The team looming largest over college football right now is not Wisconsin, Penn State, Washington or even Alabama.
I know, I know. What’s so threatening about a two-loss team that didn’t crack the playoff rankings until two weeks ago and even now trails the train wrecks at Florida and Louisville?
Well consider this: Should Navy beat Temple in the American title game this weekend, most of the bowl system could be held hostage.
Sure, the College Football Playoff field will be set Sunday. But the Cotton Bowl would have to wait on Navy, and the trickle-down effect would mean total bedlam. Many bids would be in limbo until Dec. 11, a mere six days before bowl season kicks off.
Of course, this could all be a moot point. Should Western Michigan win the Mid-American Conference title, or should Navy lose, the folks in the ugly blazers can go ahead and issue their invites as planned Sunday.
ESPN.com quoted an unnamed bowl official — who didn’t want to be “un-American” — as saying nearly everyone in the the bowl industry is rooting against Navy.
That’s not very patriotic now, is it? In a year where there has been no shortage of debate on the intersection of patriotism and sports, hoping Navy loses this weekend should be considered an insult to everyone who has served this country. (Sarcasm, people.)
The better point is that there is zero fun when everything gets wrapped up all nice and tidy.
College football — all sports, really — is at its best when there’s chaos. How else to explain the time and brain power that’s been spent these past few days on trying to determine whether Ohio State should get preference over the Big Ten title game champ (duh) and if Michigan still has a shot at the playoff (yes, though it’s slim).
It’s that kind of mayhem that makes March Madness a national treasure. Admit it, you didn’t even know there was a Middle Tennessee State until March, yet for about 48 hours there you were its biggest fan.
Which brings us back to Navy.
The Cotton Bowl is one of the “New Year’s Six,” the bowls that make up the College Football Playoff. This year it has two at-large bids, one of which will go to the highest-ranked champion from the “Group of Five.” Right now, that’s undefeated Western Michigan. It was 17th in this week’s playoff rankings, two spots ahead of Navy.
But Western’s season ends Friday with the MAC title game. Navy, on the other hand, still has to play Army next weekend and could, theoretically, leapfrog the Broncos with two wins. Which is why the playoff selection committee has asked that there be plenty of TUMS, Zantac and milk on hand this weekend.
Committee members are well aware that the playoff exists because fans lost faith in the Bowl Championship Series’ ability to decide the rightful national champion. The Cotton Bowl might be the least important or impactful of the New Year’s Six bowls this year, but the committee has to get its full slate of selections right or trust in this system will eventually erode, too.
Imagine that the committee decides not to wait on Navy, sends Western Michigan to the Cotton Bowl and then sees the Broncos shellacked by an SEC or Big 12 team. That could happen anyway. But if Navy wins this weekend and isn’t given the opportunity to earn the bid with the game against Army, you can be sure there will be howling.
Yes, delaying the final selections for a week would wreak havoc on travel plans, both for the teams involved and their fans. But let’s be honest. Those early bowl games are TV fodder, at best. There isn’t going to be a stampede of fans to the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. Or, better yet, the Miami Beach Bowl, which is scheduled for the middle of the afternoon on Monday, Dec. 19.
If an extra week’s wait is what it takes to get the lineup of the bowl games right, then so be it. The last thing the bowl folks need is to be accused of being too hasty.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.