Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Bowling for Dollars: Money talks, records walk

     It’s right about that time for college football fans to begin gazing into the future – specifically January 1 when the post-season collegiate bowl system hits its zenith. It comes to a resounding climax on Monday, Jan. 6 in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl when the BCS holds its national championship contest (sponsored this year by Vizio, so the trophy will be a crystal wide screen???).
This might not be a clear-cut case of who should occupy the number 1 and number 2 positions in the BCS poll. Currently, it’s two-time defending champion Alabama and Florida State (my finalist selections), but at least five other schools (Ohio State, Oregon, Baylor, Northern Illinois, Fresno State) could go undefeated in the 2013 schedule – all staking claims why they should be in that game.
Alas, in this Battle Royal, as many as 12 can enter the college version of Thunderdome, but only two can emerge for the title.
What happens to the remaining schools will be fodder for water cooler talk and the sports talk grist mill for weeks to come.
For the moment, let’s concentrate on which Big Ten teams will go where and how that affects a certain Ann Arbor-based team with a slightly clouded bowl future. Depending on the outcome of its final four games (including an encounter with Ohio State), Michigan could be seen in almost any part of the country (Arizona, Texas, Florida or Detroit) for its 13th (and unluckiest??) game.
Ohio State and probably Michigan State, depending on whether it can weather OSU’s attack offense and make the Big Ten title game close, should be BCS Bowl participants (the Bucks facing Oregon in the Rose Bowl and Sparty in a game like the Fiesta Bowl against a high-powered offense like Baylor).
The conference has contractual commitments to the following bowl games: Outback vs. an SEC team (Jan. 1), Capital One (Jan. 1) vs. an SEC team, Gator Bowl (Jan. 1) vs. yet another SEC team, Heart of Dallas Bowl (Jan. 1) vs. a Conference-USA school, Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Dec. 28) vs. a Big 12 team, Texas Bowl, in Houston (Dec. 27) vs. a Big 12 team, and Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, in Detroit’s Ford Field (Dec. 26) vs. a Mid-American Conference school.
Seven teams needed to fill those seven slots, with at least three of those games on a much lower level than the others. At the moment, Wisconsin and Nebraska are almost guaranteed to play on Jan. 1.
The surprise team in the nation, Minnesota, led by a Coach of the Year candidate who cannot even coach for health reasons, could well be a Gator Bowl participant. Yet so could Michigan, if it gets its act together and collects eight wins.
But one of those victories must come on the road against either Iowa or Northwestern, and as stated in an earlier blog, both those schools could be playing the Wolverines with their only chance of securing a post-season bowl berth (more incentive than U-M might possess playing in Evanston or Iowa City).
BCS bowl standards state that a school MUST have at least six victories (a minimum of a 6-6 mark) to play that 13th game … unless it wins its conference title game with a less than .500 record. In some of the smaller conference, it could be a possibility if that school lost all its non-conference game but emerged a winner within the conference.
Such is the quandary Michigan faces the rest of the month. Gators or pizzas???
And if you are looking for that TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl opponent, think of a school like South Carolina (want a rematch with Deveon Clowney?) or Ole Miss or Florida??? Not a pretty or rosy future.
Hell, whoever plays in the old and cold Cotton Bowl in the “game to keep that old stadium viable” affair, might never know who it will play because there’s a good chance Conference-USA might not have enough teams meeting the NCAA standard. And who in the world would want to see any Big Ten team play the likes of … Rice, North Texas or Marshall??
Or face Ball State or Buffalo in the Pizza Bowl? Or a bottom-level Big 12 teams like West Virginia or Kansas State simply for the sake of taking a trip to Houston over Christmas? None of those games would prove beneficial to any Big Ten program – especially Michigan!
Let’s skip forward to the main bowl players on Jan. 1, 2014. Here’s how I see the major bowl matchups playing out:
As mentioned, I pick Alabama to face an undefeated Florida State team (with the likely Heisman winner fresh Jameis Winston) on Jan. 6. I think Ohio State plays Oregon in the BCS title Game-1a in the Rose Bowl, Stanford meeting the hometown Hurricanes in Miami’s Orange Bowl (Jan. 3), Michigan State versus Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl and Missouri of the SEC playing Clemson in the Jan. 2 Sugar Bowl (Fresno State simply isn’t as good or TV attractive as the Tigers).
The fly in the ointment is independent Notre Dame, with a special invite be a BCS participant. Despite being undeserving of such consideration, as is the situation currently with a 7-2 record, and facing a third possible loss against Stanford (ranked sixth at this juncture), the Irish must have incriminating photos of certain officials in a lockbox to even merit discussion.
The real problem stems from the contractual entanglements; where does Notre Dame go, if not to one of the Final Five? It could become a bidding war but, who then gets screwed? Clemson? Northern Illinois? Fresno State? Or one of the many teams far more deserving of a bigger payday than the golden domers?
Here in Texas, the game of the century could be held in AT&T Stadium in Arlington (the former Cowboys Stadium and known locally as JerryWorld) on Friday, Jan. 3. Unless Texas can upset Baylor (not likely), I would wager a king’s fortune that the matchup officials would die to see would be the Longhorns play their bitter, hated rivals Texas A&M (now of the SEC).
It could reignite that storied rivalry that was halted when the Aggies bolted to their new conference and neither side was willing to work together to keep a Thanksgiving weekend tradition alive. And the entire brouhaha is so silly because it would only be a matter of a little schedule juggling to make it happen. Last Saturday, A&M toyed with UT-El Paso at home while Texas had a bye week (oops, actually it played Kansas, but that was the same thing).
If you switch a few of those bye weeks and simply kiss off the Rices of the world, history would be restored and college football fans would have the opportunity to see a decent game on that weekend.
Those invitations will be extended after the flurry of Dec. 7 conference championships and final regular season games for people in the Big 12. I won’t say I can’t wait to hear those matchups because if Michigan is 6-6 or 7-5, it won’t be good news.

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