This wasn’t the greatest college football bowl season ever, but it had its moments

NC State’s Doeren: ‘Bottom line is they played better than we did; they coached better than we did’

NC State coach Dave Doeren talks about the Wolfpack's loss to Texas A&M Aggies in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., Monday, Dec. 31, 2018.
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NC State coach Dave Doeren talks about the Wolfpack's loss to Texas A&M Aggies in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., Monday, Dec. 31, 2018.

A few takes on the college football bowl season:

How bad were these games?

This was not a stellar bowl season, by any stretch.

At one point on New Year’s Eve, the average margin of victory of 29 bowl games was 20.6 points, including Army’s stunning 70-14 victory over Houston in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Military Bowl and Auburn’s 63-14 dismantling of Purdue in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.

The bowl season was salvaged by many close games on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, which brought the overall margin of victory for 38 bowls to 16.7 points.

Then there was the Cheez-It Bowl between TCU and California, a game that featured nine interceptions. Winning quarterback Grayson Muehlstein “led” TCU’s 10-7, overtime win by completing seven passes to his receivers (for 27 total yards) and four passes to opposing defenders.

And there was the Servepro First Responder Bowl between Boston College and Boise State. Boston College took a 7-0 lead with 5:08 remaining in the first quarter when lightening and severe weather in the Dallas area forced the game’s cancellation.

Also, three teams returned home from their bowl experience with losing season records. The aforementioned Purdue, Vanderbilt and Virginia Tech all finished with 6-7 records. Vanderbilt lost to Baylor in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl and Virginia Tech fell to Cincinnati in the Military Bowl.

Dave meet Dabo

N.C. State fans were understandably upset when what once was a promising season concluded with a 52-13 spanking at the hands of Texas A&M in the Taxslayer Gator Bowl.

In six seasons, Dave Doeren -- with a 43-34 record -- has methodically constructed a solid program at N.C. State. With back-to-back 9-4 seasons, the Wolfpack likely has arrived as a perennial contender for ACC championships.

So, look no further than Clemson coach Dabo Swinney to find an example of a coach who took a lopsided loss in a bowl game to spark his program’s rise to greater heights. By his fourth season (one was as an interim coach), Swinney’s teams had compiled an unremarkable 29-19 record.

Following the 2011 season, Clemson was embarrassed in a 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. Since then, Swinney and Clemson have gone 86-11 with a national championship and four consecutive College Football Playoff appearances.

That is not to say Doeren and N.C. State are on the verge of the same greatness, but it does serve to show that a program can rebound from a humiliating bowl setback.

In front of a live TV audience

Televised coverage of the 38 bowl games featured banks of empty seats in the stands. As long as the games (13) are either owned by or televised (all but five) by ESPN or its affiliates, attendance for these postseason affairs simply does not matter.

By selling advertising across all the bowls, ESPN sees increased revenue. Add corporate sponsors to the mix and there is enough revenue generated to make attendance irrelevant. Essentially, the games have become TV shows, mere programming for ESPN.

Thus, who really cared that an announced crowd of 11,029 attended the DXL Frisco Bowl in Frisco, Texas, between Ohio and San Diego State? Or that a whopping 13,510 pulled themselves away from the Nassau beaches to watch Toledo play Florida International in the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl?

Or that 14,135 showed for the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla., that pitted Marshall against South Florida? Or that . . . .

Average announced attendance for the bowl games was 40,025, which would only fill the ACC’s two smallest stadiums -- 31,500-seat BB&T Field at Wake Forest and 33,941-seat Wallace Wade Stadium at Duke.

About those gift bags?

It is difficult to question the decision by handfuls of players to sit out bowl games while looking after their pro football futures. The risk of injury far outweighs participating in a meaningless bowl game for draft-eligible players.

But, why oh why, are these players allowed to wear their jerseys and stand on the sideline during the bowl games? They opted out of the games. They are no longer part of the programs or the teams. Go watch the games on TV like other fans.

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