By Michael Haag | Sports Editor
Don’t let the aroma of Thanksgiving dinner distract you: Bowl season is near.
The college football season is one of the best times of the year, and it all builds up to bowl games over the holidays. Growing up as a fan of the game, there are certain matchups that come to mind when looking back. Sometimes it’s a byproduct of the magnitude of the bowl game, but there are instances in which a less-desirable bowl game provides a thrilling contest.
As the holiday season nears, here are the five best annual bowl games to watch.
1. Rose Bowl
This one shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Rose Bowl checks all the boxes, from an incredible venue to captivating matchups. Oh yeah — and it’s a New Year’s Six Bowl, for good reason.
It would be impossible to forget the 2011 and 2012 Rose Bowl matchups. Those were two games that had my eyes glued to the television screen the entire time. From Andy Dalton leading No. 3 TCU to a tight win over Wisconsin in 2011 to Oregon’s true freshman De’Anthony Thomas putting up 315 all-purpose yards on the Badgers a year later, the Rose Bowl is a spectacle in itself.
The Rose Bowl is one of the most storied bowl games in college football history (the inaugural game was in 1902), and it’s a place in Pasadena, Calif., that every fan should want to visit at least once in their life.
2. Allstate Sugar Bowl
Baylor fans ought to like this one. There’s nothing sweeter than sugar, and that’s the type of vibe you get with the Sugar Bowl. Not only is this another New Year’s Six Bowl, but it’s also located in a fun city: New Orleans.
The fondest memory has to be when Baylor took down Ole Miss 21-7 in the 2022 Sugar Bowl. That victory capped off a 12-win season for the Bears — the best in program history — after already winning the 2021 Big 12 Championship.
Ohio State’s 42-35 win over Alabama in the 2015 Sugar Bowl was pretty memorable as well, especially since that was a College Football Playoff game.
3. Valero Alamo Bowl
This is more of a personal pick, having grown up about 30 miles south of San Antonio, where the Alamo Bowl is played every year. This is a fun one, even if it’s not filled with the absolute best teams in the country.
Usually, there are still two very good teams in this bowl game, as it typically selects the second-choice Pac-12 and Big 12 teams. Plus, regardless of what you think of the Alamodome and San Antonio, it’s a great place to be.
It feels like Texas is always in this game, but who could forget Robert Griffin III leading Baylor to a 67-56 win over Washington in 2011? That was the start of a new era for the Bears, and it’s one of many reasons why this is such an underrated game.
4. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
Another New Year’s Six Bowl game, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl is already fun enough due to its name. How could you not like this game? Phoenix is another wonderful city, and the game always pits great teams against each other.
Contrary to the last two bowl games, this one won’t resonate as well with Bears fans. Baylor won its first Big 12 championship in 2013 but wound up falling to UCF 52-42 in the Fiesta Bowl. Outside of the Bears’ loss, there have been other iconic moments to come from this bowl game.
TCU and Michigan gave us a thriller last year, with the Horned Frogs winning the CFP game 51-45. That matchup, among others, has made this one of the best bowl games out there. There’s nothing quite like sitting on your couch with a bag of chips to watch the Fiesta Bowl over the holiday break.
5. Duke’s Mayo Bowl
The Texan in me wants to pick the Cotton Bowl, but having four of the six New Year’s Six Bowls on this list felt too basic. Plus, the Duke’s Mayo Bowl is so much fun; I don’t care what anyone else has to say.
Yeah, it’s pretty gross to see fans literally eating mayonnaise out of a jar, but isn’t that what makes college football bowl games great? This one has an identity, and it has to be an advertising hit for Duke’s Mayo.
The Mayo Bowl is usually played around Christmas, so it’s a fun holiday treat to lounge around and watch. On top of that, the head coach gets doused in Duke’s Mayo after the game. Come on, that’s just awesome. Imagine Baylor head coach Dave Aranda getting coated in mayonnaise. That’s must-see television.