Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

TaxSlayer Bowl Teams Happy for Opportunity; Extra Game Means a Lot to Players, Coaches for Both Schools

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

TaxSlayer Bowl Teams Happy for Opportunity; Extra Game Means a Lot to Players, Coaches for Both Schools

Article excerpt

Byline: Garry Smits

The bowl system is under fire like never before, with critics harping on the fact that 41 post-season college games are about a dozen too many and that the College Football Playoff has rendered most of the other games meaningless.

TV ratings and attendance are down across the board, except at games hosting the final four teams in the CFP and the national championship game.

Games that once routinely enjoyed crowds in excess of 70,000 - such as Saturday's 72nd annual TaxSlayer Bowl at Everbank Field - are happy with something north of 50,000. Fan bases that historically had reputations as voracious ticket-buyers are lagging behind their street cred.

Players such as Leonard Fournette of LSU and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford are opting out of their final chance to play in a college uniform in bowls that deliver only a trophy and a nice pay-out (to the schools and conferences, not the players) to avoid injury and hurt their NFL stock.

And yet, the word "meaningless" still rings a bit too cynical for some.

Listen to Kentucky players, who have been treated the entire week in Jacksonville leading to their game against Georgia Tech as an extended Christmas present, a reward for turning a horrendous early fall into a November to remember and a reward for their fan base who haven't been able to enjoy post-season football for six years.

"Is this game special? Absolutely," said quarterback Stephen Johnson, one of the key players during a 5-2 finish to the season. "It's been awhile since we've been to a bowl and for this team and our fans, it really means a lot."

"It's been a joy," said defensive end Courtney Miggins.

Georgia Tech ended an 18-year bowl streak with a 3-9 season in 2015. This year, the Yellow Jackets won five of their last six games after a 3-3 start and are great examples of not knowing what you've missed until you don't have it.

"Last year we weren't able to make it to a bowl game and I'm grateful we're here now," said kicker Harrison Butker.

"It means a lot to us," added defensive tackle Patrick Gamble. …

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