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  • Writer's pictureDirk Facer

GUTTERBALLS: Going bowling isn’t what it used to be in college football

I tried. I really did. Even so, I couldn’t do it.

There was simply no way I could watch a bowl game featuring a team with a losing record.

Once a reward for success, the gluttony of games has turned such contests into more of a participation trophy event — as in thanks for playing. The NCAA sanctioned 41 bowl games this season. That means 82 teams are participating — 63.5 percent of the Football Bowl Subdivision.

And no, not all are as rosy as Utah’s trip to Pasadena — or, for that matter, BYU’s visit to the Land of Enchantment at the New Mexico Bowl.

Bowl season is a bit of a bore season these days.

After going 5-7 overall, Rice qualified as the last team to be invited. The Owls, who lost their last three games (to Western Kentucky, UTSA, and North Texas) by a combined score of 107-34, filled the final vacancy by having the highest Academic Progress Rating among 5-7 teams. They went on to lose again, falling to Southern Mississippi 38-24 in the Lending Tree Bowl. An announced crowd of 20,512 filed into Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile, Alabama to witness the “battle.” ESPN provided the broadcast — a fitting reward for flooding the marketplace with unnecessary bowl games.

It was a good year to be .500. Four bowl games pitted teams with as many wins as losses. That includes Utah State. The Aggies (6-6) faced Memphis (6-6) in the First Responders Bowl. Other such matchups included the Bahamas Bowl (UAB vs. Miami, Ohio), Camellia Bowl (Buffalo vs. Georgia Southern), and Liberty Bowl (Arkansas vs. Kansas).

Results left USU (38-10) among 10 bowl teams to finish the season with losing records. Besides the Aggies and Rice, the group includes 6-7 squads from Baylor, Bowling Green, Florida, Missouri, and Oklahoma, as well as Georgia Southern, Kansas, and Miami (Ohio).

History will refer to them as bowl teams. Statistically, though, they will go down as losing teams. It probably doesn’t matter. Television needs inventory and there’s a mad money grab throughout the industry. NILs and the transfer portal are also altering the landscape.

Despite it all, though, this is a special season when it comes to the Rose Bowl. The “Granddaddy of them all” is pitting the Pac-12 against the Big Ten for perhaps a final time thanks to the soon-to-be-expanded College Football Playoff.

The latter is a positive as it will allow more teams to compete for a national championship. As for the Rose Bowl, the game will survive and continue to thrive because of its elite status. The Pac-12 and Big Ten didn’t have a real monopoly of the game in recent years, anyhow.

The Bowl Championship Series brought new teams into the mix. Miami (Florida) and Nebraska played for the 2002 national title in Pasadena. BCS opportunities also led to Texas (2005, 2006), TCU (2011), Florida State (2015), Georgia (2018), and Oklahoma (2018) crashing the party.

The pandemic led to the 2021 game being moved from the Rose Bowl stadium for the first time since 1942. Alabama and Notre Dame squared off in Arlington, Texas in a CFP semifinal.

As such, the Rose Bowl hasn’t exactly been the exclusive domain of the Pac-12 and Big Ten. However, the association has been good for Utah. The Utes were able to take on Ohio State and Penn State in back-to-back trips as conference champions.

That’s to be celebrated.

What isn’t, meanwhile, is the current state of college football. It’s become the Wild West thanks to NILs and the transfer portal. Then there’s the bowl situation. There are simply too many games. Problem is, there’s no solution on the horizon.

Bowl season will continue to feature some of this and some of that. Great matchups and lesser pairings offer a mixed bag for viewers. Can’t wait for the day when two teams with losing records meet. Call it the Participation Bowl. Give everyone a trophy and a pat on the head. Throw in a bite-size Snickers bar and orange slices.

Whatever the case may be, it’s watering down college football. Same goes for other things like uncontrolled NILs and the ease of transferring.

Hopefully, common sense will prevail.

Odds are, though, it won’t happen.

And that’s a shame. My, how things have changed.

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