The College Football Bowls You Should Watch, According To Our Highly Scientific Ratings
You like college football. I like college football. We both enjoy the institution of the bowl game. We will take in some weekday-afternoon bowl action while pretending to work in the middle of the month. We will sit on our couches or barstool on New Year’s Eve to watch the College Football Playoff semifinals, or we will demand that our hosts at least put them on in the background. We will watch the Rose Bowl a few days after that. Yet we can also acknowledge that the calendar has a great deal going on in December, and as much as we may like the idea of watching nearly all of the 2022 season’s 42 bowls, life can sometimes get in the way of games sponsored by fast-food chicken restaurants.
Enter bowl watchability ratings. Many connoisseurs of the sport attempt them around this time of year, but few have access to a proprietary algorithm like BEAST: the Bowl Enjoyment and Attractiveness System for Television. Since 2021, a team of top scientists (me) have spent countless hours refining BEAST’s formula (writing and podcasting about college football), and the result is an inarguable and scientific index of every Football Bowl Subdivision bowl — plus the Celebration Bowl, which decides the Division I national champ among historically Black colleges and universities.
BEAST made its debut in 2021. The system is similar for 2022, though BEAST’s development team (again, me) has made a few alterations. Just like last year, the maximum BEAST score is 15 points (for the best bowl to watch) and the lowest possible score is 4. The ingredients are as follows:
- Stakes (5, 4, 3, or 1 point): If a national championship is at stake, the bowl gets 5 points. The Rose, Sugar and Orange bowls carry a bit more historical cachet than the other three bowls in the New Year’s Six rotation, so they’re worth 4 points in years when they are not playoff bowls, a new layer to the formula this year. (In 2022, the playoff bowls are the Peach and Fiesta.) Apologies to the Cotton Bowl, which is also nice and gets 3 points. Every other bowl gets 1 point. You should still print T-shirts if your team wins.
- Team quality (5, 4, 3, 2, or 1 point): This element is the product of a subjective evaluation by BEAST’s dedicated panel of team graders. (Me. It’s me.) You’re welcome to make your own BEAST if you find that this version of the metric has not properly respected your team of choice.
- Style (2 or 1 point): This category gets lower weight, but it plays an important part in BEAST’s not-so-secret sauce. Part of the fun of college football is the many different schemes and playing styles that the sport has an offer. If a team that runs at maximum tempo is playing a service academy running the triple option, that gets 2 points. If a team runs a uniquely cool offense, its game gets 2 points, etc.
- Familiarity (3, 2, or 1 point): Bowl games are a time for teams to play opponents they wouldn’t otherwise see. If the two schools haven’t met in the last 15 years, the bowl gets a 3. If they have played in that window but have kind of neat history between them, the bowl gets a 2. If they have played recently and don’t have much juice between them, the bowl gets a 1. New for 2022, this category is subject to a manual adjustment (up to a 3) for opponents that were ripped apart by conference realignment in the 2010s and are briefly reunited this bowl season.
Before you protest that college football is inherently resistant to science and that there is no fully objective way to rank postseason games, remember two things: First, you are right. And second, the college football media making up ways to arbitrarily assess teams and games is as old a tradition as the sport has. Why should we stop now? With that in mind, here are 2022’s BEAST ratings, starting at the top:
The best bowl games we’ve got
Tier 1 of 2022-23 college football bowl games by BEAST score, with points for team familiarity, opposing styles, quality and importance (stakes)
|Celebration||Jackson State-NC Central||12/17||3||2||3||5||13|
Behold bowl season’s crème de la crème. Admittedly, College Football Playoff semifinals often do not live up to their hype. In the 16 semifinal games played since 2014, the average score is a 39-18 whomping, and only three have come down to a one-score margin. But I think that at least one of the Michigan-TCU and Georgia-Ohio State contests is going to be the fourth one-score semi ever, even if I’m not sure which one. In particular, it will be appointment viewing when C.J. Stroud, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka of the Buckeyes take on Georgia’s not-quite-2021-but-still-dominant defense. The Celebration Bowl, meanwhile, is more (or at least should be more) than the Deion Sanders show in his last game at Jackson State before he goes to Colorado. The Tigers, representing the SWAC, are 11-0. North Carolina Central is 9-2, and an Eagles win would deny Sanders a title that has eluded him in his otherwise successful JSU tenure. (Buddy Pough’s South Carolina State beat JSU in the 2021 Celebration Bowl.)
There is a history of Alabama teams seeming less than fully engaged for Sugar Bowl appearances when the national title is not at stake. That would be a bad approach against Kansas State, which won the Big 12 and has an intensely physical run game. The Wildcats were fifth in the FBS with a 2.84-yard average before first contact on run plays. It’ll be fun to watch Bryce Young try to shred K-State’s defense while the Wildcats try to punch the Crimson Tide in the face. There will be similar dynamics at play in the Orange Bowl — Tennessee’s lightning-fast offense (minus QB Hendon Hooker) going against a tough Clemson defense — and the Cotton Bowl — Tulane’s run-heavy attack on one hand, and USC’s Caleb Williams-and-Jordan Addison-led attack on the other. A Penn State-Utah game would be fun even if it weren’t happening at the Rose Bowl. North Carolina and Oregon, with their brilliant offenses and bad defenses, should give us a festival of points. Troy-UTSA in the Cure Bowl is a ranked-versus-ranked game, featuring the chess match between UTSA’s offense, which ranks 15th in SP+, and Troy’s defense, which ranks 10th. Enjoy the last college game for Troy linebacker Carlton Martial, the all-time FBS tackles king.
Tier 2 of 2022-23 college football bowl games by BEAST score, with points for team familiarity, opposing styles, quality and importance (stakes)
|Las Vegas||Florida-Oregon State||12/17||3||2||3||1||9|
|Armed Forces||Air Force-Baylor||12/22||3||2||3||1||9|
|Gator||Notre Dame-South Carolina||12/30||3||1||4||1||9|
There’s plenty of spice here if you know where to look. For instance, if you enjoy watching the flexbone triple option, Air Force’s appearance in the Armed Forces Bowl will be your lone opportunity. Army and Navy are not bowling, and no FBS team ran the ball more frequently in 2022 than the Falcons’ 87.7 percent of the time. The Las Vegas Bowl between Florida and Oregon State loses some juice with the absence of Gators QB Anthony Richardson, but the Beavers’ offense gets up to some fun tricks under freshly extended head coach Jonathan Smith. If you like a team that is perfectly comfortable calling play action out of its own end zone and then having it work out brilliantly, you will enjoy watching the Beavs.
The Notre Dame-South Carolina Gator Bowl looks much more appealing now than it would’ve a few months ago. The Irish got a good deal better after an 0-2 start that included a loss to Marshall, and the Gamecocks closed their season by beating Tennessee and Clemson in back-to-back weeks. But Irish QB Drew Pyne will not take part, having entered the transfer portal after the regular season. And the ReliaQuest Bowl (which will go on as planned) will surely offer the sport an opportunity to pay tribute to Mississippi State’s late coach Mike Leach, who died this week after a career as one of the most innovative offensive geniuses in football history.
Trying to rise above the fray
Tier 3 of 2022-23 college football bowl games by BEAST score, with points for team familiarity, opposing styles, quality and importance (stakes)
|LA||Fresno St.-Washington St.||12/17||3||1||3||1||8|
|Frisco||Boise State-North Texas||12/17||3||1||3||1||8|
|Hawai’i||MTSU-San Diego St.||12/24||3||2||2||1||8|
|Guaranteed Rate||Oklahoma St.-Wisconsin||12/27||3||1||3||1||8|
|Duke’s Mayo||Maryland-NC State||12/30||3||1||3||1||8|
|New Orleans||South Alabama-W. Kentucky||12/21||1||2||3||1||7|
|Texas||Ole Miss-Texas Tech||12/28||1||2||3||1||7|
|Potato||E. Michigan-San Jose St.||12/20||3||1||2||1||7|
|First Responder||Memphis-Utah State||12/27||3||1||2||1||7|
A handful of these games will be great. A handful will not. Best of luck trying to figure out which will be which. The most enticing to me are the two that will reunite former conference foes who haven’t played each other since realignment intervened. Cincinnati and Louisville are less than two hours apart and for decades contested the Keg of Nails rivalry game, but they haven’t met since 2013. That was the final season before Louisville jumped from the American Athletic to the ACC, ending a long run of the Bearcats and Cardinals playing in the same conference. Adding even more intrigue: the incredibly weird situation of Louisville’s coach leaving for Cincinnati the month of the game.
Along the same line, Maryland and NC State first played in 1909 and later spent 61 years together in the ACC. The teams were pretty good at breaking each other’s hearts, actually. In 2012, Maryland clanked a field goal off the upright to lose at home to the Wolfpack, 20-18. In the 2000s, Philip Rivers’ NC State teams went 0-4 against Maryland, losing by painfully slim margins each time and spawning a favorite Maryland fan fun fact — that this decorated future NFL quarterback could never, ever beat the Terps.
Other fun meetings here: Texas Tech and Ole Miss will score about a zillion points. (Or about 70, to take the Vegas total.) Georgia Southern QB Kyle Vantrease used to play for Buffalo and will face his old comrades in the Camellia Bowl. Arkansas and Kansas, who last played in 1906, will hash out which state has the primary claim to the letters that spell out “kansas” for the next 116 years.
Don’t judge a bowl by its cover
Tier 4 of 2022-23 college football bowl games by BEAST score, with points for team familiarity, opposing styles, quality and importance (stakes)
|Quick Lane||Bowling Green-New Mexico State||12/26||3||1||1||1||6|
Part of the majesty of bowl games is getting to watch players and fans experience them after their teams have not appeared in the postseason for many years. The Myrtle Beach Bowl includes UConn, which won six games under Jim Mora Jr. and is getting its second bowl opportunity since losing the Fiesta Bowl to end the 2010 season. That was an entire conference tenure ago for the Huskies, who made the St. Petersburg Bowl as AAC members in 2015 and then promptly fell into a ditch that they didn’t recover from until this fall.
New Mexico State, facing Bowling Green in the Quick Lane Bowl, will be in its second bowl in 62 years. Sixty-two! But having appeared in a bowl in 2018, the Aggies are actually the more recent bowl participant of this matchup. BGSU has not played in one of these games since 2015. Everyone will savor the chance.
There are so many reruns on TV this time of year
Tier 5 of 2022-23 college football bowl games by BEAST score, with points for team familiarity, opposing styles, quality and importance (stakes)
They played this exact game a year ago. Now Iowa has one of the worst Power Five offenses in memory, as well as the most ideologically maddening one, and neither team will have its starting QB. Iowa’s Spencer Petras is hurt, and Kentucky’s Will Levis is off to the NFL. Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. is out, too, as are Iowa running back Gavin Williams and receiver Arland Bruce IV, who are transferring. If you want a holiday sequel, you might consider “Home Alone 2” instead.
Check out our latest college football predictions.