Ranking the 2019 college football bowl games, 39-1: Fiesta Bowl rematch, intriguing Sun Bowl

There's nothing quite like bowl season. If you're a college football die-hard, it's the best time of the year. There's a college football game on nearly every day for three weeks in December. It's wonderful.

Of course, bowl season is a part of college football, and in college football, we rank things: teams, uniforms, rivalries, alternate uniforms, which media outlets hate our teams the most, everything. So we must rank bowl games.

Thankfully, I have done just that. I've dug into each of the 39 scheduled matchups and definitively determined which are the best and which are the ... least best. It's important to remember that they're all the best because they are bowl games. How do I determine these rankings? Through an extremely complicated process that can be summarized in only three bullet points.

  • Strength of the teams: Generally speaking, games with good teams will more often lead to better games.
  • Matchup quality: A team can be good and rated highly in my system, but if it's going against a team that it's going to be favored by at least two touchdowns over it, odds are the game won't be that entertaining.
  • Styles of play: Styles make fights, and every team has its style. Some may make for intriguing matchups, while others could lead to a dull, boring game.

Then there are other factors like potential storylines, as well as the possibility of teams playing under interim coaches and things of that nature. In the end, I'm just trying to figure out which games are the most likely to entertain you.

And while I've got you, one thing that might help with the entertainment side is putting some stakes on these games. Over here at CBS Sports, we've got a Bowl Pick'em Game that is free to enter and even to create a pool with friends, including confidence pools. Just enter your picks and you've got a chance to win $5,000. Check it out here.

But now, to rank those bowl games. All times Eastern

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Graphic by Mike Meredith

39. Potato Bowl -- Ohio vs. Nevada -- Jan. 3, 3:30 p.m.: The Potato Bowl was ranked No. 39 in my pre-bowl rankings last year, and it's right back there this season. Don't get me wrong, I'm going to watch it (it's the only game that day, after all), but I can't pretend a matchup between Ohio and Nevada is something to get psyched about.

38. Cure Bowl -- Liberty vs. Georgia Southern -- Dec. 21, 2:30 p.m.: It's an interesting clash of styles, and it should be a close game, but these aren't great teams. So it's hard to rank it highly to start, but there is some darkhorse potential here.

37. Camellia Bowl -- FIU vs. Arkansas State -- Dec. 21, 5:30 p.m.: This is an old Sun Belt matchup that's not all that dissimilar to the Cure Bowl. No, they aren't great teams, but it should be close, so it could be exciting.

36. Frisco Bowl -- Utah State vs. Kent State -- Dec. 20, 7:30 p.m.: I'm psyched for Kent State that it's back in a bowl game, but I can't get overly excited about this game. Now, I want to make it clear that, just because I'm not enthusiastic about a game doesn't mean I won't watch it. I will watch every single one of these games. They are like my children, but like your children, you have higher hopes for some of them than others.

35. Quick Lane Bowl -- Pitt vs. Eastern Michigan -- Dec. 26, 8 p.m.: I am looking forward to the crowd shots in this game. There are going to be a whole lot of empty seats and enthusiastic fans because if you're driving to Detroit to watch Pitt and Eastern Michigan, you're going to be excited, damn it.

34. Arizona Bowl -- Wyoming vs. Georgia State -- Dec. 31, 4:30 p.m.: Wyoming is one of my personal favorites, and I love Georgia State's Dan Ellington, but I worry this game won't be all that close. And if it is tight, it'll likely be boring.

33. Redbox Bowl -- Illinois vs. Cal -- Dec. 30, 4 p.m.: Did I want to rank this bowl a lot higher because Illinois is in it? Yes, I did. In the end, I guess I just had too much journalistic integrity to sully something as important as bowl rankings with my personal feelings. Still, I do like this game, but the over/under will likely be in the high-30s. That doesn't appeal to a mass audience.

32. Armed Forces Bowl -- Southern Miss vs. Tulane -- Jan. 4, 11:30 a.m.: There's a good chance that, if you tune into this game, it will be your first time watching both teams. I like the matchup thanks in large part to the proximity of these schools. It's not the sexiest matchup on paper, so I can't rank it much higher than this, but it could get weird.

31. Music City Bowl -- Mississippi State vs. Louisville -- Dec. 30, 4 p.m.: This game will either go to triple-overtime or be a total blowout. There is no in-between. What I do know is that it will almost certainly not include a player miming a dog urinating to cost his team a possible win. So I have to pe(e)nalize it a bit for that.

30. Bahamas Bowl -- Buffalo vs. Charlotte -- Dec. 20, 2 p.m.: Listen, the Bahamas Bowl is always worth your time, and while you haven't watched a lot of Buffalo and Charlotte, there's no better time to acquaint yourself than during this game.

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29. Pinstripe Bowl -- Michigan State vs. Wake Forest -- Dec. 27, 3:20 p.m.: Let's see, either Michigan State gets its way and turns this into a slow, churning death march, or Wake takes control and wins by 25. Some bonus points were awarded for the tweets from media members complaining about the open-air press box at Yankee Stadium during the game.

28. Hawaii Bowl -- Hawaii vs. BYU -- Dec. 24, 8 p.m.: The Hawaii Bowl wasn't on Christmas Eve last season, and it ruined Christmas a little. Thankfully, it's back to the time slot it was meant to occupy this year, and it has a matchup that could prove to be great.

27. Independence Bowl -- Louisiana Tech vs. Miami (FL) -- Dec. 26, 4 p.m.: There's a more than decent chance Miami shows up and blows the Bulldogs out here, and because of that, it's hard to rank this game higher than this. That said, there's also a good chance Louisiana Tech pulls off an upset against a disinterested Miami team, and there's nothing college football fans love more than seeing once-powerful programs losing to Group of Five teams in Shreveport, Louisiana.

26. LendingTree Bowl -- Louisiana vs. Miami (OH) -- Jan. 6, 7:30 p.m.: The Ragin' Cajuns have been one of the best teams you haven't noticed, and Miami won the MAC this year. This is a matchup between two of the better Group of Five teams in the country. It has that sneaky potential.

25. First Responder Bowl -- Western Kentucky vs. Western Michigan -- Dec. 30, 12:30 p.m.: The Manifest Destiny Bowl. Two schools that have both sent head coaches to Big Ten jobs in recent years do battle in Dallas. It will likely be a close game, if not incredibly exciting.

24. New Mexico Bowl -- Central Michigan vs. San Diego State -- Dec. 21, 2 p.m.: This is a game that could be finished in fewer than three hours, and that's not something we should ignore. Sometimes you need a good, quick bowl game to help you get on with your day. As for the matchup, San Diego State has never not played in a close game, so you can count on this one being a one-score game with six minutes to play.

23. Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl -- Florida State vs. Arizona State -- Dec. 31, 2 p.m.: This is an even matchup that should be pretty fun to watch. You know Herm Edwards will have his team pumped up and ready to play, and Florida State will want to show off for new coach Mike Norvell.

22. Birmingham Bowl -- No. 21 Cincinnati vs. Boston College -- Jan. 2, 3 p.m.: I like this matchup quite a bit, and this should be a close game, but there are concerns. Boston College is already without a coach, and it's not impossible that Cincinnati's Luke Fickell could move on before this game gets played.

21. Military Bowl -- North Carolina vs. Temple -- Dec. 27, Noon: North Carolina has been a team that plays to its competition all season long, and it's going against a Temple team that can give it some problems. I'm not ranking this one any higher than this, but it could end up being one of the 10 best games of the postseason.

20. Gasparilla Bowl -- UCF vs. Marshall -- Dec. 23, 2:30 p.m.: I wish this game was still being played at Tropicana Field because there's nothing like football indoors on artificial grass that is 15 different shades of green. Nevertheless, this has a chance to be an interesting game, but it could also prove to be a UCF blowout.

19. Cheez-It Bowl -- Air Force vs. Washington State -- Dec. 27, 10:15 p.m.: Talk about your clash of styles. Air Force is an option team that passes more than most teams of its ilk, while Wazzu would prefer never to run the ball at all. And it's all happening in the Cheez-It Bowl, which was the runaway winner for our No. 1 bowl game last season. Will it defend its title?

18. Texas Bowl -- No. 25 Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M -- Dec. 27, 6:45 p.m.: The Big 12 reunion everybody is always hoping Texas A&M would have! OK, maybe not, but these are certainly two schools that are familiar with one another. That will bring an extra level of hostility to what is supposed to be a friendly get together. We'll also find out if Texas A&M can finally beat a ranked team in 2019.

17. Gator Bowl -- Indiana vs. Tennessee -- Jan. 2, 7 p.m.: Visually, the colors might clash a bit here. Something about red, white and creamsicle won't feel right, but the game should be interesting. These are two evenly-matched teams on paper, and they're two programs that will be looking to use this game as a springboard into 2020, so there won't be any "they didn't care about this game" talk afterward.

16. Belk Bowl -- Virginia Tech vs. Kentucky -- Dec. 31, Noon: The Belk Bowl has existed since 2002, and this will be Virginia Tech's 83rd appearance in the game give or take. If you haven't watched Lynn Bowden and Kentucky this season, do yourself a favor and tune in. Bowden against the Virginia Tech defense in Bud Foster's last game, will be a lot of fun.

15. New Orleans Bowl -- No. 20 Appalachian State vs. UAB -- Dec. 21, 9 p.m.: I wish the Mountaineers could have found their way into a bigger bowl game against another Power Five program, but I'll settle for this. The Sun Belt champs will square off with a UAB team that won its division in Conference USA. I might have ranked it a little higher if not for Eli Drinkwitz's departure for Missouri.

14. Boca Raton Bowl -- SMU vs. FAU -- Dec. 21, 3:30 p.m.: If Lane Kiffin weren't leaving to take over at Ole Miss, this game would have been in my top 10. On paper, it should be high-scoring and entertaining, but how motivated will the Owls be? If FAU shows up with the same kind of effort it had in the C-USA Championship, this game could be awesome. If it doesn't, it could be one-sided.

13. Orange Bowl -- No. 9 Florida vs. No. 24 Virginia -- Dec. 30, 8 p.m.: We can always count on one New Year's Six game being a blowout, and I would say this is the most likely candidate. I liked Virginia football before it was cool to like Virginia football, but I don't know if this is a great matchup for the Cavs against a Gators team that has outscored opponents 119-23 over the last three games.

12. Holiday Bowl -- No. 16 Iowa vs. No. 22 USC -- Dec. 27, 8 p.m.: Finally, the rematch of the 2002 Orange Bowl we've been waiting 17 years to see! Seriously, this could prove to be a fun matchup between two evenly-matched teams. I have it at No. 12, but it's not far off from being a top 10 game.

11. Las Vegas Bowl -- No. 19 Boise State vs. Washington -- Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m.: I don't know if you know this, but Washington coach Chris Petersen will be stepping down after this game. Also, maybe this is news to you, but did you know that before he took the Washington job, Chris Petersen was the coach at Boise State? He was! He had some success there too! Yeah, storyline-wise, this is a top-five game. Actual game-wise, this is as high as I can put it.

10. Liberty Bowl -- No. 23 Navy vs. Kansas State -- Dec. 31, 3:45 p.m.: I'll understand if this game isn't everybody's cup of tea, but I'm all about it. What we have here is an option team in Navy going against a Kansas State team that doesn't run the option, but runs the ball almost as often as an option team. The clock is never going to stop. It's going to be physical. The players will be sore when it's done. I'm going to love every minute.

9. Alamo Bowl -- No. 11 Utah vs. Texas -- Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m.: I hope Utah comes into this game ready to play and isn't down on itself for losing the Pac-12 and likely missing out on a playoff spot. The Utes had a poor showing against Oregon, but they're a very good team, and they'll be facing a Texas team that's better than its record suggests. There's a lot of potential in this game.

8. Camping World Bowl -- No. 15 Notre Dame vs. Iowa State -- Dec. 28, Noon: Speaking of teams that are better than their records suggest, Iowa State gets a shot at a blue-blood here. Personally, I'd have preferred Notre Dame being in the Orange Bowl against Florida, but this isn't a bad consolation prize. This game will be close, and it could be a tennis match as well.

7. Outback Bowl -- No. 12 Auburn vs. No. 18 Minnesota -- Jan. 1, 1 p.m.: I don't know how this game will end, but I know what everybody will be saying about it. Either Auburn will win, and everybody will say, "I told you Minnesota wasn't any good," or Minnesota will win, and everybody will say it was because "Auburn didn't care about this game." Well, I care about this game. I want to see Minnesota's giant offensive line against Auburn's giant defensive line.

6. Cotton Bowl -- No. 10 Penn State vs. No. 17 Memphis -- Dec. 28, Noon: I was hoping that Mike Norvell would be coaching the Tigers in this one, but the new Florida State coach ultimately opted to skip on the opportunity. Still, I happen to believe that Memphis is underrated by the committee at No. 17 and that it is fully capable of knocking off Penn State. Of course, I also think Penn State is capable of beating Memphis. This one could play like a video game.

5. Citrus Bowl -- No. 13 Alabama vs. No. 14 Michigan -- Jan 1, 1 p.m.: This game was hard to rank because I have no idea how many players might sit it out. Still, when you look at the two programs involved, as well as the two coaches who lead them, how could you rank this outside the top five? It's Alabama and Michigan. They're two of the most heralded programs in college football history, and this will be only the fifth meeting between the two, first in a bowl since 2000.

4. Sugar Bowl -- No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 7 Baylor -- Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m.: I don't know what the total is for this game yet, but take the under. I have enjoyed watching both of these defenses all season long, and I'm looking forward to this matchup between conference runners-up. Hopefully, both teams will be healthier for this game than they were for their conference championships.

3. Rose Bowl -- No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 8 Wisconsin -- Jan. 1, 5 p.m.: It's the Rose Bowl. It's my favorite bowl game, and it always will be. Also, as typically happens, it's an interesting matchup between two similar teams. Two good teams playing in one of the most picturesque settings in sport. What's not to like?

2. Peach Bowl -- No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Oklahoma -- Dec. 28, 4 p.m.: Remember the Rose Bowl between Oklahoma and Georgia a few years ago? I can't shake the feeling that this game could prove to be a lot like that one. These are two explosive offenses and two defenses that are better than most believe. It's also another battle between Jalen Hurts and LSU, though Jalen will be wearing a different uniform this time. I know Oklahoma is considered "the other team" in the playoff this year, but I wouldn't just assume it's going to get its butt kicked here.

1. Fiesta Bowl -- No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson -- Dec. 28, 8 p.m.: These are the two best teams in the country, and they have been all season long. So, with that in mind, there's simply no way I could rank any other bowl game ahead of this one. They've been the two most dominant teams all year. The last time they met in a semifinal, Clemson won 31-0. I have a feeling this year's game will be a bit more competitive.

Want to join the action this bowl season? Enter the CBS Sports Bowl Challenge and pick the games for a free chance to win $5,000. You can even create a buddy group to compete with friends. Terms Apply.

CBS Sports Writer

Tom Fornelli has been a college football writer at CBS Sports since 2010. During his time at CBS, Tom has proven time and again that he hates your favorite team and thinks your rival is a paragon of football... Full Bio

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