Get Ready to be Bowled Over

by John Furgele

They say it’s the most wonderful time of the year, and if you like college football, it’s time for holiday cheer and bowling.  Truth be told, most college football fans would prefer a 16 team playoff and a few bowl games, but that’s never going to happen anytime soon.  And, if it does, there may still be some bowl games left for those teams that don’t qualify for the playoff.

ESPN certainly enjoys bowl games.  As it is called in the business, these bowl games provide inventory and the more inventory ESPN has the more they charge cable TV companies who in turn, can charge you more money.  One would hope that more broadcast companies would get involved, but that’s not likely to happen, although Fox Sports 1 may eventually throw some money into the mix.  Currently, there are only three bowl games not on ESPN:  the Sun (CBS), Capital One (ABC) and Cotton (FOX).  Once again, because Disney owns ABC and ESPN, it is a deliberate effort to move these games from free to cable TV. Even the Rose Bowl, which vowed to stay on free TV, moved to ESPN.  The reason:  inventory.   In the end, it doesn’t matter, but I’ll throw a little nostalgia by remembering the 1970s and 1980s, when ABC had the Sugar; CBS the Cotton; and NBC the Rose and Orange, all on January 1.  It also is peculiar that CBS, which broadcasts SEC games, the best conference in the nation, only has the Sun Bowl.  One would think that the network would want more involvement than just that game.

There are 35 games to choose from, and the best thing about most of these games is that they provide good background noise at holiday parties, present wrapping and taking down holiday decorations.   In the end, does it really matter if the 8-4 Houston Cougars beat the 8-4 Vanderbilt Commodores in the BBVA Compass Bowl?  Probably not, but if you’re just sitting around, why not watch some of it?

There are some interesting games out there, and unfortunately there are too many 6-6 teams participating.  I just don’t understand how finishing 6-7 and saying you played in a bowl game is a good thing?  To me, finishing 6-6 means you should be home, preparing to not finish 6-6 in 2014, not going to a bowl game.  But, it is what it is and with 70 of the 128 FBS teams qualifying, it isn’t easy to make sure everybody has a winning record.

The Las Vegas Bowl is certainly an intriguing matchup between one loss Fresno State and the somewhat resurgent Southern California.  The question is the motivation level of the Trojans.  One would think they would be fired up, but you never know.  As for Fresno State, they were a few points away from an undefeated season, and they will want to prove themselves against a BCS team.

The next bowl of intrigue is the Poinsettia Bowl which is played in beautiful San Diego.  Northern Illinois played in the Orange Bowl last year and went 12-0 before getting thumped by Bowling Green in the MAC Championship.  Their quarterback Jordan Lynch has been a terrific college player and he’ll get one more chance to impress the pro scouts (both NFL and CFL).  Utah State is a mid-major program on the rise; they gave Fresno State all they could handle in the MWC title game.

The Fight Hunger Bowl pits a pair of 8-4 teams with BYU taking on Washington.  BYU is an independent, so they treat every game the same way and Washington will play the game without Steve Sarkisian who left for USC.  These teams have played each other in the past, and though they’re not Notre Dame, BYU does have some sort of national following. Of course, when I think of BYU in bowl games, I harken back to the Holiday Bowl shootouts and of course, the Mizlou Television Network.

The Russell Athletic Bowl on paper looks like one of the best 2013 games as 11-1 Louisville plays 9-3 Miami at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando.  Most think Teddy Bridgewater will be off to the NFL after this game, and it will also be Louisville’s last game in the American Athletic Conference.  Next year both Miami and Louisville will be ACC members.

The Alamo Bowl will be the final time that Mack Brown coaches the Texas Longhorns, and he will face the high octane Oregon Ducks, who despite finishing 10-2 showed they were a bit soft.  This will be a tough matchup for Texas because they haven’t done well against two speed offenses they’ve played this year, Baylor and BYU which ran like crazy on the Horns.

The last bowl game of 2013 is an eye catcher with Duke facing Texas A&M.   The Aggies will showcase the 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, likely for the final time, while Duke, at 10-3 surprised everybody by winning the ACC Coastal Division and securing a place in the ACC Championship.   The game is in Atlanta and because bowl games are rare for the Dukies, one has to believe that alums are making plans to spend New Year’s Eve in Atlanta.

In addition to these games there is some new blood this year, which is one reason why college football bowl games can be fun. It’s always great to see a new team get to go bowling. Rice is one of those teams. As Conference USA champions, there was genuine excitement in their locker room when they were extended an invitation to play in the Liberty Bowl. Other teams that haven’t been to bowls in recent memory include the Buffalo Bulls (Potato), Tulane Green Wave (New Orleans against in-state rival Louisiana-Lafayette); Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (Armed Forces), and both UNLV Rebels and North Texas Mean Green in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, played at the Cotton Bowl.

As mentioned earlier, January 1 used to be reserved for the old four: the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Cotton Bowl.  The Fiesta Bowl used to be played on December 25, but eventually moved to January 1.  The Cotton Bowl then lost its status as an elite bowl, but still played on New Year’s Day.  Now, there are six games on New Year’s Day, but only two (Rose and Fiesta) of the big ones.  This will change next year with the introduction of the College Football Playoff with two of the big four serving as CFP semifinals.  The CFP title game will be played a week later at what used to be Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.  That will be an interesting time for sure, but for now, settle in and get ready to bowl, 35 games worth.

Your arm will only be sore from using the remote.

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