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Ranking the best and worst bowl game gifts players will receive in 2021

There’s some good here, and some ... woof.

Valero Alamo Bowl - Iowa State v Washington State Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

It’s a whole new world in college football. In years past the bowl game gift bag was the only opportunity players could get rewarded for risking their bodies all season long. Now, with NIL rules, athletes can finally get additional compensation for playing one of the most dangerous sports in the world.

While the glitz, glamor and importance of the gift bag might be a thing of the past, it’s still fascinating to see what happens when corporate entities need to try and decide what will appeal most to teenagers. Keep in mind that the NCAA has a rule stating that players can’t receive any gifts in excess of $550, making this an effort in maximizing shopping value as much as anything else.

The best bowl game gifts

No. 1: Valero Alamo Bowl

Gifts: $490 Mastercard Gift Card, Ice Shaker Bottle, Mini Helmet, Team Photo

This is boring, I know, but the simplicity of giving players 90 percent of their gift in a big gift card is really the perfect reward. You get a couple of little random mementos, which are nice for the event — then get to treat yourself with something good.

No. 2 : PlayStation Fiesta Bowl

Gifts: PlayStation 5 and a game TBD

It’s a PS5. Do you know how tough it is to find a PS5? Keep it for yourself, or tread into the horrible side of becoming a scummy secondary market reseller. The choice is yours!

No. 3: AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Gifts: Bose SoundLink Flex Bluetooth speaker, Bulova watch, Nike backpack, sunglasses, athletic shoes and sport sandals, commemorative football

My only fear here is that everything will be plastered with branding, but if it isn’t then this is an excellent swag bag. It’s full of things you kinda always need, but forget to buy. The items are decent quality too. When it comes to the “bunch of stuff” offerings, the Liberty Bowl is the king.

No. 4: Cheez-It Bowl

Gifts: $400 Amazon gift card, Fossil watch, Ogio backpack, commemorative football

I know I just said I was wary of branded items, but I’m making an exception here. Nobody wants a Bulova watch with the AutoZone logo on it, however, if you give me a Fossil watch with the Cheez-It logo and it’s so dumb and funny I love it. To counteract the dumb stuff you have a $400 gift card too.

No. 5: Quick Lane Bowl

Gifts: JBL Tune Bluetooth noise-canceling headphones, $175 Best Buy gift card, PhotoSlap life-sized photo stickers, backpack and tag, commemorative football, game merchandise

I like the mix of some nice headphones and a big enough Best Buy card that you could put a dent in a larger purchase. It’s not perfect, but we’re about to see how big a bullet some of these teams dodged.

The worst bowl game gifts

You’ll notice a common theme to all these: The gift suite. This is a kind of pop-up store set up by the organizing committee where players can pick their own gifts. In theory that’s awesome, but it put so much heavy lifting not only on the organizers to stock it with good stuff, but the potential of everyone wanting the same stuff and it turning into a mess.

I fear the unknown, and the gift suite is an unknown.

No. 1: Bahamas Bowl

Gifts: Board shorts, Ice Shaker bottle, beach towel, string backpack, lapel pin, additional item TBD

I can tell you exactly how this went down. Someone came up with this offering thinking “it’s beachy!” and at the last second a marketing exec stepped in and said “we can’t just give them this collection of crap, add something better.” So now we have the mysterious “additional item TBD.”

Some poor intern is running around trying to work out what the last item should be as we speak.

No. 2 (tied): TransPerfect Music City Bowl/ SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl

Gift: Gift suite

That’s it? Seriously? I really hope this gift suite is stocked to the gills with dope stuff. This is such a zero-effort attempt it’s sad.

No. 4: San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl

Gifts: Gift suite, fleece hoodie, short sleeve T-shirt, long sleeve T-shirt

The gift suite is back, but this time it’s brought its friends — three different shirts. These will all be branded, awful, and never worn. At least it’s something extra, I guess.

No. 5: TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl

Gifts: Gift suite, hat, Ice Shaker bottle, shadow kit

Another “gift suite + stuff” offering, but it’s not nearly as bad as the San Diego Credit Union Holiday Bowl’s “three different shirts” thing.

I’m assuming I’m not cool enough to know what a “shadow kit” is. Hopefully it’s neat. Google only tells me it’s an item from Fortnite.