Are you not entertained?
OK, the New Year’s bowl games turned out to be a snoozefest, not helped by the fact that the semifinal games were held on New Year’s Eve, going up against the juggernaut that is Ryan Seacrest. But over the course of three weeks and 40 bowl games, surely you’ve seen a gem or two along the way.
If the eight bowl games over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day were unmitigated blowouts, the final day of the bowls surely made up for some of it. There was TCU’s record-tying comeback against Oregon and then West Virginia and Arizona State dueled deep into the desert night to wrap up the bowl season.
We still have one more game to go in this college football season, but here are a few lessons we gathered over the holidays:
1. Did the committee get it right?
In a word, no. The New Year’s Six bowl games were all terrible mismatches and the playoff pairings also turned out to be questionable. The one conference champion excluded from the playoff – Stanford of the Pac-12 – absolutely deserved a place in the semifinals.
Michigan State turned out to be a very questionable entry. Let’s face it, the Spartans were no better than the third-best team in the Big Ten and got two lucky breaks to defeat Ohio State and Michigan, the true heavyweights of that conference. Iowa is another pretender that got exposed. The two Big Ten championship game participants were outscored 83-16 in their two blowout losses.
2. Did the Heisman voters get it right?
In two words, heck no. Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey torched Iowa with a Rose Bowl record of 368 all-purpose yards, adding to the NCAA record season total he already owns. He was a far more deserving winner of the Heisman Trophy, but lost out to Alabama’s Derrick Henry because of the relentless hype for the SEC.
Henry turned in a pedestrian performance (20 carries, 75 yards) in Alabama’s win over Michigan State. His season, while remarkable, was not extraordinary in any way. Running backs turn in Henry-type of performances every season, but transcendent talent like McCaffrey comes along only every generation or so.
3. How did college football’s ‘New Tradition’ work out?
Not well at all. College Football Playoff’s management committee insisted on playing the two semifinals on New Year’s Eve and ESPN paid dearly for that arrogant decision. TV ratings for the two games were down by 36 percent from last year’s inaugural playoff, when they were held on New Year’s Day.
Not that this was a surprise. ESPN lobbied hard for a one-time move to have the semifinals on Jan. 2, a Saturday with no competition from the NFL, but its request was rejected out of hand. Don’t expect the ratings to improve dramatically next year, either, when the semifinals will again be held on New Year’s Eve at the Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl.
4. How did New Year’s Six matchups work out?
Also not well. The two playoff games were not competitive in the second halves, helping to lower the TV ratings even more. As a whole the New Year’s Six bowls were decided by an average of 24.2 points per game, with Houston’s 14-point win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl the closest contest.
In fact, if you want to toss in the other two games held on New Year’s Day – the Citrus and Outback bowls – the eight games contested over the New Years were decided by an average of 27.25 points per game, with little drama in the fourth quarter in any of them.
5. So who’s the big winner of the bowl season?
S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-C!
A year after a disastrous bowl season in which the SEC West teams went 2-5, with Alabama losing in the semifinals as the top seed, the purported toughest conference/division in college football came back with a vengeance. Alabama advanced to the title game and the vaunted SEC West went 6-1, with only Texas A&M losing.
As a whole, the SEC went 8-2, by far the best mark posted by any conference. Among Power 5 conferences, the Pac-12 came in a distant second at 6-4, followed by the Big Ten (5-5), ACC (4-5) and Big 12 (3-4).
A year after Ohio State won the national championship and seemingly restoring the Big Ten’s legitimacy, there are signs that the conference might be slipping back into the Big Two and the others (just like the old days). The Buckeyes and their archrival Michigan once again look like the class of the Big Ten, with former Stanford and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh poised to haul in the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in 2016.
But the Big Ten and everybody else will have to wait their turn. Unless Clemson finishes its dream season by knocking off touchdown-favorite Alabama, the SEC is set to reclaim the top perch of college football once again.