College Football Bowl Selection Process
With the college football postseason right around the corner, fans eagerly await the three games that decide the college football champions. But what about all of the other postseason games? This year alone, over 40 postseason college games will occur after the regular season. And each of them brings plenty of excitement and glory on their own.
So, how does the college football postseason work? What are “bowl” games? And how do teams get picked to play in one bowl vs. another? Better yet, how do teams get picked to play in bowl games at all?
Here’s everything you need to know about the college football bowl selection process.
Related: 2021-22 BOWL LINEUP ANNOUNCED
What are Bowl Games in College Football?
While most other sports fans prepare for bracket-style postseasons, football fans bust out their foam fingers for single-game glory. College football bowls are postseason games where two teams face off for a shot at a bowl title. The bowl tradition started over 70 years ago when teams across conferences conducted exhibition games for bragging rights. There are over 40 college bowl games today, each with its own trophy and title.
How are College Football Teams Selected for Bowl Games?
The college bowl selection process is somewhat complicated. Unlike traditional bracket-style systems where teams go through a team-by-team elimination process, bowl teams are picked based on a wide variety of factors.
Some of these factors include:
- • Offensive and Defensive performance data
- • Regular season qualifications
- • Conference tie-ins
- • Strength of schedule
In other words, teams aren’t necessarily picked based on who had a better overall season. After all, college conferences are split across the United States, and conference strength, team location, and a bunch of other unique factors play a role in college football performance.
Only Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams (formerly known as Division 1-A teams) are eligible for bowls. But there are 130 schools currently competing in this division.
So, who picks teams for bowls, how does the entire selection process work, and how does this factor into the somewhat new college football playoff system? It all starts with a hand-picked committee, a ton of statistics, and some top 25 lists.
Top 25 College Football Teams are Determined by the CFP Committee
To start, the College Football Playoff committee (CFP) chooses the “Top 25” football teams in the nation.
The CFP committee is a group of highly-vetted and highly-respected college football experts. Members are often sitting athletic directors or former coaches, players, media members, or administrators. Currently, the CFP is headed by Athletic Director Gary Barta, who is serving his second year as chair. Other members include:
- • Mitch Barnhart: Current Athletics Director, University of Kentucky
- • Paola Boivin: Professor, Arizona State University & Former President of the Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM)
- • Tom Burman: Director of Athletics, University of Wyoming
- • Charlie Cobb: Director of Athletics, Georgia State University
- • Boo Corrigan: Director of Athletics, NC State
- • Rick George: Director of Athletics, University of Colorado
- • Will Shields: Former Consensus All-American Offensive Lineman for Nebraska and 2011 College Football Hall of Fame Member
- • Gene Taylor: Director of Athletics, Kansas State
- • Joe Taylor: Former Head Football Coach at Florida A&M, Hampton, Virginia Union, and Howard University
- • John Urschel: All-American Offensive Lineman for Penn State
- • Rod West: Group President, Utility Operations for Entergy Corporation & Past President of the Sugar Bowl
- • Tyrone Willingham: Former Head Football Coach at Stanford, Washington, and Notre Dame
So, how are the CFP members chosen? Bill Hancock — Director of the NCAA Final Four, Executive Director of Bowl Championship Series, and Executive Director of the College Football Playoff — and his hand-picked committee members choose from a list of 100 reputable individuals. This list is narrowed down to 13 people, and these people make up the CFP committee.
Each of the 13 CFP committee members will submit a list of their top 30 teams. According to CBS Sport’s Jerry Palm (who has sat in on mock committee meetings), these lists are decided by a large variety of factors, including:
- • Win-loss records
- • Head-to-head results
- • Strength of schedule vs. results
- • Relative performance
- • Semi-tangibles such as “game control”
- • Recent play
Once each list has been received, members anonymously vote on the top six teams they believe are the best of the season. The six teams with the most votes are then ranked by the entire committee. Of course, there is plenty of arguing and data-crunching during this process. Lots of data, including color-coded schedules and offensive/defensive statistics, is provided for each committee member.
The top three teams of the final ordered top 6 list are placed, in order, into the top 25 list. This process repeats nine times. Each time, three more names get added to the top 25 list. It may sound complicated, but it helps the committee members narrow down the +100 teams. More importantly, the top 25 list helps bowl organizers understand which teams make sense for bowls in their area.
Top 4 Teams Assigned to Semi-Final Match-ups
Each year, the top four teams in the top 25 list go to the semifinals. Both semifinal games are also bowl games chosen from the “New Year’s Six” — six of the oldest and most prestigious bowl games in college football. The New Year’s Six include:
- 1. The Rose Bowl
- 2. The Orange Bowl
- 3. The Sugar Bowl
- 4. The Cotton Bowl
- 5. The Peach Bowl
- 6. The Fiesta Bowl
These six bowl games are played on (sometimes around) New Year’s Day. This year, the semifinals will be the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl. Last year, they were the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl. And next year, the Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl will have their turn. After that, the cycle will reset, and we’ll be back to the Sugar and Rose Bowl.
The winner of these semifinals will play in the College Football Playoff National Championship—which is also a bowl.
Teams Assigned to Remaining New Year’s Six Bowl Games
Now that the semifinals are chosen, how does the CFP choose who goes to the other four New Year’s Six bowls? For starters, the winners of each of the Power 5 conferences (Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, ACC, SEC) are guaranteed spots in one of the bowls. The winner of the entire Group of 5 conferences (Conference-USA, MAC, Mountain West, American, Sun Belt) is also given a spot. The rest of the spots are determined based on conference tie-ins, overall rankings, and a variety of other factors (similar to how the CFP chooses the top 25 list).
When they’re not hosting the semifinals, three of the bowls have preset requirements.
- • Rose Bowl: Big Ten vs. Pac-12
- • Sugar Bowl: SEC vs. Big 12
- • Orange Bowl: ACC vs. Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame (who is not part of a conference)
Due to the semifinals, these three bowls sometimes deviate from that historical matchup. The other three bowls have no set-in-stone tie-ins with other conferences, but they will typically involve at least one team from the Power 5.
Teams Assigned to the Citrus & Cheez-it Bowl
The Vrbo Citrus Bowl has the first pick in the SEC and the first pick in the Big Ten among non-New-Year’s-Six bowls. Technically, the Vrbo Citrus Bowl is not required to pick the highest-ranked team available from either of these conferences. Choosing bowl teams involves various factors, and this choice involves a lengthy discussion from our committee members.
The Cheez-It Bowl has the first pick in the ACC and the second pick in the Big 12 (the first pick belongs to the Alamo Bowl). Like the Vrbo Citrus Bowl, there are no hard-set requirements on which teams may be selected for the Cheez-It Bowl from said conferences. As always, the Florida Citrus Sports Group committee makes a selection based on a wide variety of criteria — and each team is chosen with care for the sport and our community.
When are this year’s Vrbo Citrus and Cheez-it Bowl games played?
Both the Vrbo Citrus Bowl and the Cheez-it Bowl will be televised. The Cheez-it Bowl will be on ESPN, and the Vrbo Citrus Bowl will be on ABC Sports. Game times are as follows:
- • Vrbo Citrus Bowl: No. 15 ranked Iowa vs. No. 22 ranked Kentucky at 1:00 p.m. EST, Saturday, January 1st (buy tickets online)
- • Cheez-it Bowl: No. 19 ranked Clemson vs. Iowa State at 5:45 p.m. EST, Wednesday, December 29th (buy tickets online)
Are you considering planning a trip to Orlando to catch either bowl? Check out our Visit Orlando guide full of fun things to do in Orlando, including the best college football team bars in Orlando, budget-friendly activities, fun things to do as a group, and more.
When are the Semifinal Games Played?
Since the semifinals are New Year’s Six Bowls, they are played on or around New Year’s Day. This year, that day is New Year’s Eve, December 31st. Last year, both bowls happened on New Year’s Day, January 1st.
Here’s a look at the 2021-22 CFP semifinals schedule:
- • Cotton Bowl: No. 1 ranked Alabama vs. No 4. ranked Cincinnati at 3:30 p.m. EST, Friday, December 31st
- • Orange Bowl: No 2. ranked Michigan vs. No 3. ranked Georgia at 7:30 p.m. EST, Friday, December 31st
- • College Football Playoff National Championship: Winner of the Cotton Bowl vs. Winner of the Orange Bowl at 8:00 p.m. EST, January 10th
This year, ESPN will air all of these games.
What Bowl Games Are Played at Camping World Stadium?
The Cheez-It Bowl and the Vrbo Citrus Bowl are both played at the historic Camping World Stadium. Originally named the Orlando Stadium and part of the Works Progress Administrative project by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Camping World Stadium has been hosting college football bowls (original home of the Tangerine Bowl) for nearly eight decades.
Today, Camping World Stadium provides an unparalleled fan experience. From wider and more comfortable chair-back seats to a variety of premium seating options and unique spaces, Camping World continues to give the Florida community a premium sporting experience. Our recent renovations also include improved upper and lower levels, improved digital video boards, impressive mobile broadband coverage, elevators and escalators, and a massive selection of delicious food at our concessions areas.
Florida Citrus Sports is a non-profit organization committed to ensuring both the historic Vrbo Citrus Bowl and the Cheez-It Bowl provide a world-class viewing experience and uphold the rigorous standards of college football bowls. Although the Vrbo Citrus Bowl is not associated with the CFP, it continues to be one of the most important and impactful bowl games outside of the “New Year’s Six.” Additionally, the Cheez-It Bowl regularly attracts over 40,000 attendees.
To learn more about Camping World Stadium’s amazing selection of bowl games, football games, or other sports games, contact us.