By the time the final whistle blew in the New Mexico Bowl earlier this afternoon — a 37-15 route by Temple over Wyoming that was close for about the first quarter — the pre-existing cynicism I’d felt toward bowl season was already heightened to near-insufferable levels.
Heck, it was like that an hour before that final whistle blew.
“Oh, here we go. Another bowl season highlighted by blowouts, half-empty stadiums and matchups that no one cares about hosted by sponsors that sound like someone’s Mad Libs.”
“The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl?”
At halftime of that Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Utah State led Ohio 9-7 in what looked, again, like another snoozer — this time of the opposite end of spectrum. Close game, but zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
But, post-halftime, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl became famous for something other than having a completely hilarious name. Ohio took advantage of Utah State’s inability to close out a second half (or, ability to perfectly mimic Texas A&M’s halftime “adjustments” routine, depending on how you view it) and came from behind to beat the Aggies 24-23 with a last-minute touchdown.
It was a good game.
So was the nightcap for the first day of bowl season. The New Orleans Bowl didn’t feature a ton of lead changes, but it had momentum swings and two, literally, last-minute scoring drives that resulted in a 32-30 win by Louisiana-Lafayette over San Diego State.
A 50-yard game winning field goal as time expired? Tough to beat that.
And, consider that all three games today had two common themes: they featured non-AQ schools, and they were milestones. Temple hadn’t won a bowl game in 32 years since the 1979 Garden State Bowl; Ohio hadn’t won a bowl game period before yesterday; Louisiana-Lafayette hadn’t gone to a bowl in 41 years, and had never as a Division 1-A school.
As someone who attended college with a less renowned football program, I can tell you those kinds of moments matter to some. Those are the achievements on which programs like Temple and ULL hang their hats.
Oh, sure, there are plenty of flaws with the bowl system. It’s nearly impossible for schools to make any kind of profit and fans are, for one reason or another, not traveling as far or as often. The money that is made from the bowl is landing in the wrong hands.
But that’s another conversation for another day.
What can be answered more instantaneously is whether or not there are too many bowl games at 35, and there are arguments for both sides. For Exhibits A, B and C listed above, I give you Exhibit D — 6-7 UCLA, which through a bowl waiver provided by the NCAA, will be going bowling in San Francisco this year — Exhibit E — nine bowl games where both teams are, at best, 7-5 — and Exhibit F — declining TV ratings.
One of the excuses by defenders of the bowl-only system has been that the game is a reward for a successful regular season. Perhaps that was true 15 years ago, but the more bowls that pop up, the less applicable that explanation becomes.
Besides, bowls equal more practice time and glorified recruiting trips (except to Idaho). Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that; it’s just part of the scene.
But there is still something magical about a great bowl game when the players and coaches lay everything on the line because, well, what’s the worst that could happen?
Can you really have too much of that?
Not if there’s at least a four-team playoff to accompany it, but there’s a tree we’ve barked up far too many times.
It’s almost a parody within itself.