This college football bowl season, 76 teams will compete in 38 bowl games — the most in any season in college football history.
We've come quite a ways since the 1902 Tournament East-West Football Game, sponsored by the Tournament of Roses Association in Pasadena, California, aka "The Granddaddy of Them All." That game as a contest was hardly worth remembering. Michigan absolutely dominated Stanford, to the point that Cardinal captain R.S. Fisher offered to concede the game with eight minutes left on the clock.
The 49-0 blowout was so terrible, the Tournament of Roses Association decided to forego a football game the following year in favor of a polo match. Then they hosted Roman-style chariot races from 1904-1915. By public demand, the Tournament of Roses football game restarted in 1916 and the first Rose Bowl in the stadium itself happened seven years later.
The 'Granddaddy of them All' was the only postseason bowl game until 1934, when the Sun Bowl came to be. Then the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl got started in 1935, the Cotton Bowl in 1937, the Gator Bowl in 1945, and a few others that are now defunct.
In 1950 there were eight bowls. By 1970 the field expanded to 11, then 15 in 1980, 19 in 1990, 25 in 2000, and 35 in 2010. Now we're at 38, the absolute maximum number possible if all teams involved have at least as many wins as they have losses.
Even now, we're pushing it. Nearly 60% of FBS teams will go bowling this year — 78 out of 128. Only six teams with six or more wins were left out. So sorry Ohio, Old Dominion, Georgia Southern, Middle Tennessee State, Temple, and UAB, better luck next year. Ahhhh… except for you UAB, just sorry.
Seriously though, if there had been just a few more FBS-FCS upsets, the organizers of the Duck Commander Independence Bowl might have had a serious problem. The biggest drawback to so many teams making so many bowls is that the prestige of making "a bowl" is pretty watered down. That, and the fact that fans have to try to remember a new list absurd bowl names every year.
Those absurd names are the reason these bowls exist though; those absurd names belong to the sponsors. Bowl games used to be about prestige. Now, most are about one thing: Money. Your school might not brag about their win in the hallowed Belk Bowl, but they'll be happy to take that $1,700,000 participation check.
Since these bowl names are all about sponsor visibility, let's talk about those sponsors. Which names work, which ones don't, which ones are a good use of marketing dollars, and which sponsors are spending a ton of money to probably hurt their brand image (Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl? Come on.).
Bowl names are ranked based on a few scientifically objective factors:
1.) Bang for your sponsorship buck.
Is this partnership benefiting the sponsor? Does the sponsor name fit with the bowl name? Famous Idaho Potato Bowl couldn't fit better. R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl? Not so much.
2.) General Doofiness.
How likely you would be to buy a commemorative hat/shirt/sweatshirt featuring the bowl name and logo. This might swing back around if the name is so silly you'd wear bowl merchandise ironically.
3.) Sarcasm Potential.
Would fans of rival schools be able to use the name of the bowl to mock your team? "Ohhh, the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl? Congrats guys! Big step up!" In addition, would you be able to respond with anything other than a shrug and, "eh, at least it's a bowl."
4.) Name length.
This goes along with the, "bang for your sponsorship buck," factor. If your bowl name can be easily shortened, it's going to be shortened. You're gonna call the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl the Poinsettia Bowl 100 times out of 100, unless you're saying it self-deprecatingly and following it immediately with a shrug and, "eh, at least it's a bowl."
Is this name an improvement upon any past names for this bowl? National University Holiday Bowl isn't terrible in a vacuum, but Pacific Life Holiday Bowl was a solid name. Downgrade hurts. Also, a sponsor jumping from one bowl to another is confusing and there's nothing I like less than a flip-flopper.
A few other factors might be considered as well: prestige of the game itself, location of the bowl, dollar amount each school gets from the title sponsor, and some others I will make up as I go along. These are all kind of tie-breakers.
The actual football teams that will play in each bowl have nothing to do with these rankings. They won't even be mentioned. So let's get to it. I broke the bowls into groups based on name, but they're still ranked from 38-1. The first group is the worst, all the way up to the best. [divider]
The "Waste of Sponsorship Dollars" Category
38. TicketCity Cactus Bowl
37. San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
36. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
35. R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
34. National University Holiday Bowl
33. Raycom Media Camellia Bowl
Alright, these six bowls are the bottom of the bowl name barrel. Congratulations to TicketCity, who has wasted more marketing dollars than any other bowl sponsor! Why, you ask? I was as surprised as you. Surely the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl is a worse name, right?
Well, I actually had the TicketCity Cactus Bowl in another, much higher group in the first draft of this piece. The name is relatively short, the sponsor is football-related, and it actually pays out $3,500,000 per school — fourth most of any non-playoff bowl.
The TicketCity Cactus Bowl is the biggest waste of marketing dollars for one very simple reason: Google, "Cactus Bowl tickets."
Here, I did it for you.
Notice anything? TicketCity.com is the sixth website that shows up on a Google search for tickets to their own bowl game. Most of the fans in attendance at the TicketCity Cactus Bowl probably bought their tickets on Stubhub. Let that sink in.
For that fact alone, the TicketCity Cactus Bowl No. 38 out of 38.
For each of the next three bowl names on the list, I'm dropping the sponsor name every time I say it. Poinsettia Bowl, Music City Bowl, New Orleans Bowl — all decent names, but sponsors added three too many words to each, at least. You've got to be punchier than that. High sarcasm potential across the board.
National University Holiday Bowl makes this category for two reasons: 1.) It's insane to me that a college is paying $4,150,000 to associate their name with the football programs of two other schools. What's the startup cost of a football program anyway? $4,150,000 has to get you at least part way there. You're telling me the second largest private, nonprofit institution of higher education in California (24,458 students) couldn't get 60 guys to throw on some pads? Come on. And, 2.) Pacific Life Holiday Bowl was a pretty solid name.
The Raycom Media Camellia Bowl is the best of the worst category because I might actually say the whole name. Not because Raycom Media is a solid addition, but because "Camellia Bowl" is pretty terrible by itself. The camellia is a flower native to eastern and southeastern Asia that has taken hold in the southern US. It was named the state flower of Alabama in 1959 and Raycom Media, a broadcasting company based out of Montgomery, Alabama, is getting their money's worth from their sponsorship because it doesn't make a good bowl name by itself. Nice work Raycom Media. [divider]
The "Guns 'n Ammo 'Merica" Category
32. Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman
31. Duck Commander Independence Bowl
30. Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl
I appreciate that Northrop Grumman tried to switch things up with the order of the name — Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman as opposed to Northrop Grumman Military Bowl — but sadly, all they've really done here is make it easier for me to drop their name and call it the Military Bowl. Or maybe that was the point… Hear me out.
Northrop Grumman is an aerospace and defense technology company. On their website, they highlight "unmanned systems" (drones), "cyber defense," something called "C4ISR" (from what I can tell, battlefield cameras and computer systems), and "logistics" as their main products.
Here's where it gets interesting: Northrop Grumman had a $2.6 billion contract with the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA) to manage their data centers — basically, they were in charge of maintaining the computer systems of every government entity in the state of Virginia. In 2010, websites and computer systems for 26 of 83 Virginia state agencies (managed by Northrop Grumman) went down, some for more than a week.
Highlights from the fiasco: "At the Department of Social Services, local and state staffers had to work through the weekend to ensure that food stamps and welfare checks due to 380,000 residents were not delayed. The Department of Juvenile Justice was unable to release inmates. The Department of Veterans Services, which manages two long-term care centers and two cemeteries, couldn't pay its bills."
On top of that, an estimated 45,000 Virginians were unable to renew expired drivers licences since the DMV computers went down as well. Do you know which schools will play in the Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman this year? Cincinnati, and… wait for it… Virginia Tech. So Hokie fans, if that bowl name sounds familiar, there's a reason.
Duck Commander Independence Bowl isn't bad. But really only because it makes me think of this.
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl is the best fit of any of these three bowl names. I'll say the whole thing because it makes sense to say the whole thing. Lockheed Martin=Armed Forces, for better or worse. [divider]
The, "Dudes Love Football, Dudes Love Cars, Why Not Put Them Together?" Category
29. AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl
28. Hyundai Sun Bowl
27. Quick Lane Bowl
26. Valero Alamo Bowl
25. AutoZone Liberty Bowl
24. Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
This collection of sponsors could provide all your transportation needs for the rest of forever. Buy yourself a Ford (Quick Lane is a Ford company) or a Hyundai, fill it with Valero gas, use AdvoCare V100 or Royal Purple oil, and get it fixed up at Quick Lane or AutoZone.
I'm sure there are a few people out there who drive Hyundais filled with Valero Gas and Royal Purple Oil they fix up at Autozone. Congratulations guy, you've been bought.
AdvoCare V100 is in the bottom group because this is the second bowl they've sponsored in the last two years. Last year the Independence Bowl was the AdvoCare V100 Bowl. At least then I had no choice but to say their name, now I get to say Texas Bowl, which I will.
Hyundai Sun Bowl is just hard to say. It sounds almost like Hyundai-san, but that doesn't make sense since the suffix "-san" is a Japanese honorific and Hyundai is a Korean company. I don't like it.
The Ford Motor Company acquired the rights to the bowl game in Detroit back in August, and they chose to name it the "Quick Lane Bowl" after their auto shop brand. Fantastic quote from the Quick Lane Bowl Wikipedia page, "it was also confirmed that the inaugural game would inherit the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl's traditional date of December 26, 2014…" Ah, yes, steeped in storied tradition the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl typifies bowl names in the BPE (Bowl Proliferation Era), which probably isn't a good thing. It's just a respected bowl with a sponsor trying to get it's name on my mind. I was neutral about it until I realized how "AutoZone Liberty Bowl" is the new neutral, and then it made me upset.
Royal Purple tops the category purely because they sponsor a college bowl game in Vegas. I would go to that game, I would buy that shirt, and after I washed the vomit, cigarette smell, and bits of torn up betting slips off of it, I would bring it home and wear it to the gym. [divider]
The "Chicken+Football Forever" Category
23. Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
22. Popeyes Bahamas Bowl
21. Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl
20. Foster Farms Bowl
(Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl)
Like the title sponsors in the, "Dudes Love Football, Dudes Love Cars, Why Not Together?" Category, each of the sponsors in the "Chicken+Football Forever" Category wants to solidify their standing in the coveted 18-34 year old male target market.
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl ranks last in the group because it makes me think about orange juice with chicken wings and that makes me gag a little. It's a shame, because they used to sponsor the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, which is now the TicketCity Cactus Bowl. They could have saved TicketCity from their horrible mistake.
Popeyes as the title sponsor for the inaugural Bahamas Bowl is only slightly better than Buffalo Wild Wings as the sponsor for the Citrus bowl because again, the bowl name, "Bahamas," overpowers any chicken association. When I hear "Popeyes Bahamas Bowl" I think about relaxing on a beach, listening to waves with a tropical drink, except instead of a tropical drink it's sandy fried chicken. Truly a nightmare.
Zaxby's is a chain of chicken restaurants in the southern US that got started in Georgia. The Zaxby's Heart of Dallas bowl, although incredibly silly to say aloud, gets the nod above the first two because it doesn't make me think of something disgusting affecting my chicken (citrus and sand).
Also, I've never eaten at Zaxby's but I appreciate the fact that their levels of hot sauce are: Wimpy, Tongue Torch®, Nuclear, and Insane. I'm not sure why insane is above nuclear, but I appreciate they give me two options for my too-hot hot sauce.
Foster Farms is the first sponsor the list so far that knows what they're doing: don't give fans the option to call it anything other than your brand name. Nice move Foster Farms. I mention the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl here because I want you to know there are five different chicken bowl sponsors, but it will be ranked when we get to the Playoff Bowls Category. [divider]
Non-Sponsored Bowl Category
19. Birmingham Bowl
18. Hawai'i Bowl
17. Miami Beach Bowl
16. Boca Raton Bowl
Schools might not get the same sponsorship dollars for these bowls, but they also don't have to play in a game named after a trucking company, a gas conglomerate, or another school, which is nice. From the fan perspective, I'd buy a shirt from any of these bowls, except maybe the Birmingham Bowl, but only because Birmingham is objectively the least fun place on this list. [divider]
Apparel Bowl Category
15. Gildan New Mexico Bowl
14. New Era Pinstripe Bowl
13. Russell Athletic Bowl
Each of these names is solid. Athletic apparel and football, a natural pairing. New Era Pinstripe Bowl gets extra points for including pinstripes for the double meaning of Yankee Stadium (location) and the apparel connotation. Russell is one of the most fitting sponsors for any bowl on the list. They are the official uniform provider for Clemson, one of the two teams playing in the bowl! You've got to wonder if they greased some palms, or jerseys, to give the Tigers an advantage. [divider]
The "Good Use of Sponsorship Dollars" Category
12. Taxslayer Bowl
11. GoDaddy Bowl
10. Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl
The Taxslayer and GoDaddy both know what's up. Fans have to use their names if they mention the bowl. There's no other option. They're also short enough that I wouldn't feel embarrassed saying the name aloud. Not sure I would buy a shirt, but whatever.
The Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl is actually sponsored by Bitpay, a payment service provider for the digital currency Bitcoin. The reason this makes the top group is that you can use Bitcoin to purchase tickets, concessions, and everything else. Even the sponsorship itself was paid in Bitcoin. Not necessarily the most pleasant sounding bowl name, but they integrated their product into the bowl in a pretty unique way. [divider]
The "Great Use of Sponsorship Dollars" Category
9. Belk Bowl
8. Outback Bowl
7. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
This list is completely scientific, objective, and analytic. That being said, no it's not. These three bowls have my favorite names of any non-playoff bowls, each for different reasons.
The Belk Bowl is just fun to say. Simple, alliterative, and memorable. I didn't like it at first but it's grown on me in a big way, maybe that has to do with quality bowl name attrition, but I like it nonetheless.
Outback Bowl is like Belk Bowl in its simplicity, but "Outback" is badass in a way that "Belk" will never be. I'd buy the shirts, I'd brag to my friends and rivals, and it makes me hungry for steak. Well done Outback.
That brings us to our number one non-Playoff bowl name: the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Just like you might have been surprised by the TicketCity Cactus Bowl coming in last, you might doubt my selection of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl for the top non-Playoff bowl game name.
I understand your concerns because I share them: the name is too long, the bowl has the smallest payout of any ($350,000 per school), and it takes place in Boise, Idaho. This selection contradicts almost every rule I laid out at the beginning of this article, but just hear me out — I'll break it down point by point.
1.) Bang for your sponsorship buck. No bowl has a better harmony of sponsor, location, and name. It's not even close. Idaho produces 14.2 billion pounds of potatoes every year, nearly 5 billion pounds more than second place Washington and nearly 12 billion pounds more than Wisconsin in third. The northernmost bowl was never going to be fancy, so why not make it hearty? Look at the first image that appears on the webpage of the title sponsor, the Idaho Potato Commission:
It's wonderful. And it reminds me of the time I noticed Newman had a poster of butter in his apartment.
2. General Doofiness: Yes, of course it's doofy. It's in Idaho. But remember how I said a name could be so silly that it would swing back around and you'd want to buy the merchandise ironically? Tell me you wouldn't buy a shirt with this logo:
THE FOOTBALL IS ALSO A POTATO. So great.
3.) Sarcasm Potential: Okay, yes it would be pretty easy for rivals to make fun of a team for playing in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, and the name is too long, sure. But Air Force and Western Michigan went a combined 3-21 last season. I'm pretty sure fans of both of these schools are stoked to hear people making fun of which bowl their team is playing in.
4.) Name Length: Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is too long, but how are you going to shorten it? You're not, that's how! You're always going to call it the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the Idaho Potato Bowl, or the Potato Bowl at the very least — something tells me the Idaho Potato Commission is cool with whatever.
5.) History: Here are the historical sponsors of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Humanitarian Bowl Association, Crucial Technology, MPC Computers, Roady's Truck Stops, and uDrove. Humanitarian Bowl isn't bad, but the rest of those names were terrible. That's why the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is here. I just love saying it. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Alright, on to the final category. [divider]
The Non-Playoff Playoff Bowl Category
6. Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
5. Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
4. Capital One Orange Bowl
3. VIZIO Fiesta Bowl
The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl ends up last in the group of the four playoff bowls that aren't featuring playoff games this season, but really only because of the strength of the other names.
Goodyear has spent the last gagillion years associating themselves with athletics with their Goodyear Blimp. They switched things up and put extra words on the either end of "Cotton Bowl" by calling it the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. That's a solid move to get fans to say the whole thing.
Capital One Orange Bowl will feature the announcing crew of Brent Musburger, Jesse Palmer, and Maria Taylor. Hopefully we'll get another moment like this.
My favorite thing about this clip isn't even Musburger's comments, which honestly weren't all that outrageous.
My favorite thing about this clip is the kid standing next to Ms. Webb. The two are on screen for 21 seconds, and that kid is staring at her, mouth agape, for 15 of them. How much football do you think he watched that day? Six minutes of game time? Maybe?
Tangential? Sure, but the Orange Bowl reminded me of that tangent, and for that, it overtakes the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
VIZIO is the only sponsor to leave their caps lock on. Gotta stand out somehow right? It's short, sounds vaguely Spanish to go along with the Fiesta Bowl name, and has a solid association with college football since damn near every minute of football I've watched this season has been on a VIZIO TV. Let me tell you, they make a fine television. [divider]
The Playoff Bowl Category
2. Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual
1. Allstate Sugar Bowl
Another sponsor trying to be different, Northwestern Mutual put their name after the bowl name. In this case, I don't really mind it because I've convinced myself it's out of reverence for the Granddaddy of Them All. Still have to knock them for the too-long name, but every other requirement is solid here. You're buying that shirt, nobody is making fun of you for it, and it's got tons of history.
The only reason Allstate Sugar Bowl takes the top spot in the top category is the simplicity. They've been the sponsor since 2006, five years longer than Northwestern Mutual has sponsored the Rose Bowl, which means they're starting to develop a solid association here. [divider]
Bonus! The National Championship Category
College Football National Championship Presented By AT&T
This isn't even part of the rankings because even though it's longer than any other bowl name, it blows every other bowl out of the water in every category. So there it is! Thanks for reading, and be sure to enjoy bowl season, even if your team is playing in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl.