Tom Jurich tackled the topic of Louisville's bowl outlook during a Monday press conference called primarily to address the addition of TCU to the Big East conference.
"Quite a few bowls are in play for us," Jurich said. He later added that U of L was trying to "work around" playing in a bowl game with a Dec. 31 date because the Louisville/Kentucky basketball game is being played on that day.
A quick glance at the bowl lineup reveals there are two New Year's Eve games that could potentially extend an invite the Cardinals' way: the Liberty Bowl and the Sun Bowl. Seeing as how Doug Beaumont tweeted the words "El Paso" Monday afternoon and that rumors are now circulating regarding the players' excitement over a potential New Year's Eve game on CBS, let's assume the Sun Bowl is most likely the event being "worked around."
There could be a whole post dedicated to the absurdity of scheduling the U of L/UK basketball game on New Year's Eve, but for now I'll afford it only the following paragraph.
The Louisville/Kentucky basketball game is the biggest pseudo-holiday in this state. Scheduling it on New Year's Eve is the Kentucky equivalent of slating the Super Bowl for Dec. 25. People are going to go and people are going to watch regardless of the extenuating circumstances, but still the event is easily significant enough to warrant a time slot safely removed from all other days of comparable gravity. Making this year's assignment additionally maddening is the fact that the tip is scheduled for noon on a Friday where many people are forced to go into work. The whole thing was just not well thought out.
It's an understatement to say that Tom Jurich is good at his job, and he can't be faulted for wanting to keep the Battle of the Bluegrass and Louisville's first bowl appearance in four years a healthy distance apart. An asteroid the size of the sun could be set to hit the Earth at 7 p.m. on Dec. 31 and around 21,000 Louisville fans would still show up to the Yum Center to watch the Cardinals and Wildcats play a game of basketball. A solid chunk of those 21,000 people are also the most likely to travel decent distance to watch the Cards partake in some postseason football.
Not sending a large contingent of fans to a bowl game reflects very poorly on a program, and Jurich knows that. Anyone who doesn't think that the reputation of having a fan base unwilling to travel is overblown should follow Pitt's situation now that the Panthers have been all but eliminated from BCS contention.
With all due respect to Mr. Jurich and his vastly superior decision-making skills, I think Louisville's current football roster and the best-interests of the program as a whole should be the main factors considered when the time comes to accept a bid, and - admittedly lacking complete knowledge of what options are or will be available - I think a trip to El Paso for the Sun Bowl will best satisfy those two elements.
Accurate or not, postseason games played on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are still assigned with the reputation of "big time college football." Hundreds of thousands of people choose to spend their time away from work or school watching football, and the assumption is that they want to watch exciting games featuring good teams.
The Sun Bowl could lay claim to the unofficial title of "The Grandaddy of New Year's Eve Bowls." It's been played on Dec. 31 for nearly the past 20 years and has been carried by CBS for as long as I can remember. It is the second-oldest bowl game in existence, trailing only "The Grandaddy of Them All," the Rose Bowl.
The last three Sun Bowl champions have been Oklahoma, Oregon and Oregon State. By comparison, 9 of the 13 champions of the Little Caesar's/Motor City Bowl (the bowl most projections currently have Louisville falling to) have come from non-BCS conferences. Its last three winners are Marshall, Florida Atlantic and Purdue. Memphis won the game in 2005. Yeah.
I understand that not many U of L fans are going to jump at the opportunity to go to El Paso for a game being played on the same day as the Kentucky basketball tilt, but are that many more people going to flock to Detroit for a cold Tuesday night game against a team from the MAC?
If Louisville accepts a bid to the Sun Bowl it will likely face a middle-of-the-pack team from the ACC (probably Miami or Boston College). This guarantees a name opponent for a game whose viewership is certain to include a bulk of casual college football fans, people who will be more impressed by a win over Miami or Boston College than they probably should be.
That's the other thing: a Sun Bowl berth would make for six straight hours of Louisville Cardinals sports on CBS (America's most watched network) on New Year's Eve. People at parties looking to avoid actual human contact will turn to the television and see the U of L brand constantly. It sounds silly, but I'm always amazed at the number of people who, during forced conversations with yours truly, will bring up otherwise forgettable Louisville games they caught part of while hoping to avoid conversations like the one taking place at parties or casual gatherings.
Selfishly, I'd love a non-Dec. 31 bowl game. It would give me two separate days during my holiday break to get together with friends and use depression or over-excitement as justification for extreme inebriation. But this is about what's best for the football program, and I think if you have that in mind then you can't balk at an opportunity like the one the Sun Bowl presents.
Jurich also talked today about his willingness to do whatever it will take to keep Charlie Strong at Louisville. Strong's name being floated around as a candidate for a prominent job figures to become a holiday tradition if he continues to build on the start he's made here. If Jurich truly is serious about keeping him around until he's won enough Big East championships to satiate all of our ginormous un-Kragged appetites, then he can't do things like "work around" a basketball game when determining when and where the football team will play its biggest contest of the season.