Joe Santoro: (yawn) Get ready for the Arizona Bowl
December 6, 2018
Are you excited about the Arizona Bowl matchup of Nevada's Silver and Blue Wolves against the Arkansas State Red Wolves on Dec. 29? Of course you aren't. Nobody in Arkansas, Nevada or even Arizona is excited about this game. That's why kickoff is 10:15 a.m. on the CBS Sports Network. When ESPN doesn't even want your bowl game, well, you know it's meaningless. But none of that matters. Bowl games aren't supposed to excite anyone, especially the fans which live nowhere near the game. These artificial games are for the players, who get a bunch of free dinners and gifts and a week in a nice hotel, and for the coaches, who get nice bowl game bonuses and can strut around for a week as if their team accomplished something important.
The Wolf Pack, though, should feel fortunate it's even going to a bowl game. You can thank that thrilling 21-12 win over 1-11 San Jose State that gave the Pack its seventh victory. One Mountain West team that was bowl eligible (6-6 Wyoming) didn't get a bowl invite. How embarrassing is that, in this day and age of everybody-gets-a-trophy college football? After losing the Poinsettia Bowl after the 2016 bowl season, the Mountain West just didn't have enough garbage bowl games to go around this year. That's like a parent forgetting one of their kid's birthdays. Wyoming deserved better. The Cowboys showed a ton of heart and determination to win their final four games to become bowl eligible. All six of their losses this year came against eventual bowl teams. The Pack, don't forget, lost to 4-8 UNLV in a game that was much more important than the Arizona Bowl could ever hope to be.
The last time the Wolf Pack went to the Arizona Bowl was 2015, when it was involved in the worst and most embarrassing bowl matchup in the history of the NCAA. That year the Pack played fellow Mountain West member Colorado State in a game that wasn't even televised, which is sort of like throwing a baby shower for your husband's ex-wife and then not even getting the ex-wife to show up. This year the Pack's Arizona Bowl matchup is a bit less embarrassing, but only slightly. It's against a former fellow conference member (Arkansas State was in the Big West with the Pack for four years in the 1990s) and is on a television station nobody can find in their cable package. So, hey, that's progress over three years ago. Then again, this year's game against a Sun Belt Conference team nobody outside of Little Rock cares about, is being played on the same day and at about the same time as the No. 6-ranked Wolf Pack men's basketball team in the midst of its greatest season ever takes on the Pac-12's Utah Utes in Salt Lake City. Pack fans' attention will be split on Dec. 29.
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The Wolf Pack lost to UNLV in 2015 and was rewarded with an Arizona Bowl invite. The Pack lost to UNLV this year and was rewarded with an Arizona Bowl invite. Those are the only two years in Wolf Pack history a Pack team lost to UNLV and was rewarded with a bowl invite. And both times it was the Arizona Bowl. We have detected a trend here.
If you're convinced this year's Wolf Pack football team is deserving of a bowl game reward, well, you need to remember the 1993, 1994 and 1995 Pack teams. All three of those Division I-A Pack teams had a better record than this year's 7-5 team and none of them received a bowl invite. The 1993 team finished 7-4 while the 1994 team finished 9-2 and the 1995 team ended up 9-3. There just wasn't enough bowls to go around back in the 1990s. There were just 19 bowls in 1993 and 1994 and a mere 18 in 1995. This year there will be 39. Just 18 or 19 bowls? How cruel. That's like saying there are only four television networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS) to choose from and no way possible to make a phone call while waiting in the Wal Mart checkout aisle. Who could live in a world like that?
The Wolf Pack men's basketball team last week went on the road and whipped Loyola-Chicago, a Final Four team a year ago, and the USC Trojans. And they were rewarded by falling from No. 5 to No. 6 in the Associated Press rankings this past Monday. Go figure. The Pack led Loyola 29-9 and enjoyed a lead of 10 points or more over the final 35 minutes. The Pack led USC by 10 or more for the final 14:24. What will one loss do to this Pack team? Drop it to No. 20? The rankings are fun and something to talk about but it's time the NCAA stops recognizing them as meaningful. There is just too much bias, opinion and stupidity involved in ranking college teams in all sports. Teams from conferences like the Mountain West have to be perfect to keep a lofty standing. And sometimes not even perfection helps.
There's a real possibility, however, the Wolf Pack could be No. 1 in the nation on the morning of Dec. 31. Now that would be a nice way of ringing in the new year, huh? The Pack could be 13-0 on Dec. 31. The Pack, now 8-0, played unbeaten (7-0) No. 20 Arizona State on Friday, plays Akron (now 6-3) of the MAC on Dec. 22 in Reno and the Pac-12's Utah Utes (now 4-3) on the road on Dec. 29. Those three victories could be impressive enough to lift the perfect Pack to No. 1 with a 13-0 record if enough teams now ahead of them in the rankings stumble.
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