TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 17: Fans of the Arizona Wildcats cheer as quarterback Andrew Luck #12 of the Stanford Cardinal snaps the football during the college football game at Arizona Stadium on September 17, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona. The Cardinal defeated the Wildcats 37-10. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Barring the 2012 Mayan prophecy coming to fruition, there is no stopping a playoff from taking over college football. Less certain than its arrival is the look this new postseason will have.
Early consensus is a four-team playoff that does not interfere with the current bowl system is on its way. The Bowl Championship Series has advocated such a format. However, there is already chatter of an eight-team system, exacerbating this blogger’s worst fears of a playoff compromising the bowls.
While a postseason format that allows the crème de la crème equal opportunity at the national championship is ideal, maintaining the bowl system is equally vital.
Bowl games are part of what makes college football, college football. Nothing is more indicative of bowls’ importance than the Rose Bowl Game. Reaching the oldest of the postseason affairs is a milestone any athletic department would relish.
As the sole member from the Pacific Conference’s original 10 pre-expansion to not spend January 1 in Pasadena, the Rose Bowl has particular importance to Arizona. Playing in that game would signify a landmark moment for UA football, a proclamation that there’s more to the athletic department than basketball.
But even those games lower in stature than The Granddaddy of ‘Em All are catalysts to the greatest regular season in sports. UA’s history is proof.
UA was known for its November magic through a stretch of the Mike Stoops era. The Wildcats beat opponents ranked in the Top 10 each season from 2005 through 2007, the pinnacle of which was a Nov. 15, 2007 defeat of then second ranked Oregon.
The Dennis Dixon-led Ducks were very much in the hunt for the BCS championship and had everything to play for. In a playoff situation with no bowl games, UO would have had seeding to play for – UA would have nothing more than pride.
And while the intangible of pride has its motivational presence in sports, something tangible is worth a whole lot more. A bowl appearance was still attainable when UO rolled into Tucson, and the Wildcats showed their hunger in a game that will forever be etched in program lore.
Antoine Cason cemented his legacy as one of UA’s all-time greats that Thursday night, scoring on interception and punt returns.
The sea of red that engulfed Arizona Stadium’s turf at the final horn is a mainstay of Pac-12 football highlight packages.
In addition to late season motivation that would otherwise elude some teams, bowls offer building blocks for the future. The extra month of practice a team is granted when qualifying for the postseason sets a foundation for the following campaign. The bowl appearance is important to recruiting as a pitch for coaches.
And the bowl itself can be a special moment for the players and fans.
Take the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl, UA’s first postseason appearance in a decade. The Wildcats drew No. 16 BYU. What ensued was a memorable night, as one of the Wildcats' premiere quarterbacks ended his career on a high note. Willie Tuitama scored three touchdowns to power UA's 31-21 victory. His selection as the game's Most Valuable Player was a fitting cap to a career that helped change the course of a long-struggling program.
For the athletes, having an opportunity like UA's in the Las Vegas Bowl is a reward for workouts under the August sun, reps in the weight room, and performance on the field.
Yes, the 2008 Utahs, 2010 TCUs and 2009 Boise States deserve their shots at proving they are No. 1. Likewise, disputes such as 2003, 2008 and 2011 need a resolution. Hopefully though, progress does not at the expense of a valuable history.