Minor bowls are becoming a season unto themselves

Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders was named a second-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association. (UA Athletics)

Bowls originally were created to reward teams for having outstanding seasons and to take advantage of their fans who would spike the early winter economies of the bowl host cities by spending several nights in their hotels, restaurants and bars.

Things shifted as college sports began to pay more attention to naming a national champion in in the 1980s when an antitrust lawsuit broke a select few programs’ control over which games were televised.

Fans went from having one or two college games on television each week to the the dam bursting open. The bowls began to proliferate as well to the point there were so many that even mediocre teams were allowed to participate.

Since the 1990s, we’ve seen the desire for naming a college football champion shift, turn and mutate into a system that will soon see 12 teams vie for the national title. The major bowls will be involved in that system.

The question that’s obvious is will the minor bowls be able to continue in such a climate?

I personally don’t have that answer, but as the Arkansas Razorbacks (6-6) begin their on-the-field preparations for the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, I hope so because teams like the Razorbacks need to have bowl practices if they hope to keep pace with the rest of the SEC.

The Hogs play Kansas at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 28 in the Liberty Bowl at Memphis. The game will be televised on ESPN.

Arkansas Football

Opponent: Kansas
When: 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 28
Where: Liberty Bowl Stadium, Memphis, Tenn.

All SEC teams but Texas A&M and Vanderbilt earned bowl bids this year. That means all the other programs are practicing for a bowl and getting better while the Aggies and the Commodores are already on Christmas break.

Certainly, the bowl practices are to prepare for the bowl game, but it’s also like another spring practice more so than ever with all the changes we are seeing in the college game.

With so many players exiting programs after the regular season through the transfer portal or to prepare for their NFL careers, the bowl games have become a preview for next season as much as they are for putting a lid on this season.

One could argue that bowl practices are more important than ever for teams so that the coaches and players and get a preview of what they need to work on the most during spring practices.

A case in point for the Hogs is at the center position, which Arkansas coach Sam Pittman values greatly.

Arkansas’ starting center for most of the past four seasons, Ricky Stromberg is already preparing himself for the NFL Draft and will not participate in the Liberty Bowl.

That is allowing Beaux Limmer, who has started at guard most of the last three seasons, to work at center during bowl practices. In all likelihood, Limmer will be the Hogs’ starting center next fall.

Getting a jump on the change of position will not only help him and quarterback KJ Jefferson with the adjustment, but also allow whomever is going to take over his guard spot to get not only meaningful practice time the next two weeks but also playing time against a quality opponent in the Liberty Bowl.

The same is happening all over the field in the secondary, at linebacker, the defensive front and receiver.

This time is really even better than spring practice because it ends against a live opponent in a meaningful game rather than just a team scrimmage.

The game footage from the Liberty Bowl will point Arkansas’ coaching staff exactly to what they need to work on and improve in spring drills. It will also give them an even better idea of the types of players they need to pursue in the transfer portal to make the team better.

The Liberty Bowl is huge for the Hogs not only to cap the season with a positive outcome, but also to help the coaches plot a better course for the program’s future.

SEC Bowl Schedule

Dec. 17 at 3:30 p.m. – SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl
Allegiant Stadium (Las Vegas, N.V.)
Florida vs. No. 14 Oregon State (ESPN)

Dec. 23 at 5:30 p.m. – Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl
Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Fla.)
Wake Forest vs. Missouri (ESPN)

Dec. 28 at 4:30 p.m. – AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium (Memphis, Tenn.)
Kansas vs. Arkansas (ESPN)

Dec. 28 at 8 p.m. – TaxAct Texas Bowl
NRG Stadium (Houston, Texas)
Texas Tech vs. Ole Miss (ESPN)

Dec. 30 at 2:30 p.m. – TaxSlayer Gator Bowl
TIAA Bank Stadium (Jacksonville, Fla.)
No. 21 Notre Dame vs. No. 19 South Carolina (ESPN)

Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. – Capital One Orange Bowl
Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, Fla.)
No. 6 Tennessee vs. No. 7 Clemson (ESPN)

Dec. 31 at 11 p.m. – TransPerfect Music City Bowl
Nissan Stadium (Nashville, Tenn.)
Iowa vs. Kentucky (ABC)

Dec. 31 at 11 a.m. – Allstate Sugar Bowl
Caesars Superdome (New Orleans, La.)
No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 9 Kansas State (ESPN)

Dec. 31 at 7 p.m. – College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta, Ga.)
No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 Ohio State (ESPN)

Jan. 2 at 11 p.m. – ReliaQuest Bowl
Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Fla.)
No. 22 Mississippi State vs. Illinois (ESPN2)

Jan. 2 at 1 p.m. – Cheez-It Citrus Bowl
Camping World Stadium (Orlando, Fla.)
No. 17 LSU vs. Purdue (ABC)