Going to a bowl game is vital for football programs. It is just as much what you get out of going to a bowl as it is what you lose if you don't. The teams that don't make it past the regular season find themselves behind the 8-ball in relation to those programs who continue on into December or January play.
The first big advantage to going bowling is the opportunity for more practice time. Most teams that take part in postseason play have the opportunity for 15 to 20 more sessions. This is like getting an extra spring practice. These practices not only are fine tuning for the regulars that have played all season long but an opportunity for the coaches to evaluate and work with the non-starters and redshirts.
These non-regulars, in a lot of ways, have been ignored to a large extent by the coaching staff during the season. Their role has been subjugated to that of the scout team. Since the coaching staff only has limited time preparing for upcoming opponents, the second line players don't receive the attention and individual coaching they did in August practices. Bowl practices tend to pick up the morale of the players that have been given limited reps during the season.
A second plus for going to a bowl game is the natural exposure it gives to the team and football program. ESPN and the networks see to it, for the large part, that most every bowl game has its own TV window with national coverage. In most cases – like with the Alamo Bowl – it will be the only game going at that time.
A big selling point to recruits is that by consistently being in a bowl game gives you, as a player, a chance to be seen and your talents displayed yet another time. Recruits are more likely to go to a college or university that gets a lot of national attention. The more times a team or conference are publicized on the networks, the more likely to attract big talent.
The third, and probably most apparent advantage for a school to go to a bowl game, is the large amount of revenue made for the university. A bowl game will put hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars into the school and conference treasuries. Because the sport of football financially carries most collegiate sports program, missing out on a bowl game can be critical to survival for some "minor" sports.
The toughest decision a coaching staff has to be concerned about regarding a bowl practice is how many tough, physical days of contact do you want to put the squad through. There is a fine line between being sharp and being beat up. The players have already been through a long grueling season. A smart coaching staff is able to judge how much their team can physically take before they get worn out.
Another key decision is how many days before the game do you travel to the bowl site. Bowl game sponsors usually require participating teams to report approximately seven to 10 days early. Bowl sponsors have many public relation events for the coaches and players to attend. There will be numerous media events promoting the bowl and competing teams are expected to take an active part in these functions.
The toughest part for many players is the fact they'll be away from home for Christmas. At Ohio State, that means you'll probably be gone for at least part of the holiday season till your eligibility expires. But what so often happens is the parents of the players usually travel to the bowl and many times stay at the same hotel or resort.
Bowl preparations start for the players about 10 days after the Michigan game. It gets to be a very hectic few weeks because they are not only lifting and practicing but also studying for finals and hosting recruits on the weekend.
The situation is just as tough for the coaches. It wasn't uncommon for me to be in a school in Florida in the morning, fly back to Columbus for an afternoon practice and make a home visit to a prospect and his parents in the evening. As a coach, you have to squeeze a lot into 24 hours. This pace continues till it's time for the team to leave Columbus for the bowl site.
Once the team arrives at the bowl site, the physical contact becomes very limited. The coaches and players focus more on the mental phase of the game by watching films and designing strategy. Practices still can be sharp but not quite as long or physical. Curfew hours get progressively earlier and the number of bowl activities are reduced as game day nears.
With the exception of the Michigan game, the atmosphere surrounding a bowl game is special. Most of the time you're in a community that really doesn't have a hometown team. The locals get in the spirit of the bowl but have no loyalty to either team. It's kind of fun for the players and coaches to win over the hearts of the hometowners in hopes they'll end up an adopted Buckeye for the week.
The entire atmosphere changes about 48 hours prior to kickoff; everything is a lot more serious and the real fans arrive and they want to be serious come game time.
All in all, bowl games and the preparations are hectic, time consuming, and are extended over several weeks counting everything from practice to festivities, to kickoff. It's a tremendous headache and a tremendous hassle, but good teams wouldn't want it any other way!
The Good Memories
I had the good fortune of playing on two OSU teams that reached the Rose Bowl. And, in my 17 years as an assistant coach, I coached in 15 bowl games. There are some good memories that stand out.
As a player, I was on the sideline for the 1969 Rose Bowl against USC where we won the national championship. That was a great memory, although I did not play because I was ineligible as a freshman.
As a coach, there were several games that stood out. We won the outright Big Ten championship in 1984 and played in the 1985 Rose Bowl. That was a great team with some true freshmen like Cris Carter and Chris Spielman. We lost that game to USC 20-17.
That was also the same score 12 years later when we played No. 2 Arizona State at the Rose Bowl, only this time the final score was in our favor in one of the greatest finishes in school history. One of the things I think about in that game was the play of our defensive front against ASU's Jake "The Snake" Plummer. They did a good job of containing him.
In fact, Luke Fickell, now an assistant coach at Ohio State, played that entire game at defensive tackle after tearing a pectoral muscle. He was hurt like that, but he got all taped up and went out there and played.
And, of course, there was the last drive led by Joe Germaine. I'm not even sure if he needed a timeout. It was a perfect drive, capped by the touchdown pass from Germaine to David Boston.
Of course, the other great memory was our 31-24 double overtime win over Miami (Fla.) in the national championship game at the Fiesta Bowl two years ago.
The thing about that game that is so impressive was the great effort given by the scout team and the redshirt kids. They were not going to play in the game, but they gave the best effort I have ever seen of a group who was trying to get us ready to play. Every practice, those kids played their hearts out. It was the most unbelievable situation I have ever seen.
I knew before we got on the bus to go out there for the game that we were going to win. The effort was so great. Then, for the guys that played, that was the best commitment by a group of athletes I have seen.
They didn't stay out late and they all came into the film room before they went to bed.
The Bad Memories
Obviously, as a player, the second Rose Bowl we went to in 1971 still bothers you. We lost to Stanford when we would have been the No. 1 team in the country. They had Jim Plunkett and Randy Vataha. We had clearly the better team, but didn't get it done.
As a coach, that first South Carolina game that we lost 24-7 at the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, 2001, was a most unpleasant game. We had the better football team, but we just didn't show it. The kids probably could have practiced better. It was not a great effort and, obviously, as a staff, we were fired the next day.
I don't think there was a lot of commitment from the kids. I think a few of them were looking too far ahead to the NFL. It was a good lesson to learn that you do have to take those games seriously or you risk being embarrassed.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Bill Conley, an OSU assistant coach for 17 years, provides insights through columns and Chat sessions on Bucknuts.com on a regular basis. Plus, catch Coach Conley on his weekly radio show from 9 a.m. to noon each Sunday morning on WTVN-AM (610).
Coach Conley's next Chat will be on Mon., Jan. 3. Look for his next column in early January as well.