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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.