A lot on line in these five bowl games

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The Peach Bowl will be the third matchup of Gators and Wolverines since Jim Harbaugh became Michigan coach in 2015. The Gators are 0-4 against the Big Ten team. [The Associated Press]

We are now officially into bowl season, our toes dipped into the water knowing the big wave is coming.

If you don’t watch sports on TV, you may not know that Dec. 29 is either the College Football Playoffs semifinals or a Monster Truck Rally. I’m only going by the voice inflection on the promos.

As we all know, there are 40 bowl games if you count the finals of the CFP, which isn’t really a bowl game as much as it is a coronation.

You can refer to them as TV shows or exhibition games and complain that there are too many and puff up your chest and tell the world you wouldn’t watch BYU play Western Michigan in your backyard and that’s fine.

But know this — all of the bowl results will have an impact on the preseason polls next year. That’s insane, but it is true.

For the most part, the winners and losers of these games are just this side of insignificant for a number of reasons. They are exit interviews for the players who are either seniors or have made up their minds to leave early. Some assistant coaches have already bolted for better jobs as have a few head coaches.

(I’ve always wondered how a coach can look a player in the eye and demand everything he can give and then not be bothered to stick around for the bowl game, but that’s another column for another day.)

There are some bowl games that feel like they matter a little more. And it starts with the one involving your hometown team.

I’m going to give you five non-playoff games that matter starting with the one where the media members will break records for chicken nugget consumption.

PEACH BOWL

Florida vs. Michigan

Outside of the three playoff games, this feels like the biggest for both programs.

Mostly because the loser is going to feel like momentum is not exactly on its side.

I’ve heard some Big Ten analysts say this game is bigger for coach Jim Harbaugh than any game this season (including Ohio State? Blasphemy!). That seems a little extreme, but I get it.

To lose the last two games of the season after losing the last three games last season and the last two the year before, um, well, that’s a pattern. To lose three straight bowl games, two to SEC schools and another to FSU, would do little to bolster the Michigan brand in the fertile recruiting area we like to call the Deep South.

One thing on the line — the winner finishes in the top 10 in the final poll.

“The whole thing is about winning the game,” UF coach Dan Mullen said Friday. “It motivates you going into the offseason. You go in saying, ‘We’re a top-10 team.’ You can feel a little more energy.

“I’m not going to say it makes or breaks the program for any team in a bowl, but we don’t play again for long time. That’s a long time not being happy (if you lose).”

There’s also that small monkey Gator fans carry around that they would like to get rid of, an 0-4 record against Michigan all compiled in the last two decades.

And let’s face it, Mullen is building momentum in this program. That’s why the difference between 10-3 and 9-4 is more than one game.

“You want to keep the momentum going,” said UF quarterback Feleipe Franks. “We want to get a big win. It definitely carries over.”

FIESTA BOWL

LSU vs. UCF

I don’t think this is a huge deal for LSU as much as it is for UCF to stay relevant on the national landscape. The UCF naysayers are huge Tiger fans for this game. Those who root for underdogs are all over the Golden Knights.

It’s probably more important for the SEC than it is for the LSU program.

PINSTRIPE BOWL

Wisconsin vs. Miami

In the preseason poll, Wisconsin was fourth. Miami was eighth. Well done, voters. Oh yeah, wait, I’m one of those voters. Boy, did we whiff on those two teams.

You could call this the Disappointment Bowl and be dead on. The loser is going to feel like one.

Especially if its Miami, which is losing commitments left and right and just lost its defensive coordinator. Things are slipping in Coral Gables and I’m not saying a win would prop everything back up. But it wouldn’t hurt.

MUSIC CITY BOWL

Auburn vs. Purdue

Purdue had an amazing season, blasting Ohio State, giving us a new hero in super fan Tyler Trent and fighting off Jeff Brohm’s alma mater to keep him as the Boilermakers coach. You’d hate to wrap it up with a loss and a record under .500.

But this game is all about Auburn.

Coach Gus Malzahn has taken back the play-calling duties and if it doesn’t work out and the Tigers lose to a .500 Big Ten team, it’s going to basically start the countdown clock to his firing. He really needs this one.

CITRUS BOWL

Kentucky vs. Penn State

As good as Kentucky’s regular season was, ending it with a loss would be like biting into a diaper sandwich. This is the Wildcats’ biggest bowl game since before I was born (yes, a long, long time).

And for a Penn State team that fell short of all of its goals, a loss to a basketball school would be a rough way to end a 9-4 season.

So there you have it, five games with a lot on the line. I’m guessing you planned to watch them anyway. Especially that first one.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

27 COMMENTS

  1. What will UCF do if they get beaten rather badly by LSU? What will they do if they have less than a sterling season next year and finish (gasp) unranked? Will they continue to claim that they’re the equivalent of every elite team in the nation? The uncrowned National Champions?

    These are certainly the question of our age!

    • UCF did beat Auburn last year, the same Auburn that was in the SEC Championship game and beat both UGly and Lamda. This hear, they did beat all comers, including Pitt from a power 5 (barely) and would have/could have beaten North Carolina except it was cancelled and UNC would not reschedule at a non hurricane site (UCF). It’s fun to imagine what could or could not be, but UCF is the single biggest argument for an extended playoff format. Dabo is against extending the field, like duh. He has a team that dominates a weak conference and has been in it four times in a row. You think if he played in the SEC or BIG or Big12 and was a runner up many years he’d change his tune? Guaranteed.

      • I see both sides of the argument. The way the system is set up now, the group of 5 don’t really have a chance at a National Championship. I think they should have their own playoffs if the Power 5 aren’t going to include them. Otherwise, UCF should gladly accept the 2 and 1 offer for a chance to improve their strength of schedule.

        • Right. The way it stands now, group of five is left out. There have been times when a UCF, or a Boise St (past) etc… have deserved it and not been able to participate. I’m all for expansion, especially since that would help get more teams (including UF) into the party.

        • I’ve read that some Group of 5 schools favor a separate playoff, while others don’t, which I suppose would be obvious. One AD was quoted as saying “No thanks” to what he called “a junior varsity championship”. I can respect that attitude of wanting to win the “real” national championship.

          Sparky, I agree with you that UCF should accept the 2 for 1 offer with UF, since a victory over the Gators, coupled with an undefeated record, would probably push UCF into the playoff under the current 4 team format. Outside of that, gelco is right that the only way for a Group of 5 school to have a shot is an expanded playoff. Maybe the easiest way to do it would be a 6 team playoff with the five Power 5 champions and the highest ranked Group of 5 champion, giving the two highest ranked teams a first round bye. That scenario would respect the value of the regular season as well as the value of winning a conference championship. Of course, that would require the independents to join a conference to have a shot at the title, or have an 8 team field with two “at-large” teams.

          The playoff expansion would require at least some teams to play 16 games to win a title, which is a lot to ask of a college player, unless you eliminate conference championship games. That might be a good idea, but it would likely create arguments over teams winning their conference with the benefit of a “weak” conference schedule. On the other hand, conference championship games could be retained, and the regular season could be reduced back to 11 games by dropping what is usually an extra cupcake game for the larger schools. Although, that scenario would probably create some complaints about reduced revenue from a shorter regular season. If you’re not bothered by the possibility of two teams having to play 16 games, then 6 or 8 teams in the playoff is the way to go. That would give the Group of 5 a legitimate path to a championship and allow everything to be settled on the field.

          • Thank you, 6. Probably a lot more to that job that I wouldn’t like, though. On the other hand, maybe I could get rid of those self righteous, preachy ads with John Cena telling me that “Love has no labels”, and that group of petulant, supposed “student atheletes” telling me to go ahead and judge them, because, after all, “You know you want to”. It’d be worth the headache to accomplish that.

      • They beat AU, yes, but an AU team that had beaten UGA, and then had to play them again and got beat for the SEC Title. AU went into the Peach last year against UCF with absolutely nothing to play for and were totally flat, and mailed it in.

        Something tells me that LSU’s Coach Orgeron doesn’t intend for his team to be UCF’s “example” in the Fiesta Bowl. I imagine LSU will be pretty fired up for this game. OTOH, they could be down after getting repeatedly robbed @ Texas A&M too.

        We shall see…

          • It’s possible. Certainly. Especially with Milton out, he is truly a good QB and a difference maker. But that is why they play the games. I can clearly remember last year the exact same argument against UCF vs Aburnyourhousedown.

        • Todd, you just described the problem for UCF or any other Group of 5 team facing a Power 5 team. Even if they win, all the naysayers will go to the default argument that the Power 5 team in question was either disinterested in the game or was a “weak” Power 5 team, thus negating any value of the win for the Group of 5 team. Probably the second favorite naysayer argument is “Well, that’s just one win; they couldn’t win consistently if they had to play in the (insert name of your favorite Power 5 conference) every week”. With these arguments, the naysayers still conclude that Power 5 teams are better.

          I’ll admit that those are legitimate arguments to some extent, but championships aren’t supposed to be determined by being the “better” team, but rather by being the “winning” team. The Patriots were probably “better” than the Giants in both of their recent Super Bowl match-ups, but nobody can argue that the Giants were the champions, because they won the games. I’d like to see the Group of 5 teams have a legitimate path to the playoff and have things decided on the field with no excuses for either team.

  2. I’m rooting for Wisconsin for one day… big time! Anything that helps bring the same level of chaos to Coral Gables that currently reigns in Tally, heading into the wrap up of recruit signing season is bound to be good news for the Gators.

    Go Badgers!!!

    • Daz, for most of the 30 plus years I’ve closely followed college football I’ve rooted for only 2 teams, the Gators and whoever plays Notre Dame! Success of the other two major Florida programs could be ignored, except when the Gators played them, or when discussion turned to which state dominated the sport. The three major Florida schools dominated Florida high school recruiting and there was enough elite talent there for all three to have top 5 programs every season.

      However, recruiting is destiny in college football. Over the last 10 years, some out-of-state schools have successfully poached a large number of Florida’s best recruits, to where today there’s NOT enough elite talent left over in the state to routinely sustain all three major programs at top 5 level. That reality being the case, it’s now survival of the fittest and whatever hurts the Canes and Noles in recruiting will help the Gators rise back to the top 5.

      So, I celebrated the Gators not just beating up the Noles this season, but ALSO knocking them out of a bowl game. And now, as far as the Canes are concerned…..

      ….. Go Badgers!!!