FROM NASSAU TO HAWAII: BREAKING DOWN THE 38 BOWL GAMES (AS PLAYOFF AWAITS)
‘Tis the Holiday season already. For Christmas cookies, egg nog, Auld Lang Syne, plans for New Year’s resolutions -- and bowl games.
Plenty of bowl games.
More bowls than ever: Thirty-eight, in fact.
I remember just 20 years ago there were only 17 bowls and a team needed at least a 7-4 record to get invited to a lesser bowl, such as the good ol’ Independence or Sun Bowls. Hard to believe, but even some 8-3 teams were shut out back then.
Now if you finish 6-6 you are bowl eligible. And this season, 14 bowl teams have lost at least six games. One, Fresno State, even has a losing record (6-7) and had to receive a special NCAA waiver to play in a bowl.
This bowl season, as usual offers much intrigue, however, as it struggles to remain relevant next to the inaugural College Football Playoff.
From the oldest bowl – the Grandaddy of Them All enters a new era as part of the playoff – to the newest (Boca Raton, Miami Beach and Bahamas Bowls)…
From Annapolis to Hawaii and in between…
From Saturday December 20 to January 4…
From teams such as Louisiana-Lafayette to Alabama…
The four-team playoff (Ohio State-Alabama and Florida State-Oregon) may have grabbed all of the attention this college football season, but the bowls will grab center stage before New Year’s Day.
Here are a few highlights and lowlights as we rundown all of the bowls: As of today, six teams will be without their head coach, who has either been fired or moved on to greener pastures; Nine Big Ten teams are in bowls and nine are underdogs, including two of the largest point spreads (Maryland +14 vs. Stanford and Ohio State +10 vs. Alabama); On the other side, of 12 bowl teams, the powerful SEC is favored in nine bowls and an underdog in three;
And as I do annually, I rate them on the five-star rating for matchups: *Dog game; **Somewhat watchable; ***Good game; ****Must see; *****The Best College Football Has to Offer.
So here we go…
R+L Carriers Bowl
*New Orleans, Nevada (7-5) vs. UL Lafayette (8-4), Sat., Dec. 20 / 11 a.m., ESPN
THE SKINNY: The Ragin’ Cajuns have played in only three bowls in history – all the New Orleans Bowl – and have won all three. Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo has passed for more than 9,000 yards and run for more than 3,000 yards in his career.
THE LINE: Louisiana-Lafayette -1.
Gildan New Mexico
*Utah State (9-4) vs. UTEP (7-5), Albuquerque, N.M., Sat., Dec. 20 / 2:20 p.m., ESPN
THE SKINNY: Jamiell Showers, who lost the QB job at Texas A&M to Johnny Manziel two years ago, has been steady for the Miners. He’s committed only one turnover in the past seven games. Utah State, the other Aggies, lost nine starters to injury this season, including three quarterbacks. UTEP hasn’t won a bowl game since 1967.
THE LINE: Utah State -10.5.
Royal Purple Las Vegas
**(22) Utah (8-4) vs. Colorado State (10-2), Las Vegas, Sat., Dec. 20 / 3:30 p.m., ABC
THE SKINNY: Have to wonder how the Rams will respond to losing Jim McElwain as head coach. Quarterback Garrett Grayson passed for 3,779 yards and 32 touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin was named interim coach and may land the permanent job. The Utes played mostly close games throughout the season – win or lose.
THE LINE: Utah-4.
Famous Idaho Potato
*Western Michigan (8-4) vs. Air Force (9-3), Boise, Idaho, Sat., Dec. 20 / 5:45pm ESPN
THE SKINNY: Call it the Improvement Bowl -- Air Force improved from a 2-10 season; WMU from a 1-11 season. The Broncos have never won a bowl, sporting an 0-5 record while the Falcons have lost five of their past seven bowl games.
THE LINE: Western Michigan -1.
Raycom Media Camellia
*South Alabama (6-6) vs. Bowling Green (7-6), Montgomery, Ala., Sat., Dec. 20/ 9:15 p.m. ESPN
THE SKINNY: Can’t think of a less attractive matchup. Two six-loss teams battling in the cold weather of Alabama. It’s also South Alabama’s first-ever bowl game in its third season of FBS football. Follow this thread: Bowling Green beat Indiana, which beat Missouri, which beat South Carolina, which beat Georgia, which beat Auburn, which beat Ole Miss, which beat Alabama.
THE LINE: South Alabama -2.5.
Miami Beach Bowl
**BYU (8-4) vs. Memphis (9-3), Miami, Mon., Dec. 22 / 2pm ESPN
THE SKINNY: Played in the new Florida Marlins’ stadium, the first time a football game has been played on the old Orange Bowl site in 10 years. The Cougars haven’t been the same since losing quarterback Taysom Hill to a broken leg.The Tigers, on the other hand, had one of the best turnaround seasons in college football. With a win, Memphis can win its seventh straight game for the first time since 1969 and its first 10-win season since 1938!
THE LINE: Memphis -1.
Boca Raton Bowl
***Marshall (12-1) vs. Northern Illinois (11-2), Boca Raton, Fla., Tue., Dec. 23 / 6 p.m. ESPN
THE SKINNY: A dandy matchup for the inaugural Boca Bowl, to be played in Florida Atlantic’s 32,000-seat stadium. There will be plenty of offense from two decent teams. Marshall QB Rakeem Cato has set all kinds of records this season, passing for 3,622 yards and 37 touchdowns. But the Herd lost 67-66 to Western Kentucky in the 12th game and then played poorly in escaping Louisiana Tech. The Huskies were very impressive in routing Bowling Green in the MAC Championship Game.
THE LINE: Marshall -10.5.
San Diego County CU Poinsettia
**Navy (7-5) vs. San Diego State (7-5), San Diego, Tue., Dec. 23 / 9:30 p.m. ESPN
THE SKINNY: Both teams will feel at home in the old Jack Murphy Stadium (the only stadium ever named after a sports writer). Navy is playing in its fourth Poinsetta Bowl and will have plenty of Midshipmen in the stands while it is the home stadium for the Aztecs, who have won their last nine in a row over the service academies. Navy’s Keenan Reynolds leads the triple-option offense, which gave Ohio State troubles in the season-opener.
THE LINE: San Diego State -2.
*Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Western Kentucky (7-5), Nassau, Bahamas Wed., Dec. 24 / Noon, ESPN
THE SKINNY: Spicy chicken in the Bahamas! The players had to scramble to get their passports in order for this out-of-the-country bowl. And a noon kickoff on Chirstmas Eve to boot! WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty led major college football with 4,344 passing yards. These two teams met in the Little Caesar’s Bowl two years ago in Detroit, with Central Michigan winning by three points.
THE LINE: Western Kentucky -2.5.
*Fresno State (6-7) vs. Rice (7-5), Honolulu, Wed., Dec. 24 / 8 p.m., ESPN
THE SKINNY: Lose more games than you win and earn a trip to Hawaii? Talk about landing on your feet for the Bulldogs. Not a bad bowl trip for two mediocre teams, even if it is played on Christmas Eve. What are the odds that two teams which each started the season 0-3 could make a bowl matchup? About a million to one. Watch it for the scenery – of the islands.
THE LINE: Pick ‘em.
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas
**Illinois (6-6) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-4), Dallas, Fri., Dec. 26 / 1pm ESPN
THE SKINNY: The Illini were sitting at 4-6 and Tim Beckman was as good as fired before they upset Penn State and Northwestern to save his job and earn a bowl bid. La Tech won six of its final seven and narrowly lost to Marshall in the Conference USA title game.
THE LINE: Louisiana Tech -6.
*Rutgers (7-5) vs. North Carolina (6-6), Detroit, Fri., Dec. 26 / 4:30 p.m. ESPN
THE SKINNY: When you watch the Scarlet Knights play, you really have to wonder how they won seven games. And they upset Maryland on the road in the final game, too. It was a tough welcome to the Big Ten, as Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State each clobbered the Knights. UNC had a truly up-and-down season, too, losing 70-41 to East Carolina, but whipped rival Duke 45-20 – on the road – and then suffered a 35-7 upset loss at home to NC State. Neither of these teams can play much defense.
THE LINE: North Carolina -3.
Bitcoin St. Petersburg
**N.C. State (7-5) vs. Central Florida (9-3), St. Petersburg, Fla., Fri., Dec. 26 / 8 p.m. ESPN
THE SKINNY: The Knights are coming off a Hail Mary win over East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference title game. NC State, after starting 3-0 and then losing four straight seem to have straightened things out and played their best football down the stretch, winning three of the last four and clobbering rival UNC 35-7 at Chapel Hill in the season-finale. Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett has been brilliant at times at QB and sloppy at others.
THE LINE: Central Florida -1.5.
***Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6), Annapolis,, MD Sat., Dec. 27 / 1pm ESPN
THE SKINNY: Two teams that played Ohio State. The highlight of the Hokies’ season was the shocking 35-21 win in Columbus, before the wheels fell off. Va Tech rallied to beat rival Virginia to extend their bowl streak to 22 consecutive seasons. Tommy Tuberville’s Bearcats, meanwhile, were blown out in the second half by the Buckeyes 50-28. It’s a matchup of great defense (Hokies) versus a wide-open offense (Bearcats).
THE LINE: Cincinnati -3
MORE TO COME...
Last Updated (Thursday, 18 December 2014 03:49)