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Ultimate Guide to 2018-19 College Football Bowl Season

David Kenyon

December is something close to paradise for football fans. While the College Football Playoff takes center stage, bowl season features a 18-day stretch littered with 39 games.

There's plenty to be excited about.

Before diving in, we'd like to extend our condolences to Miami U, Louisiana-Monroe, Southern Miss and Wyoming. They were all bowl-eligible, but they have no postseason destination. 

Nevertheless, the slate is loaded with 37 exhibitions and two College Football Playoff semifinals before the national championship.

This preview includes a look at the semifinals, a few under-the-radar matchups, one key storyline, all 39 games ranked and the most important part of bowl season: the swag.

Cotton Bowl: Clemson vs. Notre Dame

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When: Saturday, Dec. 29, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Line: Clemson -11.5

A reliable quarterback is crucial to CFP aspirations. Interestingly, both starters in the Cotton Bowl opened the year as backups.

Yes, it seemed inevitable Trevor Lawrence would overtake Kelly Bryant as the No. 1 for Clemson this year. But Lawrencethe top prospect of the 2018 recruiting cycleshined in 13 games (nine starts), throwing for 24 touchdowns with only four interceptions.

Ian Book also trotted out for nine starts, replacing Brandon Wimbush in the fourth week of Notre Dame's undefeated season (and missing the clash with Florida State in November). Book accounted for 23 total scores and tossed six picks.

The outcome of the Cotton Bowl will likely hinge on which quarterback is most productive. Clemson's boasts the best defense in the nation in terms of yards per play allowed, while Notre Dame ranks eighth.

In what could be a low-scoring game, third-down and red-zone success will be critical for the first-year starters.

Orange Bowl: Alabama vs. Oklahoma

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When: Saturday, Dec. 29, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Line: Alabama -14

Alabama has graced all five editions of the College Football Playoff, but it has yet to face Oklahoma (three appearances) until now. 

The Sooners snuck into the CFP field thanks to Alabama's victory over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Had the Crimson Tide lost, they likely would've fallen to No. 4 and sent a fifth-ranked Oklahoma to the Sugar Bowl.

But don't expect any thank-you baskets from the Sooners.

They'll lean heavily on Kyler Murray, the dual-threat future-baseball-playing quarterback who leaped over Tua Tagovailoa to win the 2018 Heisman Trophy. Murray's high-efficiency throwing and mobility are the classic combination of what gives Alabama problems.

However, Oklahoma may have the worst red-zone defense of the modern era. Opponents have turned 47 red-zone possessions into 40 touchdowns against the Sooners. That 85.1 percent rate is staggeringly bad.

Murray and Oklahoma's record-breaking offense have overcome that weakness all year, though. A high-scoring affair would be nothing new.

Under-the-Radar Bowls to Watch

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Even without star quarterback McKenzie Milton, UCF's date with LSU in the Fiesta Bowl is the must-watch game involving at least one Group of Five program.

Fresno State's showdown with Arizona State is the other highlight for Group of Five schools. The Mountain West champion gets a crack at a Pac-12 squad in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Three other under-the-radar matchups feature a fascinating clash of styles.

In the Frisco Bowl, defense-first San Diego State will attempt to slow Ohio's ninth-ranked offense. Buffalo will try to find explosive plays on offense against Troy's sturdy defense in the Dollar General Bowl. And Houston's uptempo attack will counter Army's grinding option offense in the Armed Forces Bowl.

If now-Texas Tech coach Matt Wells was still leading Utah State, the Aggies' date with North Texas would be a stellar game. Since he's handed off duties, the New Mexico Bowl loses a little bit of luster. Regardless, that game should feature plenty of points. 

Urban Meyer's Last Hurrah

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In seven seasons at Ohio State, Urban Meyer has posted an 82-9 record with three Big 12 championships and one national title. Due to a variety of factorsincluding concerns about his healththe Rose Bowl will double as Meyer's finale with the Buckeyes.

Given the events that resulted in a three-game suspension to begin the 2018 seasonnotably, his mishandling of domestic abuse allegations involving a former assistanthe's leaving with a complicated legacy.

Strictly on the field, though, Meyer is one of the most successful college football coaches in history. Not just the modern era, not only at Ohio State; he's one of the best ever, period.

According to Sports Reference, only Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy posted a higher winning percentage in their careers.

The Buckeyes will try to send Meyer out on a winning note opposite Washington. Though the Huskies have a mediocre offense, their excellent defense will be a challenging final matchup for Meyer.

Best Bowl Giveaways

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SportsBusiness Journal annually compiles a list of the giveaways (max $550 total) put together for the players involved in each bowl game. Gift suites reign supreme, but we like specifics.

           

3. Peach Bowl

As always, we hope Chick-fil-A sandwiches will be available on demand for the players at the Peach Bowl. 

Otherwise, the players from Michigan and Florida will collect a package highlighted by a $300 Visa gift card. They'll also receive a Fossil watch and a Mophie Powerstation (portable battery charger), as well as an Amazon Echo Dot speaker and a football.

            

2. Alamo Bowl

Here's the headliner: a $425 gift card for Amazon. You can do some serious damage with that kind of cash.

Iowa State and Washington State players will also receive a Fossil watch, a mini helmet and a team panoramic photo.

          

T-1. Camping World and Citrus Bowls

Hosted in the same stadium, the Camping World and Citrus Bowls both offer a similar gift package.

In addition to an Ogio backpack and a Fossil watch, players from Syracuse, West Virginia, Kentucky and Penn State will enjoy a $400 gift card to Best Buy. We're giving the slight edge to an Ogio backpack over the Alamo Bowl's mini helmet and photo.

Watchability Rankings

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Tier 6: It's A Thing That's Happening

39. Potato Bowl: Western Michigan vs. BYU, Dec. 21, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

38. Hawaii Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. Hawaii, Dec. 22, 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

37. Cheez-It Bowl: Cal vs. TCU, Dec. 26, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

36. Gasparilla Bowl: Marshall vs. South Florida, Dec. 20, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

35. Quick Lane Bowl: Minnesota vs. Georgia Tech, Dec. 26, 5:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)

34. Cure Bowl: Tulane vs. Louisiana, Dec. 15, 1:30 p.m. ET (CBSSN)

33. Texas Bowl: Baylor vs. Vanderbilt, Dec. 27, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

32. Arizona Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Nevada, Dec. 29, 1:15 p.m. ET (CBSSN)

         

Tier 5: Hey, Football Is On!

31. Bahamas Bowl: FIU vs. Toledo, Dec. 21, 12:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

30. Holiday Bowl: Utah vs. Northwestern, Dec. 31, 7 p.m. ET (FS1)

29. Frisco Bowl: San Diego State vs. Ohio, Dec. 19, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

28. Camellia Bowl: Georgia Southern vs. Eastern Michigan, Dec. 15, 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

27. Independence Bowl: Temple vs. Duke, Dec. 27, 1:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

26. Military Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech, Dec. 31, Noon ET (ESPN)

25. Belk Bowl: South Carolina vs. Virginia, Dec. 29, Noon ET (ABC)

        

Tier 4: I'm Mildly Interested

24. New Orleans Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Appalachian State, Dec. 15, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

23. Sun Bowl: Pitt vs. Stanford, Dec. 31, 2 p.m. ET (CBS)

22. Pinstripe Bowl: Miami vs. Wisconsin, Dec. 27, 5:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)

21. First Responder Bowl: Boston College vs. Boise State, Dec. 26, 1:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

20. Birmingham Bowl: Memphis vs. Wake Forest, Dec. 22, Noon ET (ESPN)

19. Redbox Bowl: Michigan State vs. Oregon, Dec. 31, 3 p.m. ET (Fox)

18. New Mexico Bowl: North Texas vs. Utah State, Dec. 15, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)

        

Tier 3: You Have My Attention

17. Liberty Bowl: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State, Dec. 31, 3:45 p.m. ET (ESPN)

16. Boca Raton Bowl: UAB vs. Northern Illinois, Dec. 18, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

15. Outback Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Iowa, Jan. 1, Noon ET (ESPN2)

14. Music City Bowl: Purdue vs. Auburn, Dec. 28, 1:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

13. Citrus Bowl: Kentucky vs. Penn State, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET (ABC)

12. Camping World Bowl: West Virginia vs. Syracuse, Dec. 28, 5:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)

11. Gator Bowl: NC State vs. Texas A&M, Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

       

Tier 2: Put This On Your Calendar

10. Dollar General Bowl: Buffalo vs. Troy, Dec. 22, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

9. Armed Forces Bowl: Houston vs. Army, Dec. 22, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

8. Peach Bowl: Florida vs. Michigan, Dec. 29, Noon ET (ESPN)

7. Las Vegas Bowl: Fresno State vs. Arizona State, Dec. 15, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

6. Fiesta Bowl: UCF vs. LSU, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)

5. Alamo Bowl: Iowa State vs. Washington State, Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

4. Sugar Bowl: Texas vs. Georgia, Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m. ET (ESPN) 

       

Tier 1: Required Viewing

3. Rose Bowl: Washington vs. Ohio State, Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)

2. Cotton Bowl: Clemson vs. Notre Dame, Dec. 29, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

1. Orange Bowl: Alabama vs. Oklahoma, Dec. 29, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

   
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