The holidays are here and you’ve probably got some much-needed time off from work or school coming. You love college football, but your alma mater didn’t make a bowl—seriously, there are 80 teams in bowls this year, what’s wrong with your school—so we here at The Comeback want to help you make the most of your college football bowl game experience.
Of course if any college football fan had his or her choice, the decision to fly to Glendale, Arizona on for the national championship on January 11th would be first on every list. But there is so much more to do at a bowl site than just watch the game. While most—read: most—college football bowl games are in premier tourist destinations, some are, well, not.
Use this handy guide to help you decide where to travel with your time off this holiday season, as we’ve ranked every potential destination for the 2015-16 bowl calendar. We hope you have a healthy combination of school spirit, frequent flier miles and money to burn!
The “What Were They Thinking” Bowls
Do you know why people say there are too many bowl games? Not because 80 teams get selected to play in postseason exhibition games, many of which are 6-6 or worse, but because the bowl groups ran out of fun places to hold games a long time ago, and now schools with middling records have to schlep to places like Detroit to say they played in a bowl game.
The Quick Lane Bowl is December 28th at 5 p.m. because who wouldn’t want to spend a Monday afternoon in the winter in Detroit?
Let’s add the Famouse Idaho Potato Bowl to this list as well. Not that we have anything against the city of Boise, but there’s not enough blue turf in the world to justify traveling to Idaho on December 22—the Tuesday before Christmas—to watch a 3:30 ET football game. The national semifinal could be played in Boise on a Tuesday afternoon before Christmas and it wouldn’t be worth the trip.
The “New York City in December? Really?” Bowl
I’ve been to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. It’s cold. One year it snowed, and watching snowy football is always awesome, unless you are there. Then it’s cool for the first quarter and absolutely freezing for the next three.
Remember that traveling to the Bronx is not the same as traveling to New York City, so if you go, make sure you either spend the money to stay in Manhattan, or at least make the trip into the heart of the city to see the sites and spend a little cash on the street with a guy who spray paints planets and stars onto paper while house music blares. The guy on 46th and 8th is awesome. Still, he’s no reason to go to New York the day after Christmas. Neither is the Pinstripe Bowl.
The “Would We Rather Be In New York In December?” Bowls
There is nothing wrong with these cities, but going to Shreveport, Louisiana the day after Christmas for the Camping World Independence Bowl is really scraping the bottom of the “let’s take a road trip for a random bowl game” barrel. Shreveport is five hours by car from New Orleans, so if you are going, maybe just keep going.
Let’s throw Charlotte and Memphis on this list too. Both are far bigger American cities to visit than Shreveport, but neither scream “hey let’s get in the car and drive to” that place with a few days off. Not in December.
Charlotte is awesome, and the Belk Bowl will be a great time with NC State facing Mississippi State, but it doesn’t strike us as a prime bowl destination the Wednesday before New Years.
Memphis is great, and the music scene alone would make it a fun place to go, but for a football game on January 2? How did the Autozone Liberty Bowl pull off “first Saturday in January” status?
Maybe this should be higher on the list, after all.
The “It’s a Dry Heat” Bowls
Hey who wants to get in the car and drive to Albuquerque? You better hurry, because the Gildan New Mexico Bowl is on December 19 at 2pm.
Let’s throw in the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl in there too. Tuesday, December 29 in Tucson? At least it should be warm.
Oh, and who can forget the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl in a baseball stadium in Phoenix on January 2? (Note: I totally forgot this one.) Phoenix is a great city with lots to do, but there are better bowls to travel to, some right down the street.
The “Wow Alabama Hosts A Lot of Bowls” Bowls
There are three bowls in Alabama this season, and none, outside of maybe the Birmingham Bowl between Memphis and Auburn, is all that worth traveling to see. That game is on December 30 at Noon, with the Go Daddy Bowl one week earlier, on December 23, at 8 p.m. in Mobile and the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, which I just learned existed right now, being held on Saturday, December 19 at 5:30 p.m. in Montgomery.
Alabama has a rich history, and all three cities share in that state’s—and this country’s—cultural, racial and political growth. If you go, try to make a trip of it and see the sites, because the museums may be better than some of the games.
The “There’s Really A Lot To Do There” Bowls
I still feel bad about Memphis, so when you read this, copy and past them here. They belong with Nashville, host of the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on December 30, because there’s nothing I think of more when traveling to Tennessee for a bowl game on a Wednesday before the year ends than good ol’ fashioned mortgages. Still, the city is great, and worth the trip for sure.
Let’s throw the Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman in Annapolis, Maryland in this category too. The bowl is a home game for Navy, and that’s not a bad thing for fans looking for a unique bowl experience, and a good place to visit.
The “Yeah it’s Florida, but it’s Jacksonville, Florida” Bowl
Sorry TaxSlayer Bowl. You have a prime spot on January 2 at Noon and the match-up with Penn State and Georgia is wonderful. But if I’m picking Florida bowl destinations, you aren’t making the top five.
The “At Least It’s Not Jacksonville, Florida” Bowls
Tampa: The “at least we aren’t Jacksonville” of major Florida cities. To be fair, there’s actually a lot to do in Tampa and the weather is nice. The Outback Bowl is a good destination for a January 1 game, while the St. Petersburg Bowl on December 26 might be the worst bowl game of the season in terms of interest. Connecticut and Marshall? I’d rather go to Jacksonville.
The “Everything’s Bigger In Texas” Bowls
Let’s just rank the bowls in Texas this year. There are six, and some are totally worth the trip.
The Hyundai Sun Bowl, on Saturday, December 26, in El Paso is last, and if it wasn’t for being in Texas, it would have been higher up on this list. The setting is unique in El Paso, but, well, it’s El Paso.
The Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl on Saturday, December 26, in Dallas and the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on Tuesday, December 29, in Forth Worth would make a really fun trip, with enough to do in Dallas to keep you interested for a few days.
The Advocare V100 Texas Bowl on Tuesday, December 29, in Houston is a good bowl game this year—LSU and Texas Tech—but I’ve been to that game, and as first-class as the setup is and the stadium for the Texans is awesome, Houston is so sprawling there’s really not a whole lot for visitors to do without taking cabs everywhere.
The best trip as far as bowl games go on this entire list would be going to the Goodyear Cotton Bowl, the national semifinal, on December 31st at 8 p.m. ET and staying through the new year for the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio on January 2.
Seeing Alabama and Michigan State and then Oregon and TCU? A bowl trip for the ages.
The “Gonna Take you out to Glendale” Bowls
Glendale, Arizona is host to the national title game this year on January 11, the bowl game everyone wants to see. It’s also host to the Battlefrog Fiesta Bowl between Notre Dame and Ohio State on January 1. If you can afford it, two weeks in Arizona, away from the cold of Whereveryouaresville, USA, would be a life-long memory to see those two games.
The “Can I bring the Kids” Bowls
Don’t be that guy who asks your friends if you can bring the kids on a bowl trip. Unless you’re going to one of THREE bowls in Orlando.
The Autonation Cure Bowl is Saturday, December 19th, the Russell Athletic Bowl between UNC and Baylor is ten days later on December 29th and the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl between Michigan and Florida is on New Years Day.
Making a trek for the last two is one of the great bowl trips of the season, and you’ll still have a few days to visit the parks in between.
The “Don’t Tell the Wife Where We Are” Bowls
These are the trips you do not bring your kids to. Or, for many of you, tell your wife what happened.
On December 19, there’s the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl in Vegas.
On December 31, there’s both the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta and the Capital One Orange Bowl—the national semifinal—in Miami.
There’s also the Miami Beach Bowl on December 21 at Marlins Park because who wouldn’t want to be in Miami on a December Monday and no, I’m not being sarcastic, and the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl the next day because, again, same question, different day.
Laissez les bons temps rouler on either December 19 or January 1 with the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and AllState Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, respectively. And respectfully, if the wife asks when you get back.
The “Wish They All Could be California” Bowls
There are two bowls in San Diego, the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on December 23, and the Holiday Bowl on December 30. Midweek bowl games can be hard, but these are both two days before major holidays, so if you can sneak out of work a day early, either, or hell both, it would be worth the trip to one of the great cities in America.
Who wouldn’t want to spend a week in San Diego? Get into town two days before Christmas for Boise State and Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl and stick around for a week until the Holiday Bowl between USC and Wisconsin. If we had to pick one, it’s certainly the Holiday Bowl (who wants to miss Christmas with the family for Northern Illinois) but there is so much to do in beautiful San Diego, no matter when you go, it will surely be worth the trip.
The Foster Farms Bowl is in Santa Clara the day after Christmas and with UCLA and Nebraska playing, we might get better football than what the 49ers have given fans this year. Just be careful on the grass. It’s horrendous. Still, it’s a relatively short jump to San Francisco, a wonderful tourist destination and the best food city outside of maybe New York and Chicago in the country.
And then the Grandaddy of them all. The Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual on January 1 between Stanford and Iowa. It’s a trip every football fan should make once in their lifetime. Maybe more than once.
The “Vacation of a Lifetime” Bowls
While Pasadena may be a right of passage for college football fans, there are two destinations better this season.
The Popeyes Bahamas Bowl is the on Christmas eve in Nassau. Middle Tennessee and Western Michigan have the trip of a lifetime for a bowl that will certainly be climbing the charts of major conference options in years to come.
The same day, San Diego State and Cincinnati will face off in the Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu. If every person who lives in the greater Cincinnati area isn’t on a plane for that trip, I don’t understand any of you.
It’s splitting hairs which one is better for you. For me, the flights to Nassau are half the price of those to Hawaii, so certainly factor in cost to the equation. Either way, you cannot go wrong spending Christmas roasting chestnuts on an open fire, on the beach, wearing shorts and a snorkel.
Happy bowling! Let’s get packing.