By Mike Ingersoll
Accepting an invitation to a bowl game offers a number of obvious benefits. For the players, it's exposure, an extra game for NFL scouts (if they're headed that route), an exotic opponent, and bowl gifts, among other things.
For the school, it offers potential revenue from the bowl committee, exposure for the school, and an edge in offseason recruiting (based on the game and/or if the team was successful). However, what often gets overlooked are the benefits that come from the preparation for the game.
In the weeks leading up to the game, the team is given an opportunity to practice. This time allows for injured players to get healthy and for younger players to develop, as well as allow the team to fine tune its fundamentals again (fundamentals typically falter as the season progresses). This, clearly, helps the current team, but it also gives the players who will return the following season a leg up, as these practices will serve as, basically, an extension of spring practice.
Some of the greatest strides I made as a player were in 2008 and 2009 practicing for the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte. It gave me one last chance that season to get back to the basics as far as footwork, punch timing, and body positioning that were essential to my line play, and it also gave me one last opportunity to pick the brain of, and learn from, some of the NFL-bound guys who were still there as they themselves prepared to play their last game.
It also allowed me to get extra workouts in, as my schedule wasn't dictated by my course load. Those workouts allowed me to stay in better shape than I would have had I gone home for a month, which helped in the transition once I returned from break for the spring semester.
As a senior preparing for Tennessee, I had the opportunity to speak with some NFL scouts and get an idea as to what they were looking for out of me in the coming game, a benefit I didn't necessarily have during the regular season. I was able to work on those specifics over the course of the three weeks before the game and put them on display against an SEC team in what would eventually be one of the most exciting and talked-about games of the bowl season.
All of the bumps and bruises I'd accumulated over the 12-game schedule could be taken care of and rehabilitated as I prepared for the game in Nashville, which gave me a chance to play my final college game healthier than I had been since opening day against LSU.
It was also an opportunity to fully enjoy, one last time, being a college football player, and getting to prepare and play with the team I'd tried my best to help lead that season--the team that, to this day, I am more proud to have been a part of than maybe any other in my career. Without the stresses of knowing I had a spring semester looming, the stresses of answering more and more NCAA questions from the media and having to deal with the distraction that came along with all that, I was able to sit back and fully embrace what was the culmination of my college football career, and I was going to be able to end it on my terms.
I could go out healthy, and play a game that, if I prepared correctly, I knew I would be successful in and end on a positive note. Both of those things happened, and it's one of the most important games I think I ever played in (it's my mom's favorite, too--she talks about that game every time any discussion of football comes up with her. She sure was proud of the team, the fans, and most of all, Coach Davis and his staff for pulling that game out the way we did).
I had an opportunity to truly understand and appreciate my four and a half years in Chapel Hill, to understand and appreciate especially my senior year and the 2010 Carolina football team and all we had to endure, and to end it all on a positive note. Without the bowl game, none of that would have been possible. So yes, there are advantages to a bowl game that many people don't see on the surface. Those advantages lie in the preparation. And the devil is in the details. The salvation, too.
Best of luck to our boys in Charlotte. They should be proud for being there.
Mike Ingersoll was a UNC offensive lineman from 2007-10. He played in three bowl games.