Ranking all 39 college football bowl games for 2018-19 from the worst to the best
The games have all been played, so how do they stack up against one another?
The 2018-19 bowl season was one of extremes. There were 39 games scheduled (not including the College Football Playoff National Championship), but only 38 of them were played. In those 38 bowl games, we saw the average final margin of victory was 16.7 points, meaning the average bowl game was a three-score affair this season. That makes it look like there weren't any close games, but that stat's a bit misleading as well.
It's true, of the 38 games played, 17 of them finished with a final margin of three scores or more; that's nearly 45 percent of the games played. On the other side of the coin, however, 16 of the bowls finished as one-score games. Of course, that's a bit misleading as well because a couple of those one-score games were only due to teams scoring touchdowns in the final minute while never having a real chance of winning the game.
Still, all in all, it was a bowl season that either brought us a close game or a blowout. There wasn't much middle ground, and that makes ranking this year's games a bit more difficult. I already know that the vast majority of readers will disagree with my No. 1 pick, but I'm sticking with it, and I'll explain it later.
First, I'm going to rank the other 38 games.
You can read my pre-bowl rankings.
39. First Responder -- Boston College vs. No. 24 Boise State (Canceled): I can't help but feel sorry for all the players, coaches, staff and fans who had to spend Christmas away from home to see this game canceled due to storms after 10 minutes. (Previous: 6)
38. Belk -- Virginia 28, South Carolina 0: This was a dud right from the opening kickoff. South Carolina's offense didn't have its best player or a clue how to operate without him. (25)
37. Frisco -- Ohio 27, San Diego State 0: This game was basically the same game as the Belk Bowl. I moved it a spot ahead because it was only a 27-point game instead of 28! (21)
36. Pinstripe -- Wisconsin 35, Miami 3: I'd like to go back and rewatch this game to see if I can pinpoint the moment Mark Richt decided to retire. (22)
35. Cotton -- No. 2 Clemson 30, No. 3 Notre Dame 3: "You know, if you take out the second quarter when Clemson torched Julian Love's backup, it was only a 10-3 game," is something you'll be hearing in bars around South Bend for the next few weeks. (2)
34. Armed Forces -- Army 70, Houston 14: Major Applewhite was already on thin ice going into this game, and watching his team get utterly wrecked by a service academy -- even one as good as this Army team is -- while showing absolutely no interest in being there gave you the feeling it would cost him his job. The only surprise was how long Houston waited to announce it afterward. (10)
33. Music City -- Auburn 63, Purdue 14: This game was exciting in the first half just because, while it was over early, Auburn had a legitimate chance to score 100 points if it wanted to. (16)
32. Gator -- No. 19 Texas A&M 52, NC State 13: I was only able to see bits and pieces of this game while it was live since I was covering the Holiday Bowl, but every time I looked at it on my iPad, I saw Trayveon Williams scoring a touchdown. (18)
31. New Mexico -- Utah State 52, North Texas 13: Utah State came into this game without most of its coaching staff because Matt Wells and Co. left for Texas Tech, and it still whipped North Texas' butt. (26)
30. New Orleans -- Appalachian State 45, Middle Tennessee 13: Honestly, this game happened so long ago and was over so quickly that I hardly remember anything that happened in it. (33)
29. Quick Lane -- Minnesota 34, Georgia Tech 10: Paul Johnson's farewell did not go as planned for Georgia Tech, as Minnesota gave it a dose of its own medicine by rushing for 260 yards in the game. (37)
28. Boca Raton -- UAB 37, Northern Illinois 13: I had higher hopes for this game than what it gave us. I figured two strong defensive teams would provide a closer game, but UAB didn't have much trouble scoring. This was a sign of things to come for MAC teams not named Ohio. (12)
27. Peach -- No. 10 Florida 41, No. 7 Michigan 15: In the first half, I thought we were in store for a good game, even if it wasn't going to be high-scoring. And then Florida outscored the Wolverines 28-5 in the second half, meaning Michigan finished its 2018 season getting outscored 103-54 in its final two games. (8)
26. Potato -- BYU 49, Western Michigan 18: The only exciting part of this game was waiting to see if BYU QB Zach Wilson would throw an incomplete pass. He didn't. He completed all 18 of them for 317 yards and 4 touchdowns. (39)
25. Redbox -- Oregon 7, Michigan State 6: To repeat a joke that was made a million times while watching this game: it should have been called the Birdbox Bowl because, when you looked at it, all you saw were your worst fears. The only reason it's even this high is because at least it was a one-point game. (15)
24. Hawaii -- Louisiana Tech 31, Hawaii 14: This game started late on the Saturday night before Christmas, and by the time it finally ended, I'm pretty sure it was only four other people in the world not associated with either team still watching it along with me. (38)
23. Independence -- Duke 56, Temple 27: This game had so much promise. It was 27-21 Temple at halftime, and that's when I left for a bit to take my dog for a walk. By the time I got back from the walk, it was suddenly 49-27 Duke. The Blue Devils outscored the Owls 35-0 in the second half. (14)
22. Gasparilla -- Marshall 38, South Florida 20: This game still has one of the best names in the bowl business, but even if Marshall enjoyed the hell out of playing it, it wasn't much fun to watch. It was over before halftime. (36)
21. Camping World -- No. 20 Syracuse 34, No. 16 West Virginia 18: It's too bad West Virginia was without Will Grier in this game because it did have the potential to be great. Instead, it was just average. Close through three quarters, if lower-scoring than expected, and Syracuse dominated the fourth quarter 17-0 to take any possible suspense out of the equation. (19)
20. Cure -- Tulane 41, Louisiana 24: I was happy for Tulane because I had picked it as a darkhorse team before the season began, but this one was over early and didn't provide much drama at all. (34)
19. Las Vegas -- No. 21 Fresno State 31, Arizona State 20: Honestly, this game wasn't bad at all. It was tied 17-17 at halftime, and was still only a 24-20 game after three quarters. It just didn't have many exciting moments, so it's hard to rank it higher than this. (5)
18. Sun -- Stanford 14, Pittsburgh 13: A game similar to the Redbox Bowl, but with more competence, a few more points and a few more big plays. Still, the foundation of this ranking is built mostly on it being a 1-point game. (20)
17. Holiday -- No. 22 Northwestern 31, No. 17 Utah 20: A tale of two games in San Diego. Utah dominated the first half, leading 20-3, and at times the announcers in the booth and media types on Twitter were openly pondering whether or not Northwestern should pull key players to keep them from getting hurt. Then the second half started and Northwestern went off, shutting the Utes out 28-0 in the second half and winning the game. (27)
16. Sugar -- No. 15 Texas 28, No. 5 Georgia 21: Yes, when the final second ticked off the clock there was only one touchdown separating these two teams, but Georgia trailed by multiple scores nearly the entire game. The Bulldogs got a touchdown in the final minute to make it 28-21 but couldn't recover the onside kick. (11)
15. Dollar General -- Troy 42, Buffalo 32: This game lived up to my pre-bowl ranking for most of the contest, as these teams went back-and-forth for three quarters with Buffalo leading 24-21 at the start of the fourth. But Troy dominated the final 15 minutes, and there wasn't much drama at the end. (7)
14. Fiesta -- No. 11 LSU 40, No. 8 UCF 32: This was a good game. An entertaining game. Still, watching it, I couldn't help but feel deprived of seeing so many significant players missing on both sides. I'd have loved to have seen what would have happened with both of these teams at full strength. It could have been even better. (9)
13. Orange -- No. 1 Alabama 45, No. 4 Oklahoma 34: I'd like to thank Oklahoma for not laying down and dying to at least give us a false sense of doubt about the final result. Alabama was up 28-0 in what felt like the blink of an eye, but the Sooners battled back to make things somewhat interesting. Still, if this were just an ordinary bowl game rather than a semifinal, it's probably ranked a few spots lower. (1)
12. Arizona -- Nevada 16, Arkansas State 13 (OT): This game took place in no-man's land. With the way it was scheduled, this game was still going on as Clemson and Notre Dame kicked off the Cotton Bowl, so it was only us true die-hards that were paying attention. And it was a pretty good game to pay attention to! Still, even if it went to overtime, it wasn't the most graceful game, and it didn't include enough ridiculous moments to raise its profile any further than this. (30)
11. Rose -- No. 6 Ohio State 28, No. 9 Washington 23: This was a game like the Sugar Bowl in which the final score is a bit misleading. Ohio State led 28-3 into the fourth quarter before Washington mounted a furious comeback to pull within five points in the final minute. I'm only ranking it this high because of the setting that is the Rose Bowl, and due to the vicious backdoor cover the Huskies pulled off. One of the worst beats of bowl season for gamblers. (3)
10. Outback -- Iowa 27, No. 18 Mississippi State 22: I don't think many people had high hopes for this game, but I found it to be one of the more entertaining games of the bowl season. There were ebbs and flows with both teams seeming to take the game over at times, only to lose control and go back the other way. In the end, Iowa managed to pull off the victory despite having only 199 yards of total offense and -15 rushing yards as a team. That's hard to do. (17)
9. Military -- Cincinnati 35, Virginia Tech 31: A game that looked miserable to play in, as it was cold and rainy, but was more exciting to watch than I anticipated. There were seven lead changes in this one as both the Bearcats and Hokies just kept going back and forth at one another, trading blows. In the end, it was Cincinnati scoring with 90 seconds left to knock the Hokies out for good. (28)
8. Camellia -- Georgia Southern 23, Eastern Michigan 21: You know what this bowl season lacked? A bunch of games ending in the final seconds, but this ones delivered. Georgia Southern's Tyler Bass drilled a 40-yard field goal as time expired to give Southern the win, and coach Chad Lunsford crying tears of joy during his postgame interview dealt a serious blow to the "bowl games are meaningless" crowd. (24)
7. Bahamas -- FIU 35, Toledo 32: This game gave you everything you could ask for between two smaller schools on a Caribbean Island during a Friday afternoon. There were big plays and a lot of touchdowns, but the final score was a bit misleading. FIU took a 35-25 lead with 41 seconds left to put the game away, but Toledo went 75 yards in 39 seconds to score a touchdown with two seconds left to make the final margin only 3 points. (31)
6. Citrus -- No. 14 Kentucky 27, No. 12 Penn State 24: I didn't get the chance to pay as close attention to this game as I'd have hoped to between covering the Outback Bowl and with the Fiesta Bowl also going on. I saw most of the final quarter, though, and I have no idea what James Franklin was thinking kicking a field goal down 27-21 in the final minutes. When you think your best bet is to turn a one-score game into a one-score game and then stopping Benny Snell from picking up a couple of first downs, you aren't going to win that bet very often. (13)
5. Liberty -- Oklahoma State 38, No. 23 Missouri 33: Man, watching this game you started to wish Missouri was still in the Big 12 so we could see this matchup every season. It was a video game for the most part, as the two teams combined for 1,139 yards of offense and nine touchdowns, but of course, it was Oklahoma State's defense forcing a turnover on downs in the final minutes that ultimately decided the game. (23)
4. Birmingham -- Wake Forest 37, Memphis 34: What is it with Wake Forest and bowl games? Last year the Demon Deacons beat Texas A&M 55-52 in the Belk Bowl, one of 2017's best bowls. This year, the Deacons beat Memphis 37-34 in 2018's No. 4 bowl game. I think the lesson here is that bowl games should invite Wake Forest if they want to have a good time; they're the friend who walks into the party and everybody's happy to see them. (32)
3. Alamo -- No. 13 Washington State 28, No. 24 Iowa State 26: The Alamo Bowl was the only bowl game I had in the top 10 of my pre-bowl rankings to finish in the top 10. This tells us two things. One is that I'm a moron and I don't know anything. The other is that you can always count on the Alamo Bowl to be exciting, and this year's contest was no different. (4)
2. Texas -- Baylor 45, Vanderbilt 38: Clearly, I did not see this game coming. I had the Texas Bowl ranked at No. 29 in my pre-bowl rankings because I thought it would be somewhat of a sluggish affair. It was not. These two teams combined for 1,241 yards of offense, 11 touchdowns and 83 points. This was everything you want from a bowl game. It was fun, exciting and close. These kind of games were few and far between in 2018, so I'm thankful to both Baylor and Vanderbilt for providing us with it. (29)
1. Cheez-It -- TCU 10, California 7 OT: Yes, that's right. My No. 1 bowl game this season featured 17 points and nine turnovers. Believe me, this was not a pretty game. It was not a well-played game. In fact, I'm confident both Gary Patterson and Justin Wilcox will burn the tape and move on to prepare for next season rather than go over what went wrong. But in spite of all that, it was great. There were so many moments in this game where you were openly announcing to yourself, or a crowded room, "What the f--- was that!?" If you were watching this game in a bar or alongside thousands of your closest friends on Twitter, it wasn't just a game but a social event. Twenty years from now, you won't remember most things from the 2018 college football bowl season, but I guarantee you'll remember watching the Cheez-It Bowl. Just beautifully bad football. A cult classic. Five stars. If they ever make it into a movie, both The Rock and Jason Statham will be in it. (35)
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