One bowl game now has particular meaning. The two teams chosen to play in the Bowl Championship Series title game have the national championship at stake. For all others, almost no one other than that team's fans will remember the outcome.
Still, a bowl game is a reward for the players and coaches who have had a good season. And even though it is more work and more practice, the fun of a bowl trip and a game against another successful team is good stuff. It's also a chance for a school to reward the wives and children of coaches, who have been somewhat abandoned in the fall. (Alabama's staff overcomes this family disadvantage to some extent with family events, pizza party and games, after every Wednesday practice.)
And there are many behind the scenes in an athletics department who are rewarded with a bowl trip.
Although conference teams still share some of the wealth of a bowl game, Southeastern Conference teams now get to retain enough of the bowl take to make it an important part of the budget.
There is also more practice time. Although it's not the equivalent of another spring practice, it is more practice. And with reduced practice time in the fall, every little bit can help.
Alabama has a few extra incentives, maintaining its place as first in the nation both in all-time bowl appearances (currently 52) and in all-time bowl victories (currently 29).
And a bowl win would give Alabama a 10-2 record, a national record 28th time the Crimson Tide would have won 10 or more games in a season.
It keeps a team's name in the newspapers and on television and radio in a positive manner for a few more weeks, crucial recruiting weeks. (Once upon a time, a team participating in a bowl game would have prospects from the bowl area attending practices, but that is no longer permitted.)
Although the only bowl that really matters in the football scheme of things is the BCS game, other things are important. For instance, Auburn is likely to go to Orlando. That is good for location in late December and early January.
Alabama is likely to go to Dallas. That is good, but not because of location. The weather isn't likely to be as nice as it will be at a Florida bowl. The Cotton Bowl has a reputation, though, of being one of the best-liked by participants, players and coaches and staff and families. They are quite hospitable in Dallas, whereas that is not always the case in other places. And there is quite a bit of Cotton Bowl history, even though the Fiesta Bowl bought its way above the Cotton for BCS purposes.
One of the most important things about a bowl game is the opponent. Although Texas Tech may be a good team, in a few years a game against the Red Raiders is not much. Most projections have Texas Tech playing Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. That is one of the classic "big for one side (Texas Tech playing Alabama), not big for the other side (Alabama playing Texas Tech) games.
There is talk that Florida may go to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, which does not rank high on the winter destinations of a lot of people. But the Gators are likely to play Oklahoma or Nebraska, and people will watch that game.
Television ratings drive most bowl selections. That's why Notre Dame will be the first team chosen by a BCS bowl after the national championship contenders for the Rose Bowl are announced. The Fiesta Bowl will take Notre Dame. And the Fiesta also gets the next choice to get the competition, and the Fiesta will choose another top name, Ohio State or Penn State. (Sorry, Auburn, but you don't have the name. And if by some chance the Fiesta takes Oregon, I'm sending my crystal ball back to the manufacturer.)
The Southeastern Conference may have to take a look at its bowl partners. This year the Outback Bowl has been widely reported as determined to take a 7-4 South Carolina team. That would mean that a team like Alabama with a 9-2 records (including a 37-14 blasting of South Carolina in Columbia this season) could be relegated to a lesser bowl while the Gamecocks head to Tampa. South Carolina is the SEC bowl eligible team with the worst record and should be headed to Shreveport.
About the only sure things right now are that the SEC champion (LSU or Georgia) will go to the Sugar Bowl and Auburn will go to the Capital One Bowl. The other bowl eligible teams are Alabama, Florida and South Carolina and the other available bowls are the Outback, Cotton, Peach, and Independence.