Happy New Year! Best Bowl Season Ever? Giants' Doldrums
Happy New Year! Hopefully we'll all enjoy a happy, healthy and prosperous 2023.
And hopefully, next season we'll enjoy more terrific bowl games and two thrilling CFP semi-finals.
Consider these games from Dec. 28 to Jan. 2.
Arkansas 55, Kansas 53 (Liberty Bowl)
Oregon 28, North Carolina 27 (Holiday)
Florida State 35, Oklahoma 32 (Cheez-It)
Washington 27, Texas 20 (Alamo)
Pitt 37, UCLA 35 (Sun)
Notre Dame 45, South Carolina 38 (Gator)
TCU 51, Michigan 45 (Fiesta--CFP semi-final)
Georgia 42, Ohio State 41 (Peach--CFP semi-final)
Tulane 46, USC 45 (Cotton)
There are too many great plays and fantastic finishes to recount them all here. Suffice to say there has never been a bowl season like 2022-23.
But two coaching moves stood out to me in the semis. After Michigan had driven the length of the field on its opening drive, the Wolverines faced a fourth and goal from the TCU two yard line. Rather than take the three points, or run the ball behind the nation's best offensive line, Jim Harbaugh and his staff decided to run a trick play, which backfired in spectacular fashion.
Not only did Michigan blow an important scoring opportunity that would've established early momentum, but their coaches essentially admitted that they didn't believe they could dominate the line of scrimmage against the outmanned Horned Frogs. In my mind, Harbaugh gave his opponents a huge confidence boost with his blunder.
In the second semi-final, Ohio State proved surprisingly tough for the heavily favored Georgia Bulldogs. But Georgia coach Kirby Smart may have saved the day when he called a key timeout before the Buckeyes were about to run a fake punt that would've kept a drive going. Smart recognized that his punt return team wasn't in position to stop the play and got the timeout called just in time.
We'll have more on the national championship game next week, but the oddsmakers have installed Georgia as a two-touchdown favorite. At this point, I wouldn't bet against TCU.
Huge TV Ratings: As noted above, most of the bowl games provided great theater. They also drew huge TV ratings. The Florida State-Oklahoma Cheez-It Bowl averaged 5.4 million viewers on ESPN to lead the way. It was closely followed by the Alamo Bowl (Washington-Texas) at 4.7 viewers, the Holiday (Oregon-North Carolina) at 3.97 and the Liberty Bowl (Arkansas-Kansas) at 3.91.
Those numbers far exceed the typical ratings for NBA and Major League Baseball games.
And as reported in The Athletic, the most watched show on television on Dec. 23, encompassing all programs, not just sports, was the Wake Forest vs. Missouri Gasparilla Bowl, with 3.54 million viewers.
That's why there are so many bowl games. They deliver lots of eyeballs for networks and their advertisers.
Not All Empty Seats: While bowl attendance has been declining in recent years, there are exceptions to the rule. For some schools, particularly those that exceeded expectations, going to a bowl is still a big deal. South Carolina sold over 40,000 tickets for its Gator Bowl matchup with Notre Dame. And Utah, for the second year in a row, sold over 30,000 tickets to the Rose Bowl.
Transfer Update: The transfer epidemic continues to grow. The average number of players in the transfer portal for Power 5 programs is 10.4. The top five included Texas A&M (24), Florida (22), Arkansas (21), Arizona (20) and Miami (18).
Moving on to Baseball: The off-season has been a disaster for the San Francisco Giants. Even before the Carlos Correa deal fell apart, many were questioning it. Count me among the doubters. To sign a player who never has hit .300, never has hit 30 home runs, and never has driven in 100 runs to that kind of a deal was, to me, borderline crazy. And given his medical history of ankle and back injuries, giving him 13 years was crazier still.
The Giants look better now that the Mets have expressed the same concerns about Correa's health. But the way they handled the situation--sending out a seven-word press release to cancel the press conference called to introduce Correa--left many shanking their heads.
Not to mention the fact that the team hadn't informed the best shortstop in the history of the franchise, Brandon Crawford, that they were planning to move him to another position to accommodate Correa, until 15 minutes after the deal was announced.
Now they have to go back to Crawford, apologize, and tell him he's going to be at shortstop after all. Meanwhile, the Mets told Correa he would have to play third, because they were unwilling to move their own Golden Glove shortstop, Francisco Lindor.
You can bet Crawford was paying attention.
So the Giants' position player "haul" for the off-season includes an outfielder who didn’t play last season while recovering from shoulder surgery, Michael Conforto, and another outfielder, Mitch Haniger, who missed half of last season because of an ankle injury.
Neither of those guys will make you forget Aaron Judge. And neither will sell any tickets.
In terms of pitchers, they lost Carlos Rodon, the top pitcher available in free agency, and signed Sean Manaea and Ross Stripling, neither of whom will make anyone forget Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.
Who's running the ship at 24 Willie Mays Plaza? So far, Farhan Zaidi's reign has been marked by an obsession with analytics, the accumulation of spare parts, and the failure to sign any big free agents.
I call them the San Francisco Platoons.