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Daniel Wilco | | December 26, 2018

How college football bowl games work

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Here is how college football bowl games work, including how to quality, how teams can become eligible to compete and an explanation of the College Football Playoff system.

What is a bowl game?

Compared to other NCAA sports, FBS football has a relatively small playoff system. Only four teams compete for the national championship. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a postseason.

If a team is eligible for a bowl game (more on that later), it will earn the chance to play in a bowl game: A one-off matchup against a team of similar skill that it would not usually face in the regular season. The winners of bowl games receive trophies and bragging rights, but do not advance to any other games.

There are currently 40 bowl games in addition to the National Championship. You can view the schedule, location and TV listings for each 2018-19 bowl here.

How to qualify for bowl eligibility

Here's the official rule from the NCAA:

"An eligible team is defined as one that has won a number of games against Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponents that is equal to or greater than the number of its overall losses (e.g., a record of 6-6, or better). Ties or forfeited games do not count in determining won-lost record."

There are a few exceptions. For example, a loss in your conference championship game does not count against your record.

If there are not enough teams that are eligible under those rules, the eligibility requirements change, but the minimum record for a team to become bowl eligible is set at 5-7. Teams with winning records always receive priority.

You can read the full rules and all exceptions for bowl eligibility here.

College Football Playoff

In 2014, a new championship system went into place. The College Football Playoff consists of a selection committee that ranks teams throughout the year. The top four teams compete in two semifinal games in late December or early January, with the winners advancing to the national championship a week later.

New Year’s Six and Semifinals

With the advent of the College Football Playoff system, the six biggest bowl games got a little bit bigger. Both CFP national semifinal games rotate among the New Year’s Six — six historic bowl games played on our around New Year’s Day.

Here’s the schedule for the next eight years:

Year Semifinals bowls National Championship location
2018-2019 Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl Bay Area
2019-2020 Peach Bowl, Fiesta Bowl New Orleans
2020-2021 Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl Miami
2021-2022 Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl Indianapolis
2022-2023 Peach Bowl, Fiesta Bowl Los Angeles
2023-2024 Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl Houston
2024-2025 Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl TBD
2025-2026 Peach Bowl, Fiesta Bowl TBD

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