The College Football Bowl Games You Don’t Want to Miss

Heisman winner Derrick will lead Alabama against Michigan State in this year's Cotton Bowl.
Heisman winner Derrick will lead Alabama against Michigan State in this year's Cotton Bowl.Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

There are 42 college football bowl games this season, and if you plan to ignore your family, friends, and job to watch them all, we can’t really stop you. But if you have a life, or just marginal responsibilities, and you’re looking to coordinate your schedule around the few you just can’t miss, while maybe avoiding the Popeyes Bahama Bowl or the Camping World Independence Bowl, here’s a primer on the match-ups you need to pay attention to:

Russell Athletic Bowl
Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

The No. 17 Baylor Bears (9-3) are an interesting team with some gigantic players in 6-foot-9 DE Shawn Oakman and 6-foot-7, 400-pound TE LaQuan McGowan. While Baylor had high hopes of challenging for an NCAA title this season before losses to Texas and TCU, No. 10 UNC (11-2) is coming off a turnaround season and brandishes a high-powered offense that’s fun to watch. If you like scoring, this game should have plenty of it.

Orange Bowl
Dec. 31, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN

One of the two semifinal games that will help determine college football’s champion, the Orange Bowl pits No. 1 Clemson (13-0) against No. 4 Oklahoma (11-1) in a game oozing with drama. If Clemson loses, their undefeated season and bid for a national title are over. If Oklahoma wins, they advance to the title game just like underdog Ohio State did a year ago. The Sooners have all the tradition and history and a head coach in Bob Stoops, who is looking to make his fifth title game appearance. Clemson? They haven’t won a title since 1981… but they haven’t lost yet this season. That alone is worth monitoring.

Cotton Bowl
Dec. 31, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

There’s a better than average chance you’ll be at an overrated New Year’s Eve party counting down the minutes until the ball drops and you get to head home. This game may be on, though, and it will be a hell of a lot more entertaining than Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin in Times Square when No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Michigan State do battle in Texas. Both schools are 12-1, and this game is being billed as the real National Championship, mostly because everyone expected these two to be here all season. There are some doubts about how good Clemson and Oklahoma really are, but nobody will be surprised if Alabama or Michigan State win it all. Unfortunately only one of them can make it out of this game.

BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl
Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN

Keep this game on in the background on New Year’s Day while you are making a list of resolutions you’re never going to keep. Why? Because No. 7 Ohio State (11-1) may come out and disembowel No. 8 Notre Dame (10-2). The Buckeyes, last year’s Cinderella champions, are upset they didn’t finish in the top four again this season. The Irish are a team you either passionately love or completely loathe, so there’s plenty for both sides here. If Notre Dame wins, their fans will be ecstatic. But Ohio State could probably beat the Tennessee Titans, and Notre Dame barely beat Temple earlier this season.

Rose Bowl
Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN

First of all, it’s the Rose Bowl. Never miss the Rose Bowl. But second, the game also features the best two teams not to make the Final Four — No. 5 Iowa and No. 6 Stanford — which means you get to spend your holiday watching two excellent, extremely pissed-off football teams go head-to-head. Iowa (12-1) was one possession from a perfect season and is still trying to prove it’s an elite program out of the Big Ten. Stanford (11-2) represents the Pac-12 in a clash of conferences that typically produces a tremendous game.

CFP National Championship
Jan. 11, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Winners of the Cotton Bowl and the Orange Bowl face off to crown a true NCAA football champion. Not watching this one is like skipping the finale of Narcos. You have to see how it ends, right?

There are 42 bowl games you can watch this year, which is not even arguably too many. Frankly it’s an obscene amount of college football featuring plenty of schools you don’t or shouldn’t care about. So go wrap some presents, make some resolutions, and promise that you won’t waste your time with any more than these six games.