Breaking down the 35 college bowl games


SEATTLE – Some holiday traditions just don’t seem to go away. You know, like fruitcake, atrocities in the shopping aisles on Black Friday, and an ESPN-generated manifest of postseason college football that runs almost to Presidents Day. This year, we have something called the Belk Bowl in Charlotte. That’s not to be confused with the bilk bowls, in which schools are held to ticket allotments in a down economy, while some bowl executives pull down half-million-dollar salaries. A look at the bowl season that starts Saturday, in all its 35-game, overstuffed glory.

New Mexico Bowl: Temple (8-4) vs. Wyoming (8-4), Dec. 17: Bowls are getting to be old hat at Temple, which also got to the postseason in 1934, 1979 and 2009. Wyoming’s 115th-ranked run defense will be tested.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Ohio (9-3) vs. Utah State (7-5), Dec. 17: Humanitarian Bowl, we hardly knew ye. The Bobcats are a maiden in bowl games at 0-5, but Utah State isn’t much better at 1-4.

New Orleans Bowl: Louisiana (8-4) vs. San Diego State (8-4), Dec. 17: The Ragin’ Cajuns are in their first bowl. Aztecs had a ho-hum season, but RB Ronnie Hillman (1,656 yards) is the real deal.

Beef O’Brady’s: Florida International (8-4) vs. Marshall (6-6), Dec. 20: Marshall is somehow bowling despite giving up 98 more points than it scored, but defensive end Vinny Curry is legit, with 21.5 tackles for loss. FIU had a school record for wins.

Poinsettia: TCU (10-2) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-4), Dec. 21: TCU, which failed to score 30 only once, narrowly missed a BCS bid and tumbled. Tech caught fire and won its last seven.

Las Vegas: Arizona State (6-6) vs. Boise State (11-1), Dec. 22: Here’s a cheery holiday quote from ASU safety Eddie Elder to, on Vontaze Burfict’s benching last month and bowl playing time: “Everyone that wants to play is going to play, and the cancers on the team are going to sit down.”

Hawaii: Nevada (7-5) vs. Southern Miss (11-2), Dec. 24: Nevada owes the islands one, after losing to SMU 45-10 as a 12-point favorite in ’09. Southern Miss torched Houston’s unbeaten season and BCS bowl shot, 49-28.

Independence: Missouri (7-5) vs. North Carolina (7-5), Dec. 26: Apropos of nothing, in the last five Tar Heel bowls, they haven’t been a favorite or underdog by more than two points. They’re a bigger ‘dog this time.

Little Caesars: Western Michigan (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6), Dec. 27: Western Michigan, hunting its first bowl win in five tries, put up 63 on Toledo and 68 on Akron in November. Purdue mostly got schooled by the elite Big Ten teams.

Belk: North Carolina State (7-5) vs. Louisville (7-5), Dec. 27: If you must know, Belk is a Southern department-store chain. N.C. State led the nation in intercepted passes (24) as did its All-America corner, David Amerson (11).

Military: Toledo (8-4) vs. Air Force (7-5), Dec. 28: The bowl fetes the Falcons, but Toledo is the story here. On consecutive November weeks, the Rockets lost 63-60 and won 66-63.

Holiday: California (7-5) vs. Texas (7-5), Dec. 28: If I were Cal coach Jeff Tedford, I’d want to know two things: Did Mack Brown have to campaign for Texas in 2004, which pushed the Longhorns into the Rose Bowl and a 10-1 Cal team out of the BCS? And how is it possible Texas is 6-11 in Big 12 games the past two years?

Champs Sports: Notre Dame (8-4) vs. Florida State (8-4), Dec. 29: Two teams that envisioned bigger things. The Irish have WR Michael Floyd’s bloated career numbers (3,645 yards, 36 TDs). Florida State’s strength is scoring defense, fourth nationally (15.2).

Alamo: Baylor (9-3) vs. Washington (7-5), Dec. 29: Of all the Baylor numbers, here are the most gaudy: The Bears average 10.9 yards per pass attempt and 15.1 per completion. Chris Polk would tell you Washington’s 67th-ranked run offense is deceiving.

Armed Forces Bowl: Brigham Young (9-3) vs. Tulsa (8-4), Dec. 30: Tulsa has scored 170 points in winning its last three bowls, BYU 96 over its last two.

Pinstripe: Rutgers (8-4) vs. Iowa State (6-6), Dec. 30: How to get to a bowl: Iowa State allows six points per game more than it scores, it has turned the ball over 32 times, has only 17 sacks, and the QB, Steele Jantz, has a 109 passer rating.

Music City:  Nashville, Mississippi State (6-6) vs. Wake Forest (6-6), Dec. 30: Mississippi State, ranked No. 20 before the season, had a disappointing year but stitched together a bowl team by beating four non-BCS schools, plus SEC bottom-feeders Kentucky and Ole Miss.

Insight: Oklahoma (9-3) vs. Iowa (7-5), Dec. 30: This is the Landry Jones Reclamation Project, as the Oklahoma QB, still widely projected as a first-round pick, threw no TD passes with five interceptions over his last three games.

Meineke Car Care of Texas: Texas A&M (6-6) vs. Northwestern (6-6), Dec. 31: The Oh-Well extravaganza. A&M, preseason ranked eighth, got Mike Sherman fired. Northwestern fronted a Heisman campaign for QB Dan Persa but he was hurt in the first three games. Plus, A&M has lost its last five bowls, Northwestern its last eight.

Sun: Georgia Tech (8-4) vs. Utah (7-5), Dec. 31: Tech is the worst thing to hit bowls since mandatory ticket buys, having lost six straight. Utah’s All-Pac-12 linemen Star Lotolelei and Derrick Shelby face the No. 3 rushing offense.

Liberty: Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6), Dec. 31: Cincy tied for the NCAA lead in sacks with 43. Vandy got to its fifth-ever bowl under first-year coach James Franklin, a graduate assistant in 1998 under Mike Price at Washington State.

Kraft Fight Hunger: Illinois (6-6) vs. UCLA (6-7), Dec. 31: Illinois comes in with a six-game losing streak, during which it allowed only 21 points per game. UCLA gave up 110 points more than it scored. Both fired their coaches.

Chick Fil-A: Auburn (7-5) vs. Virginia (8-4), Dec. 31: Where else can you get inside information like this? Auburn has won its last four bowls by three points each. And Virginia’s last three bowls have been decided by three.

Ticket City: Houston (12-1) vs. Penn State (9-3), Jan. 2: The Nittany Lions had better hope their fifth-ranked scoring defense (15.7) can stop Houston’s No. 1 offense (50.8), because Penn State QBs combine for a 49.9 completion percentage.

Outback: Michigan State (10-3) vs. Georgia (10-3), Jan. 2: The motivational edge goes to State, which has lost five straight bowls, including 49-7 to Alabama last year, and three years ago, to Georgia and Matt Stafford. A matchup of two stout defenses.

Capital One: Nebraska (9-3) and South Carolina (10-2), Jan. 2: South Carolina is 4-12 all-time in bowls, loser of its last three, and Steve Spurrier no doubt recalls 1995, when his 12-0 Florida team lost 62-24 to Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl.

Gator: Ohio State (6-6) vs. Florida (6-6), Jan. 2: Remember when this day was reserved for teams with good records? Little-known fact: Both Ohio State (20-22) and Michigan (19-21) have losing bowl histories.

Rose: Wisconsin (11-2) vs. Oregon (11-2), Jan. 2: This should be big fun. Ducks scored 600 points, while Badgers’ total defense is eighth nationally. Oregon has LaMichael James, Wisconsin Montee Ball, and Badgers’ Russell Wilson has a 31-3 TD-interception ratio. Wisconsin has a ridiculous 61 TDs in 70 red-zone trips.

Fiesta: Stanford (11-1) vs. Oklahoma State (11-1), Jan. 2: Imagine this: Stanford’s opponents actually threw fewer interceptions (6) against the Cardinal than Andrew Luck (9). But Oke State’s Brandon Weeden threw 12 in an otherwise prolific offense that averaged 49.3 points.

Sugar: Michigan (10-2) vs. Virginia Tech (11-2), Jan. 3:- Remind us again why Tech, which this week was having trouble filling its ticket allotment of 17,500, is here rather than Boise State and Kellen Moore? Michigan has two 1,000-yard rushers in QB Denard Robinson and RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, and Tech has David Wilson’s 1,627 yards.

Orange: West Virginia (9-3) vs. Clemson (10-3), Jan. 4: After an 8-0 start, Clemson has been flighty, losing three of its last five by double digits. Meanwhile, West Virginia won its last three by a total of seven points.

Cotton: Kansas State (10-2) vs. Arkansas (10-2): Not that Bill Snyder has had a big impact on K-State, but the school’s all-time bowl record is 6-8, and he’s 6-6. Somehow, the Wildcats have been outgained by 664 yards. Except for the Alabama and LSU games, Arkansas was held out of the 30s only once.

BBVA Compass: Pitt (6-6) vs. SMU (7-5), Jan. 7: The story line is more Arizona State than either team, as SMU’s June Jones thought he had a deal to become Sun Devils coach, and instead it went to Todd Graham, who bolted Pitt. Arkansas State (10-2) vs. Northern Illinois (10-3), Jan. 8: Wonder if, as Bear Bryant was winning Orange Bowls to clinch national championships, he ever thought there would be a Bowl? Arkansas State went unbeaten in the Sun Belt. Northern Illinois QB Chandler Harnish ends worthy career with his fourth straight bowl.

BCS title game: Louisiana State (13-0) vs. Alabama (11-1), Jan. 9: Both teams’ fingerprints are all over the top defensive numbers. How incongruous is it for a game of this magnitude that LSU’s total offense ranks 75th? Most analysts have four ‘Bama players projected for the first round of the 2012 draft. The guess here is that in a real shootout (well, comparatively), ‘Bama gets the Tigers in the rematch, about 20-13.