New world of college football can’t top what the Sugar Bowl has always been – Crescent City Sports

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NEW ORLEANS – It was the climax of the New Year’s celebration in the Crescent City.

Tens of thousands of revelers from neighboring Texas and far-away Washington crammed into the Caesars Superdome to witness the 90th Allstate Sugar Bowl on Monday night.

Less than 24 hours after the New Year began, new beginnings were staring in the faces of the Longhorns, the Huskies and the Sugar Bowl itself.

It wound up being Texas’ last game in the Big XII Conference before joining the SEC.

And it wound up being Washington’s second-to-last game in the Pac-12 before leaving for the Big Ten because the Huskies’ down-to-the-final-second 37-31 victory earned them a stop in Houston for the January 8 national championship game against Michigan on their way to their new home as a conference rival of the Wolverines next season.

It also wound up being a performance more than worthy of a College Football Playoff semifinal match-up.

Michael Penix, runner-up to LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels for the Heisman Trophy, led the Huskies by passing for 430 yards and two touchdowns.

And the Washington defense held the Longhorns scoreless in the third quarter and withstood a last-minute charge into the red zone to preserve the victory in a game in which the Huskies never trailed but could never relax either.

Washington broke from a 21-all halftime tie by driving to a touchdown on the first possession of the third quarter.

The Huskies recovered a fumble on the ensuing possession, leading to a field goal, and they added another field goal for a 34-21 lead after three quarters.

Texas got within six points midway through the fourth quarter, but Penix drove Washington a field goal and a nine-point lead.

The Longhorns kicked a field goal to get within six again with 2:40 left and got the ball back with 45 seconds left.

Quinn Ewers drove his team to a first down at the 12 and three plays later it was fourth and 11 with one second left. Ewers pass to the end zone sailed out of bounds, the Huskies were off to Houston and the Longhorns were off to the SEC.

Each team had three touchdowns drives on the way to a 21-all halftime tie that set the stage for the dramatic finish.

It was the type of match-up – two nationally prominent programs from different parts of the country who had rarely played previously – that helped make the Sugar Bowl a local and national landmark.

But nowadays history and tradition don’t count for as much as they once did.

College football has been forever changed in the last few years by the transfer portal making it easier for players to hop from program to program and by NIL money providing a tool for schools to recruit them with.

And the college football post-season is about to be forever changed as the CFP expands to 12 teams next season.

It’s questionable whether any of these changes are ultimately good for college football.

The new playoff format will add byes and on-campus first-round games. It also will increase competition among top-tier bowl sites for quarterfinal, semifinal and championship-game opportunities.

The Sugar Bowl will host a quarterfinal game on New Year’s Day 2025, but the Crescent City’s role in the CFP beyond – or whether it will even have one – is to be determined.

The expanded field of playoff teams has created an expanded field of cities competing for opportunities to host the neutral-site playoff games.

For generations, New Orleans, Pasadena, Miami and Dallas had the New Year’s Day stage to themselves. Then came Phoenix and Atlanta and more recently Tampa, the San Francisco Bay Area, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas and Nashville.

Increased uncertainty about the Sugar Bowl’s future in the rotation forced CEO Jeff Hundley to recently take the uncomfortable but unavoidable step of telling the Sugar Bowl’s story to the New Orleans community.

The bowl can’t afford for the community to take for granted New Orleans’ presence in the rotation.

So the Sugar Bowl launched a “Keep New Orleans Sweet” marketing campaign to remind the community of the game’s historic significance and shine a light on the sometimes overlooked but hugely significant impact that the Sugar Bowl has in terms of sponsoring non-football events, boosting quality of life in the community and economic impact.

Hundley noted that it’s inevitable that costs to remain a player in the college football post-season will “go even higher” with the expansion.

He credited “good business practice and support from national sponsors” for New Orleans being able to compete “up until now.”

But, Hundley pointedly added, “going forward we’re going to need the support of the local community” in order to “to remain at the top and be able to fund” an event that serves as an irreplaceable bridge between Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras on the Crescent City’s tourism schedule.

No one knows what the future holds for the Sugar Bowl and New Orleans in the college football post-season.

Future decisions about the CFP will be based almost exclusively on the same thing upon which past decisions have been made almost exclusively – the ability to maximize revenue.

The site of “The Greatest Free Show on Earth” doesn’t always fare well in a tale of the tape against competitors for events that require financially luring major events away from competitors with deeper pockets.

But while sitting in the Superdome on Monday night watching the latest edition of an event that has been at the forefront of the college football post-season for nearly a century, it was impossible to see how the experience could be improved.

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