LITTLE ROCK — This notion that participation in a bowl game one year guarantees a team will be a force to reckon with the following year is poppycock.
For starters, 60 percent of the teams make it to one of the 35 bowls so mediocrity is a staple of the postseason, same as in the NBA where more than half the teams qualify for the playoffs.
Eight bowl teams recorded the minimum six victories; 15 did not crack .500 in conference play.
Even with the upcoming mandate to play a team from one of the other four power conferences, an SEC team will be able to get to a bowl by buying three non-conference victories and going 3-5 in the league. Mississippi State went bowling in 2011 with a 2-6 league record and Kentucky did the same in 2010.
Last year, both Mississippi schools made a bowl at 3-5 in the SEC and six other bowl teams were below .500 in conference play. How such records can be proof of future success is confounding.
In addition, personnel changes from year to year, both on the field and off. Maybe 20 or more upperclassmen move on, whether they have completed their eligibility or declared for the NFL draft. And, coaches come and go — Arkansas’ defensive staff includes three new faces.
Auburn is an over-the-top example of the disconnect from a record one year to the next:
— 2010, With Cam Newton running the plays and Gus Malzahn calling them, 14-0, national champions.
— 2011, With Newton gone and Malzahn still in place, 7-5, Chick-fil-A Bowl.
— 2012, With Malzahn gone and no quarterback on campus, 3-9.
— 2013, With junior college transfer Nick Marshall running the plays and Malzahn overseeing the offense, 12-2 a spot in the national championship game.
Much has been made of the fact that Arkansas’ schedule includes 10 bowl teams from last year. The ACC had 11 bowl teams last year, the SEC 10, and the Pac-12 nine so playing several bowl teams goes along with conference membership.
Non-conference bowl teams on Arkansas’ schedule include Texas Tech, which ended the season on a five-game losing streak, and a Northern Illinois team still trying to figure out how to replace a quarterback who was third in the Heisman Trophy voting. Despite a two-year absence from the postseason, Arkansas should be competitive with both.
If the Razorbacks played Colorado State or Utah State or Middle Tennessee or North Texas or Arkansas State University, Arkansas fans would expect a W. Yet, all of those were in bowls after the 2013 season and four of them were winners.
If Arkansas loses to Texas A&M or Ole Miss or Mississippi State, it won’t be because the Aggies, Rebels, and Bulldogs played in bowl games; it will be because the 2014 versions of those teams is better than the latest edition of the Razorbacks.
Playing bowl teams from the year previous is often cited as evidence of strength of schedule. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott did that recently, saying the conference is in “terrific position” to be a regular in the College Football Playoff because its non-conference schedule includes 13 bowl teams.
Cherry-picking results, you can argue either side of the carry-over from a bowl game.
For example, consider the upper tier bowl games — BCS games, the Capital One Bowl and the Cotton Bowl.
In 2012, participants in those games included Notre Dame, Kansas State, Florida, Louisville, Texas A&M, Nebraska, Oregon, Northern Illinois, and Georgia, all of whom participated in lesser bowls after 2013. Notre Dame went from the championship game to the Pinstripe Bowl, Kansas State from the Fiesta Bowl to the Wild Wings Bowl, and Florida from the Sugar Bowl to Gainesville.
On the other side, Alabama, Stanford, and Florida State repeated BCS appearances while Oklahoma advanced from the Cotton to the Sugar.
All of this is old news, simply part of a bridge to the SEC opener on Aug. 28.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.