Bowl games — as finished products — are the creations of a jumble of factors: politics, rules, television considerations, ticket sales, hotel reservations, and more. Some teams receive the kinds of placements that check all the boxes, while others get shut out. Which teams received the best bowl assignments in terms of either travel, opponent, or prestige?
Here’s a list:
10 – STANFORD (FOSTER FARMS)
This requires no elaborate explanation. The Cardinal, who finally looked like the two-time defending Pac-12 champions on Nov. 28 against UCLA, will barely have to move for this game, which will be played in San Francisco. Maryland has to make a long cross-country commute. If Stanford doesn’t blow the doors off the Terrapins, something will be wrong.
Honorable mention in this tenth slot, for reasons similar to “low-travel” Stanford: South Alabama in Montgomery, Ala., for the Camellia Bowl; San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl; and Navy in the Poinsettia as well — not in terms of the team’s commute, though, but because the Midshipmen have plenty of fans in San Diego and should get a strong turnout in their own right.
9 – NORTHERN ILLINOIS (BOCA RATON)
The Huskies’ fan base can travel from DeKalb, Ill., to sunny Florida for a pre-Christmas mini-vacation. The opponent is attractive, one Northern Illinois should relish playing. Marshall might have hoped for more from its bowl situation, but NIU should definitely be pleased.
8 – ARKANSAS (TEXAS)
Go 2-6 in a conference and play the University of Texas, an old rival, under favorable conditions in Houston, an area rich with recruiting targets? That sounds like a really good deal for Bret Bielema and the Razorbacks.
7 – PENN STATE (PINSTRIPE)
Any bowl is a good placement for Penn State this season. You can read that as a commentary on the lifting of the four-year bowl ban. You can read that as a commentary on a team getting a bowl bid despite being 2-6 in its conference. You can read that as a commentary on the Nittany Lions getting to play in New York against a Northeastern school (Boston College) in a matchup that should excite both fan bases and draw a great crowd at Yankee Stadium.
6 – BAYLOR (COTTON)
The Bears don’t rank higher on this list because, of course, they would have wanted to land in a playoff bowl, the Rose or Sugar. However, within the narrow context of the Cotton Bowl, the Bears have a great situation. They’re playing in their home state. They’re playing in a building (AT&T Stadium) where they recently faced Texas Tech, so they’re familiar with the environment for passing and catching. They’re playing in an enclosed stadium with a synthetic surface, which is perfect for their offense. Baylor players slipped on the natural grass surface in Glendale, Ariz., when they lost the 2014 Fiesta Bowl to UCF. Field turf is just one of many reasons why this is a perfect setup for the Bears. If they don’t win against Michigan State, they will not be able to say the circumstances of the game didn’t align for them.
5 – OLE MISS (PEACH)
What applies to Baylor also applies to the Rebels. They played in the Georgia Dome earlier this season against Boise State, so this stage will provide a recognizable environment for coach Hugh Freeze and quarterback Bo Wallace. TCU is the team that has to venture out of its region for this contest. If this had been a Cotton Bowl matchup, the pendulum would have swung the other way on a favorability scale.
4 – MISSOURI (CITRUS)
Gary Pinkel can recruit in Florida — that’s the huge reason why the Tigers have to love playing in “Beautiful Downtown Orlando” on New Year’s Day. It’s a pretty soft and agreeable landing spot for a team that got thumped in the SEC Championship Game.
3 – BOISE STATE (FIESTA)
The Broncos return to the bowl game they love… and which has loved them back on two occasions. Boise State’s Fiesta Bowl victories over Oklahoma and TCU put the Broncos on the national map and kept them there. This bowl placement is also favorable for the simple and obvious reason that in 2010 and 2011, the BCS structure (which helped the team in 2006 and 2009, but is still vastly overrated in terms of how beneficial it was to the program) failed to get a deserving Boise State team to a showcase bowl. The Gang Of Five structure — which clearly needs some tweaking — evened the historical scales for the Broncos, to say the least.
As for their opponent, it was always going to be a tough one. Compared to Baylor, TCU or Michigan State, though, Arizona seems like a more manageable matchup for coach Bryan Harsin and Co.
2 – GEORGIA TECH (ORANGE)
The Yellow Jackets might have been locked into the Orange Bowl, meaning that there wasn’t as much flexibility in terms of where they were ultimately placed, but let’s establish a few things about Tech’s upcoming trip to Miami: First, as was the case with Arizona in the Pac-12, Georgia Tech was not punished for losing a conference championship game. This problem was prevalent in the BCS era because of the two-team-per-conference limit for BCS bowl slots. In the New Year’s Six arrangement, that limit is gone, and while the ACC put only two teams in the rotation (the SEC had three), there was still enough flexibility in the system to keep Georgia Tech in the NY6 mix. The BCS might not have been as kind. That’s the big thing to emphasize with the Ramblin’ Wreck.
The other point to note is that of all the non-playoff NY6 opponents the Jackets could have drawn, Mississippi State is probably the most manageable one. The Bulldogs’ offense has just not been particularly good over the past month. MSU has largely stalled after a tremendous September and October. TCU, Baylor, and Michigan State would have all been nastier matchups for Tech. Ole Miss might have been the one comparably reasonable matchup, but the Rebels played the Jackets in the 2013 Music City Bowl, so that pairing was unlikely to be replicated this bowl season.
1 – OREGON (ROSE)
The Ducks, in the old BCS system, wouldn’t have made the national title game to begin with. Alabama and Florida State would have been the top two teams. By being seeded second, the Ducks stayed in the West for the semifinals. They will play Florida State under a set of circumstances that is as favorable as they reasonably could have hoped for, the one drawback being the long layoff before kickoff. If Oregon ever wanted to prove itself on a national stage — especially to its doubters in the Southeastern United States — this is the time. The opportunity is immense, but with great opportunity comes great ridicule in the event of a conspicuous failure. Oregon might not win, but the Ducks — given this great situation — at least need to play well against Florida State if they want to uphold everything that’s good about their reputation.