In college football, we have been in an era of a playoff existing to cap off the season since 2014 now; gone are the days of the BCS where the computers determined who the best two teams are, and the rest of the country just got to end their year in a bowl deemed “less than thou.” However, even with the playoff, we still have a total of 43 bowl games, all including some absurd sponsor, for the teams that are eligible to end their year at a random corporate location. NIL exists now, too, where athletes can enter the transfer portal to relocate to a better position to make money and play elsewhere, or there are those that opt-out of the end-of-the-year “meaningless” festivity to better prepare for the NFL Draft rather than risk injury. When the game is now deemed unimpactful featuring interim coaches and potentially third-string athlete scholarship players that have not opted out, the bowls have been dubbed by critics as irrelevant as ever.

Until this past weekend.

The reality of bowl season is that it doesn’t have to have the “Avengers Endgame Thanos” complex where everything has the greatest stakes for it to be entertaining. In the debut of the Pop-Tarts Bowl in Orlando, we just saw a Pastry mascot dancing around on the sidelines ready for his dream to come true and actually be eaten by the eventual champion Kansas State Wildcats as he captured our hearts and was ACTUALLY edible! Should we have cared about a K-State NC State game? Probably not! But the festivities are unexplainable as to why we watched. We see the Duke’s Mayo Bowl where the winning coach gets an ungodly bath of vinegar. We’ve seen the Cheez-it Bowl where the team is eating crackers out of a ridiculous silver cup. Lincoln Riley, head coach at USC, should not have cared about the Holiday Bowl at all this past weekend with 20 players opting out, including possible #1 pick, Caleb Williams. However, he started Miller Moss, who threw 6 touchdowns in their 42-28 win and subsequently got a bath in eggnog that could have been easily avoided. 

And we watched. And we cared. Did it impact the stakes of the endgame? No, and it didn’t have to.

In week 18 of the NFL season, the final games always between division opponents will feature either games with large playoff implications or those largely considered to be in the “bowl zone,” where either the team with clinched position will be resting starters, have fired a coach, or have moved on to scouting for the NFL Draft. What it might take to make these game entertaining to juice up the last week of the season for the games that are just another game on the schedule would be to create some sort of stakes a la bowl season. Let this final week have some sort of celebration with a ridiculous mascot, sponsorship, or themed stakes for it to be worth tuning into for the fans to actually treasure the football in its limited capacity. Here are just a few hypothetical bowls created for some of the Week 18 matchups.

Broncos @ Raiders- Sunseeker Paradise Bowl

The Las Vegas Raiders fired Josh McDaniels less than 2 years into his 6-year, $60 million contract right after Jon Gruden was let go in the midst of a 10-year, $100 million contract within 3 years. Less than two years into trading the family farm for Russell Wilson and giving him a 5-year, $243 million deal through 2028, he’s been benched and will likely be cut for a dead cap hit of $85 million for the team. Russ will have a lot of time to cook as the Broncos went 11-19.

Having a yacht brand sponsor a bowl here is thematic in that McDaniels, Gruden, and Wilson are all going to be owed a ton of money by these teams to do absolutely nothing, also known as the best job in the world in the midst of their firings. The teams are seeking paradise just as these figures might just buy a boat with all this time on their hands.

Will the Broncos or Raiders win the Super Bowl? No, but having them in a pre-vacation destination with a tropical theme, even leis on the sidelines to end their year would add more entertainment to these teams approaching a long offseason.

Bears @ Packers- Pepperidge Farm Midwest Mayhem Bowl

There’s nothing more that the NFL loves to make you reminded of than this rivalry by frequently putting it in primetime as the oldest division rivalry in the NFL despite being largely lopsided. Favre then Rodgers yelling, “I still own you!” has done nothing but torture the Chicago side of this rivalry for decades. It’s a whole lot of “remember when,” the same way that Pepperidge Farm “still remembers” as an ode to the past and their sl

Even without Rodgers in a new era of Bears-Packers with now Jordan Love and the Bears navigating what they should do with Justin Fields or their future with the top pick, think about bundled up midwesterners vying to get dunk Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies into their cocoa in the stands of a 23-13 game in frigid January weather as clips of 1920’s Bears-Packers games are played. We get it, NFL Films! You remember! Just imagine in the land of dairy in the midwest Matt Eberflus gets a bath of celebratory milk as Justin Fields dips his Milano cookie right off of him before getting traded for draft picks. 

Jets @ Patriots- Bounty Revenge Bowl

The Bounty Revenge Bowl sounds a lot more enticing of a likely Bailey Zappe-Trevor Semien matchup to end the season. While the two AFC East rivals are in the deep dark abyss of the bottom of the AFC vying for draft position to end the year, there is at least some animosity between the two franchises going back to Bill Belichick scribbling on a Bounty-esque napkin: “I am resigning as HC of the NY Jets” to which he ditched them to win 6 rings with their nemesis.

Despite the Patriots’ struggles this year, he also notoriously LOVES demolishing his former team with a 37-11 record against them with the Pats. It’s a New York-Boston rivalry that’s included side-switching (we remember you too, Darelle Revis), a sign-stealing scandal, brawls, and a butt fumble. In the midst of the misery of these two franchises, always labeling it as some sort of revenge bowl with even something as ridiculous as an angry paper towel roll mascot on the sidelines would give the viewer some form of entertainment as the teams are likely tanking for a draft pick.

Jaguars @ Titans- Cracker Barrel Homecookin’ Bowl

The AFC South has once again reigned supreme in the “Well, someone’s gotta win it” doldrums as a division. Since the highs of Peyton Manning and healthy Andrew Luck with the Colts (and a few dominating years from the Watson Texans and Mike Vrabel magic), the de facto AFC South champion has had to claim a spot in the playoffs, likely in the opening weekend Saturday afternoon game with the lowest ratings, with rarely a Super Bowl-contending team in relation to the rest of the conference. Heading into Week 17, the division had a milquetoast 3-way tie of 8-7 teams featuring a Trevor Lawrence-led Jaguars team that has underperformed and had a minor collapse with off-and-on injuries and a 4-game losing streak, a Colts team that has played with Gardner Minshew as a backup all year and largely been without Jonathon Taylor, and a Texans team that has had to have rookie quarterback CJ Stroud pull off one possession miracles when he’s healthy and on the field. Someone has to make the postseason out of these teams.

When you’re on a road trip, and you HAVE to pull over and have a meal, there’s a Tennessee-based location that has never once let travelers down in the midst of their desperation: the Cracker Barrel Country Store, which embodies the southeast and the AFC South’s aura. Is it fine-dining? Absolutely not, but the availability is ever-present on the road, just as we’ll get an AFC South division-winner with a low-ceiling for the playoffs once again. 

The sponsorship opportunities of the country store, from the biscuits and gravy, the old-timey candy, and the culture shock media members from out of the market would see would give the division some southeastern home cookin’ at least before the inevitable wild card round game. Maybe this will energize Trevor Lawrence and Doug Pederson into being what we thought they would be, taking the leap as a contender, facing off against a Titans roster with Mike Vrabel enjoying mucking

Photo: Edward M. Pio Roda / Getty Images

it up as an underdog with an eliminated Titans team about to hit the refresh button.

Falcons @ Saints- Waffle House Fisticuffs Bowl

Similarly to the AFC South, someone has to win the NFC South every year. Do you want to watch Desmond Ridder or Taylor Heinecke fail to run an offense that has Kyle Pitts, Bijan Robinson, and Drake London on it because Arthur Smith hates fantasy football and utilizing his weapons they drafted? Absolutely not. Do you want to watch Derek Carr, a quarterback with active teammates tweeting about how much they dislike him, check the ball down with few air yards aside from finally deciding to throw in garbage team? Again, no. In spite of these two ugly situations, the Falcons and Saints are THE “college football” level rivalry when it comes to hate. There’s an entire hate week leading up to it online and at tailgates.

There’s another southeastern institution in the state of Georgia that embodies where the records are thrown out the window and all considerations for well-being are gone: the Waffle House. It’s a pilgrimage of cigarette-smokers at 2 AM, possible fist fights over service, and southern occurrences you would not get anywhere else. There has never been a more perfect sponsor for a Bowl Game between these two heated rivals that will be at each others’ throats.

For the people, give us the Waffle mascot and the maple syrup celebratory bath.

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