Zemek's Sugar Thought: The crazy bowl season

Posted Jan 3, 2013

Matt Zemek's thoughts on Louisville's win over Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

By Matt Zemek
E-mail Matt Zemek

We are being reminded this bowl season that college football, as much as the mind would like it to be neat and tidy, will not cooperate.

This is a sport with an odd-shaped ball and 20-year-old participants with adrenaline coursing through their veins. This is a sport in which young people have all sorts of motivations… and reasons to not be motivated. This is a sport in which one day's dropped interception becomes the next day's pick-six, when one day's lucky escape becomes the next day's Murphy's Law nightmare.

Welcome to a world in which the Florida Gators, the "find a way" team of the Southeastern Conference in 2012, get waxed by a Louisville squad whose most impressive 2012 win came against… (wait for it…) Rutgers. Yeah, that's the same Rutgers team that somehow lost to Virginia Tech in the 2012 Russell Athletic Bowl, which is on the short list as one of the worst-played bowl games in the 111-year history of bowl games.

College football is crazy… crazy enough to create the kind of regular season in which Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel made dozens of poor throws but got intercepted on only three of them. The pendulum swung back and hit Driskel hard on Wednesday in the Superdome.

College football is crazy enough to create a regular season in which Florida labored against teams such as Missouri, Louisiana-Lafayette, and in the first half against Tennessee… but then flexed its muscles in impressive performances against LSU, South Carolina, Texas A&M, and Florida State. The Gators were hard to figure out all season, and they remained a puzzle against Louisville, playing even worse than they did against Georgia.

College football is crazy enough to create a regular season in which Louisville – the same team that frolicked against Florida in a 10-point game that felt more like a 35-point drubbing – lost at home to Connecticut. Yes, that's the same Connecticut squad which failed to make a bowl game this season and had trouble tying its shoelaces at times.

How crazy is college football? Consider the following: You could argue that Louisville's decisive win means big trouble for SEC champion Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. You would have a valid point to make. You can also argue that Florida's loss points to impending difficulties for Notre Dame, another team that – like Florida – lived on the edge throughout the 2012 season but was consistently able to survive close shaves. You would also have a valid point to make. College football does this. The sport is plum crazy.

Wednesday night's result shows why FBS teams often remain hard to assess in full, even after a bowl game. Cupcake scheduling and weak conferences do this. Five-week breaks – which, in this case, enabled Louisville to get healthy while taking away Florida's edge – are also responsible for leaving analysts more puzzled (not less) in the first week of January. The dynamics of bowl games show why conference superiority is such a murky and elusive concept. It's why fans battle each other on this issue on a 24/7/365 basis. Tonight's game won't settle many arguments, to be sure, but let's establish two facts – one of them numerical, the other cultural – before turning our attention to the Fiesta Bowl:

1) The Big East does all right in BCS bowls. The Big East is now 8-7 in 15 BCS games. Sure, Miami won three BCS games when the Hurricanes were part of the Big East, but that's part of the point. The non-Miami section of the Big East has won five BCS games while losing six. That's almost a break-even record, which really isn't bad. Only the Atlantic Coast Conference, at 3-13, has truly fallen apart in BCS bowls. The Big East has been unfairly maligned in this regard.

2) Can there be any remaining doubt that the BCS's bowl structure has killed the Sugar and Orange Bowls? It was the BCS that played bowls on midweek nights AFTER January 1, thereby inconveniencing families who would love to travel to bowls but need to be able to get back to work on Jan. 2 or 3 if those days are midweek workdays. It was the BCS that pulled bowls away from New Year's Day and created a bowl architecture that made non-Rose, non-championship bowl games irrelevant on a cultural level, creating the vast seas of empty seats we've seen in Miami (for Florida State-Northern Illinois) and New Orleans (for this game between Louisville and Florida). Fans of conferences used to regard the Orange and Sugar Bowls as special, throwing oranges or sugar cubes onto the field when their team clinched the Big 8 or the SEC. We don't have those outpourings of joy anymore, and even for the Rose Bowl, a lot of USC fans got tired of that game in 2008 and 2009. Even the Granddaddy can get tiresome for programs that expect to make the BCS National Championship Game. The cultural diminishment of the Orange and Sugar Bowls is a very sad reality to contemplate for anyone who loves and cherishes college football.