For college football in 2020, the only rule is: There are no rules.
In the year of COVID-19, all past practices are pushed aside. We have been assured the changes are temporary and there is no reason to believe otherwise.
Eventually, thanks to science and modern medicine, college football will return to normal. Will that be in 2021? Wow, wouldn’t that be great. But there are lot of people to vaccinate between now and then.
More realistically, full normalcy for college sports won’t happen until 2022.
So, for now, we accept it and learn to enjoy the uniqueness of it all.
Case in point: prepare yourselves for the wackiest bowl season in college football history. So fitting with everything else going on in the world. How will the weirdness play out? Well, the bowls that are actually held won’t be encumbered by traditional norms.
In the past, college teams were required to finish at or above .500 in order to qualify.
But there were exceptions. In 2014 and ‘15, with a shortage of eligible teams, five schools with seven losses were allowed to play in bowls. Two of the five were from the Big Ten (Minnesota and Nebraska) The five losing teams that season won four of their bowls. That had to hurt for the losers.
This year, the standards are on hold for everyone. No criteria for the number of wins a team must have exists.
Don’t be surprised if a school like Tennessee, currently 2-5, gets a call from a nearby bowl. Say, the Music City Bowl in Nashville, which would like to bring the local favorite to town. The Music City is scheduled to pair a team from the SEC with one from the Big Ten.
Decision day comingCurrently, the bowls have ties to different conferences. You all know about the long history between the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Rose Bowl.
The SEC has a similar relationship with the Sugar Bowl. Those ties should continue this year, with a the potential for some tweaking.
Bowl selection is expected to happen Dec. 20, the day after the conferences complete their championships and final weekend of games.
But what happens if COVID-19 continues to rage and games get canceled left and right?
Ohio State, which has already had games with Maryland and Illinois canceled, is in danger of not reaching the supposed minimum number of six games to be eligible for the Big Ten championship.
This weekend’s Maryland-Michigan game has already been called off. We are waiting to see what happens with Ohio State-Michigan State. And is there a chance the Big Ten’s biggest rivalry, Michigan-Ohio State, won’t be played?
Seems more than possible.
Back in the dayThere was a time when bowls didn’t wait until the end of the regular season before making deals with schools.
The Orange Bowl might say to Oklahoma: You’re on the way, right? And the folks in Norman would nod in approval.
Name schools like Alabama, Southern Cal, Texas and Notre Dame had an advantage over the rest. Though the Fighting Irish didn’t allow themselves to play in bowls for good until 1970. Because of Notre Dame’s national appeal, it’s fair to say it could get invited after a 2-10 season. Thankfully, the school has self-imposed standards.
This season, the undefeated Irish have a great chance to be a part of the College Football Playoff.
Not so for the Big Ten. Kevin Warren’s conference needs to hold onto every bowl tie.
The league has already lost postseason options to COVID-19. The Pinstripe, Redbox and Quick Lane have been canceled, part of 10 bowl games that won’t happen this season.
Though the Big Ten has a chance to pick up a playoff spot for Ohio State, it could find itself short of invites for worthy teams.
Right now, the Big Ten has five teams ranked in the Top 25: Ohio State, Indiana, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa.
The other nine schools will struggle to finish above .500. Maryland is 2-2 with three canceled games. Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota and Purdue are all 2-3 with a chance time to get above .500. Rutgers, Nebraska, Michigan and Penn State are under water and pointing toward “normal” 2021.
Do the Illini want to play in a bowl? You betcha. The team ended a postseason-less streak in 2019 and hopes to start the positive kind.
“I think it would be very important and it’s definitely one of the goals this team strides for,” Illinois center Doug Kramer said Wednesday afternoon.
How would Kramer sell the Illini to a bowl committee?
“So far, I think we’ve shown we’ve got a lot of fight,” Kramer said. “I think it’s a fun group to watch.”
We’ll all have to watch and see what unfolds later this month before the strangest of all bowl seasons kick off.