Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Importance of a Bowl Win

I recently read an article in the Provo Daily Herald that asserted that BYU's Las Vegas Bowl victory over Oregon held little real significance for the program. I vigorously disagree. Bowl wins are the last link in the chain to ultimately greater success.

A bowl win raises the year-end ranking, or at least keeps it from dropping. A ranking at the end of the year is highly correlated to the ranking at the beginning of the next year. I have seen teams start the year highly ranked, and not drop out until they lose their third consecutive game--the "must have been a fluke" effect. Conversely, a team that is lower-ranked or unranked has to work much harder to climb the rankings, and falls faster when it loses--the "I told you so" effect. Many knowledgeable football fans will agree that this year's Cougars are a legitimate Top-15 team, but their assent has been slow because they have had to prove themselves every week (and the lack of television exposure didn't help in the convincing of voters). Anyone who doesn't think that a high ranking is valuable need only recall the BCS snub of the 2001 BYU team while it was still undefeated, and, conversely, the BCS bowl invitation extended to Utah three years later because it was ranked higher. Going back further, BYU's history of being ranked in the early 1980's got them in the position to win the National Championship in 1984, despite vehement opposition to that scenario. Hopefully I don't have to explain the importance of playing in a BCS bowl or winning the National Championship.

Winning the bowl game also establishes a standard that future teams will feel obligated to meet. Success breeds success, which goes back to the rankings argument above.

Also, winning bowl games, especially against certain opponents, can be the final factor in recruiting superior players. Would (then non-LDS) Ty Detmer have chosen to come to BYU if Robbie Bosco--bad ankle and all--had not led the Cougars to the final victory to cement their championship season? And then there's JJ DiLuigi, star running back for the team that just won the California high school championship over all-powerful (and previously #1 in the country) De La Salle. I beg someone to argue that he didn't watch with singular pleasure as BYU thrashed what was supposed to be a good Pac-10 team. BYU got this recruit (also not LDS, by the way), because he's considered too small by the Pac-10 schools. He'll play in Nate Meikle's slotback spot, and he's going to turn some heads when he does. Like Curtis Brown, he has a consuming desire to prove the naysayers wrong.

I feel compelled to continue. Oregon, with Gary Crowton as offensive coordinator, has pushed hard to get Austin Collie to leave BYU. Collie was a secure recruit, but, if he weren't, the Cougars' win over the Ducks would have undoubtedly solidified his allegiance. Some recruits, like Ben Olson, aren't as committed to BYU if the Men in Blue aren't setting the football world on fire. Although I believe they will be fine going forward at quarterback, Olson's departure likely didn't do them any immediate favors.

Having better players doesn't always equate to winning (ask Oklahoma about Boise State). All other things being equal, however, a team with better talent will beat a team with inferior talent. How I wished BYU had Boise State's opportunity recently in a BCS bowl game. Boise State is similar in mindset and heart to BYU, but with less talent. That isn't meant to be derogatory to the Broncos, because no team does as well as they have the last few years without ability. Nevertheless, the Cougars will likely put a few more players into the NFL than will Boise State. And with that talent, and mindset and heart equal to that of the Idahoans, I believe there aren't many teams that BYU wouldn't have prevailed over in their final game this year.

Winning a bowl game perhaps is not as important if the regular season wasn't great, actually. A team's pursuit of the highest goals obviously starts with the regular season. But long-term goals for greater success cannot be achieved without winning the bowl games as well.

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