‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year‘
That’s right, baby, it’s Bowl season in the college football world. A time in which various teams get matched up against out-of-conference foes in a random city or even a random stadium (some that aren’t even football stadiums!). While many will focus solely on the Playoff games, I’m here to rank and briefly speak on the plentiful bounty of other games on the schedule.
Last season, I ranked every game. However, as the landscape of the sports shifts to increased draft opt-outs, transfer portal departures, and head coaches moving on or being fired, I’ve come to realize this is a futile and stupid exercise. Instead, I will bucket the games into six categories and rank them within said category. Without further ado, here is my 2022-23 Bowl Rankings
1 – Wasabi Fenway Bowl: Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Louisville (7-5) – This one could have been dropped into a different bucket (sick location) but instead, this awkward meeting between two former rivals will fall into this one because both teams will be with interim coaches. Why? Because Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell left to take the job at Wisconsin and to fill the vacancy, the Bearcats poached Scott Satterfield from Louisville. I have to imagine that Louisville players (those left, at least) will want to get a win against a Bearcats squad that Satterfield will take over after the clock hits 0:00.
2 – TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl: Coastal Carolina (9-3) vs. East Carolina (7-5) – It’s kind of a bummer that Jamey Chadwell wasn’t given more of a look at a higher program, but the coach who’s led Coastal Carolina through a major high point was ultimately plucked to lead Liberty after Hugh Freeze left for Auburn. This game gives us two really good G5 Carolina programs that get to battle it out in…Alabama. Expect plenty of points in this matchup.
3 – Cheez-It Citrus Bowl: #17 LSU (9-4) vs. Purdue (8-5) – Purdue coach Jeff Brohm left this week to take the Louisville job and his younger brother Brian (yes, that one) was named interim for the bowl game. LSU has had a roller coaster season with big wins and demoralizing losses, but they beat Alabama and made the SEC Championship and that should be a win for Brian Kelly in Year 1. Purdue beat Tennessee in the Bowl last season, so a loss for LSU in this game could be a good sign for next season? I love Cheez-Its, by the way.
4 – Guaranteed Rate Bowl: Wisconsin (6-6) vs. Oklahoma State (7-5) – In August, you could have heard of this matchup and thought it would be a New Years Six game. Instead, the Badgers fired Paul Chryst midway through the season and Oklahoma State lost 4 of their final 5 games after being ranked in the Top 10. It’s an interesting helmet matchup between two historically different styles of play and also two teams that just had their starting quarterbacks enter the transfer portal.
5 – RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl: Liberty (8-4) vs. Toledo (8-5) – Liberty collapsed down the stretch including a brutal loss to New Mexico State in which fans were audibly cheering for Hugh Freeze to go to Auburn. Toledo, on the other hand, managed to win a downtrodden MAC conference and that should (still) count for something. This game is played on a Tuesday, so expect the Rockets to have the upper hand with a little help from MACtion Magic.
6 – Frisco Bowl: North Texas (7-6) vs. Boise State (9-4) – This game: does not have a sponsor, involves two teams that lost their conference championship games, one team (North Texas) that fired its head coach, and one quarterback who played in the New York Yankees system (Austin Aune, North Texas). The intrigue is low, although Boise State came on late and seems to finally be moving in the right direction after a rough start.
1 – Rose Bowl: #11 Penn State (10-2) vs. #8 Utah (10-3) – What’s a cooler location than the Rose Bowl? That prestine sunset over the hills as the game commences between two top tier college football teams. Its perfect. This years iteration will be between a very solid Penn State squad that was still firmly a step below both Michigan and Ohio State and a Utah team that beat USC twice to claim a second consecutive Pac-12 Championship and Rose Bowl appearance.
2 – Bad Boy Mowers Pinstripe Bowl: Syracuse (7-5) vs. Minnesota (8-4) – As of this writing, I have no idea if Sean Tucker or Mo Ibrahim will play in this game, but if they do we’ll get a good look at two of the best running backs in the country. Outside of that, not much going on here. Both fairly boring teams, but they are playing in Yankee Stadium as is tradition. This Bowl always hosts mid-tier ACC and Big Ten schools playing in 30 degree weather, what a way to spend the holidays.
3 – HomeTown Lenders Bahamas Bowl: Miami OH (6-6) vs. UAB (6-6) – While those Power 5 teams will be playing in an ice cold baseball stadium, these two Group of 5 schools will celebrate 6-6 seasons with a vacation to the Bahamas. Finally, a win for the working class. This game kicks off the Bowl season at 11:30 am on a Friday. Worth watching for that alone, but Blazers running back DeWayne McBride (will he play? I don’t know, man) was the best player in the Group of 5 regardless of what my colleague Justin Cripe has to say.
4 – Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Eastern Michigan (8-4) vs. San Jose State (7-4) – When you think of iconic Bowl games, you’d have to include the Potato Bowl. The winning team will douse its coach with a bucket of French fries, the game will be played on the legendary Boise blue turf, and it also features Spuddy Buddy, an incredibly happy vibes potato mascot.
5 – Myrtle Beach Bowl: Marshall (8-4) vs. UConn (6-6) – Marshall upset Notre Dame earlier this season and UConn somehow found its way back to Bowl season under Jim Mora Jr. It’ll be a good uniform matchup taking place on the Coastal Carolina teal turf. Not much happening outside of that, though.
6 – EasyPost Hawai’i Bowl: Middle Tennessee (7-5) vs. San Diego State (7-5) – I feel bad for putting this last in this bucket, the Hawai’i Bowl is a Christmas Eve tradition as old as time for me. That said, until they get the new stadium up and running and Timmy Chang turns the Rainbow Warriors back into a Bowl team, it doesn’t fully have the jazz it normally does. No offense to the Blue Raiders or Aztecs, but neither team is super interesting. Middle Tennessee beat the brakes off Miami earlier this season, so maybe I’m just still bitter?
G5 vs. G5
1 – R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Western Kentucky (8-5) vs. South Alabama (10-2) – One of the best bowl matchups of the season is happening down in New Orleans, and I’m not talking about the Sugar Bowl. Western Kentucky and its high power air offense takes on a ten win South Alabama team that has a strong balanced offense and a stingy defense allowing under 20 PPG. Hilltoppers quarterback Austin Reed entered the transfer portal, though, which is the only downside of this matchup. They still have Big Red, though.
2 – Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl: Ohio (9-4) vs. Wyoming (7-5) – No shot I was ranking a Wyoming game any lower than this, the uniforms alone are worth high merit. Barstool ran a college basketball invitational last month that was enjoyable to watch for gamblers, featuring Dave Portnoy and Dan ‘Big Cat’ Katz openly discussing wagers while rising broadcast star Jake Marsh delivered the professionalism in between. Expect much of the same here. With Ohio starting quarterback Kurtis Rourke sidelined and Wyoming kicking star running back Titus Swen off the team, I expect a low scoring but close affair here.
3 – Quick Lane Bowl: New Mexico State (6-6) vs. Bowling Green (6-6) – Unless you are a fan of either team, you probably didn’t expect either of these schools to make a Bowl game. Because of that, I’m ranking this in the middle of the bucket. Bowling Green lost to Eastern Kentucky earlier this year in a thrilling two-point shootout but found redemption in a last minute win over MAC Champion Toledo late in the year to secure a Bowl invite. The Aggies started 0-4 but found wins over a myriad of bad opponents but found bowl eligibility by upsetting Liberty on the road. Falcons wide receiver Odieu Hiliare and Aggie quarterback Diego Pavia are the players to watch here.
4 – Camellia Bowl: Georgia Southern (6-6) vs. Buffalo (6-6) – Not a whole lot going on this one outside of former Bulls quarterback Kyle Vantrease playing his old squad as a Georgia Southern Eagle. Southern started strong in year one under Clay Helton before faltering late, securing a bowl bid in the final week of the season over Appalachian State. Bulls head coach Mo Linguist is considered a rising star in the industry, but they also struggled down the stretch before securing a bowl win with a last minute score over Akron.
5 – Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl: Louisiana (6-6) vs. Houston (7-5) – This matchup would have looked a lot better in the preseason, but unfortunately neither team lived up to the hype. The Cajuns struggled after Billy Napier left for Florida and plenty of roster turnover didn’t help things, while Houston was considered a potential Playoff spoiler before losing two of their first three games and never really getting things back together on the way to a 7-5 record. If he plays, Nathaniel Dell is a start receiver to watch for the Cougars.
6 – SERVPRO First Responder Bowl: Memphis (6-6) vs. Utah State (6-6) – Another game with not a lot going on, to be honest. Memphis has slowly gone downhill ever since Mike Norvell left, limping their way to a 6-6 record after losing four straight in the middle of the season. Ryan Silverfield is likely on the hot seat entering next season. Utah State won the Mountain West last year but kicked off 2022 with a 1-4 record, including losses to FCS Weber State and UNLV. The Aggies rallied to finish 5-2 down the stretch, though.
7 – LendingTree Bowl: Rice (5-7) vs. Southern Miss (6-6) – This game features a 5-7 team, so it has to be last. Rice managed bowl eligibility based on academics as there was one team needed to fill spots, and 6-6 Army and Appalachian State squads both had two wins over FCS opponents and were declared ineligible. The only real value in this game comes from the Golden Eagle skill positions. Frank Gore Jr. quite literally does it all, passing-rushing-receiving, and wide receiver Jason Brownlee is an athletically gifted receiver that will play on Sundays.
P5 vs. G5
1 – Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl Presented by Stifel: Washington State (7-5) vs. Fresno State (9-4) – I have no idea if either will play in this game, but if they do, Cam Ward-Jake Haener is one of the best quarterback matchups of the bowl season. Add in the fact that they’ll be playing in SoFi Stadium? I’m classifying this as a much watch for college football fans everywhere. Only real downside to this game is that it’ll be played at noon local time instead of at night like it deserves.
2 – Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Baylor (6-6) vs. Air Force (9-3) – Baylor had a disappointing 2022 that included losing the final three games to finish 6-6 and will play in their rival TCU’s stadium, while Air Force won the coveted Commander-In-Chief Trophy over rivals Army and Navy to cap a successful campaign. Baylor currently sits at 6.5 point favorites and I think Air Force has a strong chance to pull the upset. Brad Roberts is a workhorse for the Falcons and one of the best backs in the country, and the Falcons defense also ranks amongst the best in the country in every major category.
3 – New Mexico Bowl: SMU (7-5) vs. BYU (7-5) – This game is a rematch of the infamous 1980 Holiday Bowl, one of the wildest comebacks in college football history. Unfortunately, the buzz for these teams isn’t quite as high as those teams. SMU brings and explosive offense (see: Houston game) and BYU has its own firepower in quarterback Jaren Hall. Neither team brings defense, though, and the O/U is listed in the high 60’s, so expect a fun shootout in Albuquerque.
4 – Military Bowl Presented by Peraton: UCF (9-4) vs. Duke (8-4) – This actually might be a really good game between two pretty solid teams, but it was the clear choice to put last in this bucket. Gus Malzahn’s obsession with swapping quarterbacks leaves a lot to be desired when watching the Knights, and Duke is still Duke at the end of the day. Riley Leonard looks like he’ll be one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC next season and gets a chance to close on a breakout season against a UCF defense that couldn’t find an answer against Tulane a few weeks ago.
P5 vs. P5
1 – San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: #15 Oregon (9-3) vs. North Carolina (9-4) – The O/U is 70. The uniform matchup will be great. This is one of the five best bowl games this season. North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye is going to be a preseason Heisman favorite next season. Expect a fun one in the Holiday Bowl.
2 – Cheez-It Bowl: Oklahoma (6-6) vs. #13 Florida State (9-3) – Another fun Cheez-Its celebration. This one ranks high because it’s a legacy matchup between two national college football brands. Oklahoma struggled in Brent Venables first season as head coach and will look to enter the offseason on a high note. Florida State took a huge step forward this season and Jordan Travis has proven himself to be a high end capable signal caller.
3 – SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl: Florida (6-6) vs. #14 Oregon State (9-3) – Jonathan Smith has quietly turned his alma mater around, finishing the regular season at #14 in the Playoff rankings. Beavers freshman running back Damien Martinez is a name to watch in the coming seasons after a productive rookie campaign. Billy Napier and the Gators struggled and quarterback Anthony Richardson declared for the Draft, but this could be a good opportunity to gain some momentum heading into next season.
4 – ReliaQuest Bowl: #22 Mississippi State (8-4) vs. Illinois (8-4) – Run heavy offense meets pass happy offense in this postseason matchup. One of the better unit matchups of the bowl season here between a stingy Illinois pass defense and the Mike Leach air raid.
5 – AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Kansas (6-6) vs. Arkansas (6-6) – Winning team lays claim to the Kansas name. The Jayhawks are back in a bowl game, and while the defense leaves plenty to be desired, their offense can score with the best of them. Arkansas didn’t live up to lofty expectations, but Rocket Sanders is one of the best backs in the country and absolutely worth watching.
6 – Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl: Pitt (8-4) vs. #18 UCLA (9-3) – Another high class uniform matchup is happening in the Sun Bowl between the Panthers and Bruins. Izzy Abanikanda is a stud back for the Panthers. On the other sideline, its the end of an era as Dorian Thompson-Robinson looks to go out on a high from UCLA.
7 – TaxAct Texas Bowl: Texas Tech (7-5) vs. Ole Miss (8-4) – Lane Kiffin’s offense is always worth a watch, but the Rebels dropped their last three games of the season after being ranked within the top ten. Texas Tech showed promise in Joey McGuires first season, even beating both Texas and Oklahoma in the same season for the first time in program history. The Red Raiders could be primed to upset Mississippi schools in back-to-back bowl seasons.
8 – Duke’s Mayo Bowl: Maryland (7-5) vs. #23 NC State (8-4) – Hand up, I do not like mayo. I do however enjoy seeing head coaches get doused by a water cooler full of mayo. Maryland’s offense led by Taulia Tagovailoa going against a tough Wolfpack defense featuring star linebacker Drake Thomas makes this an interesting matchup worth monitoring.
9 – Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl: Wake Forest (7-5) vs. Missouri (6-6) – As much as I enjoy supporting Wake Forest, this just isn’t a super appealing matchup. Sam Hartman has dealt with health issues this season, and the Deacs lost 4 of their last 5 games and never quite looked right after the second half of the Louisville game. Missouri squeaked into a bowl game by beating Arkansas in the final week of the season.
10 – TransPerfect Music City Bowl: Iowa (7-5) vs. Kentucky (7-5) – Why, God, Why? If this game ended 3-0, would anybody be surprised? Wildcats will be missing most of their offensive weapons and Iowa is down bad with skill position depth. This is gonna be cold and miserable, pour yourself a nice hot chocolate and mix in a little alcohol if you plan to watch.
Ranked vs. Ranked
1 – Valero Alamo Bowl: #20 Texas (8-4) vs. #12 Washington (10-2) – This is basically an elevated version of the Oregon/North Carolina game. Texas and Washington both provide electric offenses (the O/U is 68.5) and quarterbacks Quinn Ewers and Michael Penix will be high amongst preseason Heisman contenders entering next season. Go ahead and slap a must watch on the Alamo Bowl this year.
2 – CFP Semifinal at the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl: #3 TCU (12-1) vs. #2 Michigan (13-0) – I think the committee got the matchups right for the semifinal. As badly as some wanted to see Michigan and Ohio State here, TCU and Michigan is an interesting matchup that’ll feature Heisman runner-up Max Duggan and his variety of skill weapons against a strong Michigan defense that stymied a Lamborghini Buckeye offense a few weeks ago. Keep an eye on Quentin Johnston for the Frogs, he’s an insane athlete at wide receiver who will be a star in the NFL. Bonus: We are guaranteed a fresh name in the Finals.
3 – Duluth Trading Cure Bowl: #25 UTSA (11-2) vs. #24 Troy (11-2) – A ranked matchup on the opening day of Bowl season between the Conference USA Champion Roadrunners taking on the Sun Belt Champion Trojans. Troy plays a tenacious, fundamentally sound style of defense while UTSA wants to put up points via the arm of Frank Harris and his future Sunday receiving core. Expect quite a styles clash in this one.
4 – Goodyear Cotton Bowl: #16 Tulane (11-2) vs. #10 USC (11-2) – A potentially beautiful uniform matchup between the Wave and Trojans in the Cotton Bowl. Tulane has had a dream season under Willie Fritz, with a win over Big 12 Champion Kansas State in Manhattan and capping the season with its first AAC Championship. The Wave offense can score points with Michael Pratt and star runner Tyjae Spears, as well as an array of athletes on the perimeter. Tulane also plays sturdy defense in the pass game, making the matchup with Heisman winner Caleb Williams all the more interesting. Don’t write this off as an easy USC win, I think it’ll be closer than expected.
5 – Allstate Sugar Bowl: #5 Alabama (10-2) vs. #9 Kansas State (10-3) – Alabama is a toss up. They’ve seen several players enter the transfer portal, and who knows who’ll decide to forego the bowl game in favor of Draft prep. The Wildcats are a feisty squad who beat TCU to win the Big 12 Championship. They play solid defense and Deuce Vaughn is one of the most electric skill players in the nation. This isn’t a team that Alabama can just sleepwalk pass.
6 – CFP Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: #4 Ohio State (11-1) vs. #1 Georgia (13-0) – This has potential to be either a disaster or a close game, and it all depends on what Ohio State wants to do. Georgia is going to bring the wood and play a physical game against a Buckeye team that hasn’t really been interested in that under Ryan Day, but its hard to shut off Ohio State completely with the style of offense they play. Jaxson Smith-Njigba is already ruled out, which will be a big loss, but the matchup of the game will be Marvin Harrison Jr against one of the best secondaries.
7 – Capital One Orange Bowl: #6 Tennessee (10-2) vs. #7 Clemson (11-2) – The Orange Bowl took things a bit too literally with this matchup. Tennessee will be without Hendon Hooker and Cedric Tillman for the Bowl game, but Joe Milton will likely play so be prepared to watch 100 mph rockets that may or may hit its intended target. For Clemson, Cade Klubnik showed out against North Carolina and will hope to build off that success and head into 2023 on a high note with a New Year’s Six win.
8 – TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: #21 Notre Dame (8-4) vs. #19 South Carolina (8-4) – Both of these teams ended the season on high notes with wins over Clemson (sorry). This isn’t a super interesting matchup, though both will try to carry momentum into 2023 with young coaches and Spencer Rattler will continue to build back some Draft stock against a tough Irish defense.
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