Outside of the BCS title game, every bowl game is basically just an exhibition. But not all exhibition games are built alike.
There are some intriguing non-BCS games this year, including Alabama-Michigan State, Utah-Boise State (BCS buster reunion), Florida-Penn State (Urban Meyer vs. JoePa? Count me in), Georgia Tech-Air Force (for you triple-option fans) and Notre Dame-Miami (for Gen X'ers and nostalgia buffs).
As for the Big East's non-BCS bowls? Well, let's just say the storylines are a little lacking.
Yes, it's nice to see Syracuse back in a bowl, and it will be fun to watch the Orange play in Yankee Stadium against Kansas State. Louisville will be back in bowl action against an old nemesis in Southern Miss. South Florida-Clemson will have a lot of athletes on the field.
But is there a Big East bowl that you're dying to see? Does Pitt-Kentucky get your blood pumping?
A major part of the problem here, of course, is the down year that the Big East experienced in 2010. Not many league teams this year have much drawing power. Blame the ACC, too, for continuing its mediocrity. The Big East faces the ACC in two of its five non-BCS bowls, and this year that league offers 8-4 NC State and a 6-6 Clemson team as opposition.
The bowl lineup also illustrates the Big East's need for a better landing spot for its No. 2 team. West Virginia, at 9-3 and ranked No. 22 in the BCS standings, would give a lot of teams a good game and deserves a chance to prove itself. But the Mountaineers' reward for tying for the league championship and finishing as the top-ranked team in the conference is playing the unranked Wolfpack on Dec. 28. (The other choice for that game, which goes to the No. 3 ACC team, was Maryland. But the Mountaineers already played -- and spanked -- the Terrapins this year).
The Big East tried to upgrade its bowl lineup for the new four-year cycle that began this year, and it did as well as was reasonably possible. The improvement is most apparent at the bottom.
While playing in the International Bowl the past four years, here are the opponents the Big East faced: Northern Illinois, Ball State, Buffalo and Western Michigan. Yawn. It was little surprise that the Big East won every one of those games, often in blowout fashion. The New Era Pinstripe Bowl replaced the International Bowl and having a Big 12 opponent is a major step up. However, the new 10-team Big 12 might not be able to fill that slot after this year.
The league dropped out of the Hyundai Sun/Gator bowl alliance, and those two games happily landed big-name teams with mediocre records this year. The Sun has the Notre Dame-Miami matchup, while the Gator will pit Michigan vs. Mississippi State. But the Big East also managed to cut its Notre Dame tie in from two out of every four years to just once in that span, and Orlando -- site of the Champs Sports Bowl -- still ranks as a better destination for fans than either Jacksonville or El Paso, Texas.
Ultimately, the Big East bowl lineup will only get better when schools repeatedly bring lots of fans to postseason sites. Bowl games want tickets and hotel rooms sold more than anything else, and when many Big East teams don't even fill their own home stadiums for big games, that's a bad signal. The addition of TCU will help for competitive purposes, but the Horned Frogs aren't known for having a huge fan following on the road.
Last year's non-BCS lineup offered more interesting stories, such as West Virginia facing former coach Bobby Bowden in his final game; Pittsburgh squaring off with North Carolina's powerful defense and UConn taking on the Head Ball Coach and South Carolina. Those juicy storylines don't really exist this time around. But hopefully, the games themselves will surprise and entertain us.