Many college football fans feel that having 35 bowl games is pointless.
It is easy to laugh at some of the smaller bowl games with sponsor such as Famous Idaho Potato, Beef O’ Brady’s and GoDaddy.com.
Those games become even more laughable when they feature a team that won only six or seven games from Conference USA or the WAC.
Why do those teams even deserve to go to bowls?
Because as the first day of the bowl season reaffirmed, it is often these laughed-at games, featuring mediocre teams from mediocre conferences, that inspire the most magical performances.
To fans of major programs from major conferences, the plights of small schools such as Temple, Ohio and Louisiana-Lafayette may not matter.
But to the loyal fans of these mid-majors, winning bowl games this season was magical.
The first game of the bowl season, the New Mexico Bowl, turned out to be a boring game, as the Temple Owls easily dominated the Wyoming Cowboys in a 37-15 victory.
However, this was the first win in a bowl game for the Temple Owls since 1979. For loyal fans who have stuck by the Temple football program over the past 32 years, just winning a bowl game was a big deal, even though it was only the New Mexico Bowl.
The second game of the bowl season, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, certainly has one of the most laughable names of any of this year’s 35 bowl games. Chances are, the players of the two participating teams—the Ohio Bobcats and the Utah State Aggies—would have preferred to go to a warmer bowl destination such as Florida, Hawaii or New Orleans.
That said, the game ended up being one to remember.
With 5:51 to play in the third quarter of the Potato Bowl, the Aggies held a 23-10 lead. Just two minutes and six seconds of game time later, Ohio wide receiver LaVon Brazill made a tremendous touchdown catch from 44 yards out to cut the lead down to six points. Then, with 13 seconds remaining in the game, Bobcats quarterback Tyler Tettleton ran for a game-winning touchdown, capping the first exciting game of the bowl season.
For the Ohio football program, this win was certainly not meaningless: It was the first bowl-game win in school history. In a thrilling comeback, the Bobcats excited their fans and came up with an historic victory for the school.
That said, the best in the first night of the bowl season had yet to come.
Following the Potato Bowl was the New Orleans Bowl. This game featured the San Diego State Aztecs, hoping to win a bowl game for the second consecutive year, and the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, who were in their first-ever bowl game as an FBS program.
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome, in close proximity to Lafayette, was full of Ragin’ Cajuns fans hoping to see their team make history.
The Ragin’ Cajuns had a great first half, and just one minute into the third quarter, they held a 19-3 lead.
However, the Aztecs bounced back, and with just 35 seconds remaining in the game, San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley completed a comeback drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Colin Lockett, giving the Aztecs a 30-29 lead.
It appeared that the Ragin’ Cajuns dream would be shattered, but Louisiana-Lafayette was not about to give up.
Quarterback Blaine Gautier made a couple of big throws to put Louisiana-Lafayette in position, and with just four seconds remaining in the game, kicker Brett Baer was set to kick a 55-yard field goal. This certainly seemed out of Baer’s range, who had already missed two extra-point kicks in the game.
Then, San Diego State picked up a costly penalty for “illegal spinning,” and Baer’s kick became a 50-yard field goal.
Suddenly, fate seemed to be on Louisiana-Lafayette’s side, and as fate would have it, Baer’s kick went through the uprights, giving the Ragin’ Cajuns an historic 32-30 bowl win.
This game provided tremendous excitement for everyone who watched and will be a game forever remembered by the fans of Louisiana-Lafayette football.
So, while those of us who are loyal to major football schools can laugh at the smaller bowl games, realize that for those schools which are unlikely ever to contend for national championships, a win in any bowl game can be program defining.
It is also somewhat contradictory that many of the people who criticize the smaller bowls are also the biggest proponents of a playoff system. If one is a proponent of a system that gives “everyone a fair chance,” then should not one support the opportunity for smaller schools to play in bowl games and have their opportunities at national exposure and glory?
For the senior members of a football team, getting the opportunity to play in a bowl game is one final time that they get to wear their schools' uniforms and play the game they love.
For the seniors of Temple, Ohio and Louisiana-Lafayette, most of whom will not be playing professional football, winning their bowl games will be memories from their collegiate athletic careers to cherish forever.
Having watched many of these smaller bowl games myself, I know that many of the best bowl games that I have seen have not necessarily been in national championship or BCS games, but in these smaller bowl games between two teams that I do not normally get the chance to watch play throughout the season.
If one day is a sign of the rest of the bowl season to come, this year will be no exception.