Onward Debates: Falling to the TicketCity is Fine by Me
Sunday night, if you asked me what teams and their fans had a right to complain about the just-released slate of bowl games, I’d be able to name a handful.
Take Oklahoma State. The Cowboys had the second-best team in the country–according to the impartial computer rankings–and yet saw themselves passed over by Alabama, so the world can watch the rematch nobody wants to see. Oklahoma State played a tougher schedule and picked up more quality win than the Crimson Tide, and they didn’t previously have (and miss) their shot against LSU.
And how about Michigan State? Sure, they finished off their season with three losses, but they came one bad call in the Big Ten Championship Game away from the Rose Bowl, after having won the Legends Division. But when the Sugar Bowl came calling, it was a double slap in the face to the Spartans–they selected the rival Michigan Wolverines, whom MSU had handled with ease earlier in the season.
Let’s not forget about Boise State–for the second straight year, the only thing standing between Boise and a perfect regular season was a short field goal. But instead of having a legitimate claim for the national championship, their regular season is marred by a one-point blemish. Still, the Broncos are the No. 7 team in the country, with a blowout win over Georgia in Atlanta to their name…and yet they ended up in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl, against a miserable Arizona State team.
And last year, Temple, despite finishing 8-4, didn’t even end up in a Bowl Game.
You see, Penn State fans, these are legitimate reasons to complain about your team getting screwed over by the bowl system. These are three teams that had claims to be playing in some of the most important matchups of bowl season, but got passed over by less deserving teams.
Yes, the same thing happened to our Nittany Lions. But let’s not pretend the stakes are even remotely similar.
Penn State didn’t get passed over by the National Championship Game, the Sugar Bowl, or the Fiesta or Orange Bowls. It was the Gator Bowl, the Insight Bowl, and the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas who decided that we weren’t worthy, and Penn State slipped all the way down to the TicketCity Bowl. And though you’d never heard of the latter one before this weekend, could you have really named the Insight or Meineke Car Care Bowls off the top of your head?
The fact of the matter is, we’re still playing in a post-New Year’s bowl (the prestigious New Year’s Day bowls have been pushed back a day, because that date falls on an NFL Sunday), against a Top 20 team, in a decent location. Dallas can’t be all bad, if the NFL saw it suitable to host the Super Bowl just last year.
It’s not like we fell all the way to the Little Caesars Bowl–enjoy playing Western Michigan in Detroit on December 27, Purdue. And if we had, yeah, I’d probably be a little more indignant.
But honestly? I’m stoked for the TicketCity Bowl, and the matchup with Houston and Case Keenum it promises. I’m not just saying it–I’d rather have this matchup than play any of the three opponents in the bowls that passed on us. Iowa gets an Oklahoma team that will almost certainly steamroll the Hawkeyes–and I’m not too sure we’d fare much better against the Sooners. Ohio State gets to play Florida in its backyard (Jacksonville, Fla.)–we’ve been there, done that, and going up against another middling Gator team isn’t too appealing. Or would you rather play Texas A&M, who’s perfected the fine art of the second half collapse and recently fired its head coach?
I’ve heard a number of arguments from fellow fans–I certainly engaged plenty of them on Twitter Sunday night when the news broke. The first was that it’s a matter of “respect,” that I should take it personally that bowl games didn’t want to be associated with the Penn State name.
That’s probably an accurate point. If this happened last year, of course Penn State would’ve been snatched up quickly and played in a bigger-name bowl. But is there really a big difference between the TicketCity and the Insight Bowl? If you didn’t know about the selection system, would there really be this much pent-up anger that the latter chose first, and picked Iowa?
And I don’t blame the bowl games for passing up on us. If they thought it was a good business decision, then good for them. Remember, that’s all the bowl system is good for–making money for everyone involved.
Here’s the thing about bowl games: they really don’t matter. Back in the good old days of college football, it wasn’t an entitlement for every team that went 6-6. There were only a few bowl games, and they truly selected from a number of worthy teams–Joe Paterno’s 1970 squad, which finished 7-3, and ranked in the top 20, wasn’t invited to one. Neither was his 6-5 squad from 1984. Now? They’re a conference-wide pissing match of an exhibition game that’s far more useful for the additional practices the coaches get than for any feelings of good will they engender.
Let’s go back a few years: Penn State had a marvelous 2008 season, winning the Big Ten championship, and coming seconds away from an undefeated season. And even though USC blew out that team in the Rose Bowl, we’ll still remember it fondly–those guys weren’t normal, they were legends. Meanwhile, the 2009 squad handled the more mediocre teams it played, but got beat up, in its own house, by Iowa and Ohio State. Sure, Penn State beat LSU in an exciting Capital One Bowl, but nobody was foolish enough to suggest that it magnified the accomplishments of the season.
So here’s what I’m saying: a team’s bowl game–unless it’s one of a handful of prestigious ones–is so meaningless that complaining about the destination is really just petty. Would you really rather be in Tempe, Jacksonville, or Houston than Dallas? Those saying that Penn State should have turned down the invitation, would you really rather proclaim our superiority than raise $1.5 million for child abuse prevention and treatment. And to the players, who complained so vociferously on Twitter, here’s a challenge:
Go out and win it. Show the world that case Keenum is a paper tiger, who’s useless against a great defense like ours. Go out and beat up an Houston team that did just that to its overmatched opposition.
And enjoy an all-expenses paid vacation to Texas, the chance to play on a national stage, and all that great bowl swag. If that’s your “punishment,” then I’d like to be grounded.
It’s not like you’d have been playing for something that mattered, anyway.