Long layoffs. Interesting, non-conference matchups. Neutral sites. Festive atmospheres.
These words describe both bowl season and kickoff season. But there is one difference between the bowl games and the kickoff games at the start of the regular season, and it is a big one. The kickoff games matter.
While bowl season struggles, kickoff season seems to be getting bigger and better every year, especially down south.
While not all of the opening SEC games are true “kickoff games” in that they are to be played on a neutral field, the slate of games that make up kickoff weekend in 2013 is excellent. LSU squares off against TCU at Jerry World and Alabama takes on Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome (both on Saturday). Meanwhile Georgia and Clemson play the first of their home-and-home series the same evening.
South Carolina plays UNC at home on the opening Thursday. Ole Miss and Vandy play that Thursday as well.
As Skip Oliva discussed recently, there are a few major factors helping to support the trend of a bigger kickoff season each year. First, the billions of dollars that have poured into NFL stadiums is creating an environment where these stadiums are trying to bring in additional games. No one is doing this more than Jerry Jones with his massive football cathedral in Arlington, Texas. With teams like the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers making noise about new stadiums, we might not just see more games in Atlanta, but also Charlotte.
Another major factor is the decline of the bowl season. The declining interest and attendance of bowl games is well documented. We predict that the coming playoff will only accelerate the decline of the vast majority of bowl games. As the playoff becomes the singular focus for the college football postseason, the kickoff season can easily fill the void left by the dismantled bowl system.
Furthermore, it is believed that the playoff selection committee will use strength of schedule as one of the selection criteria. With a renewed emphasis on strength of schedule, we are likely to see a decline in cupcake games and an increase in attractive non-conference matchups like the ones we see in these week one kickoff contests.
While bowl games can still be useful for taking a trip to Florida or for inspiring fan bases like Northwestern, the bowl season has largely become irrelevant. There’s no excuse for losing a game, but Florida/Louisville likely would be a much better game in early September than early January.
As such, the increase in interest around the week 1 kickoff season is great for fans. College football is at its best when college football teams are playing for survival. The only game where the fight for survival is not present is the bowl game. Kickoff games merge what makes bowl season great with what makes college football great. The result? Great matchups in festive atmospheres with big stakes. I’m all in on kickoff season.