Some thoughts on college football’s Silly Season, while waiting to see if Mississippi State or North Texas will become the first team to finish with a losing season after winning its bowl game.
▪ No joke. Mississippi State, despite a 5-7 record, has accepted a Dec. 26 invitation to play Miami (Ohio) in St. Petersburg — the St. Pete on the Gulf Coast of Florida, I presume, not the Baltic Sea port city in Russia.
The following day, North Texas, also 5-7, will face Army in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Bowl qualification once hinged on teams finishing at least .500, a notion as quaint as functional phone booths. With 41 bowl committees scrambling to fill slots for 82 schools, a 6-6 record is the new 8-4. (Baylor, Maryland, Northwestern and Boston College are among the 17 teams with 6-6 records that got swooped up Sunday — college football’s version of Black Friday.)
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▪ After its listless Apple Cup performance, Washington State figured to expect a bowl bid to a destination less agreeable than San Diego, where the Cougars will take on Minnesota in the Holiday Bowl. But when the Alamo Bowl selected Colorado, the Holiday Bowl had a choice between the Cougars and Stanford as its Pac-12 representative.
At 9-3, the Cardinal owns a better overall record than WSU’s 8-4, but the Cougs prevailed in the head-to-head matchup and will bring to San Diego a larger and more active traveling party — emphasis on the party — than Stanford would.
Bowl committees crave good teams. But what they really crave are local hotel rooms occupied by tourists prone to run up their restaurant tabs past three digits.
Stanford, in any case, is destined for the Sun Bowl. The famously unpredictable late-December forecast in southwest Texas is calling for tens of Cardinal fans to show up.
▪ I am trying to get a grip on the fact Western Michigan is bound for the Cotton Bowl. At 13-0, finishing No. 15 in the playoff rankings, Western Michigan is the real deal.
As the crow flies (and I’m not sure any crow flies across a Great Lake), the school’s Kalamazoo campus is located about 160 miles from where I grew up, in the Chicago area. But until recently — like, a minute ago — I didn’t know Western Michigan’s nickname is the Broncos, because Western Michigan never was on my college-football map.
And yet here the Broncos are, preparing for a Cotton Bowl duel against a Wisconsin team whose players aren’t any more familiar with Western Michigan than I am.
Head coach P.J. Fleck is the mastermind behind the Broncos’ vault into the big time, and comparisons with Washington's Chris Petersen are inevitable. (Both have been named among the five finalists for the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year award.)
Several head-coaching offers await Fleck, some in his Midwest wheelhouse (Indiana) and some from well beyond his three-point range (Oregon). He’s going places, but for now Fleck is focusing on the Cotton Bowl with the nothing-else-matters intensity Petersen once applied to the Fiesta Bowl, during those days he coached the Broncos of Boise State.
▪ Oddsmakers have installed USC as a 6 1/2-point favorite over Penn State in the Rose Bowl, the Granddaddy of All Consolation Prizes. The spread surprises me: Penn State came close to surging past Washington for the fourth spot in the College Football Playoff rankings, while USC took No. 9.
But the oddsmakers have an uncanny knack for getting it right, which tempts a never-gonna-happen suggestion: Instead of a 12-member panel of “experts” determining the four CFP finalists, turn the vote over to a dozen of the wisest guys in Las Vegas.
▪ Scheduling two national semifinal games on New Year’s Eve has proven to be a TV ratings train wreck recognized by the CFP, already committed to a Plan B alternative. When New Year’s Eve falls on a weekday, potential viewers either are working or, in our case, idling during the two hours it takes a southbound car to advance from Fife to the Tacoma Dome.
No such headaches await on Dec. 31, a Saturday providing the ultimate football feast. At 8 a.m., Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, the presumptive Heisman Trophy winner, will showcase his talent against LSU in the Citrus Bowl.
At noon, the Huskies challenge an Alabama powerhouse stocked with first-round NFL draft choices. At 4, it’s Ohio State vs. Clemson in the other semifinal.
Staying awake until midnight could be a challenge for those inclined to participate in the oldest of all New Year’s Eve bowls.
The Punch Bowl.