SAN DIEGO-The joy from the BYU football team after the Cougars defeated Wyoming in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl said it all. It was just as real as the joy expressed by Stanford players celebrate beating Iowa in the 2016 Rose Bowl.
What’s the big fuss about an independent school going up against a Mountain West Conference team? Well, the contest highlight why these bowl games matter in the first place.
It’s supposed to levy the highest level of amateurism through sport irrespective of the tier bracket placed in college football. You don’t have to be an Alabama fan or a team from the Big 12 Conference to appreciate good football.
That’s what fans of the game got after the Cougars held off a late-stage rally by the Cowboys in a rain-filled evening at Qualcomm Stadium with a 24-21 win.
Neither BYU (9-4) nor Wyoming (8-6) got invited to the heralded College Football Playoffs. But the sway of emotions-winning and losing-still had the same ringing effect on these young college football athletes as if they were playing for the national championship.
There were the two teams marching bands, draped with rain parkas, pushing their school spirit through music. The squads’ cheerleaders kept the energy of the crowd up, even as the Cougars and Cowboys sloshed their way up and down the soaked and muddied football field.
The gamut of emotions, from BYU running back Jamaal Williams flashing his irrepressible smile as the game’s offensive MVP to that of the disbelief look from Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen after he threw a game-ending interception with 1:22 remaining in the fourth quarter as the Cowboys positioned themselves for a potential game-winning score, was all over the place.
Wyoming wide receiver Tanner Gentry, who caught seven passes for 113 yards against BYU in his final collegiate game, was just happy for his team to have the opportunity to play. This was the first bowl game Wyoming has participated in since 2011.
“It was awesome to be able to do this and for us seniors to go to our first bowl game and that’s what’s really cool about college football is the bowl games,” Gentry said. “I think it was cool that we got to experience it, and also cool that we kinda just gotta see the start of a turn around of this program. And going from last year to this year and giving your younger guys some good momentum headed into next year.”
That is why these other college football bowl games matter. They matter to the student-athletes. They matter to the parents to these student-athletes. They matter to the universities participating in these bowl games.
They matter to the alumni. They matter to possible recruits. They matter to college football fans. They also matter to the coaches like BYU coach Kalani Sitake, who spoke on the matter of his team playing in the Poinsettia Bowl.
“Oh, I mean, it’s to compete in the Poinsettia Bowl is an accomplishment in itself and the win is for the players and the fans,”Sitake said. “So for me as a coach just being able to help these young men achieve their goals on the football field and help facilitate the goals off the field is my job, happy to be a part of it. The win is all them they’re the ones that are dirty. I’m only dirty because they hugged me and they dumped Powerade on me. That was about it.”
The financial payouts may be bigger for teams playing in more notable bowls, including the College Football Playoffs, but the effort put out by the student-athletes in these lesser known games is just as laudable.
For their participation in the Poinsettia Bowl, both BYU and Wyoming picked up a hefty $810,000 payout. In comparison, Washington State and Minnesota will pick up a check of $5.930 million from the Holiday Bowl, played at the same Qualcomm Stadium.
Then there is the matter of the College Football Playoffs Big Four of Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Washington, each of whom will rake in a generous amount of dough through the playoff revenue pool, which is no doubt a substantially higher payout than the aforementioned bowl games.
The heartfelt exuberance Williams had after he rushed for 210 yards and one touchdown in the Cougars’ win was just as genuine as the one Christian McCaffrey showed after he ran all over the Hawkeyes in Stanford’s 45-16 demolishing of Iowa.
Speaking as humbly as McCaffrey, Williams gave the credit of his performance to his teammates, particularly his offensive linemen.
“You can’t pass without the line,” Williams said. “They really need more credit than what we do. We just run behind them and find the holes and stuff but they the ones that open the holes, they the ones moving the people in the ground every down, you know, going against dudes, like, every down, hand-to-hand every time. I don’t think they get enough credit.”