense. The Green Wave won four of their final five games entering bowl play, only losing to Tulsa in 2OT during that stretch.

16. First Responder Bowl (Dec. 26)

No. 19 Louisiana (9-1) vs. UTSA (7-4)

Louisiana is a really good team. The Ragin’ Cajuns opened the year by upsetting Iowa State on the road and only have one loss on the year — a three-point loss to undefeated Coastal Carolina on a last-second field goal. With his team winners of six straight, Billy Napier’s name has been connected to some big time jobs. UTSA is after its first-ever bowl win. The Roadrunners had a really nice season under first-year coach Jeff Traylor.

17. Duke’s Mayo Bowl (Dec. 30)

Wake Forest (4-4) vs. Wisconsin (3-3)

Wake Forest can put up points in bunches. The Demon Deacons scored 37 points per game this year, but they also allowed more than 30 points per game, leading to some high-scoring games. Wisconsin has been the opposite. The Badgers score an average of 22.3 points per game but allow only 15.7 per game. That contrast in styles could make for a pretty interesting matchup.

18. Gator Bowl (Jan. 2)

No. 23 NC State (8-3) vs. Kentucky (4-6)

The Wolfpack enter this game on a four-game win streak that includes a win over Liberty. That was Liberty’s only loss of the season. RB Zonovan Knight has rushed for nine touchdowns and also has 20 catches on the season. Kentucky, meanwhile, has lost four of its last six games and hasn’t beaten a team with a winning record in 2020. The Wildcats 21.7 points per game is 107th in the country.

19. Music City Bowl (Dec. 30)

Missouri (5-5) vs. No. 15 Iowa (6-2)

In Year 1 under Eli Drinkwitz, Missouri has found its quarterback in Connor Bazelak. Bazelak has thrown for 2,366 yards while completing 67 percent of his throws playing an SEC-only schedule. He’ll face another tough test going against Iowa, arguably the Big Ten’s best defense. The Hawkeyes started the year 0-2 but have won their last six games.

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette (6) is tackled by Wisconsin safety Eric Burrell (25) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette (6) is tackled by Wisconsin safety Eric Burrell (25) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

20. Texas Bowl (Dec. 31)

TCU (6-4) vs. Arkansas (3-7)

The Horned Frogs enter bowl season on a three-game win streak after victories over Kansas, Oklahoma State and Louisiana Tech. It’s a good bounceback after a 1-3 start that included a win over Texas. Arkansas has made progress under first-year coach Sam Pittman and was competitive for a majority of the season. That’s notable after how lackluster the Razorbacks have been.

21. New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 24)

Hawaii (4-4) vs. Houston (3-4)

Hawaii is in its first 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 played Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Houston may have had the worst schedule luck of any team in the country. The Cougars didn’t even play until Oct. 8 and then had several other games called off. They’re happy to be extending their season.

22. Montgomery Bowl (Dec. 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 for Mike Norvell (who replaced Taggart at FSU), led the Tigers to a 7-3 record. Memphis enters the bowl game having won four of its last five games. FAU was known for high-flying offenses under Lane Kiffin but was led by its defense this year. The Owls allowed just 16.5 points per game this year, ninth-best in the nation.

23. Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 31)

Mississippi State (3-7) vs. 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 middle of it wasn’t nearly as great. Tulsa won three more games in two fewer contests and lost to Cincinnati in the American title game. The Golden Hurricane probably deserve a better opponent and can make a statement with a convincing win.

24. Liberty Bowl (Dec. 31)

West Virginia (5-4) vs. Tennessee (3-7)

This is not a game nearly as appetizing as it would have been a few years ago. West Virginia’s best win is a 24-6 victory over TCU while Tennessee only beat Missouri, Vanderbilt and South Carolina. West Virginia RB Leddie Brown can top 1,000 yards in this game with 56 or more yards. Former five-star recruit Harrison Bailey appears to have secured the No. 1 QB job for the Vols.

25. Myrtle Beach (Dec. 21)

Appalachian State (8-3) vs. North Texas (4-5)

App State won the Sun Belt in 2018 and 2019 but fell short this year in its first season with Shawn Clark as head coach. The Mountaineers still had a strong season and will face North Texas, the team with the top passing offense in Conference USA. However, Jaelon Darden, UNT’s star receiver, has declared for the NFL draft and will not play.

Appalachian State Mountaineers quarterback Zac Thomas (12) runs the ball during an NCAA football game against the Marshall Thundering Herd on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020 in Huntington, W.VA. (AP Photo/Emilee Chinn)
Appalachian State Mountaineers quarterback Zac Thomas (12) runs the ball during an NCAA football game against the Marshall Thundering Herd on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020 in Huntington, W.VA. (AP Photo/Emilee Chinn)

26 New Orleans Bowl (Dec. 23)

Louisiana Tech (5-4) vs. Georgia Southern (7-5)

Louisiana Tech has been a perennial bowl team under Skip Holtz and are now playing in the postseason for the seventh straight season. The Bulldogs have won all six bowl games they have played under Holtz. That streak 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 note.

27. LendingTree Bowl (Dec. 26)

Western Kentucky (5-6) vs. Georgia State (5-4)

WKU was one of the favorites to win C-USA when the season began, but things were really ugly for a while. At one point, the Hilltoppers were 2-6, but now have a chance to get to .500 after closing out the regular season with three straight wins. While WKU enters the game on a three-game winning streak, Georgia State has won three of its last four games.

28. Gasparilla Bowl (Dec. 26)

UAB (6-3) vs. South Carolina (2-8)

Does anyone want to watch a 2-8 South Carolina with an interim coach play in the postseason? Not even Gamecock fans would quickly answer “yes” to that question. At least the game gives UAB the opportunity to beat an SEC team. The Blazers have been an awesome story since the program was shut down in 2015 and the comeback can get a boost with a win over a lowly Gamecocks team.

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