Are Smaller Bowl Games Worth Playing?
With the Peach Bowl looming for the Spartans and the Panthers, a big question is looming over the game. Will Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett play?
When the matchup was first announced, that question wasn't up in the air. All signs pointed towards Pickett playing. However, just days ago, Pittsburgh Offensive Coordinator Mark Whipple left for a different job at Nebraska. Now Pickett's status is up in the air.
To be blunt, there isn't any reason for him to play. With a great season under his belt, his draft stock has soared. Not only that, his play landed him a spot as a Heisman finalist. He virtually has nothing left to prove, so why risk injury? Pickett is just one of many who have chosen college football. His decision raises a commonly asked question: if you aren't in the final four does your bowl game matter?
Truth be told, there is no right answer; it depends on who you ask. Sure New Year's Six Bowls are great. There's also playing for pride or showing the playoff committee that maybe they got it wrong. As a team, yes your bowl game matters, but to individuals, not so much.
You can look at it in a lot of different ways. Is it quitting on the team or just protecting their future? The best example is former Cowboys and Packers linebacker, Jaylon Smith. All year he was a top prospect; however, against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, he tore his MCL. This sent him into the second round of the NFL draft when he was a sure-fire lock in the first round. You have to wonder if he regrets playing in that game. These games can be considered double-edged swords. They can help or hurt your draft stock. Look at Oregons' Keyvon Thibodeaux, a top-five pick maybe even the first overall, is not playing in this game. Why would he? There is no doubt of his draft position, so why risk it?
These games can also be looked at as chances to boost your stock in the draft. There is no better player to focus on than Kenneth Walker III. Walker just won the Doak Walker Award (Best Running Back) and the Walter Camp Award (Nation's Best Player). With those awards and what you saw him do on the field, there is no question his stock has gotten a boost. He has nothing left to prove to anyone. He could sit out this game, though he has already stated he is going to play.
Walker has made no comments yet on his future. As it stands, he still has one more year of eligibility. However, with the year he has had, if he has a great game against Pitt, Walker could very well make the jump to the NFL. Most NFL analysts have Walker as the number one running back in the 2022 draft class. If we were to go to the draft year, it is likely he would be the first running back off the board. Now that could be anywhere first round or not. A big game against Pitt could propel him into a sure-fire first-round pick. Though vice versa, poor performance could tank him.
No one can predict the future of what will happen. You can probably say the answer to whether you should play or not depends on your current draft stock. If you're a sure-fire top pick, skip the game. If you think you can bump up your stock, then play.
Injury is always a risk in the game of football. There is no getting around it. These make or break decisions for the player show the significance or the insignificant of these lesser, nonplayoff games.