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Ranking All 39 College Football Bowl Games: From Must-See to Must-Miss

Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama Crimson Tide Football

Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama Crimson Tide Football

College football’s regular season is over and the matchups for the 2018-19 bowl season are set. In the CFB Playoff, Alabama takes on Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, with Clemson meeting Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. The winner of those two games will square off in Santa Clara on Jan. 7 for the national championship. It's no secret those two games are must-see matchups, but there's also no shortage of quality bowl contests outside of the playoff. The New Year's Six slate features intriguing contests between Michigan and Florida in the Peach Bowl, Georgia-Texas in the Sugar Bowl and Ohio State-Washington in the Rose Bowl. Outside of the New Year's Six, the Alamo Bowl (Washington State-Iowa State and Camping World Bowl (West Virginia-Syracuse) are two must-see matchups. The bowl season officially kicks off on Dec. 15 with five games, including an anticipated showdown between Utah State and North Texas in the New Mexico Bowl.

Watching all 39 bowl games isn’t impossible, but it can be difficult prioritizing which matchups are must-see television around the holidays. 

Athlon ranks and previews all of the matchups from the must-see to the ones you can avoid. From No. 39 to No. 1, here’s a look at the bowl matchups in terms of watchability and quality of game.

Ranking All 39 Bowl Games: Must-Watch to Must-Miss

39. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl – BYU (6-6) vs. Western Michigan (7-5)

Dec. 21 – 4 p.m. ET, ESPN

Both BYU and Western Michigan missed out on the postseason last fall, so it’s fitting these two teams are set to meet on the blue turf. After a disappointing 4-9 mark in 2017, coach Kalani Sitake hit the reset button on his staff. The moves paid dividends, as the Cougars knocked off Arizona and Wisconsin and lost by less than a touchdown to California, Northern Illinois, Utah and Boise State. Freshman quarterback Zach Wilson (1,261 yards and 8 TDs) and a solid defense (allowing only 21.7 ppg) lead the way for Sitake’s 2018 team. Former Western Michigan quarterback Tim Lester is 13-11 in his first two years as the program’s head coach and a win over MAC champion Northern Illinois in the season finale clinched a bowl berth for this team. Starting quarterback Jon Wassink is sidelined due to injury, but freshman Kaleb Eleby has gained valuable experience over the last couple of games. The one-two punch of LeVante Bellamy and Jamauri Bogan has combined for 21 touchdowns and 1,874 yards and will test a BYU defense allowing 129.4 rushing yards a contest.

Early Prediction: BYU 31, Western Michigan 20

38. Camellia Bowl – Georgia Southern (9-3) vs. Eastern Michigan (7-5)

Dec. 15 – 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Georgia Southern is back in the postseason after a two-year absence, while Eastern Michigan earned its second trip to a bowl in three seasons. That may seem like a minor accomplishment with 39 bowls, but the Eagles had only one postseason trip prior to the 2016 campaign. The Eagles were one of the most-improved teams in the nation this fall, finishing 9-3 after a 2-10 mark in 2017. New coach Chad Lunsford and an improved rushing game sparked the nine-win season in 2018. Georgia Southern ranks ninth nationally in rushing offense and could find plenty of running room against an Eastern Michigan front giving up 192.9 rushing yards a game. Despite that, coach Chris Creighton’s team is only giving up 22 points a game. When the Eagles have the ball, quarterback Tyler Wiegers (11 TDs to 3 INTs) faces a Georgia Southern secondary ranked third in the Sun Belt in pass efficiency defense. Eastern Michigan also ranked second in the MAC with 17 plays of 40 yards or more in 2018. Of the Eagles' five losses, seven came by seven points or less.

Early Prediction: Georgia Southern 34, Eastern Michigan 24

37. Cure Bowl – Louisiana (7-6) vs. Tulane (6-6)

Dec. 15 – 2:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network

It’s an all-Louisiana showdown in the Cure Bowl on Dec. 15. These two teams have played 28 previous times, with the Green Wave winning 22 matchups. Tulane has made steady progress under coach Willie Fritz and finished 2018 with a share of the American Athletic Conference West Division title. The Green Wave’s offense is led by a ground game that averages 208.3 yards a contest, with LSU transfer Justin McMillan emerging late in the season at quarterback. Louisiana is also trending up under first-year coach Billy Napier. The Ragin’ Cajuns won the Sun Belt West Division but fell short of an upset victory at Appalachian State (30-19) in the first-ever conference championship game. Similar to Tulane, Louisiana’s offense can lean on a strong ground attack (229.1 ypg). Sophomore Trey Ragas eclipsed 1,000 yards (1,141), with Elijah Mitchell posting 951. The big difference between these two teams comes on defense. Tulane is holding opponents to 27.8 points a game and 5.6 yards per play. Louisiana is giving up 6.4 yards a snap and 33.7 points a contest.

Early Prediction: Tulane 27, Louisiana 24

36. Gasparilla Bowl – USF (7-5) vs. Marshall (8-4)

Dec. 20 – 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

USF is staying home for the postseason, as the Gasparilla Bowl has moved from Tropicana Field to Raymond James Stadium (the Bulls' home field). After a 7-0 start, the Bulls finished the year with five straight losses, including a 38-10 defeat to UCF. Quarterback Blake Barnett was a big reason why coach Charlie Strong’s team got off to a fast start, but he missed two out of the last three games due to injury. His status for the bowl game is uncertain. If Barnett can’t go, Brett Kean or Chris Oladokun will get the nod under center. The one-two punch of Jordan Cronkrite and Johnny Ford at running back is the strength of USF’s offense but running room could be limited against a Marshall defense ranked second in Conference USA versus the run. Coach Doc Holliday’s offense is averaging only 27.4 points a game, but there’s a promising core of talent in place, starting with quarterback Isaiah Green, running backs Tyler King and Brenden Knox and receiver Tyre Brady. The Thundering Herd are 5-0 in bowl games under Holliday.

Early Prediction: Marshall 30, USF 27

35. Cheez-It Bowl – TCU (6-6) vs. California (7-5)

Dec. 26 – 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

A defensive slugfest is on tap for this matchup in Phoenix. California is only allowing 21.3 points a contest, while TCU isn’t far behind at 24.4. The Horned Frogs had to navigate a handful of injuries on both sides of the ball this season and it’s uncertain what coach Gary Patterson’s depth chart will look like by Dec. 26. Regardless of who starts at quarterback for TCU, the staff has to find ways to get the ball to dynamic receiver Jalen Reagor (72 catches for 1,061 yards). The Golden Bears are led by one of the top defensive backfields in the Pac-12 and have allowed only nine plays of 40 yards or more. Similar to TCU, California had to deal with injuries on offense as well, but running back Patrick Laird (932 yards) is the focal point for coach Justin Wilcox. Turnovers will be crucial in a tight game and have been an issue for both teams. TCU is minus-six, and California is minus-two this season.

Early Prediction: TCU 20, California 17

34. Armed Forces Bowl – Army (9-2) vs. Houston (8-4)

Dec. 22 – 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

With a win against Navy on Dec. 8 or in the bowl game against Houston, Army would have back-to-back seasons of double-digit victories. The Black Knights rank second in the nation by averaging 303 rushing yards a game and figure to be a tough matchup for a Houston defense that will be without tackle Ed Oliver and allowing 197.5 rushing yards a game. Additionally, coordinator Mark D’Onofrio was dismissed after the regular season finale against Memphis. The Cougars are also shorthanded on offense after quarterback D’Eriq King suffered a season-ending knee injury against Tulane. Freshman Nathan Tune stepped into the starting lineup against Memphis and completed 18 of 43 passes for 256 yards and three passing touchdowns. The Cougars aren’t short on skill talent, but Army’s defense is only giving up 18.7 points a game. This game is all about style of play. Will Army’s ground game get on track and dominate the time of possession? Or will Houston’s high-powered offense jump to an early lead and force the Black Knights out of their comfort zone?