The importance of college football’s bowl games has dwindled over the years. With the Bowl Coalition beginning in 1992, then the change to the Bowl Championship Series, and then eventually current-and-ending iteration of the College Football Playoff, the focus on the season-ending national championship game has grown every single year.
The regular season is still king in college football, but the playoff is another level of royalty altogether. As such, when teams fail to make the playoffs and “only end up in bowl games,” players and coaches have to decide whether they are going to focus on the present or move on to next year.
Players opt out or hit the transfer portal long before the bowl game, but that’s a smaller percentage than those who are sticking it out and not planning on going anywhere.
Still, at a place like Ohio State where the goals are 1) beat Michigan; 2) win the Big Ten; 3) win a national championship, the focus can shift when none of those three goals are met.
The Buckeyes have seen 12 players hit the portal in the past week — including starting quarterback Kyle McCord. Those won’t be the only 12 Buckeyes who don’t suit up when Ohio State takes on Missouri in the Cotton Bowl on December 29. Players with 2024 NFL plans will soon begin announcing that they are opting out — or at least those announcements are expected to happen.
With so much in flux, it would be easy to move on to the 2024 season and get the younger players reps in the bowl game, but Ohio State head coach Ryan Day still very much wants to end the season the right way.
“We want to win the game,” Day said. “Certainly the reps in practice leading up to the game will be spread around pretty good. But when it comes to playing in the game, we are going in to win the game, and that’s the number one thing. Again, the Cotton Bowl is a great bowl and we have a really good opponent, so we’re gonna put the best guys out there to win the game.”
In order to put the best guys out there, Day and his coaching staff will need to know exactly who’s going to be around. Meetings took place on Sunday to discuss the next steps for players, and individual meetings will continue on this week just as they did last week.
Because opting out has become so normalized, some players can opt out of the Cotton Bowl and not have it impact them negatively. Others on the fence can use it as a showcase for the NFL.
Or even the transfer portal.
But no matter who remains, the goal is going to be the same for everyone — win the game.
“I think guys know that they want to have something to show for the season, Day said. “But also to have an opportunity to continue to put your good games out there.”
The Cotton Bowl is going to be an opportunity for younger players to not only impact the 2023 season, but show that they can be counted on in 2024.
That will be certainly be the case for redshirt freshman quarterback Devin Brown and true freshman quarterback Lincoln Kienholz. Kienholz may get more reps in these bowl practices than he got all year long once the season started.
And Kienholz won’t be alone. Bowl practices have always been a place for young players to grow. The veterans get a break and a chance to heal, and the young players get reps in practice — and do so as more experienced players than they were in fall camp.
Even though bowl games may not carry the same kind of weight they used to, coaches and players still get plenty out of them. Which is why the focus can be on this year and next year for the Buckeyes this month.
“We had the situation a couple of years ago in the Rose Bowl and it did build some momentum into the next year,” Day said. “We always want to be playing for a championship this time of year, but we’re going to finish things and do things the right way. And like you said, bowl practice is an opportunity for some of the younger guys to get out there, almost like a spring practice to continue to develop some of those guys, but we’ll finish this thing the right way.”