Rose Bowl

College football bowl games represent the pinnacle of the sport outside the national championship. With rich histories and venerable traditions, bowl games provide a fitting culmination for teams’ seasons through iconic postseason contests. This comprehensive guide will examine major bowl games across the FBS landscape. We’ll explore bowl history, prestige rankings, selection processes, major bowl weeks, and provide a breakdown of every current bowl along with notables moments and MVPs. Whether you’re a devoted college football fanatic or casual viewer, this complete bowl season guide offers deeper insight into these treasured college gridiron events.

Overview of College Football Bowl Games

Bowl games are an important American college football tradition and key part of the sport’s identity. Here’s an overview of their significance:

  • Bowl games provide exciting postseason matches between top teams around New Year’s.
  • They offer a national showcase for programs to demonstrate conference strength.
  • Bowls have extensive histories with hallowed venues, events, and trophies.
  • Teams need at least 6 wins to qualify for bowl eligibility barring special exemptions.
  • Conference affiliations tie certain bowls to specific leagues annually.
  • Bowls outside the playoff offer prestige, bragging rights, and extra practices.

For over a century, bowl games have capped off college football seasons memorably.

Brief History of Major College Bowls

College football’s bowl tradition traces back to 1902:

  • The first major bowl was the 1902 Rose Bowl, initially titled the “Tournament East-West” game.
  • Many early bowls were conceived by planning committees who arranged matchups and handled operations.
  • Bowl prominence grew through the 20th century, with the Sugar, Orange, Cotton, and Sun bowls launching between 1935 and 1947.
  • The 1970s saw bowl expansion, with FBS bowls doubling from 11 to over 20 by 1980.
  • Corporate sponsorships and TV coverage propelled further bowl growth through the 80s and 90s.

From grassroots beginnings, college bowls evolved into integral American institutions and beloved traditions.

Prestige Rankings of Major Bowl Games

While subjective, certain bowl games are widely considered major bowls based on history, venues, attendance, matchups, and television exposure:

The Major “New Year’s Six” Bowls

  1. Rose Bowl
  2. Sugar Bowl
  3. Orange Bowl
  4. Fiesta Bowl
  5. Peach Bowl
  6. Cotton Bowl

Other Prominent Bowl Games

  1. Citrus Bowl
  2. Alamo Bowl
  3. Gator Bowl

The exact pecking order stirs friendly debate. But the “New Year’s Six” and a handful of other prominent bowls constitute the consensus highest status.

Overview of the Major Bowl Game Selection Processes

Each FBS bowl follows specific contractual selection processes:

  • Two College Football Playoff semifinal bowls get the top 4 teams as determined by the CFP committee. These bowls rotate annually.
  • Certain bowls have established conference tie-ins, getting first selection of teams from those leagues.
  • Remaining bowls make at-large selections based on matchups, rankings, and agreements with conferences.
  • Teams must become bowl eligible by winning 6+ regular season games to qualify unless granted special exemption.

Extensive rules govern bowl selections, from CFP bids down to final at-large berths.

Key Bowl Matchup Weeks

Rather than random scatterings, bowls cluster around concentrated date ranges for maximum exposure:

Bowl Weeks:

  • Week 1 – Generally lower tier bowls around Christmas
  • Week 2 – Prominent January 1st games and College Football Playoff semifinals
  • Week 3 – National championship game

New Year’s Six Bowls Schedule

  • Late December – Peach Bowl and Cotton Bowl (CFP Semifinals in rotation)
  • January 1st – Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl
  • One week later – Orange Bowl
  • Following week – Fiesta Bowl

Strategic schedule bunching spotlights key bowls when general interest peaks as the calendar flips.

Analyzing the Prestige and Strength of Bowl Season Slate

Experts examine bowl season collectively evaluating:

  • How compelling and evenly matched the major bowl pairings shape up to be
  • The conference strength showcased through intriguing inter-league bowl matchups
  • High profile coaching and program storylines entering bowls
  • Star power and NFL prospects on display for draft analysis
  • Competitiveness of the full bowl slate from top to bottom

An appealing schedule of bowl games with major conference bragging rights on the line generates buzz.

Overview of the College Football Playoff and National Championship

The College Football Playoff crowns the consensus national champion:

  • A 13-member committee selects the CFP top 4 teams using subjective criteria like strength of schedule, quality wins, conference championships, and more.
  • The #1 and #4 seeds meet in one semifinal bowl game. #2 and #3 play in the other semifinal. These bowls rotate annually.
  • Winners advance to the National Championship game held at a neutral predetermined site about a week later.
  • The CFP National Championship winner is crowned undisputed champion of major college football.

The four-team playoff structure has decided the national title since debuting in 2014.

Impact of the Playoff System on Other Bowls

  • The remaining New Year’s bowls get automatic bids for top conference champions and at-large teams.
  • Playoff realigns importance, making certain bowls semifinals periodically while others remain annually prestigious.
  • With the national championship sealed by the playoff, some bowls are now perceived as consolation prizes by disappointed fan bases.
  • But bowls still carry significance through matchups, pride, momentum building, and extra practices.

While the playoff changed the ecosystem, major bowls maintain relevance despite relinquishing ultimate title implications.

Analyzing the Bowl Game Experience

Beyond the on-field action, bowl games offer memorable experiences:

  • Iconic events surrounding bowls like parades and dinners create life-long memories.
  • Teams get to spend up to a month practicing and bonding together, often in a warm weather destination.
  • Fans revel in destination trips to classic bowl locales.
  • Conference foes square off in momentous clashes.
  • Bowls are reward for seasons of effort.

For college football diehards, making a bowl signifies career achievement. The festive atmospheres surrounding bowls foster cherished team traditions.

Breakdown of Every Current FBS Bowl Game

Now let’s take a detailed look at each current bowl game:

New Year’s Six Bowl Games

Rose Bowl

  • Known as “The Granddaddy of Them All” as the oldest bowl dating back to 1902.
  • Historically pitted Pac-12 against Big Ten. Now gets Pac-12 and Big Ten champs unless in CFP.
  • Played in iconic Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena on New Year’s Day outside years it serves as a CFP semifinal host.

Sugar Bowl

  • Premier SEC tie-in, traditionally facing Big 12 champion.
  • Played in New Orleans in the massive Superdome.
  • Dates back to 1935 with immense history. Hosted memorable national title clashes.

Orange Bowl

  • ACC champion’s primary landing spot, typically against a Big Ten or SEC team.
  • Played at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. A college football staple since 1935.

Fiesta Bowl

  • Originates from 1971 Arizona bowl matching western teams.
  • Emerged as major bowl in 1980s brought into BCS title rotation.
  • No set conference ties making matchups intriguing.

Peach Bowl

  • One of the New Year’s Six bowls but with less history after beginning in 1968.
  • Hosted in Atlanta. Features at-large matchups.

Cotton Bowl

  • Historic game at Fair Park Stadium in Dallas dating to 1937.
  • Has rotated through various conference ties. Currently in CFP mix and gets at-large teams.

Other Notable Bowl Games

Citrus Bowl

  • Usually ACC or SEC vs Big Ten school. Based in Orlando.
  • Formerly Capital One Bowl. A consistently prominent January 1st game.

Alamo Bowl

  • Long running December San Antonio bowl.
  • Matches Big 12 and Pac-12. Always competitive clashes in Texas.

Gator Bowl

  • Over 75 years of history in Jacksonville dating to 1945.
  • ACC vs. SEC matchups in recent years.

Outback Bowl

  • Tampa tradition on New Year’s Day since 1986.
  • Big Ten vs SEC showdowns. Great destination trip.

Texas Bowl

  • Houston bowl started in 2005.
  • Quality Big 12 vs SEC matchups.

Music City Bowl

  • Nashville tradition since 1998. Features fun player events like riding red carpet in “Honky Tonk” parade.
  • ACC vs. SEC matchups. Welcoming atmosphere.

Holiday Bowl

  • Long running San Diego bowl launched in 1978.
  • Historically showcased Pac 12 teams with tie-ins.
  • Quality matchups, picturesque setting, and thrilling finishes.

Liberty Bowl

  • One of the oldest bowls dating to 1959 held in Memphis.
  • Conference USA champion often faces SEC team. Guarantees winning team’s conference $1.8M.
  • Notable for icy 1961 game with multiple player injuries.

Sun Bowl

  • Historic 1935 bowl in El Paso pits Pac-12 and ACC.
  • Features among strongest team payouts with $4-5M.

Gator Bowl

  • Prominent SEC vs Big Ten/ACC bowl since 1946 in Jacksonville.
  • Hosts storied Gator Bowl postseason game.

Armed Forces Bowl

  • Annual Fort Worth tradition since 2003 honoring armed forces.
  • American conference or Army plays opponent in TCU’s stadium.

Birmingham Bowl

  • Since 2006, ACC or SEC plays American conference in historic Legion Field.
  • ESPN owns and operates the bowl directly.

Independence Bowl

  • Louisiana bowl dating to 1976. American conference faces at-large team.
  • Past venues included Joe Robbie Stadium and old Tulane Stadium.

Military Bowl

  • Annapolis, Maryland bowl launched in 2008.
  • American conference vs ACC matchup with military theme.

Guaranteed Rate Bowl

  • Phoenix bowl originated in 1989. With many corporate sponsor names over time including, Buffalo Wild Wings, Cactus Bowl, and Cheez-It Bowl.
  • Features Big 12 tie-in. Consistently fun and freewheeling games.

Pinstripe Bowl

  • Annual bowl at iconic Yankee Stadium since 2010.
  • ACC vs. Big Ten contest with NYC backdrop.

Cheez-It Bowl

  • Orlando matchup dating to 1990 with interesting corporate bowl evolution.
  • Has featured various conference tie-ins over the years.

Duke’s Mayo Bowl

  • Charlotte bowl game running since 2002 under various names.
  • ACC vs. SEC. Known for mayo baths and wild moments like Minnesota’s epic mayo bath after 2020 win.

Notable Individual Bowl Game Performances

Beyond the team clashes, certain individual bowl performances became the stuff of legend:

Rose Bowl Greats

  • Vince Young (Texas) 467 total yards in 2006 national title game win over USC
  • Ron Dayne (Wisconsin) 246 rushing yards and Copper Bowl MVP in 1999.

Orange Bowl Heroes

  • Tom Brady (Michigan) 369 yards, 4 TD passes in 2000 overtime thriller over Alabama.
  • Joe Burrow (LSU) 394 yards passing, 4 TDs to crush Oklahoma 63-28 in 2019.

Sugar Bowl Legends

  • Geno Smith (West Virginia) 407 yards passing, 6 TDs in 70-33 Sugar demolition of Clemson.
  • Vince Young (Texas) 267 yards passing, 200 rushing yards, 3 total TDs to upset USC in 2006 national title.

Fiesta Bowl Icons

  • Derrick Thomas (Alabama) still Fiesta record 5 sacks against Penn State in 1989.
  • Brock Forsey (Boise State) 376 all-purpose yards, 3 TDs in 2004 overtime stunner over Oklahoma.

Bowl stages spotlight heroic individual performances that become woven into the game’s folklore.

Memorable Moments in Major Bowl Game History

Certain instant classic bowl moments permanently etched their place in college football lore:

Rose Bowl

  • 2006 National Title – Vince Young’s game-winning TD for Texas vs. USC
  • 2017 Semi-Final – Georgia wins all-SEC classic in 2OT thriller over Oklahoma

Sugar Bowl

  • 1969 – Archie Manning’s 540 yards total offense carrying Ole Miss over Archie Griffin and #3 Ohio State

Orange Bowl

  • 1984 – Nebraska scoop and score TD changed rules after failed Miami 2-point try
  • 2014 – Late penalty on Ohio State sets stage for Clemson’s epic upset

Fiesta Bowl

  • 2007 – Boise State pulls off thrilling OT Statue of Liberty play to shock Oklahoma
  • 2019 – LSU tops UCF on Joe Burrow’s 393 yards passing, 3 TDs

From tense classics to unbelievable endings, bowl games create indelible football memories.

Recent Trends in Maximum Bowl Payouts to Teams

Top tier bowls award record payouts up to $6 million-plus for conferences:

Conferences collect most payouts, distributing remainder to participating schools after covering bowl expenses. Payouts keep accelerating with rising TV rights fees funding bowls.

Controversial Aspects of College Bowls

Some criticized elements of the bowl system over the years include:

  • Too many bowls diluting meaning and overworking student athletes
  • Schools occasionally losing money on bowl trips once expenses are counted
  • Danger of teams playing multiple extra meaningless games instead of resting stars. See LSU in 2004.
  • Undeserving teams finishing 5-7 or 6-6 reaching bowls over more worthy teams based on politics
  • Perceived lack of consistent merit-based Bowl opportunities before CFP introduced

The bowl system continues navigating how to uphold beloved traditions while maximizing equitable experiences for players and schools.

Key Takeaways on College Bowl Games

In summary, here are the integral things to know about college football’s bowl system:

  • Bowls are treasured tradition for programs, wrapping the season memorably.
  • The New Year’s Six and a handful of others constitute the major bowls.
  • Automatic conference tie-ins funnel teams to certain games annually.
  • CFP crowns undisputed national champion but bowls retain significance.
  • Iconic team and individual performances are etched into bowl legacies forever.
  • From history to payouts, bowls evolved significantly but remain marquee events.

The bowl system maintains an important place capping off college football annually with meaningful postseason opportunities.


College bowl games constitute cherished American football traditions dating back a century. Major bowls like the Rose, Sugar, and Orange carry illustrious legacies with generations of legendary plays, performances, and moments fans pass down through the years. While the newer College Football Playoff system usurped the ultimate national championship role from bowls, these prominent postseason games still provide unmatched conference clashes and team crescendos to culminate each campaign. For players, earning a bowl invitation symbolizes career achievement after years of sweat and dedication. Meanwhile fans relish the bowls as opportunities to support their teams proudly. With many more bowls now in existence, some inevitable dilution occurred. But the major bowls and their outstanding histories endure as the pinnacle, meaningfully closing college football seasons by settling scores definitively within the confines of these esteemed arenas.

Frequently Asked Questions About College Football Bowls

How many college football bowl games are there?

Currently, there are roughly 40 FBS bowl games counting the College Football Playoff games. Lower division college football also has an additional 25+ bowl games.

What bowl games are considered the biggest?

The 6 major bowls dubbed the “New Year’s Six” are the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Peach, and Cotton. They represent the cream of the crop based on history, corporate sponsorships, and top matchups assembled.

How do teams qualify for bowl games?

Teams generally must win at least 6 of their regular season games to attain bowl eligibility. But rules occasionally exempt 5-7 teams to fill remaining open bowl slots if not enough 6-6 teams exist.

Can multiple teams from the same conference go to the same bowl?

Yes, bowl matchups can feature two teams from the same conference. But certain bowls have established ties matching specific conferences annually based on contracts.

When did the College Football Playoff system start?

The College Football Playoff was instituted beginning with the 2014 season, replacing the former BCS championship system. It aimed to improve upon controversial BCS rankings with a dedicated selection committee picking top teams.


Categories: Football


  • Tom Eddy

    Tom Eddy is the founder and CEO of Poll Position, a leading sports news and opinion website. Eddy founded Poll Position driven by a vision of creating an innovative digital media brand focused exclusively on sports journalism. Under Eddy's leadership, Poll Position has grown from a solo blog into one of the most visited online destinations for sports coverage.


Subscribe to our free newsletter.

Related Posts

View all
  • College mascots represent school pride on gamedays but sometimes deliver […]

    Continue reading
  • Familiar to fans as the gridiron canvas where the drama […]

    Continue reading
  • Linebackers play a crucial role in football defenses as versatile […]

    Continue reading
  • The tight end position uniquely blends attributes of offensive linemen […]

    Continue reading