Michigan players can’t see themselves skipping bowl

Angelique S. Chengelis, and Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Matthew Godin

Ann Arbor — Selfish? Sensible? Or somewhere in-between?

Opinions are split on an apparent trend-in-the-making, of college football stars skipping out on their bowl games so they can get an early start on preparation for their NFL careers.

Stanford star running back Christian McCaffrey made big headlines Monday when he said no thanks to playing in the Sun Bowl. Three days earlier, LSU running back Leonard Fournette said he would skip the Citrus Bowl.

On Tuesday, Baylor running back Shock Linwood said he’s out for the Cactus Bowl.

Several Michigan players, speaking Tuesday ahead of the Dec. 30 Orange Bowl against Florida State, said they can’t see themselves going that route.

Some were somewhat sympathetic, however.

“They have their own opinions and reasons why they did it,” Michigan senior defensive lineman Matt Godin said. “But at the end of the day, you’re still playing for your team and it’s about the team.

“To do that is definitely selfish in a way.”

McCaffrey — whose brother Dylan, a quarterback, is a Michigan commitment — is a projected first-round pick in April’s NFL draft.
Michigan linebacker Mike McCray said he understands why they made the decision.

“But some people think differently,” McCray said. “If it was me, I would probably would play, but some people have their own way of thinking. That’s what (McCaffrey) did. Can’t knock him for it.”

Michigan center Mason Cole has similar feelings.

“I don’t think anyone on our team would do that,” Cole said. “But that’s a personal decision he has to make for himself. You could see it both ways.”

Godin said he could not see him making a similar decision.

“I don’t think any guy on our team,” said Godin, “would ever think of doing something like that.”

There are a number of reasons for skipping a bowl game, even though it’s been a rarity among players before this week. For starters, an injury in a bowl game — especially a bowl game that doesn’t have anything close to national-championship implications — could cost a potential future NFL star big bucks. Bowing out of the bowl game also could give a player more time for conditioning ahead of the pivotal combine, and in-person workouts.

Bowl season is vital time for Michigan youngsters

“Very tough decision,” McCaffrey, a junior, said on Twitter, “but I have decided not to play in the Sun Bowl so I can begin my draft prep immediately.”

The announcement drew mixed reaction, including Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who wrote on Twitter, “I would do anything to play one more time with my brothers in that scarlet and gray.” Of course, he could’ve done that had he not left Ohio State early for the NFL.

No Michigan players appear to be considering a backout, all of Central Michigan’s stars attended Monday’s Miami Beach bowl — a 55-10 thumping by Tulsa — and no Eastern Michigan players were about to say no to the program’s first bowl bid since 1987, the Bahamas Bowl on Friday against Old Dominion.

Central Michigan coach John Bonamego deemed the trend as "selfish."

"Buying into the 'team' concept is important at every level, including the NFL," said Bonamego, who was an assistant coach at the NFL level, including with the Lions (2013-14), before becoming the Chippewas head coach in 2015.

"I could see the decision actually hurting the players' draft status with some teams. If the guy is playing through an injury, I could understand it."

There also is zero buzz about receiver Corey Davis — a possible first-round pick — or quarterback Zach Terrell missing Western Michigan’s Cotton Bowl against Wisconsin on Jan. 2.

“No rumblings for our guys,” Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck said in a text message. “I couldn’t really give my opinion really. (I) haven’t been put in that case. Nor have I been a first-round projected pick.

“We must walk in someone’s shoes before we judge them, and we aren’t able to do that.”

That’s not how most seem to see it, though — especially in the overly judgmental world that is the Twittersphere.

“I can’t accept players not playing in a bowl game to focus on the draft,” former Michigan tackle Jon Jansen wrote on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon.

“Some day they’ll wise they had (one) more. I do every day.”


Detroit News staff writer Tony Paul contributed