10 takeaways from college football bowl season
With the exception of Monday’s national championship game, bowl season is over for 2018. While absent players and programs in flux made it difficult to assess in some cases, we certainly picked up some clues and could come to some conclusions about this college football season and the future of several teams.
Here’s a look at 10 takeaways from bowl season.
1) Only two teams were title-worthy this season
You can argue all you want about who the third and fourth teams in the College Football Playoff should have been, but the reality is we were likely going to wind up with the same two teams in the championship no matter how things shook out. Clemson and Alabama stood head and shoulders above the rest of the competition, as demonstrated by Clemson’s blowout of Notre Dame and Alabama’s last two wins against Georgia and Oklahoma. Nobody else looked sufficiently impressive during their bowl game to look like they deserved a shot at either of these two teams.
2) UCF is a quality team — but not a playoff one
The UCF Knights came within eight points of beating LSU with their star quarterback sidelined due to injury, which says something about just how good they were and how much staying power they had. The margins could have been worse had LSU been more efficient, and UCF actually could have won this had they been more efficient themselves. That said, the game was a solid assessment of UCF: a solid team, perhaps even top ten at full health, but probably not a playoff one. They can hold their heads high either way.
3) The committee got the playoff teams right
After their loss to Texas on Tuesday night, the Georgia Bulldogs can offer no argument that they should have been in the playoff ahead of anyone. That’s three losses on the season for them, and they simply can’t claim to have the results to support a playoff bid. Ohio State might have an argument, but their lone loss was worse than Oklahoma’s, and they allowed Washington back in the game late by giving up 20 fourth quarter points. The fact of the matter is, if bowl results count as affirmation, neither Ohio State nor Georgia showed enough to indicate that a mistake was made in the selection process.
4) The vaunted Big Ten East could have had a much better bowl season
Four of the Big Ten’s most prominent powers are in the Big Ten East, but only one of them — the Ohio State Buckeyes — won their bowl game. Michigan State put on one of the most inept offensive performances of bowl season in a 7-6 loss to Oregon, while Penn State needed a late comeback to make their 27-24 loss look respectable. The Michigan Wolverines couldn’t do that in a blowout loss to Florida. Once regarded as the deepest division in the sport, it’s pretty clear that the Big Ten East isn’t all it was cracked up to be.
5) Jim Harbaugh still has a lot of work to do at Michigan
A little over a month ago, this was shaping up to be Jim Harbaugh’s finest season at Michigan. The Wolverines were favored to beat Ohio State, and if they did so, they were a Big Ten title game away from a College Football Playoff bid. Ohio State embarrassed them, and to make matters worse, Florida did the same in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Yes, the Wolverines had several key players skipping the game, but it was an embarrassing showing and another loss for Harbaugh against a team of similar talent. Next year will be key for him, especially with Urban Meyer departing, but at some point Michigan has to be expected to make that big breakthrough and stop putting on spectacles like this.
6) Bowl games don’t really account for weather issues
Given the increasing presence of lightning delays in the sport, it’s kind of a miracle that we didn’t really have any modern comparison for what happened at the First Responder Bowl, when weather officially got the game called off. Widely mocked for the situation, it’s really kind of a miracle that this doesn’t happen more, even with domed stadiums and roofs. One has to wonder if the NCAA or its bowl games will take a lesson from this for the future, coming up with a new way to account for issues like this. They may instead just keep things as they are due to the rarity of the situation.
7) Some programs with a bright future had serious false starts
The Houston Cougars like to think of themselves as a big program on the rise, but even taking into account the fact that Ed Oliver sat out the bowl game, giving up 70 points to Army is simply unacceptable. They were completely run off the field, and the manner of the defeat probably contributed to Major Applewhite losing his job. The same goes for Mississippi State, which had a successful season but played such a sloppy bowl game against what should have been a beatable Iowa team. Just because you’re a big brand or you’ve put in the work doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed bowl success.
8) Many of the lesser games were mismatches
While things certainly got better closer to New Year’s Day, a lot of the December bowl games proved rather uninteresting. The bulk of them were decided by more than one score, with the likes of Tulane, Appalachian State, Utah State, and BYU turning in blowouts. It can’t even be blamed on players skipping games. It can be hard to judge teams from lesser conferences, and when pitted against each other, one can sometimes outclass the other. It led to some impressive performances, but some unexciting games.
9) It’s hard to blame players for sitting out after what happened to Trace McSorley
Trace McSorley wasn’t a highly-rated NFL prospect, but he was a standout college football player who elected to play in his team’s bowl game. The Penn State quarterback was promptly punished for it with a broken foot. McSorley would have played no matter what, but many players with more solid NFL futures opted to skip their bowl games. McSorley’s injury in an ultimately meaningless game his team went on to lose is all the evidence you need that those players are making pragmatic decisions for their futures, not selfishly ignoring their teammates.
10) UAB is one of the best stories in college football
At the end of the 2014 season, UAB elected to end its football program. That decision was reversed a year later and they resumed play in 2017, but they still had to rebuild the program from the ground up. In only their second season of competition since returning to play, the Blazers capped off an 11-win season with a 37-13 win over Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl. They’ve put this together remarkably quickly, and they’ve earned a major tip of the cap for the work they’re doing.