Bowl games matter for strong starts next season
By KELLIS ROBINETT
Few college football coaches understand momentum better than Kliff Kingsbury.
In his first season at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders won their first seven games and lost their final five. In the span of a month, his team went from a thrilling high to a crushing low. But it regrouped nicely with a 37-23 victory over Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl.
With one fine showing, Texas Tech regained momentum. Kingsbury still can feel it today.
"When you end on a winning note in a big-time game, it carries over to spring ball and you have a lot of confidence from it," Kingsbury said last week at Big 12 media days. "Especially like a position where we were in where you had lost five in a row. You beat a top-20 team in a bowl game and that is all anyone wants to talk about during the offseason. It is a big positive for our program. It even helped on the road recruiting in January and February."
Can it also help when real games begin next month? Ending the year on a victory is always nice. But the offseason is eight months and rosters are always changing. Capitalizing on a bowl victory in late August is hardly a given.
Yet Big 12 coaches and players expect it to happen.
"Ending the season on a victory and getting young guys (repetitions) in bowl practice is great primer for the next season," Kansas State senior center B.J. Finney said. "It keeps guys motivated. It's really hard to swallow after a loss going into the offseason because our offseason is pretty brutal in terms of workouts. Keeping guys motivated was really helpful with that win.
"I thought we had a good attitude last season, but this season it has improved dramatically. Guys have a great attitude. They are hungry, they want to get started."
K-State coach Bill Snyder, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and Kingsbury -- the three Big 12 coaches that won bowl games last season -- all said the same. When asked about spring practices and summer workouts, they responded only with positives.
They noticed an obvious difference from past offseasons, which began after bowl losses.
"It inspired our players to really to build on it in the winter in the way we trained, the way we went into spring and we had a fabulous summer," Stoops said. "One of the best. I've never seen my strength coach so happy, because he can be hard to please and he's really elated at the way the guys have worked. Maybe our guys have built on it in a positive way, just the chemistry and their willingness to work when they see the benefits of it like that."
Oklahoma ended last season as hot as any team in the country, winning at Oklahoma State and beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Kansas State wasn't far behind, winning six of its final seven and pounding Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Even Kansas and Iowa State, teams that won three games last season, credited positive momentum for productive springs. The Cyclones won their final two games and the Jayhawks ended a long conference losing streak.
"You might think we don't have momentum to draw on, but we overcame the hump of getting a Big 12 win out of the way," KU linebacker Ben Heeney said. "Obviously we weren't expected to be picked first in the conference or even fifth, for that matter. But that win gives us momentum and being picked last in the conference gives us motivation to prove people wrong."
Snyder also understands momentum. K-State lost its first three bowl games after he came out of retirement, and the Wildcats responded with mediocrity in their season openers. Most recently, they followed a loss to Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl with a 2013 home loss to North Dakota State.
Perhaps an offseason filled with momentum will make for a better result next month against Stephen F. Austin.
"The way that our young people finished the season allowed them to understand the value of not taking anything for granted," Snyder said, "because they certainly didn't toward the end of the season or the last half of the season.
"... I was just extremely happy and pleased and proud and very hopeful that that preparation and that approach to the preparation would carry over during the course of the (offseason), spring practice and the summer, and then our preseason workout starting here in August."