Unlike most people, I enjoy bowl season. Despite how irrelevant it is to the final outcome of the season, eclectic matchups are the best kinds of matchups. They determine bragging rights for people whose values still align with those of their conference. Programs who only schedule cream puffs when it’s up to them now have to face real teams. And games are played on random weekdays, with holiday-themed promos.
Yet it gets harder to defend the product every season, and with the NCAA’s new transfer portal window opening the day after champion selection Sunday for 45 days, this year is no exception. Several contests will feature teams without their starting quarterback because they’re in the portal, including the Gator and Sun bowls, as Notre Dame QB Drew Pyne and Pitt starter Kedon Slovis are leaving.
Western Kentucky’s Austin Reed, who was top two in the country in passing yards and TDs, won’t be in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. The Guaranteed Rate Bowl between Oklahoma State and Wisconsin won’t have a starting quarterback for either school as Spencer Sanders and Graham Mertz, respectively, are exploring their options. To be fair, Sanders has been banged up and didn’t play in the Pokes’ final regular-season tilt against West Virginia. Be that as it may, the game isn’t for another three weeks, and my guess is he probably could give it a go if there was a point to any of this.
As far as I can tell, the reason the portal windows open when they do — there’s a 15-day period in May, as well — is because of the academic calendar and stress on coaches. The so-called designated timeframes are arbitrary as unhappy teenagers are terrible at keeping secrets, and guys made their intentions known before the December 5 start date. You can’t fine someone you’re not paying, and it’s difficult to hold schools accountable when you have all the power of a substitute teacher.
Injuries or business decisions also have ravaged the slate. USC’s Caleb William, Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker, and Florida’s Anthony Richardson all will miss the final outing of the season. Projected top five pick Will Levis announced he’s going pro, but is still undecided about Kentucky’s trip to the Music City Bowl.
When asked about the status of quarterback Bryce Young and D-lineman Will Anderson, Nick Saban said they participated in workouts, but will probably have further discussions about the Sugar Bowl. I want to see Kansas State get demolished, and even though Alabama’s B- team is more than capable of making that happen, it’s not as fun. College football junkies might disagree because Jalen Milroe is electrifying. Yet we’ll get plenty of time with him in 2023.
The biggest skill player to officially opt out of postseason play is Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Nigba. The star receiver has battled a nagging hamstring all year, and while I don’t blame him for wanting to avoid a dip in draft stock or further injury, the guy had 347 yards and three TDs in last season’s Rose Bowl. Even if he was used solely for decoy purposes, he could’ve had an impact on the College Football Playoff.
I know I focused mostly on QBs, so here’s further context for how jumble fucked these rosters are: Oregon, Arkansas, Alabama, and Maryland all had double-digit entries in the portal Monday, and all four have a game remaining. (By the way, quick note on Maryland. Can we please not pit former ACC foes against each other? No one watched that matchup when it took place on a random Saturday in October, and we certainly aren’t intrigued now.)
The new transfer window has turned one of my favorite sporting traditions into a random night of NBA League Pass when you flip to Golden State-Miami and half the rosters are in street clothes. At least put a little effort into the charade. Remember when we used to get mad about bowls giving student athletes gift bags? Maybe those only go to the winners from now on — if we still don’t like the idea of cash prizes.
There’s no question why bowl season still exists. Stadiums, schools, hotels, airlines, and cities turn a nice profit, and fanbases in flyover states get an excuse to escape the gray, cold weather. Shit, Jimmy Kimmel sponsors a bowl, and so does Barfstool. If Deadspin weren’t widely loathed by most of the internet, we’d have as good of a shot at a bowl sponsorship as we have at landing sit-downs with B- and C-list celebrities.
The NCAA instituting the transfer window during bowl season not only makes the exodus of players more noticeable, but it also steps on the product. Coaches have had to work with the specter of recruiting violations looming over them for decades, and now that nobody cares about the rules, they can deal with the stress of constantly trying to appease 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds. They certainly get paid enough.