The 2023 college football bowl schedule is set. Now the furore over the final four has begun to fade away — outside of Tallahassee at least — it’s time to sit back and think about which games are truly worth your time this festive season. We’d argue that they all are, but they’re not all created equally so we ranked the college football bowl games from worst to first for you.
Ranking the 2023 College Football Bowl Games
41) Famous Toastery Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Old Dominion
Western Kentucky’s offense took a downturn this season, and Old Dominion barely has one — ranking 100th in the nation for points scored this season. Most people will miss this college football bowl game while at work, given the 2:30 p.m. ET kick-off time.
40) 68 Ventures Bowl: South Alabama vs. Eastern Michigan
The first-ever meeting of South Alabama and Eastern Michigan sees the Eagles’ anemic offense face a decent Jaguars defense. With South Alabama WR Caullin Lacy entering the portal, we’ll also be deprived of one of the top offensive players in this game.
39) Fenway Bowl: SMU vs. Boston College
There might not be a bigger mismatch between opponents than AAC champion SMU and mid-table ACC contender Boston College, which could make this difficult to stomach for Mustangs fans expecting to find themselves playing in the New Year’s Six.
38) New Orleans Bowl: Jacksonville State vs. Louisiana
Jacksonville State and Louisiana last met in 2000, with the Gamecocks winning by two scores. Rich Rodriguez’s team deserved a better bowl assignment than facing a Ragin’ Cajuns team that they’re better than on both sides of the ball.
37) Arizona Bowl: Toledo vs. Wyoming
Despite their defeat to Miami (OH) in the MAC title game, the Toledo Rockets have been everything we expected this season, whereas Wyoming wilted to a 3-3 close after opening the year 5-1. Expect Toledo to repeat their 2012 victory over the Cowboys.
36) Camellia Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois
Northern Illinois comes into the game with a 7-1 head-to-head advantage, but Arkansas State has been the markedly better side this season. Tune in for RedWolves quarterback Jaylen Raynor, who should be the catalyst for a comfortable win.
35) Armed Forces Bowl: James Madison vs. Air Force
In another life, this would be one of the top college football bowl games to watch this December. However, James Madison heads to the game without their head coach and a raft of transfer portal departures and has lost their last four. It could be an ugly game.
34) Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers vs. Miami (FL)
There are not many college football bowl games with such a lopsided history, with Miami having never lost to Rutgers. Rutgers’ turgid offense makes the Pinstripe Bowl a difficult game to watch, while the Hurricanes will be without both QBs that played this season.
33) Quick Lane Bowl: Bowling Green vs. Minnesota
Minnesota is in Bowl Season by default as the best 5-7 team in the nation and will be without starting QB Athan Kaliakmanis after he entered the transfer portal. Bowling Green has the potential to get a second win over the Gophers in three seasons.
32) Military Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Tulane
While Virginia Tech developed nicely as the season progressed, the Hokies are no match for a Tulane team that was knocking on the NY6 door just days ago. The Green Wave run defense should ensure that this game, the tenth between the two teams, is one of the less competitive 2023 college football bowl games.
31) First Responder Bowl: Texas State vs. Rice
Texas State head coach G.J. Kinne was named the best first-year head coach by CFN at the end of the season, and he leads his high-scoring Bobcats against a Rice team that simply doesn’t have the offensive performance to keep up in the first meeting of the two teams since 1987.
30) Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Georgia State vs. Utah State
We’d be a lot more excited for this first-ever matchup between Georgia State and Utah State if Panthers running back Marcus Carroll hadn’t entered the transfer portal, depriving us of free-for-all against an Aggies defense that hasn’t stopped the run all year.
29) Music City Bowl: Auburn vs. Maryland
The attractiveness of the Music City Bowl might hinge on which Auburn team shows up in Nashville. If we get the Tigers team that scared Alabama in the Iron Bowl, it might get interesting against a Maryland team that has won two of their last seven.
28) Frisco Bowl: UTSA vs. Marshall
Marshall has won just two of their last eight games, with an offense and defense that ranks in the bottom half of the country. Charles Huff is a well-respected coach, but they’re not in the same zip code as UTSA, making this one of the less desirable bowl games to watch this festive season.
27) Myrtle Beach Bowl: Georgia Southern vs. Ohio
Georgia Southern’s defense has allowed nearly 30 points per game this year, but don’t expect Ohio to capitalize with the 100th-ranked scoring unit in the nation. The Bobcats’ defense may make this a low-scoring affair to kick off bowl season.
26) Sun Bowl: Oregon State vs. Notre Dame
This could have been one of the top college football bowl games to watch if it wasn’t for Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith leaving for Michigan State and several players — including two quarterbacks — following him out the door. That should negatively impact a matchup against a Notre Dame that ranks eighth in the nation for both offensive and defensive scoring.
25) Las Vegas Bowl: Utah vs. Northwestern
Is there a college football bowl game where the two teams fit the location less? Utah and Northwestern are two programs as far removed from the glitz and glamor of Las Vegas as their offenses are from finding the end zone this season. With much stronger defenses, their first meeting since 2018 could be a 9-6 game.
24) Boca Raton Bowl: USF vs. Syracuse
Alex Golesh has made the USF Bulls bowl eligible for the first time since 2018, firming up the defense and making the offense exciting. The Bulls blew out Syracuse the last time the two teams met in 2016, and with the Orange offense, it could happen again.
23) Citrus Bowl: Iowa vs. Tennessee
If you love defense and special teams, the Citrus Bowl might be considerably higher up your list of college football bowl games to watch. However, the ineffectiveness of the Iowa offense against a decent Tennessee defense makes this one of the less appetizing of the New Year’s Day matchups.
22) Liberty Bowl: Memphis vs. Iowa State
Memphis has one of the top-scoring offenses in the nation, while Iowa State has been sturdy on defense, for the most part, this season — including against former AAC opponent Cincinnati. Has Iowa State got the offense to take advantage of the Tigers 93rd ranked scoring defense?
21) Independence Bowl: Cal vs. Texas Tech
The last of the college football bowl games on opening Saturday features underperforming Power Five programs. Texas Tech’s offense hasn’t been near the level people expected in 2023, and they’ll be without talented WR Jerand Bradley. Jaydn Ott makes the Cal offense tick nicely enough, but the defense has struggled.
20) Texas Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M
On paper, the 9-4 Big 12 runners up Oklahoma State Cowboys and 7-5 Texas A&M Aggies should make for a good Texas Bowl matchup. The last four games between the two have been one-score games, and several of the Aggies’ five losses this season have been less than seven points.
The Texas A&M defense is ultra-talented, but the offense has several holes in it following portal departures. Meanwhile, if you neutralize Ollie Gordon II in the Cowboys offense, they very quickly become a different team, and not in a good way — as we saw against Texas this past weekend.
19) Hawaii Bowl: Coastal Carolina vs. San Jose State
It’ll officially be Christmas Eve on the East Coast by the time Coastal Carolina and San Jose State wrap up the Hawaii Bowl, potentially delivering an early gift of an exciting first-ever matchup. Brent Brennan’s Spartans will have something to prove after being denied a conference title shot by computer rankings.
18) Gator Bowl: Clemson vs. Kentucky
Kentucky and Clemson have both had disappointing seasons relative to preseason expectations, impacting the value of the Gator Bowl as one of the top college football bowl games. However, it’s hard not to get excited any time Ray Davis is on the field, and Clemson has a ton of talented young playmakers.
17) New Mexico Bowl: New Mexico State vs. Fresno State
Oh, hello, New Mexico Bowl; you had us at Diego Pavia vs. Mikey Keene. The New Mexico State Aggies have been one of the success stories of the season, and Jerry Kill’s team face off against fellow Power Five giant killer Fresno State in what should be an exciting, high-scoring showdown in Albuquerque.
16) Duke’s Mayo Bowl: North Carolina vs. West Virginia
While it seems unlikely that UNC quarterback Drake Maye will play in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, this one is well worth watching for two exciting rushing offenses battling against two questionable run defenses. West Virginia head coach Neal Brown started the year on the hot seat, could he end it covered in mayonnaise?
15) ReliaQuest Bowl: LSU vs. Wisconsin
Although Wisconsin hasn’t lived up to expectations in the first year under Luke Fickell, they still possess one of the best defenses in the nation, which will face a significant test from the number one scoring offense in the nation of LSU. The Badgers won the last time these two teams met.
14) Cure Bowl: Miami (OH) vs. Appalachian State
A sneaky, low-key awesome matchup comes to the Cure Bowl as MAC title-winning Miami (OH) take on Sun Belt runners-up Appalachian State. Two very contrasting styles should make for an exciting fight, with the RedHawks defense a serious challenge for the Mountaineers offense led by Joey Aguilar.
13) LA Bowl: UCLA vs. Boise State
As the Mountain West champions, Boise State takes up a slot in the LA Bowl, where they can cause an upset against the LA Bowl. Although the Bruins have a top-15 scoring defense in the nation, Broncos RB Ashton Jeanty is arguably one of the best offensive players in the nation, making this one of the top college football bowl games to watch this festive season.
12) Gasparilla Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. UCF
Georgia Tech is an absolute rollercoaster to watch, not just week-to-week but even within the lifespan of a game, while UCF has had its share of ups and downs this season. Watching dual-threats Haynes King and John Rhys-Plumlee is worth the admission fee at the Gasparilla Bowl alone, but throw in the unpredictability of each team, and you’ve potential magic.
11) Cotton Bowl: Missouri vs. Ohio State
Come for Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz making jokes about Connor Stalions, but stay for a clash between one of the best Ohio State defenses we’ve seen in recent years and a Missouri offense loaded with playmakers. Buckeyes’ starting QB Kyle McCord entering the transfer portal adds a level of intrigue for a matchup Ohio State has historically dominated.
The Top 10 2023 College Football Bowl Games
10) Pop-Tarts Bowl: North Carolina State vs. Kansas State
The Pop-Tarts Bowl has the potential to be one of the most under-the-radar college football bowl games. Much like one half of the matchup, it has been quietly very good this year. NC State has one of the top defenses in the nation. Kansas State has one of the top offenses. The Wolfpack have CFN’s Offensive Freshman of the Year in Kevin Concepcion. Lot’s to be excited by.
9) Fiesta Bowl: Liberty vs. Oregon
People already writing off the Fiesta Bowl clearly haven’t watched Liberty play this season. Although prone to giving up explosive plays, their defense will fly to the ball and force turnovers regardless of opponent, while there are not many teams who can stop the Flames ground game in full flow. Whether Ducks QB Bo Nix plays or not, this should be an electric, high-scoring game.
8) Birmingham Bowl: Duke vs. Troy
The Birmingham Bowl sneaks into the top 10 of the college football bowl games rankings for nothing more than Group of Five over Power Five upset potential. That’s not strictly speaking true. These two teams both play heavy-hitting, fly-to-the-ball defense that deserves to be admired. Meanwhile, Troy RB Kimani Vidal gets to test his talents against a solid Power Five defense.
7) Holiday Bowl: Louisville vs. USC
Anyone who watched the ACC Championship Game perhaps wouldn’t rate the Holiday Bowl too highly, but the Louisville Cardinals and Jack Plummer can reiterate their prowess against a terrible USC Trojans defense. Meanwhile, Lincoln Riley’s offenses are always good value for money, making for an intriguing first-ever matchup between the two teams.
6) Rose Bowl: Alabama vs. Michigan
Jalen Milroe vs. the best defense in the country. Two impressive offensive lines. Some of the top running back talent in the nation. A plethora of top-tier defensive backs. The all-time NCAA points-scorer. The storylines are endless, making the Rose Bowl between Alabama and Michigan comfortably one of the best college football bowl games of the 2023 season.
5) Peach Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Penn State
The first-ever matchup between Ole Miss and Penn State comes to the Peach Bowl, and it’s set up to be an entertaining matchup between evenly-matched teams. Lane Kiffin’s team should feature starting QB Jaxson Dart, leading the 20th-ranked scoring offense in the nation against a Nittany Lions defense that has allowed the third-fewest points in the country this year.
4) Guaranteed Rate Bowl: Kansas vs. UNLV
Two of the highest-scoring offenses in the nation taking on defenses that rank outside of the top 60 for points allowed sure sounds like a recipe for a high-scoring showdown to settle down to the day after Christmas. Kansas and UNLV have enjoyed remarkable seasons buoyed by exceptional playmakers. It will also be 20 years since the two teams last met.
3) Alamo Bowl: Arizona vs. Oklahoma
With the Arizona Wildcats heading to the Big 12 to replace an Oklahoma Sooners team leaving for the SEC, you could rename this the “Replacement Bowl” or “Changing of the Guard Bowl.” Given the bitterness between Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormack and the departing teams, he’d certainly love to see Arizona win.
That alone isn’t enough to make it one of the top college football bowl games. Thankfully, there are plenty of other reasons that do. Arizona QB Noah Fifita has been “must-watch” this year alongside WR Tetairoa McMillan. The Wildcats’ defense has enough talent to cause problems for an Oklahoma offense that is third in the nation but will likely be without starting QB Dillon Gabriel.
2) Orange Bowl: Georgia vs. Florida State
The Disrespect Bowl. Nothing gets college football teams fired up quite like being disrespected, and there aren’t two programs that feel more slighted right now than the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida State Seminoles. Expect both to attack the Orange Bowl as a prove-it game. Forget the quarterback situation for the ‘Noles; they’ll be running on pure vitriol come Dec. 30.
1) Sugar Bowl: Texas vs. Washington
While we’re as partial to a good piece of defensive play as anyone else, there are few greater sights in all of college football than two extraordinary, high-powered offenses going at it in an absolute slugfest for the ages. It would be surprising if we get anything other than that when the Washington Huskies and Texas Longhorns clash in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1st.
Of course, the importance of the game, with a spot in the College Football National Championship Game, adds to the allure of the Sugar Bowl. However, it’s the thought of the Michael Penix Jr. to Rome Odunze/Ja’lynn Polk/Jalen McMillan connection going toe-to-toe, blow-by-blow against Quinn Ewers and the Xavier Worthy/AD Mitchell/Ja’Tavion Sanders trio of talented pass catchers that excites four weeks out.