The idea that anyone — or maybe anyone not on the field — should really, truly, sincerely care about the 2022 Las Vegas Bowl offends me.
Florida is by far the biggest-name team playing in this first week of what the bowl-ESPN complex is now trying to sell as capital-B, capital-S Bowl Season, with the closest contenders being Cincinnati, Louisville, Washington State, Baylor ... and Florida’s opponent, Oregon State. These games are usually not for teams as recently successful as Florida, but the SEC (and ACC) are now tied to the Las Vegas Bowl for a four-year span, and this game is happening on a Saturday but needed to move for the NFL, and so we have the Gators kicking off at 12:30 p.m. local time against a Beavers squad that is as good as it is boring.
Oregon State scored 68 points in a game this season. It then scored 30 points in its next two games, one of them a 17-14 loss to a USC team with a vaporous defense and the other a 42-16 beatdown at the hands of a Utah squad that Florida defeated in a game that feels as if it could have taken place literal decades ago. Yeah, the Beavers did manage to turn their season around again, and also staged a stirring comeback against Oregon, but the East Coast folks like us who didn’t watch them for most of the year missed workmanlike competence from a pounding running game and a good defense, not some pyrotechnic show.
Still, Oregon State should probably win this game.
There’s a good argument that the Gators won’t have two of their five best players from that night against the Beavers, with Anthony Richardson and O’Cyrus Torrence each sitting this one out after having declared for the 2023 NFL Draft. There’s also a good argument that that game was as good as the Gators got this year, with Richardson being close to his best and Florida’s defense making a final stop against the eventual Pac-12 champions. And with Richardson, Torrence, and other players who won’t suit up in Sin City, Florida lost to Vanderbilt.
To expect much more from Jack Miller and the revamped and/or reserve-heavy Florida defense would be folly. Getting more would be fun.
That, though, is the key to approaching any bowl game outside the College Football Playoff or that next tier of prestigious contests, at least for fans: Expectations are dumb, these games are dumb, and the hope should be for fun.
I hope Florida has fun today. Maybe we will, too — and if we don’t, whatever.