There are 40 bowl games this college football season, including the two national championship semifinals. With the title game, that’s 41 contests from December 17 through January 9 between 80 different teams. Eighty.
There are only 128 teams in the FBS and nearly 63 percent of them qualified for the postseason this year. Hooray, bowl games!
Of the 40 games leading up to the national championship, just 17 feature at least one ranked team, and only eight feature two teams ranked in the Top 25 at season’s end. To say the college football season has watered down its conclusion is past the point of obvious, and a decade beyond parody.
And yet, three Pennsylvania teams are going bowling this holiday season — Penn State, Temple and Pitt — which sounds pretty awesome given the recent history of college football in the state. That is, until you realize Pennsy is one of 13 states to have three or more schools qualify for bowls.
And yet, Pennsylvania is the only state in the country with three teams ranked in the college football playoff Top 25. Without a team in the playoff — the debate of whether Penn State deserves to be in the playoffs seems to fall firmly along the expansive geographic border of Big Ten country — Pennsylvania did pretty well for itself this football season.
Of the three losses, spread across the four teams in the College Football Playoff, two came at the hands of Pennsylvania teams.
Here’s a look at how the states break down.
Bowl Teams by State:
- Texas: 6
- Alabama, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee: 4
- California, Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania: 3
- Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Mississippi, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, Washington: 2
- Arkansas, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming: 1.
Ranked Teams by State:
- Pennsylvania: 3
- Alabama, California, Florida, Michigan, Oklahoma: 2
- Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin: 1.
New Year’s Six Bowl Teams by State:
- Alabama, Michigan: 2
- California, Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington, Wisconsin: 1.
Playoff Teams by State:
- Alabama, Ohio, South Carolina, Washington: 1.
Again, whether you think the playoff selection committee got the final four right or not, they were clear on two things: being the best team in a conference doesn’t mean winning the conference, and with this many teams deserving a shot at the playoff — at least six had a legitimate shot to get in on Sunday — no two teams from the same conference would share those coveted four slots.
Penn State and Michigan are in fantastic bowl games, but Washington and the Pac-12 got the last playoff bid. The committee made sure of that.
Still, for Penn State, the season was incredible. Not ranked in the preseason, not receiving a single vote in either poll until Week 7, not getting into the Top 25 until Week 9, not cracking the Top 10 until Week 11 and finishing the season in Pasadena? That’s unheard of, especially considering how difficult the rebuilding process has been in Happy Valley.
Penn State fans should be happy. Instead, it’s hard to see anything but complaints from Penn State faithful — a Happy Valley it is not right now — with some losing all sense of perspective because they root for a team they think should have gotten picked for a football game over another.
Penn State is in the Rose Bowl! Facing USC! In what might be the best bowl game on the entire schedule, semifinals included! Be Happy.
For Pittsburgh, ending the season in New York City at the New Era Pinstripe Bowl is something to be less happy about, honestly.
As beautiful as New York can be in Christmastime, playing against Northwestern at 2 p.m. on the Wednesday between Christmas and New Years in the Bronx doesn’t quite deck the halls and jingle the bells for a team that finished the season 23rd in the College Football Playoff rankings and was receiving votes to start the season.
Pitt’s season is by no means a disappointment — hell, they beat Clemson on the road, and scored 176 points the last three games of the year — but dropping three of their four losses by a combined 11 points has to have the Panthers thinking of what might have been.
Certainly what might have been includes a warm-weather bowl not in the middle of the week.
Alas, things could be worse. Pitt could be Temple.
Temple beat Navy in Annapolis on Saturday to win the AAC title and was rewarded with a trip to…Annapolis! For a bowl game! On a Tuesday! If that seems worse it’s because it is!
By virtue of winning their first American Athletic Conference championship, Temple earned a national ranking — 24th out of 25 — and a berth in the Military Bowl, Presented by Northrop Grumman.
Not exactly Chick-Fil-A sponsoring that game, is it? (To be fair, Chick-Fil-A isn’t making any stealth bombers, are they?)
Before you get too angry, Temple fans, let’s remember you are not Penn State. You aren’t even Pitt. Bowl games are about who can draw a crowd. That’s it. Sure, there are conference tie-ins and bowl guarantees based on performance, but most of that is built around which teams, and conferences, can draw a crowd.
Temple’s home attendance at Lincoln Financial Field this season was 190,574 for seven games, or less than what Penn State draws at home for two games a year. Temple’s average attendance of 27,225 is fine, but it’s hard to imagine too many fans making the trek to Annapolis on Tuesday, December 27 for a 3:30 p.m. game when the average crowd they could get at the Linc on a Saturday can almost fit into a basketball gym.
Alas, there are 40 bowl games, so ranked or not, Temple should be ecstatic they get to play in one close enough for fans who do want to make the trip to a wonderful stadium in a beautiful area of the country can do so. Unless you just did it this weekend. Then never mind.
And, still, going back to Annapolis two games in a row could be worse. It could be the Bronx.
There are a lot of bowl games worse than what Temple got. Or maybe even Pittsburgh.
Maryland and Boston College — two former conference foes — have to play in Detroit at 2:30 p.m. the Monday after Christmas. Nothing says college football like Christmas in Detroit.
South Florida and South Carolina play Thursday, December 29 at 2:00 p.m. in Birmingham. That may be worse than what Temple got, and it was almost what they did get.
Or, perhaps, things could have gone the other way for Temple and Pitt. Middle Tennessee State finished 8-4 and in third place in Conference USA and gets to travel to Honolulu, for a Christmas Eve game with Hawai’i.
Eastern Michigan and Old Dominion hit the bowl game lottery for two teams nobody in the country outside of their alumni could care about, getting a 1:00 p.m. start on Friday, December 23 at the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl.
Is there anything better than all-you-can-eat fried chicken while in the Bahamas? There is not.
Enjoy bowl season, Pennsylvania fans, and cherish the games you got. For most of you traveling to your respective teams’ game, pack some sunscreen. Pasadena is beautiful this time of year. For the rest of you, remember to bring mittens.
And a scarf.