As it sometimes does in the middle of bowl season, the conversation in our Slack channel turned to how there are a ridiculous number of bowl games. That led the three old guys at TDS to do something about it. We held a fantasy draft of bowl games, with a snake draft order and baseball rules: You can pick bowls until you don’t want to pick any more, and the draft ends when everyone passes. Any unpicked bowls get thrown in the trash.
Gary is working out a new way to set matchups for these bowls. For now, here’s the draft. It’s very long so we put a lot of headers in, and you can skip to the bottom if you’re TL;DR and just want to see what we ended up picking.
Gary: I have to take the Rose Bowl first. It is truly the granddaddy of them all. They have largely managed to preserve their traditional tie-ins, making it still a destination game for two huge swaths of the country.
Collin: Was my first pick too.
Jamie: I am taking the Sugar Bowl because it's a terrific destination, a landmark venue, and maybe not as spectacular a bowl as it used to be because the SEC champ ends up in the Playoff every year, but still an outstanding game.
Gary: Sugar is still a destination game for the SEC, much like the Rose is for Pac-12 and the Big However Many There Are Now.
Collin: This is close, but I'm going Orange by a hair. And if they hadn't just renovated the stadium, I don't pick them here. It's not actually in Miami anymore, but the parade still is. Incredible tradition (Osborne going for two, Jimmy Johnson being carried off the field, the fights in the stands and on Calle Ocho after the games), and I'm a big believer in destinations as a reward for players. You can do worse than staying in a beach resort in South Florida in December.
Trying to figure out how to get my 3rd pick on the comeback... please hold.
Gary: Since you have the #3 and #4 picks, you probably didn't need to sweat the #3 choice all that much.
Jamie: Notable how other than the Rose Bowl, we have to consider how much the other brand-name bowls have been degraded.
Collin: Screw it, I'm doing it: Citrus. Always well-attended, a newly-renovated facility, lots of last-minute cheap hotels for fans because they're so plentiful in Orlando, and the players get as good an experience as any bowl game, including a couple days at Disney. A lot of these kids didn't get a chance to go to Disney as children, and that's why it's so fun for them to be there. I worked at MGM Studios just after high school, I can vouch for how much it can mean to people.
Jamie: UPSET CITY
Gary: Very defensible choice.
Jamie: So now I get to choose between Cotton and Peach... and I gotta go with Peach. Atlanta is the heartbeat of college football, and while I don't think it has as much historical value as the Cotton Bowl, I know I'd rather go there than Dallas, where you could easily get snowed on or sucked up by a tornado. Also I hate Jerry World as a football stadium
Collin: Both being indoors helps here, but Jerry World doesn't outweigh the value of ATL (Buckhead, Midtown, Lil Jon).
Gary: Also, the Peach Bowl is pretty good about philanthropy. Points for that. Plus Atlanta lends itself to a good regional matchup.
Jamie: Dallas doesn't have a Murder Kroger so it's automatically not as good as Atlanta.
Gary: I think it's pretty clear which two bowls I have to take at 6-7. I've got an upset favorite, which I'm hoping will be around at 12. If I didn't have both picks this would be a tough choice.
At #6 I will make the homer pick and take the Outback Bowl. Good travel destination, good matchups, good history, and a sponsored name that has been consistent and makes sense for the city it is in. (And hey, who doesn't want to go to Outback Steakhouse?) Also an interesting experience for its early-morning January 1 slot.
Collin: My next pick! The team hotels are the Westin Harbor Island (on the water by Channelside) and the Grand Hyatt on the bay. That's pretty fantastic for the players.
Gary: At #7 I pretty much have to take the Fiesta Bowl. It was/still is a major game, and has had some amazing and important games despite its short history. I like its willingness to give teams like Boise State and TCU an invite. But it loses points for Phoenix being a less appealing travel destination, and for the level of corruption that was revealed in that game.
Collin: And for PHX being notoriously spread out as a destination. Houston levels of sprawl.
Gary: Combined with Houston levels of nothing interesting to do
Jamie: Well, there's only one New Year's Six game left and I considered them last round, so I guess I have to take the Cotton Bowl. Lots of history and prestige in this game and they care deeply about putting on a good show. Also plenty of BBQ and red meat for Middle America travelers.
Now on to Collin to pick the Holiday and Las Vegas Bowls.
Gary: I thought Cotton had already been picked. I would have taken that over Fiesta.
Collin: At #9, the United Beaches of America Chamber of Commerce selects... the Holiday Bowl! From what is by all metrics America's Finest City, and a game with great tradition as well. Remember: Jim McMahon won a national championship with BYU here, and this game was notorious for insane finishes for decades. The only downside is her eyesore of a stadium, but you can make up for that with Balboa Park, the Gaslamp, the possibility of a punter not making the game because he was abducted in Tijuana... if it had a better facility and some slightly better tie-ins over the years, you could argue this should have been a 1st round pick.
Gary: That was my hopeful #12. I seriously considered it for #7.
Jamie: I'm worried about that bowl long term if the Chargers leave. That stadium will go to crap. Well, more crap.
Collin: At #10, I'm going Russell Athletic, but this is really close. To me this should be a reward for the players first, and though Miami has a very, very good secondary game in the Miami Beach Bowl as well (last year was great as a fan experience), I'm giving the edge to Orlando because of more things to do for those under 21. It's also why Las Vegas isn't getting picked this high: most of the players can't even legally bet their per diem. Russell Athletic players get everything you get from the Citrus Bowl, just in front of less eyeballs and with less tradition. I went to Baylor-UNC here last year and it was very good.
Jamie: I have a different opinion on this. The schools are massively on the hook for tickets to bowl games and need a destination to appeal to their fans. That's why I'm taking the Las Vegas Bowl - because it’s a bowl game in Las Vegas.
Collin: Realize Sam Boyd Stadium isn't as nice as your high school stadium (and I drive by your high school several times a week). Also it's in the middle of nowhere, and people fail to realize how cold it gets in Vegas in the winter sometimes. I also went to this game a few years ago (Fresno St-USC), and it's fine... but traffic is a bitch and it's cold.
Jamie: Don’t care, Vegas. Also you might run into Brent Musberger at a high-roller craps table at Caesar’s Palace like two hours before the game, which would be amazing.
Gary: At #12 I will take the Liberty Bowl. Fun travel destination. Stadium and game with history. Location appeals to fans from the south and midwest. The game is the same name as the stadium, which is cool. Corporate name sponsorships have been highly tasteful (all solid companies with short names and Memphis roots).
They also once had a tie-in with the winner of the Commander-in-Chief Trophy, which is hands down the coolest bowl tie-in ever. Unfortunately it got tiresome when Air Force went every year because Army and Navy were shit in the late 1980s. That would be fun to revive.
Gary: I'm going to go the "secondary game in a good city" route and take the Poinsettia Bowl at #13. Ditto everything said about the Holiday Bowl above. Has attracted a lot of ranked teams (mostly, if not entirely, non-P5 teams) in its short history. Between Navy (and its ties to San Diego), San Diego State, the rest of the MWC, and the Pac-10 they usually muster up a good game.
"San Diego Country Credit Union" isn't a great sponsor, but at least it's appropriate for San Diego. That matters to me. Also, there was a Poinsettia Bowl in the 1950s that matched up military base teams. Pensacola Naval Air Station played in the 1955 game.
Jamie: I thought about the Miami Beach Bowl here, but that game has no history and the American is quickly running it into the ground. So instead I'm going with the Gator Bowl. A lengthy history and despite what we think of Jacksonville, it's on the beach and therefore a good destination for northern visitors.
Gary: And the last New Year’s Day game is off the board.
Jamie: My only stipulation is they must get rid of the TaxSlayer sponsorship, because fuck you Mr. TaxSlayer User for trying to stiff the US and A on your taxes. You want everything without paying for anything, and then you’re the first ones to complain when the services that depend on your tax dollars aren’t good enough for you.
Gary: ...and then chants U-S-A! U-S-A!
Jamie: Right, like "I AIN'T GIVIN’ THE GUMMINT ANY OF MY HARD EARNED MONEY" and then they complain that their roads and schools and fire departments are trash.
Gary: And then say their country has the best roads and schools and fire departments in the world.
Jamie: Anyway, way off topic there, now here's Collin to happily take the Miami Beach Bowl.
Collin: Miami Beach at #15. Marlins Park staff attempting to not let the Western Kentucky band shower after the game last season and threatening to turn off the water aside (yes I saw and heard that with my own eyes and ears), it's a tremendous game for the players. Ask USF's punter Mattias Ciabatti, who missed curfew and the game last season. Though the game itself is in a rough neighborhood that Jeffery Loria isn't doing anything to help fix, all the bowl events are over the Causeway and on the beach. The stadium itself is great (get the media noche or an arepa in left field), and the sight lines are just fine for a baseball stadium.
Jamie: I bet I know what's coming next.
Collin: BELK! Not a super-chic destination or in great weather, but Charlotte is a wonderful and underrated city and they do a very nice job with this game (I've been twice). About as close to cold weather as I'll allow, but with climate change it's possible you can still get a kickoff in the 50's or 60's somewhat often here. Downtown Charlotte has lots to do, and is an airport hub that'll let fans get there easily.
Jamie: WOW. I thought Bahamas for sure.
Collin: OH GOD DAMMIT I FORGOT
Jamie: AND GUESS WHAT
Collin: DELETE DELETE DELETE
Gary: Hey, I didn’t ask for a do-over.
Jamie: BAHAMAS BOWL.
Collin: Honestly, kind of a crime we let it go this long.
Jamie: It's a crime this bowl didn't start 20 years ago.
Gary: Yeah, specifically before 2001. When international travel was easy. Now you need a passport and all that shit just to go to the Bahamas. Nobody can wrangle that up in the short time available between the announcement and the game.
Collin: If you can afford to go, you have a passport already. Also, the players get free passports out of it, which are good for 10 years and might encourage them to travel more after graduation. I learned this when USF went to Toronto: there are people that make sure folks that need passports in a hurry can get them.
Jamie: Yes you need a passport, but it's so much easier to get there than to Hawaii. An all-inclusive resort with anything you might want to do. And while Popeye's may not be the sponsor of this game forever, it certainly doesn't hurt now.
Collin: POPEYE'S IN NASSAU WHO CARES WHO'S PLAYING??? AND ATLANTIS ALLOWS SPORTS BETTING!!
Gary: The Bahamas is great for Florida teams, because Florida people can go there on a whim (and probably already have). And MAC states might have passports for going to Canada. But otherwise viable fans from schools in Virginia, Tennessee, etc., might not have passports handy. Popeye's can sponsor one of the three bowl games in Louisiana, two of which could really use a sponsor.
Gary: And I will make another homer pick at #18: the Sun Bowl. Yes, I know El Paso, but hear me out on this. It has a strong history, is well-supported by the community, and has retained its brand over the years (unlike, say, the Gator Bowl). USF went there once and I heard nothing but good things (except the game result, of course).
Jamie: The USF players certainly enjoyed themselves! Allegedly!
Gary: Has the same fun yet awful distractions as the San Diego games; substitute Juarez for Tijuana.
Collin: Same. Only USF bowl I've missed, and am filled with regret there. Those that went loved it. But.. cold. And nothing to do that's legal in America.
Jamie: El Paso is boring as hell, but crucially Juarez is much better than it used to be. Five years ago there's no chance this bowl makes our list.
Gary: The Sun Bowl would make a great destination bowl for the Mountain West, or some C-USA teams. They're struggling with a second tie-in, but they get a good Pac-10 team - better than Las Vegas most years. This game should be better than it is. Though I get why the MWC prefers Vegas, even with a worse opponent tie-in.
Jamie: If the Sun Bowl made it to my pick I would have taken them.
Gary: At #19 I will go with the Music City Bowl. It's the Liberty Bowl without the history. Decent city to visit, good crossroads destination of the south/midwest/east (literally, from the 3 interstates that circle the town), new NFL stadium, good name. I think bowl names matter a lot.
Jamie: Tough call. I'm surprised and also not surprised the Aloha/Hawaii Bowl is still on the board. It's Hawaii and that's awesome for the players, but it's a nightmare for the fans and the schools. Plus Hawaii plays in the game if they're eligible and then it just turns into another home game for them with their garbage fans. I guess I'll take them anyway because it's worth saving, but I'm not crazy about it.
Gary: Local support is lacking, even when Hawaii is in the game, and it's atrocious when they're not.
Collin: I was going to keep them myself, but with the caveat Hawaiian Airlines offers some reasonably-priced shuttles for fans. Like last minute $500 round trip fares from whatever city.
Collin: The Foster Farms Bowl. San Francisco is one of the great cities of the world, and all the events are there and not around Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. Plus there's a 0% chance of snow, and it doesn't get so cold you can't fight it comfortably with modern clothing.
Gary: I'm going to require that the Foster Farms Bowl get a real name. San Francisco Bowl or Bay Area Bowl or California Bowl is fine.
Collin: Water Sucking Almond Bowl?
Collin: So I'm down to Houston, San Antonio, Boca Raton, a second game for Phoenix, or a second game for New Orleans. What's the weather like in San Antonio this time of year? (I know the game is indoors.)
Jamie: Oh wow, I can't believe that game's still on the board. It's Texas, anything can happen although the odds of a wintry hellscape are lower.
Collin: Never mind: the New Orleans Bowl. You just can't go wrong with NOLA ever. Food, easy for tourists, everything is walkable, facility has been rehabbed, tons of history and culture, and weather is usually fine. If you're going to give anyone a second game, give it to a town that knows how to make a great tourism experience, and one the kids will enjoy. And this game should get a better matchup because of all the games that won't make the cut.
PICK #23... OR NOT
Jamie: You know what... I'm done. The only argument for the Alamo Bowl is the good matchup, but that will change anyway. San Antonio is dull. Houston is worse. The other bowls, hell with them.
Collin: I think I'm gonna ride for Boca if only for the beaches and player experience. I went last year, and though it feels weird since it's on someone else's campus, I'm betting northern kids would really enjoy it. I was deferring on the Texas bowls to you, if you're punting so am I.
Gary: I'm going to keep the Alamo Bowl. Texas only has two bowl games (Cotton, Sun). The city at least has some history and personality.
Jamie: The city has a fetid riverwalk and a fort where Texas got its ass whipped in 1836.
Gary: It's a reasonable travel destination for the Big XII. Though it should embrace the G5 Texas-based schools; Pac-12 schools don't want to travel that far east (though it did work out this year with Colorado, to the extent their fans travel anywhere.)
Gary: At #24 - and this may be a good stopping point for all of us - I am keeping the Mobile Bowl. I will explain.
For all the talk of "too many bowls", this is one that deserves to stay. It has an admirable history of offering a post-season destination to G5 schools that would otherwise go wanting. And it's had good matchups, like this year's Toledo-Troy game, and that wild shootout between Marshall and Louisville one time. There are a ton of teams within driving distance; even MAC locations are manageable.
Collin: Mobile is literally the only good thing about Alabama. Like it's the whole list.
Gary: It's on the beach, not far from Mississippi casinos, and has some genuine Mardi Gras history. As lower-tier destinations go, it's sellable. Especially with a huge number of Sun Belt, C-USA, and American schools within driving distance.
Collin: If we keep this one, it's merely as a nod to places like Shreveport and Montgomery that yes, you were considered... but no, you don't deserve bowl games.
Gary: I can't get behind Montgomery as a travel destination at all.
On a side note, it's interesting how far the Independence Bowl has fallen. Despite a long-running SEC tie-in, it ends up being the Miscellanous Bowl, despite the litany of crappy games in even crappier locations. (Hey, at least Shreveport has casinos.) The bg conferences bypass it every chance they get. That's another game that needs to get the fuck over itself and embrace P5 schools.
Collin: I am in for the Boca Raton Bowl, but giving it provisional status. Great resorts for players, beaches, enough stuff to do to keep folks occupied for three days. And with that: we end the draft.
Gary: So what all did we cut?
Collin: Florida only lost one game. Sorry, I'll list 'em:
New Mexico, Camelia, Cure, Potato, Armed Forces, St. Pete, Quick Lane, Independence, Heart of Dallas, Military, Cactus, Pinstripe, Texas, Birmingham, Arizona... and that's it I think.
Jamie: I wasn’t going to do it but I'm OK that someone remembered the Alamo Bowl. Sorry, not sorry.
Gary: We kept Mobile and ditched Birmingham? That's.... actually, I can get behind that. Legion Field just swallows up the crowd and is a dump anyway. If UAB ever gets an OCS, that might make a good site some day.
Collin: I'll check back from Birmingham this week and report.