Wrapping up the big bowl season
Many people try to make the case that the bowl season is pointless. And, sure, playing 35 games, only one of which has any sort of consequence, does seem kind of pointless.
But if you think that, you're missing the point of bowl season. It's not about fairly crowning any sort of college football champion -- that's painfully obvious (hey, TCU!) -- it's about using exhibition games with fancy names to make definitive judgments about the strength of various conferences. We all just want to say that X is the best conference and Y is the worst. And if your favorite conference is deemed to be bad, it's just that everyone else is interpreting the data the wrong way. You see, it's actually quite awesome!
Let's see how it's done using this year's bowl performances:
Big Ten (3-5)
Hundreds of years from now when the current bowl system is finally and mercifully done away with, the Big Ten's -- I'm sorry, I mean the B1G TEN's -- five-team parlay of failure on 1/1/11 will still be considered the most embarrassing bowl performance of all time. It's obvious the conference is far from being anything close to Legends. And they blew any chance of being thought of as Leaders ever again with Ohio State playing the Tattoo Five in the Sugar Bowl.
Last year the Big Ten had a good bowl showing. Every other year in recent memory has been a disaster. As much as the Big Ten wants to pretend it's an elite football conference on par with the SEC, it's not; in fact, it might even be the worst BCS conference. And now it gets Nebraska, which lost the Holiday Bowl to a mediocre Washington team.
Bowl grade: F
How B1G TEN fans can convince themselves they're much better than that: First of all, it's the Big Ten -- the conference of both Leaders AND Legends -- and everyone knows how great the Big Ten is. That was established in the 1950s or something. There's no taking that back now. They're great. And anyone who tries to make the case otherwise just looks foolish.
But, sure, if we have to talk about evidence from this century, there was last year. And as the saying goes: 1 out of 10 ain't bad. Plus, Ohio State just beat Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl. Sure, they used a bunch of players who should have been suspended -- three of whom scored touchdowns in the game -- but it's about time the Big Ten has a dirty team in the conference to match up with all the other conferences. Just think how awesome it'd be if all of its teams cheated like all the teams in the SEC! (Even Vanderbilt! No good, dirty Vanderbilt.) The Big Ten would go 12-0 every bowl season! But, no, they have integrity and are the cleanest and most ethical conference. This can't be denied. And Michigan will become a power again now that Rich Rodriguez has been let go. So the bowl grade of "F" is just ignorant. The Big Ten gets an A+. "A+" tattoos for everyone!
Big East (3-2)
The Big East outperforms expectations most every bowl season. Of course, the expectations are that they'll lose every bowl they're in by a score of about 84-0. But while the conference doesn't have a lot of strength up top -- as evidenced by A) UConn somehow winning the Big East; and B) the Big East routinely getting hammered in a BCS bowl -- it at least has decent depth.
Bowl grade: C+
How Big East fans can convince themselves they're much better than that: TCU is, like, already a Big East team, right? So that Rose Bowl win was the Big East's. YES! Texas Christian ... pride of the East! It's hard not to be cocky about being the best basketball conference and the best football conference. But it's the Big East's cross to bear.
Big 12 (3-4)Oklahoma didn't lose its BCS game this year, so that's an improvement. Oklahoma State was dominant in a 36-10 win over Bob Stoops' brother in the Alamo Bowl, and Texas Tech squeaked by Northwestern. But Kansas State lost to Syracuse and Nebraska somehow lost to Washington. That wasn't the only upset. Ranked Missouri lost to a depleted Iowa team in the Insight Bowl. (I'm very disappointed that the Hawkeyes didn't play two guys. Did they not care about the "integrity" of the Insight Bowl?)
Bowl grade: D
How Big 12 fans can convince themselves they're much better than that: Texas A&M can knock off LSU in the Cotton Bowl, which would even the Big 12's bowl record. And, really, Nebraska's loss doesn't count because it is now a lousy Big Ten school. I don't want to hear that a "lousy Big Ten school" reaching the Big 12 title game doesn't say much about the rest of the conference. You're just a hater. To be able to have this kind of bowl season without Texas even being involved shows how awesome the Big 12 is.
It hasn't been the greatest bowl season so far. Two losses to ACC teams and Georgia lost 10-6 to something called Central Florida. Thank God for the Big Ten on January 1st. But despite the 138-45 three-team beat down, you know all you'll hear from Big Ten fans for the next forever is that Ohio State finally ended its SEC bowl failure against Arkansas. And, sure, you can point out that Ohio State cheated. Put that's kind of like the pot calling the ... oh, man. One of your players just got busted with pot.
Bowl grade: C (but that can go up to a B if Auburn wins)
How SEC fans can convince themselves they're much better than that: I can't even believe the SEC has to participate in this category. It's disrespectful to the greatest conference in college sports. But whatever. Fine. Let's humor them. OK, so the conference bowl winning percentage isn't so great this year. So what? Normally it is. Let's just ignore that this year and look at the fact that the conference has another team in the BCS title game. And, if Auburn loses, then let's point to the number of SEC players in the NFL to prove the superiority of the conference. And if it's a bad year to do that, we'll shift over to some other criteria. Whatever. Always one step ahead. People talk about SEC speed, but the fastest part about the SEC is how quickly SEC fans can tell you why the conference is the best.
Getting only four teams into bowls is not all that impressive. The Mountain West got five teams in and went 4-1. Arizona got crushed by Oklahoma State, but that was expected. Arizona deserves credit for even agreeing to appear in that bowl. Washington's upset of Nebraska was impressive and Stanford annihilated Virginia Tech. Next the Pac-10 gets a shot at the national title.
Bowl grade: B (but that can go up to an A if Oregon wins)
How Pac-10 fans can convince themselves they're much better than that: What do you mean "if" Oregon wins? Have you ever seen the Ducks play? Probably not, because you're an East Coast biased moron who goes to bed before all of their games so you can get up on Sundays and watch stupid NFL football. (As those who live in AFC and NFC West territory, we can attest that NFL football is an inferior product.)
So mark Oregon down for a big win. Plus the Pac-10 gets Utah coming into the conference, a bowl regular. And all this is without USC, one of the premier programs in college football, even being factored into the equation. Maybe one day the rest of the country will wake up and realize the best football conference is the Pac-10. But until then, Pac-10 schools will enjoy crushing everyone else.
First the good: North Carolina and Florida State both beat SEC teams in bowl games, NC State beat a BCS school in West Virginia and Maryland destroyed East Carolina. Not a bad batch of wins.
And now the bad: Georgia Tech lost to a non-BCS team, Clemson lost to a team that had a losing record in the Big East, Miami got crushed by Notre Dame -- in a bowl game, of all places, where it's almost impossible to lose to Notre Dame, let alone lose by a large margin -- and Virginia Tech, the conference champion with an FBS loss on its resume, lost 40-12 in the Orange Bowl.
Bowl grade: C-
How ACC fans can convince themselves they're much better than that: Uhh. Umm. Well ... Boston College still has to play No. 15 Nevada in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and chances are that will be another humiliating defeat, dropping the conference to 4-5. Al Golden's debut at Miami couldn't have gone worse. And former UConn coach Randy Edsall said Maryland was his "dream job" which ... kind of just makes me confused and sad for him. But I digress. The question was how ACC fans can convince themselves that they're much better than below average. Uhh ... I've got nothing. Sorry.
Thursday, Jan. 6
GoDaddy.com Bowl: Middle Tennessee State vs. Miami (Ohio) -- 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
Why this bowl is not worth watching: You can handle this one yourself, I think.
Why this bowl is worth watching: It's sponsored by GoDaddy.com. I don't know if the game itself will be worth watching, but the commercials might be ... "entertaining."
Bowl sponsor fun fact: You can get a new domain name at GoDaddy.com for just $11.99. Currently available is FireMikeHaywood.net. He's no longer the Miami coach, he's not even the Pitt coach, but in case someone hires him again, it's a nice investment for 12 bucks.
Player to watch: Dwight Dasher, QB, Middle Tennessee. Dasher had a rough season for the 6-6 Blue Raiders with 14 interceptions to only six touchdown passes, but maybe hearing his name will help you keep the Christmas spirit the whole year through.
Friday, Jan. 7
AT&T Cotton Bowl: No. 11 LSU vs. No. 17 Texas A&M -- 8 p.m. ET on Fox
Why this bowl is not worth watching: It's a good matchup between ranked teams, but at this point everyone just wants to see Auburn and Oregon.
Why this bowl is worth watching: Anytime you have the chance to see Les Miles coach a game, you take it.
Bowl sponsor fun fact: AT&T is the third-largest non-oil company in the United States. It's kind of unfortunate they're not into oil. If they had a spill, it would have terrible coverage.
Player to watch: Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M. Gray has had six consecutive games with more than 100 yards rushing, including 223 in the regular-season finale against Texas on ... Nov. 25. November 25th? They haven't played since November 25th? I'm sure there won't be any rust at all.
Anyway, Cyrus Gray is good. And, for extra bonus points, his name sounds like that of a movie super-villain. You should watch him in case he has an amazing run or pulls off an ingenious heist.
Saturday, Jan. 8
BBVA Compass Bowl: Pitt vs. Kentucky -- Noon ET on ESPN
Why this bowl is not worth watching: Not worth watching? Pitt vs. Kentucky? At this time of year? It's a must-see game! Oh, wait. Why are they wearing helmets? And standing in grass? Crap. They're going to play football, aren't they?
Why this bowl is worth watching: Kentucky's starting quarterback won't be playing due to a bar fight. Pitt fired Dave Wannstedt, hired a guy who then got charged with a felony, and was just told by Wannstedt that he won't be coaching the Panthers in the bowl. This is must-see disaster TV.
Bowl sponsor fun fact: BBVA Compass is a financial holding company headquartered in Birmingham, Ala. Their financial advisors would probably tell you to not bet on either team to win this game.
Player to watch: Dion Lewis and Ray Graham, RBs, Pitt. Both Lewis and Graham ran for more than 800 yards this season and both of them are fast enough to run to safety if the Pitt program literally implodes.
Sunday, Jan. 9
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: No. 15 Nevada vs. Boston College -- 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
Why this bowl is not worth watching: Please. Please just start the Oregon-Auburn game. Please. We beg you.
Why this bowl is worth watching: It's a bowl game. An Oregon vs. Auburn-type substance.
Bowl sponsor fun fact: Kraft. Kraft makes cheese. You know what melted cheese is good on? Chips. Like Tostitos chips. THE TOSTITOS BCS TITLE GAME!
Player to watch: Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada. He's a very good football player. Like all of the players on Auburn and Oregon. Come on, come on! Get this game over with!
Monday, Jan. 10
Tostitos BCS National Championship Game: No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 2 Oregon -- 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Why this bowl is not worth watching: You are a TCU fan.
Why this bowl is worth watching: Sorry, TCU, but after 34 bowls of no consequence, it's nice to have one that kind of matters.
Bowl sponsor fun fact: Tostitos sponsors the Fiesta Bowl and the BCS title game. Must be nice. "Oh, the Fiesta Bowl? Pffft. That's like our junker bowl."
Player to watch: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn. After the Ohio State-Terrelle Pryor fiasco, it's nice to get back to the purity of college football.
DJ Gallo is the founder of SportsPickle.com. His first book, "The View from the Upper Deck," is available from only the finest bargain book retailers. His next book project will be released soon. You can follow him on Twitter at @DJGalloESPN.