Bowl games aren’t always what you think they are

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Author @TheCoachBart

It was around this time last year when we all knew what was coming down the pike with certain teams. Oklahoma had just wasted Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and basically, three things became totally obvious and fool proof …

1. Oklahoma was going to ride this momentum into a CFB Playoff bid the following season because they drilled Alabama;

2. Alabama was in trouble, because A.J. McCarron was leaving and they just got exposed on national television against another Power 5 team we thought was borderline okay but not elite;

3. The SEC was obviously overrated, the Big 12 underrated, and BIG GAME BOB, Y’ALL …

As it turns out, none of those are really true. Fast forward to this year after Oklahoma got themselves drawn and quartered by Clemson in an also-ran bowl game pre-New Year’s Day and suddenly OU is slipping, needs major changes, not only have the wheels fallen off … they’re tossed into that garbage fire in the corner just so we can smell it burn, etc.

For “exposed” Alabama? They’re playing for a championship again. The big one.

We move on into the meat of the bowl season now, it’s important to remember that bowl games, in a vacuum, are nothing more than a referendum on one team and one other team that mostly will end before Spring Practice, let alone Spring Games or next season.


It was 1953, and Maryland was the AP National Champion. That’s the way things were back in those days. Bowl games were exhibitions after the season was over because taking a bunch of weeks off and then playing the game proves exactly what relevant to a championship, or so it was thought?

Back then, starting in 1902, bowl games were mere rewards in tourist destinations and sunny climates for teams after the season had ended and the rubble had been settled. Maryland decided to play Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. Notre Dame decided to stay home, once tied but unbeaten, and onto the off season.

Maryland would go on to lose, and several polls would go on to rank Notre Dame number one (imagine someone declining a bowl bid today and moving UP in the polls), and thus, one of many disputed college football championships in the sport’s history.

Today though, we seem to view bowl games as some sort of referendum on the present of a team and more importantly, its future. Those who think the momentum of a Music City or Motor City Bowl win on the off season is of great influence, it is if not patently false, not entirely true.

There are two major lies this time of year …

1. The fate of one team’s success or failure accurately projects that of the conference company they keep;

2. Bowl games give an indication of success going forward.

The Big 12 is on rough times as of Monday, posting a grotesque 0-3 record with thrashings handed down on Oklahoma (40-6 to Clemson) and Texas (31-7 to Arkansas).

It honestly doesn’t mean much. Though it will be spread out that way, it certainly doesn’t mean TCU and Baylor being left out of this year’s CFB Playoff was the “obvious” right call. One can be the prettiest girl in the state but from a small town with not very many pretty girls.

Likewise, you can have a family member or two who are Harvard alums and millionaires … it doesn’t mean the rest of the family is of high educational ilk. The truth is, we probably in all situations project too much based on a small sample size.

Do it in real life, it can be dangerous, ridiculous, and unsavory. Do it in college football … it’s par for the course. College football’s best team may very well be Florida State, from one of its weaker conferences. Whereas the assumed powerhouse Pac 12 and SEC may have the best collection of good teams, but not the best individual one. I suppose we’ll find out soon depending on how much stock you take in this sort of system.

And likewise, winning bowl games is awfully nice for the players/coaches involved and fan bases that get to leave the season with that winning flavor in their football food, but it means little more than that. No recruit is sitting there with USC, Florida, Texas, and Ohio State in their top four and seeing Notre Dame kick a field goal to defeat LSU and thinking, “wow, I’m switching and going there.”

So try to remember that this bowl season and go against the human inclination to stereotype based on a small sample size.

Every season starts anew, and giving a team a month break betwixt games doesn’t say as much about them as one might think so much as it’s just the last memory we have. You only get one chance to make a first impression; and, I suppose, a last one.

Often times, both are meaningless to the whole. In bowl games … which now decide championships as what would be considered irrefutable evidence in a court room even though it’s not … certainly don’t tell as much as folks like to pretend they do sometimes.