I have enjoyed my bowl game experiences over the years; I've been to a Holiday Bowl, a Copper Bowl, a Cotton Bowl, two Liberty Bowls, a Motor City Bowl, and three Las Vegas Bowls.
Some of the these games have meant more than others, but with the exception of BYU's 1984 Holiday Bowl (and probably the 1996 Cotton Bowl), the games really haven't, well... mattered much in the overall scheme of things. I do understand that since their inception, bowl games' primary purposes have been to:
a) reward teams,
b) generate revenue for schools, conferences, communities, advertisers and broadcasters,
c) give college football fans a (hopefully warm) place to go during the holidays, and
d) give coaches an extra few weeks of practice for their teams.
I get that, but I guess I just like my postseason games to actually, you know, lead to something--like a next round.
Don't get me wrong: every time you lace 'em up and there's a game to play, it's important that you play well, and hopefully play well enough to win. Indeed, each of the last three Las Vegas Bowl appearances were individually significant, particularly relative to Bronco Mendenhall's reconstruction efforts at BYU. All three games and the two victories were instrumental in setting the table for the Cougars' preseason ranking and profile in the following season. There is value in playing and winning bowl games. But outside of the BCS bowl games, the rest of the postseason games strike me as increasingly inconsequential.
Perhaps moreso than I have before, though, I find the very notion and structure of college football's postseason to be largely counter-intuitive and arbitrary. Consider that college football is the only sport at any level that asks its teams to take four to seven weeks off after their regular season finale before culminating their playing season. We apparently need that time to move seamlessly from "Thanksgiving holiday football" to "Christmas/New Year's holiday football," but beyond that, it makes no sense.
True, many coaches appreciate the "idle" time to get their teams healthy enough to complete at a high level in their bowl games, and certainly recruiting and development efforts are aided by having this time between the end of the season and the postseason. All too often, though, the interim between the regular season and postseason is time for coaches to go job-hunting and entertain offers for the next "big gig," and their teams' bowl prep suffers as a result. I just think its strange that a sport more dependent on routine than any other breaks that routine in the postseason, and expects the same level of competition, execution and motivation present during the regular season.
Cold-weather teams with access to indoor practice facilities are able to prepare at a level higher than that of cold-weather opponents without access to similar facilities, and who would argue that Lavell Edwards' bowl teams of the 70s, 80s and 90s were hampered by the inability to properly prepare for football games in late December.
Likewise, bowl games often pit teams with different motivational mindsets, and how often have you watched a bowl game featuring one team that either "doesn't want to be there," or appears organizationally unable to prepare to play? Exhibit A: seemingly disinterested Oregon in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl; Exhibit B: turmoil-racked Oklahoma in the 1994 Copper Bowl; just to name two teams that played BYU.
When was the last time you saw any playoff team, in any other sport, that wasn't highly motivated, to at the very least get to the next game, or the next round, or to stage the upset, or to become the "Cinderella?" Every team that makes it to college basketball's NCAA Tournament treats that opportunity as a prized treasure. In college football, some teams actually turn down bowl "invitations."
The proliferation of bowl games and the lowering of the bowl eligibility bar simply ensures that average teams will meet average teams in many contests that will be interesting only to fans of the teams involved and otherwise bored channel-surfers. Contrast that with the excitement level generated across the fan spectrum during college basketball's conference tourney weeks and March Madness, or with the increase in intensity during NBA or NHL playoff games. I would include the NFL playoffs in that mix, but it's already a given; that sport's regular season is already so meaningful and exciting that the postseason only accentuates how great the NFL's competitive structure really is.
College football is too great a sport to allow its season to sputter to a finish every year. The lack of a playoff system does the sport itself and its fans an annual disservice. The BCS does up the ante for the top two teams competing for the National Championship, and does enrich the coffers of the other teams involved in the other BCS bowls, but as for most of the rest of the bowl season, I find myself increasingly indifferent.
Now... when BYU gets its bowl bid, it will generate excitement, and the prospect of another game against an unfamiliar opponent will re-stoke the competitive fires for the players, coaches, fans, and yes, broadcasters. I'll prepare like I would for any other game, and when I get to the bowl site, the familiar schedule of postseason activities will bring to mind bowl games past and remind me that football in late December has its own entertaining feel and flavor. And when touchdowns are scored, or last-minute dramatics ensue, it will all still be very exciting, and my emotions will rise and fall as they would with any other game. I only wish that the game would mean more than it will.
BYU's hoopsters are off to their best start in 17 years, and while the Cougars' manageable early-season schedule has lent itself to a 6-0 jump out of the blocks, things get more competitive this week with games at Weber State and in Salt Lake City versus Utah State. The Wildcats took BYU to overtime during their last visit in 2006, and while BYU has won five in a row against Weber State, the Cougars' consecutive wins in Ogden represent the only two-game road win streak in the history of the series.
One of only two undefeated teams in the MWC (5-0 Wyoming is the other), BYU is the only league team picking up Top 25 votes. The Cougars are ranked 31st and 32nd in this week's two major polls.
The first NCAA stats of the season have been released, and BYU is in the top 25 in:
won-loss percentage (t-1st)
scoring margin (7th)
assist/to ratio (13th)
rebound margin (19th)
scoring defense (25th)
Lee Cummard is 72nd nationally in scoring, and 32nd in FG% (second nationally among players listed as "guards").
Saturday opponent Utah State is first nationally in FG%, 3rd in rebound margin, 4th in 3-point FG%, and 8th in assist/to ratio. Players Gary Wilkinson and Tai Wesley are 3rd and 5th nationally in FG%.