Another bowl season has come and gone. For a college football fan such as myself, bowl season has typically been its own holiday. Taking trips to popular vacation destinations like Miami, New Orleans, or Southern California if your program is pretty good, or slightly less popular destinations like Shreveport, Mobile and Birmingham if your program is mediocre. Hanging out with family and catching up with old school chums and seeing who’s getting fatter and who’s getting richer. Participating in low- or high-level alcoholism, depending on your preference. (Like the Air Force, I prefer to Aim High.)
I loved bowl season. For years, I used to watch practically every game. The only dudes watching more bowl games than I was were degenerate gamblers involved in round robin parlays praying to their god that they weren’t going to owe Little Billy’s college fund to the friendly neighborhood bookmaker by the end of the night. This year, however, I found myself as disinterested in bowl season as I have ever been. Partially that’s my fault: I had a kid. Children limit your free time considerably, so when you get some of it, you’re not likely to squander three hours watching riveting C-list matchups like Toledo versus Liberty in the RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl. It’s also partially my team’s fault: the Florida Gators are habitually bad.
But most of my disinterest in college football has to do with changes to the game itself and the not-inconsiderable number of players who are as disinterested in these games as I am.
Let’s start with the suckitude of my perennially underperforming Gators, who just concluded their first back-to-back losing seasons since 1979 after getting spanked 30-3 (eesh) by Oregon State in the SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl. Going to a bowl game, any bowl game, is a big accomplishment for lesser football programs (looking at you, Wisconsin). But for a program that has won three national championships and eight SEC Championships, and produced three Heisman winners and nearly three dozen consensus all-Americans? For a university with UF’s academic heft (top-five public school, according to US News, top thirty overall)? For a flagship of a university system in a state that just happens to have arguably the best recruiting base on the planet, with a massive and rich alumni/booster community and an endowment significantly larger than any other school in the powerhouse Southeastern Conference? Going 6-6 in the regular season and then getting hammered by the Beavs is just pathetic.
In my decadent and depraved younger days, I traveled all over watching this team play. Knoxville, Jacksonville, Nashville — one of the best things about the South is that you can go practically anywhere and have a substantive conversation about college football. Hell, I’ve literally bled for this football program (a story for another time, but let’s just say it was a long time ago and involves a rather rotund female crow-hopping a full bottle of Bud Light into the side of my face).
I vociferously read the blogs, loyally listened to the podcasts, called out of work on national signing day, and planned vacations around the Gators’ schedule. I would have literally taken a bullet for Steve Spurrier. Point being: I used to be Seriously Involved.
Now? Honestly, I didn’t even remember the Gators were playing and would have missed the bowl game entirely if it weren’t for a notification on my phone. I turned off the game before halftime. Call me fair-weather if you want, and maybe I am, but I have better things to do than hate-watch a crap football team in a meaningless bowl game that took place before winter had even arrived. I am many things, but a masochist is not one of them.
Here’s the thing: our outcome could have been different if our starting quarterback, stalwart linebacker, consensus All-American offensive guard, and starting wide receiver hadn’t all decided they were going to skip the game to protect themselves from injury before the NFL Draft, and if another seventeen scholarship players also hadn’t decided to take a pass on playing after announcing their intentions to enter the transfer portal. It also definitely didn’t help that our backup QB was dismissed from the program less than three weeks before the game after he was arrested for distributing child pornography.
So the Florida squad that suited up in Vegas, just fifty-five players, was a shell of the team that finished the regular season just a few weeks prior. This problem is not unique to Florida. It’s systemic in college football, and the absence of the best players puts in stark relief how insignificant these games have become.
Still, you can’t really blame the players. It’s a shame for the sport, but it is absolutely the decision that should be made 100 times out of 100. There’s far too much money at stake to risk a potential injury that could jeopardize an NFL career. You’d be insane to tell one of these kids, most of whom don’t come from any significant means, to roll the dice with millions of dollars and the ability to marry a woman with long legs and brains just to turn an 8-4 season into a 9-4 season and make happy some fat, rich boomer alumnus with an unhealthy attachment to school pride.
The playoff semifinal games were a hoot at least, with Michigan giving TCU and Ohio State giving defending national champion Georgia (it truly pains me to write that) all they could handle. Those two were instant classics and showcased just how exciting college football could be — and why it’s a lot more fun to watch than the sterile, predictable, stylistically vanilla NFL.
The national championship though? Mon Dieu! What a massacre. The game was essentially over after the coin toss. Georgia won 65-7 for its second-consecutive national title (brb, vomiting profusely), but if someone told me the final score was actually 130-7, I would have nodded my head and said, “Yeah, that sounds right.” It was such a lopsided game it was almost uncomfortable to watch.
I know why TCU was there and why the playoff committee had to put them there: conference champion, five regular-season victories over ranked opponents, only one loss, semifinal victor over another conference champion, style points, etc. But they probably didn’t deserve to be. Ohio State or Michigan (the team TCU squeaked out a victory over the week before, 51-45) or, dare I say it, two-loss colossus Alabama would almost certainly have matched up better against the Dawgs.
So it seems probable that this year is a premonition of my bowl season future: just tuning into the playoffs and whatever bowl the Gators are in (if I remember). Perhaps turning on a game here or there for background noise when cleaning or cooking dinner. In that respect, I’ve returned to being a respectable, middle-aged college football fan who has normal, adult responsibilities to consider.
Now, if the Gators go 12-1 or 13-0 next season…