There are too many bowl games. OK, sure, fine. They still make players happy, mean football on TV, and make enough people money to keep happening.
The day after Christmas 2016 might be the stiffest test yet each of these arguments has faced. Of the six teams scheduled to play on Boxing Day, not one has a winning record.
The NCAA opened up bowl eligibility in 2006, meaning teams with .500 records could attend. That eventually expanded even further, when a 40-bowl schedule meant including teams with losing records, but good Academic Progress Rate scores.
It wouldn’t be fair to compare this schedule onslaught to a day with just one bowl between .500 teams, since anyone can weather a single unappealing game. But I’ve gone back to 2000* to try and find a three-bowl day made up of nothing but seven-win teams. Nope. It’s not even worth mentioning any days that came close. Almost every day of bowls has at least one team that’s won a significant number of games. Even last year’s Cure Bowl, which still has a case for the lowliest bowl ever, was on a day with four nine-win teams playing.
Look at the glory of this schedule (all times ET):
6-6 Miami (Ohio) vs. 5-7 Mississippi State in St. Petersburg, Fla. at 11 a.m.
Both teams closed hot, with the Redhawks riding a 6-0 streak and the Bulldogs beating rival Ole Miss! But this is the rare combo: two bad teams, with one still way better than the other. MSU’s favored by two touchdowns. Also, this kicks off at 10 a.m. Starkville time. Also, nothing good can happen on the swamp planet that is Tropicana Field:
This is the game no longer worthy of being sponsored by "Beef ‘O’ Brady’s" or something to do with Bitcoin.
6-6 Boston College vs. 6-6 Maryland in Detroit at 2:30 p.m.
We did bowl watchability rankings, and this one came in dead last, with not a single person giving it anything higher than the worst available grade. Our voting panel included a Maryland alum. Detroit is a far better city for visitors than it’s made out to be, but I’m furious that players won’t get to experience the IHOPplebee’s.
6-6 NC State vs. 6-6 Vanderbilt in Shreveport, La. at 5 p.m.
According to S&P+, NC State is the best team playing on this entire day. The Wolfpack lost four close games, including what should’ve been a win over No. 2 Clemson. Vandy is also better than its record suggests. This game is sneaky decent, but tainted by its records, its predecessors, and the brand of its location, which fans have long hoped to avoid in bowl season. This was the bowl famously sponsored by Poulan Weedeater in the 1990s, a punchline to this day, and by AdvoCare after that.
ESPN and company have done a good job of cramming bowl bloat into a well-paced series, starting with fun mid-major games and ramping up toward January. But this year, a few bowls that are all low on power-conference pecking orders ended up on the same morning and afternoon, and the lineup is almost impossibly bleak. I salute it.
* Since bowl standards were much higher in the previous millennium —1997 had exactly half as many bowls as 2016’s 40, and 1980 had only 15 — there’s no point in looking back too far beyond 2006. We did it, 2016. We did it.
The Big Ten says The Spot was fine, but admits a couple officiating errors in Michigan-Ohio State.
Hawaii won its bowl thanks in part to some of the all-time greatest long snapping.
Old Dominion won the first bowl in school history, and head coach Bobby Wilder was fired up in the Bahamas.