This being the 24-hour per day sports news world we live in, we’ll hear endlessly about the results of the various non-playoff bowl games and what they “mean” over the next few days.
Let me just go ahead and state that I don’t believe those bowl games tell us much of anything.
Was Georgia not really better than Texas, or were they just not mentally prepared to play after missing out on the playoff?
Was UCF hurt by not having their QB, or was the showing of their defense against LSU a sign that they couldn’t really compete in a Power 5 conference week after week?
Was Notre Dame a better choice than Ohio State and/or Georgia? Well, based on what happened, not really. Ohio State looked like a playoff team as it raced out to a 28-3 lead against Washington, then reminded us all why they weren’t, holding on for a 28-23 win.
Is Florida really that much better than Michigan? Wisconsin than Miami? Auburn than Purdue?
Simply put, we really don’t know.
We ask these young men, 18,19,20 year olds, to play in this game that doesn’t really matter. To fly across the country in many cases, miss out on the holidays, prepare for one opponent for multiple weeks of practice, and then want to draw larger conclusions, but I don’t think you can do that. There’s nothing “normal” about these games, and the situations leading up to the games. Would Clemson truly blast Notre Dame the way they did a week after another ACC game? How much did extra weeks of film and game planing help that?
Bowl season is full of questions. Is a team mentally prepared, do they care at all? How many match-ups can you exploit with weeks to watch film on your opponents? How much will travel and pre-game festivities short circuit their focus? How much does one or two players sitting out to prevent an injury before the draft change your team? (i.e. West Virginia without Will Grier)
Put simply, we don’t know. We have no idea how any team would perform in a different match-up, because that’s not what was in front of them.
What we do know about this season is that Clemson and Alabama were head and shoulders better than everyone else. The season showed us that, and the semi-finals showed it for sure. In fact, despite all of the calls for an expanded playoff because there wasn’t a clear line between teams 3-4 and 5-7, we may have been just as well off going back to two teams and cutting out all the boring football from the semi-finals.
Which brings us to those two teams, Clemson and Alabama. And coaching.
I’ve seen a lot of pundits talk about elite coaches wanting to take college jobs because you get full control of the roster, so it’s a bit easier. I call BS. It’s npt easier, just ask Kliff Kingsbury, or Major Applewhite. And it’s not easier for one simple reason, recruiting. When you’re an NFL coach, if you take over a failing team, you know you’re going to get some high draft picks to try and make up the talent discrepancy. In the NCAA you have to convince 17-18 year olds that it’s in their best interest to go to a program that hasn’t won anything in their lifetimes.
Think about it. How much hope would you have as an Arizona Cardinal fan if I told you your reward for finishing last is getting to pick whomever is left over after the other teams make their selections? That’s what the NCAA is. Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, LSU, Oklahoma, Michigan, etc. all get to pick first, second and third before players even look at Houston or Texas Tech. We can talk all day long about how unpredictable college football can be, and it can be because these are still kids in essence, but the talent gap between those teams and the lesser ones, not to mention the resources gap, is tremendous. Given weeks to prepare before their semi-final games, we saw just how true that is.
So yeah, if you’re thinking college is easier because you don’t have a pesky front office picking your players for you, go try and rebuild a struggling program, and convince 5 star recruits to forgo an almost automatic shot at the playoffs for a starting spot in the Sun Bowl.. Good luck with that.