The Cheezit Bowl is not the best college football game. It is not the most exciting college football game. But the 2019 edition was somehow the most college football game.
It was played the night before the Fiesta Bowl and pitted Washington State against Air Force.
Your reaction to that matchup likely correlates pretty closely with how much you love the sport of college football.
Not how much you love a particular college football team, but the wonderful, idiotic, glorious mess that is the sport in its entirety.
If you’re just an “I only watch my team’s games” person, then this may not be your type of bowl game.
However, if you’re the type to bask in the wonderful ridiculousness of one-point safeties, late-night Hawaii TV broadcasts, and unique venues like Idaho’s Kibbie Dome, then this is the game for you. The more you love the sport of college football, the more you would love the Cheezit Bowl.
Part of the appeal of the sport is the wide variety of different ways teams accomplish the same basic goals: score points, keep the other team from scoring, and win.
Friday night’s Cheezit Bowl presented two teams on polar opposites of that spectrum on offense. Washington State is an air raid team, which moves the ball almost exclusively by throwing it in a intricate, yet relatively simple system.
Air Force, on the other hand, prefers to run the ball. Their triple-option attack threw it 126 times all season, completing 68 of them. Wazzu went 98-for-132 in just its last two regular season games.
Falcons fans were largely comprised of current and former service members. Washington State fans are renowned for drinking towns dry during bowl games and guzzling Fireball liquor in the stands. It would be hard to pair two more dissimilar programs.
This was the college football equivalent of watching one team that exclusively bunts and steals bases against a team that just swings for the fences on every pitch.
They were playing on a football field crammed into a baseball stadium. It started after 10 pm Eastern time on a Friday night, the stands were half-full, and there was basically nothing on the line from a national perspective.
The pregame meal in the press box consisted partly of Cheezit-garnished mini-hotdogs, and a taco basket loaded with Cheezits.
The roof was closed when we walked in, so I was extremely confused for a moment when people started parachuting in. pic.twitter.com/oX7BgQ1RxX
— Tom Orr (@TomOrr4) December 28, 2019
Before the game, there were ceremonial paratroopers dropping through the suddenly-open roof onto the field, fireworks, and a flyover.
Then contestants attempted to punt footballs into an enormous bowl full of Cheezits.
It was a bizarre and entertaining spectacle, and then the game itself was an absolute delight.
Washington State took the opening kickoff and went 71 yards down the field in just 2:45 before getting stopped in a dramatic goal-line stand.
Air Force responded with a 20-play (yes, 20), 98-yard (yes, 98) drive that spanned 12:23 of game time (yup). The first quarter ended before Air Force’s first drive did.
The Falcons put together drives of 20, 15, 13, and 10 plays on the evening. The teams went for it a combined eight times on fourth down. No one punted until more than two-thirds of the third quarter was done.
If there is an extremely low-stakes version of college football Valhalla, this is what it looks like.
Air Force ran the ball for 371 yards and rushed it for only 30. Washington State threw it for 351 yards and ran for only 15. These are teams playing the same sport at the same level, just doing it completely differently.
The game wasn’t over until Wazzu failed to execute a hook-and-lateral on a fourth down play with about a minute to go.
It was wild, it was unique, it was entertaining, and it was so very, very college football from beginning to end.
After that failed hook-and-lateral, Air Force kneeled a couple times to run out the clock. The coaches shook hands, and the Falcons headed to the outfield fence in left field to sing their alma mater.
They had just completed an 11-win season, something only two Falcon teams had ever done before, and there were a few teary eyes among the Air Force players.
While it was just an entertaining fever dream for most of the country, it was an incredibly meaningful moment for them and their program.
The College Football Playoff kicks off Saturday afternoon in Atlanta, and continues with what is shaping up to be an absolute classic Saturday night in Glendale.
Those are the two games that most of the college football world has spent all year discussing, dissecting, and arguing over. They will be the games that the majority of the sporting world remembers about this bowl season.
But the Cheezit Bowl is what college football is really about. Two programs of very different people from very different places, taking very different approaches to the same game.
It was wild, it was fun, and it was all a little strange.
You can’t get much more college football than that.