When you find someone who says things like “The Camellia Bowl is a helluva thing,” and “The Bahamians are starting to learn about college football, and they like it,” you must find time for the conversation.
Wright Waters accommodated.
Some people may like college football bowl games more than Waters, but nobody advocates for the bowl concept like Waters.
“They so unique and so important to the success of college football,” Waters said.
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Now, Waters has to say such things as executive director of the College Bowl Association, which promotes the 40 postseason games that begin with a six-pack on Saturday.
But his bowl belief is genuine and comes from a good place. Waters grew up in Alabama, and his family attended Crimson Tide bowl games when he was young.
“You could feel how different a bowl game was from a regular-season game, how special it was,” Waters said.
He noticed the same thing once Waters got into athletic administration. He was working at Southern Mississippi in the 1970s, and if November came around and the Golden Eagles weren’t headed to a bowl game, “you could shoot a shotgun in the stands and not hit anybody,” Waters said.
Waters became commissioner of the Sun Belt, helping to grow that conference and expand its bowl opportunities. Two months after he retired from that job in 2012, he accepted the CBA position and now works from his home.
The job isn’t to be the bowl boss but to troubleshoot and promote. Bowls are traditional, important to the host cities that count on the tourist dollars, charitable, and provide entertainment. ESPN owns and operates about one-third of the bowl games and televises all but a handful.
It’s not a perfect system. You’ll see plenty of empty seats, silly sponsor names — the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla., is this year’s winner — and the word “meaningless” associated with most of the games up until New Year’s Day.
Waters gets it.
“You can’t compare everything to the Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl and Sugar Bowl,” Waters said. “Those aren’t the purpose for a lot of the games.”
That purpose, Waters said, is what we’ve long heard about bowl game advantages. Teams get an extra month of practice, players get bowl swag, the schools’ official traveling party gets a few days usually in a nice city on the bowl-payout dime, television gets live events, and if you’re really good — like LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey last year (and expect more this year) — you can opt out of playing.
“The bowls had a marketing expression a few years ago: ‘Everybody wins,’” Waters said. “I’d say that’s still the case.”
Here’s how the games line up, in clusters.
Celebration Bowl: Grambling (11-0) vs. North Carolina A&T (11-1)
New Orleans Bowl: Troy (10-2) vs. North Texas (9-4)
Cure Bowl: Western Kentucky (6-6) vs. Georgia State (6-5)
Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State (10-3) vs. Oregon (7-5)
New Mexico Bowl: Marshall (7-5) vs. Colorado State (7-5)
Camellia Bowl: Middle Tennessee (6-6) vs. Arkansas State (7-4)
Don’t miss: Boise State-Oregon. Mario Cristobal takes over the Ducks, who should lose a waddle in the coaching transition. Oregon running back Royce Freeman has rushed for 100 yards in six straight games.
Boca Raton Bowl: Florida Atlantic (10-3) vs Akron (7-6)
Frisco Bowl: Louisiana Tech (6-6) vs. SMU (7-5)
Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: Temple (6-6) vs. Florida International (8-4)
Bahamas Bowl: Alabama-Birmingham (8-4) vs. Ohio (8-4)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Central Michigan (8-4) vs. Wyoming (7-5)
Birmingham Bowl: Texas Tech (6-6) vs. South Florida (9-2)
Armed Forces Bowl: Army (9-3) vs. San Diego State (10-2)
Dollar General Bowl: Toledo (11-2) vs. Appalachian State (8-4)
Don’t miss: Central Michigan-Wyoming. Cowboys quarterback Josh Allen is dealing with a bum shoulder. Should he sit this one out? If he doesn’t, see for yourself if he’s NFL Draft first-round material.
Hawaii Bowl: Fresno State (9-4) vs. Houston (7-4)
Cactus Bowl: Kansas State (7-5) vs. UCLA (6-6)
Quick Lane Bowl: Northern Illinois (8-4) vs. Duke (6-6)
Heart of Dallas Bowl: West Virginia (7-5) vs. Utah (6-6)
Independence Bowl: Florida State (6-6) vs. Southern Miss (8-4)
Pinstripe Bowl: Iowa (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5)
Texas Bowl: Texas (6-6) vs. Missouri (7-5)
Foster Farms Bowl: Purdue (6-6) vs. Arizona (7-5)
Don’t miss: UCLA-Kansas State. Will Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen go No. 1 overall to the Cleveland Browns? Let’s see how interested he is in this game.
Dec. 28-Jan. 1
Military Bowl: Virginia (6-6) vs. Navy (6-6)
Camping World Bowl: Oklahoma State (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (9-3)
Alamo Bowl: Stanford (9-4) vs. TCU (10-3)
Holiday Bowl: Michigan State (9-3) vs. Washington State (9-3)
Belk Bowl: Wake Forest (7-5) vs. Texas A&M (7-5)
Sun Bowl: Arizona State (7-5) vs. North Carolina State (7-5)
Music City Bowl: Northwestern (9-3) vs. Kentucky (7-5)
TaxSlayer Bowl: Louisville (8-4) vs. Mississippi State (8-4)
Liberty Bowl: Iowa State (7-5) vs. Memphis (10-2)
Arizona Bowl: New Mexico State (6-6) vs. Utah State (6-6)
Outback Bowl: Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (8-4)
Citrus Bowl: LSU (9-3) vs Notre Dame (9-3)
Don’t miss: LSU-Notre Dame. Both teams had higher hopes, but this should be a fun contest matching the Tigers’ defense against the Irish rushing game led by a stout offensive line and back Josh Adams.
NEW YEAR’S SIX
Cotton Bowl: Southern California (11-2) vs. Ohio State (11-2)
A Rose Bowl Classic ... in Texas
Fiesta Bowl: Washington (10-2) vs. Penn State (10-2)
Last time to see Saquon Barkley in Nittany Lions’ uniform
Orange Bowl: Miami, Fla. (10-2) vs. Wisconsin (12-1)
First Orange Bowl in more than decade for hometown Miami
Peach Bowl: Central Florida (12-0) vs. Auburn (10-3)
Final Central Florida task for Scott Frost and staff before heading to Nebraska
Rose Bowl: Georgia (12-1) vs. Oklahoma (12-1)
Heisman winner Baker Mayfield against rugged Georgia defense
Sugar Bowl: Alabama (11-1) vs Clemson (12-1)
Can’t have a playoff without Tide-Tigers matchup
CFP Championship Game
Prediction: Oklahoma over Clemson