An Ideal College Football Structure: Bowl Season Edition

Several months ago, I published my Ideal College Football Structure – a plan for a near complete overhaul of the way college football’s season works, coupled with an intensive conference realignment that gets all the teams into geographical alignment. I won’t bore you by going over all the details again here though – if you want to check it out, here are the links:

Part One: How it works

Part Two: Realigning the Power 5

Part Three: Realigning the Group of 5

One of the components of my redesign was to include what is probably the most popular suggestion for playoff expansion – 8 teams, consisting of the five P5 conference champs, the G5 rep, and the two highest ranking at-large teams. I also mentioned that I would require at least a 7-5 record to go to a bowl game, and that personally, I would prefer 8 wins. So I thought, what would our bowl matchups this season have looked like under this system?

This season, 42 teams had 8 or more wins during the regular season. That is pretty close to what we normally get. To accomodate these teams, there would need to be 21 bowl games. That’s a little more than half of the current 39 (which next season is slated to rise to 41 or 42). Really though, we’ll need 23 bowl games, because my 8-team playoff would use four of the “New Years 6” bowls in the quarterfinals and the other two in the semifinals. So the first thing I had to do is figure out which bowl games to keep and which ones to eliminate.

In order to do this, I looked at three primary categories: History (age of the bowl), Payout (higher payouts typically come with more prestigious bowls and thus provide a pecking order of importance), and Location. My goal was to put an emphasis on keeping long-standing bowls and prestigious bowls, while also trying to make sure that the bowls are at least somewhat spread out and not all concentrated in Texas and Florida.

The Bowls

Bowl City Year Founded Payout
Rose Pasadena, CA 1916* (1902) Playoff Pool
Sugar New Orleans, LA 1935 Playoff Pool
Orange Miami Gardens, FL 1935 Playoff Pool
Cotton Arlington, TX 1937 Playoff Pool
Alamo San Antonio, TX 1993 $4.13M
Citrus Orlando, FL 1946 $4.11M
Holiday San Diego, CA 1978 $3.27M
Hall of Fame Classic Birmingham, AL 1977 $3.2M
Music City Nashville, TN 1998 $2.85M
Queen City Charlotte, NC 2002 $2.39M
Liberty Memphis, TN 1959 $2.35M
Sun El Paso, TX 1935 $2.28M
Pinstripe New York, NY 2010 $2.2M
Fight Hunger Santa Clara, CA 2002 $1.8M
Independence Shreveport, LA 1976 $1.1M
Military Annapolis, MD 2008 $1.03M
Motor City Detroit, MI 1997 $1M
Cactus Phoenix, AZ 1989 $0.81M
Aloha Honolulu, HI 1982 $0.6M
Potato Boise, ID 1997 $0.4M
Bahamas Nassau, Bahamas 2014 $0.11M
Peach Atlanta, GA 1968 Playoff Pool
Fiesta Glendale, AZ 1971 Playoff Pool
National Championship Game New Orleans, LA 1999 Playoff Pool


All of the NY6 bowls are preserved, as are the top “mid-major” bowls (for lack of a better term) like the Alamo, Citrus, Holiday, and Outback bowls.

In case you are wondering where the Outback Bowl is on that list, I also renamed several of the bowls because I am old-fashioned when it comes to not liking bowls to be named after sponsors or the city/state they take place in (the latter is just un-creative). So I looked back into the history of the bowls and gave them the last name they had that wasn’t one of those things. Here’s a key:

Outback Bowl = Hall of Fame Classic
Belk Bowl = Queen City Bowl
Redbox Bowl = Fight Hunger Bowl
Quick Lanes Bowl = Motor City Bowl
Cheez-it Bowl = Cactus Bowl
Hawai’i Bowl = Aloha Bowl

I didn’t change the Bahamas Bowl because it’s never been called anything else and, well, it’s the only bowl game in another country, so I figure that’s exotic enough to pass.

Anyway, now that the names are cleared up, back to my process. The most prestigious bowls that I eliminated, according to payout, were the Texas Bowl in Houston, the Camping World Bowl in Orlando, and the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. I let these bowls go because there are already three bowls in both Texas and Florida on the list, including the Citrus Bowl, which is in the exact same stadium as the Camping World Bowl.

The Sun Bowl was an automatic inclusion just because of it’s great history. No other non-NY6 bowl comes close to being that old except for the Citrus and Gator Bowls, between which I had to pick.

The Cactus and Aloha Bowls also survived largely due to their age; though they are nowhere near the age of the Sun and Citrus Bowls, they are still relatively old compared to most modern bowl games. Plus, who doesn’t like a trip to Hawai’i?

The Pinstripe, Military, Motor City, Potato, and Bahamas Bowls were chosen because they are all located in places where there is a significant lack of bowl games; i.e., the northern states or outside the country.

Finally, you might notice that the Hall of Fame Classic is now being played in Birmingham, AL instead of it’s current Tampa, FL location. That’s because, once upon a time, the HoF Classic game WAS played in Birmingham. Moving it back gives Alabama a bowl (I didn’t keep any of the less prestigious three that exist there now, including the Birmingham Bowl), and it means I don’t have to get rid of this bowl just because there are too many games in Florida.

So now all that’s left is to see what matchups we would have had this year! Keep in mind that because I am using the real records from this season, I am choosing to use current conference alignment instead of the reimagined alignment in the articles I linked above.

The Matchups

Rose Bowl 8. Memphis Tigers v 1. Louisiana State Tigers
Sugar Bowl 7. Baylor Bears v 2. Ohio State Buckeyes
Orange Bowl 6. Oregon Ducks v 3. Clemson Tigers
Cotton Bowl 5. Georgia Bulldogs v 4. Oklahoma Sooners
Alamo Bowl Oklahoma State Cowboys v Utah Utes
Citrus Bowl Wisconsin Badgers v Alabama Crimson Tide
Holiday Bowl Pennsylvania State Nittany Lions v Southern California Trojans
Hall of Fame Classic Minnesota Golden Gophers v Florida Gators
Music City Bowl Notre Dame Fighting Irish v Auburn Tigers
Queen City Bowl Virginia Cavaliers v Boise State Broncos*
Liberty Bowl Kansas State Wildcats v Appalachian State Mountaineers*
Sun Bowl Virginia Tech Hokies v Cincinnatti Bearcats*
Pinstripe Bowl Wake Forest Demon Deacons v Michigan Wolverines
Fight Hunger Bowl Navy Midshipmen* v Iowa Hawkeyes
Independence Bowl Southern Methodist Mustangs* v. Florida Atlantic Owls*
Military Bowl Central Florida Knights v Air Force Falcons*
Motor City Bowl Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns* v Indiana Hoosiers
Cactus Bowl Louisiana Tech Buldogs* v San Diego State Aztecs*
Aloha Bowl Temple Owls v Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors
Potato Bowl Western Kentucky Hilltoppers* v Miami (OH) Redhawks
Bahamas Bowl Marshall Thundering Herd v Central Michigan Chippewas
Peach Bowl Sugar Bowl Winner v Orange Bowl Winner
Fiesta Bowl Rose Bowl Winner v Cotton Bowl Winner
National Championship Game Peach Bowl Winner v Fiesta Bowl Winner
*Team is subbing in for a conference that did not have enough teams to fill their allotment


As you can see, one of the positive effects of limiting the bowls is that we tend to get better matchups throughout the list. It is always tempting for a bowl to extend an invite to a 7-5 or 6-6 (or sometimes even 5-7) team from a major conference. Great G5 teams are often left playing in lower-level bowls instead of competing against the good P5 teams.

This year, the Pac-12 only had three teams that reached 8 regular season wins. The Atlantic Coast had four, not counting their independent partners at Notre Dame. The Big XII also had four, the SEC had five, and the Big 10 had seven. This left plenty of room for the top G5 teams to get solid matchups, like Virginia vs. Boise State or Kansas State vs. Appalachian State. When G5 teams must play against each other, we also have more good matchups, like UCF vs Air Force or SMU vs Florida Atlantic. The more you have good teams playing other good teams, the more good games will be produced.

One criticism that has been leveled at my model is that record alone does not always determine whether a team is fun to watch. For example, last year Tulane finished the season with a 6-6 record, but went 5-1 in the second half and scored highly in advanced metrics. That team might be more fun to watch than, say, whoever came out of the messy brawl that was the MAC this year.

I know it was the Miami Redhawks, MAC fans. Don’t @ me.


I will admit to that. But I don’t really think there is a perfect way to guarantee that every team that makes a bowl will be the best teams that everyone wants to watch, unless I cut the bowls back even more. And probably not even then, because LSU mopped the floor with Oklahoma so what can you do?

I do think that playing in a bowl should be primarily earned on the field. I also think that the beginning of the season needs to be weighed the same as the end. Tulane was playing like a bowl-worthy team at the end of the season last year, but they didn’t play like that for the first half of the year. Using record as a qualifier provides something concrete for teams to strive for, and keeping it high guarantees that MOST of your matchups should be pretty solid.

On the flip side, you have people who totally disagree with this kind of thing, saying we should keep adding more bowls because any football is good. The players love getting another chance to play (usually). The fans love having another game to watch. Despite the complaining of people like myself about the glut of bowl games, this is largely true. As a fan of North Texas, I went to see them play in the First Responder Bowl against Army a few years ago when they had a 5-7 record and only got in due to a lack of available teams. That was still a fun experience.

Even so, I believe in quality over quantity, and I believe setting these limits provides more meaning and better football. If your school is perenially 6-6 or 7-5, I understand; I’ve been there. But maybe higher expectations are one thing your school needs to raise the bar.

Anyway, it’s not like people in the know are asking my opinions on these things. I just do this for fun. It would be cool, though…

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