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Mad Chatter: 2021's bowl games pack a gut punch like Clark Griswold's jelly of the month bonus

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The Gator Bowl might as well have invited Cousin Eddie to Christmas dinner.

Rutgers, whose firm grip on the New York City TV market hasn’t done much for its football program, is headed to Florida on short notice to fill Texas A&M’s spot in one of college football’s oldest bowl games.

The 8-4 Aggies recorded too many positive COVID-19 tests, so the Gator Bowl — an annual tradition since 1946 — replaced A&M with the nation's most academically accomplished 5-7 team.

What’s the gagging sound you hear under the table? That’s just Snot yakking on a bone.

Rutgers hasn’t played, practiced or presumably broken a sweat since a 40-16 home loss to 6-6 Maryland on Nov. 27. Will Greg Schiano’s seniors even participate this week? Will Rutgers fans actually travel to Jacksonville? If you think those questions matter, you haven’t been paying attention to college football the past 20 years.

Ever since ESPN recognized the commercial value of nostalgia and flooded the market with cheap imitations, college football’s bowl season has resembled a leafy, old street dotted with rusty RVs.

From goofy sponsors (I’m still partial to the Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl) to mostly-empty stadiums, from losing records (ahem, 2015 Nebraska) to player opt-outs, we’ve experienced a steady slide to absurdity.

No, the bowl season wasn’t pure before Rutgers “earned” its Gator Bowl invite. But 2021 does feel like the moment when Uncle Lewis’ cigar finally ignited the dying Christmas tree.

Look around. The games stink like raw sewage. Nobody seems to care (except gamblers). And nobody cares that nobody cares. I don’t want to go back to 1994, before the bowl alliance, BCS and four-team playoff. The old beauty contests won’t salvage anything.

But why should college football continue this holiday gag? There must be a better way. Could the sport...

— Match conferences, a la college basketball’s Big Ten/ACC challenge?

— Give players a financial bonus for winning? Surely, bowls could find an NIL loophole.

— Just expand the playoff to 24 or 32 teams and let everyone else go home for the holidays?

There’s no easy answer. There’s also no going back to our childhood. Cousin Eddie is standing in our living room, guzzling eggnog and breaking decorations.

Of course, there’s a local angle here. Rutgers’ participation means that 64 of 66 Power Five programs have made it to a bowl game in the past five seasons. The two who haven’t?

Kansas and Nebraska.

Maybe the Jayhawks and Huskers can meet up next week in Falls City. ESPN will surely find a time slot. Oddsmakers will set a point spread. All we need is a sponsor. Hmm...

Jelly of the Month Club?


John Cook's coaching tree is so fruitful, it’s amazing the branches can bear the weight.

Cook’s Nebraska coaching record features four national championships, 10 Final Fours and an 87% winning percentage. That’s all mighty impressive. But I marvel, too, at the successful head coaches he’s influenced.

Dani Busboom Kelly. Kayla Banwarth. Craig Skinner. Chris Tamas.

What are the reasons? One, Cook, like Nick Saban at Alabama, looks for coaches on the rise, not assistants who’ll happily sit next to him for 10 years. Ambition and departure is part of the job description.

But Nebraska also hones fundamentals and details as well as anyone. Those lessons travel well, even to places without Nebraska’s tradition.

Historically, the top three college volleyball programs are (in no specific order) Stanford, Penn State and Nebraska. Stanford transitioned from legend John Dunning in 2017. Penn State will move on from retiring legend Russ Rose in 2022. Soon Cook will be the old lion, though he doesn’t look 65.

Who eventually takes his place?

Nebraska associate head coach Tyler Hildebrand’s departure for Long Beach State renewed a conversation this week about Cook’s eventual successor. Nobody is wishing Cook away, but he’ll be 66 in April. Within the next five years, it’s reasonable to presume that NU will need a volleyball coach.

Former Cook protegés won’t be the only candidates. Creighton coach and Lincoln native Kirsten Bernthal Booth would definitely deserve consideration. And based on the program’s tradition and support, the biggest names in the sport (college, professional, Olympic, etc.) might be interested.

But Busboom Kelly’s undefeated season at Louisville, combined with her pedigree, likely makes her the frontrunner. And her new contract, granting a buyout exception if she leaves for NU, seems to acknowledge her dream job.

For now, discussions over successors can wait. Nebraska volleyball is as strong as ever, which means two things: Cook should keep going. And he’ll be an extremely tough act to follow.


There’s something you should know about Mike’l Severe, who’s leaving the radio scene after 20 years covering Nebraska sports. He isn’t going to like this, so please don’t tell him.

Mike’l is one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. Beneath that sometimes grumpy, sarcastic exterior is a tender man who treats colleagues and strangers with the utmost respect.

Mike’l came to The World-Herald in 2014 and launched “The Bottom Line,” an Internet radio show. He spent five years enhancing our coverage, promoting our sports section and demonstrating a unique versatility. On any given day, he might talk sports for four hours (alone in the studio), then hurry off to moderate a televised debate among congressional candidates.

Always prepared, always professional, always gracious with compliments and with his time, Mike’l forged friendships everywhere, including the OWH newsroom. Like countless Nebraska sports fans, I will miss his wit and wisdom, especially his obsession with football minutiae that nobody else cared about.

You can tell him I said that.


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Reporter - Sports

Dirk writes stories and columns about Husker football in addition to covering general assignments and enterprise for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @dirkchatelain. Phone: 402-444-1062.

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