Is the bowl system taking a beating this year, or what? Three 5-7 teams are playing in December, and people think the sanctity of college football is gone forever. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany says the bowl system has "too much ice cream."
Let me tell you something, Jim. When I eat too much ice cream, you know what I do? Nothing. Because I love ice cream. And the next time, I will eat too much ice cream again. I love football too.
So for the next two weeks ... what's that? Now, bowl season lasts almost a month? That's even more football!...I will sit back on my couch and nearly every afternoon and night, when I turn on my TV, college football will be on. Players will be unknown, skill level will be down and sponsors will be ridiculous, but fun will be had.
Here are the reasons to care about all bowls (even the little ones):
Most Teams Do Not Have Championship Aspirations
After Keenan Reynolds led 10-2 Navy to a 21-17 win against Army last week, he concluded his chapter of the rivalry.
"That was the No. 1 goal," he said. "To be able to be here four years and never lose against Army."
No. 1 goal? Bro, you were two wins, at Notre Dame and at Houston, away from a real shot at the College Football Playoff!
A common misconception of fans and the NFL and powerhouse college programs is that every school thinks national championship or bust. That is far from the truth. Outside of Tuscaloosa, Columbus, Tallahassee and other select cities, the goals are different.
Take my Northwestern Wildcats. I live and die with that team (which makes most years tough). Shortly before this year's season opener, NU named a redshirt freshman the starting quarterback, and the entire fan base expected a rebuilding effort. The Wildcats erupted for a 10-2 season, only losing to current No. 5 Iowa and No. 14 Michigan.
No. 13 Northwestern has wins against No. 6 Stanford*, Wisconsin, Penn State and Duke.
* You may be asking, if Northwestern and Stanford both have two losses, Northwestern beat Stanford and the Big Ten is a stronger conference than the Pac-12, why is Stanford ranked so much higher? My answer is don't get me started.
NU is playing in the Outback Bowl, and Evanston is going bonkers for this team. My Michigan-Ohio State-Wisconsin friends mock me for getting hyped over a 10-2 upper-middle-tier bowl team. They do not understand how damn successful this season is based on what we expected.
There are more teams like Navy and Northwestern playing in mini-Super Bowls they never expected to be in.
Individual Games Are A Cornerstone Of College Football
By this point in the NFL season, almost half the league is just showing up for the paycheck. General managers put on a poker face to pretend they are not rooting for losses to improve NFL draft placement.
College football teams get hyped about any situation. Take South Carolina on Thanksgiving week. The Gamecocks lost their coach in October and lost at home to The Citadel in November. Yet, South Carolina gave No. 1 Clemson a run for its money to close out a bowl-less season.
Bowl games magnify the beauty of caring about one game. Utah and BYU both went 9-3, but neither team or fan base cares about that right now. The Holy War is in full effect, and the outcome of this one game will define the season. Indiana and Duke have been overshadowed by their basketball teams for the last half century, but they get to play at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC on the Saturday afternoon of Christmas weekend. Oklahoma State and Ole Miss are overshadowed by mega-programs in their conferences, but this year, they get to showcase themselves on New Year's Day as the respective Big 12 and SEC No. 2s in the Sugar Bowl.
— Meddafore (@Meddafore) December 18, 2015
See? Miami had an average season, going 8-4 and firing coach Al Golden in October, yet, fans still care about a December game against Washington State in El Paso.
This is an extension to the previous point. The NCAA has provided us with dream matchups. In the NFL, we take for granted that no team goes four years without playing all 32 squads. In college, bowls can deliver inter-conference match-ups that athletic directors won't schedule.
Thanks to Ohio State's loss to Michigan State, the nation gets a New Year's Day Fiesta Bowl featuring the Buckeyes and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The two have a combined 19 national titles but have only met five times. Likewise, the Citrus Bowl sets up Michigan and Florida, with 14 claimed national titles and just two meetings against each other. The Holiday Bowl features USC and Wisconsin. Both teams have played multiple Rose Bowls in the past 50 years, but these schools haven't faced each other since 1966.
No, these are not College Football Playoff games, but they spoil us.
@JeffEisenband Illinois and ....oh.
— Daniel Charous (@Dchar612) December 19, 2015
Yeah...not sulking over that one.
For underdog teams, these bowl appearances are like double-digit March Madness seeds reaching the Elite Eight.
Memphis peaked at No. 13 in the nation, beating current No. 12 Ole Miss along the way. Despite a poor end to the season, the Tigers have a chance to play Auburn, a program that played for a national championship two seasons ago. If Memphis can beat the "other" Tigers, the school will win 10 games in two straight seasons.
By going 12-0 in the regular season, Iowa won a dozen games for the first time in 127 seasons. The knock on the Hawkeyes has been their soft schedule. After a Big Ten Championship Game loss to Michigan State, Kirk Ferentz can shut everyone up with a win against Stanford, which is playing in its third Rose Bowl Game in four years.
How about Houston, going to the Peach Bowl to play almighty Florida State? Or second-year FBS school Georgia Southern, making its bowl debut in the GoDaddy Bowl against Bowling Green after the NCAA denied last season's 9-3 Eagles a bowl spot? Or North Carolina, shooting for its first 12-win season in school history against season-long playoff contender Baylor?
@JeffEisenband Comparing conferences.
— Charlie Gingold (@charliegingold) December 18, 2015
Thanks, Charlie. I agree. There is no better way to settle conference conflict than bowl season, when equal teams line up with each other.
In 2005, when I was 12, I was watching the Independence Bowl between South Carolina and Missouri with my cousin, Steve, then a freshman at Florida. I asked him if I was supposed to root for Missouri because South Carolina is a Gators rival. "No, we root for the SEC," he told me.
This blew my mind. A decade later, I am rooting hard against the SEC, as the Big Ten and SEC meet in four bowls Dec. 31-Jan. 2 (Cotton, Citrus, Outback, TaxSlayer). The Big Ten has five teams in the Top 14, while the SEC has just two. Now is the time for the Big Ten to prove its worth.
The same can be said for conferences like the Big 12, whose teams beat each other up, but have match-ups such as Oklahoma vs. Clemson (Orange) and Baylor vs. UNC (Russell Athletic) to prove talent should make up for a lack of a conference title game.
Do not forget the little guys. Houston, Temple, Navy and Memphis made the American an exciting conference this season, and the door is open for the group to establish itself.
This is the time conferences come out of their little bubbles and see how real they are.
@JeffEisenband Great way to assess inter-conference rankings. Strengths and weaknesses of each league. Getting to see new teams play
— Jon Gordon (@JGordo92) December 18, 2015
5-7 Teams Are Not Ruining Our Earth
Going back to my opening paragraph, yes, there are sub-.500 teams playing in bowl games. No, this is not the end of the world we know. Do not let the records fool you.
Of Minnesota's seven losses, five came against teams currently ranked in the top 14 (Iowa, Ohio State, TCU, Northwestern, Michigan). That is not to make a case that Minnesota is a playoff team, but standings can be misleading.
Last season, 6-6 South Alabama went bowling while 5-7 Northwestern, who beat Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Penn State, stayed home (oh, sorry, didn't mean to be a homer).
The addition of two new bowls, the Cure Bowl and Arizona Bowl, has upped the bowl docket to 40 match-ups (plus the national championship), meaning 80 of FBS' 127 bowl-eligible members go to bowls. Yes, that is a lot, and it means the lineup of bowl teams may include 5-7 teams for years to come. But the 5-7 teams are not playing the 10-2 teams. Bowl matchups are made to be equal. Evenly matched games are fun to watch.
This is not going to ruin the regular season. Teams will not mail it in because they know they will go bowling with five wins. Just ask fans in Lincoln. Programs will always be encouraged to win more and reach more attractive bowls.
By the way, Nebraska is 5-7, but it was also the only team to defeat playoff-bound Michigan State. Should a 6-6 Georgia State team be more deserving of a bowl than Nebraska?
There is some slimy stuff going on with more and more sponsors trying to get into the game formulating more bowls on more TV with more conference tie-ins. But that is because people love football, and even if a team goes 5-7, its fan base wants to see another game. If the interest is there, why deny more football? A 5-7 San Jose State team in a bowl does not diminish Clemson's 13-0 mark.
Football Is So Fun
More bowls means a saturated market, but it also means more football.
@JeffEisenband football is fun so the more football the more fun
— Brand Expert (@BenG412) December 18, 2015
This is a simple, but useful point. People do not complain about the 68 (68!) teams that make the NCAA basketball tournament because the college basketball fill is awesome and a little birdie told me there is some totally legal betting that goes on every spring.
The high bowl total is creating the college football equivalent. As soon as someone figures out how to make betting on bowl games fun too, the "too many bowls" criticism will subside, and people will be glued to a TV.
Meaningful For Programs
Why should you care if Middle Tennessee gets one extra game? I cannot convince you of that, specifically, but as a whole, college football programs are given an incredible boost making it to bowl season.
Texas, Georgia Tech and South Carolina are among programs that closed up their facilities weeks ago. A bowl bid means not just one more game, but one more month of practice and camaraderie. For fan bases, it is an opportunity to travel with the team to a new experience in Boca Raton, Honolulu or Boise.
For the players, this is a last chance, first chance or prime chance to put on a show on national television. Names will be introduced to football fans the next few weeks. From small and big schools, the future of NFL talent will be on display.
@JeffEisenband for the crappy bowls: nothing else on tv, gambling, or potential 1st round skill players you never saw before
— Jared H (@McRodes) December 18, 2015
You just never know who you will be watching.
Last week, I told a friend I was hyped for bowl season. He told me it is lame I get hyped for Northwestern to play in the Chick-fil-A-Buffalo Wild Wings-Meineke Car Care-Whatever Bowl (he must have meant Outback).
This is the only sports playoff form in America that comes and goes without most teams having a chance to be the champion. But there is so much more to bowl season. These games are about teams and players proving themselves, making a name for themselves, claiming bragging rights and new experiences.
Most of all, it is about football. A lot of evenly matched football. This holiday season, be thankful for that.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.