There are loads of College Football Bowl games played every year but for every team, the main aim (or dream for the majority) is to play in one of the most prestigious ones, colloquially known as the College Football Playoff New Year’s Six (NY6). These comprise some of the longest-running ones and in the current era serve as the semifinals for the National Championship game. The Bowls are:
Rose Bowl – the oldest first played in 1902. This is traditionally between the Champions of the Big Ten vs. Pac-12 Conferences.
Sugar Bowl – First played in 1935 between the SEC vs. Big 12 Champions
Orange Bowl – Again First Played in 1935 between the ACC Champion and the highest-ranked non-Champion from the SEC or Big Ten. They can also invite Notre Dame.
Cotton Bowl – First Played in 1937 has no Conference tie in so can choose who it accepts known as At-large. It can also accept a Group of Five (G5) Conference Champion (one of whom is guaranteed a NY6 place).
Peach Bowl – Was first played in 1968 and like the Cotton Bowl is an At-Large Bowl that can accept a G5 team.
Fiesta Bowl – First played in 1971 – again no conference tie in so classed as At-Large.
Normally the At-Large Places will go to those teams in the top 12 of the final rankings – however exceptionally (when it would mean two teams from the same conference squaring off) they may go outside of these, but only rarely outside of the top 25.
The College Football Playoffs (in their current guise) began in 2014 and now two of the above games serve as semifinals for the National Championship. This is done in a three-year rotation with the following pairings:
Rose Bowl & Sugar Bowl
Peach Bowl & Fiesta Bowl
Orange Bowl & Cotton Bowl (these are the 2018 semis).
This can lead to some changes in the above tie-ins if the associated Divisional Champions are in the Semi-Final, and the Rose & Sugar Bowls will most likely take the second-highest-ranked team from the respective conferences if applicable.
Most successful teams:
USC are by far the most successful team in Rose Bowl History having made 34 appearances – winning 25 including a hat trick from 2007-2009. The closest to them is Michigan who has 8 wins from their 20 appearances. Stanford Washington & Ohio State have all won 7. Overall the PAC-12 have 50 wins to the Big Ten’s 31, and 41 different teams have appeared. Last year’s final saw Georgia from the SEC win it as it was one of the CFP Playoff Semi-Finals.
The Sugar Bowl has been played in the Superdome in New Orleans since 1975 and Alabama are the most successful team so far with 16 appearances and 9 wins. LSU has made 13 appearances but only 6 wins, which is the same as Mississippi State (from 9 appearances) & Oklahoma (from 8 appearances). Georgia Tech is 4-0 making them the most successful percentage-wise. SEC members dominate team appearances with 76 and so far 50 different teams have appeared in the final. In 1968 LSU beat the previously undefeated Wyoming 20-13 to become the only unranked team to appear in and lift the Sugar Bowl.
So-called as for many years it was played at the now-demolished Miami Orange Bowl Stadium (from 1938 -1996). Although it now has conference tie-ins with the ACC, Big 10 & SEC it was originally the destination for the Big 8 / Big 12 hence Oklahoma remains the most successful team in the competition. They have 19 appearances and 12 wins. They could improve on this if they are selected for the playoffs this year as it serves as one of the semi-final games.
Since 1996 it has had various venues but now seems settled at the Hard Rock Stadium, which is also the home of the Miami Dolphins. Outside of the Big 8/12, the SEC has sent the most teams to the final with Alabama being the most successful with 4 wins. It is normally competed for by ranked teams and you have to go back to 1967 when Florida beat No 8 Georgia Tech 27-12 to find a non-ranked participant. Last year (2017) the Miami Hurricanes played in the final losing to Wisconsin. This was slightly unusual given it was their home stadium.
The Cotton Bowl Classic began as a bit of an experiment by Texas oil executive J. Curtis Sanford who financed the inaugural one out of his own pocket, losing money when only around 17,000 fans turned up to see local team TCU lift the trophy. Fortunately, he persevered and it was profitable the following year despite lower attendance during the war years it is now well established.
In 2009 the record attendance to date was set at 88,175 and attendance has generally been over 70,000 apart from 1979 (The Chicken Soup Game) which was affected by The city suffering its worst Ice Storm in 30 years. Texas not surprisingly given its location has the most appearances – however, they have not featured since 2003 and at the time of writing (2018) it is highly likely they won’t this year either given it’s a playoff semi-final venue.
Is a relative newcomer to the ranks of prestigious bowl games and it is only recently that it has attracted such status. As recently as 2011 it featured two unranked teams with a combined record of 15-9 and so far it has only once featured teams ranked in the top 5 (in 2016 when it was a CFP semi-final).
It is not really clear why its status has jumped so dramatically and in two of the last three seasons, it has been the destination for the Group of Five representatives. It will be played at the Mercedes Benz Stadium this year.
The Fiesta Bowl like the Cotton Bowl had fairly humble beginnings. It originated out of the need to provide a Bowl place for the now-defunct Western Athletic Conference. From 1976-1979 it was a Christmas Day Bowl and unlike the Cotton Bowl, it has always featured at least one ranked team. In 1996, 1999 & 2003 it served as the National Championship game. In 2010 it controversially featured two non-Power five teams TCU (then of the Mountain West) and Boise State from the WAC.
They finished ranked 6 and 3 respectively and ended up being paired together supposedly because the BCS bowl selection committee were unwilling to see two Power 5 teams lose. This itself followed the strange 2009 decision to leave both out of the BCS Bowls (in this case the Orange Bowl) despite both being ranked higher than the teams who took part in it. This aside the Fiesta Bowl is now highly regarded and in 2016 saw the first playoff shutout as Clemson beat Ohio State 31-0.