With all due respect to a few beloved holidays on the calendar this month, the most wonderful time of the year is upon us: college football bowl season.
Sure, some may decry that there are too many or that they’re just glorified exhibitions. But the games are the best source of cross-country non-conference matchups we get and have some of the most wildly bizarre moments of the entire college football season on the regular.
And that’s not even getting to the ones that have real stakes and national implications attached.
To help you navigate them all, here’s a look at every postseason game and how each stacks up against the others from best, all the way down to the worst.
1. Peach Bowl (College Football Playoff semifinal)
Who: No. 1 Georgia (13-0) vs. No. 4 Ohio State (11-1)
When: Dec. 31, 8 p.m. ET
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga.
Why: What more could you ask for, really, in the reigning national champions looking to defend their title on home turf with a motivated blue blood coming into town intent on proving people wrong. NFL scouts will certainly be taking an interest, with draft picks all over the board set to play in this one. C.J. Stroud and a high-powered Buckeyes offense against a salty SEC defense full of speed? Sign us up.
2. Fiesta Bowl (College Football Playoff semifinal)
Who: No. 2 Michigan (13-0) vs. No. 3 TCU (12-1)
When: Dec. 31, 4 p.m. ET
Where: State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Why: The last time Michigan was out in the desert for this game, a certain Jim Harbaugh was quarterback for the Wolverines and scored twice amid a furious second-half comeback that got the team to No. 2 in the polls. Both Harbaugh’s current second-ranked team and his opponent have been stellar after halftime this season, and each will sport a pretty fascinating mix of playmakers capable of notching some big plays. The winner has a shot at their first national title this century and all the glory that comes with it.
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3. Rose Bowl
Who: No. 8 Utah (10-3) vs. No. 11 Penn State (10-2)
When: Jan. 2, 5 p.m. ET
Where: The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
Why: There is nothing in the sport more special than ringing in the New Year with those majestic, purple-laced San Gabriel Mountains at sunset and 90,000-plus of your closest friends cheering their hearts out. Both the Utes and Nittany Lions have been involved in some pretty epic games in Pasadena recently and chances are high they stage another one as the lead into some thrilling Monday night football. Keep in mind, that between hosting a semifinal next year and playoff expansion around the corner, this could be the last traditional Pac-12 vs. Big Ten matchup from the grandaddy of them all for quite some time.
4. Cure Bowl
Who: No. 24 Troy (11-2) vs. No. 25 UTSA (11-2)
When: Dec. 16, 3 p.m. ET
Where: Exploria Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
Why: There is just one bowl that matches up two conference champions: this one. Sun Belt kings Troy have one of the best defenses in the country (featuring FBS’ all-time leading tackler Carlton Martial) and are part of one of the more remarkable turnaround stories under first-year coach Jon Sumrall. The Roadrunners are playing their final game as part of CUSA, having won back-to-back league titles behind an offense that rises to the occasion at every turn with veteran QB Frank Harris. Not only is this a great strength vs. strength matchup, but it should provide some real bragging rights going into 2023 for the victor.
5. Holiday Bowl
Who: No. 15 Oregon (9-3) vs. North Carolina (9-4)
When: Dec. 28, 8 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app
Where: Petco Park, San Diego, Calif.
Why: Southern California in late December is a decent soft landing spot for two programs that once harbored playoff hopes but ended the regular season on a down note. Expect plenty of points given that both defenses are averse to tackling and the two quarterbacks involved find the end zone like a bear finds honey. Drake Maye could be a first-round pick after next season and should use this to relaunch his Heisman campaign after accounting for 42 touchdowns. The Ducks’ Bo Nix is no slouch, finding the end zone 41 times himself.
6. Alamo Bowl
Who: No. 12 Washington (10-2) vs. No. 20 Texas (8-4)
When: Dec. 29, 9 p.m. ET
Where: Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas
Why: Everybody loves a narrative and Steve Sarkisian facing off against his former team certainly provides one. Between him and current Huskies coach Kalen DeBoer, these are two of the best play-calling coaches around. Each has a multitude of weapons to utilize and a pair of highly touted QBs (Quinn Ewers and Michael Penix Jr.) at the controls. The last time both UW and Sark were in San Antonio, the bowl produced a 67-56 result. Even if Longhorns superstar Bijan Robinson opts to skip the festivities, the nation’s top passing attack should help get us close to those numbers.
7. Cotton Bowl
Who: No. 10 USC (11-2) vs. No. 16 Tulane (11-2)
When: Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Why: The Green Wave will head to Dallas for their first major bowl game since 1940 — quite a change from their most recent postseason trip to the, uh, Potato Bowl. Willie Fritz’s team also has to be licking its chops at facing that Trojans defense that has helped lead the country in turnover margin but also looks like a CFB version of the turnstile between the lines. Caleb Williams may still be impacted by that hamstring injury and the Trojans are bound to be dealing with a few departures, leading to a big spotlight on Tulane’s Michael Pratt and terrific tailback Tyjae Spears.
8. Orange Bowl
Who: No. 7 Clemson (11-2) vs. No. 6 Tennessee (10-2)
When: Dec. 30, 8 p.m. ET
Where: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, Fla.
Why: The Orangiest Orange Bowl … ever? The Tigers are set to fully unleash the Cade Klubnik era after the freshman QB took over in the ACC title game, and he and coach Dabo Swinney are hoping that this is just what the team needs to launch another playoff run in 2023. The Vols have to be thrilled to make it to a New Year’s Six game in Year 2 of Josh Heupel’s tenure even if QB Hendon Hooker won’t be on the field to help put up some points in what could be a fun outing in South Florida.
9. Sugar Bowl
Who: No. 5 Alabama (10-2) vs. No. 9 Kansas State (10-3)
When: Dec. 31, noon ET
Where: Superdome, New Orleans, La.
Why: At full strength, this meeting of CFP regulars and the Big 12 champs would likely be pretty one-sided. But once you factor in likely opt-outs from future first-rounders like Bryce Young and Will Anderson Jr., plus the Tide being completely unmotivated after missing out on a semifinal, and this could be a heck of a moment for the Wildcats to seize in the Big Easy. KSU is rolling right now and is a disciplined group that will have a great chance.
10. LA Bowl
Who: Fresno State (9-4) vs. Washington State (7-5)
When: Dec. 17, 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, Calif.
Why: Jake Haener is a baller, bouncing back from an early injury to help lead the Bulldogs to the MWC championship with eight straight wins. Kid is tough as nails and will get tested by the Cougars defense. Wazzu head coach Jake Dickert had some decent success defending against Jeff Tedford’s offense from a few years ago and will try to bring it down at the site of this year’s national title game.
11. ReliaQuest Bowl
Who: Illinois (8-4) vs. No. 22 Mississippi State (8-4)
When: Jan. 2, noon ET
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
Why: Hopefully everybody will be good to go in this one because it’s one of the best contrasts in styles you’ll find in the postseason. Mike Leach, of course, has his pass-happy Air Raid, but it will go up against Illini DC Ryan Walters’ unit that is one of the best in the country. MSU DC Zach Arnett is excellent, too, and should have fun using his 3-3-5 against Bret Bielema’s ground attack that features Doak Walker finalist Chase Brown.
12. Gator Bowl
Who: No. 21 Notre Dame (8-4) vs. No. 19 South Carolina (8-4)
When: Dec. 30, 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
Why: The Gamecocks ended the year on an absolute heater and largely helped impact the College Football Playoff with their wins over Tennessee and Clemson. Spencer Rattler would love to continue making big throws against a big name opponent and has a big stage to do so. The Irish were a CFB Jekyll/Hyde this season and are without QB Drew Pyne, who entered the transfer portal. Marcus Freeman would love a bit of momentum going into the offseason and knocking off a top-20 foe will go a long ways.
13. New Orleans Bowl
Who: South Alabama (10-2) vs. Western Kentucky (8-5)
When: Dec. 21, 9 p.m. ET
Where: Superdome, New Orleans, La.
Why: USA hasn’t been around as a program all that long and, despite coming up just short in Sun Belt play, this is likely the best campaign in school history. They’d love to end it with a bowl game and will bring Kane Wommack’s stiff defense to the Big Easy to face a high-powered WKU attack that throws the ball all over the yard.
14. Sun Bowl
Who: Pitt (8-4) vs. UCLA (9-3)
When: Dec. 30, 2 p.m. ET
Where: Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Texas
Why: This could end up being one of the better meetings of tailbacks in the postseason, with Pitt’s Izzy Abanikanda being the focal point of the offense and Zach Charbonnet being among the best in FBS in all-purpose yardage. Bruins QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson has given his heart to helping turn around things in Westwood and would love to end with a jaw-dropping hurdle or two in notching a 10th win.
15. Citrus Bowl
Who: No. 17 LSU (9-4) vs. Purdue (8-5)
When: Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET
Where: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
Why: Normally a game pitting the SEC runner-up with the Big Ten runner-up would be must see. This isn’t quite to that level, but it does present plenty of intrigue with some vertical passing games. Aidan O’Connell has been a warrior for the Boilermakers and will look to end his career on a high after that disappointment in Indy while it might be worth Brian Kelly going all in on Garrett Nussmeier as the starter after what he did in the second half against Georgia.
16. Las Vegas Bowl
Who: No. 14 Oregon State (9-3) vs. Florida (6-6)
When: Dec. 17, 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas, Nev.
Why: We don’t get the Pac-12 vs. the SEC all that often, much less in the postseason. But we will moving forward in Sin City, and the first edition of the rebooted Vegas Bowl offers plenty of intrigue. Jonathan Smith is one of the most underrated coaches in the country and his Beavs are among the toughest and resilient groups around. It hasn’t been a great debut campaign for Billy Napier, but his return to the West will bring added pressure and a big challenge in stopping a very fun offense to watch.
17. Military Bowl
Who: Duke (8-4) vs. UCF (9-4)
When: Dec. 28, 2 p.m. ET
Where: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Md.
Why: It’s Duke, in a bowl game! Mike Elko has led a remarkable turnaround in Durham during his first year in charge, with a nifty offense being helmed by QB Riley Leonard and a defense that has made massive strides. They’ll go up against a Knights team moving to the Big 12 after this and feature one of the best play callers around in Gus Malzahn.
18. Armed Forces Bowl
Who: Air Force (9-3) vs. Baylor (6-6)
When: Dec. 22, 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas
Why: The Bears are a bit let down in how they defended their Big 12 title but always seemed to make things close in the fourth quarter of big games this season. Dave Aranda is a defensive mastermind and will have his work cut out against the Falcons’ option and 1,612 yard rusher Brad Roberts. Given how much each side runs the ball, it would be a disappointment if this game takes more than three hours, too.
19. Fenway Bowl
Who: Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Louisville (7-5)
When: Dec. 17, 11 a.m. ET
Where: Fenway Park, Boston, Mass.
Why: The Keg of Nails hasn’t taken place since 2013 but will be on the line for these two old MVC/CUSA/Big East/AAC rivals who are a short drive away from each other. The last two times they’ve met, things went to overtime, so hopefully that’s a trend that continues. To make things even spicier, the Bearcats moved to replace Luke Fickell with none other than their opponent’s head coach Scott Satterfield … 12 days before the game. Oh, and the two sides share a sideline at the bandbox ballpark. Fun, fun, fun.
20. Cheez-It Bowl
Who: No. 13 Florida State (9-3) vs. Oklahoma (6-6)
When: Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. ET
Where: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
Why: While both programs have played a series since, this is the first meeting in the postseason since a memorable 2001 Orange Bowl handed the Sooners a national title. A youthful Bob Stoops is no longer on the sideline, but it would be good for new head coach Brent Venables to get some momentum going into the offseason. The ‘Noles have made a lot of strides under Mike Norvell and would love to highlight just what kind of playmaker QB Jordan Travis is.
21. Liberty Bowl
Who: Arkansas (6-6) vs. Kansas (6-6)
When: Dec. 28, 5:30 p.m. ET
Where: Liberty Stadium, Memphis, Tenn.
Why: The Jayhawks are going bowling for the first time since 2008! What more do you need to know, really? Well, they do have a pretty fun signal-caller capable of making some incredible plays when needed in Jalon Daniels, and this could be a nice building block for much more under Lance Leipold. The Hogs have dealt with a ton of injuries over the course of 2022 but can climb above .500 if electric QB KJ Jefferson gets rolling. Expect a fun shootout amid a sea of red and blue no matter what.
22. Texas Bowl
Who: Texas Tech (7-5) vs. Ole Miss (8-4)
When: Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
Why: The Rebels at their best were capable of going against anybody in the country, but they’ve lost their last three and could be undergoing plenty of roster changes despite Lane Kiffin sticking around. The Red Raiders would love to cap Joey McGuire’s first year in Lubbock with a bowl win over an SEC foe. Given the head coaches involved in this one, expect a record number of fourth-down attempts.
23. Birmingham Bowl
Who: East Carolina (7-5) vs. Coastal Carolina (9-3)
When: Dec. 27, 6:45 p.m. ET
Where: Protective Stadium, Birmingham, Ala.
Why: It feels like this should involve some sort of bizarre trophy given the implications within the state for two well-supported programs. The Chants won’t have their head coach, but it could be Grayson McCall’s swan song, which is reason enough to tune in given how good the QB has been the past few years. Holton Ahlers can sling it around, too, and will be looking to make the Pirates’ first bowl game since 2015 a memorable one.
24. Pinstripe Bowl
Who: Minnesota (8-4) vs. Syracuse (7-5)
When: Dec. 29, 2 p.m. ET
Where: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y.
Why: Everybody’s attention nowadays on the backfield involves the quarterback but let’s use this unique baseball venue to showcase two of the better running back around in Cuse’s Sean Tucker and the Gophers’ Mo Ibrahim, who is just shy of 1,600 yards and second in FBS with 19 rushing TDs. Plus, Dino Babers and P.J. Fleck are two of the most effusive and animated head coaches around, so there’s bound to be something fun happen on the sidelines.
25. Duke’s Mayor Bowl
Who: No. 23 N.C. State vs. Maryland (7-5)
When: Dec. 30, noon ET
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
Why: Mike Locksley has already signed up for a mayo bath if the Terps win, which might be enough for some to tune in. Dave Doren doesn’t quite seem like the same type, but maybe he can be convinced to join in. Injuries have hit each team hard this season, but this might turn into a fun meeting of Maryland’s high-flying offense and a stout Wolfpack defense.
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26. New Mexico Bowl
Who: BYU (7-5) vs. SMU (7-5)
When: Dec. 17, 2:15 p.m. ET
Where: University Stadium, Albuquerque, N.M.
Why: The Cougars have to be a tad disappointed at how things went this season given the injury situation and overall record they take South from Provo. Still, they have a ton of playmakers on both sides of the ball, which is good because the Mustangs are top 15 in a number of offensive categories and would love to deal another future Big 12 member a loss.
27. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Who: San Jose State (7-4) vs. Eastern Michigan (8-4)
When: Dec. 20, 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Albertsons Stadiums, Boise, Idaho
Why: Two of the nation’s most underrated head coaches hit the blue turf for a fun MWC vs. MAC meeting. The Eagles are looking to get to nine wins for the first time since 1987, which is the only time they’ve also won a bowl game. The Spartans haven’t been the same since tragically losing a teammate, but do sport one of their league’s best defenses and the always fun to watch Chevan Cordeiro running around and tossing the ball around.
28. Arizona Bowl
Who: Ohio (9-4) vs. Wyoming (7-5)
When: Dec. 30, 4:30 p.m. ET
Where: Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz.
Why: Both sides are missing their best offensive players, but have managed to fight to a pretty solid campaign that ends out in the warm weather of the desert. The Cowboys constantly are a tough group under Craig Bohl and play pretty good defense while the Bobcats are hoping to get their first bowl win under second-year turnaround author Tim Albin.
29. Boca Raton Bowl
Who: Toledo (8-5) vs. Liberty (8-4)
When: Dec. 20, 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Fla.
Why: The Rockets are kings of #MACtion after holding off Ohio and seem much better when they have a healthy Dequan Finn under center. Liberty is hoping to put a bad three-game losing streak to bed and help celebrate the hire of Jamey Chadwell as their new head coach down by the beach.
30. Guaranteed Rate Bowl
Who: Wisconsin (6-6) vs. Oklahoma State (7-5)
When: Dec. 27, 10:15 p.m. ET
Where: Chase Field, Phoenix, Ariz.
Why: Have to love the coaching chess match involved in this one as DC-turned-interim-turned DC Jim Leonhard faces off against veteran Mike Gundy seeking his 12th bowl victory. The Badgers are looking to avoid their first losing season since 2001 and will need to navigate a new head coach taking over in Luke Fickell, and the absence of QB Graham Mertz to the portal.
31. Frisco Bowl
Who: Boise State (9-4) vs. North Texas (7-6)
When: Dec. 17, 9:15 p.m. ET
Where: Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
Why: The MWC runners-up take on the CUSA runners-up, one with an interim OC and another with an interim coaching staff after Seth Littrell was fired on Sunday. Broncos QB Taylen Green is extremely fun to watch as one of the best dual-threats out West, while the Mean Green throw it all over the place behind 29-year-old signal-caller Austin Aune.
32. Myrtle Beach Bowl
Who: UConn (6-6) vs. Marshall (8-4)
When: Dec. 19, 2:30 p.m. ET
Where: Brooks Stadium, Conway, S.C.
Why: The Huskies were consistently among the worst teams in all of FBS prior to the change Jim Mora Jr. has instituted in the program, doing some heavy lifting in notching six wins (more than the past four years combined) and reaching a bowl for the first time since 2015. The Thundering Herd had a successful first year in the Sun Belt and are looking to get to nine wins after previously upsetting Notre Dame early in the season.
33. Gasparilla Bowl
Who: Missouri (6-6) vs. Wake Forest (7-5)
When: Dec. 23, 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
Why: These two teams have been moving in opposite directions the second half of the season, with the Tigers rallying to get bowl eligible and the Demon Deacons dropping four of their last five. The defenses aren’t great, the offenses are capable of scoring in a hurry and both coaches are likely to break out a trick play or two too.
34. Camellia Bowl
Who: Georgia Southern (6-6) vs. Buffalo (6-6)
When: Dec. 27, noon ET
Where: Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Ala.
Why: The Eagles have traded their option for the aerial attack and have had mixed results so far in the first season under Clay Helton. They did knock off Nebraska but also had some stumbles in Sun Belt play. The Bulls had to reschedule a game and pulled it out with a wild fourth-quarter comeback to even get to this game.
35. Bahamas Bowl
Who: Miami (Ohio) (6-6) vs. UAB (6-6)
When: Dec. 16, 11:30 a.m. ET
Where: Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas
Why: It’s a bowl game being played in the Bahamas, do you really need more? OK fine, here’s another reason: UAB running back DeWayne McBride is the nation’s leading rusher and the school just hired former Super Bowl winner/TV analyst Trent Dilfer.
36. First Responder Bowl
Who: Utah State (6-6) vs. Memphis (6-6)
When: Dec. 27, 3:15 p.m. ET
Where: Gerald J. Ford Stadium, Dallas, Texas
Why: Both of these .500 teams could use a win to help usher in the offseason after two pretty disappointing campaigns. The Aggies have been a real rollercoaster team but don’t quite have everything together offensively to really scare you. The Tigers, meanwhile, have a penchant for blowing big leads and seem to always be involved in wild finishes.
37. Hawaii Bowl
Who: San Diego State (7-5) vs. Middle Tennessee (7-5)
When: Dec. 24, 8 p.m. ET
Where: Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex, Honolulu, Hawaii
Why: If you are cooped up and want to be jealous of two teams being out on the islands for Christmas, this is where you turn. The Blue Raiders have some playmakers at their disposal that they used to help beat Miami not too long ago while the Aztecs have somehow rallied to win the bulk of their games down the stretch with QB-turned-safety-turned-QB Jalen Mayden making things happen.
38. Music City Bowl
Who: Kentucky (7-5) vs. Iowa (7-5)
When: Dec. 31, noon ET
Where: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.
Why: The fifth-worst Power 5 offense is set to start a quarterback who has taken a snap collegiately. Their opponent might do the same and just fired their OC. This might be a bit macabre for some, but the true college football masochists will watch every second of this rematch from last year for precisely that reason.
39. Quick Lane Bowl
Who: New Mexico State (6-6) vs. Bowling Green (6-6)
When: Dec. 26, 2:30 p.m. ET
Where: Ford Field, Detroit, Mich.
Why: People downplay the bowl experience part of the postseason, but these are two programs who will soak up every ounce of it. The Aggies needed an NCAA waiver to even make it here and are set to kick off just their second bowl appearance since 1960. Bowling Green hasn’t been to the promised land since 2015, but helped save Scot Loeffler’s job getting here and nearly winning the MAC East in the process.
40. LendingTree Bowl
Who: Southern Miss (6-6) vs. Rice (5-7)
When: Dec. 17, 5:45 p.m. ET
Where: Hancock Whitney Stadium, Mobile, Ala.
Why: The only game featuring a 5-7 group, the Owls have looked much improved this year as they prepare to transition into the American for 2023. The Golden Eagles should have plenty of fans in tow for this postseason return and have a pretty unique offense that has Frank Gore Jr. doing pretty much everything.
41. Independence Bowl
Who: Houston (7-5) vs. Louisiana (6-6)
When: Dec. 23, 3 p.m. ET
Where: Independence Stadium, Shreveport, La.
Why: Listen, Shreveport has gifted us some classics over the years and remains a fun bowl environment for plenty. But the local Ragin’ Cajuns are not great at all in terms of talent or execution and Houston has to be seriously unmotivated to make the trip across state lines after such a disappointing year that went from New Year’s Six hopes to here.
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Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets such as NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.
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