And now the best regular season in sports gives way to the worst postseason in sports.
Bowl season is upon us. And it is a mess of unprecedented proportion.
Yeah, the BCS championship game is awesome. Notre Dame vs. Alabama is a sports fan's dream. And a sports writer’s dream. And a TV executive’s dream, too. The ratings will be absurd.
The Fiesta Bowl is great, too. If not for the night of Nov. 17, Oregon-Kansas State might have been the national championship game.
But after that? It’s a joke.
Bowl season is always a mess because the bowl system is a ridiculous, unsatisfying conclusion to the college football season. Bad matchups, long layoffs, too many 6-6 teams, coaching turnover and decisions designed to make money, not sense, shortchange the fans.
[Related: Ranking all the bowl games: 1-35]
But this year the charade has outdone itself. This is what college football has foisted off on the viewing (and paying) public:
Three teams in BCS bowls that aren’t ranked in the AP top 15. Take a bow, Northern Illinois (16th), Louisville (22nd) and Wisconsin (unranked). You don’t have to apologize for appearing in marquee bowls like the Orange, Sugar and Rose – but we don’t have to pretend we’re happy you’re there, either.
Who is excited for Florida State-Northern Illinois in the Orange? I mean, other than nobody? NIU must take 17,500 tickets for the game, but its season average attendance is 15,670. Enjoy that vat of red ink you’re diving into, Huskies.
Making that game even more enticing is the fact that NIU coach Dave Doeren left the school faster than Kim Kardashian left Kris Humphries. He went from winning the Mid-American Conference championship game Friday night to being announced as the new coach at North Carolina State Saturday afternoon. He won’t be around for the Orange Bowl, with the Huskies promoting offensive coordinator Rod Carey to head coach.
The Florida-Louisville matchup in the Sugar Bowl might yet feature an interim coach of the Cardinals. Charlie Strong reportedly has interviewed for both the Auburn and Tennessee jobs, although he has denied both reports. Even if he’s still coaching Louisville, his team is far less impressive than some that were kicked to the BCS curb – namely Oklahoma.
And then there is the mockery that the Big Ten has perpetrated all season, culminating with the 8-5 Badgers showing up in the Rose Bowl. They were the third-best team in their division but got into the Big Ten championship game because Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible for the postseason. Once there, Wisconsin was met by a Nebraska team that just laid down and gave up, surrendering 70 points and approximately a million yards to the Badgers.
That led Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini to apologize to everyone in his opening postgame remarks. He should have. The league has had a terrible year, and that terrible performance capped it off.
So three of the five BCS bowls belong on a leash. They’re dogs. This has to be the worst collection of marquee bowl games ever.
Meanwhile, the rest of the lineup is rife with problems as well.
Georgia wound up five yards short of playing for the national title, but now bounces out of the BCS and into the Capital One Bowl – and even that took some strong-arming from the Southeastern Conference office. The Cap One had its eye on Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel, but the SEC knew it had to take care of its Eastern Division champion and keep Georgia from falling any further down the bowl pecking order.
Georgia gets to play Nebraska, unless the Cornhuskers are too embarrassed to show up after that Big Ten title performance.
Last year there was a push to eliminate 6-6 teams from bowl consideration. Not only did that not happen, it has proliferated. Thirteen 6-6 teams are going bowling – including some who are playing each other: Air Force vs. Rice in a sizzling Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl matchup and Mississippi vs. Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl. That’s Pitt’s third straight trip to the same bottom-feeder bowl, which is cruel and unusual punishment.
But the mediocrity doesn’t stop there. We’re treated to a 6-7 team again this year in Georgia Tech, which wanders off to El Paso to face the crashing disappointment that is USC.
Meanwhile, a 9-3 team that led the nation in scoring offense is going nowhere. That would be Louisiana Tech, which issued a woe-is-us release Sunday evening lamenting its plight – but that’s hardly the whole story.
Tech earned its snubbing by getting choosy with the nearby Independence Bowl. The I-Bowl wanted to match the Bulldogs against in-state non-rival Louisiana-Monroe, and according to published reports that became a sticking point. Tech has avoided scheduling UL-M, its perceived inferior in an ongoing Louisiana feud, and balked at the matchup.
In a second release from the school Sunday, Tech athletic director Bruce Van De Velde said, "Contrary to media reports, at no time did I, our head coach or a member of our administration turn down an official invitation to any bowl game. In consultation with our coach and our university president, we asked Independence Bowl officials for more time to make a decision until we could properly consider all post season options that were available to Louisiana Tech. Unfortunately, we were not afforded that time and the decision was made to rescind the offer."
Interpretation: No need to feel sorry for Louisiana Tech staying home. This was self-inflicted and hubris-related.
If this were college basketball, the NCAA tournament selection committee could have paired Louisiana Tech against Louisiana-Monroe and told Tech to like it. But that sport has a playoff and college football doesn’t.
Not coincidentally, that sport has the best postseason. Football is finally getting a playoff in two years, but it’s only four teams. The fraudulent bowl system will still exist around the playoff, and still drive us crazy next December, too.
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