Why the New Mexico Bowl is huge for the Washington State Cougars

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There are a ton of bowls and a huge chunk of them are meaningless exhibitions. But for Washington State, the New Mexico Bowl is important, even if the game itself is simply the cherry on top.

There are too many bowls. The bowl system is a racket, and it's all about the money. Bowl games are meaningless exhibitions, played without a real point -- except for the BCS Championship, of course. Why are bowls still around, as a relic from the past?

Typically the conversation around bowls centers around the above points. The number of bowl games has ballooned, to the point where 70 FBS teams get a chance to play in the postseason. All it takes is a .500 record. Six wins can't be that difficult, especially when non-conference scheduling makes it so a team may only have to win a few conference games to get eligible. What's the point?

I often thought bowls were silly -- even sillier when one tries to squeeze meaning out of the games themselves. For the most part, these 35 games are exhibitions, and how a team performs doesn't mean all that much. Some teams may be disappointed in their seasons, playing in a lower tier bowl that sees an upstart who's happy to be there paste them. So sure, perhaps what happens in the bowl game doesn't matter a whole lot.

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It wasn't until Washington State went 10 years without a bowl game -- even missing out when eligible -- that I realized just how special and important bowls can be. Not necessarily the game itself, mind you -- that's more the cherry on top; the end of a journey. But everything around the bowl is a big freaking deal for a team trying to reestablish itself.

Think about the last five or so years. The ultimate goal was to get back to Pac-12 prominence, sure. But in reality, fans knew what the next step had to be: Simply getting to a bowl. Any bowl. It didn't matter where that bowl fell on the bowl prestige ladder.

Getting to Albuquerque, and playing in the New Mexico Bowl, is huge for the Cougars. It's a sign that maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It's something Mike Leach and his staff can build on. It's something the players can be proud of.

Those players -- especially the upperclassmen -- deserve this. Guys like Deone Bucannon, Elliott Bosch, Damante Horton and Andrew Furney put their own blood, sweat and tears into this program. They came in when it was at its lowest, weathered the storm, and helped guide the Cougars to the postseason. It's not a conference championship, sure, but it's something.

It's a sign that maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

The coaching staff can recruit off the back of a bowl, too. It's something tangible, something they can say "see, we're coming back … we're on our way." Promises and hopes are one thing, but knocking off USC on the road, winning at Arizona, and finishing the job at home with a win over Utah to get to a bowl are real things the coaching staff can show recruits. And from what we've seen in the last week, it's helping.

Then there are the young players -- the future of Washington State football. For the last 10 years, the Cougars' season has ended in November or the first week of December. A bowl game affords the coaching staff a few extra weeks of practice. And that practice time becomes a time for the young players to get in reps, to hone their skills and receive valuable work. It's almost like another spring ball. It may seem small, but it's huge for the development of the team.

Win today and Washington State finishes the season over .500 for the first time since 2003. There's plenty of motivation to win this game, whether you believe it's an exhibition or not. But just getting to this point -- to a bowl -- is a massive accomplishment that comes with numerous side benefits.

I didn't think bowls mattered all that much and was one of the people thinking about all those statements at the top of this piece. But having watched the Cougars struggle through a rebuilding process, I now see just how big a deal even a small bowl game is. The New Mexico Bowl is a big step in the right direction for Washington State, and something the players and coaches worked hard for. They deserve this. We deserve this. And we should cherish it.

Now go win the game and cap off what's been an incredible season.

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