Aside from the “tippity top” of the college football landscape, next season will look no different than this one.
Yes, the new, four team playoff system will be upon us, the one to decide the National Champion, but other than those select few, it’s not like everyone is going to pack it in and head towards finals after their late-November or (even fewer) early-December showdowns.
That’s right, fans. The bowl games will return! Just when you thought it was going to end, it turns out the annual jingles, clichéd press conference and talking heads ranting over the teams battling in the Belk Bowl will be back in action at the end of 2014.
So, what’s the point of all the fuss? Why do people pay any attention to the mundane bowl games on a snowy, mid week afternoon in between all-things Santa and ringing in the New Year? It’s not like the games matter, or anything.
To tell you the truth, the college football “postseason” happens at a pretty weird time in the sports calendar. High school and Pop Warner football is long gone, and for most of the NFL it’s about finishing out the stretch towards either a playoff run or a high draft pick. Many also have yet to flip over to either college basketball (if you haven’t, you’re missing out) or the NBA.
Even the college football schedule itself is wacky. The hometown Hawkeyes played their last game the morning after thanksgiving, yet over a month later will strap on the shoulder pads anew and play in the Outback Bowl.
While very few of the bowls represent generations of tradition and ceremonial pageantry, most of the events just adopt the name of their top advertiser. The Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Cotton Bowl are in this esteemed category. But other than that privileged group, does it really make sense to be playing these games? Does it matter who wins the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl?
Following Iowa’s disappointing 2012 campaign, in which a promising 4-2 Hawkeye team following a win in East Lansing watched their season crumble to the tune of 6 straight losses, Iowa City was ecstatic to hear how far along the Hawks were coming in their off-season strength and conditioning program. Who cared they weren’t going bowling when the team was already three weeks ahead of where they would be if they had to prepare for another opponent!
That offseason led to this year’s resilient 8-4 team, who stacked up considerably with their opponents in term of physicality and toughness, exhibited by their senior linebackers James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens. Additionally, the injury bug that claimed two starters on the offensive line, two running backs and a handful of nagging injuries from a season ago seems to have eluded this year’s edition. How much of that can be attributed to the three “extra” weeks of training?
After a long season, a win against someone you would otherwise never play adds momentum in recruiting and program morale headed into the offseason. As Kirk Ferentz said in his press conferences on the topic, the Outback Bowl for his team is a reward for their season-long grit and determination. But, do we really need the borderline exhibition games as a reward? For a sport that is teetering on disaster due to concussions and knee injuries, does adding another game for 70 FBS schools really make sense?
Iowa has already proven this season that they can rebound from the disaster from a season ago. We’ve already had our senior day celebration to reward the players who stuck with the program for four grueling years. Beating LSU without their starting quarterback on New Year’s Day would be nice, but it doesn’t vindicate anything that an eight win, Big Ten slate would otherwise indicate.
For everyone who is headed down to Tampa (myself included), it will hopefully be a wonderful reprieve from the brutal winter months. I know I will enjoy it, especially considering it’s the last time to relish what powerful benefits the doomed “extra” offseason yielded.
[Editor's Note: Iowa wears practice helmets that are separate from their game day helmets. The correction was made to reflect it as such.]