For only the fifth time in its 80-year history, the Allstate Sugar Bowl has absolutely no say in who will be playing in the game.
Which, if things hold up, will be just fine with the folks who have invested so much in keeping it a top-tier event.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Florida State in the first College Football Playoffs semifinals would be a dream matchup — the first postseason meeting between two programs that have a combined 104 bowl appearances between them, including 18 in the Sugar Bowl.
Not to mention the fact it would completely overshadow the projected semifinal between No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 TCU in the hallowed Rose Bowl, which, the local folks like to point out, is “our lead in,” for the Sugar Bowl’s prime time spot on Jan. 1.
“It looks like a wonderful game,” Sugar Bowl President Dennis Waldron said. “Of course, it’s still left to see who actually comes out of it.
“But whoever it is, we’ll be the best possible hosts, the maître d, if you will, for a great event.”
And while the potential for Alabama-Florida State has mouths watering at the prospect, if the history of college football has taught us anything, it’s that crazy things happen on the final weekend of the season.
There are four conference championship games along with a de facto one in the Big 12 to be played, not-to-mention the opinions of a still unpredictable CFP selection committee which will be the final determining factor when the pairings are announced at 11:45 a.m. Sunday.
And no matter what happens this weekend, there’s the melancholy knowledge that never again, at least not for the next dozen years, will the Sugar Bowl be able to pick its participants, a tradition that dates to Tulane vs. Temple in the inaugural game in 1935 and that was only interrupted by the 2000 and 2004 games that were also for the BCS title along their predecessors, the 1993 Bowl Coalition and 1997 Bowl Alliance championship games before this season.
Under the new world order, in the two years out of three that the Sugar Bowl is not a CFP semifinal, the SEC and the Big 12 will be picking their best-available teams with little, if any, input from the bowl itself.
In fact, the football part of the Sugar Bowl operation will be controlled by a management council on which the SEC and Big 12 have considerable authority.
Yes, the football times, they are a changing.
Even the largely ceremonial appearance by Sugar Bowl Chief Executive Officer Paul Hoolahan and William Flinn, his Rose Bowl counterpart on the Sunday teleconference with the coaches of the participating teams, have been eliminated.
And instead of a single Miller-Digby Trophy to the MVP, there will be two, one for offense and one for defense, per CFP protocols.
Maybe they’ll call one “Miller” and the other “Digby.”
Whatever, to Hoolahan, that’s small price for keeping the Sugar Bowl as relevant as a bowl can be these days even though he remains ambivalent about New Orleans bidding for a future CFP title game (It’s now done by cities, not the bowls as was the case in the BCS).
“Yes, we were always in the room, so to speak, with the commissioners and the networks during the BCS days,” said Hoolahan, whose tenure with the Sugar Bowl predates the 1998 birth of the BCS by one year. “That structure has changed now.
“But our basic job remains the same — to offer the teams the experience that is uniquely the Sugar Bowl. Only now, it’s within the framework of the College Football Semifinals.”
And only to those who are privy to the financials of the as-yet unsigned deal between the Sugar Bowl and the CFP (Don’t worry, it will be) or who pay close attention to signage, the bowl will look no different than in the past as will the events leading up to it.
The teams will arrive in New Orleans no later than Dec. 27 and there will be usual low-key team events, which is the way the Sugar Bowl traditionally likes to do things as opposed it some of its counterparts. That’s why there’s no Sugar Bowl parade.
In fact, experience from the old BCS Championship days has shown that in bowl games with something actually at stake, the teams prefer as few distractions as possible.
Thus, while the semifinals are being given the bowl treatment while for the Monday, Jan. 12 championship game in Arlington, Texas, the teams won’t be arriving until the Friday before, and then only because of an obligatory media day on Jan. 10.
And even if this isn’t your great-grandfather’s Sugar Bowl anymore, Waldron said the enthusiasm of the membership hasn’t been diminished.
“This remains, as it always has been, a very important event to our city and to our state,” he said. “We’re more committed than ever to it and especially to sponsoring events that benefit sports year-round.
“We’re not going anywhere.”