Tis the season to be jolly — and bowled over by college football bowl games. Forty-one are scheduled for December and January, and that’s not counting the national championship game, which has replaced the Rose Bowl in Pasadena as “the granddaddy of them all.”
This means 82 of major college football’s 131 teams will be participating in post-season bowls, many of which boast corporate names that either roll or stumble off the tongue. My personal favorites are the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the Bad Boy Mowers Pinstripe Bowl, the Cheeze-It Bowl and the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl, which portends to be “Grrrrrrrreat!’’ Heck, there’s even the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl, sponsored by the longest current running late-night talk show host and believed to be the first bowl named after a person.
With 63 percent of major college teams now eligible, we’ve far exceeded the saturation point; we’re under water. The NCAA once required teams to win at least six games to be bowl-eligible, but the greedy governing body of college sports now finds itself in a situation where demand has far outstripped supply, meaning you will see some teams with 5-7 records participating. Once again, mediocrity is rewarded in a world where everyone receives a trophy and students are given “A’s” just for showing up.
If the content-starved execs of network television and streaming services had their way, they would petition the NCAA to make every team eligible. It would be like one of those binge product giveaways at the end of old Oprah Winfrey Shows. “You get a bowl invitation! And you get a bowl invitation! And you get a bowl invitation!’’
Oh, well. Maybe I’m just getting old and cranky, but I liked it a lot better when postseasons in all sports weren’t so watered-down and actually rewarded teams for regular seasons well played. All that said, I’ll probably be lured into watching some of them, and might even be forced to acknowledge that a few of these games were “Grrrrrrrreat!”
Speaking of bowls, Syracuse University was one of the first teams in the country to become eligible after sprinting to a 6-0 record. That start proved as hollow as a Wiffle ball bat, as the Orange lost their next five and needed a stirring comeback against a poor Boston College team Saturday night in order to stop the bleeding and finish 7-5.
It’s still to be determined which bowl they’ll wind up in. Of greater concern is the possibility they’ll be going bowling without, arguably, their most valuable player, Sean Tucker. The sophomore running back played through some nagging injuries this season, but has looked like his old, dynamic self lately, as evidenced by his 125-yard rushing effort against BC. And with extra time to rest before the bowl game, Tucker should be even healthier.
But his decision to play or not to play has nothing to do with his current condition and everything to do with his NFL aspirations. The third-leading rusher in SU history almost certainly will enter the 2023 draft and may decide a meaningless bowl game isn’t worth the injury risk. Like numerous players, he may opt to use the time to begin training for February’s NFL scouting combine. Tucker’s stock dropped this season, but he still projects as a third-round pick, according to a simulator that tracks all the major mock drafts. Last year’s third-round picks received signing bonuses that ranged from a high of $1.1 million to a low of $849,000.
The traditionalist in me bemoans the fact that increasingly more star players are opting out of bowl games. But the realist in me understands why. There is a lot of money waiting for them, and they could squander it all if they were to be injured in a bowl game. So, as much as I would hate to see Tucker and a few of his teammates with pro potential sit out what should be the biggest games of their collegiate careers, I understand the rationale.
Some players attempt to protect themselves by taking out costly insurance policies. But I don’t believe that is going to stem this trend. I feel for fans and alumni. The team they rooted for during the regular season very well might not be the team they root for in the post-season.
The Buffalo Bills have been among the healthiest NFL teams in recent years, ranking near the top in fewest games missed by starters. A huge part of that was attributable to their medical and training staffs, which have employed the latest science and technology to prevent and mitigate injuries, and help their players perform at their peaks. But that healthy stretch also was due, in part, to luck. And this year, obviously, their luck has been bad.
Key players such as Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Matt Milano, Mitch Morse, Tremaine Edmunds, and Tre White all have missed significant time, and Von Miller soon will be joining them. Meanwhile, Josh Allen continues to gut through a sprained UCL in his throwing elbow that’s affected his passing.
A schedule that has forced the Bills to play four games in 19 days on turf certainly hasn’t helped. That they’ve managed to rebound from a mid-season swoon is a testament to their toughness and roster depth. If they continue to persevere and regain control of their division and conference, it will make their achievement even more impressive.
Liked the news that the New York Yankees may approach legends Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter about joining YES network game telecasts. Would like the news even more if they were approached about being the team’s manager and director of baseball operations, respectively.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.