It’s the start of the Holiday Bowl Season, the first few bowl games have been played and are in the books. The Tulsa Golden Hurricane put 55 points on the board (like we didn’t know they could score points so they had to prove it again.) in the Miami Beach Bowl. There was the Las Vegas, the Camilla, New Orleans, and Cure Bowls. Even Yahoo hasn’t reported the scores. You sort of feel sorry for the participants. They spent the time and effort preparing to play. I suppose they have the thrill of being on TV, or maybe – in the case of the University of Houston, would rather just have not had to deal with it since their bowl hopes tumbled into the abyss of boogerdom.
The perception that there are just too many bowl games is only followed by the reality that there are, in fact, way too many bowl games. This observation, of some level of agreement, is aimed squarely at the NCAA and the notion that almost all of the bowl games are exhibitions, and mean little or nothing other than putting a dubious W or unwanted L in the outcome column of the team stat sheet.
What’s more, with the exception of the top bowls played after Christmas and around New Years are now challenged for relevancy because of the tiny subjectively chosen final four teams and their various associated former BCS bowl games. The games might or might not mean something to the general football fan public. They certainly mean something to their fan bases and alumni; but really if there is nothing much at stake other than a special final football event for the young men who will never play organized football again, the emotion level of the games is pretty low.
The calls for an improved, complete, and competitive playoff system integrated with the sponsoring bowls are beginning to flow from certain parts of the sports media. The excuses are being used up, especially as the “usual” suspects just keep showing up in the final four. If the NCAA wants the bowl season to mean something then the NCAA has it within its grasp to make the bowl season mean something.
The fact that it actually doesn’t mean much to many folks is starkly illustrated by Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette taking flyers for their teams’ (Stanford and LSU) bowl games (Sun and Citrus). The reviews of such moves, all for self-preservation for professional chances, are mixed at best. There are many pro scouts and coaches who will look sideways at a player who skips out on his team’s final season outing. There are many players who will take the opposite view, where there are repeated horror stories (in our extremely risk averse society) of injuries that damage pro draft prospects. Knee surgery and rehab instead of the Underwear Olympics and Pro Days, All-Star Exhibition games like the Senior Bowl are too important for improved draft prospects.
The fan is left with the impression that the game is played strictly for a paycheck, and the thrill of the competition with one’s teammates at the ready is a pipedream. The players are left holding the bag as their more famous and athletically talented teammates take a flyer on a game that means little to either the team or their future prospects. I doubt few players will grouse much, though in private they’ll seethe. We honestly don’t know what goes on between those players in the privacy of the dorm room, or dining hall. I know how I’d feel.
This all leads up to the last set of potential blues and mercenary intent of players with dreams of professional dollar signs in their eyes; going out for the draft before finishing their commitment to the program to finish. The Virginia Tech Hokies aren’t the only team that has suffered greatly at the hands of players jumping to the pros early. Michael Vick had two more years of eligibility, and those years might have made a huge difference in both the program’s fortunes, and Mr. Vick’s. Darren Evans, Ryan Williams, David Wilson, and recently Kendall Fuller all came out early. All were sure that their early out was going to stave off the injury bug before the paycheck landed on the table top. Evans disappeared into the practice squads. Williams repeatedly tore up his knees. Wilson (who had fumble-itis) ended up struggling with his fumbling in New York showing flashes of brilliance, but ultimately suffering a frightening career ending neck injury. Kendall Fuller is still healthy but struggling at the pro-level as his experience level needed the extra collegiate exposure. That is why I would carefully council Messiers Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges that the grass on the NFL side of the fence is certainly green, but it’s also terribly temporary if you aren’t really ready to play.
I can only have an opinion on this one. 53 years of football fandom tells me that neither Ford nor Hodges is really ready for the next level. Hodges still drops too many balls. His route running and body positioning needs work, and he’s also not as advantaged with his height and size in the NFL. Ford is closer, but frankly I’d like to see him stay because the Hokies need him. I guess that might be a bit selfish but I’d love to see one more season with the Evans to Ford connection tearing up the gridiron because of the Michael Vick Junior and Senior year factor. The thought of what could have been IF he had stayed is often a sad one.
I am happy to see that there are no roster problems or players taking “boring bowl” flyers. The Belk Bowl is going to be exciting and fun to watch. Arkansas is a good match for our talent and skill. Of course it’s a mid-tier bowl and we’d love to have had that top tier exposure. Well, the pieces are still there that can make that happen next year, if they want to be.
Game ramp up is on the way. Previews and Bowl hype to come.