Over the years, the number of bowl games has grown while their importance has diminished in college football. Yet that doesn’t mean the bowls don’t have great importance to certain schools.
Nowhere was that more evident than at Buffalo.
Teams need at least a .500 record (with no more than one win over an FCS opponent) to become bowl eligible.
This year there are 41 bowls, meaning 82 of 131 FBS schools will compete in a bowl game. To some bowl critics, it’s little more than earning a participation trophy, but to teams that have to sweat things out, it has much greater meaning.
Buffalo went down to the wire before earning its berth.
The Bulls entered their final game on Friday with a 5-6 record and needing a win over Akron in the Mid-American Conference matchup.
Wait, wasn’t the regular season over the last weekend of November?
Actually, it was, but Buffalo was supposed to host Akron on Nov. 19.
During that weekend there was a little obstacle of more than five feet of snow that caused the game to be postponed. Remember, the Buffalo Bills had to move their home game that weekend against Cleveland to Detroit.
The Buffalo-Akron game had no bearing on the MAC race, but Buffalo treated it as a championship matchup.
Akron also entered the game with a championship mindset, which was remarkable since the Zips finished the season just 2-10.
The records didn’t matter. Akron scared the daylights out of Buffalo, taking a 16-point lead before eventually losing 23-22.
That made the Bulls bowl eligible for the fourth time in five seasons. The three previous bowls that Buffalo played in were the Dollar General Bowl, the Bahamas Bowl, and the Camellia Bowl. Not exactly the Sugar, Orange, or Cotton Bowls, but that didn’t matter to Buffalo.
Buffalo’s reward for its win over Akron is the chance to face Georgia Southern in the Camellia Bowl on Dec. 27 in Montgomery, Alabama. This not only rewards the seniors but helps the program in the future since Buffalo will have extra practices, a great benefit for next season.
Not bad for a team that lost its first three games to start this season.
Against Akron, the Bulls played without their second and third leading running backs, Ron Cook Jr. and Al-Jay Henderson, who were sidelined by injuries.
It’s been a crazy season for Buffalo. The first three losses came against Maryland, FCS playoff team Holy Cross, and Coastal Carolina. That was followed by five wins in a row and then three consecutive losses.
And then this wacky season finale victory over Akron, that statistically, one could make the point that Buffalo had no business winning.
Besides allowing the first 16 points of the game against the Zips, Buffalo rushed for 27 yards – the entire game. The Bulls also had 11 penalties for 100 yards.
Still, they found a way to win and extend their season. It helped that QB Cole Snyder threw for 264 yards and tied his season high with three touchdown passes.
A 6-2, 208-pound junior, Snyder is in his first season with Buffalo, after transferring from Rutgers.
Speaking of Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights willingly accepted a bowl bid last year despite a 5-7 record. The Scarlet Knights replaced Texas A&M in the Gator Bowl after the Aggies had to withdraw due to COVID-19 issues, injuries, opt-outs, and players entering the transfer portal. Rutgers lost the game 38-10 to Wake Forest, but the Scarlet Knights didn’t apologize. They got to extend their season and the players got to experience a bowl game.
Anybody who has covered a bowl game realizes how much the bowl organizers go out of their way to make the participants feel special. It’s actually a much bigger deal to the bowl participants than the sneering cynics.
For Buffalo, it likely means more because the Bulls didn’t earn a back-door entrance the way Rutgers did a year ago.
Buffalo became the 81st team to have a .500 record, which means there is one that doesn’t, but still got in to fill out the field.
Regardless, Buffalo showed how much it meant to earn a bowl bid by the way it fought against Akron and showed that it was a big deal for the Bulls to extend their season.