Sports column: Putting a bow on the college football bowl season
Published 4:00 am Sunday, January 7, 2024
This first week of 2024 feels like waking up from a nap, sports-wise. There were a handful of high school basketball games, but the local scene won’t fully crank up until next week. College football is finished and basketball teams are taking a few days off before jumping into conference play on Saturday.
So it seems like a good time to grab a cup of coffee, sit at the kitchen table, stare off into the distance and reminisce about the recently-concluded college bowl season. Three weeks, 41 games, and some downtime to watch more than a few left me with some thoughts:
• Penn State head coach James Franklin is a dead ringer for SHIELD turncoat Jasper Sitwell from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ole Miss executed well in its 38-25 victory over the Nittany Lions in the Peach Bowl, but the real secret to success was Lane Kiffin whispering, “Hail Hydra,” in Franklin’s ear when they shared an elevator ride at the bowl press conference.
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• LSU wide receiver Malik Nabers took the idea of bowl opt-outs to a new level in the ReliaQuest Bowl vs. Wisconsin. Nabers set LSU’s career receiving yardage record in the second quarter, then left the game and was in street clothes by the third. Head coach Brian Kelly said it was his decision to take Nabers out of the game after he got the record, but it was still a weird situation.
• One of the first bowls of the season, the Avocados From Mexico Cure Bowl on Dec. 16, was one of the most fun. Appalachian State beat Miami (Ohio) 13-9 in a driving rainstorm in Orlando. The teams combined for 13 fumbles as more than an inch of rain fell during the game. Players’ uniforms were streaked with field paint, and App State celebrated by diving through mud puddles.
The Military Bowl between Virginia Tech and Tulane was played in similar conditions, but on artificial turf instead of a grass field. The difference was noticeable. People might rave about glorious Rose Bowl sunsets, but it’s hard to beat a great muddy slopfest for fun.
• Speaking of the Rose Bowl, the final play in Michigan’s 27-20 overtime win against Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinals will go down in infamy for the Tide.
Not getting nearly enough credit, though, is Michigan edge rusher Josaiah Stewart. He came off the edge like the Incredible Hulk and pushed the right tackle backward two steps, right into the path of quarterback Jalen Milroe. Milroe tripped over the lineman’s leg, stumbled into the pile, and that was that. More than a questionable play call or a low snap, Stewart’s bull rush was what sent Michigan to this Monday night’s championship game vs. Washington.
According to that blocking by @AlabamaFTBL , Milroe was supposed to start middle and cut left. (Watch Guard pull and lead and not trap) They got what they wanted with the @UMichFootball DE as he ran up field and they didn’t have to block him. #CFBPlayoff #littlethings pic.twitter.com/tgaaWHcwg7
— Kevin Kelley (@coachkelley1) January 2, 2024
• And speaking of Washington, running back Dillon Johnson scored two touchdowns in the Huskies’ 37-31 win over Texas in the Sugar Bowl in the CFP semifinals. Johnson is a Mississippi native, from Greenville, who also played three seasons at Mississippi State. So if you’re looking for a rooting interest on Monday, there you go.
• Another gem from the first day of bowl season on Dec. 16 was New Mexico State head coach Jerry Kill. After Fresno State completed its 37-10 beatdown of the Aggies in the New Mexico Bowl, Kill finished his postgame press conference with a rant about rival New Mexico — the bowl game was played at its campus — and defended his quarterback who peed on New Mexico’s practice field logo last summer. Kill made a reference to retiring and drinking Margaritas in Mexico, then left to do just that by stepping down a couple of days later. The man knows how to make an exit.
• James Madison threatened a lawsuit to be allowed into a bowl, was granted a waiver, then was blown out by Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. Liberty, the Group of Five representative in the New Year’s Six bowls, took an “It wasn’t even that close” 45-6 loss to Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.
It was the college football equivalent of loudly crashing a high society dinner party wearing sweatpants, then tripping on the door frame while simultaneously pooping your pants on the way in.
• Georgia beat Florida State 63-3 in the Orange Bowl. The game was sponsored by Capital One, but WorldStarHipHop.com might have been more appropriate.
• Eastern Michigan lost 59-10 to South Alabama in the 68 Ventures Bowl in Mobile. Afterward, Eastern Michigan’s Korey Hernandez started a brawl by sucker-punching a South Alabama player as the Jaguars sang along to their band. Hernandez must have misunderstood the concept of a “fight song.”
— Scott W. Hunter (@SWHesq) December 24, 2023
• Kansas State celebrated its 28-19 win over North Carolina State in the Pop-Tarts Bowl by eating a giant Pop-Tart.
The celebration started with a Pop-Tart mascot standing atop a giant toaster and waving as he was lowered into it. A cooked version, complete with the mascot’s twisted and smushed smile, then slid out from a slot in the bottom.
— Pop-Tarts Bowl (@PopTartsBowl) December 29, 2023
So we basically had a mascot committing ritual suicide, and then the victorious team gleefully feasting on his still-warm corpse. The Pop-Tarts Bowl is dark, man.
And with that image fresh in everyone’s mind, let’s go wrap up bowl season with the national championship game on Monday night. If you serve Pop-Tarts at your watch party, make sure they weren’t waving at you 30 seconds prior.
Ernest Bowker is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org