Another bloated bowl season, after 40 games, has winnowed down to the only college football matchup that truly has captured the fancy of fans since the postseason schedule was set Dec. 4.
We’ll learn Monday whether this year’s College Football Playoff championship game between top-ranked Alabama (14-0) and second-seeded Clemson (13-1) can measure up to last year’s classic that ended with the Crimson Tide’s 45-40 triumph. To get to this rematch in Tampa, in which the CFP seeds and team records are reversed from last year, we waded through 40 undercard matchups that taught us some unexpected lessons. Among them:
▪ The ACC and Big 12, considered the nation’s softest Power 5 conferences throughout the regular season, deserved more respect than they received from September through November. Teams from the ACC (8-3) and Big 12 (4-2) won at least two-thirds of their bowl games. More-heralded teams from the SEC (6-6), Pac-12 (3-3) and Big Ten (3-7) fell far short of that mark, with the Big Ten completely soiling its regular-season reputation as the nation’s strongest conference in 2016.
▪ Texas’ teams cannot flip the focus fast enough to Feb. 1 and national signing day for high school prospects. The sooner the state’s 12 FBS programs can distance themselves from 2016’s collective record of 65-85, including a 1-5 mark in bowl games, the better. The state’s lone bowl winner was Baylor (7-6), which broke a six-game losing streak by defeating Boise State 31-12 in the Cactus Bowl. As things stand, fans should prepare for all 12 of the Lone Star State’s major-college teams to finish unranked for the first time in 49 years when The Associated Press releases its postseason poll Tuesday. The state’s best records belong to unranked Houston (9-4) and unranked Texas A&M (8-5), both of which lost their bowl games.
13 Bowl participants that finished the season with losing records, including three teams from Texas (TCU, North Texas, UTSA) and one team that won its bowl game to finish 6-7 (Mississippi State).
▪ The oversaturated bowl market is out-of-control. The 2016 postseason yielded another attendance drop based on data compiled by the Football Bowl Association. Average attendance fell by 4.94 percent, from 43,018 per game last year to 40,893 this season. The Miami Beach Bowl had the lowest announced crowd (15,262) of any matchup in the continental U.S.
▪ There are too many unworthy participants. A whopping 13 bowl teams, including three schools from Texas, finished their seasons with losing records. The roll call includes TCU (6-7), North Texas (5-8), UTSA (6-7), South Carolina (6-7), Vanderbilt (6-7), Indiana (6-7), Maryland (6-7), Mississippi State (6-7), UCF (6-7), Central Michigan (6-7), South Alabama (6-7), Louisiana-Lafayette (6-7) and Miami, Ohio (6-7). Perhaps more stunning, Mississippi State won its bowl game to post its 6-7 record.
As things stand, the bloated bowl system is capped at 40 games because of an NCAA-mandated freeze on new bowls through 2019. After that, bowl executives, conference commissioners and athletic directors will huddle to see what changes, if any, will be made to the system.