Even though Ohio State didn’t make the College Football Playoff, its final game of the season still drew as many TV viewers as a CFP semifinal.
ESPN announced Tuesday that an average of 16.6 million people watched the Rose Bowl, the same number of average viewers as Alabama’s College Football Playoff semifinal win over Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl. Ohio State’s 48-45 win over Utah drew an average of only 600,000 fewer viewers than Georgia’s College Football Playoff semifinal win over Michigan in the Orange Bowl.
Ratings for both CFP semifinals were down roughly 2 million from the previous year, when averages of 19.1 million people watched Ohio State’s win over Clemson and 18.9 million people watched Alabama’s win over Notre Dame.
There are several factors that likely contributed to that, starting with the fact that this year’s semifinals were played on New Year’s Eve – and on a Friday, no less, with the Cotton Bowl starting at 3:30 p.m. ET. Both College Football Playoff semifinals were also lopsided contests, with Alabama winning 27-6 and Georgia winning 34-11.
Ohio State’s Rose Bowl win over Utah, meanwhile, was a high-scoring affair that came down to the wire, with Ohio State scoring the game-winning points on a Noah Ruggles field goal with nine seconds to play. The Rose Bowl, which was played on New Year’s Day (a Saturday), peaked at 19.7 million viewers over the game’s closing minutes.
That said, the Rose Bowl drew significantly more viewers than any other non-CFP bowl game; Baylor’s Sugar Bowl win over Ole Miss, which was also played on New Year’s Day, is the fourth-most viewed bowl game this year with an average of 9.8 million viewers. This year’s Rose Bowl is now the second-most-watched non-playoff bowl game in the CFP era, behind only Ohio State’s 2019 Rose Bowl win over Washington (16.9 million viewers), and one of the three most-viewed college football games of the entire season, along with the two CFP semifinals.