Following a nationwide bye week of sorts, aside from the annual Army (6-5) / Navy (9-3) game , the last days of December will see dozens of bowl games play out.
Serving as a reward for programs that have persevered through a long summer schedule to build a winning record, even the most minor of bowl games – think the Dollar General Bowl and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl – provide the perfect setting for a season-ending clash.
While diehard fans and alumni savor the appetizers, the most prestigious bowl games offer football fans everywhere a full platter of premium play. The top teams in all of college football square off on neutral turf, the senior class battles their collective heart out to experience the thrill of victory one last time, and Playoff bubble teams make their case.
Bowl season starts to simmer on December 17, but the most important games are reserved for New Year’s weekend. Below you’ll find a game capsule with early betting lines for the best bowl games on the schedule – beginning of course with the College Football Playoff semifinal games – before moving down the line in order of prominence:
Peach Bowl (December 31 at 3pm ET)
#1 Alabama (13-0) vs. #4 Washington (12-1)
The fourth-ranked Huskies made the Playoff by nipping fifth-ranked Penn State, but their reward is a Peach Bowl date with the defending national champion Crimson Tide. The game will be played at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, so Alabama fans have the travel advantage, but Washington’s contingent will represent itself well on the heels of a Cinderella season.
Alabama ended the regular season with consecutive victories over ranked teams, beating Auburn and Florida by a combined score of 84-28. The consensus line likes that trend to continue, as Alabama opened as 14-point favorites, before moving up to a 16-point edge.
Fiesta Bowl (December 31 at 7pm ET)
#2 Clemson (12-1) vs. #3 Ohio State (11-1)
The second semifinal game pits second-ranked Clemson against third-ranked Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, held at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Tigers hope to return to the championship game for a second straight season, after pushing Alabama to the limit in a 45-40 thriller last year.
To do so, they’ll need to beat a determined Buckeyes squad which is riding high after eliminating archrival Michigan from Playoff consideration in The Game. The consensus line leans toward Ohio State, as the Buckeyes opened as 3-point favorites, before inching up to a 3.5-point advantage.
Rose Bowl (January 2 at 7pm ET)
#5 Penn State (11-2) vs. #9 USC (9-3)
This year’s Rose Bowl sees the ninth-ranked USC Trojans defend home turf against a fifth-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions team that is still smarting from a Playoff snub.
For the Trojans, who started 1-3 before reeling off eight straight wins, the Rose Bowl is essentially a freeroll, as nobody expected them to be here. That puts all the pressure on Penn State, who will be desperate to show the nation that they deserved to be playing for a national championship.
Considering the home field advantage enjoyed by USC, the consensus line opened with the Trojans as 6.5-point favorites, and has since moved to a full touchdown spread.
Orange Bowl (December 30 at 8pm ET)
#6 Michigan (10-2) vs. #11 Florida State (9-3)
A berth in the Orange Bowl is likely no consolation to head coach Jim Harbaugh and his sixth-ranked Michigan Wolverines, a team that was considered a Playoff lock all year.
For a rebuilding 11th-ranked Florida State squad, any big bowl game is big, and playing in their home state at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami is just a bonus. Despite playing in friendly confines though, the consensus line opened with Michigan as 6.5-point favorites, and has hovered there since.
Sugar Bowl (January 2 at 8:30pm ET)
#7 Oklahoma (10-2) vs. #14 Auburn (8-4)
In the Sugar Bowl, two perennial powers who fell a bit short of the finish line look to end their season on a high note. The consensus line favored seventh-ranked Oklahoma by 5.5 points, but the number has since slipped to 4.5 points.
Cotton Bowl (January 2 at 1pm ET)
#8 Wisconsin (10-3) vs. #15 Western Michigan (13-0)
As the only undefeated Top-25 team not coached by Nick Saban, the 15th-ranked Western Michigan Broncos ran roughshod through their entire schedule this year. Unfortunately for them, the caliber of play within the mid-level Mid-American Conference (MAC) wasn’t high enough to warrant Playoff consideration, so a Cotton Bowl date with Big Ten bullies have to suffice.
The eighth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers played well all year, and their only losses on the season were to the aforementioned Ohio State/Penn State/Michigan trio of conference rivals. The consensus line opened with Wisconsin as 6.5-point favorites, and early betting has already pushed the number to 7.5 points.