A Traveler's Ranking of the Bowls Outside the New Year's Six

The name may change, but it's the history and atmosphere that always makes the Citrus Bowl a top destination

Every college football fan wants his or her team to end up in one of the "New Year's Six" bowl games. When that happens, folks disrupt their holiday plans and make the trek to Atlanta, Dallas, Miami, New Orleans, Pasadena or the Phoenix area.

 

However, only 12 teams make that cut each season and there are 33 other bowl games that need to put butts in the seats. Some of these games are worth adjusting holiday plans to go see, while others are not. There are numerous rankings of the bowls this year based on their slated matchups, but choosing to watch a game on television and actually traveling to it comes with a few more factors, including location, the game’s history and its continued ability to produce quality matchups. Here is a ranking of the bowl games based on those factors.

 

33. Tropical Smoothie Cafe Bowl

Location: Toyota Stadium – Frisco, Texas

Launched: 2014

This Year’s Matchup: Utah State vs. Kent State (Dec. 20, 2019)

After the Miami Beach Bowl was acquired by ESPN, it was moved to Frisco, a suburb of Dallas and home of the FCS national championship game, and rebranded as the DXL Frisco Bowl. The game is now in its third year in this new location.

 

32. Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl

Location: Tropicana Field – St. Petersburg, Fla.

Launched: 2008

This Year’s Game: UCF vs. Marshall (Dec. 23, 2019)

The game originally dubbed the magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl got a new name this year thanks to a sponsorship by Bad Boy Mowers and a nod to Tampa’s Gasparilla Pirate Festival. Now it sounds like a bowl game in a satire about college football.

 

31. Camellia Bowl

Location: Cramton Bowl – Montgomery, Ala.

Launched: 2014

This Year’s Game: Florida International vs. Arkansas State (Dec. 21, 2019)

If you’re a sports history buff, a trip to Montgomery to watch a game in the historic Cramton Bowl may be right up your alley. But for many, that’s a big if.

 

30. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Location: Albertsons Stadium – Boise, Idaho

Launched: 1997

This Year’s Game: Ohio vs. Nevada (Jan. 3, 2020)

This bowl has had a history of good matchups but is ranked this low because flying to Boise generally requires a connection and fans then have to watch a game outside in Idaho in December. 

 

29. Quick Lane Bowl

Location: Ford Field – Detroit

Launched: 2014

This Year’s Game: Pittsburgh vs. Eastern Michigan (Dec. 26, 2019)

At least this game is played indoors, but you still have to go to Detroit... in December.

 

28. SoFi Hawaii Bowl

Location: Aloha Stadium – Honolulu

Launched: 2002

This Year’s Matchup: Hawaii vs. BYU (Dec. 24, 2019)

This year’s game should be a fun, high-scoring affair, but fans who attend this game have to plan to spend the holidays in Hawai'i.

 

27. NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl

Location: Arizona Stadium – Tucson, Ariz.

Launched: 2015

This Year’s Game: Wyoming vs. Georgia State (Dec. 31, 2019)

There are many worse places to visit in December than Tucson. The fans on both sides that choose to go should hit El Charro, the Titan Missile Museum, and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to make the trip worthwhile.

 

26. FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl

Location: Exploria Stadium – Orlando, Fla.

Launched: 2015

This Year’s Game: Liberty vs. Georgia Southern (Dec. 21, 2019)

The quality of this game is mediocre at best, but its proceeds go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and it is played at a time where fans can travel to it without disrupting their holiday plans.

 

25. Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl

Location: Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium – Nassau, Bahamas

Launched: 2014

This Year’s Game: Buffalo vs. Charlotte (Dec. 20, 2019)

The only bowl game played outside the U.S. hosts second-tier MAC and Conference USA teams. While it is always fun to visit the Bahamas, it may not be worth the money and disrupted holiday plans to watch your non-Power 5 team that did not win its conference.

 

24. LendingTree Bowl

Location: Ladd Peebles Stadium – Mobile, Ala.

Launched: 1999

This Year’s Game: Louisiana vs. Miami (Ohio) (Jan. 6, 2020)

This game was originally sponsored by GMAC, then GoDaddy.com before Dollar General took over in 2016. It pits quality MAC and Sun Belt schools against each other and there are worse places to go this time of year than Mobile.

 

23. TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl

Location: Legion Field – Birmingham, Ala.

Launched: 2006

This Year’s Game: Boston College vs. Cincinnati (Jan. 2, 2020)

The Birmingham Bowl matches one of the best teams in the AAC against one of the Power 5’s worst bowl-eligible teams. For fans of the AAC school, it is a chance to see if their team can hang with the big boys in one of the South’s most storied stadiums.

 

22. New Mexico Bowl

Location: Dreamstyle Stadium – Albuquerque, N.M.

Launched: 2006

This Year’s Game: Central Michigan vs. San Diego State (Dec. 21, 2019)

The New Mexico Bowl has tie-ins with the Mountain West and Conference USA, two conferences that normally do not play each other. This year, Central Michigan and San Diego State will meet for the first time.

 

21. Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman

Location: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium – Annapolis, Md.

Launched: 2008

This Year’s Game: North Carolina vs. Temple (Dec. 27, 2019)

This bowl seems to have found its footing since it moved from Washington D.C.’s RFK Stadium to Annapolis and signed agreements with the ACC and AAC. Now it hosts a game in a beautiful town that is generally within driving distance for both schools a few days after Christmas. Well done.

 

20. Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl

Location: FAU Stadium – Boca Raton, Fla.

Launched: 2014

This Year’s Game: SMU vs. Florida Atlantic (Dec. 21, 2019)

This year’s game once again features two good Group of Five teams and it is played in a great location.

 

19. Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl

Location: Amon G. Carter Stadium – Fort Worth, Texas

Launched: 2003

This year’s Game: Southern Mississippi vs. Tulane (Jan. 4, 2020)

Originally sponsored by PlainCapital Bank, Bell Helicopter took the game over in 2006 and it was renamed the Armed Forces Bowl. It has multi-year agreements with the AAC, Big Ten, Big 12, Mountain West, Army, and Navy so the quality of the game really depends on the year. Either way, fans can enjoy the nightlife of Fort Worth’s Stock Yards.

 

18. Redbox Bowl

Location: Levi’s Stadium – Santa Clara, Calif.

Launched: 2002

This Year’s Game: California vs. Illinois (Dec. 30, 2019)

Formerly the Foster Farms Bowl, this one struggled to find its identity before signing agreements with the Big Ten and Pac-12. For fans, it is not quite the Rose Bowl, but there is plenty to do in San Francisco.

 

17. R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl

Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome – New Orleans

Launched: 2001

This Year’s Game: Appalachian State vs. UAB (Dec. 21, 2019)

This game is this high because its: a) played in arguably the most festive city in the country, and b) usually selects schools within driving distance to the Crescent City.

 

16. SERVPRO First Responder Bowl

Location: Gerald J. Ford Stadium – Dallas

Launched: 2011

This Year’s Game: Western Kentucky vs. Western Michigan (Dec. 30, 2019)

Formerly the Heart of Dallas Bowl, this was the only bowl game played in the old Cotton Bowl stadium as of last year, but has now moved on to SMU's campus. It is generally hit or miss with its matchups. 

 

15. Walk-On’s Independence Bowl

Location: Independence Stadium – Shreveport, La.

Launched: 1976

This Year’s Game: Louisiana Tech vs. Miami (Dec. 26, 2019)

Before the bowl explosion that began in the 1990s, the Independence Bowl, which got its name because it launched the year of our nation’s Bicentennial celebration, was considered the worst bowl game because of its location. Nevertheless, Shreveport makes up for its lack of atmosphere by hosting good football. It has historical ties with the Power 5 conferences and the games are often close. 

 

14. Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl

Location: NRG Stadium – Houston

Launched: 2006 

This Year’s Game: Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M (Dec. 27, 2019)

All good bowls outside the New Year’s Six strive to create regional matchups against good teams. After the Texas Bowl signed agreements for the Big 12 and SEC to begin playing each other in 2014, it began accomplishing that goal. The only problem is that it’s still played in Houston.

 

13. Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl

Location: Sam Boyd Stadium – Las Vegas

Launched: 1992

This Year’s Game: Boise State vs. Washington (Dec. 21, 2019)

The best of the games scheduled for the first weekend of bowl season pits the top team in the Mountain West (barring a New Year’s Six bowl invite) against a Pac-12 team in Las Vegas. To quote Kramer, “Giddy up.”

 

12. Franklin American Mortgage Company Music City Bowl

Location: Nissan Stadium – Nashville, Tenn.

Launched: 1998

This Year’s Game: Mississippi State vs. Louisville (Dec. 30, 2019)

No team starts the season saying "Music City Bowl or bust," but every game in this event’s history except three has been fairly close. Plus, Nashville is the only city where you can walk in and out of countless clubs and hear amazing music.

 

11. Camping World Bowl

Location: Camping World Stadium – Orlando, Fla.

Launched: 1990

This Year’s Game: Notre Dame vs. Iowa State (Dec. 28, 2019)

Originally launched as the Blockbuster Bowl in Miami in 1990, this contest moved north to Orlando in 2001. It currently has agreements with the Big 12 and ACC, but the games of the last 29 years have been interesting matchups between good programs.

 

10. Cheez-It Bowl

Location: Chase Field – Phoenix

Launched: 1989

This Year’s Game: Air Force vs. Washington State (Dec. 27, 2019)

Played in Arizona since its inception, this game has had three times as many names (nine) as locations (three). Originally the Copper Bowl, it also has been known as the Insight.com Bowl, Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and for the past four years, some iteration of the Cactus Bowl. Its original home was Tucson, but it moved to the Phoenix Metropolitan area from 2000-05 before relocating to Tempe in '06. The game returned to Chase Field in December 2016 while Sun Devil Stadium underwent renovations and is still there. 

 

9. AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Location: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium – Memphis, Tenn.

Launched: 1959

This Year’s Game: Navy vs. Kansas State (Dec. 31, 2019)

It is called the Liberty Bowl because it was played in Philadelphia before moving to Memphis in 1965. As more bowls have emerged, this game has lost some of its prestige, but only one city has Charlie Vergos Rendezvous and Beale Street.

 

8. New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Location: Yankee Stadium – New York

Launched: 2010

This Year’s Game: Michigan State vs. Wake Forest (Dec. 27, 2019)

Whoever attends this game will have to bundle up, but the upshot is that they will be in New York during the holidays.

 

7. Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl

Location: Sun Bowl – El Paso, Texas

Launched: 1935

This Year’s Game: Florida State vs. Arizona State (Dec. 31, 2019)

Launched in 1935, the Sun Bowl is the second-oldest bowl game along with the Sugar and Orange Bowls (The Rose Bowl is, of course, the oldest.). El Paso’s Sun Bowl was built in a natural bowl and to watch a game there is worth the trip.

 

6. San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl

Location: SDCCU Stadium – San Diego

Launched: 1978

This Year’s Game: USC vs. Iowa (Dec. 27, 2019)

In 1984, BYU beat Michigan 24-17 to win the national title. It is one of only two bowls on this list that has hosted a national championship-clinching game.

 

5. Belk Bowl

Location: Bank of American Stadium – Charlotte, N.C.

Launched: 2002

This Year’s Game: Virginia Tech vs. Kentucky (Dec. 31, 2019)

Charlotte is an easy city to fly to; especially for watching a good ACC school take on a good SEC school or vice versa.

 

4. TaxSlayer Gator Bowl

Location: EverBank Field – Jacksonville, Fla.

Launched: 1946

This Year’s Game: Indiana vs. Tennessee (Jan. 2, 2020)

Kudos to TaxSlayer.com for restoring the Gator Bowl name to this game. It is college football's sixth-oldest bowl game and its 70-year history is one of the richest on this list.

 

3. Outback Bowl

Location: Raymond James Stadium – Tampa, Fla.

Launched: 1986

This Year’s Game: Minnesota vs. Auburn (Jan. 1, 2020)

Originally started in 1986 as the Hall of Fame Bowl, this New Year’s Day game is a rewarding trip for fans regardless of whether their team’s season lived up to expectations.

 

2. Valero Alamo Bowl

Location: Alamodome – San Antonio

Launched: 1993

This Year’s Game: Utah vs. Texas (Dec. 31, 2019)

After paying your respects at the Alamo and enjoying the San Antonio River Walk, you can watch two teams face off in the Alamodome. This may be the best atmosphere of the entire college football postseason.

 

1. VRBO Citrus Bowl

Location: Camping World Stadium – Orlando, Fla.

Launched: 1947

This Year’s Game: Michigan vs. Alabama (Jan. 1, 2020)

This game has everything. Its history includes hosting Georgia Tech’s 45-21 beating of Nebraska, allowing the Yellow Jackets to clinch a share of the 1990 national title; it is played in one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world; and the matchups are always top-notch. Since 1985, the Citrus Bowl has hosted games between ranked opponents in all but two of the matchups. Only the Gator Bowl comes close to matching that type of success.

 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

Event Date: 
Wednesday, December 7, 2016 - 09:59
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