The Pressing Topic:
In analyzing the start to this 2007-2008 bowl season, I have to begin where most do. Advertising dollars, while helpful to bowl-participating schools, are ruining the authenticity and "toughness" of college football. I grew up as a Nebraska football fan (I'm now a Kansas fan since starting school at KU a year ago) and through the 1990's I watched NU participate in major bowl after major bowl, with names like the Rose, Cotton, and Orange Bowls. They repeatedly won conference championship games before the "Dr. Pepper Big-12 Championship" became the defining game in their conference, and the earliest advertising partnership I remember seeing Nebraska take part in was the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, which, with its one name, didn't seem all that excessive. However, in the wake of the "Papajohns.com Bowl", which blows my mind in that it not only advertises just the online component of a company, but also has no other name following the "Papajohns.com" in the bowl name. With previous advertising partnerships, the viewer would at least know something about the nature of the game from the bowl name...the Rose, Orange and Cotton Bowls all have names that allow even the casual football fan to name the state in which they are played, as these bowls are connected to California, Florida, and Texas, respectively through tradition. For the new bowls to gain any sort of following on a consistent basis, they need to at least say something about their location or provide a constant in their name, as advertisers can change annually and therefore eliminate any name-recognition that they may receive one year. The Hawaii and Texas Bowls have this figured out, while bowls such as the Papajohns.com bowl will struggle in anonymity as soon as their advertising affiliations run out.
Poinsettia Bowl - Utah 35 Navy 32:
What a great way to start off the bowl season. I got back from a wrestling match at my former High School just in time to catch the beginning of this one, assuming a decent game but mainly just watching to see if my pick of Utah in this game would hold up. I was very pleasantly surprised, though, as this game wasn't settled until Utah intercepted the Navy quarterback's pass (and I refuse to attempt spelling his name here, and will simply call him "the Navy quarterback") after they recovered their onside kick in the end. I admittedly haven't followed Utah very closely since Urban Meyer and Alex Smith left, but I came away surprised with their defense. Whenever you see highlights of games between non-BCS teams, the offenses run (or pass) all over the defenses, and the game is usually decided not by who stops the other one, but by whose offense tires first. However, Utah played pretty good defense in this game, something I didn't even see in the Urban Meyer era. It seemed that Utah, unlike other teams, recruits defense and coaches lesser offensive players, as opposed to most who are too busy looking for the next great overlooked quarterback to find the defensive gems. Even Navy impressed me, as I expected Utah to score from the goal line on fourth down and effectively end the game late, but they managed to stop them, showing a lot of grit. This was huge for the proponents of keeping the system as it is in the wake of the playoff debate. After all, a 16-team playoff would keep us from games as good as this.
New Orleans Bowl - FAU 44 Memphis 27:
I have to admit I was like most who figured Memphis would beat up on an FAU team that lost all 4 of its games against bowl teams. The only thing I saw that worried me was that FAU beat an Arkansas State team that Memphis lost to, but I figured this was due to injuries to Memphis at the time and the fact that they matched up differently. After watching Utah come back against Navy I figured Memphis would do the same all game long, but they could never get to the point that they were putting pressure on FAU and causing mistakes. It was very reminiscent of watching Kansas play Missouri. They could never quite get enough defensive stops to come back.
Papajohns.com Bowl - Cincinnati 31 Southern Miss 21:
This is another game that makes a case for the proponents of the current system, as many of these earlier games (which would not be played in a 16 team or 8 team playoff) that remain interesting will. Ben Mauk is a great story, and I think some NFL teams with a weakness at QB should take a long look at him in the draft. After all, coaches get so much credit for turning programs around, but this is a guy who has been instrumental in turning two programs around in Wake Forest and Cincinnati. On the other side, Southern Miss brings an interesting story to the game in that they fired their program-making coach in what looks like the typical "lesser program experiences some success and assumes they can do a lot better" story. I don't intend to attack the school that produced football idol Brett Favre, but it's hard to find loyalty like Jeff Bower's in the coaching ranks today, and I think that should be rewarded with loyalty from the program. Perhaps there were other circumstances that will be revealed later that lead to this happening, but if this is simply change for the sake of change, I think Southern Miss' athletic department is doing things the wrong way.
Overall, it's been a great start to this bowl season, and I can't wait for the games to come.