Thrill of Victory

First thoughts on the bowl season

Like the rest of the college football world, I eagerly awaited Sunday night to see where teams would get placed in the bowl selection order. Now that the games are set, here are my initial thoughts on what’s happened, starting close to home.

Vandy stays home to face North Carolina State
One sentiment I heard repeatedly from Vandy fans on Sunday night, after learning they wouldn’t be traveling far to see the Commodores in a bowl game: “we got screwed.” I’ll start by saying that “screwed” might be a little harsh.

Yes, Vanderbilt was probably better than the Mississippi State team that got picked for the Gator Bowl, but since both teams were 8-4 and VU was just a game better in the Southeastern Conference, it’s hard to say Vandy’s significantly better. It’s hard to say for sure what the Gator Bowl was thinking, but when Northwestern was by far the best Big Ten team left at its pick, that probably sealed VU’s fate since it likely didn’t want a re-match.

Yes, the Gator Bowl likely could have passed on Northwestern, which would have just have left another fan base howling, and it would have been for good reason since the Wildcats beat VU earlier in the season.

Anyway, I think Vandy fans are missing a silver lining here.

Vanderbilt should send tens of thousands of fans to LP Field and create a better home field advantage than it would have had in Jacksonville. It will get more media coverage all week by virtue of being in Nashville, and it has a game it should win against a 7-5 North Carolina State team that just fired its coach (I haven’t seen a line, but my guess would be Vanderbilt by about five points).

And should Vandy beat N.C. State, it has an excellent chance to finish in the Top 25, given that it was essentially No. 27 in both the major polls this week. That would be a big, big deal for Vanderbilt, since the only time Vandy has ever appeared in the final AP Poll was 1948.

BCS fails us again
The BCS was created in 1998 with the idea of creating a better system for the bowls, but few times has its failure been more spectacular than on Sunday night. The most obvious beef that everyone had was a 12-1 Northern Illinois team (which, by the way, lost to 4-8 Iowa) squeezing out Oklahoma for a bid in the Orange Bowl. Don’t blame the Huskies – that’s how the system works – but it shows how flawed a system is when the No. 7-11 teams in the BCS’s own system (Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M, South Carolina and the Sooners) don’t go to a BCS bowl, while Northern Illinois, Louisville and 8-5 Wisconsin do.

Of course, the ripple effect was felt further down the line; when the Big 12 got an extra team nudged out of the BCS (remember, essentially only two teams from each conference can go). Louisiana Tech had an invite to the Independence Bowl, but declined it, thinking that at 9-3 it deserved better. Instead, the Liberty Bowl snubbed the Bulldogs for the-6-6 Iowa State Cyclones of the Big 12 – which did not have a conference tie-in to the Liberty.

One can debate the stupidity of what Tech did, but shouldn’t there be some safeguard in the system to prevent a legitimately-good team like Tech (it was second in the nation in total offense, and nearly beat Texas A&M) from being snubbed?

Likewise, an 8-4 MTSU team sits at home while 6-7 Georgia Tech will play in the Sun Bowl. Keep in mind, the Blue Raiders beat Tech, 49-28, earlier in the season.

In a blog last month, I advocated that the NCAA step in and pick teams for bowls with the common-sense method that it does for its basketball tournament. While I can understand how that may not be economically-viable for all the bowls – they need to make money, and obviously be need to be aware of which schools bring fans and which ones don’t – there’s got to be a safeguard in place to keep these things from happening. What’s good for an individual bowl may not always be good for college football on the whole, and this year as much as any bears that out once again.

Other bowl thoughts
• Other than the national title game between Alabama and Notre Dame, the game involving an SEC team that I think will be the most interesting will be the Cotton, which features a pair of top-10 offenses in Texas A&M (3) and Oklahoma (10).

• Even though I earlier cited Wisconsin’s Rose Bowl appearance as a flaw within the BCS, that matchup with Stanford could be a great one. I was in attendance at the Big Ten Championship Game over the weekend, where I saw the Badgers rip Nebraska, 70-30. Wisconsin and Montee Ball has one of the nation’s better running games and Stanford has the No. 3 run defense nationally. The Badgers are also better than their record shows, having lost four games by a field goal and another by seven.

• You’ve got to feel great for San Jose State and coach Mike McIntyre, who’s a former Vanderbilt player as well as the son of former VU coach George McIntyre. The Spartans were 1-12 two years ago and have been bowling exactly once (2006) since 1980, but were tabbed to play 8-4 Bowling Green(coached by former Tennessee offensive coordinator Dave Clawson) in the Military Bowl. The Spartans earned it – they beat 9-3 teams San Diego State and Louisiana Tech and 7-5 Navy, while losing only to 11-win Stanford (by three) and 10-win Utah State.

• No one could blame the Sun nor the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl for sitting by nervously the next few weeks, wondering how much the teams in their games want to be there. Southern Cal, the nation’s top-ranked team in the preseason, finished 7-5 and plays a 6-7 Georgia Tech team that had higher aspirations as well. Michigan State (6-6) and TCU (7-5) face off in the latter; each was ranked in the preseason top 20.

• For those participating in bowl pools, start doing your homework soon: the New Mexico (Nevada vs. Arizona) and Famous Idaho Potato (Utah State vs. Toledo) Bowls kick off Dec. 15.

• After no New Year’s Day games a year ago (it fell on a Sunday) there are six this season.