Bowled over/The Red Line

There may be no American sports concept harder to explain to the uninitiated than the bowl system in Division I college football.

There is a national champion, but sometimes more than one, and not crowned by the same organization that crowns champions in all of other college sports or in the other two divisions of college football. Don’t get me started on the BCS.

Finish 6-6 and beat another 6-6 team in a vacation destination in front of 15,000 people and a miniscule television audience and you get a gift basket and a trophy.

There was a time bowl games were named after things one could put in a bowl: Oranges, Peaches, Cotton, Roses. Now we have things like the BBVA Compass Bowl and the Belk Bowl. It was only about four days ago, well after the Belk Bowl, that I figured what the heck Belk was. It’s some sort of clothing store for southern people. No shock I didn’t know that, I’m more in the market for a toque than a sundress.

I watched several of these bowls so you don’t have to. Here are a few of the highlights:

Dec. 15: New Mexico Bowl, Arizona 49, Nevada 48. I’d say the defenses took a wrong turn in Albuquerque, but this bowl was played in Albuquerque. The best highlight? Watching two Arizona players throw hands on the sidelines during the game.

It’s hard to believe a Rich Rodriguez-coached defense could not be among the top three disasters of the day, but Nevada gave up two touchdowns in the final two minutes and ESPN ran a graphic saying “Arizona: Gilden New Mexico Bowl Champion.” (It’s Gildan).

Dec. 26: Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Central Michigan 24, Western Kentucky 21. CMU was 6-6 this year. They deserved to go to a bowl game about as much as I deserve to write the State of the Union address.

But because there are 35 bowl games and a ton of CMU alumni in the metro Detroit area, there the Chippewas were: on ESPN.

And goshdarnit, we won, but mostly because WKU’s delightfully unhinged interim coach went for it on 4th-and-2 from the CMU 19 down three points. Was Mason Crosby kicking for the Hilltoppers?

Jan. 1: Outback Bowl, South Carolina 33, Michigan 28: Though it was the NCAA equivalent of a 13th-place game, it was entertaining, mostly because I was desperately waiting for ESPN’s Jon Gruden to go off on a near-inevitable five-minute stream of praise starting with “This guy, Denard Robinson…”

Also, Jadav … Jadaiv … Jadiv … J. Clowney will haunt my dreams for some time after he (legally) hit Michigan’s Vincent Smith back into 2012.

Michigan blew it at the end, which is great for South Carolina, because as Steve Spurrier knows, you can’t spell “Outback Bowl Champions” without USC.

Jan. 1: Orange Bowl, Florida State 31, Northern Illinois 10: A game effort for the outmanned Huskies. Perhaps the most surreal moment was the interview with ex-NIU coach Dave Doeren, who left the team after the MAC Championsip to coach North Carolina State.

Ball State lost Brady Hoke to San Diego State, then to Michigan. CMU lost Brian Kelly and Butch Jones to the same school (Cincinnati). Jones is off to Tennessee now, while Kelly has done the impossible: make me want Notre Dame to win the national championship (don’t worry, that game’s not until next week).

In winning the Little Caesars Bowl, Dan Enos, whose tenure I’d longed to see the end of, has won more bowl games at CMU than Kelly and Jones combined, because both had bolted for new gigs before the bowl season.

That’s just the way things are in the Mid-American Conference nowadays: If your head coach is any good at all, you’ll lose him to a BCS school.

In an unrelated note, Western Michigan fired coach Bill Cubit Nov. 18 after eight seasons with the Broncos.

When the first national championship playoff concludes the 2014 season, I will miss a world with 34 games that don’t matter and one that does. Division I college football may become too easy to explain.

Brandon Veale can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at