A lot of people complain that there are too many bowl games, but personally, I don't care. Most of these bowls are tourist-pandering exhibitions, and as long as enough people continue to pay enough attention to them so that they don't lose massive amounts of money, I'm fine with them. Sure, I didn't watch the International Bowl in Toronto between Buffalo and Connecticut, and I neither know nor care which team won, but some people *did*, and I'll bet they even had a good time. Really, who cares? I'm not the enemy of fun.
The NCAA, however, has often been accused of many things, including being an enemy of fun. In allowing football teams to participate in these postseason exhibitions, they set minimum standards such as "must not be on probation" and "must not have a losing record" and "only one win can be over a I-AA team" and such. Reasonable things, I would say. If a bowl game is a reward for a successful season, I say, in fact, that these standards aren't strict enough!
In particular, teams with 6-6 records (the very pinnacle of mediocrity) can, in most cases, be hardly said to have had successful seasons. And if they lose a bowl game, they suddenly have a 6-7 record, and now their "moderately successful season" has turned into a "losing season". Even worse, what if one of those wins was against a I-AA opponent? Now their record against I-A competition stands at a pathetic 5-7, a mere 42% winning percentage against teams playing with supposedly equal rules and equal access to resources. Successful? Hardly. Were I appointed NCAA President for a day, one of my acts would be to remove to rule allowing a team to count a I-AA win towards its bowl eligibile record. Wanna play an early-season patsy? Fine, but you should be able to win at least 6 of your remaining 11 games.
Given the currently lax rules, however, it should come as no surprise that 7 of the 13 teams who finished 6-6 this year managed to do so via a win over a I-AA team, including 5 who were granted bowl bids. Also not surprising: of the three 6-6 teams that lost their bowl games to finish 6-7, all three needed a win over a I-AA cupcake to even reach the postseason. The following is a list of all the teams who finished 6-6, ranked from most to least undeserving of a bowl bid:
#1 Memphis : Not a good season, really. Bad, actually. The Tigers needed a win over I-AA Nicholls State to finish the regular season with a 6-6 record, and none of their other 5 wins were very good either, with the best being over Southern Miss, 7-6 after a New Orleans Bowl victory. In addition, Memphis lost to 3(!) teams with losing records: Marshall, Louisville, and Central Florida. In no way did they deserve a bid to the magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl, where they were unsurprisingly blown out by South Florida.
#2 Arkansas State : Thoroughly mediocre. A 6-6 record whose only win over a team with a winning record was over 7-6 Florida Atlantic, and FAU needed a Motor City Bowl win to reach a winning record. Other than that, the Red Wolves (yes, I had to look that up) managed to beat some of the dregs of the Sun Belt and demolish I-AA Texas Southern (83-10) to get to 6 wins, losing to a couple teams with losing records along the way. They were rightly not awarded a bowl bid.
#3 San Jose State : Not much better than Arkansas State. 6-6 with a win over I-AA UC Davis. Best win was over Hawai'i, now 7-7, though their worst loss was to 5-7 Stanford. With a schedule filled with acceptable losses and unimpressive wins, they were also denied a bowl bid.
#4 Bowling Green : OK, so they played a "big boy" schedule (no I-AA teams), but other than opening the season with an upset of 9-4 Pittsburgh, nothing about their 6-6 record suggests that they deserved a postseason reward. Losing to 6-7 Northern Illinois is probably the main reason why the Huskies got a bowl bid over BG, but I would bet that providing 2 of the 5 combined wins for Eastern Michigan and Miami (OH) had something to do with it as well. The Falcons watched the postseason from home, as they should.
#5 Northern Illinois : Besides a win over 1-AA Indiana State, the Huskies beat 5 cruddy MAC teams, the best of whom was 6-6 Bowling Green. The worst loss was probably to 5-7 Tennessee, but nothing about their résumé suggests that they deserved a bid to the Independence Bowl, which they lost to Louisiana Tech.
#6 Louisiana-Lafayette : Another mediocre Sun Belt team, the Rajin' Cajuns at least managed 6 wins over terrible I-A teams without having to drop down a level in competition. Their best win, however, was over 6-6 Arkansas State, and losses to 5-7 Kansas State and 5-7 UTEP sure didn't help. The bowl season did not miss them.
#7 Florida Atlantic : Until their Motor City Bowl win over 8-5 Central Michigan, the Owls' best win was over 6-6 Louisiana-Lafayette. No I-AA teams on the schedule, though, and only one loss to a team with a losing record, 5-7 Middle Tennessee State.
#8 Southern Miss : No I-AA teams on the schedule, and the win over 9-5 East Carolina was pretty good, but 4 losses to teams with losing records (Auburn, Marshall, UTEP and Memphis) is a lot. Still, they managed to beat 8-5 Troy in the New Orleans Bowl, so that's two decent wins this season.
#9 Kentucky : The Wildcats finished the regular season without a win over a team with a winning record, and one of their 6 wins was over I-AA Norfolk State. The loss @ 5-7 Tennessee is the only this close to a black mark on the résumé, however, and they DID play an SEC conference schedule, so their bid to the Liberty Bowl seems at least somewhat justified, especially after they beat 9-5 East Carolina in that game.
#10 Colorado State : This is the first team on the list whom I can say had a pretty good case for a bowl bid. Yeah, they needed a win over I-AA Sac State to get to 6, but the win over 8-5 Houston was pretty good, the win over 7-5 Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl not bad, and the loss to 5-7 Colorado almost acceptable. Additionally, they played a pretty tough schedule, with the other 5 losses coming to Cal, TCU, Utah, BYU and Air Force, just 14 losses between the 5 of them.
#11 Notre Dame : The Irish bumbled along this year, beating bad teams but not defeating any worthy opponents until November, where they won at 8-5 Navy, only to fall to 3-9 Syracuse at home the next week. No I-AA opponents, however (though San Diego State is close), and the Hawai'i Bowl blowout of Hawai'i raised this season's grade from "meh" to "meh+".
#12 North Carolina State : Initially, the Wolfpack look pretty bad, finishing the season 6-7 after a Papajohns.com Bowl loss to Rutgers, and needing a win over I-AA William & Mary to get even there, but their level of competition was quite good. No losses to teams with losing records, and they record 4 wins over teams with winning records (8-5 Wake Forest, 8-5 North Carolina, 9-5 East Carolina and 7-6 Miami).
#13 Vanderbilt : Vandy was tough this year, and though their 7-6 final record wasn't spectacular, they accomplished a lot in getting there. No wins over I-AA teams, 5(!) wins over teams with winning records (7-6 South Carolina, 10-3 Rice, 9-4 Mississippi, 7-6 Kentucky, 9-5 Boston College), and three losses that, while to teams with losing records (4-8 Mississippi State, 4-8 Duke, 5-7 Tennessee), all were major conference teams, and none, not even Duke, were completely awful. The Music City Bowl win over 9-5 Boston College was a surprise, but it shouldn't have been a huge one.
So that's 13 6-6 teams, 9 of whom earned bowl bids. Eliminate them all from the postseason, and you have to dump 5 bowl games. If we keep the top 4 teams (the ones I thought were "worthy" of a bowl bid) you still have to dump 3 games, and if we merely eliminate the 7 teams that used a win over a I-AA team to get to .500, you still have to eliminate 2 bowl games. I would be OK with any of these scenarios. Would you miss the Humanitarian Bowl, or the International Bowl, or the magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl? I know I wouldn't. Does Florida need 7 bowl games? Does Texas need 5? Does Detroit need 1? (OK, OK, Detroit needs all the help it can get right now...)
Look, I'm not saying there are necessarily too many bowl games; I think all these glorified exhibitions are fun. I *am* saying that we should be careful to avoid rewarding mediocrity; a bowl bid should be something that a team has to earn, something special, a reward for achievement. After all, who wants to join a club that would have anyone at all as a member?