Eight down, 33 to go.
The college football bowl season, a gift that keeps on giving, is in full holiday swing and building toward the College Football Playoff championship game on Jan. 11 in Glendale, Ariz.
With 40 games plus the final to be played in a 24-day period, some critics are screaming that the system is out of control.
Just ask Craig Thompson, commissioner of the Mountain West Conference.
“Clearly, the system is broken,” Thompson famously said after Nevada and Colorado State of the Mountain West were paired in the Arizona Bowl, while teams with losing records received more prestigious bids.
College football fans aren’t complaining, at least the ones that are enjoying a steady stream of games that fill ESPN’s broadcast schedule with unending programming.
Through three days of games — no one is that foolish to schedule a Sunday bowl game against the NFL — the so-called lesser bowls provided as much entertainment value as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
Without the wait in line.
In the Las Vegas Bowl, Utah and Brigham Young renewed the Holy War, the Utes taking a 35-0 first-quarter lead before BYU stormed nearly all the way back in a 35-28 defeat.
San Jose State and its 5-7 record made the bowl field by virtue of academic performance. The Spartans proved worthy by defeating Georgia State in the Cure Bowl. Top that Duke (Pinstripe), Northwestern (Outback) and Stanford (Rose).
Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon scored four touchdowns in a New Orleans Bowl victory over Arkansas State, giving him an FBS-record 87 in his career. That sets up another dramatic opportunity for Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who has 83 touchdowns going in to the Military Bowl against Pittsburgh.
And Western Kentucky followed up last season’s sensational Hail Mary-multiple-lateral victory over Central Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl with a trick-play-filled win over South Florida in the Miami Beach Bowl.
And we’re not even through the first quarter of the bowl season.
Not that everything is worth celebrating.
Other than fans watching on television, the main beneficiaries of the bowl experience are ESPN, game organizers, coaches with contract bonuses and conferences and their member schools.
Oregon State and Colorado, for example, did not make bowl games but still share in Pac-12 payouts.
USC Coach Clay Helton echoes most coaches who welcome bowl practices as a means of developing talent for the next season. Quarterbacks Max Browne and Sam Darnold, for example, have already begun competing to replace senior Cody Kessler.
“That’s why you love going to bowl games,” Helton says, “because you can really progress the young kids.”
It can be argued that players deserve compensation beyond gifts that include belt buckles, watches, backpacks, caps and gift certificates from big box stores.
And don’t forget the hair dryers.
There may come a time when unionized college football players collectively bargain for a share of bowl revenues. But it appears no strikes are on the horizon — vanguard Northwestern is scheduled to play Tennessee in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1.
That doesn’t mean every college player privately loves the idea of extra practices, and potential for injury, after a long season.
USC linebacker Su’a Cravens, Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott and others who have declared for the draft might want to avoid potential risk and start working on their 40-yard dash times.
Several UCLA players set to play against Nebraska in the Foster Farms Bowl on Saturday in Santa Clara, and several USC players readying for Wisconsin and the Dec. 30 Holiday Bowl in San Diego, say the bowl experience is anything but a drag.
Kessler has traveled with the Trojans and played in bowl games in El Paso, Las Vegas and San Diego, where the team will play in the Holiday Bowl for the second straight year. Not exactly glamorous bowl destinations, but Kessler is not complaining.
He likes the excitement created by unexpected matchups.
“So many scenarios,” he says.
Trojans defensive lineman Kenny Bigelow says the bowl system is “a great thing,” providing players a chance to bond and “to give them a little pocket change around the holidays.”
Fullback Soma Vainuku says bowl practices offer opportunities to “perfect your craft” before participating in NFL evaluations at the Senior Bowl in January.
UCLA linebacker Aaron Wallace, a fifth-year senior, says he looks forward to bowl activities.
“It’s nice to end the year bonding with your friends and your teammates and then go out and play one last game,” he says.
Bruins defensive lineman Takkarist McKinley, of Richmond, Calif., is essentially going home for the holidays to play in a bowl game at Levi’s Stadium. He is looking forward to seeing family, but says he and his teammates are striving for a bigger game next season.
“I want the national championship, man,” he says. “That’s where I really want to go.”
Next season’s final will be played in Tampa, Fla.
Good luck to all players, coaches and fans trying to get there.
Until then, enjoy the bowl season. And pass the remote.
Times staff writer Zach Helfand contributed to this report.