Photo by Adam Fondren
Low-Level Matchups Disappoint
In College Football, there are bowls and then there are BOWLS. Let me explain.
The the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision; not to be confused with Football Championship Divison or DIAA) there are 41 bowl games to be played at the end of the 2016 season. Simple math will tell you that this requires 82 teams to play in these bowls. Forty-one teams will win a bowl game this season and they will get a trophy. So, is the Idaho Potato Bowl really as important as playing in the Grand Daddy of Them All (the Rose Bowl)? Of course not. As a student and fan of the Utah Football team it should be New Years Six or bust.
When I refer to the New Years Six, I am referring to the Capital One Orange Bowl, The Playstation Fiesta Bowl, The Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, The Good Year Cotton Bowl Classic, The Rose Bowl (presented by Northwest Mutual) and the Allstate Sugar Bowl. These bowls are known as CFP or College Football Playoff bowls. Every year two of these bowl games are selected on a rotating basis to be the semi-final games for the College Football Playoff. Back in the days of the BCS, these bowls were held in equal regard, with the top two teams being picked to play in the National Championship. These bowls are the ones that bring prestige and honor to your program. Normally, these bowls are reserved for Power 5 conference teams (except of course when Utah busted the BCS in the Fiesta and Sugar Bowl).
Obviously the Utes are an extreme long shot for a semi-final bowl game. Their losses against Cal and Washington put that goal out of reach. What is not out of reach for the Utes is the Rose Bowl. It typically pits the Pac-12 champion against the Big 10 champion (unless one of those teams is in the Playoff, in which case it is the runner-up). This would be MASSIVE for the Utes. They would be playing in the most iconic bowl game in all of college football. With those possibilities on the horizon, I would see the Foster Farms Bowl as a disappointment.
These lower level bowls are disappointing for several reasons. Most of the time the matchup is completely random, leaving TV people scrambling to find some shred of a storyline. Luckily, last year’s Las Vegas Bowl was an exception as the Utes were able to put TDS back in its place, but for a Pac-12 caliber team that is playing the Mountain West or the MAC, it’s more about just praying that your boys can remain focused enough not to lose to an inferior team. This leads to a no-win situation for teams of Utah’s stature. If you win then it’s no big deal, you were supposed to wipe the floor with them. But if you lose then you are the laughing stock of the nation, because you couldn’t handle your business against a team who shouldn’t have stepped on the same field as you.
Winning a New Years Six gives you notoriety and notoriety gives you recruits. Imagine being the parent of a four or five star recruit. Kyle Whittingham walks into your living room and he brags to you about being the two-time defending champion of the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. Real impressive.
Luckily for Whittingham, he can say, “Utah has a Fiesta Bowl Championship, as well as a Sugar Bowl Championship within the last 12 years.” Now you are getting somewhere with this kid.
Non-New Years Six Bowls are cute. They give you one more game to play, and they give you another notch in the win column for the final standings. They give a team a vacation to Las Vegas, El Paso, or Mobile, Ala., but if you want prestige, notoriety and recruits, then you better be in Pasadena on New Years Day.
Games Generate Buzz, Guarantee Benefits
The college football world was changed radically when the NCAA changed from its standard BCS system to determine postseason play to a playoff format. Since then, college football fans have enjoyed seeing the competition, and while it might not yet be the perfect system, it is a good step in the right direction.
Personally, college football has always been my second favorite sport, but I have to admit that there is something special and exciting about watching bowl games all throughout December and into January. Heck, even spending Thanksgiving watching the NFL is a blast.
But a question I’ve heard since this change has happened is this: are bowl games worth it? If the real goal is getting to the college football playoff and competing for a national championship, is it worth the time and effort to play a bowl game — especially since less prestigious games can cut into valuable recruiting time?
My answer is yes. Any bowl game is worth it.
I say that because bowl games are often a good indicator of a team’s progress, of how well they are progressing towards that ultimate goal. What bowl game you get invited to depends on your conference and your strength of schedule.
So allow me to pose this question — obviously the Utes won’t make the playoffs this season, a sad result of their two loss record. So would Utah fans be OK with not going to a bowl game since we won’t go to the playoffs? Would we want to see another two teams playing in the Rose Bowl, rather than our own? Of course not. The thought is ridiculous no matter how you look at it.
The goal of any sports team, collegiate or otherwise, is to get to the postseason and perform well enough to gain recognition and better talent for the next season. The whole point is to keep moving forward, and winning bowl games helps advance that agenda.
Not to mention that every bowl game has a guaranteed payout to participating teams. It’s literally a win-win scenario — a team gets guaranteed money, a chance to perform in front of a national audience, and it helps in recruiting. It only makes sense. The best players often want to play for the teams where they will get the most attention, and the bigger and better you can make a college football program, the more success you can potentially achieve.
A few years ago, the Utes had one of the longest bowl game winning streaks in the nation. The constant success in both regular and postseason play was part of the reason Utah was invited into an elite conference in the Pac-12. As fans, we enjoyed every single moment of it.
Of course you never want to be satisfied when it comes to postseason play. If you continually go to the Poinsettia Bowl year after year, or end up in some no name bowl game, you probably aren’t getting better. Bowl games are good for programs only so long as they help those programs get better. But the Utes don’t really have that problem this season. Utah keeps getting better, and even in spite of some unfortunate stumbles this season, they still have a shot at a decent bowl game.
The payout and national attention they receive will more than make up for any perceived loss at not going to the playoffs this year. A win at the Rose Bowl might just be the catalyst that puts this team over the top next season. As well as the Utes have played this year, with the chance of getting a better recruiting class next year, there’s almost no doubt in my mind the Utes will run the gauntlet and make the playoffs in the near future.