|Thanks to conference tie-ins, the most-winning|
QB in the history of college football
plays a 6-6 team in his final bowl
Much of the outcry from college football fans this time of year has to do with the BCS. To be sure, the Biased Corrupt Scam is a terrible system. However, it's only part of the problem.
The entire bowl system is bound by rigid conference ties, ugly politics and a sickening attachment to the dollar (cash that, by the way, often eludes the schools that play in the games) that prevent teams from getting the high-caliber matchups that they've earned and that fans crave. For example, Boise State is an extremely good 11-1 team ranked in the top 10. But do the Broncos get a quality opponent in an attractive bowl game? Nope. They're stuck playing 6-6 Arizona State in the pre-Christmas Maaco Bowl in Las Vegas. Southern Miss, 11-2 and champion of Conference USA, got passed over by the Liberty Bowl — which for years has hosted the champion of C-USA — in favor of 6-6 Vanderbilt and 9-3 Cincinnati. And 9-3 Baylor, with Heisman contender Robert Griffin III at the helm, draws 7-5 Washington in the Alamo Bowl.
Some of these matchups can't be helped: There are only so many 10-win and/or ranked teams. And it is worth noting that very rarely, the bowl system gets something right: This year's Cotton Bowl Classic matches up two top 10 teams in Arkansas and Kansas State. Kudos to the committee of that game for getting a premier matchup and giving two teams the game they've earned. But that particular matchup seems to be the exception that proves the rule.
How, then, could we fix these games, which used to be such an important part of the sports landscape?
Well, some would argue we should get rid of more than half of them (there are 35 bowls this year) and get rid of conference tie-ins altogether. While I do think there are too many bowls, I'm hesitant to throw out the baby with the bathwater, so I'll leave that aspect of bowl season alone. However, these conference ties simply need to go. So I've come up with some matchups without much regard toward conference affiliation. Instead, I've tried to match up teams ranked in the top 25 in various polls, teams boasting conference-championship hardware and teams with high win totals. I've also tried to put good matchups in established and respected bowls, but here and there I've tweaked a few things for geographical sensibility. I've also considered every bowl-eligible team, with two exceptions: I'm honoring Miami's request to be excluded from bowl consideration, and I am NOT honoring the NCAA's shameful, money-driven waiver to give 6-7 UCLA eligibility.
One more thing: I'm leaving the BCS games themselves alone, primarily because my main beef is with the other bowl games' tie-ins. Also, most of them should actually be pretty good games, at least in a vacuum. Admit it: If some of these games came up on the nonconference schedule in the regular season, they'd be among the best games of the week. Well, OK, one of them wouldn't come up on any nonconference schedule, but the first round of LSU-Alabama this year was widely anticipated as a killer matchup and many defense-loving fans got everything they wanted out of it.
(As usual for pieces I write on college football, I'll give a statement of full disclosure here. I am a TCU alumnus, and I am a copy editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, a statewide newspaper based in Little Rock. That should give you an idea of the biases that color my opinions.)
As a reminder, here's what the BCS games are this year:
Championship (Jan. 9, New Orleans): LSU vs. Alabama
Orange (Jan. 4, Miami): Clemson vs. West Virginia
Sugar (Jan. 3, New Orleans): Virginia Tech vs. Michigan
Rose (Jan. 2, Pasadena, Calif.): Wisconsin vs. Oregon
Fiesta (Jan. 2, Glendale, Ariz.): Oklahoma State vs. Stanford
Other January bowls:
GoDaddy.com (Jan. 8, Mobile, Ala.): Mississippi State vs. Wake Forest. This bowl has no business being played in January. It's among the least-attractive bowl destinations. So I've stuck a couple of 6-6 teams there. Which ones they are honestly doesn't matter much.
BBVA Compass (Jan. 7, Birmingham, Ala.): Vanderbilt vs. Northwestern. See my commentary for the above game. Every word of it applies to this game as well.
Cotton Bowl Classic (Jan. 6, Arlington, Texas): Arkansas vs. Kansas State. Again, this is one matchup that the bowl got right. A great game. Why would I mess with it?
Capital One (Jan. 2, Orlando, Fla.): Boise State vs. South Carolina. For years now, the former Florida Citrus Bowl has produced some excellent matchups. Why not put two top 10 teams here?
Outback: TCU vs. Michigan State (Jan. 2, Tampa, Fla.). I think this would be an excellent matchup of two great offenses. Considering my obvious biases, I don't think I'll say any more.
Gator (Jan. 2, Jacksonville, Fla.): Florida State vs. Notre Dame. Here's an example of a game for which I took geography and attractiveness for TV purposes into account. But at 8-4, both of these are decent teams and should be a good matchup. Actually, this is the real matchup we have for this year's Champs Sports Bowl! But the Gator Bowl, which this year is hosting two 6-6 teams in Florida and Ohio State, is a better bowl than the Champs Sports Bowl, so I decided I could just switch them.
TicketCity (Jan. 2, Dallas): SMU vs. Missouri. Yet again, I have no idea why this game is in January. Maybe because it's played at the Cotton Bowl stadium. Anyway, SMU is a natural local team to play in the game, while Missouri would love a game in one of its top recruiting bases.
New Year's Eve bowls:
Chick-fil-A (Dec. 31, Atlanta): Baylor vs. Georgia. I was tempted to put this in the Gator Bowl, but the former Peach Bowl is another pretty established game, often featuring a great matchup. Georgia gives it a strong local draw, and Baylor gives the Bulldogs a top 15 opponent.
Sun (Dec. 31, El Paso, Texas): Oklahoma vs. Nebraska. Both schools had rather disappointing seasons given their preseason expectations, but still finished in or near the top 20. I'm thinking one of the oldest bowl games (only the Rose is older; the Orange and Sugar are the same age and the Cotton is a year younger) would love to have a matchup of two ranked teams that are former bitter rivals.
Meineke Car Care of Texas (Dec. 31, Houston): North Carolina vs. Western Michigan. Not sure why this game is on New Year's Eve. I made this matchup very late in the process after I accidentally had a team playing in two bowl games, so I apologize for not having much rationale. Both teams have winning records, though.
Kraft Fight Hunger (Dec. 31, San Francisco): Wyoming vs. Penn State. Another odd choice for New Year's Eve. I've put Wyoming and Penn State here for no particular reason other than that this was a bowl that needed teams as I was nearing the end of this list.
Liberty (Dec. 31, Memphis, Tenn.): Arkansas State vs. Southern Miss. This ought to be pretty cut-and-dried. Two conference champions facing off in a nice city (I know from personal experience that Memphis isn't a bad place to spend New Year's Eve) in one of the older bowl games. Bonus: Neither school would have much of a drive to get there, though it's much closer for the Red Wolves than for the Golden Eagles.
Bowls between Christmas and New Year's:
Insight (Dec. 30, Tempe, Ariz.): Arizona State vs. Iowa. This bowl would probably love this matchup. It's in Arizona State's home stadium, and a few years ago the nearby Fiesta Bowl was reportedly targeting Iowa because of the large Hawkeye alumni base in the Phoenix area. Neither team's very good, but they'd fill up the place.
Music City (Dec. 30, Nashville, Tenn.): Louisville vs. Western Kentucky. It's too bad these in-state teams less than 120 miles apart couldn't play in the regular season (though both played the Kentucky Wildcats). So let's put them in Nashville, an easy drive for both fan bases.
Pinstripe (Dec. 30, New York City): Rutgers vs. Temple. These two used to play every year back when Temple was in the Big East. That, by the way, was less than a decade ago. Rutgers is an obvious draw for what should be called the Yankee Bowl (which is why the Scarlet Knights are actually playing there this year), and Philadelphia is close enough to the Bronx (relatively speaking) for Temple fans to get there without too much trouble.
Armed Forces (Dec. 30, Dallas): Texas A&M vs. Northwestern. This game, played this year (and also last year) in SMU's stadium while TCU's stadium is being renovated, has lucked into some matchups that worked well for it for various reasons. Aggies would show up there in droves no matter who they played or when.
Alamo (Dec. 29, San Antonio): Houston vs. Texas. OK, 12-1 Houston probably deserves a better opponent than 7-5 Texas, and the Longhorns don't deserve this nice of a bowl, but I bet no party involved would have a problem with this matchup. As a reward for a great season that fell just a bit short, Houston would get to play a former Southwest Conference rival in a game that could set attendance records in San Antonio.
Champs Sports (Dec. 29, Orlando): Florida vs. Ohio State. As mentioned above, this is the actual matchup for the Gator Bowl. I just felt that, given the teams' records, it was more appropriate to switch the two matchups. Either way, both bowls are getting a local team and another national draw for TV.
Holiday (Dec. 28, San Diego): BYU vs. Washington. The 9-3 Cougars probably deserve a better matchup than the 7-5 Huskies, but this just had the feel of a classic Holiday Bowl matchup, even if theyse two teams have never played each other any of the many times they played in this game, so I couldn't pass it up.
Military (Dec. 28, Washington, D.C.): Air Force vs. Virginia. The 8-4 Cavaliers should probably play a better team than the 7-5 Falcons, but geography landed Virginia here. Air Force ends up here (as in the actual Military Bowl this year) because, well, it's a military academy. The game played in the nation's capital would love this one.
Belk (Dec. 27, Charlotte, N.C.): NC State vs. Auburn. Two 7-5 teams, playing each other in a fairly nice city. The Wolfpack would be a great local draw for the game, and Auburn certainly travels well enough to help fill up the Carolina Panthers' stadium only a couple of states away.
Little Caesars Pizza (Dec. 27, Detroit): Northern Illinois vs. Cincinnati. I initially had this matchup between the 10-3 Huskies and the 9-3 Bearcats slotted in a more widely respected bowl, but geographical concerns put them here. I think it'd be a great game. On a side note, shouldn't this be called the Pizza Pizza Bowl?
Independence (Dec. 26, Shreveport, La.): Louisiana Tech vs. Georgia Tech. I admit, I matched up these two schools late in the process, but I think it'd be a decent game. The Bulldogs are a strong local draw, and the Yellow Jackets' offense is always interesting. Both are 8-4, both have Tech in the name...
Hawaii (Dec. 24, Honolulu): California vs. Utah State. Two teams far west enough that travel shouldn't be too crippling. Only thing is, Utah State might not be able to afford the trip anyway. Good thing that's not an issue in my hypothetical world.
Maaco (Dec. 22, Las Vegas): Utah vs. Nevada. I'd love to see this game between the past and future of the Mountain West Conference. With both schools at 7-5, this should be a fair matchup, and both would show up pretty well, being fairly close to Vegas.
Poinsettia (Dec. 21, San Diego): San Diego State vs. Tulsa. Another simple matchup. Both teams are 8-4 playing in conferences of similar stature. The Aztecs, which play their home games in Qualcomm Stadium, would help with the game's ticket sales.
Beef O'Brady's (Dec. 20, St. Petersburg, Fla.): Florida International vs. Ohio. This bowl game smartly snatched up a local team for this bowl game. I think they'd do the same in my hypothetical world. At 8-4 and 9-4, respectively, this would be a good matchup.
New Orleans (Dec. 17, New Orleans): Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Toledo. Both of these teams are 8-4, and the Ragin' Cajuns would be a good local draw.
New Mexico (Dec. 17, Albuquerque): Pittsburgh vs. Marshall. Hey look, two 6-6 teams. They should be happy to go anywhere for bowl season.
Famous Idaho Potato (Dec. 17, Boise, Idaho): Iowa State vs. Illinois. Hey look, two more 6-6 teams. Again, they should be happy to just be bowling.
I think that just leaves one team, Ball State, eligible but without a game to play in. My apologies if I missed anyone else.
Anyway, that's just an idea of how things could look if we didn't have conference tie-ins to bowl games. Doesn't that look much more interesting than the games we got?