College football dies a quick death every December, a sudden jolt of absence before receiving a quick revival right around New Year’s Eve.
Of all the holiday facades touted on television networks, it’s hard to forget the “It’s the Most Wonderful Time…” bowl season commercial. It’s not even close. This is worst bowl lineup in recent memory. Between the Army-Navy game (Dec. 8) and the end of the year, the most interesting bowl game is … what? Arizona-Nevada? The Maaco Las Vegas Bowl? Excited yet?
The bowl season is overrated and diluted primarily because of greed. Seventy programs make it to the postseason because there are 35 bowl games to choose from. Of those teams, 11 do not even boast a winning record. This season, for just the third time in bowl history, a team with a losing record (Georgia Tech) will compete in the postseason after signing a bowl waiver last month. Are football fans supposed to be entertained by two 6-6 teams competing on a neutral field in front of 500 fans?
Of course, the greed enters the picture when the bowl directors and their cronies show up.
In a USA TODAY Sports study, it was found that bowl directors’ salaries continue to rise while the quality of competition continues to become watered down. Thirteen bowl CEOs made more than $250,000 in the fiscal year 2010. The Outback Bowl’s main man Jim McVay was compensated $753,946. If it were possible, the bowl-friendly crowd would like to see 60 bowls for all 120 FBS teams, because it is a risk-free cash cow that still resides in tax-exempt territory.
If that means shoving Rice-Air Force down our throats, then so be it. Hope you have season two of Homeland on DVR.
There’s too much money at stake to walk away now.
THE FIFTH WATCH
The Watch is your weekly slate of top games. This week’s special edition sees a breakdown of the best non-BCS bowl games.
Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma: The Aggies might be playing the best football of any team in the country right now, winning five straight games, including an upset of then-No. 1 Alabama. On the other hand, Bob Stoops’ Sooners are feeling snubbed by the BCS and looking to take it out on their former Big 12 rival. Manziel (Heisman winner) vs. Landry Jones (annual Heisman letdown). This should be a fun Cotton Bowl. Pick: Oklahoma
Baylor vs. UCLA: Now, this isn’t last year’s Baylor team, but the Bears did survive a classic barnburner last season against a Pac-12 team. This could be more of the same, as two top-20 scoring offenses collide. The Bruins are not terrific against the pass, but Baylor’s defense is not terrific at anything. Even if it is named the Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl,don’t expect it to be boring. Pick: UCLA
LSU vs. Clemson: It’s a Tiger fight over a chicken trophy with cows protesting. Interested yet? Not everything has gone as hoped for LSU or Clemson, asLes Miles’ bunch lost twice and limped through a couple other wins while Clemson missed the ACC title game altogether. Last time quarterback Tajh Boyd’s offense took the field, it was demolished by Jadeveon Clowney. Expect similar pressure in this Chick-fil-A Bowl from LSU’s front seven. Pick: LSU
West Virginia vs. Syracuse: With two of the most prolific quarterbacks in college football (Geno Smith, Ryan Nassib) and awful defenses, this could turn into classic bowl thriller. West Virginia was once the darling of the season nationally — beating the brakes off mediocre competition — but was exposed during a five-game losing streak to quality opponents. Syracuse has some good wins on the schedule (notably BCS-bound Louisville) butDana Holgorsen proved last bowl seasonwhat he is capable of with time to prepare. Pick: West Virginia
Nevada vs. Arizona: Run, West Coast players, run. Arizona's Ka’Deem Carey was overtaken as the national rushing leader last weekend by Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, so he could be out to reclaim that title here. But he might not even be the top rusher in the game. The Wolfpack’s Stefphon Jefferson ranks fourth in yards (1,703) and second in touchdowns (22) nationally. The Wildcats have more firepower, though. Pick: Arizona
Any Given Saturday recognized production throughout the season, and it’s no different with its All-American selections.
QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: The 2012 Heisman winner terrorized SEC defenses, tying for the national lead in total touchdowns (43).
RB Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona: One of two Pac-12 running backs on this team, Carey rushed for 1,757 yards and 20 touchdowns in a breakout late-season push.
RB Kenjon Barner, Oregon: Although inexplicably overshadowed by a teammate early on, Barner eventually broke out for 1,624 yards, including a eye-opening 321-yard, five-touchdown performance against USC.
WR Marqise Lee, USC: Perhaps the most explosive player in college football, Lee led the country in receptions (112) while catching 14 touchdowns.
WR Terrance Williams, Baylor: A receiving luxury for a mediocre team, Williams led the nation with 1,764 receiving yards. He was the most consistently great wideout in college football.
WR Stedman Bailey, West Virginia: Completing the trifecta of national receiving leaders, Bailey led all players with 23 touchdowns — the next-closest guy had 16.
TE Zach Ertz, Stanford: Although not as much of a receiving threat as Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert, Ertz still led all tight ends with 837 yards and is a standout blocker. Terrific all-around game.
OL Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M: Projected by some as the top NFL Draft prospect, Koeckel and fellow tackle Jake Matthews efficiently protected Manziel's backside all season.
OL Taylor Lewan, Michigan: A First-Team All-American on (nearly) everybody's list, Lewan is highly-coveted and massive prospect.
OL Jonathan Cooper, UNC: North Carolina's 13th-ranked scoring offense is going to miss Cooper, one of the best interior linemen in college football.
OL Chance Warmack, Alabama: A 320-pound guard that helped pave the way for Alabama's 13th-ranked rushing attack.
OL Barrett Jones, Alabama: The winner of this season's William V. Campbell Trophy, Jones has played and excelled at every position along Alabama's line.
DL Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: The sophomore is the most talented player in the country and despite battling injuries and double teams, he's tied for second nationally with 13 sacks.
DL Damontre Moore, Texas A&M: The most consistently productive pass rusher in college football, Moore logged at least one sack in all but three games.
DL Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame: Another sophomore beast, Tuitt notched 12 sacks while helping to anchor the nation's No. 1 scoring defense.
DL Star Lotulelei, Utah: After battling double- and triple-team blocking schemes all season, Lotulelei remains the country's top defensive tackle. He notched 10 tackles for loss; Utah was 20th nationally against the run.
LB Jarvis Jones, Georgia: The junior leads all players with 22.5 tackles for loss. He is a first-round draft prospect and had a case in the Heisman voting.
LB Manti Te'o, Notre Dame: The 2012 Heisman runner-up, Te'o tied for second nationally with seven interceptions. He also logged 102 tackles on an excellent defense.
LB Kevin Minter, LSU: An athletic ballhawk, the junior averaged 9.25 tackles per game (17 tackles for loss) on a top-10 scoring defense.
CB Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State: Perhaps the nation's top cover corner, Banks snagged four interceptions while locking down opponents' top receivers.
CB Jordan Poyer, Oregon State: Tied with Te'o for second nationally in interceptions (7), the senior saw his draft stock rise immensely this season.
S Phillip Thomas, Fresno State: The national leader with eight picks, Thomas labored off the national radar for the 9-3 but quiet Bulldogs.
S Matt Elam, Florida: A game-changer of the highest degree in college, the athletic junior snagged four interceptions and amassed 10 tackles for loss. Not even his teammates were safe.
K Cairo Santos, Tulane: The Lou Groza Award winner did not miss a single field goal in 2012.
P Ryan Allen, Louisiana Tech: The Ray Guy Award winner led the nation by averaging 48.04 yards per punt.
RET Marcus Murphy, Missouri: The explosive sophomore accounted for four return touchdowns, including a kickoff return for six against then-No. 1 Alabama.
THIS IS WHY…
Marcus Lattimore deserved more from South Carolina.
The standout junior running back announced Wednesday that he will forego his senior season to enter his name into the NFL Draft, but it was a proclamation tinged with doubt and sadness. Coming off his second significant knee injury — the most recent one coming by brutal design — some question whether Lattimore will ever reach his first-round potential ever again. Sure, it has been done before (See: Willis McGahee), but that's not the true story here.
Lattimore's football story to date consists of special ability, uncanny humility, stardom and a one-sided deal that far too many young men are forced into by the NCAA and NFL alike. Since his freshman season in Colombia, one in which he rushed for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns, No. 21 was often the best player on the field. His jerseys flew off the shelves. The Gamecocks marketed their star, and, in turn, he delivered their first appearance in the SEC title game.
In Lattimore's (roughly) three seasons, South Carolina has experienced its most successful run in program history. Backing up the 2010 conference title loss with back-to-back 11-win seasons. There are many to congratulate for such success, but Lattimore certainly played a key part, rushing for 2,677 career yards and setting a school-record with 38 rushing touchdowns in two injury-shortened campaigns. Now, after the Gamecocks rode their backfield star (particularly in fourth quarter spurts), it seems he may not have near as bright of an NFL future. There's a long road to recovery ahead.
His decision to bolt for the NFL pastures could not be a better one: Why risk another injury for free? Why make another comeback and help a program that he's given everything to and gotten so little in return? Essentially, why make the NCAA more money at the risk of his health and future?
He deserved so much more.
This is why the one-sided arrangement of the NCAA's cheap labor and the NFL's de facto farm system is profiting far too much off the Marcus Lattimores of the world — controlling their names, their likenesses and suspending any who step out of line and try to profit off their talents. Lattimore, or any other collegiate star, will not see a dime of the profits.
This is why you should root for Lattimore's NFL success, regardless of team or city affiliation. Nothing has been given to him; he's taken it. He gave two knees and millions of dollars to South Carolina.
And this is why it's time for him to profit. For once.