Bowl Musings

Once upon a time there were four big bowls and a lot of other bowls. The Rose Bowl was the original post-season national game, earning the sobriquet, "Granddaddy of Bowl Games." For many years the Rose Bowl title was to be more valued than the national championship, although they were frequently the same. This year the Rose Bowl will once again produce the national championship team.

It is not because the Rose Bowl was smart. In fact, after Alabama romped over USC, 34-14, in the Rose Bowl following the 1945 season, the Rose Bowl demeaned itself with a contract that shut off most of college football. It was probably aimed as much at Alabama as anything since the Crimson Tide had great success against the best of the west with a 4-1-1 record. Thence forward, the Rose Bowl was a closed shop, only Pac-10 and Big Ten members need apply.

There is much deserved criticism of the Bowl Championship Series. But if it did nothing else, it opened up the Rose Bowl. Once again this year, as in days of yore, the national champion will come from the Rose Bowl. But it's only the luck of the draw. Next year the national champion will come from the Sugar Bowl (or at least the BCS national champion).

The original Big Four included the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Cotton bowls. A few years ago the Fiesta Bowl used the good old American tactic of paying more money and taking the spot formerly held by the Cotton Bowl.

The worst thing the BCS has done has render all bowls other than the national championship game meaningless. Not that they are not fun for the players and another game for the fans of the schools that are in them and a chance for community service in the bowl cities. But almost without exception–the Associated Press' childish withdrawal from BCS compilations notwithstanding–there will be only one bowl determining the national champion for the foreseeable future.

True, that has probably been the case most years. At the end of the 1992 season there was no chance for any team other than the 1993 Sugar Bowl participants, Alabama and Miami, to win the national title. But at the end of 1965 no fewer than four teams had a chance to win the championship on January 1, 1966.

(The nice thing about those two examples is that in both years it was Alabama that emerged as Number One. In 1992 it was a straight up romp over the Hurricanes, while in 1965 Bama jumped from number four. UCLA upset Michigan State and LSU upset Arkansas and Bama and number three Nebraska played for the national title in the Orange Bowl with the Crimson Tide winning and earning the crown.)

Where will Alabama go this year for its record 53rd bowl appearance, in search of its record 30th bowl victory?

There would seem to be only two possibilities. One is the Cotton Bowl to face Texas Tech of the Big 12. Texas Tech played its way into the Cotton last weekend with a win over Oklahoma.

Most are predicting Bama to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Last year the Cotton Bowl hosted Tennessee, loser of the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, against Texas A&M.

The other possibility seems to be the Outback Bowl in Tampa. Last year, as you all no doubt remember, Georgia defeated Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl. The Big Ten provides the opposition for the SEC in this game, and the candidates are Michigan, Wisconsin, and Northwestern.

SEC procedure is to work with the Outback, Cotton and Peach bowls to place teams in those bowls. Although there can be exceptions, the Outback gets its first choice of an Eastern Division team and the Cotton its first choice of a Western Division team. Would the Cotton be willing to give up Alabama and take the SEC Championship Game loser?

The Outback Bowl has traditionally hoped for an SEC Eastern Division team to play against a Big Ten representative. In fact, Tampa loves to get the Florida Gators when possible. This year the hope was for faux Florida, the South Carolina Gamecocks and erstwhile Gator Golden Boy Steve Spurrier. But when South Carolina lost to Clemson Saturday, the Gamecocks were headed for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.

With three losses so far, Florida seems destined for Nashville's Music City Bowl.

Auburn will be in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando (if the Tigers don't back into the SEC Championship Game with an Arkansas win over LSU this week).

If LSU defeats Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, which most expect to happen, it will be LSU in the Sugar Bowl. Meanwhile, Georgia is playing at Georgia Tech this week. If the Bulldogs lose to the Yellow Jackets, that would be a loss sandwiched between losses to Auburn and LSU and four losses in five games. Not very attractive.

And because Georgia fans were underwhelming in their purchase of Outback Bowl tickets last year, the Tampa game might want to get Alabama.

Should Georgia upset LSU and get to the Sugar Bowl, it would be the Bulldogs third consecutive game in Atlanta.

As for Alabama, it has some history with the Cotton Bowl, and not as much with Tampa–a 17-14 win over Michigan at the end of the 1996 season, Coach Gene Stallings' final game as Tide coach.

One reason Bama might prefer the Outback Bowl is that the Crimson Tide is much more likely to be recruiting in the Tampa area than in the Dallas area. Both games are played January 2.

The SEC has only six bowl eligible teams this year with the likes of Tennessee and Arkansas falling short of six wins. That means the SEC will not be able to provide teams for two bowls with which the league has agreements–the Independence in Shreveport and the Houston Bowl.

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