You know there's too much debate about a watercooler subject if it has its own congressional subcommittee. The bowl system has its flaws, among them a string of meaningless December games. How can you respect your own bowl when only a week earlier you met the same pomp with an apathetic change of the channel, preferring the middle half of some tired old TNT movie to the Meineke Car Care Bowl?
The corporatization of everything only magnifies the more venal forces behind such a system, though it's worth noting that the sugar, orange and cotton lobbies once played the same role as Tostito's and Capital One. Part appeasement for smaller division and part cynical money-grab, the silly number of bowl games waters down the importance of the major bowls and only heightens the mistrust of the so-called “national championship game.”
I'm not sold on a playoff as a meaningful alternative, despite its alluring simplicity. My main concern is timing, especially with regard to the spring semester. Players need some form of break to reenergize for the most important academic semester of their year, and that's why a lot of bowls are treated like vacations. If that atmosphere were traded for the frenzy of a playoff, especially one that stretches an unforgiving season of football into late January, I'm not sure that players would have the necessary R&R going into the spring semester.
That said, clearly the current system has flaws. I'll lend an ear to anybody who thinks they know how to fix it. I just know I don't.
Arkansas hasn't fared well in January. We're 11-22-3 overall in bowl competition, a record that I'd like to believe reflects our inability to take postseason play seriously. Since joining the SEC, we've gone 2-7, with our most memorable win against Texas in the Cotton Bowl after Houston Nutt's second year.
Bobby Petrino sees bowl appearances as the first game of the next season, a vital piece of recruiting material, and a necessary next step in the Next Step. As far as he's concerned, ECU stands between the Razorbacks and longer-term success. In other words, he understands that a loss to any team in 2010 can color the entire season.
Skip Holtz has had nothing but success with ECU. Previously, he had resigned from a successful head coaching campaign at UConn to take a position with his father during Lou Holtz's ill-fated tenure at South Carolina. He took the head coaching job at ECU in 2004 and went right back to winning, despite the fact that the Pirates were coming off a 2-11 season. He's increased his winning percentage year by year: 5 wins in 2005; 7 in 2006; 8 in 2007; 9 in 2008. Right now, he's on his second nine-win season in a row.
I still don't like his chances. The Pirates squeaked past a Houston Cougars team that people seem to think resembles the Razorbacks in some ways. The Cougars do boast an air attack characterized by the kind of slants that Jarius Wright runs as well as anybody in the country and crossing patterns that make Joe Adams our most exciting player to watch. But those are just lines on the board. The Cougars don't remotely approach the athleticism and length of our passing game. And it's not like ECU shut them down. Houston scored all of its 32 points through the air in the Conference USA championship game.
Maybe that's because ECU has one of the more solid defensive lines in its conference, but I suspect it has more to do with Houston's lack of a running game. ECU's line isn't all that big by SEC standards, and our running game is better than any they've seen since West Virginia beat the tar out of them. We'll score often in a number of ways.
As always, it really comes down to our defense. Holtz fields a balanced, grizzled offense without a clear star. Senior Dominique Lindsay has rushed for over a thousand yards on 206 carries this season, and fellow senior Patrick Pinkney has tossed the ball for over 2,500 yards and 14 touchdowns. So pick your poison. Virginia Tech's exceptional defense shut them down completely, but we're anything but exceptional. At least not in the right ways. It doesn't feel like a shootout, but we gotta hope our tendency to give up big plays treats this game like a vacation anyway.