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Ranking All 41 College Football Bowl Games: From Must-See to Must-Miss

C.J. Stroud, Ohio State Buckeyes in 2022 Rose Bowl vs. Utah Utes

College football’s regular season is over and the 41 matchups for the 2022-23 bowl season are set. The CFB Playoff begins on Dec. 31 with TCU and Michigan meeting in the Fiesta Bowl, followed by Ohio State and Georgia in the Peach Bowl. The winner of those two games will square off in Inglewood on Jan. 9 for the national championship. 

The semifinal playoff games are always must-see matchups, but there's also no shortage of quality bowl contests outside of the four-team playoff. The New Year's Six slate features intriguing matchups between Kansas State and Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, Clemson-Tennessee in the Orange Bowl and Tulane-USC in the Cotton Bowl. Outside of the New Year's Six, the Cure Bowl (UTSA-Troy) and Alamo Bowl (Washington-Texas) are must-see contests. The bowl season officially kicks off on Dec. 16 with two games, with six on tap for Saturday, Dec. 17.

Watching all 41 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. 41 to No. 1, here’s a look at the bowl matchups in terms of watchability and quality of game.

Ranking All 41 Bowl Games: Must-Watch to Must-Miss

41. Quick Lane Bowl – New Mexico State (6-6) vs. Bowling Green (6-6)
Dec. 26 – 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Falcons and Aggies kick off the post-Christmas bowl schedule with the first meeting on the gridiron between these two programs. New Mexico State coach Jerry Kill did one of the best jobs by a first-year coach, getting the Aggies to 6-6 after the team won just eight games over the previous four seasons. The '22 campaign was also a high point for Bowling Green coach Scot Loeffler. This is the Falcons' first bowl trek since 2015. Loeffler's defense tied for 11th nationally with 37 sacks.

Early Pick: Bowling Green

40. LendingTree Bowl – Rice (5-7) vs. Southern Miss (6-6)
Dec. 17 – 5:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

It's a battle of old Conference USA foes in Mobile, but the bigger storyline is the improvement of both programs under current head coaches Mike Bloomgren (Rice) and Will Hall (Southern Miss). The Owls have struggled to stop the run (166.8 yards a game allowed) and face a tough matchup against Southern Miss running back Frank Gore Jr. (1,053 yards).

Early Pick: Southern Miss

39. Bahamas Bowl – UAB (6-6) vs. Miami, Ohio (6-6)
Dec. 16 – 11:30 a.m. ET, ESPN

Bowl season officially starts here. The Blazers and RedHawks both needed victories in their final regular-season game to clinch a postseason trip, but neither team will complain about a trek to the Bahamas. Expect points to be at a premium in this one. Both teams hold opponents to under 25 points a contest, but UAB’s offense (30.6 points a game) has been more prolific behind standout running back DeWayne McBride (1,713 yards and 19 TDs).

Early Pick: UAB

38. Hawaii Bowl – Middle Tennessee (7-5) vs. San Diego State (7-5)
Dec. 24 – 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Bowl hopes for the Aztecs were dim after a 2-3 start, but coach Brady Hoke's team rallied for a 5-2 finish, largely boosted by the emergence of Jalen Mayden at quarterback. And as usual, San Diego State's defense (20.2 points a game allowed) is one of the stingiest in the Mountain West. This game marks the 10th bowl appearance for Rick Stockstill at Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders also scored one of the biggest upsets of the year by beating Miami on Sept. 24 and finished the regular season by winning three in a row.

Early Pick: San Diego State

37. Arizona Bowl – Wyoming (7-5) vs. Ohio (9-4)
Dec. 30 – 4:30 p.m. ET, Barstool Sports

Both Wyoming and Ohio enter bowl prep without a key part of their regular season success. The Bobcats lost quarterback and MAC Offensive Player of the Year Kurtis Rourke to a late-season knee injury, while the Cowboys will be without running back Titus Swen after he was dismissed from the team following the finale at Fresno State. Even with Swen gone, Wyoming will lean on its rushing attack and standout defense to push for its fourth bowl win in a row.

Early Pick: Wyoming

36. Camellia Bowl – Georgia Southern (6-6) vs. Buffalo (6-6)
Dec. 27 – Noon ET, ESPN

Both Georgia Southern and Buffalo needed a win in their final regular-season contest to reach the postseason, but that's not the only tie between the two programs. Quarterback Kyle Vantrease played for the Bulls from 2017-21 before transferring to Georgia Southern. His arrival in Statesboro helped spark the Eagles under new coach Clay Helton, throwing for 3,901 yards and 25 touchdowns over 12 starts.

Early Pick: Georgia Southern

35. Myrtle Beach Bowl - UConn (6-6) vs. Marshall (8-4)
Dec. 19 – 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Jim Mora quietly did one of the nation's best coaching jobs to get UConn to 6-6 and in a bowl for the first time since 2015. Marshall beat Notre Dame on Sept. 10 but stumbled to three losses in their next four games before finishing the season on a four-game winning streak. Coach Charles Huff's squad brings the Sun Belt's top defense (16.2 points a game allowed) and a prolific one-two punch at running back in Khalan Laborn and Rasheen Ali to the teal turf.

Early Pick: Marshall

34. First Responder Bowl – Memphis (6-6) vs. Utah State (6-6)
Dec. 27 – 3:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

Memphis' Seth Henigan - one of the AAC's top quarterbacks - faces a Utah State defense that's allowed 24 passing scores and surrenders 30.6 points a game this year. The Aggies won the Mountain West last season but regressed to a 6-6 finish after an injury to quarterback Logan Bonner and problems with turnovers (24). These two teams haven't played each other since 1977.

Early Pick: Memphis

33. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl – Eastern Michigan (8-4) vs. San Jose State (7-4)
Dec. 20 – 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton continues to do one of the nation's most underrated coaching jobs in Ypsilanti by guiding the team to just its third season of more than seven wins and its fifth bowl in five years. The Spartans ranked second in the Mountain West in fewest yards per play allowed (5.0), while a standout pass rush led by linemen Cade Hall and Viliami Fehoko will be a handful for an efficient EMU offense.

Early Pick: San Jose State

32. Independence Bowl – Houston (7-5) vs. Louisiana (6-6)
Dec. 23 – 3 p.m. ET, ESPN

Both Louisiana and Houston were considered preseason favorites in their respective conference, so it's surprising to see these two teams enter bowl season with a combined 13-11 mark. Quarterback Clayton Tune and receiver Nathaniel Dell lead a high-powered offense (37.2 points a game) for the Cougars, but a porous defense (33.5 points allowed a contest) should allow Louisiana's ground game to find plenty of running room.

Early Pick: Houston

31. Frisco Bowl – Boise State (9-4) vs. North Texas (7-6)
Dec. 17 – 9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Mean Green essentially have home-field advantage here thanks to a short trek from Denton to Frisco. However, a tough Boise State defense (18.5 points a game allowed) and ground attack (187 yards a game) will make it tough for North Texas to bring bowl hardware back to campus.

Early Pick: Boise State

30. Boca Raton Bowl – Toledo (8-5) vs. Liberty (8-4)
Dec. 20 – 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

In six of the eight previous meetings of the Boca Raton Bowl, the winning team had at least 49 points. Could we be in for another high-scoring matchup? Quarterback Dequan Finn and one of the MAC's top defenses led the Rockets to a conference title win over Ohio. Liberty scored a huge non-conference victory at Arkansas but lost its last three games and coach Hugh Freeze left for Auburn. A Flames defense that limited teams to 5.03 yards per play should be a good battle against a Toledo offense averaging 32.1 points a game.

Early Pick: Toledo

29. Music City Bowl – Iowa (7-5) vs. Kentucky (7-5)
Dec. 31 – Noon ET, ABC

These two teams met in the Citrus Bowl last season, with Kentucky pulling off a 20-17 last-minute victory. Points should be at a premium once again this year. A struggling Iowa offense won't have starting quarterback Spencer Petras, and backup Alex Padilla opted to transfer. Kentucky's defense held teams to 19.1 points a game in 2022, so even with a full depth chart at quarterback, moving the ball would've been a challenge for the Hawkeyes. It's uncertain if Kentucky will have quarterback Will Levis (declared for the NFL) on Dec. 31.

Early Pick: Kentucky

28. Guaranteed Rate Bowl – Wisconsin (6-6) vs. Oklahoma State (7-5)
Dec. 27 – 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

Last year's Guaranteed Rate Bowl was an 18-6 defensive slugfest between Minnesota and West Virginia, and there's a good chance this season's game matches how the '21 version played out. The Cowboys started 5-0 but a rash of injuries - including one to quarterback Spencer Sanders - forced this team to drop five of its last seven games. The Badgers are in the midst of a coaching transition to Luke Fickell, and starting quarterback Graham Mertz entered the portal.

Early Pick: Oklahoma State

27. Duke’s Mayo Bowl – Maryland (7-5) vs. NC State (8-4)
Dec. 30 – Noon ET, ESPN

A matchup of old ACC rivals is intriguing, but the postgame mayo bath of the winning coach is clearly the key storyline when these two teams meet in Charlotte. NC State's defense led the ACC in fewest points allowed per game (19.4) and limited opponents to just 5.01 yards a snap. Maryland's Taulia Tagovailoa is one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten, but his supporting cast at receiver could be limited with a couple of targets off to the NFL.

Early Pick: NC State

26. Pinstripe Bowl – Minnesota (8-4) vs. Syracuse (7-5)
Dec. 29 – 2 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Big Ten has won the last five Pinstripe Bowls against an ACC opponent, so that could be good news for Minnesota as it looks to build off the Nov. 26 win against rival Wisconsin. Syracuse started 6-0 but stumbled to a 1-5 finish down the stretch. However, running back Sean Tucker will test a Minnesota defense ranked 15th nationally against the run. Points could be at a premium in this one.

Early Pick: Minnesota

25. Birmingham Bowl – East Carolina (7-5) vs. Coastal Carolina (9-3)
Dec. 27 – 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

An all-Carolina showdown and a standout quarterback battle between East Carolina's Holton Ahlers and Coastal Carolina's Grayson McCall is on tap in the Magic City. The Chanticleers lost coach Jamey Chadwell to Liberty, and McCall was dealing with a foot injury late in the year, so it's uncertain what version of CCU will show up in Birmingham. The Pirates average 30.8 points a game behind quarterback Holton Ahlers and running back Keaton Mitchell, which is a tough matchup for the Chanticleers (30.1 points a game allowed).

Early Pick: East Carolina

24. Fenway Bowl - Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Louisville (7-5)
Dec. 17 – 11 a.m. ET, ESPN

An old rivalry and a battle for the Keg of Nails will be renewed in Boston. Louisville had one of the biggest in-season turnarounds to finish 7-5 after a 2-3 start, which likely saved coach Scott Satterfield's job. The Cardinals showed big-time improvement on defense during that stretch, and the additional time to prepare should help quarterback Malik Cunningham get back to full strength. Cincinnati is under the direction of interim coach Kerry Coombs with Luke Fickell off to Wisconsin. The Bearcats lost a chunk of talent off both sides of the ball after a trip to the CFB Playoff last season but came within one win of hosting the AAC title game.

Early Pick: Louisville

23. New Mexico Bowl – BYU (7-5) vs. SMU (7-5)
Dec. 17 – 2:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

SMU and BYU have some postseason history already thanks to a memorable 1980 Holiday Bowl. Although this one might not match that game in terms of intrigue, there could be plenty of fireworks with both teams averaging over 30 points a contest. The Cougars are likely to struggle to stop the connection of quarterback Tanner Mordecai and receiver Rashee Rice for the Mustangs, but SMU's defense will also have its hands full with quarterback Jaren Hall - provided he's healthy for the Cougars.
Early Pick: BYU

22. New Orleans Bowl – WKU (8-5) vs. South Alabama (10-2)
Dec. 21 – 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

WKU's high-powered offense (35.8 points a game) meets South Alabama's shutdown defense (19.4 points a game allowed). The Jaguars have made significant progress under second-year coach Kane Wommack (from 5-7 to 10-2), while the Hilltoppers are making their fourth consecutive bowl trip under coach Tyson Helton.

Early Pick: South Alabama

21. Armed Forces Bowl – Baylor (6-6) vs. Air Force (9-3)
Dec. 22 – 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Baylor finished with a disappointing 6-6 mark after winning the Big 12 last season, so the bowl trip to Fort Worth will be all about ending the year on a high note. Although the Bears rank third in the Big 12 against the run, facing Air Force's offense (first nationally in rushing) is a tough assignment. The Falcons need a victory to post back-to-back double-digit win seasons and are 4-1 in their last five bowl treks.

Early Pick: Air Force

20. Gasparilla Bowl – Missouri (6-6) vs. Wake Forest (7-5)
Dec. 23 – 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Wake Forest's offense paced the ACC in scoring (36.8 points a game) behind quarterback Sam Hartman and a deep receiving corps. However, Missouri's defense (limiting teams to 25 points a game) and an active pass rush (33 sacks) will make life difficult for Hartman and Co. Quarterback Brady Cook (380 total yards versus Arkansas) is coming off his most productive performance, which helped the Tigers get bowl eligible.

Early Pick: Wake Forest