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

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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.

ESPN analyst: Jimbo Fisher called Texas A&M soft, vowed to change the program

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If there was one thing that really seemed to put Kevin Sumlin on the hot seat during his time at Texas A&M, it was the Aggies seemingly annual collapse in the second half of the season and inability to finish games they had the potential to win. That explains some of the reason why the school ponied up to lure Jimbo Fisher from Florida State in a $75 million hire late last year.

While most of the outside focus on Fisher’s move to College Station has been centered on that humongous contract, there’s little question that hiring a national title-winning coach was a coup for the team. That subject was brought up again on the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum Show Friday evening and ESPN college football analyst Booger McFarland relayed a rather interesting conversation he had with the coach earlier this year in which Fisher said something you typically don’t hear made public. You can head to the 8:18 mark (or there abouts) for the interview.

“I talked to Jimbo in Atlanta. I told Jimbo point-blank — the same thing I told you guys about Texas A&M the last several years — A&M is a soft program,” McFarland said. “Jimbo looked me in the eye and was like, ‘You know what, you’re damn right. We are soft, but I’m going to change that.’”

Something says that Fisher and the Aggies strength coaches are going to use the comments as a bit of a challenge in the weight room and during spring practice over the coming months as they lay the groundwork for the 2018 season. Even the most ardent maroon and white supporters would probably agree with the sentiment that the team went a little soft toward the end of Sumlin’s tenure but it’s not everyday you see a coach call out his new program quite like that.

Maybe it’s something in the water down there in College Station though, judging by some other comments by the school’s athletic director, but one thing is for certain — things are going to be very different at Texas A&M going forward.

Scott Frost wants Nebraska football roster to grow to 150 players or more in 2018

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In the days before you were limited to 85 scholarship players, it was not totally uncommon to see teams stock their rosters full of players and wind up in the triple-digits with close to 200 players on a team. Even after the NCAA mandated a limit of 85 scholarships, roster sizes were still not that much smaller when you factored in walk-ons and others on a squad.

It appears Scott Frost wants to get back to those sort of days in Lincoln and is apparently pushing the school to help him expand the Cornhuskers roster right into the 150 range.

“I’d like to accommodate (Frost’s) desire” to expand the roster, athletic director Bill Moos said this week in an interview with Rivals’ HuskerOnline. “But we do have that issue with Title IX” along with locker room facilities challenges, organized practice schedules, and other daily management nuts and bolts to sort through.

“Nebraska has been known for having a lot of players on the team…a lot of walk-ons. I’d like to get back to that,” Frost had said on Signing Day earlier in the month. “The best thing Coach (Tom) Osborne did was have everybody practice… and part of that is what led to the development of players and helped walk-ons and young players get better faster and get on the field and help the team. I think that’s an asset that Nebraska can have if we’re willing to expand the roster.”

HuskerOnline details some of the compliance and budgetary challenges that going to 150 would entail but it certainly sounds like the school is making the effort to beef the numbers up. The Cornhuskers are well known in college football history for their walk-on program and roughly 10-15 walk-ons per class would apparently help them land right around Frost’s ideal roster size after factoring in the 85 full-scholarship players he would recruit.

Interestingly, going to 150 would allow the program to pass Michigan for the Big Ten’s biggest roster. The Wolverines under Jim Harbaugh are reportedly sitting at around 135 players after the 2017 season while most of the other conference’s schools are mostly around the 120 mark with a few exceptions. Title IX is not surprisingly the biggest obstacle for teams but it seems like some can manage things with no issue.

Frost was hired this offseason to help take Nebraska back to their perch atop college football and it seems like he is certainly attempting to do that in more ways than one when it comes to Big Red.

Purdue hires Utah State’s Mark Tommerdahl as special teams and tight ends coach

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Jeff Brohm is bringing in longtime coaching veteran Mark Tommerdahl to fill out his staff and serve as Purdue’s special teams and tight ends coach.

The Boilermakers announced the move on Saturday afternoon as Tommerdahl heads to West Lafayette after spending just a season at Utah State where he also coached running backs and ran the Aggies’ special teams. While his stay in Logan was brief, Tommerdahl has been all over the country in 34 years as a coach and is highly regarded for his work in the kicking game.

Tommerdahl has plenty of prior Power Five coaching experience and spent four seasons with Sonny Dykes at Cal where he coached three different position groups and served as assistant head coach. Prior to that he also had stops at Louisiana Tech, Texas A&M, Alabama, TCU and several other schools.

The move to bring in Tommerdahl fills the spot on the Boilermakers’ staff that was left when former Houston coach Tony Levine left after one season with the school to pursue opportunities outside of the coaching profession. Brohm’s 10th assistant Kevin Wolthausen was also given special teams responsibilities when he was elevated to a full-time role so it’s possible the team is really beefing up their emphasis on the third phases of the game with the two new coaches splitting duties when it comes to special teams.

Either way, after a surprising 2017 season that ended with a bowl game victory it’s pretty clear that Brohm is not just sitting back when it comes to his coaching staff and is bringing in some veteran names to help the team take the next step in 2018.

Iowa State OC Tom Manning reportedly leaving Ames for Indianapolis Colts staff

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After one of the most successful seasons in recent memory at Iowa State, it appears head coach Matt Campbell will not be able to keep the band together for another run.

Campbell confirmed to The Des Moines Register on Saturday morning that offensive coordinator Tom Manning was leaving Ames and will be taking a job in the NFL. The paper later was able to confirm that the team in question will be the Indianapolis Colts for a spot on Frank Reich’s new staff. ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg says Manning will be the team’s tight ends coach.

“I’m really happy and proud of him,” Campbell told the Register.

Manning has been with Campbell for years and the two actually played (and coached) together at famed D-III power Mount Union in the early 2000’s. Both were on the same staff at Toledo and Manning served as offensive line coach both there and at Iowa State. As offensive coordinator in 2017 he guided the Cyclones to a bit of an offensive renaissance despite relying on backup quarterback Kyle Kempt for most of the season, helping the team produce the third most points per game in school history while ranking in the top five in both total yards and passing.

ISU memorably upset Oklahoma in Norman and capped off an eight-win campaign in the Liberty Bowl with a victory over a ranked Memphis team.

The move leaves two openings on Campbell’s staff for 2018 but the Register notes that graduate assistant Jeff Myers is a possibility for the offensive line job and special teams analyst Joe Houston could be the team’s potential 10th assistant coach.