Too many bowls? Every great finish proves there is no such thing
- Why complain about too many bowls? The endings of the Rose Bowl and Armed Forces Bowl show the system is working exactly as it should.
From now on, when someone complains that there are too many bowls, I’ll show them two clips.
That clip came from Monday’s epic Rose Bowl, where USC beat Penn State 52–49 on a 46-yard Matt Boermeester field goal as time expired No one wishes to deny the Rose Bowl’s right to exist. In fact, if the too-many-bowls crowd had its way, the Rose would be one of eight or nine bowl games, all played on the same day so no one could watch them all. The too-many-bowls people love the Rose Bowl more than they love any other game, and they will point to the beauty and majesty of Monday’s finish as evidence that less of the rest would make this more special.
They will, of course, be wrong. Why? Watch this second clip.
That scene unfolded two days before Christmas at a bowl that “doesn’t matter” in a stadium less than half the size of the Rose Bowl and nowhere near as full. It was the Armed Forces Bowl, where Jonathan Barnes kicked a 32-yard field goal to lift Louisiana Tech to a 48–45 win against Navy. The too-many-bowls lobby would love to eliminate this game and others like it. They’ll offer several reasons—chief among them a hatred of participation trophies—but the real reason is more likely this: The game didn’t exist when they were 13 and they tend to complain about things that change as they age.
Neither the Rose Bowl nor the Armed Forces Bowl mattered relative to the quest to crown a national champion. The Peach Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl mattered on that front, but those were boring blowouts College Football Playoff critics will point to as evidence that the selection committee botched its job. In that respect, those were the only bowls that mattered at all. But both the bowls we saw above mattered deeply to the people invested in them. And the Armed Forces Bowl mattered as much to the Louisiana Tech players as the Rose Bowl did to USC’s players. That’s the beauty of sport. Whether it’s a game ESPN is paying $80 million to broadcast or a junior varsity matchup on a cow pasture in the middle of nowhere, the desire to beat the people in different colored uniforms doesn’t fade. And in three months, we’ll be begging for an Armed Forces Bowl or a Famous Idaho Potato Bowl or a Dollar General Bowl.
There are two more college football games before the long slog of the offseason begins. We’ll have to savor James Madison-Youngstown State and Alabama-Clemson, because we won’t see anyone play another game until Aug. 31. This is the part I’ve never understood about the too-many-bowls group. It claims to love football but then complains when presented with more football.
The argument against the bowls that have provided the bulk of our gridiron viewing opportunities for the past month is that bowls are supposed to reward superior performance. And they were—30 years ago. But as college administrators realized they could get rich by turning the game into a multi-billion dollar business, bowls became simple television inventory. People watch bowl games in reliable numbers at a time of the year when ratings typically sag. And it doesn’t have to be the Rose Bowl or the Orange Bowl. Pit Mississippi State against Miami (Ohio) at 11 a.m. the day after Christmas in St. Petersburg and people will watch. There aren’t too many bowl games. There are exactly as many bowl games as the market will bear. If people didn’t watch, those games would go away. But people do watch, so those games continue. That’s what makes the too-many-bowls argument so hilarious. The proliferation of bowls is a product of capitalism. It’s simple supply and demand. You may hate participation trophies—and really, who doesn’t?—but if you love football and capitalism, you should love every bowl from the Rose to the New Mexico.
What amazes me most about the too-many-bowls group is that its attitude simply wouldn’t be tolerated with regard to any other consumer good. Other than Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who has made his thoughts on an abundance of ice cream quite clear, who would attempt to slap a cone out of someone’s hand because they ordered cinnamon and not chocolate, vanilla or cookies and cream? Do people log onto their favorite social media sites and call for the shutdown of HGTV because they believe people should only get TBS, ESPN and CNN?
So please do the rest of us a favor, too-many-bowls guy. Resolve in this New Year to stop complaining about something others enjoy that doesn’t affect your enjoyment of the sport in the least. If you hate these games so much, simply ignore them and watch the ones you like. If enough people feel the way you do and vote with their remotes, you’ll get your wish of fewer bowl games. But leave the rest of us alone to enjoy our football. We’re storing up for nine months of boring, and we need all the Louisiana Tech celebrations we can get. If you absolutely must complain about something, consider lending your powerful whining muscles to a cause that ultimately will wind up on the correct side of history—turning this four-team playoff into the eight-teamer it should have been all along.
A Random Ranking
In honor of the late Carrie Fisher, we’ll rank the top movie princesses. This won’t use the word “princess” as a catch-all the way Disney does for female leads in animated movies. These characters must be royalty for at least half the movie.
1. Leia Organa Solo, Carrie Fisher in Star Wars
2. Arwen, Liv Tyler in The Lord of the Rings trilogy
3. Princess Vespa, Daphne Zuniga in Spaceballs
4. Buttercup, Robin Wright in The Princess Bride
5. Anna, Kristen Bell in Frozen
1. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was effectively canned Monday at Alabama, meaning Steve Sarkisian—who served this season as an offensive analyst—started his new job eight days early. Now all Sarkisian has to do is develop a game plan to score on a Clemson defense that just shut out Ohio State. No pressure.
There are plenty of stories of coordinators taking head coaching jobs and helping their teams win national titles. Kirby Smart ran Alabama’s defense last year after taking the Georgia job. Tom Herman ran Ohio State’s offense in 2014 after taking the Houston job. But there are few—if any—stories of coordinators getting jettisoned this close to a title game. There is, however, one more extreme example from another sport.
In 1989, Michigan men’s basketball coach Bill Frieder accepted the Arizona State job just before the NCAA Tournament began. Michigan athletic director (and football coach) Bo Schmbechler fired Frieder, saying “A Michigan man will coach Michigan.” Assistant Steve Fisher took over the team, and Fisher led the Wolverines to the national title.
2. Oklahoma rolled to a 35–19 Sugar Bowl win against Auburn that got considerably easier for the Sooners once Tigers quarterback Sean White left the game in the second quarter. That White was even in the game in the second quarter was fairly amazing considering that, according to his father’s account to Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports, White broke his right forearm (he’s right-handed) in the first quarter.
3. A few weeks ago, a reader asked during a #DearAndy segment which non-playoff contender from this season looked poised to make a leap similar to Washington’s in 2017. My answer was Virginia Tech. That answer assumed quarterback Jerod Evans would return for his senior season.
With Evans headed for the NFL, Justin Fuente will have to develop another quarterback in Blacksburg. Fortunately, Fuente has an excellent track record in that department.
4. Evans isn’t the only quarterback in the ACC Coastal Division skipping his senior season. Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya also is headed to the draft.
This leaves Mark Richt with a quarterback competition on his hands. Will the (admittedly limited) experience of 2016 backup Malik Rosier help, or can redshirt sophomore Evan Shirreffs or redshirt freshman Jack Allison make that up in the spring? And how much run will the true freshmen get? Cade Weldon, son of former Florida State quarterback Casey Weldon, enrolls this month. N’Kosi Perry, who smashed some of Daunte Culpepper’s records at Ocala (Fla.) Vanguard High, will arrive during the summer term.
5. Florida played in the Outback Bowl without six defensive starters and rolled to a 30–3 win against Iowa. That performance should be enough to convince coach Jim McElwain to remove the interim tag from defensive coordinator Randy Shannon. Shannon, the former Miami defensive coordinator and head coach, has been running the defense since Geoff Collins was hired as Temple’s head coach.
Shannon’s defense held the Hawkeyes to 3.5 yards a play, and Chauncey Gardner returned an interception 58 yards for a touchdown to help out an offense that suddenly looked more explosive than it had all season. Also, congratulations to Florida cornerback Quincy Wilson for being the only Gators defender to start every game this season.
6. Even after the coaching carousel has essentially ceased spinning, Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck is still getting questions about his future. After Monday’s 24–16 loss to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl, Fleck was asked where he was headed.
“I'm going to Kalamazoo,” Fleck told reporters. “I don't know where you're going or where everybody else is going. I'm on the bus unless they don't want me. [Western Michigan athletic director] Kathy [Beauregard]—if 13–1 gets you fired around here… I love where I'm at, period. It's as simple as that. We're heading back to Kalamazoo.”
Unless Minnesota fires Tracy Claeys or some sitting college coach gets an NFL job and the carousel spins anew, Fleck would have nowhere to go. And if he didn’t want Purdue, why would Minnesota—especially given its recent issues—be any more attractive? If Western Michigan is good again next year, Fleck probably will get a higher paying more prestigious job. But at the moment, he doesn’t have any motivation or options to leave—which only helps Western Michigan.
7. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports reported Monday that Michigan quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch would be the next offensive coordinator at UCLA. This is an intriguing move. Fisch has spent the past two years working with Jim Harbaugh. He has been the offensive coordinator at Miami and for the Jacksonville Jaguars. In Josh Rosen, Fisch inherits a quarterback with one of the deepest skill sets in college football. Rosen should be capable of running anything Fisch wants to run. If it works, it may save Jim Mora’s job.
8. Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier made waves last week when he told ESPN’s Brett McMurphy that the Group of Five schools should stage their own playoff. This met with resistance with plenty in the Group of Five leagues, including American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco and MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher. Why did these commissioners pooh-pooh the idea? Because this is how that conversation probably would go in real life.
Group of Five leagues: We’d like to form our own playoff.
Power Five leagues: Cool. So that means you don’t want your cut of the money from our playoff anymore?
Group of Five leagues: No. We’d still like that money.
Power Five leagues: But if you form your own playoff, you wouldn’t need it. So we’d stop giving it to you.
Group of Five leagues: So no more free money?
Power Five leagues: Nope.
Group of Five leagues: We’re cool with the current arrangement. Forget we ever brought it up.
9. Michigan State won the Big Ten and made the playoff in 2015. The Spartans didn’t even make a bowl 2016. Mark Dantonio isn’t given to grand pronouncements, but on the one-year anniversary of the 38–0 loss to Alabama that started Michigan State’s slide, Dantonio made one.
10. The guy who played Mini Me being hypnotized out of his Michigan fandom and turned into an Ohio State fan? Sure.
What's Eating Andy
Punt, Pass and Pork will settle back into its regular Monday lunchtime schedule in two weeks. The observation of holidays on Mondays the past two weeks have pushed it to Tuesday, and we're going to push out the national championship game edition this weekend to have you completely ready for the festivities in Tampa on Monday night. After that, I'll be back to making you jealous every Monday as you stare at the lackluster sandwich you brought for lunch.
What's Andy Eating
I’ve made my position on barbecue sauce clear in this space. If the meat is cooked properly, it’s completely unnecessary. This doesn’t mean I won’t eat barbecue sauce or argue the relative merits of the various regional specialties. It means I won’t factor in sauce quality when deciding whether I recommend a place.
So if you’re in Atlanta, go to B’s Cracklin Barbeque because the pulled pork is juicy and tender and loaded with bits of bark. Go because the ribs are moist and meaty and require the tiniest pull to come clean off the bone for the perfect bite. But if you happen to take some of that pulled pork and place it atop one of B’s delectable cornbread cakes and then you happen to drizzle some of B’s Peach Mustard barbecue sauce on the meat, I won’t judge you. If you happen to roll up that circle of cornbread and eat the entire concoction like the countriest taco the world has ever seen, I certainly wouldn’t blame you. That’s what I did on two recent visits to B’s.
Mustard-based is the option offense of barbecue sauce. The people who like it swear by it. Everyone else hates it. I fall in the former group because I spent the first seven years of my life in Columbia, S.C., the capital of the state and of the mustard-based universe. The first pulled pork sandwiches I ate came smothered in the stuff. (We were Rush’s people, not Maurice’s people.) It was my normal in my most formative eating years, so what comes as a shock to the palate for those who encounter it later in life takes me back to some of my happiest memories. But the best mustard-based sauces needed a little sweetness to cut the tang. Not honey mustard sweetness—that’s too much—but just a touch. That’s what the peach does in B’s sauce.
B’s pitmaster Bryan Furman is a former welder who opened the orginal B’s in Savannah, Ga., in 2014. The Atlanta branch opened this past September. His menu is loaded with the type of stuff common to barbecue joints in South Carolina and coastal Georgia. B’s is the only place I’ve found outside the Palmetto State that carries my favorite duo of side dishes: Brunswick stew and hash and rice. Brunswick stew, a thick, tangy mix of whatever is left over when the cook is done, warms the soul when done properly. B’s definitely fits the bill. Thick chunks of pork lend a smoky essence to the tomato-based broth. Hash and rice, meanwhile, is a rare delicacy for those of us who don’t live in South Carolina. At family reunions when I was younger, the men would crack beers and spent all night cooking hash. (This is not corned beef hash. It’s usually a mix of of organ meat and vegetables cooked very slowly into an ultra-thick stew.) They’d take turns stirring the pot and telling stories. At lunch the next day, that hash would get ladled over rice. Eating it was almost as fun as cooking it.
One bite of B’s hash, which uses meat from the hog’s head, transported me back to my grandparents’ house to play tag with my cousins as we struggled to stay awake to see the hash to its completion. The barbecue at B’s was worth every penny, but I would have happily paid double just for the memories that came flooding back.