It's easy to be overwhelmed by American college football's ever-expanding postseason. At the rate they keep tossing new games into the mix by 2025 the bowl population will be bigger than Bowling Green Kentucky.
Fresh additions to the already heaping campus gridiron stack include the New Mexico Bowl, the Birmingham Bowl and the International Bowl which kicks off January 6th at Toronto's Rogers Centre pitting a selection from the Big East against an opponent from the Mid-American Conference. Not only is the International Bowl a Canadian first but it's also the first bowl game to be played outside the U.S. since the Bacardi Bowl was held in Havana back in 1937. The Cuban experiment, a 7-7 stalemate between Auburn and Villanova ought to have been named the Siesta Bowl because it lulled spectators to sleep.
Also new to the now 32-course menu in 06-07 is what promises to be the tastiest bowl of them all, the BCS Championship Game. This blockbuster bowl lets the two top dogs in the final BCS standings knock helmets for all the marbles.
This addition is an inspired move as casual football fans everywhere will no longer have to scratch their heads every January trying to remember which bowl is the big one this time around: the title game matching-up the two top ranked teams in Division 1-A Football as determined by the Coaches Poll, The Harris Interactive Poll and the Computer rankings previously rotated between the Rose, Fiesta, Orange, and Sugar bowls.
HOW TO SCORE A DATE TO THE BOWLS: Breaking Down the Most Complicated Playoff Qualification System in Sports
Getting attuned to tournaments like the NCAA Basketball Championships, the World Series of Poker, and even the FIFA World Cup is a cinch compared to the bamboozling college bowl system.
Despite simplifying things by nixing the whole musical chairs championship arrangement and inventing a separate bowl to host the title game, the current bowl system still requires a Masters degree in actuarial sciences to fully get a grip on it.
The math starts out easy enough. There are 32 Bowl Games. That means 64 of the 119 Division 1-A teams are bowl bound. The only prequisite for bowl eligibility is a 6-6 or better record. Now it gets confusing. It takes a lot more elbow grease and statistical mojo to qualify for one of the big bowls: Rose, Fiesta, Orange, Sugar and the National Championship game. There are two pools from which contestants are selected into these contests: automatic Qualifiers and at-large squads, also known as wild cards.
If you're an ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 or SEC champ then you've earned an automatic bowl berth. However if you're a Conference USA, Mid-American Conference, Mountain West Conference, Sun Belt Conference, or Western Athletic Conference champ sorry small fry, don't pack your bags just yet. Underdog conference leaders get a free bowl pass only if they manage to play their way into the top 12 of the final BCS standings, or finish in the top 16 and still manage to finish in a higher spot then a champion that is bequeathed an automatic berth.
Then there's the Notre Dame clause. The famous Fighting Irish, the most valuable brand in college football are guaranteed a bowl trip if they finish in the top eight of the BCS standings. Sure it's a tad bit unfair but without the Irish we wouldn't have the cinematic gem Rudy, the best jock tearjerker since Brian's Song.
The remaining spots, provided there are less then 10 automatic qualifiers, are filled by teams in the at-Large pool, squads that have won at least nine regular season games and also finished in top 14 of the BCS standings.
SIDEBAR: 2 For the Show-Who to Pull For?
To really drink in the bowls you've got to find a team that can light your couch on fire. Here are a fine pair of furniture smoking contenders to consider pledging your allegiance to.
OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (See them Jan 8, 8 p.m. on FOX in the National Championship vs Florida)
Pulling for a bunch of poisonous nuts or "gay acorns" as comedian John Stewart quipped while visiting Columbus may seem like a boneheaded play on the surface but rifle-armed QB Troy Smith and his motley crew of campus studs have been cracking their opponents apart like coconuts all season long. The Buckeyes boast a perfect 4-0 record in BCS competition. They last captured the national championship in 2002.
Cheer Do: Holler O-H and have a friend scream back I-O in response.
Cheer Don't: "It is not acceptable or a welcome tradition to set dumpsters or couches on fire to celebrate or mourn a football win or loss," Franklin County, Ohio prosecutor Ron O'Brien recently bemoaned.
MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (See them at the Rose Bowl Jan 1, 5 p.m. ABC against the USC Trojans)
Glomming onto the old yellow and blue (a team that's been a football colossus since knocking the ivy out of Stanford 49-0 in the first ever bowl game in 1902), will put you in the company of millions of fans including the 107 000 plus per game that hunker down in the Big House in Ann Arbor to root them on in person. Cheer do: If The Wolverines score a touchdown or break their opponents spirit with an interception help rub it in with this famous fist pumping fight song: "Hail! to the victors valiant/Hail! to the conqu'ring heroes/Hail! Hail! to Michigan the leaders and best..."
Cheer Don't: Refrain from throwing octopi. That's strictly a hockey thing.
SIDEBAR: ACRONYM SOUP
BCS- Bowl Championship Series. Refers to the big five bowls: Rose, Fiesta, Orange Sugar and the National Championship game.
WAC- The Western Athletic Conference. Over the past four years, the WAC has won 57.1 percent of its bowl games, the second best winning percentage of all conferences.
SEC- The South Eastern Conference. The SEC has boasted the largest attendance figure of all conferences for 25 years running. Six million fans attended conference games in 2005.
ACC- The Atlantic Coast Conference. ACC affiliated teams have won the national title on five occasions: Maryland (1953), Clemson (1981), Georgia Tech (1990), and Florida State (1993 & 1999)*.
MAC- The Mid-American Conference. MAC teams participate in the Bowl, Motor City Bowl, the GMAC Bowl and the International Bowl.
* Miami University which joined the ACC in 2004 won national titles in 1983, 1987, 1989, 1991, 2001.
Jan 1 Rose Bowl 5 p.m. on ABC
Jan 1 Fiesta Bowl 8:30 p.m. on Fox
Jan 2 Orange Bowl 8 p.m. on Fox
Jan 3 Allstate Sugar Bowl on Fox
Jan 6 International Bowl, Noon on TSN
Jan. 8 BCS National Championship 8 p.m on Fox
This article first ran in the January 2007 Bell T.V. Magazine
Copyright © Mike Dojc 2006