Bowl season winners and losers: Michigan won, and now the Big Ten and SEC own the sport

Michigan won the final national championship of the four-team College Football Playoff format, defeating Washington 34-13 on Monday night in Houston.

But the Big Ten won the era.

Well, the Big Ten and the SEC.

The richest conferences in sports have spent the past 2.5 years adding valuable chess pieces to their storied collections — to the point of bringing one rival league to the brink of collapse and two others to the brink of irrelevance.

And with the four-team playoff giving way to a 12-team event next season, the Big Ten and SEC are left alone with unprecedented control over the sport.

The playoff we just witnessed includes one school currently in the Big Ten (Michigan), one school entering the Big Ten next season (UW), one school currently in the SEC (Alabama), and one school entering the SEC next season (Texas).

And guess what: Their influence will only expand as the expanded postseason event dominates the sport like nothing before. (By comparison, the move from the Bowl Championship Series to a four-team playoff barely registers.) The Big Ten and SEC will bypass at least seven and potentially eight playoff spots in future seasons.

They will own the top four seeds.

They will dominate the market in the home games of the first round.

And they will determine the CFP’s revenue sharing plan to ensure that the money follows the bids, thereby ensuring that the rich get richer.

At this point, the Wolverines stand alone, celebrating their first title in 26 years.

But amid the monumental changes in the landscape, Michigan is merely a vessel for growing Big Ten (and SEC) hegemony.

Other winners and losers from the cup season…

Winner: Washington. One loss doesn’t make the 14 wins (and countless upsets) that came before it moot. It was a season to celebrate, with quarterback Michael Penix Jr. establishing himself as a Husky legend.

Loser: The Michigan Critics. The Wolverines were the team everyone loved to hate as coach Jim Harbaugh served two separate and distinct three-game suspensions. He’s obviously whiled away the time perfecting his last laugh.

Winner: Harbaugh. Nine years and one week after leaving the NFL to restore glory to his alma mater, the Michigan standout added a trophy to the occasion. He can name his price, either with the Wolverines or the assembled collection of NFL suitors. (We suspect it will be the latter.)

Loser: Ohio State. Because Michigan.

Winner: Pac-12. The conference entered the 2023 season with high expectations — and it more than lived up to the occasion. The last season of the Pac-12 (as we know it) was also memorable for what happened on the field.

Loser: ACC. Florida State’s controversial exclusion from the CFP was the obvious blow. But the conference finished 5-6 in all bowl games and recorded just two wins against Power Five opponents.

Winner: ESPN. Too many bowl games? Try telling the network that airs most of them. The ratings more than justified the amount of postseason games, with the Rose Bowl’s massive ratings (28 million viewers) delivering the sport’s largest audience in six years.

Loser: CFP Selection Committee. We were baffled by the decision to make Liberty the highest-ranked team from the group of five, and remain completely baffled. The appointment of the Flames and their low-sauce schedule before SMU didn’t make sense at the time, and it doesn’t make sense now.

Winner: The Rose Bowl. Combine the huge ratings with the dramatic finale – Michigan beat Alabama in overtime – and the grandpa reminded everyone why he’s America’s sports king.

Loser: SEC. The standard for success is incredibly high in the CFP era (ie, national title or elimination), and the failure to reach that bar in 2023 was notable only because of all the previous times (six) the conference had succeeded in the endeavor.

Winner: Kalen DeBoer. Whatever dollar figure Washington had in mind when contract negotiations with DeBoer began has probably been swallowed up by reality. If the Huskies can keep him for anything less than $75 million, that’s a win.

Loser: Ryan Day. The pressure was mounting on Ohio State’s fifth-year coach before cup season. The Buckeyes then scored three points in a Cotton Bowl loss to Missouri and Michigan won the national title.

Winner: USC. Thanks to backup quarterback Miller Moss, who threw six touchdowns in the Holiday Bowl, the Trojans finished the season with some momentum and not a terrible opportunity to replace Caleb Williams.

Loser: Miami. The Hurricanes didn’t lure Mario Cristobal back home and pay him $8 million a year (reportedly) to finish 7-6 and lose to Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Winner: Arizona. Not only did the Wildcats win the Alamo Bowl to secure their 10th win of the season, they did it by taking on one of the sport’s blue bloods, Oklahoma. There’s enough momentum in Tucson to last another fall.

Loser: The Fiesta Bowl. Forced by the CFP selection committee to take the highest-ranked team from the Group of Five, the Fiesta suffered a second blow when that team was identified: the Liberty. As a result, the Oregon blowout was, unfortunately, easy to predict.

Winner: The Pop-Tarts Bowl. The Orlando-based event was originally known as the Blockbuster Bowl in the 1990s and went through multiple shows. Suffice it to say, none were as delicious as the current version. We couldn’t tell you which teams participated or the final score, but you better believe we can describe every detail of this giant edible mascot.

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