Connelly: 11 most important questions for bowl season

Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

Back in their earliest iteration, bowl games were designed to be exhibitions celebrating an excellent season. The results didn't count in the final polls until the 1960s, and the stats from the games didn't count until the 2000s.

In a way, then, this recent trend of opt-outs and bowl oddities hasn't necessarily created a shift, but a shift back. With important players leaving to prepare for the NFL draft and loads more disappearing into the transfer portal, the teams we watch during bowl season are rather different from the ones wearing the same helmets in the regular season. Does that affect the meaning of the games? Maybe, but hey, these games are just celebrations of a season well done, right?

We do know one thing we'll get from bowl season: college football! The final 40-ish games of the 2022 campaign will unfold over the next few weeks, and then that's it until late August. It's time to prepare as well as possible for what we're about to see. Here are 11 questions for bowl season, aka the most ... wonderful tiiiiiime ... of the yeeeeeeear ...

Who shows up?

On average, about 40% of bowl games finish with scoring margins more than 14 points away from the spread, more than the 35% or so that the regular season tends to produce. Last year, Maryland beat Virginia Tech by 44 points as a 4.5-point favorite, and Texas Tech beat Mississippi State by 27 as a 10-point underdog. Of the 42 bowls on the docket, including the two CFP semifinals, about 17 of them or so will feature wacky results, and a few will make no sense whatsoever. Your standing in your bowl pool will depend on you nailing at least a couple of un-nailable results.

Which are the most likely close games?

Of these 42 bowls, SP+ projects only three to have a scoring margin of more than two touchdowns, and it projects 32 within eight points and 11 within three. Acknowledging that a few unexpected blowouts are coming our way, if you're looking for wild finishes and tight contests, this is the list to start with.