This article is a piece of the ‘Take Notice” column. Read other column pieces here.
There is no doubting the fact that college football is becoming more of a business than a game. We saw that last month, when Navy QB Keenan Reynolds was kept out of the Heisman voting because, as many in the football world (this writer included) saw it, he wasn’t from a Power-Five conference. We saw it in the names of the bowl games we watched (or didn’t watch) this past December. Out of the record forty-one bowls that took place from December 19 to January 2, only four–the Miami Beach Bowl, the Hawai’i Bowl, the St. Petersburg Bowl and the Birmingham Bowl–didn’t carry the title of a sponsor. The Fiesta Bowl was presented by a sports competition TV series called Battlefrog. UCLA and Nebraska played in a game named for a poultry company. We had games sponsored by potatoes (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl) and games sponsored by freight shipping companies (R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl). The use of juxtaposition in bowl names officially reached its peak high–or low–with the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl and the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl.
All of those games and their absurdly-sponsored names make for good humor, but not as much for great TV. Ratings for the New Year’s Six bowls were down 13% overall this year. The two College Football Playoff semifinals went down 45% for the first game (Clemson’s painful blowout of Oklahoma) and 34.4% for the second (Alabama’s equally-as-painful blowout of Michigan State) in viewership, according to Sports Illustrated.
People say numbers don’t lie, and they don’t, in this case. It was a mistake by the College Football Playoff committee, even if they won’t blatantly admit it, to put the “biggest” games on New Year’s Eve night. But just because 98% percent of people, excluding those from states of Alabama and South Carolina, will say that the CFP semifinal games were “bad games” does not mean that we make the same generalizations about all the bowl games this year. The Bowl system still has its uses.
Unless you’re a Stanford fan, it probably was not very fun watching the Cardinal and Christian McCaffrey absolutely dominate Iowa in the Rose Bowl. But it’s okay, because
- When McCaffrey is in the NFL in a few years, we can all say we remember that game in 2016 when he single-handedly blew Iowa out of the Rose Bowl and back to the cornfields.
- Just about 24 hours later, we got to watch the best bowl game of the season thanks to Oregon and TCU.
When you put ducks and frogs in a pond together, it can get confrontational fast. Especially when that pond is the Alamo Bowl, the confrontation lasts for three extra overtimes, and both the ducks and frogs are ranked amongst the top 15 teams in the country.
At halftime, Oregon was up by 31 points. TCU was struggling without the suspended Trevone Boykin, and the Horned Frogs’ starting QB was a senior transfer named Bram Kohlhausen, who was making his first and final start for TCU. Then all of a sudden, the Frogs staged a major comeback, scoring on all nine possessions after halftime and winning on a touchdown in the third overtime. People in Fort Worth and around the country will remember the Alamo for a long time.
The Alamo is just one of the good bowl games we saw this year that we seem to be forgetting. The Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium between Indiana and Duke went to overtime and ended on a missed 55-yard field goal from Indiana’s kicker. The highlights speak for themselves, and not only did the game snap the Blue Devils’ 54-year long bowl victory drought, but it also broke the all-time record for most baseball references made during a football broadcast. (Best moments: Rece Davis yelling, “It is high, it is far, it is gone,” when Duke QB Thomas Sirk scored, and when Indiana’s Alex Rodriguez was called a “home-run threat”.)
We also got to see an underdog Houston team beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl, and there’s nothing better than seeing a David-beats-Goliath story unfold in front of your eyes, especially when that Goliath won the national championship two years ago. In the Russell Athletic Bowl, Baylor ran the ball an astonishing 84 times for seven touchdowns and 645 yards to beat North Carolina. The legendary Frank Beamer ended his career at Virginia Tech with a 55-52 victory over Tulsa in the Independence Bowl, and on January 2, the bowl season closed out with West Virginia’s thrilling and exciting 43-42 win over Arizona State.
We understand–the inevitable is inevitable. People are going to make generalizations about this year’s bowl season, and they’re going to talk about how it was a bust as a whole because of the ratings and the blowouts and the sponsors and etc. Fans are going to say we need less bowls, big business is going to say we need more, and things are going to get complicated. But with all the viewerships and dollars aside, the bowl system is just as much a part of the college football tradition as are College Gameday and Saturday afternoon games in the South. At the end of the season, the past is put aside and each team gets to play Cinderella and dress up to go to the ball. Whether that trip is for the first time in six decades, like it was for Appalachian State, or for the thirty-fourth straight time, as it was for Florida State, the experience is unlike any other for these players, and it is not one we should lose faith in so quickly.