Breaking down the best bowl games outside the College Football Playoff

Derrick Brown Auburn celebrates a sack
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Ricky Dimon

NCAAF

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Since graduating from Davidson (The College That Stephen Curry Built), I have been writing about sports--just about any and all you can think of!--and coaching tennis in Atlanta, Ga. Beyond the four major sports, I am an avid tennis fan and cover the ATP Tour on a daily basis. If I'm not busy writing, you can generally find me on a tennis court or traveling the world wherever a sporting event takes me.

For certain programs and for many fans, bowl season has become “College Football Playoff or bust.” That’s why watching Alabama take on Michigan in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl probably won’t be as a fun as it looks on paper. We already saw what happened when Georgia went to the Sugar Bowl last season and there is no need to see it again.

There is, however, at least some appointment television outside of the Peach Bowl (LSU vs. Oklahoma) and the Fiesta Bowl (Ohio State vs. Clemson).

Rose Bowl

The Tournament of Roses is as good as it gets other than the semifinals. Both the Oregon Ducks and Utah Utes produced impressive regular seasons that resulted in championship game appearances. Oregon lifted the Pac-12 trophy and Wisconsin put a serious scare into Ohio State, so both squads should be heading to Pasadena with plenty of confidence. Be sure to eventually check out our free college football expert picks for this one, in which the Ducks are slight -2.5 favorites.

Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert has been surpassed by the likes of Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence, and Justin Fields (all of them are in the College Football Playoff) in terms of notoriety and perhaps even NFL Draft stock, but the senior has somewhat quietly passed for 3,333 yards with 32 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He faces a Badgers squad that has been outstanding this year aside from a disastrous loss to Illinois. Both fans and professional scouts should be interested in this Rose Bowl.

Outback Bowl

Auburn is not a complete stranger to the College Football Playoff and Minnesota contended for a semifinal spot almost the entire way this season, but it’s not like these two teams will tank their bowl game just because they are not part of the main festivities. The Tigers have already made two Outback Bowl appearances in the past decade and both were memorable, losing to Northwestern 38-35 in January of 2010 and beating Wisconsin 34-31 in January of 2015. This is the Golden Gophers’ most prestigious bowl trip since they won the Rose Bowl back in 1961.

While Auburn would like to reach the 10-win mark, this year is already a success thanks to its 48-45 victory over Alabama in another epic Iron Bowl. Minnesota features quarterback Tanner Morgan (28 touchdowns, six interceptions) and a defense that has allowed more than 26 points just once since the end of September.

Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl

This is really the Chris Petersen Bowl. Petersen is retiring from coaching and his final game with the Washington Huskies will come against none other than his former program: the Boise State Broncos.

Boise State is not quite what it was under Petersen, but it remains one of the best teams outside of the Power 5 conferences. The Broncos are 12-1 this season and just barely got edged out by Memphis for the Group of 5’s bid in the New Year’s Six lineup (the Tigers will go up against Penn State in the Cotton Bowl). Washington, a -3.5 favorite right now, guaranteed itself a winning record by defeating rival Washington State for the Apple Cup. The Huskies are led by NFL prospect Jacob Eason at QB (22 TDs, eight INTs).

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