Frank Solich

‘Too many bowl games’ excuse didn’t carry weight on Day 1 of bowl season


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.

No suspensions for Georgia linebackers Natrez Patrick and Roquan Smith

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 12:  Darrius Sims #6 of the Vanderbilt Commodores is tackled by Johnathan Abram #25, Natrez Patrick #6, and Roquan Smith #3 of the Georgia Bulldogs during the first half at Vanderbilt Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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After having a bit of a cloud of uncertainty floating above them the past few days, Georgia linebackers Natrez Patrick and Roquan Smith will not face any discipline from the university and football program. Georgia announced that decision on Monday, saying the legal manner has been resolved from an on-campus dorm search by campus police.

“After receiving an incident report last week, we determined that neither Roquan Smith nor Natrez Patrick had violated any Athletic Association rules that would require suspension,”Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity said in a released statement. “This included drug testing, which was negative for both student-athletes.”

Campus police were called to Patrick’s dorm room on October 15 to investigate a potential marijuana smell. No substances were discovered and no arrests were made.

Not losing Patrick and Smith is good news for the Bulldogs, as the two are the leading tacklers on Georgia’s defense, with 42 and 39 tackles, respectively. Each player released a brief statement in addition to McGarity’s statement.

“Since November 2015, I have dedicated myself to moving forward,” Patrick said in a released statement. “I’m blessed to have done that despite hurdles I’ve had to clear. This incident was simply another hurdle and I was confident I would successfully clear it. I’ll continue to move forward and I’m anxious to play on Saturday.”

“As a student at the University of Georgia and a member of the football team, I take this opportunity very seriously,” Smith said in his statement. “I have followed the rules of the Athletic Association and I am happy this situation has been rightfully resolved. I look forward to representing my school and my team on Saturday in Jacksonville.”

Northwestern CB Matt Harris retiring due to concussions

EVANSTON, IL - NOVEMBER 15:  A general view of the stadium as the crowd of 40,681 watches the game between Michigan and Northwestern on November 15, 2003 at Ryan Field at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Michigan defeated Northwestern 41-10. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/ Getty Images)
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Northwestern cornerback Matt Harris is retiring from football after a series of concussions have put his health at risk.

“This is an incredibly difficult decision to reach, but it is the right one for me and for my future,” Harris said in a released statement. “There are few things I love more than playing the game of football and the game has provided me with so many opportunities, including the chance to attend this University. It has been a blessing to be a part of this community and learn so many lessons. Northwestern has given me so much, I look forward to taking full advantage of my chance to give back to the world around me in the future.”

Harris, a team captain in 2016, earned All-Big Ten honors in 2015 and has been named a two-time Academic All-Big Ten player during his time at Northwestern. Harris will retire having notched 161 tackles, six interceptions and three forced fumbles on the football field.

Harris is another name added to the growing list of football players making the decision to retire at such a young age. As time goes by, we learn more and more about the possible long-term effects of head injuries seen in sports, particularly in football. As a result, we are seeing players more frequently decide to step away from the sport in order to preserve their long-term health in the years to come. It is an unfortunate reality of the sport of football today, and one that continues to be addressed  at all levels.

Wisconsin LB Jack Cichy lost for the season (torn pectoral)

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 03:  Jack Cichy #48 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates with fans after defeating the LSU Tigers 16-14 at Lambeau Field on September 3, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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One of Wisconsin’s top defensive players will miss the remainder of the season. Linebacker Jack Cichy, despite saying after Saturday’s win against Iowa he was determined to play this weekend against Nebraska, will miss the rest of the season with a torn pectoral.

Cichy led the Badgers in tackles this season with 60, 45 of which have been solo tackles. What makes the injury extra frustrating for the Badgers is the team just welcomed back Vince Biegel from an injury. Biegel and Cichy made for a very talented linebacking duo in Madison, but that will be lost for the rest of Wisconsin’s Big Ten West Division championship hunt. The Badgers lost another linebacker for the season in the first game of the season when Chris Orr went down.

South Carolina turns QB show over to freshmen

STARKVILLE, MS - SEPTEMBER 10:  Brandon Mcilwain #11 of the South Carolina Gamecocks runs the ball during a game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Starkville, Mississippi.  The Bulldogs defeated the Gamecocks 27-14.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
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So long for having a veteran option to rely on at South Carolina. The Gamecocks’ are moving forward giving a pair of freshmen the chance to lead the offense for the remainder of the season. Jake Bentley and Brandon McIlwain will continue to take first-team reps with the offense

“I just feel like right now, just from an ability standpoint, those two guys give us the best opportunity,” South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said during his Sunday teleconference, according to The Post and Courier. “And they’re just going to keep getting better. Both of them do things equally well, and we’ll continue to rep that way.”

Bentley made his season debut over the weekend, completing 17 of 26 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns against UMass. McIlwain has appeared in six games this season, completing 56-of-106 passes for 567 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception. At 3-4, the Gamecocks can still make a run to a postseason bowl berth, but having a quarterback capable of lighting a spark on offense is essential. Bentley did that against UMAss, but games against Tennessee, Florida and Clemson in the second half of the season will prove to be more difficult.

Regardless, this means we may have seen the last of Perry Orth at quarterback for the Gamecocks. Orth will step aside as South Carolina’s leading passer with 661 passing yards and a completion percentage of 63.3 without a touchdown and two interceptions. The senior, a former walk-on, will remain influential on the sideline, however.

“Perry’s been great in terms of supporting our guys and talking to them on the sideline,” Muschamp said. “He’s been a great teammate, he’s a great young man, and he’s a guy who certainly is a valuable member of our organization, and a guy I’ve got the utmost respect for.”