Everything they’ve done all season has led up to this game: The [insert sponsor] Bowl. These teams worked all season long so that they could get six wins and the opportunity to play in the postseason. At least that’s what bowl games are supposed to be: The culmination of the season. But if anything they’re just a preview for the following one.
Their importance has been diminishing for a while. When there was just the BCS title game, there was still plenty of prestige in playing in a bowl game. Only two teams make it, so there wasn’t any shame in not being one of those two. With the addition of the College Football Playoff, they’ve become less important. There are four whole playoff spots. What do you mean you didn’t make it? New Year’s Six bowl games have increasingly felt like consolation prizes for teams that were thiiiiiiiis close to making the playoff but just missed it.
Now with the CFP expanding to 12 teams, they very could be on the way out. Starting in the 2024 season, how is anyone supposed to muster enough energy to care about the Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl when there are 11 playoff games?
Everything is working against Bowl Mania. Players who know they’re going to get drafted opt out so they don’t risk injury. Most coaching change decisions are made before the “postseason” for some weird reason. Players can enter the transfer portal before their bowl games for some even weirder reason. Hell, Notre Dame’s starting QB was one of the players to do that.
I’m not advocating against players opting out or transferring. They should do whatever they want, but it’s crazy that players are allowed to enter the transfer portal before what is supposed to be the biggest game of their season. The fact that it opens before bowl games happen just speaks to their irrelevance.
A team that plays in a bowl game could potentially be unrecognizable from the one that played in their final regular-season game a few weeks earlier. Bowl games aren’t so much a postseason game as they are a “let’s see what we have for next year” game.
Take Florida for example. Anthony Richardson was the starting quarterback for the Gators every game this season, but has opted out in anticipation of the NFL draft. Jack Miller III, a freshman (even though he was at Ohio State for two seasons) who hasn’t played in a game for the Gators will start in his place. Again, to Miller this is probably way less of a postseason game and more an audition for the starting spot next season. Florida will also be fielding a team where 17 players have already entered the transfer portal.
Wisconsin fired its head coach, Paul Chryst, midseason and hired Luke Fickell, but interim coach, Jim Leonhard, is still in charge for their bowl game. It feels pretty bizarre that Leonhard is going to coach this game while his already-selected replacement lurks over his shoulder like the grim reaper. Great motivation. If you’re allowed to hire a new head coach between the regular season and postseason, then why can’t they coach?
Some have speculated that with the record number of transfers, this could be the worst bowl season ever. They might be right, but even then, I’m not trying to argue that it’s not worth watching. Bad college football is still much more favorable than sitting around and waiting for the sun to set at 4:45.
There are actually some great matchups. UTSA and Troy are being rewarded for winning their conferences, winning 11 games, and being nationally ranked, by playing each other today — the first day of games. I’m being a little sarcastic, but it really is a reward to play as soon as possible and get to go home for Christmas. USC, which has the Heisman winner who’s still a year away from being draft eligible, and was one win away from the playoff, get Tulane. For Tulane, who won two games last year, this has to be like their Super Bowl. Is USC going to be able to get up for a Group of Five opponent after narrowly missing out on the national semifinal?
Despite the more promising matchups, it’s hard to see bowl games as a legit postseason when it’s a bunch of quarterbacks who didn’t make a start all season throwing to backup receivers because the starters are transferring, while getting play calls from a coach who’s already been replaced.