I'm told by more and more people how meaningless bowl games have become each college football season. With the College Football Playoff field set to expand to 12 teams in 2024, this sentiment will only grow more prevalent -- and I get it. You can never be sure which teams will take it seriously, and many of the best players opt out of the games to prepare for the NFL Draft.
But, you know what? I love bowls. Every single one of them. I love college football, and bowl games are college football games. I don't care if the team's leading rusher has decided to sit out. That only means I get to see what the new guy brings to the table. It also gives me a chance to see more college football.
If you're a fan of college football, what's not to love? Bowl Season isn't the regular season or the playoff, but it's a wonderful time of year. There are games on nearly every day of the week at random times! That's incredible! That's something to be celebrated!
Every year, I choose to celebrate it by watching them all, but I cover college football for a living. I know most people aren't able to dedicate that much time to these games, which is why I rank the bowls for you here at CBS Sports every year. Now, as I said, all these games are incredible and worth your time, but if you're on a budget, hopefully my handy guide can help you decide which games to watch and why. All times below Eastern
41. First Responder Bowl: Memphis vs. Utah State
Tuesday, Dec. 27, 3:15 p.m. -- This game has a chance to be exciting, but it's hard to tell which version of each team will show up. Memphis and Utah State looked like a different team each week, which helps explain why both finished the regular season with 6-6 records. The good news is we should know how this game will go pretty quickly. Utah State's six wins tended to be close battles, but the losses came by an average of 23 points each.
40. Bahamas Bowl: UAB vs. Miami (OH)
Friday, Dec. 16, 11:30 a.m. -- UAB will be a much more interesting team to follow next season when Trent Dilfer takes over as coach. The Blazers went 6-6 this season and are led by running back DeWayne McBride, who rushed for 1,713 yards and 19 touchdowns. They've been much better at home, where they went 5-1.
As for the RedHawks, it's been an up-and-down campaign as well. They beat Northwestern in September, which seemed like a bigger deal at the time, but they were only 4-4 in the MAC. However, they did win three of their last four games to earn bowl eligibility.
39. Myrtle Beach Bowl: Marshall vs. UConn
Monday, Dec. 19, 2:30 p.m. -- He's not going to win any of them, but UConn's Jim Mora should get consideration for Coach of the Year awards. Mora took over a UConn program that had gone 4-31 in its last three seasons (it didn't play in 2020) and guided the Huskies to a bowl game. That's a stunning turnaround! They also improved as the year went on, starting 1-4 and going 6-2 down the stretch while picking up wins over eventual Mountain West champ Fresno State and Boston College.
Marshall is 8-4 and had a successful first season in the Sun Belt. The Herd beat Notre Dame in South Bend early in the season and took down a James Madison squad that looked to be one of the best in the Sun Belt. They've won four in a row thanks to the churning legs of Khalan Laborn (1,423 yards rushing, 16 TD) and a sturdy defense. The only reason I have this game ranked this low is that I think there's a good chance Marshall will run away with it.
38. LendingTree Bowl: Southern Miss vs. Rice
Saturday, Dec. 17, 5:45 p.m. -- Finally, after all these years, the rivalry is renewed! OK, so there's no real rivalry, but Southern Miss used to be in Conference USA before moving to the Sun Belt this season, where it went 6-6 overall but limped to the finish line. The Eagles have lost three of their last four but still have an exciting player in running back Frank Gore Jr.
Rice is the only 5-7 team to reach the postseason this year, but none of those five wins came against a team with a winning record. The Owls have also lost their last three and four of their last five, so, yeah, it's not the sexiest matchup you'll find.
37. Birmingham Bowl: Coastal Carolina vs. East Carolina
Tuesday, Dec. 27, 6:45 p.m. -- This game would rank a lot higher if Coastal Carolina still had coach Jamey Chadwell and quarterback Grayson McCall, but their status is up in the air. Chadwell has accepted the coaching job at Liberty, and I don't imagine he will stick around to lead the Chanticleers in this one. As for McCall, he's one of the more exciting players in the country but suffered what was believed to be a season-ending injury earlier this year only to return for the 45-26 Sun Belt Championship Game loss to Troy. Fun fact about the Chants: They're 9-3 on the season, but after blowout losses in their last two games, they have a point differential of -12 on the season. I can't imagine there have been many nine-win teams with a negative point differential in the past.
East Carolina is led by one of my favorite players in the country, QB Holton Ahlers. Ahlers has played for the Pirates for what feels like 25 years, and he's been a productive player in each of those 25 seasons. However, none of those seasons -- and it has only been five, in truth -- have ended in a bowl game until this year. This is East Carolina's first postseason appearance since the 2014 Birmingham Bowl.
36. Frisco Bowl: Boise State vs. North Texas
Saturday, Dec. 17, 9:15 p.m. -- Boise State's entire season turned around following a 27-10 loss to UTEP in September. That's when Hank Bachmeier lost the starting QB job, and the team fired its offensive coordinator before bringing back Dirk Koetter. Since then, Taylen Green and the Broncos offense have been much more dangerous, if inconsistent. Green's a big play waiting to happen on each snap, but the Boise defense is the best unit on the field in this game. Unfortunately for the Broncos, after going 8-0 in conference play during the regular season, they lost in the MWC championship to Fresno State 28-16 after beating the Bulldogs in the regular season.
It's a feeling to which North Texas can relate; the Mean Green reached the Conference USA Championship Game themselves but were routed by UTSA 48-27. Unfortunately for coach Seth Littrell, reaching the conference championship was not enough to save his job as he was fired on Dec. 4. The Mean Green offense is led by QB Austin Aune, who has thrown for 3,309 yards and 32 touchdowns this season at the age of 29. Aune was a TCU commit out of high school but was drafted by the New York Yankees in the second round of the 2012 MLB Draft. He opted to play baseball but returned to football in 2018 after his baseball career didn't pan out.
35. Quick Lane Bowl: New Mexico State vs. Bowling Green
Monday, Dec. 26, 2:30 p.m. -- This is not the sexiest matchup on paper, but we know one thing: Both of these teams will be happy to be here. Bowling Green is 6-6 and playing in its first bowl game since the Falcons reached the GoDaddy Bowl in 2015. They won 10 games that season but haven't won more than four games in a season until this year.
They'll face a New Mexico State team playing only the fifth bowl game in program history. The last appearance came in 2017, which was the Aggies' last season in the Sun Belt. They've been Independent for the last five years and have found life very difficult. They went 8-30 from 2018-21, but Jerry Kill has turned this program around quickly in his first season. The Aggies started the year 1-5 before winning five of their last six to get here.
34. Camellia Bowl: Georgia Southern vs. Buffalo
Tuesday, Dec. 27, 12 p.m. -- A matchup of 6-6 teams with some upside. For those who don't pay close attention to the Sun Belt (and why don't you?), Georgia Southern is now led by former USC coach Clay Helton, who helped the Eagles get off to a surprising start. This is the same Georgia Southern team that went to Lincoln, Nebraska, earlier this season and ended the Scott Frost Era with a 45-42 win over the Cornhuskers. That was part of a 3-1 start to the season, but the Eagles hit hard times after that. Still, they're a fun team that scores points nearly as quickly as it allows them, which can make for a fun bowl experience.
Then there's Buffalo, which has given new meaning to the running of the Bulls. Buffalo started the season 0-3 before winning five straight. Then, the Bulls dropped three in a row and were on the verge of missing bowl season entirely before coming back to beat Akron in a game that had been postponed due to 6 feet of snow falling in the Buffalo area earlier in November. Something tells me there won't be snow in the forecast for this game.
33. Hawaii Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. San Diego State
Saturday, Dec. 24, 8 p.m. -- There's no tradition greater than getting the family together on Christmas Eve, gathering around the fireplace and opening the gift that is the Hawaii Bowl. Sure, the matchup isn't always great, and you'll have a hard time explaining to your relatives how Rick Stockstill is an institution in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, but don't worry. You can also tell them about the time that the Blue raiders beat the Miami Hurricanes 45-31 earlier this season, and since they're a casual fan, they won't even realize that's not a big deal anymore. In fact, they'll probably think it's one of the biggest upsets of all time. Let them think so as a small gift to them.
Your relative might also recognize San Diego State coach Brady Hoke as "the guy who coached Michigan, right? when they were bad?" You can confirm that but also clarify that Mr. Hoke has done a solid job with the Aztecs. Sure, they're only 7-5, but their five losses this season came against teams that went a combined 42-21, including two conference champions (Utah and Fresno State).
32. Independence Bowl: Houston vs. Louisiana
Friday, Dec. 23, 3 p.m. -- Here's my concern about this game: When the Cougars are on, they're enjoyable to watch. They can put up points in a hurry, and QB Clayton Tune (3,845 yards passing, 491 rushing, 42 total TD) is a stud, as is receiver Tank Dell (1,354 yards, 15 TD). But you never know which Houston is going to show up. Dana Holgorsen's team is more difficult to predict than a random number generator, and you have to question how excited this team will be for an Independence Bowl against Louisiana. If they care, we've got a shot at having fun here; if they don't, we'll slog through.
The same question can be asked of the Ragin' Cajuns. While this isn't a program likely to take a bowl appearance for granted, the Cajuns spent the last few seasons playing for Sun Belt titles. This year, they needed a 41-13 win over Texas State in the season's final game to earn bowl eligibility. This game has a high ceiling but a low floor, too.
31. Armed Forces Bowl: Baylor vs. Air Force
Thursday, Dec. 22, 7:30 p.m. -- Baylor won the Big 12 last year and reached the Sugar Bowl thanks primarily to a defense that was one of the best in the country. This year, the Bears are only 6-6 because that defense abandoned them. While this game looks great on paper, I think there's bigger blowout potential here than most will assume.
Baylor ranked 99th in the country this year in success rate against the run and 92nd in expected points added (EPA) per rush attempt. That's not great when facing an option team like Air Force! The Falcons are 9-3 on the season behind their rushing attack. They run the ball more often than any team in the country (88.8% of the time!) and rank 14th in yards per carry (5.40) and 13th in EPA per rush (0.14).
30. Potato Bowl: San Jose State vs. Eastern Michigan
Tuesday, Dec. 20, 3:30 p.m. -- Early in the season, San Jose State looked like one of the best teams in the Mountain West. The Spartans were 4-2 with close road losses to Auburn and Fresno State. Then tragedy struck when running back Camdan McWright was struck and killed by a bus. The loss had a profound impact on the Spartans' season, but they finished the season 7-4 behind quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, running back Kairee Robinson and receiver Elijah Cooks.
Eastern Michigan finished the regular season 8-4 and four points shy of playing for a MAC title. The Eagles finished with the same 5-3 record in conference play that Toledo did, but their 27-24 loss to the Rockets served as the tie-breaker. Still, the Eagles recovered from that loss with three wins to finish the regular season, and look to finish with nine wins for the first time since going 10-2 in 1987.
29. Pinstripe Bowl: Minnesota vs. Syracuse
Thursday, Dec. 29, 2 p.m. -- I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach that these teams could combine to make this ranking look very stupid when bowl season ends. While they're both Power Five teams, this isn't the most exciting matchup. Syracuse does a great job defensively of limiting explosive plays, and Minnesota's offense isn't built on big plays. We're likely to see a lot of clock-churning drives in this one, but on the bright side, that should keep things close.
On an even brighter side, it's another chance to see one of the best running backs in the country. Minnesota's Mohamed Ibrahim tore his Achilles last season but returned this year to rush for 1,594 yards and 19 touchdowns. His 144.91 rushing yards per game ranks second nationally. The battle between him and Syracuse running back Sean Tucker (1,060 yards, 11 TD) should be fun.
28. Gasparilla Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Missouri
Friday, Dec. 23, 6:30 p.m. -- Fun fact about Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman. He missed time early in the season due to an undisclosed medical condition. Hartman shared the news after the regular season of needing a rib removed, keeping it in his freezer and planning to have a necklace made out of it. So, you know that now! Congratulations! You should also know that Hartman has been one of the most productive QBs in the country for a few years now, and this Wake Forest offense is capable of putting up a lot of points when playing well. It's also capable of turning the ball over with alarming regularity, which makes it entertaining 100% of the time as long as you don't have a rooting interest.
The problem here is Missouri. The Tigers went 6-6, but outside of a 23-10 win over South Carolina, they don't have many wins to get excited about. They're strong enough defensively to keep most games close, but we've seen a significant number of Tigers players hit the transfer portal since the season ended. The questions about who will be available for this game make it hard for me to rank it much higher than this.
27. Boca Raton Bowl: Toledo vs. Liberty
Tuesday, Dec. 20, 7:30 p.m. -- This game has a low floor but could be very entertaining if both teams show up. Liberty began the season 8-1 and entered the College Football Playoff Rankings after beating Arkansas 21-19. That win amplified the rumors about Hugh Freeze leaving to take the Auburn job, and the Flames lost their final three games of the season. That includes a 49-14 loss to New Mexico State in which the team looked like it had been told by its coach that he was leaving, and they didn't take it very well. What Liberty team shows up for this game? Will it be a team that wants to impress new coach Jamey Chadwell or a team that just wants to finish the season?
Toledo could crush the Flames if they don't show up ready to play. The Rockets won the MAC, beating Ohio 17-7 in the title game after going 5-3 in conference play and 8-5 overall. This is an inconsistent team, but they've been much better when QB Dequan Finn (2,127 yards passing, 608 rushing, 30 TD) has been healthy. He played against Ohio and should be closer to 100% health by the time this game is played.
26. Military Bowl: Duke vs. UCF
Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2 p.m. -- Want a peek behind the curtain? When it comes to these bowl rankings, the 10 best and the 10 worst are usually pretty obvious, and then the 21 games in the middle are basically the same. I could've told you that long ago, but I wanted to save it as a reward for those who read this far. Well, unless you're a Duke or UCF fan who scanned this far just to see where your game is ranked. If you did, that's cheating; go back to the beginning and start over.
The point is that this game has all the potential in the world to be great, but I wonder about the matchup. UCF is a team that had much higher hopes than a Military Bowl appearance. It's also a team that runs the ball a lot and will face a Duke team that finished 34th nationally in EPA per rush on defense. Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't shout out Duke coach Mike Elko for the fantastic job he's done in his first season with the Blue Devils. This is Duke's first bowl game since 2018, and the Blue Devils have won more games this season (eight) than they did the last two years combined (five). They also went 5-3 in the ACC, giving them their first winning record in conference play since 2014.
25. Guaranteed Rate Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Wisconsin
Tuesday, Dec. 27, 10:15 p.m. -- If you'd have told me before the season that we were getting a bowl game between Oklahoma State and Wisconsin, I'd have assumed it was in a New Year's Six bowl. Wisconsin was the favorite in the Big Ten West and Oklahoma State was a serious threat to win the Big 12. Instead, the Badgers went 6-6 and fired coach Paul Chryst during the season, and enter this game with starting QB Graham Mertz who opted to enter the transfer portal. Oklahoma State started 6-1 but lost four of five to finish the regular season.
I have no idea what to expect here. Neither of these offenses performed well in 2022, and it's hard to imagine a couple weeks of bowl practices will be enough to figure it out.
24. New Mexico Bowl: BYU vs. SMU
Saturday, Dec. 17, 7:30 p.m. -- We've got potential here. SMU averaged 38.4 points per game this season (13th nationally) while BYU scored 31.9 (40th). Defensively, the Mustangs allowed 34.7 per game (123rd) and BYU allowed 30.0 (100th). If you're the betting type, you might want to have your head examined if you're considering the under because I don't see a lot of punts flying through the big blue skies of Albuquerque when these two meet.
The Mustangs won six of their last eight games to finish the season 7-5 and have one of the most talented receivers in the country in Rashee Rice (96 receptions, 1,355 yards, 10 TD). He's likely to hear his name called early in the NFL Draft this spring. For the Cougars, keep an eye on QB Jaren Hall, who threw for 31 touchdowns. He looks to be the next in a long line of prolific BYU passers.
23. New Orleans Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. South Alabama
Wednesday, Dec. 21, 9 p.m. -- Ever had a friend who listens to a bunch of musicians you've never heard of? They'll tell you about this concert they saw at this tiny venue featuring an act with a name that makes no sense and say it was a life-changing experience. You'll shrug it off, "Greg being Greg" or whatever, but deep down inside you'll fear you're missing out. What if Greg's right? What if Greg is onto something you would love if only you gave it a shot?
Greg is really into the New Orleans Bowl this year. Greg wants you to know all about South Alabama. The Jaguars didn't win the Sun Belt, but they're the second-best team in the league, at worst. They just play in the wrong division. They're 10-2, and their lone losses were a one-point loss at UCLA and a four-point loss to Sun Belt champion Troy. The defense is fierce. Running back LaDamian Webb is a beast. You need to see them. You also need to see them against a Western Kentucky offense that writes some crazy songs. They can score on anybody. Austin Reed threw for 4,247 yards and 36 touchdowns. You've got to see him live, man. Greg knows. Listen to Greg.
22. Gator Bowl: (21) Notre Dame vs. (19) South Carolina
Friday, Dec. 30, 3:30 p.m. -- South Carolina finished the season with a bang. The Gamecocks started 6-3, but none of their six wins were that impressive unless you're really high on South Carolina. After a 38-6 loss to Florida, this team looked destined to finish 6-6 with games against Tennessee and Clemson remaining. Then the Gamecocks went and beat Tennessee 63-38 and followed it up with a 31-30 road win over Clemson. In consecutive weeks, the Gamecocks destroyed the playoff hopes (however faint) of a division rival and a state rival. It's the stuff of which dreams are made.
Now they get a shot to take down one of the most decorated programs in college football history when they face Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl. So why am I ranking this game so low? Well, Notre Dame starting QB Drew Pyne is in the transfer portal, and he began the season as the backup. We could also see other draft prospects in this game opt out, which hurts the potential. I won't be surprised if it's close, but I can't count on it being exciting.
21. Arizona Bowl: Ohio vs. Wyoming
Friday, Dec. 30, 4:30 p.m. -- Every season, I fall in love with a team because I figure out that it's better than everybody realizes and win a bunch of money betting on it. This season that team was Ohio, which covered the spread in nine straight games by an average of 14 points each before finally falling in the MAC Championship Game against Toledo. I will always love Kurtis Rourke and the 2022 Bobcats, and I will probably bet on them in this game out of gratitude. The problem is Rourke has missed the last couple of games with an injury, and I don't know what his availability will be for this one.
That's important against a Wyoming team that is saltier than a Chicago street in winter. When I watch Craig Bohl's Cowboys, I get the impression they'd rather win a game 9-7 than 42-3. When it works, it's great, but when it doesn't, things get ugly. Only one of Wyoming's five losses this season was a one-score loss. Only two of their games saw at least 50 points scored. So they're usually playing low-scoring blowouts or competitive affairs, but the point is they're almost always low-scoring. Hard to rank a game much higher than this when you don't expect many fireworks.
20. Citrus Bowl: (17) LSU vs. Purdue
Monday, Jan. 2, 1 p.m. -- It's a battle of two teams that exceeded expectations, but one of them won't be as excited about it. Nobody was expecting too much of LSU in Brian Kelly's first season, but the Tigers upset Alabama to help them win the SEC West. The problem is that a few weeks ago, the Tigers thought they had a shot to reach the College Football Playoff because of it but lost to a bad Texas A&M team 38-23. They followed it up with a 50-30 loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, and are now riding a two-game losing streak as they prepare to play the Citrus Bowl. Will their top guys sit this one out, or could we see a wave of opt-outs?
Purdue was a surprise winner of the Big Ten West this season, but it wasn't the result of dominance. The Boilermakers went 6-3 in conference and hung with Michigan for a half in the Big Ten Championship Game before getting steamrolled in the second half. It's a team that's long made a habit of pulling off upsets over higher-ranked teams, and it has an exciting offense that can put points on the board, so LSU better take it seriously. However, there's a potential problem here. The Louisville job came open this week when Scott Satterfield left for Cincinnati, and Purdue's Jeff Brohm -- a former Louisville QB -- was seen as the top target for Louisville before it hired Satterfield. The Cardinals are bound to be interested again, so will Brohm turn down his alma mater twice?
19. Sugar Bowl: (5) Alabama vs. (9) Kansas State
Saturday, Dec. 31, 12 p.m. -- If these teams were playing at full strength, this would be a top-five game in these rankings, no questions asked. Well, Kansas State -- the Big 12 champion who ended TCU's undefeated run -- might be at full strength for this game, and it would love to make another statement by finishing the season with a win over mighty Alabama. But how mighty will this Alabama be? This is a program that wants to win the SEC and a national title every season. It accomplished neither this year, and we're probably going to see a lot of players opt out of this game, including last year's Heisman winner Bryce Young and one of the nation's best defensive players in Will Anderson.
That will stink because Kansas State is a genuinely good team, and it could beat Alabama even if the Tide didn't have players opt out. Regardless, I want another chance to see Young and Anderson play in an Alabama uniform, and I don't think we will get that chance. It takes a lot of the shine off this game. Now, that said, it's still Alabama. The reserves are pretty talented, too, so there's still a shot this game is great.
18. Liberty Bowl: Arkansas vs. Kansas
Wednesday, Dec. 28, 5:30 p.m. -- Let me start by saying that, if reports are to be believed, it is incredibly lame that Missouri refused to play Kansas in a bowl game because that would've been great. That said, this is probably a better matchup than that game would've been! The Jayhawks were the darlings of the first half of the season after opening the year 5-0, but they went 1-6 down the stretch after losing QB Jalon Daniels to injury. If Daniels is healthy and available for this game, however, the Jayhawks have one of the most entertaining offenses in the country.
But so does Arkansas with QB K.J. Jefferson. Combining these explosive and interesting offenses with the two defenses on the field, we're likely in for a tennis match. There's a strong chance this game becomes one of those "last team with the ball wins" kind of games, and in a mid-tier bowl game with low stakes, what more can you ask for than that?
17. Music City Bowl: Iowa vs. Kentucky
Saturday, Dec. 31, 12 p.m. -- OK, so here's the thing. As a connoisseur of all kinds of college football, this matchup interests me. I don't need high-octane offenses and a bunch of touchdowns to be entertained. I'm the kind of person who can tune into a field-position battle and enjoy that just as much as I would a 49-48 game. So these two offenses don't scare me away.
The problem is we just saw this game last year as Kentucky defeated Iowa 20-17 in a very entertaining Citrus Bowl. Having the rematch a year later takes some of the shine off it. We can't even go with the angle of Mark Stoops facing his alma mater because it was beaten to death last year. Furthermore, Iowa QB Spencer Petras won't play in the game because of injury, and we might see Kentucky QB Will Levis sit it out, too. While it's not ideal, it does increase the odds of this game getting really weird and ending with an 11-5 score or something. Stupid football can be incredible entertainment.
16. Duke's Mayo Bowl: (23) NC State vs. Maryland
Friday, Dec. 30, 12 p.m. -- This ranking will rise quickly if either Dave Doeren or Mike Locksley promises to let somebody dump a cooler of mayonnaise on their head like South Carolina's Shane Beamer did last season; that should not be a one-time-only thing. In fact, every bowl game should dump whatever the product of the primary sponsor is over the coach after the game. Sure, that would be awful news for the winning coach of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, but if you want to make an omelet, you have to crack a few eggs.
The matchup here is an ACC reunion of two interesting teams. NC State is one of the most fascinating teams of 2022 because there's no rational reason for it to be 8-4 considering the injuries it's suffered. Doeren is clearly a practitioner of the dark arts. Then there's Maryland, which sports some NFL talent at the receiver position and a QB in Taulia Tagovailoa who isn't afraid to put the ball up there, for better or worse. This one is ranked No. 16 to start, but I won't be surprised if it's a top-five game in my post-bowl rankings.
15. Texas Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Texas Tech
Wednesday, Dec. 28, 9 p.m. -- I'm happy Lane Kiffin stayed at Ole Miss instead of leaving for Auburn. Nothing against Auburn; I just think Ole Miss is a better fit for him. He can chill and put together fun, exciting teams without dealing with the insanity of Auburn. What does that have to do with the Texas Bowl? Nothing, but I'm 5,700 words into this thing, all right? My brain is going to wander at some point. Don't worry, though, because I'm about to get back on track.
So, yeah, I like this matchup. If you haven't seen Ole Miss yet in 2022, it's an explosive offense. Unlike 2021, however, it's built more on running the ball than vertical passing routes. It'll be up against a Texas Tech team that was a certified pain in the butt in the Big 12 this season. The Red Raiders didn't win every game, but Joey McGuire's team fought you for every point you scored. It did so thanks in large part to a rush defense that ranked 39th nationally in success rate against the run, so this will be a fun matchup to follow.
14. Fenway Bowl: Louisville vs. Cincinnati
Saturday, Dec. 17, 11 a.m. -- Fun fact, this game came in at No. 20 in my initial rankings. It felt like a perfect "middle of the order" bowl game. Then, the news arrived Monday morning that Louisville coach Scott Satterfield was leaving to take the job at Cincinnati. All of a sudden, a mostly anonymous bowl game in a baseball stadium took on a lot more meaning. All of which begs one question, and one question only:
Can Satterfield coach both teams?
It would probably be too much work to handle all the head-coaching duties, but maybe Satterfield can be "all-time play caller" like you had an "all-time QB" when playing with your friends as a child. Sure, it would be awkward for Louisville players and near impossible for Cincinnati players to run plays from a playbook they haven't seen yet, but it would make for great television. Besides, if we don't, this will be two teams playing under interim coaches with motivational questions. Having Satterfield coach both teams at once solves the problem!
13. Sun Bowl: (18) UCLA vs. Pitt
Friday, Dec. 30, 2 p.m. -- UCLA doesn't play boring games. OK, it started the season with boring wins over Bowling Green and Alabama State, and had a boring win over Stanford, but that was more on the opponents. Every other game was a roller coaster. There were bangers against South Alabama, Washington, Utah, Oregon and USC, just to name a few. Dorian Thompson-Robinson is a thrill ride and Zach Charbonnet is terrific as this offense is full of fun surprises.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi is going to hate it! Narduzzi doesn't even like to see his own team score points. Still, just because their coach doesn't like them, that doesn't mean Pitt isn't willing to get into a shootout with you, and it can put points on the board too. Running back Israel Abanikanda finished the season with 1,431 yards and a national-best 20 rushing touchdowns.
12. Orange Bowl: (6) Tennessee vs. (7) Clemson
Friday, Dec. 30, 8 p.m. -- It is a literal Orange Bowl. In a perfect world, both teams would come out in all-orange uniforms and we'd see how well they'd be able to tell friend from foe. It would be hilarious. Of course, we could also see Tennessee come out in its gray uniforms and Clemson in purple, which would really ruin the vibe. And I'm not sure how many vibes this game can afford to lose because while it's a matchup of top-10 teams, it doesn't crack the top 10 of these rankings.
Tennessee isn't the same team without quarterback Hendon Hooker, though it's possible that with an extra month of preparation Joe Milton and the offense can function at the same high level it did with Hooker. But while many things can be said about Clemson's offense, few adjectives used to describe it are complimentary, though with five-star freshman quarterback Cade Klubnik being named the starter after his performance in the ACC Championship Game after DJ Uiagalelei was benched, that could change in a hurry.
11. Cheez-It Bowl: (13) Florida State vs. Oklahoma
Thursday, Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. -- Florida State fans wish there was a button they could hit that would start the season over with the Seminoles playing at this level right now. If that happened, the 'Noles would probably end up winning the ACC and could even sneak into the College Football Playoff because it's been one of the best teams in the country for over a month. There were close losses to NC State and Clemson in October, then five straight wins to finish the season, most in blowout fashion. QB Jordan Travis has ascended to another level and is one of the most exciting players to watch in the country.
So while there's a chance this game turns into a blowout, even though Oklahoma is only 6-6, it has an offense capable of scoring in a hurry. This game has the potential to be an exciting shootout if the Sooners are healthy. I understand there's also a good chance I look like a moron for ranking this game so highly if Bad Oklahoma shows up and Florida State wins by a billion. Whatever happens, at least I feel confident the final score won't be 13-2.
10. Reliaquest Bowl: (22) Mississippi State vs. Illinois
Monday, Jan. 2, 12 p.m. -- While it's an SEC/Big Ten matchup, it's not a game featuring either conference's perennial powers. Still, both the Bulldogs and Illini had excellent seasons and present an interesting matchup for one another. Mississippi State is 8-4 and the poster child for a team with excellent résumé losses to LSU, Georgia and Alabama. It was a team that lost to the teams you'd expect but beat the ones a good team is supposed to beat and finished the year with a win over rival Ole Miss.
Illinois is one of the biggest surprises of 2022. The Illini are 8-4 and making their first bowl appearance since 2019. They got here behind one of the best defenses in the country, and that's where the matchup gets interesting. Mississippi State will run Mike Leach's Air Raid offense against an Illini defense that led the nation in defensive passing efficiency at 89.8 (Penn State was second at 104.0). Meanwhile, Illinois' offense is built on a physical rushing presence led by Doak Walker finalist Chase Brown but faces a Mississippi State team that ranked 47th in EPA per rush on defense. If styles make fights, this will be a fun fight.
9. Alamo Bowl: (20) Texas vs. (12) Washington
Thursday, Dec. 29, 9 p.m. -- Here's the thing about the Alamo Bowl: The matchup is almost always great, but you sometimes run into the problem of the teams not being thrilled to be there because they had been competing for conference titles and fell short. Still, I'm going to take my chances here with a game that offers an incredible quarterback matchup between Washington's Michael Penix Jr. and Texas' Quinn Ewers. Penix has the kind of arm strength that will make you gasp at least twice per game, while Ewers routinely flings balls on a rope with a simple flick of his wrist. I hope both play and play well because, if they do, we're in for a treat.
As for motivation, I know this was a disappointing season for Texas seeing they missed out on playing for the Big 12 title, but it's a young team that can benefit from playing an opponent like this. Plus, let's not forget that Texas coach Steve Sarkisian used to coach at Washington, so I'm sure he'll do everything he can to keep his team's attention on this game. As for the Huskies, they're already playing with house money, as nobody was expecting this team to be 10-2 in Kalen DeBoer's first season. A win would give the Huskies their first 11-win season since they reached the College Football Playoff in 2016.
8. LA Bowl: Washington State vs. Fresno State
Saturday, Dec. 17, 3:30 p.m. -- Have you ever seen Fresno State QB Jake Haener? He's an amalgamation of every underdog quarterback you've seen in a movie or television show about a football team. Haener is listed as 6-foot-1 and 201 pounds, which might be generous. Still, Haener is a gamer regardless of size. I've seen this kid take so many shots during his career, but he gets up every time and keeps going. Sometimes he gets up slower than others, and sometimes he moves gingerly, but he gets up every time. I love him. He's the heart and soul of this Fresno State team that won the Mountain West.
I also love Washington State QB Cam Ward, who transferred to Wazzu from Incarnate Word before the season. He didn't put up the same numbers in the Pac-12 that he put up there, but he's an entertaining watch on a tough Washington State team. The Cougars lost five times this year, but the five losses came to Oregon, USC, Oregon State, Utah and Washington -- teams that were a combined 49-11. It's a better team than its 7-5 record indicates, and I like this game's chances of being entertaining.
7. Las Vegas Bowl: (14) Oregon State vs. Florida
Saturday, Dec. 17, 2:30 p.m. -- The Pac-12 got a lot of attention this year thanks to solid seasons from USC, Oregon, Washington, Utah and UCLA, but Oregon State still managed to fly under the radar despite having just as good of a season! The Beavers went 9-3 and nearly knocked off USC and Washington. Jonathan Smith has done a fantastic job building this program; its win total has increased every season since he took over in 2018, except for the 2020 COVID season. The nine wins the Beavers have already picked up are their most in a season since going 9-4 in 2012, and if they pick up a win here, it'll be the program's first 10-win season since 2006.
To get that win, it'll have to get past a Florida team with a high ceiling. Florida opened the year with a win over Utah, and while it was impressive, it probably raised expectations too quickly. The Gators came back down to earth in SEC play, finishing with a 3-5 mark, and went only 2-4 in the SEC East. The Gators will be trying to pick up a seventh win to finish over .500, but that would have been more likely if QB Anthony Richardson, who was projected by many to be a first-round NFL Draft pick, didn't decide to skip this game.
6. Holiday Bowl: (15) Oregon vs. North Carolina
Wednesday, Dec. 28, 8 p.m. -- Hurry up and bet the over before it gets higher because I can guarantee the total will get higher. The season did not end the way either of these teams hoped it would a month ago. Back then, Oregon was 8-1 with the Pac-12 title and a possible playoff berth in reach. Then the Ducks lost by three at home to Washington, Bo Nix sprained his ankle and the team literally limped to the finish line at 9-3. North Carolina was 9-1 with a QB in Drake Maye whom many were pegging as a future No. 1 draft pick. They were wins against Georgia Tech and NC State away from being 11-1. They then lost to both to fall to 9-3 and finished by getting trounced 39-10 by Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.
These teams are mirror images of one another who reside on opposite ends of the country. Two prolific offenses paired with defenses that can't stop anybody. Ladies and gentlemen, we might see 100 points scored in this game. You could end up telling your grandchildren about it one day.
5. Cotton Bowl: (10) USC vs. (16) Tulane
Monday, Jan. 2, 1 p.m. -- It used to be that we expected the Group of Five champion that earned the New Year's Six berth to get spanked in the bowl game because that used to be what happened. Then UCF happened, and last year Cincinnati made the CFP. We've all wisened up to the idea that these teams need to be taken seriously in spots like this, and USC would be well-served to take Tulane seriously, mostly because USC's defense shouldn't take anybody or anything for granted. Did you see those guys try to tackle Utah players in the Pac-12 Championship Game?
The Green Wave won the American thanks to a fun offense and an excellent pass defense, but that defense didn't come across many passing attacks like USC. Caleb Williams is one of the best QBs in the country and could win the Heisman Trophy this week. He has a cavalcade of weapons surrounding him on offense, and I anticipate the Trojans will put up points. But will the Trojans stop Tulane's Tyjae Spears? Again, did you see them try to tackle vs. Utah? There's a good chance this game comes down to the final minutes.
4. Cure Bowl: (24) Troy vs. (25) UTSA
Friday, Dec. 16, 3 p.m. -- HIPSTER ALERT! Get ready to be condescending as all hell, folks, because all the people who don't realize how incredible this game is going to be are not worthy of your time! Oh, you're a Troy and UTSA fan? Name three of their albums. I'll wait.
Seriously, it's a battle of conference champions. UTSA went 11-2 this season to win Conference USA as the Roadrunners have now gone 17-1 in conference games over the last two seasons. They are one of the most entertaining offenses in the country. Frank Harris runs it to perfection, and receiver Zakhari Franklin will catch balls in the NFL soon. Then there's Troy, which went 5-7 last year but finished 11-2 this year in Jon Sumrall's first season en route to a Sun Belt title. The Trojans lead with their defense, but don't think they aren't capable of putting up points themselves. Trust me, I understand that most of you reading this probably haven't seen either of these teams play, but take some time out of your schedule to make sure you tune into this game. You won't regret it.
3. Rose Bowl: (8) Utah vs. (11) Penn State
Monday, Jan. 2, 5 p.m. -- I know it's cool to hate the Rose Bowl these days because it was scapegoated as the only thing standing in the way of the playoff expanding to 12 teams as so many people wanted, but I love the Rose Bowl. I will always love the Rose Bowl. Whether it's part of the playoff or not, I don't care. I don't even need it to have the traditional matchup of Big Ten vs. Pac-12 (though I prefer it). This game has always been near my heart, and it always will be. It's one of the most beautiful scenes in college football every year, and it tends to have an excellent matchup to go with all the aesthetics.
This year is no different. We have Pac-12 champion Utah -- the only team to beat USC (doing so twice) this season -- going against Penn State. The Nittany Lions are 10-2, but while their losses were by an average of 18.5 points against Michigan and Ohio State, they dominated everybody else on the schedule. These are two physical, talented football teams likely to put on an epic performance in an incredible atmosphere. Don't even think of missing it.
2. Fiesta Bowl: (2) Michigan vs. (3) TCU
Saturday, Dec. 31, 4 p.m. -- The Fiesta Bowl provides a matchup of two teams that are more similar than you assume because of the style they prefer to play. TCU is a spread offense with a lot of Air Raid elements offensively, but running the ball is still fundamental to everything the Frogs do offensively -- much like the Michigan offense, which is seen as the old-school, smash-mouth offense often associated with the Wolverines and the Big Ten.
The biggest difference this season is that TCU has been far more explosive through the air than Michigan, but the Wolverines have begun to show flashes in that department in recent weeks. Still, the key will be what these teams do in the red zone. Both have struggled to finish drives with touchdowns at times this year, and it's made some games more difficult than they had to be. The team that does the better job here will win and move on to the title game.
1. Peach Bowl: (1) Georgia vs. (4) Ohio State
Saturday, Dec. 31, 8 p.m. -- If this isn't a battle of heavyweights, then what is? Sure, some people are mad at Ohio State being chosen for the College Football Playoff despite getting beat handily at home by Michigan to finish the regular season, but ignore that. Look at this matchup for what it is. It's a game between the defending champion with an elite defense against one of the most talented teams in the country filled with future NFL players.
If you can't get excited about watching QB C.J. Stroud and Ohio State's receiving corps going against the Georgia defense, what are you even doing reading these rankings? This is precisely the kind of game you dream of seeing when you watch college football. Playoff game or not, it's a banger.