Though bowl games are technically played at neutral sites, one team’s “neutral” is often better than another’s.
It’s a significant variable in football, a sport where the home team has a 57.6% probability of winning, according to Nathan Pinger of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, quoting statistics compiled in Scorecasting, by Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim.
Following are the eight bowl teams playing within the closest proximity to their home fields and fan bases this postseason. Each has a hidden advantage, especially relative to their opponent, who in every case has a significant journey to endure.
Game/Venue: AdvoCare Texas Bowl, NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
Distance to Game: 162 miles
Distance to Game: 530 miles
The Longhorns have a quick, two-and-a-half hour trip down Highway 290 to face old Southwest Conference foe Arkansas for the Texas Bowl.
Texas has also stayed local for its last two bowl appearances, falling to Oregon in last season’s Alamo Bowl in San Antonio and beating Oregon State at the same venue in 2012.
Though the Razorbacks won’t have to travel cross country, it is a nine-hour drive for Hogs’ fans to see their team square off with the Longhorns for the first time since 2008.
Arkansas traveled to the Lone Star State earlier this season when it stomped Texas Tech 49-28 in Lubbock. It hasn’t played in Houston since 1990, when it got destroyed 62-28 by the then No. 6 Cougars.
Game/Venue: R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La.
Distance to Game: 135 miles
Distance to Game: 2,168 miles
It’s a quick two-hour, straight shot down I-10 for the Ragin’ Cajuns this postseason, playing in their fourth-consecutive New Orleans Bowl. It’s no coincidence that ULL is on a 3-0 run in bowl play.
For Nevada fans, it’s a daunting 23-hour drive or a costly plane ticket to see their team try and win its first bowl game since zapping Boston College in the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
The Wolf Pack last played in New Orleans in 1992, a regular-season loss to Tulane.
Game/Venue: Vizio Fiesta Bowl, U. of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Distance to Game: 124 miles
Opponent: Boise State
Distance to Game: 899 miles
Wildcat fans won’t have to go far to see their team try and win 11 games for the first time since 1998, requiring only a short two-hour road trip northwest from Tucson to Phoenix.
For Boise State fans, it’s a either a 14-hour road trip or a flight to see the Broncos play in the Fiesta Bowl for the first time since knocking off No. 6 TCU in the 2009 BCS version of the game.
Arizona has never played in University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the NFL Arizona Cardinals, which opened in September of 2006.
Game/Venue: National University Holiday Bowl, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif.
Distance to Game: 120 miles
Distance to Game: 1,561 miles
Another relatively quick two-hour car ride awaits USC enthusiasts, at least those keen to see their Trojans face Nebraska for the first time since 2007.
For Husker fans committed to the road, it’s a full 23-hour ride from Lincoln to San Diego, where at least it will be warmer when they arrive.
USC hasn’t played in Qualcomm since 1992, it was called Jack Murphy Stadium then, when it played San Diego State to a 31-31 tie.
Nebraska last played in California earlier this season when it beat Fresno State 55-19 in Fresno. It is 3-0 all time in Qualcomm, winning three previous Holiday Bowls (1998, 2009 and 2010).
Game/Venue: Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl, Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Distance to Game: 106 miles
Opponent: NC State
Distance to Game: 673 miles
UCF’s campus in Orlando is just short of a two-hour drive west to St. Petersburg, located on the west side of Tampa. It’s also the site of the Knights’ last bowl loss, a 45-24 defeat at the hands of Rutgers in 2009.
For NC State fans, it’s a 10-hour car ride to watch the first-bowl appearance since losing to Vandy in the 2012 Music City Bowl.
NC State has never played in Tropicana Field, home of the MLB Tampa Bay Rays, but visited the area as recently as Sept. 13 of this year when they traveled to Tampa and thrashed USF 49-17.
Game/Venue: Goodyear Cotton Bowl, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Distance to Game: 99 miles
Opponent: Michigan State
Distance to Game: 1,137 miles
Arlington is only a short hour-and-a-half drive from Waco, providing Baylor fans their nearest postseason destination since 2009, when the Bears traveled to San Antonio and edged Washington 67-56 in the Alamo Bowl.
For Michigan State, its 18 hours of hard driving or a plane ticket to see the Spartans try and win their fourth-consecutive bowl game for the third time in program history. Michigan State has never played in the Cotton Bowl or AT&T Stadium, last playing in Texas in 2010 when it fell to Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl.
Baylor hasn’t played in the Cotton Bowl since losing to Alabama in the 1981 edition, but played in AT&T Stadium as recently as Nov. 29 of this season, when it edged Texas Tech 48-46.
Game/Venue: Foster Farms Bowl, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.
Distance to Game: 13 miles
Distance to Game: 2,846 miles
Stanford Stadium is only 12.8 miles from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, the new home of the NFL San Francisco 49ers and the first-ever Foster Farms Bowl.
It’s a 344-mile improvement for Stanford fans, who spent that last two postseasons traveling down to Pasadena to see the Cardinal in the Rose Bowl.
Maryland fans will have to buy a plane ticket to see their Terrapins try and win their first bowl game since destroying East Carolina 51-20 in the 2010 Military Bowl. Otherwise, it’s a 40-hour, cross-country road trip stretching the full width of the continent.
Maryland hasn’t played in California since 2009, when it visited Berkeley and lost 52-13 to the No. 12 Golden Bears. The Terrapins have never won a game on the West Coast.
1. San Diego State
Game/Venue: San Diego County CU Poinsettia Bowl, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif.
Distance to Game: 0 miles
Distance to Game: 2,651 miles
San Diego State is the only team in 2014 that will play its bowl game at its home stadium, a great advantage for a team that is 6-0 this year on its home field.
The Aztecs last lost in Qualcomm on Oct. 26, 2013 when No. 15 Fresno State rolled into town and won 35-28.
The United States Navy does have a base located 13 miles south of Qualcomm, but its Academy is in Annapolis, Md., a 40-hour, cross-country drive from San Diego.
This is the Aztecs’ fifth-bowl appearance in San Diego where its 3-1 in postseason play. SDSU fell to Hardin-Simmons (Abilene, Texas) in the 1948 Harbor Bowl, edged Iowa in the 1986 Holiday Bowl (then played in San Diego), beat Navy in the 2010 Poinsettia Bowl and fell to BYU in the 2012 Poinsettia.
This is also Navy’s fifth bowl game in San Diego: It beat BYU in the 1978 Holiday, won over Colorado State in the 2005 Poinsettia, fell to Utah in the 2007 Poinsettia and then lost to SDSU in the 2010 Poinsettia.
Navy hasn’t played in California since Nov. 22, 2013 when it edged San Jose State 58-52.