Originally found on CBS Sports:
There figures to be major changes coming to the bowls next season. With the start of the 12-team College Football Playoff, the concept of a New Year’s Six goes away. Those six bowls will now host quarterfinal and semifinal games in the new format.
Also, the demise of the Pac-12 means the seven bowls that currently host teams from that league will need new partners. It is possible the Pac-2 could hold on to one of those games, but it’s more likely replacements are found.
This was the second straight season that there were not enough eligible teams to fill the bowl games after not needing five-win teams since 2016. It is possible that we may have one or two bowls too many. However, the FBS is growing some, so perhaps that problem goes away on its own.
This is the point where I offer my annual reminder that bowls are a horrible way to judge teams and conferences. Outside of the playoff, few if any teams are playing in bowl games with the roster that earned them the bid. Some teams are barely able to field a squad due to opt-outs and the transfer portal.
That frustrates fans and even some involved in the games. Georgia coach Kirby Smart is among those looking for change to the structure. The problem: There is no fix.
The transfer window is not moving. Players need to be able to enroll for the spring semester, so the NCAA cannot move the window any later. Besides, even if it was moved, players expecting to transfer would probably opt out of bowls anyway to save themselves for their future programs or the NFL.
Some have suggested paying players for bowl appearances, but those opting out for the NFL are thinking about their future earning power anyway, so offering money to play in a bowl is not going to mitigate that concern.
Since Notre Dame is the only independent playing in a bowl game and is part of the ACC bowl structure, I have included the Irish with the ACC.
It was a banner year for the Pac-12 in its final regular season, and the bowl season went well, too. The record is not overwhelming, but both teams in the New Year’s Six won, including Washington, which will play for the national championship on Monday. Third-place Arizona also won, defeating Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl. The league also arguably had the best individual performance of bowl season. USC backup quarterback Miller Moss threw for six touchdowns against what had been a pretty good Louisville defense in a 42-28 win over the Cardinals in the Holiday Bowl. The Pac-12 gets the edge over the Big 12 due to a 2-1 record head-to-head.
The Big 12 matched the Pac-12’s overall record with the lone head-to-head win coming when Texas Tech defeated California in the Independence Bowl. The conference also got to play with its food in a couple of bowl games. Kansas State got to eat the mascot at the Pop-Tarts Bowl after beating NC State, and West Virginia coach Neal Brown got the Duke’s Mayo bath after the Mountaineers beat North Carolina. The pictures are epic.
The SEC tied the Big Ten for this spot but beat it 4-2 in head-to-head matchups. The SEC lost the only game that mattered, though they owned the Big Ten in the other New Year’s Six games with Missouri and Ole Miss beating Ohio State and Penn State, respectively. The Mizzou-OSU game was an eye-bleeder with neither team’s offense being able to do much until the Tigers scored a couple of fourth-quarter touchdowns to win 14-3. Georgia also posted the biggest blowout in bowl history with a 63-3 win over what was left of Florida State after most of the team either opted out for the NFL or transferred.
The Big Ten won the one that has mostly eluded it. Michigan came from behind late to beat Alabama in overtime to advance to the title game on Monday and keep the SEC out of the CFP National Championship for the first time since 2014. That was also a Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup between Ohio State and Oregon. In addition to the New Year’s Six debacles, Wisconsin lost a back-and-forth game to LSU in the ReliaQuest Bowl, and to the surprise of nobody, Iowa got shut out in a loss to Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl. The Big Ten was 3-0 against teams not from the SEC, highlighted by Northwestern ending a surprisingly good season with a win over Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl.
The conference was shut out of the CFP for the third consecutive season, but it wasn’t Florida State’s fault. The only team to defeat the full-strength Seminoles this season was the CFP Selection Committee. The top three teams in the league all lost, but Clemson beat Kentucky 38-35 in arguably the most entertaining bowl game outside of the CFP. Notre Dame is also included here, and the Fighting Irish destroyed the remnants of Oregon State 40-8 in the Sun Bowl. The ACC was 4-1 vs. Group of Five teams in their bowl games. The other four power conferences were a combined 4-1 against those leagues.
C-USA put its first-ever team in the New Year’s Six. Liberty finished the regular season undefeated but was no match for Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl. Just getting there, however, is a win for both the school and the conference, which like many of the Group of Five has seen its membership change during the latest round of conference realignment. Western Kentucky also won outscoring Old Dominion 21-0 in the fourth quarter to get to overtime where the Hilltoppers won 38-35.
The AAC gets more games against major conference teams than most of the other Group of Five leagues. This season, they were 1-3 against the ACC with the lone win being South Florida’s pounding of Syracuse in the Boca Raton Bowl. Memphis also beat a power-conference team. The Tigers took advantage of playing at home and knocked off Iowa State, 36-26.
The highlight win for the Mountain West came from Air Force in the Armed Forces bowl for the second straight season. This time, the Falcons beat James Madison 31-21 to hand the Dukes just their second loss of the season. The league has been known for pulling off upsets of major conference teams, but this season, it was 0-2 in those games.
Sun Belt5-7 (.417)The Sun Belt put a whopping 12 of its 14 teams into bowl games and almost finished .500. The highlight win was Coastal Carolina’s victory over San Jose State in the Hawaii Bowl. Conference champion Troy was the only team to draw a power-conference opponent. The Trojans fell to Duke 17-10 in the Birmingham Bowl. MAC2-4 (.333)It was a rough year for the MAC in the bowls. Ohio pounded an overmatched Georgia State 41-21. However, league champ Toledo blew a late lead and lost to Wyoming. 16-15. Bowling Green put up a good fight in the MAC’s only game against a power conference foe. Minnesota hung on for a 30-24 win over the Falcons.