College Football Bowl Game Power Rankings: The 27 Exhibitions You Watched Instead Of A Playoff

Celebration at the Pinstripe Bowl is perfectly acceptable as long as it takes place after the final buzzer, as Da'Mon Merkerson of Syracuse demonstrates. And yes, you read that correctly: Syracuse played in a bowl game, and won! (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

With just a few games remaining on college football's postseason schedule, the bowl power rankings represent an attempt at making sense of the 27 exhibition contests we've seen so far.

Bowl Game Power Rankings seek to give order to the world where there is none, i.e. during the college football bowl season, which is when the sport forsakes any order whatsoever in order to hold 35 individual exhibition games across the country. It's like college football becomes some kind of mediocre and inconsistent inspirational speaking tour, except that without the same slate of speakers there's no telling who'll show up. You might get the Independence Bowl with Gary Busey and Tony Robbins, or the Orange Bowl with Og Mandino and special inspirational guest Charles Bronson. ("You have to treat life like a dog you have to fight in prison in order to survive." The rest of his presentation is just pushups and flexing.) 

We now attempt to rank the bowl games as they have happened to this point by sheer entertainment value, not whether they actually prove anything. (And they prove very little, even if a certain BIG conference plays the part of all TEN pins on a single bloody New Year's Day bowling strike. Subtlety! It's a strong suit around here.)


1. THE PINSTRIPE BOWL. Marrone is Italian for "excitement, man."  The Pinstripe Bowl really got going once you got over the shock of seeing Syracuse in a bowl game and everyone decided to stop playing defense in the second half and just let the offenses throw flea-flickers down the field without penalty. The controversial unsportsmanlike penalty that doomed Kansas State was bullshit (and there is no other word for it), but only added to the chaos for the neutral observer. (And if you were a KSU fan, it had you rummaging through the tool shed for the right sledgehammer to paint with the word "YOU" on it. Then you would mail to the Big Ten officials involved.)

2. THE ROSE BOWL. HOW DARE WE PUT THE GRANDADDY OF THEM ALL BEHIND THE PINSTRIPE BOWL? Inconsistent scripting, that's how. An inert second half and predictable Wisconsin run-blocking seminar did finish with a dramatic two point conversion, but the Rose Bowl saved its drama for the finale and neglected the later stages of the plot. Tank Carder's fingertips and Paul Chryst's two-point conversion call should have been named the MVPs in a thrilling game that did have its lulls and lulz. (See aforementioned two point conversion and Carder's ridiculous array of armbands.)

3. THE MUSIC CITY BOWL. Derek Dooley lives in the film Vertigo, and lives the same nightmare over, and over, and over again. 

I'm not even sure if I understand what happened in this game now after a week to digest it, but it was entertaining all the way through right down to Dooley's expression when the refs were attempting to clear the field and his eyes just read doom, doom, doom. After this year's near-disaster with the NCAA, beating cancer, and somehow scraping eight victories out of this team, it is now official that Butch Davis could come out of an Afghan firefight without a scratch on his body. He doesn't even need a helmet.

4. THE LITTLE CAESAR'S BOWL. Little bit like a David Lynch movie. A bizarre and slow setup (bowl game in Detroit sponsored by pizza chain no one knew existed anymore) strange characters (Florida International, Toledo), a seemingly normal beginning (Toledo piling up a 24-7 lead) and then a completely nonsensical but compelling finish when FIU won on a late field goal. No, it didn't make sense, especially the part where coach Mario Cristobal started talking to a dwarf assistant speaking backwards English, but I'll be damned if I didn't enjoy the whole thing.

5. THE BEEF O'BRADY'S BOWL. You'll always be the Magicjack St. Petersburg Bowl to us, but even with the sponsorship treachery the BOB bowl did what small pre-Christmas bowls should do: feature a climb back by one team (Louisville) from a 21-7 deficit to a fourth quarter slugfest ending with a dramatic final hold by Louisville's defense against Southern Miss. We mocked you out of disdain before, Beef O'Brady's Bowl; now we mock out of respect.*

*Either way there's mockery.

6. THE CAPITAL ONE BOWL. Okay, this was not even close, but let us sing the praises of a well-drawn beatdown as a form of entertainment. There's a Mythbusters running gag where they go out to New Mexico State's rocket propulsion lab, take an object, and see what happens to it when they put it on a rocket sled at five zillion miles an hour and shoot it into a concrete wall. Alabama was that rocket sled, and Michigan State was the evaporating compact car on that sled. Competition is nice, but watching utter hopeless football murder is also entertaining in its own way, and oh holy hell this was it. The final score of 49-7 was generous by Alabama; it could have been so, so much worse.

Even Michigan State seemed to agree:

In the third quarter you began to genuinely worry about the safety of the Spartans' football players. This may be as high a compliment paid to a football team as anyone can write.

7. THE INSIGHT BOWL. This was close -- a 27-24 comeback by Iowa sealed on a late interception of Blaine Gabbert -- but watching this kind of accident as entertainment bordered on voyeurism, like watching a spectacular skateboarding accident over and over again while giggling at someone's obvious pain and misery.


Got it baby.


Wait oh no no no no no NOOOOOOO ---



It was thrilling. Do not misunderstand that. It was also, for an outsider, just the eeeensiest bit painful to watch as entertainment.

8. THE CHICK-FIL-A-BOWL. Worth the price of admission for Greg Reid alone, who is still at large somewhere in the state of Georgia colliding with random objects just to watch them explode.

Reid played the entire game in a kind of out-of-body experience, showing no regard for his own safety or those around him. If you put him and Tank Carder and a great white shark in the same tank right now, there would be two bloody football players and one very dead shark left after five minutes.

9. THE TICKETCITY BOWL. The "Zombie Cotton Bowl" at least featured an attempted Northwestern comeback, and was much funnier if you assumed everyone had been hoodwinked into playing "The Cotten Bowl." (It's the spelling that keeps it from being total fraud.) Still unexpected value where there shouldn't have been any.

10. THE SUN BOWL. Some quarterbacks throw interceptions, and some just entertain the viewer by throwing sunshine into your lap with INTs so telegraphed and delicious they're almost intentional pratfalls. Jacory Harris actually completed all of his passes in Miami's 33-17 loss to Notre Dame: four to his own receivers, and three more in interceptions in the first half before getting pulled for Stephen Morris. And hey: Notre Dame won a bowl game on American soil, and took no casualties in Juarez! The protection of El Churro is powerful, Irish fans.

11. THE MEINEKE CAR CARE BOWL. A short chronological journal of the Car Care Bowl:

FIRST QUARTER: "Clemson's awful."

SECOND QUARTER: "Da'Quan Bowers could tackle a sequoia and make it scream, but Clemson's gonna blow this."

THIRD QUARTER: "The mini-me Clemson Tiger is disturbing. He's young and innocent, and surely Cokey the Tiger is going to turn him into an addict and involve him in his sordid affairs."

FOURTH QUARTER: "Don't even act like you want to come back here, Clemson. You're only going to blow this."


12. THE HOLIDAY BOWL. You know when watching a game that's close but not really close, and you say to yourself "I'm not having any fun even though this game is theoretically still competitive?" That's this game, where Nebraska's offensive line exploded backwards on every snap onto a clearly dinged Taylor Martinez, resulting in Washington beating the Huskers with Jake Locker runs and little else. Sure it was close, but it never felt close, especially after Nebraska gave up the kiss of death with a safety on a holding call.

13. THE OUTBACK BOWL. A tragedy for those wanting anything resembling offensive football, and not exactly a triumph on defense either, but Matt McGloin likes what you do, Jacory Harris, and is interested in learning more of your training regimen and football philosophies.

14. THE GATOR BOWL. Inevitability is never fun to watch, and after the first quarter and Michigan's only 14 points of the game, this turned into a documentary about a slaughterhouse, the kind where teenagers become vegetarians for six months after watching. It could have put you off football for five or 10 minutes or so, max.

15. THE ARMED FORCES BOWL. Army winning a bowl game over SMU is here for two reasons: a.) ARMY WON A BOWL GAME Y'ALL, and b.) Craig James was on the sidelines to watch SMU lose.

16. THE FIESTA BOWL. Even your triumphant BCS comeback win is less-than-compelling, Bob Stoops.

17. THE HAWAII BOWL. Value in watching Tulsa carpet bomb Hawaii in the third quarter alone. Hawaii politely scored a TD to open the quarter and creep back to a 27-21 deficit, and then Tulsa calibrated their equipment, got coordinates, and then set fire to the Hawaii defense -- who to that point had in fact played excellent football despite Hawaii committing six turnovers in the first half alone. It was inspiring savagery for at least one quarter, which is more than all the games listed below had. (And at least Ron Franklin got a Hawaiian vacation before returning to the mainland to continue his one-man campaign to set the uppity ladies of this nation straight.)

18. THE LIBERTY BOWL. A dull slugfest for the most part, but did feature the highlight of Andre Ware saying "I really like the game Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is calling right now" when UGA had a grand total of three points on the board. They would finish with six and a loss. Andre Ware thinks you're doing a heckuva job, Mike Bobo, and so does George O'Leary.

19. THE MILITARY BOWL. If only to watch Ralph Friedgen burn a defense down one last time, though the letdown of seeing which Maryland players would attempt to lift the big man onto their shoulders denied us all the pleasure of Fridge Lift 2010. Additional viewing fun: watching Ruffin McNeill sweat in the heat of a DC winter.

20. THE ALAMO BOWL. I was actually at this game, and there was a certain joy in watching Justin Blackmon pressure the Arizona defense over, and over, and over again. It was like watching an overmatched boxer dodge the huge uppercuts of a huge heavyweight bent on taking their head off: eventually, one was going to land, and when it did the game was over as Blackmon trotted undefended into the end zone. Otherwise it was only redeemed by Mike Stoops' theatrical agony on the sideline as the Wildcats loaded both barrels, aimed for their feet, and unloaded over and over again in the Alamodome.

21. THE MAACO LAS VEGAS BOWL. A beating from start to finish for Utah courtesy of Boise. Especially frustrating for the viewer, though, since instead of a proper beatdown Boise frittered away points with turnovers and poor execution. But Kyle Brotzman made a field goal! Yay, Kyle Brotzman! His redemption was:


22. THE TEXAS BOWL. Ron Zook will defend you, Big Ten, even when you refuse to defend yourself.

23. THE CHAMPS SPORTS BOWL. Bill Stewart appeared to be in pain, and at least West Virginia fans who've had to watch his offenses this year got to watch life return the favor to their effectively-fired coach.

24. THE POINSETTIA BOWL. Slightly above your average pre-Christmas blowout due to the entertainment value of watching San Diego State play football very well. Like solar eclipses and SEC teams losing to Ohio State, this should happen again in 10 years or so. (Editor's note: the latter of these two phenomena has in fact never happened. We apologize for the error. The eclipse is a more regular and real event.)

25. THE HUMANITARIAN BOWL. Like most humanitarian efforts, this one began with good intentions and ended up with starvation, screaming people running in all directions, and dogs (Huskies in this case) as the only victors, eating the casualties.

26. THE NEW ORLEANS BOWL. Only slightly higher in these rankings due to the amusing sight of Ohio's offense attempting to come from behind. Did you know Ohio's offense is like your checking account, and there is a maximum withdrawal of yards from the total account per play? Frank Solich: getting back into games one 4-yard pass at a time.

27. THE NEW MEXICO BOWL. A slaughter of outsiders by Mormons that few witnessed. That's never happened before.

28. THE INDEPENDENCE BOWL. An unwatchable 14-7 offensive hunger strike that was as awful as this van is awesome:


There are no windows on the rear of this van, and it is because Paul Johnson is strangling his entire offensive staff in the back of it right now.


1. Beans

2. Stripper

3. Flag

4. Joseph Conrad

5. Lech Walesa



1. Mink

2. That song by Kelly Rowland




1. Hodgson

2. Coen

3. Grey (LOVED Cabaret!)

4. Osteen

5. Billy



1. Coward

2. All other Noels



1. Detritus, Officer Of The Law In Ankh-Morpork

2. 4Chan

3. Yahoo Commenters

4. The one under the bridge waiting to grab you and eat you

5. Jason Whitlock



1. House Cookies

2. Booth



1. Donut

2. Worm

3. Glory

4. Rabbit

5. The sucking emptiness at the very core of Joe Buck's soul



1. Nat King

2. Porter

3. Keyshia

4. Ashley

5. Joe

6. Paula (H8 U, "Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?")



1. Robert Hanssen

2. Aldrich Ames

3. Mole from Wind in the Willows.



1. Sushi

2. Dinner

3. Barrel

4. Tide

5. Banjo



1. Grassy





1. Pine

2. Meadow

3. Oregon

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