Instead of a traditional postseason, at the end of each college football season come games at individual sites spread out over several weeks called bowl games. The college football bowls, even though almost all are glorified exhibitions, are a unique and popular way to end the season for college football teams that finish the season with a .500 or better record.
The most important bowl games also decide that year’s national champion. Since 2014, the first year of the College Football Playoff, two of the biggest bowl games — from among the group of the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl — are designated as CFP National Semifinals. The winners move on to play in the CFP National Championship.
Bowl games are also very popular for sports bettors, as they take place during the holiday season and often are played from morning until night every day between Christmas and New Year’s. The matchups are also announced nearly a month or more before the game, meaning the teams — and bettors — have plenty of time to prepare. Because of that, they are among the most anticipated football games of the year.
History of the College Football Bowl Games
The first college football postseason game was played in Pasadena, California, in 1902 and was known as the East-West football game in conjunction with the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day.
By 1923, that game was moved to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and became known as the Rose Bowl game. It traditionally pitted the champions of the Pacific Coast Conference (known now as the Pac-12 Conference) and Big Ten Conference, the strongest leagues in that era of college football.
The Rose Bowl was the only college football postseason game until 1935, when the Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl and Sun Bowl started, followed in 1937 by the Cotton Bowl. The games all took the word “bowl” in their names from the Rose Bowl.
By 1950, there were eight bowl games, with the Gator Bowl (1945), Citrus Bowl (1946) and Alamo Bowl (1947) joining the original five. That number remained the same until the 1960s, when three more were added. Four more came along in the 1970s, then four more in the 1980s. By the 1990s, bowl games were popping up all over the country, not just in the traditional southern sites and not just around New Year’s Day.
For most of their histories, matchups for bowl games were determined strictly by conference affiliation; the Pac-8 (later Pac-10) and Big Ten champions went to the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl hosted the SEC champion, and the Orange Bowl the Big 8 champion. But that changed some as conferences attempted to find a better way to determine a national champion. First came the Bowl Alliance, then the Bowl Championship Series and eventually the College Football Playoff.
Many bowl games use sponsors in their name, and in some cases, the sponsor has become the name of the bowl, either temporarily (the Citrus Bowl was known as the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl for a few years) or permanently (the Motor City Bowl is still the Quick Lane Bowl).
College Football Playoff Bowl System
The six bowls included in the CFP system are the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl.
Each year, two of those bowls take their turn as CFP semifinal hosts. The winners go to a different neutral site for the national championship game, roughly a week later.
This year, the CFP semifinals are the Cotton Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl, with the national championship in Santa Clara, California. Next year, the Peach Bowl and Orange Bowl take their turn as semifinals.
Current College Football Bowls
For the 2018 season, there are 42 bowl games featuring Football Bowl Subdivision teams, ranging in date from Dec. 15 to Jan. 1, plus the CFP Championship Game on Jan. 7.
Note: This list does include the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) playoffs or the Celebration Bowl between the winners of FCS conferences SWAC and MEAC.
List of FBS bowl games (all times Eastern)
Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Dreamstyle Stadium, Albuquerque, N.M., 2 p.m. Dec. 15, ESPN
Autonation Cure Bowl, Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla., 2:30 p.m. Dec. 15, CBSSN
Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl, Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, 3:30 p.m. Dec. 15, ABC
Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Ala., 5:30 p.m. Dec. 15, ESPN
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, 9 p.m. Dec. 15, ESPN
Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl, FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Fla., 7 p.m. Dec. 18, ESPN
Frisco Bowl, Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas, 8 p.m. Dec. 19, ESPN
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla., 8 p.m., Dec. 20 ESPN
Bahama Bowl, Thomas Robinson Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas, 12:30 p.m., Dec. 21, ESPN
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Albertson’s Stadium, Boise, Idaho, 4 p.m. Dec. 21, ESPN
Birmingham Bowl, Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala., noon Dec. 22, ESPN
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas, 3:30 p.m. Dec. 22, ESPN
Dollar General Bowl, Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Alabama, 7 p.m. Dec. 22, ESPN
Hawaii Bowl, Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, 10:30 p.m. Dec. 22, ESPN
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, Cotton Bowl Stadium, Dallas, 1:30 p.m. Dec. 26, ESPN
Quick Lane Bowl, Ford Field, Detroit, 5:15 p.m. Dec. 26, ESPN
Cactus Bowl, Chase Field, Phoenix, 9 p.m. Dec. 26, ESPN
Walk On’s Independence Bowl, Independence Stadium, Shreveport, La., 1:30 p.m. Dec. 27, ESPN
New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Yankee Stadium, New York, 5:15 p.m. Dec. 27, ESPN
Academy Sports+Outdoors Texas Bowl, NRG Stadium, Houston, 9 p.m. Dec. 27, ESPN
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tenn., 1:20 p.m. Dec. 28, ESPN
Camping World Bowl, Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla., 5:15 p.m. Dec. 28, ESPN
Valero Alamo Bowl, Alamodome, San Antonio, 9 p.m. Dec. 28, ESPN
Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, noon Dec. 29, ESPN
Belk Bowl, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C., 12:30 p.m. Dec. 29, ABC
Arizona Bowl, Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., 1 p.m. Dec. 29, CBSSN
*Capital One Orange Bowl, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida, 4 or 8 p.m. Dec. 29, ESPN
*Goodyear Cotton Bowl, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, 4 or 8 p.m. Dec. 29, ESPN
Hyundai Sun Bowl, Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Texas, noon Dec. 31, CBS
Military Bowl, Navy-Marine Corps. Stadium, Annapolis, Md., noon Dec. 31, ESPN
San Francisco Bowl, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., 3 p.m. Dec. 31, Fox
AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn., 3:45 p.m. Dec. 31, ESPN
SDCCU Holiday Bowl, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, 7 p.m. Dec. 31, FS1
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville, Fla., 7:30 p.m. Dec. 31, ESPN
Outback Bowl, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla., noon Jan. 1, ESPN2
Citrus Bowl, Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla., 1 p.m. Jan. 1, ABC
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, U. of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., 1 p.m. ESPN
Rose Bowl Game, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif., 5 p.m. Jan. 1, ESPN
Allstate Sugar Bowl, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, 8:45 p.m. Jan. 1, ESPN
CFP National Championship, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., 8 p.m. Jan. 7, ESPN
*-CFP semifinal game
Conference ties to bowls
Although modern bowl games aren’t as locked in with specific conferences as they used to be, there are still conference affiliations that usually determine each game’s representatives.
New Mexico Bowl: MWC vs. C-USA
Cure Bowl: American vs. Sun Belt
Las Vegas Bowl: MWC vs. Pac-12
Camellia Bowl: Sun Belt vs. MAC
New Orleans Bowl: Sun Belt vs. C-USA
Boca Raton Bowl: American vs. C-USA
Frisco Bowl: American vs. at-large
Gasparilla Bowl: American vs. ACC or C-USA
Bahamas Bowl: C-USA vs. MAC
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: MWC vs. MAC
Birmingham Bowl: SEC vs. American
Armed Forces Bowl: American vs. Big 12
Dollar General Bowl: MAC vs. Sun Belt
Hawaii Bowl: C-USA vs. MWC
Heart of Dallas Bowl: Big Ten vs. C-USA or ACC
Quick Lane Bowl: Big Ten vs. ACC or Notre Dame
Cactus Bowl: Big 12 vs. Pac-12
Independence Bowl: SEC vs. ACC or Notre Dame
Pinstripe Bowl: Big Ten vs. ACC or Notre Dame
Texas Bowl: Big 12 vs. SEC
Music City Bowl: SEC vs. ACC/Big Ten/Notre Dame
Camping World Bowl: Big 12 vs. ACC/Notre Dame
Alamo Bowl: Big 12 vs. Pac-12
Peach Bowl: at-large vs. at-large
Belk Bowl: SEC vs. ACC/Notre Dame
Arizona Bowl: MWC vs. Sun Belt
Orange Bowl: CFP semifinal teams
Cotton Bowl: CFP semifinal teams
Sun Bowl: Pac-12 vs. ACC/Notre Dame
Military Bowl: ACC/Notre Dame vs. American
San Francisco Bowl: Big Ten vs. Pac-12
Liberty Bowl: Big 12 vs. SEC
Holiday Bowl: Big Ten vs. Pac-12
Gator Bowl: SEC vs. ACC/Big Ten/Notre Dame
Outback Bowl: Big Ten vs. SEC
Citrus Bowl: Big Ten vs. SEC
Fiesta Bowl: at-large vs. at-large
Rose Bowl: Big Ten vs. Pac-12
Sugar Bowl: Big 12 vs. SEC