New Year’s Day used to be the best day on the sports calendar, no arguments.
Thanks to the College Football Playoff, Jan. 1 is on the way to having that status restored.
The new postseason system has plenty of faults, but today isn’t the day to expound on them. Not with that pounding headache. Instead, let’s keep the mood jovial and rejoice in the college football smorgasbord we are about to devour.
Just look at this feast: No. 19 Auburn vs. No. 18 Wisconsin (Outback Bowl); No. 8 Michigan State vs. No. 5 Baylor (Cotton); No. 16 Missouri vs. No. 25 Minnesota (Citrus); No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State (Rose); and No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Ohio State (Sugar).
From 9 in the morning to past 9 at night, the best seat will be your recliner.
The festivities aren’t all the way back to say, 1981 levels, when Penn State-USC (Fiesta), Alabama-Baylor (Cotton), Georgia-Notre Dame (Sugar), Michigan-Washington (Rose) and Oklahoma-Florida State (Orange) all played Jan. 1. But it’s close.
(My parents were actually pretty strict about TV, and spending the entire day in front of the tube always took some pleading. The phrase “Mom, it’s a national holiday!” was frequently uttered.)
Not for 15 years has college football given us a New Year’s Day filled only with Top 25 teams playing head to head. The last time, far as I can tell, was 2000.
It certainly wasn’t last year, when the Granddaddy of Them All, the Rose Bowl, had to share the Jan. 1 spotlight with a Heart of Dallas Bowl featuring 8-4 North Texas and 7-5 UNLV.
That’s the equivalent of Aretha Franklin having to share a microphone with Nicki Minaj.
During the Bowl Championship Series era, college football’s power brokers tarnished New Year’s Day by scheduling games that had no business being there. Guess what? Fans weren’t fooled. They didn’t tune in. It’s one of the biggest reasons things changed.
The CFP brings back some of that luster, pushing games like the Heart of Dallas Bowl and the TaxSlayer.com Bowl to the bottom of the marquee where they belong.
The eight tastiest matchups are spread over two days, not parceled out in dribs and drabs. Instead of being spoon-fed, we’re permitted once again to load up our trays.
Things aren’t perfect. In years the Peach and Fiesta host the national semifinals, those games will be played Dec. 31. Leaving the Rose and Sugar (which presumably will be less attractive in those years) for Jan. 1. That could be awkward.
But let’s not let flaws (or angry Big 12 fans) drag down the mood. Instead, focus on Wisconsin and running back Melvin Gordon dueling Auburn and quarterback Nick Marshall. Baylor’s explosive offense facing Michigan State’s nasty defense. If those games prove dull, hopefully Minnesota-Missouri can spice up things.
Then we get to the main course, two semifinals that in most years would be worthy of a national championship. And we get it on Jan. 1, a day most of us barely have to roll out of bed.
Some things should be sacred.
Other bowl-related thoughts:
• Don’t hate. Emulate.
By now, Fresno State fans are sick of Mountain West rival Boise State. I get it. But you’ve got to hand it to those guys. Whenever the Broncos get on the national stage, they strut their stuff.
So what if this two-loss Boise State team lacks the résumé of the school’s undefeated squads of 2006 and 2009. Under the CFP, which guarantees access to the highest rated non-Power 5 champion, those credentials are no longer necessary.
Boise State got thumped by Ole Miss in its opener, but the rest of the nonconference slate (Connecticut, Louisiana-Lafayette, BYU) was manageable. It left enough wiggle room for the Broncos to suffer a conference loss.
Jim Bartko, now officially Fresno State athletic director, should be taking notes. The Bulldogs’ 2014 schedule was needlessly difficult, and next year’s (Ole Miss, Utah, BYU and Abilene Christian) is only slightly easier.
The schedule Bartko’s predecessor, Thomas Boeh, assembled for 2016 (Nebraska, Tulsa, Toledo and Sacramento State) sticks closer to the correct formula. After that, the Bulldogs’ future opponents are BYU and Incarnate Word in 2017; UCLA, Toledo and Idaho in 2018; and Colorado in 2019.
Many FBS schools (including Boise State) are scheduled well into the 2020s, so Bartko has some catching up to do.
• When the Bulldogs travel to Oxford, Miss., next September, they won’t be the team coming off the poorest bowl performance.
TCU’s 42-3 dismantling of the Rebels in the Peach Bowl made sure of that, and you can bet Fresno State’s coaches will get their hands on that tape.
• OK, prediction time: Look for Alabama to salvage some SEC pride and put a pretty good hurting on Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.Crimson Tide 31, Buckeyes 17.
The Rose Bowl is a much tougher call. As much as Oregon needs a victory to solidify its national powerhouse credentials, Florida State won’t make it easy. Ducks 38, Seminoles 35.
Guess that New Year’s resolution about getting more exercise will have to wait another 24 hours.