Every year there’s so much talk on the big bowl games – New Year’s Six, the ones involving those lovely “power 5” conference teams. So let’s give some love to the smaller conference teams and the “pre-Christmas” bowls. These are the ones with weird names and weird teams that likely most people are going to ignore, but if you aren’t going to ignore them, here is a ranking of 14-1 of watchability. Factors included history and location of bowl and teams and players.
14. Camellia Bowl – Georgia Southern vs Eastern Michigan
Camellia has to do with plants. This game is played in Montgomery, Alabama. Right off the bat you have two strikes. Nothing again camellias, but if you have to look up what the bowl stands for, like I had to look up what camellia is, you’re automatically losing points. The matchup itself isn’t that appealing too, even to the most casual fan. Eastern Michigan did upset Purdue this year, so you would think they are a decent team in the MAC. Georgia Southern was one of the better Sun Belt teams, bouncing back from a recent rough patch. But how excited can you really get about a mid-level MAC team vs a mid-level Sun Belt team in the middle of nowhere in a bowl no one knows about?
12. Idaho Potato Bowl – BYU vs Western Michigan
So the reward for these student athletes is traveling from Provo, Utah and Kalamazoo, Michigan to Boise, Idaho. That doesn’t seem like that exciting of a reward. Especially when you consider BYU played at Boise State in early November. Playing on blue turf is cool when Boise State is playing but do people really want to watch these were two average teams play on blue turf without Boise State present?
12. New Mexico Bowl – Utah State vs North Texas
This game is worth watching for North Texas QB Mason Fine, alone. Fine threw for over 3700 yards, 27 TDs and 5 INTs helping lead Mean Green to 9 wins. Utah State went 10-2, but missed out on the MWC Championship after losing to Boise State in their finale. The problem with this game, simply, is that it is played in New Mexico. Utah State has played in this stadium against UNM Lobos 14 previous times.
11. Cure Bowl – Tulane vs Louisiana
Tulane “Green” Wave have incorporated a light shade of blue into their color scheme in recent years. It’s very odd. Anyways, that small gripe aside, this game is for a great cause and has a nice location. The Cure Bowl theme is about raising awareness for breast cancer, with lots of pink and takes place in Orlando. Nothing wrong with either of those factors. What’s wrong is the teams themselves that are both rather average. They are both run-oriented offenses, so it should have a quick pace to it.
10. Gasparilla Bowl – USF vs Marshall
Ugly name and ugly field. People don’t like attending or watching baseball at Tropicana Field and it’s not a field built for football, so this should be a worse experience than your average Tampa Rays game. Marshall has the highest winning percentage of any bowl team that isn’t undefeated at 11-3 and USF ended a disappointing 7-5. The game is in their backyard and Marshall has won this game twice before. If USF beats a C-USA team in an ugly bowl game, no one will care. If Marshall beats a down-trending AAC game in an ugly bowl game, no one will care. Lose, lose for everyone.
9. Hawaii Bowl – Louisiana Tech vs Hawaii
This game should be ranked so much higher but it’s aura involves watching on Christmas Eve, which is no longer the case for 2018, at least. As a result in the date change, this game has been severely dinged and downgraded on our list. Hawaii has been to 11 bowl games in program history and this will be the 8th time playing a home game. I get how hard it is to travel to and from Hawaii, for schools, for players, for fans. I know Hawaiians love their football and love watching their family, but it would be nice if, once and a while, these kids could be rewarded with a trip to even the most obscure city (Mobile, Alabama?) so they can experience other states and other parts of the country.
8. Bahamas Bowl – FIU vs Toledo
This is the opposite of the Boise and New Mexico bowls – THIS is a reward for the players! Congrats on decent seasons in C-USA and Sun Belt, guys – you’re spending the holidays in the Bahamas! Not much more to say, other than Butch Davis (yes, former NFL and Miami U coach) has done a great job reviving the FIU program, while Toledo took a step back this year, only to wind up in a very exciting bowl game location. Fans may not particularly enjoy it, if it’s too expensive to fly to Bahamas around the holidays, and based on recent years’ attendance I’d say there’s a pretty strong trend of no fans attending, but at least the players are happy.
7. New Orleans Bowl – Middle Tennessee vs Appalachian State
New Orleans is an amazing city. I highly recommend it for everyone. As long as you are 21 years old. Which most of these players are not. And many of the students attending are not. Unless you are into tourism and culture and not drinking and partying (respect if that’s you), this bowl game is nothing more than a tease. This is a good matchup though, between the Sun Belt’s first ever conference championship game winner and conference winners three straight years. Appalachian State puts their 3-0 bowl record on the line against the C-USA Championship game runner ups.
6. Frisco Bowl – San Diego State vs Ohio
Two teams who had much higher expectations coming into this season. San Diego State spent the first half of the year in Mountain West Conference championship contention. Ohio got off to a slow start and despite beating MAC East champion Buffalo, late in the year, missed out on the MAC championship which was a realistic goal in the pre-season. This game used to be the Miami Beach Bowl, but why is it played in Frisco? I know Texas is a huge recruiting ground but there’s already several bowl games in Dallas, which is roughly 30 miles from Frisco. Seems like an odd move to host a bowl game 30 minutes from Dallas in a soccer stadium.
5. Armed Forces Bowl – Army vs Houston
This game should be fun. This game takes place at TCU’s home stadium, so not a far trip for Houston. Army is 9-2, with one game remaining, on Saturday vs Navy. This game would be much higher if not for Houston star DT Ed Oliver sitting out and QB D’Eriq King out with injury, but both offenses are still dynamic enough to make this an exciting, high scoring game.
4. Birmingham Bowl – Memphis vs Wake Forest
Wake Forest is one of two “power 5” conference teams on this list and they are taking on the AAC conference title game runner ups, who had an odd up and down season. This game has had a few different names including Papajohns.com and BBVA Compass. The stadium is kind of a mess and not near anything convenient. There are armadillos around the area, and those are fun animals.
3. Dollar General Bowl – Buffalo vs Troy
This is an ironic bowl game name, don’t you think? College athletes aren’t paid. They get free education but they sacrifice their bodies for the schools and don’t make a dollar. Student athletes with limited funds may be forced to shop at the nearest dollar general store. It almost feels like this bowl name is mocking the players. The game is played in Mobile, Alabama, again a very un-enticing spot for a bowl game. These two teams spent most of the year near the top of their divisions. Buffalo lost the conference championship and Troy lost to Appalachian State on the final day of the regular season, costing them a shot in the Sun Belt title game. Buffalo has two exciting future NFL players in QB Tyree Jackson and WR Anthony Johnson.
2. Las Vegas Bowl – Fresno State vs Arizona State
This game has it all. The history (originated in 1992), location (Vegas, baby, Vegas!), and the teams. Vegas Bowl is always a fun reward for both teams, typically the winner of the Mountain West and the last place, bowl eligible team in the Pac-12. For the MWC the reward is obvious – champion Fresno State gets to go up against a Pac-12 team and prove they can hang with the big boys. Arizona State was a surprise team in the Pac-12 after being universally mocked for the decision to hire Herm Edwards. The thought of seeing Herm coach in a bowl game against Jeff Tedford is certainly a reason to watch.
1. Boca Raton Bowl – Northern Illinois vs UAB
This is one of three bowl games featuring two conference champions. There is a lot of intrigue with UAB, who is one of two teams who are winless in bowls all-time (0-2). Blazers, of course famously shut down their football program after the 2014 season and after a two-year hiatus, returned last season. They won the Conference USA Championship game. NIU has won 4 MAC championships since 2011 and have been one of the most successful MAC teams over that time. This is a great opportunity for both schools to prove they are among the best in the Group of 5. Plus, I hear Boca Raton is pretty nice this time of year (should be much warmer than Birmingham or DeKalb.