The real college football bowl season begins today, New Year’s Eve, with the Orange Bowl, followed on New Year’s Day by the Cotton Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl. Please do not try to convince me that the bowl season began on Dec. 20. Many of the 24 games played through Tuesday night were little more than ESPN programming vehicles.
Did the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl between Air force and Western Michigan do it for you? How about the Heart of Dallas Bowl between Louisiana Tech and Illinois? Tell me that you built your day after Christmas around the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit starring North Carolina and Rutgers. Or munched tortilla chips and guzzled beer while watching Western Kentucky and Central Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl. Or that Tuesday night you tuned in to the Belk Bowl – the Belk Bowl? – with Louisville and Georgia and then stayed up for that classic, the Foster Farms Bowl, featuring Maryland and Stanford.
I like college football, but there was no way I was watching the Music City Bowl Tuesday afternoon, even though Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish and LSU’s Bayou Bengals were playing. And you’d have to strap me in a chair and pin my eyelids open to see the TaxSlayer Bowl on Friday or the Birmingham Bowl on Saturday.
The TaxSlayer Bowl? Sounds like a video game. In fact, it’s the old Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.
The proliferation of bowl games, 39 this season, satisfies ESPN’s voracious appetite for video fare from Dec. 20 to the new national championship game on Jan. 12. ESPN Events owns and operates 11 of those games. For example, the Boca Raton Bowl. Marshall trounced Northern Illinois, 52-23, at Florida Atlantic University’s 30,000-seat stadium. ESPN announced the attendance at 29,400; other media accounts put the number at 15,000. ESPN said 2.2 million watched the game. FAU and Boca Raton officials were delighted with the national exposure. You’ll get the Boca Raton Bowl for another five years.
Thirty-nine bowl games also represent sponsorship opportunities. As a kid I watched the Sun Bowl from El Paso. Now it’s the Hyundai Sun Bowl. Even the oldies have sold their names. Capital One Orange Bowl. Goodyear Cotton Bowl. Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Gone forever are the days when the Sugar and Cotton Bowls went head to head in the early afternoon on New Year's Day, the Rose Bowl came on at about 4, and the Orange Bowl wrapped things up on New Year’s night. Now the Orange Bowl is New Year’s Eve and the Sugar Bowl New Year’s night.
The Rose Bowl is still on New Year’s Day, at 5, and is one of two semifinals in the new playoff system. Oregon with Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota at quarterback will play defending national champion Florida State with 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston calling the signals. What a matchup! The Sugar Bowl pitting 12-1 Alabama and 12-1 Ohio State is the other semifinal.
At last, two bowl games worth watching. Or, would you prefer a replay of the Gildan New Mexico Bowl?