Ranking the 39 bowl games in 2019 from best to worst

Bowl season is upon us.

Before we get to the 39 matchups that will make the holiday season even more entertaining, let’s take a moment to remember Toledo. The Rockets were the only bowl-eligible team that missed out on playing a postseason game. With 79 eligible teams and 78 spots, one school had to be the odd man out.

That does mean, however, that there no 5-7 teams in bowl games for the second straight season. No, there aren’t too many bowl games, but that doesn’t mean every one will be easy on the eyes. Without further ado, here’s our power ranking of this year’s bowl schedule. 

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[For a full list of bowl games in chronological order, click here]

1. Fiesta Bowl (CFP semifinal): No. 2 Ohio State (13-0) vs. No. 3 Clemson (13-0) — Dec. 28, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

We’re banking on this game being a lot better than the last time these two teams played in the Fiesta Bowl in 2016. That was a 31-0 Clemson win. Ohio State is first in the country in scoring offense while Clemson is tops in scoring defense. And Clemson is fourth in scoring offense the Buckeyes are third in scoring defense. This has the potential to be one of the best semifinals ever. 

2. Peach Bowl (CFP semifinal): No. 1 LSU (13-0) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) — Dec. 28, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Jalen Hurts gets the chance to go up against some old SEC West foes. Hurts was 3-0 against LSU during his time at Alabama, but LSU will be heavily favored this time around with Joe Burrow — the likely Heisman winner — as the more heralded quarterback in this game. It should be a fun one. 

3. Rose Bowl Game: No. 6 Oregon (11-2) vs. No. 8 Wisconsin (10-3) — Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)

The Rose Bowl gets the top non-playoff spot in our rankings because these teams look incredibly even. And both are very good. It’s the last chance to see Oregon QB Justin Herbert — a potential early first-round draft pick — and likely the last chance to see Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor before he heads to the NFL. And the Rose Bowl always provides a gorgeous New Year’s backdrop. 

4. Citrus Bowl: No. 13 Alabama (10-2) vs. No. 14 Michigan (9-3) — Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET (ABC)

The appeal of this game comes with two polarizing coaches — Alabama’s Nick Saban and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh — as much as what could come on the field. This is the first time Alabama has missed the College Football Playoff. Where will the Tide’s motivation come from? Also, will Alabama’s NFL prospects even play in the game?

Alabama quarterback Mac Jones (10) talks with head coach Nick Saban during the Iron Bowl against Auburn on Nov. 30. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Alabama quarterback Mac Jones (10) talks with head coach Nick Saban during the Iron Bowl against Auburn on Nov. 30. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

5. Sugar Bowl: No. 5 Georgia (11-2) vs. No. 7 Baylor (11-2) — Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Georgia didn’t show up at the Sugar Bowl a year ago, metaphorically speaking. Will the Bulldogs show a little more fight against Baylor than they did against Texas? The Bears will come to play. Matt Rhule’s team hasn’t lost to anyone not named “Oklahoma” this year. And because Baylor does not have a live bear mascot that travels (thankfully?), we will not get a chance to see Uga have a mascot meeting again this season. 

6. Cotton Bowl: No. 10 Penn State (10-2) vs. No. 17 Memphis (12-1) — Dec. 28, Noon (ESPN)

Penn State was passed over for the Rose Bowl by Wisconsin and now gets to play a Group of Five champion, Memphis, that won’t have its head coach after Mike Norvell left for Florida State. Still, it will be fun to see how Memphis deals with the speed of Penn State’s front seven and, on a broader scale, how an AAC power contends with one of the Big Ten’s best. 

7. Outback Bowl: No. 12 Auburn (9-3) vs. No. 18 Minnesota (10-2) — Jan. 1, 1 p.m. (ESPN) 

Minnesota spent the last few weeks of the season in the top half of the CFP rankings until losing to Wisconsin to end the season. It should be fun to see how Minnesota schemes against Auburn’s great defensive front to get the passing game going to wide receivers Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson. A win would give Minnesota its best season since 1904 while Auburn is gunning for a 10-win season for the second time in the last three years.

8. Las Vegas Bowl: No. 19 Boise State (12-1) vs. Washington (7-5) — Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m. (ABC)

Chris Petersen is coaching his final game as Washington’s head coach and he’s doing so against the school where he made a name for himself, Boise State. How cool is that? Washington may have had a down season, but you know the Huskies will play hard for Petersen’s last game — especially against an excellent program like Boise State. 

9. Camping World Bowl: No. 15 Notre Dame (10-2) vs. Iowa State (7-5) — Dec. 28, Noon (ABC)

The pick of Iowa State for this game is a bit surprising. But with Texas off the board to the Alamo Bowl, the Camping World Bowl went with what will likely be a strong traveling Iowa State fan base. This should be a fun matchup of quarterbacks between Notre Dame’s Ian Book and Iowa State’s Brock Purdy. And did you know that an 11th win for the Irish could add to the winningest three-year stretch (2017-19) in Notre Dame history?

10. Liberty Bowl: No. 23 Navy (9-2) vs. Kansas State (8-4) — Dec. 31, 3:45 p.m. (ESPN)

Chris Klieman has proven to be an excellent fit in his first year at Kansas State replacing the legendary Bill Snyder. How his team deals with Navy’s option attack will be a challenge unlike any other the Wildcats have faced this year. 

11. Orange Bowl: No. 9 Florida (10-2) vs. No. 24 Virginia (9-4) — Dec. 30, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

The Cavaliers are in this game because the Orange Bowl is obligated to take the second-highest ranked ACC team if the conference champ is in the playoff. The Virginia offense is fun with QB Bryce Perkins and WRs Joe Reed, Terrell Jana and Hasise Dubois. The Florida defense gives up fewer than 15 points per game and QB Kyle Trask has completed over two-thirds of his passes since taking over as the starter from the injured Feleipe Franks. 

12. Alamo Bowl: No. 11 Utah (11-2) vs. Texas (7-5) — Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Utah was on the precipice of the College Football Playoff, but tumbled down to this game after losing the Pac-12 title game to Oregon. How will the Utes respond? And will Texas, after an extremely disappointing season, have the motivation to finish out the year on a high note? If so, it will be with several interim assistants. 

Tyler Huntley (1), Zack Moss and Utah tumbled to the Alamo Bowl against Texas. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Tyler Huntley (1), Zack Moss and Utah tumbled to the Alamo Bowl against Texas. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

13. Boca Raton Bowl: SMU (10-2) vs. Florida Atlantic (10-3) — Dec. 21, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

There will be no Lane Kiffin involved in this game but it should still be really fun. The Mustangs were one of the best stories of college football with an 8-0 start, while FAU dominated UAB on Saturday to win the Conference USA championship game. 

14. Cheez-It Bowl: Washington State (6-6) vs. Air Force (10-2) — Dec. 27, 10:15 p.m. (ESPN) 

Washington State’s Air Raid attack vs. Air Force’s option offense is going to be a really fun contrast of styles. It’s going to be a tall task to top the hilariousness of last year’s Cheez-It Bowl, but these teams should combine for a compelling game. 

15. Gasparilla Bowl: UCF (9-3) vs. Marshall (8-4) — Dec. 23 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)

UCF should have a big home crowd for this one as its fans don’t have to travel far down Interstate 4 to get to Tampa. This is Marshall’s second straight Gasparilla Bowl trip after beating South Florida a year ago. There is no North Florida or West Florida at the top level of college football so Marshall is now out of directional Florida schools to play in the postseason.

16. Holiday Bowl: No. 22 USC (8-4) vs. No. 16 Iowa (9-3) — Dec. 27, 8 p.m. (FS1)

USC quarterback Kedon Slovis has thrown for at least 400 yards in four of his team’s final five games, including a school-record 515 yards in the win over UCLA. But the Trojans’ air attack will be tested against Iowa, which ranks No. 10 nationally in pass defense, allowing just 184.2 yards per game. 

17. Texas Bowl: No. 25 Oklahoma State (8-4) vs. Texas A&M (7-5) — Dec. 27, 6:45 p.m. (ESPN)

Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard needs just 64 yards to join Barry Sanders as the second OSU player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. But it won’t be an easy task against a solid Texas A&M defense. Jimbo Fisher’s team has plenty of young talent. 

18. Gator Bowl: Tennessee (7-5) vs. Indiana (8-4) — Jan. 2, 7 p.m. (ESPN) 

If you have a chance to watch this game you should do so to appreciate what both Indiana has done this season and how Kentucky has adapted. A win for the Hoosiers would be the school’s first nine-win season since 1967. Tennessee, meanwhile, rebounded impressively from a miserable start to the season, finishing with five straight wins after a 2-5 start.

19. New Orleans Bowl: App State (12-1) vs. UAB (9-4) — Dec. 21, 9 p.m. (ESPN)

App State is fresh off of its second straight Sun Belt title and is averaging 39.4 points per game. The Mountaineers can win a bowl game for the fifth straight season if they knock off UAB, which got blown out in the C-USA title game. UAB led C-USA in total defense. 

20. New Mexico Bowl: Central Michigan (8-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3) — Dec. 21, 2 p.m. (ESPN) 

The Aztecs aren’t exactly the most exciting team to watch. San Diego State averages just 19 points per game and gives up 12. Central Michigan scores a lot more (30 points per game) but also gives up a lot more too. This could be a sneakily competitive bowl game and you should pick it over Christmas shopping. 

21. Hawaii Bowl: BYU (7-5) vs. Hawaii (9-5) — Dec. 24, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Here’s a game with two teams that played really well in the second half of the season. BYU closed out the season by winning five of six. Hawaii was on a four-game winning streak before dropping the Mountain West title game to Boise State, and hasn’t gotten to 10 wins since 2010. 

22. Belk Bowl: Kentucky (7-5) vs. Virginia Tech (8-4) — Dec. 31, Noon (ESPN)

This one is Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s final ride. The longtime DC is retiring at the end of the season and the Hokies named assistant coach Justin Hamilton to replace Foster on Sunday. On the other side, it’s the last time we’ll get to see Kentucky WR/QB Lynn Bowden in a college game. He’s been one of the more under-appreciated stories of the season.

Stopping Kentucky quarterback Lynn Bowden (1) will be a priority for Indiana in the Gator Bowl. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Stopping Kentucky quarterback Lynn Bowden (1) will be a priority for Indiana in the Gator Bowl. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

23. Music City Bowl: Mississippi State (6-6) vs. Louisville (7-5) — Dec. 30, 4 p.m. (ESPN)

In its first year under Scott Satterfield, Louisville has had an impressive turnaround following the debacle that was the end of the Bobby Petrino era. On the other side, we get to see if Mississippi State has any momentum stemming from this year’s Egg Bowl classic

24. LendingTree Bowl: Louisiana (10-3) vs. Miami, Ohio (8-5) — Jan. 6, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

The final non-title game bowl of the year pits two good Group of Five teams against each other. The Cajuns won 10 games in 2019 for the first time in school history while Miami has already recorded its best season since a 10-win campaign in 2010.  

25. Sun Bowl: Florida State (6-6) vs. Arizona State (7-5) — Dec. 31, 2 p.m. (CBS) 

Any game sponsored by Tony the Tiger is worth watching. Add in the potential for footage of Herm Edwards hamming it up with a Tony the Tiger mascot and it moves into must-watch territory. Oh, and Florida State will be there too. It could be Cam Akers’ final game. 

26. Bahamas Bowl: Charlotte (7-5) vs. Buffalo (7-5) — Dec. 20, 2 p.m. (ESPN)

The first bowl of the season starts in the best location. So take that Friday before Christmas off and pretend you’re in the Bahamas while you sip a beverage and watch some football. There is no better place for Charlotte to go to celebrate the program’s first bowl, and the contrast between Buffalo and the Bahamas in December can’t be more evident. 

27. First Responder Bowl: Western Kentucky (8-4) vs. Western Michigan (7-5) — Dec. 30, 12:30 p.m. (ESPN)

This game did not make it into the second quarter last year because of severe weather, so the battle of Western Kentucky and Western Michigan does not have a high bar to clear. And if there are no weather issues, the game features two very solid G5 programs. 

28. Cure Bowl: Georgia Southern (7-5) vs. Liberty (7-5) — Dec. 21, 2:30 p.m. (CBSSN) 

Hugh Freeze’s return to coaching has netted Liberty its first bowl game. The Flames hired Freeze after he spent the 2017 and 2018 seasons out of college football following his resignation at Ole Miss. The Liberty offense is fun and so is Georgia Southern’s. And they’re very different.

29. Military Bowl: Temple (8-4) vs. North Carolina (6-6) — Dec. 27, Noon (ESPN)

If you have not gotten a chance to watch Sam Howell, North Carolina’s true freshman quarterback, here’s your opportunity. He will get tested against one of the better teams in the AAC. In fact, Temple is the only team that has defeated Group of Five champion Memphis all season. 

Head coach Mack Brown will lead North Carolina in the Military Bowl. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Head coach Mack Brown will lead North Carolina in the Military Bowl. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

30. Redbox Bowl: California (7-5) vs. Illinois (6-6) — Dec. 30, 4 p.m. (FOX)

Cal helped give us the epic Cheez-It Bowl last year so maybe we should be hoping for more of the same in the Redbox Bowl. Illinois, meanwhile, is heading to its first bowl game since a trip to the Heart of Dallas Bowl after the 2014 season. 

31. Armed Forces Bowl: Tulane (6-6) vs. Southern Miss (7-5) — Jan. 4, 11:30 a.m. (ESPN)

Tulane had a hot start before ultimately sputtering late in the year, but Willie Fritz’s offenses are a lot of fun to watch. Southern Miss has the top passing offense in Conference USA, so this game will at least have a contrast in style from an offensive perspective. 

32. Pinstripe Bowl: Wake Forest (8-4) vs. Michigan State (6-6) — Dec. 27, 3:20 p.m. (ESPN)

Wake Forest lost three of its final four games as injuries started to mount. Michigan State, meanwhile, had to win its last two games just to get to .500. At least a trip to New York was the reward for that effort. 

33. Birmingham Bowl: Boston College (6-6) vs. Cincinnati (10-3) — Jan. 2, 3 p.m. (ESPN)

Cincinnati is a good team, but it is a pretty boring team. Boston College lost starting quarterback Anthony Brown to a season-ending injury, so it had to go really run-heavy with A.J. Dillon. Dillon has been one of the best backs in the country in recent years. He could be NFL-bound after this game. 

34. Frisco Bowl: Kent State (6-6) vs. Utah State (7-5) — Dec. 20, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

The Flashes have been outscored by an average of four points per game in 2019 but that doesn’t mean anything when you’re heading to your first bowl game since 2012 and just the third bowl game in program history. Utah State took a big step back in 2019 but still has QB Jordan Love, a potential early-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft. 

35. Independence Bowl: Miami (6-6) vs. Louisiana Tech (9-3) — Dec. 26, 4 p.m. (ESPN)

Miami’s first season under Manny Diaz was all over the place. The Hurricanes started 2-3, won four of five and then were upset by FIU and Duke in their final two games. Now, to avoid a losing season, Miami has to go to Shreveport and beat a school where Diaz once served as defensive coordinator: Louisiana Tech. 

Manny Diaz will lead Miami against his old school Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Manny Diaz will lead Miami against his old school Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

36. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Nevada (7-5) vs. Ohio (6-6) — Jan. 3, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

A trip to Boise is what Ohio coach Frank Solich gets to celebrate becoming the winningest coach in MAC history in 2019. Nevada, meanwhile, is just happy to not have to go to the Arizona Bowl for a third straight postseason game. 

37. Camellia Bowl: Arkansas State (7-5) vs. Florida International (6-6) — Dec. 21, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Florida International had a notable upset over Miami, but mostly underperformed otherwise this season. Butch Davis’ squad had C-USA championship aspirations. Perhaps a game against one of the worst defenses in the country (Arkansas State is No. 127 of 130 FBS teams in total defense), will allow FIU to finish the year with a winning record. 

38. Arizona Bowl: Georgia State (7-5) vs. Wyoming (7-5) — Dec. 31, 4:30 p.m. (CBSSN)

Both teams got wins over SEC teams in Week 1. Wyoming beat Missouri while Georgia State went on the road and beat Tennessee. You can expect a lot of rushing attempts in this one. 

39. Quick Lane Bowl: Pittsburgh (7-5) vs. Eastern Michigan (6-6) — Dec. 26, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Pitt went from having a chance to win the ACC Coastal title to playing a bowl game in Detroit against a 6-6 MAC team. Yikes. 

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