COLLEGE FOOTBALL’S BOWL season is like a neighborhood garage sale. Everyone brings their crap, pretends it’s nice, then we get to pick through it for the good stuff. It’s a total mess, and we should be over it by now but we aren’t, so I guess it actually works.
College football is supposed to be ridiculous, like NBA refereeing. It’s what makes it fun.
So what if Boise State and San Diego State are joining the Big East, if Utah and Colorado aren’t in the Pacific Time Zone but they are in the Pacific-12, if Rutgers and Nebraska are now in the same conference? So what if there’s a Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas and a Belk Bowl and a MAACO Bowl Las Vegas?
Still, sometimes you get the idea that the people who run college football are daring us not to care. This is especially true in December. The old game somehow combines the most complicated team-rating system—an inscrutable MIT-level numbers-stew—with a soupy, arbitrary post-season that only occasionally clears anything up. The college football post-season is built to reward mediocre conferences (the Big East, the ACC) and teams (6-7 Georgia Tech is going to a bowl game) for their mediocrity, encourages good teams to play crappy schedules, and regularly announces as its best player (in a ceremony eerily reminiscent of the initiation scene from “Animal House”) a future NFL washout.
The one good reason we know the people who run college football aren’t just messing with us is because no one runs college football. In fact, it’s so out of control that ESPN (who might be accused of trying) featured commentator Kirk Herbstreit on its BCS selection show having a Rovian sad because the magic computer had selected outside Northern Illinois to play Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Herbstreit’s sadness was not mitigated even a little by the fact that humble NIU had finished higher than other BCS teams Wisconsin (not even in the Top 25) and Louisville, and will be a much more interesting opponent. He called Northern Illinois’s inclusion by the BCS “a joke,” but he didn’t get around to calling the BCS (or the Big East, or the year’s Big 10) a joke.
12/15 GILDAN NEW MEXICO BOWL, ALBUQURQUE, NEW MEXICO
Nevada (7-5) vs. Arizona (7-5)
Once upon a time, bowls were named for local commodities: We still have the Sugar Bowl and the Orange Bowl, and years past featured the Raisin Bowl, the Tobacco Bowl, even the Poi Bowl (Honolulu, 1/1/36: USC 38, Hawaii 6). Now, when a corporate sponsor’s name won’t do, a game just gets a location: the New Mexico Bowl, the New Orleans Bowl, the Hawaii Bowl (and there have been others: San Francisco, Seattle, Texas…there used to be Forth Worth Bowl). And you know what? That little meditation on bowl game nomenclature is as interesting as I can manage to be on the subject of this particular contest.
Suggestion: If “The Proposal,” starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, is on another channel, watch that. It’s not very good, but it has its moments, which this game will not.
12/15 FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL, BOISE, IDAHO
Utah State (10-2) vs. Toledo (9-3)
OK—now this is a bowl game. Don’t be fooled by the slate sky, the blue turf or the snow bulldozed to the sidelines, this is a high-grade post-season showdown featuring two attention-starved quality teams squaring off in a named-for-natural-resources football game. Utah State lost two games by a total of five points (and they would’ve beaten Wisconsin if they had a decent kicker). Toledo went 9-3, with losses to Arizona (in OT) and Northern Illinois. They were 8-1 at one point and ranked in the Top 25. (Bonus Fact: Toledo jumped from #12 to #8 in “Forbes” 2012 ranking of America’s Most Miserable Cities.)
Suggestion: How low on ESPN’s announcer totem-pole do you think you have to be to get this game? Tune in out of curiosity just to hear what the biggest sports network’s worst commentators sound like.
Prediction: The winner of this game will end up in the Top 25.
12/20 SAN DIEGO COUNTY CREDIT UNION POINSETTIA BOWL, SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
San Diego State (9-3) vs. BYU (7-5)
Sometimes you see banners behind a team’s end zone commemorating bowl appearances past: Bluebonnet Bowl 1966, All-America Bowl 1975, Freedom Bowl 1984, Dead bowls, but proud banners. You wonder what happened in those games, who was on those teams. I wonder if anyone’s hanging a galleryfurniture.com Bowl banner. Can you get the alumni excited about that good ol’ team that once made it all the way to the MPC Computers Bowl? Doesn’t even matter what those games are like—their memories are like a computer cord to an old Dell tangled around a pair of head phones that don’t work. But Poinsettia Bowl…ah, that is sports poetry. That’s a game you can tell your grandkids about…“Well, young man, that was the year we went all the way to the Poinsettia Bowl…”
Suggestion: Watch it. One of the only benefits of spastic conference realignment is that old rivals can meet up in the post-season. These two teams battled for decades in the WAC and Mountain West—they’ve got old scores to settle. Should be fun.
Prediction: SDSU scores in bunches, BYU has the third-best defense on the country. Good combo. Bad blood. High watchability.
12/21 BEEF O’BRADY’S BOWL, ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA
UCF (9-4) vs. Ball State (9-3)
Generally speaking, what would you put in something called a “Beef O’Brady’s Bowl”? Would you eat it?
Suggestion: Run a little experiment. At a holiday party this year, serve a bowl of something—anything—and tell people it’s a Beef O’Brady’s Bowl. Tell them it’s an old family recipe. See what happens. This exercise will be more entertaining than the game.
12/22 R+L CARRIERS NEW ORLEANS BOWL
Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) vs. East Carolina (8-4)
Prediction: This game is of such minimal consequence that when it is over, it will not be possible within a scientific certainty to prove that it ever happened.
12/22 MAACO BOWL LAS VEGAS
Boise State (10-2) vs. Washington (7-5)
This is Boise State’s annual reward for its comically weak schedule: A great record and a Vegas date with a so-so from a better conference. This will be their third trip in a row to this game. Last year they beat up on Arizona State, the year before they clobbered Utah, now they’ll eat up a demoralized Washington team still hurting from an Apple Cup loss to football-ish byproduct Washington State.
Prediction: A Husky loss will mean the Pac-12 is 0-2 in the early bowl season. Columnists up and down the coast will write sweaty-browed columns about the conference’s reputation hanging in the balance before any of its good teams have played their games. Pay them no mind.
12/24 SHERATON HAWAII BOWL, HONOLULU
SMU (6-6) vs. Fresno State (9-3)
So what does it mean to you that a team has made it to a bowl game? That it is good? SMU is a 6-6 team, with wins over lower-division Stephen F. Austin and should-be-lower division Memphis. They lost to Rice and Tulane, two teams that couldn’t beat each other. Fresno State deserves a better opponent but what do they care? They get a trip to Hawaii.
Anecdote: A cousin of mine moved to Fresno for a job. The first few times I asked him about it he grimaced, but a couple years ago at a family reunion he said, “We used to call it Fres-NO, but now we think of it as Fres-YES.”
12/26 LITTLE CAESARS PIZZA BOWL, DETROIT, MICHIGAN
Western Kentucky (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (6-6)
This is the first bowl game after the celebration of the birth of the Christian savior. Happy Birthday, God.
Suggestion: Render unto God what is God’s, render unto Little Caesar what is Little Caesar’s. (In other words, say a prayer and order a pizza—but don’t watch the game.)
Anecdote: Last week in an NFL game, I saw a punt returner point toward heaven before the kick. Then God made him fumble.
12/27 MILITARY BOWL PRESENTED BY NORTHROP GRUMMAN, WASHINGTON DC
San Jose State (10-2) vs. Bowling Green (8-4)
I’m as grateful as anyone for the sacrifice of the men and women of our armed forces, but doesn’t “Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman” sound a little Bulgarian/North Korean? The word “overkill” is itself overkill here, and probably inappropriate, but you can’t come after me for using overly lethal language when describing something that sounds like Stephen Colbert’s idea of making fun of the military-industrial complex.
Suggestion: If you’re going to stage a football game to honor our nation’s soldiers, have it be a good one. San Jose State vs. Bowling Green seems a little disrespectful.
12/27 BELK BOWL, CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA
Duke (6-6) vs. Cincinnati (9-3)
Can we just pretend this is a basketball game?
Suggestion: I don’t have any problem with corporate sponsorship of bowl games. If these people are putting up the dough, they deserve some recognition for it. But if your company is called “Belk”—a word with the approximate mellifluousness of “phlegm” and “booger”—maybe you could give us a little something extra to work with. The Venus Flytrap is North Carolina’s “Official Carnivorous Plant” (seriously)—how about the Belk Venus Flytrap Bowl? That sounds cool.
Prediction: Two days later, the Duke basketball team plays Santa Clara at home. More people will be at that game than this game.
12/27 BRIDGEPOINT EDUCATION HOLIDAY BOWL, SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
Baylor (7-5) vs. UCLA (9-4)
This column is getting way too long, isn’t it?
12/28 ADVOCARE V100 INDEPENDENCE BOWL, SHREVEPORT, LOUISIANA
Louisiana-Monroe (8-4) vs. Ohio (8-4)
Just how prestigious is the Independence Bowl, or for that matter any middling bowl opportunity? Well, let’s consider the case of Louisiana Tech, a solid 9-3 team that was in the BCS conversation no so very long ago. The Independence Bowl invited the Bulldogs to play UL-Monroe in an intrastate showdown that would’ve filled the stadium. Louisiana Tech, still nursing the wounds of some long-ago perceived slight at the hands of their Monrovian rivals, declined, preferring to await a more satisfactory invite. When nothing came, they just decided the season was over. All done. No bowl. Who cares.
Suggestion: We should all take a valuable lesson from Louisiana Tech’s experience. But I don’t know what it is.
Prediction: Believe it or not, here we have two pretty good teams. Each has a big win over a much larger foe (Arkansas, Penn State); Ohio was at one time 8-1. A watchable game.
12/28 RUSSELL ATHLETIC BOWL, ORLANDO, FLORIDA
Virginia Tech (6-6) vs. Rutgers (9-3)
12/28 MIENEKE CAR CARE BOWL, HOUSTON, TEXAS
Minnesota (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
Ignore these games.
12/29 BELL HELICOPTER ARMED FORCES BOWL, FORT WORTH, TEXAS
Air Force (6-6) vs. Rice (6-6)
Another Soviet-sounding exercise brought to you by a military contractor and featuring bad teams. At least one of the participants is a military academy, but sending zero winning teams to a celebration of our armed forces seems a little defeatist to me.
Slogan: The game is billed as “The Battle for Air Supremacy.”
Prediction: If you watch this game, the word “supremacy” will not enter your mind, even for a second.
12/29 KRAFT FIGHT HUNGER BOWL, SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
Arizona State (7-5) vs. Navy (7-4)
I liked it when football games regularly took place in baseball stadiums. It looked a little weird, as if maybe the field was skewed just a little to fit. A Browns game at Municipal Stadium was fun to watch, the players mucking around in the infield, the fans at acute angles. Last year’s Illinois-Northwestern game at Wrigley had the look of the wrong guy in a pair of skinny jeans, but you couldn’t quite look away. This game, at the Giants’ bayside ballpark, has some of that charm. Throw in Navy’s funky option offense and Arizona State’s maybe-they’re-great/maybe-they’re-horrible unpredictability and you’ve got one of the bowl season’s hidden gems.
Suggestion: Make the time.
Prediction: ASU builds a lead that a team that can’t pass the ball can’t overcome. 28-24.
12/29 NEW ERA PINSTRIPE BOWL, NEW YORK CITY
Syracuse (7-5) vs. West Virginia (7-5)
Like I said, it’s cool to have football games in baseball stadiums, but this one might go a little far: It’s got a baseball home (Yankee Stadium), a baseball hat sponsor (New Era), and a baseball name. They should divide it into nine innings.
Prediction: Someone sings “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” after the third quarter.
12/29 VALERO ALAMO BOWL, SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS
Oregon State (9-3) vs. Texas (8-4)
Finally, a bowl game in the truest sense: Two good teams, a city you want to go to, a game with a name you don’t have to apologize for—this, ladies and gentleman, is a football game.
Prediction: Oregon State beats Texas, in Texas, which is so off-putting to the State Troopers assigned to Texas’s coach that they refuse to escort him off the field at the end of the game.
12/29 BUFFALO WILD WINGS BOWL, TEMPE, ARIZONA
Michigan State (6-6) vs. TCU (7-5)
If there’s anything that goes with hot wings, it’s beer, and that’s a good thing for these two teams, because they’ve needed something to cry in this season. Both were expected to contend for conference titles this year, both were in the pre-season Top 25, both cracked the top 15 early on—and both collapsed. State rolls into Arizona 2-4 over its last six, TCU’s 2-5 over its last seven. The winner will thoroughly deserve a banner that says “Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Champions, 2012” to hide in a storeroom somewhere on campus.
Suggestion: Ignore the game, buy some wings.
12/31 FRANKLIN AMERICAN MORTGAGE MUSIC CITY BOWL, NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE
North Carolina State (7-5) vs. Vanderbilt (8-4)
Did you know that Vandy has no athletic department? Sports there is just another part of Student Life, overseen by a law professor. It’s been this way since 2003. When the president of the university made the decision, the alumni lost its Southern mind, wondering how on earth the Commodores could compete in the SEC without a jock bubble. Almost ten years later, their teams are better, GPAs are higher, and I just read a nice anecdote about a music school dean who teamed up with the baseball staff to recruit a tuba-playing outfielder. True story.
2007 NCAA Women’s Bowling Champions: Vanderbilt
12/31 HYUNDAI SUN BOWL, EL PASO, TEXAS
USC (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (6-7)
Two teams that belong in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Suggestion: We have a little leak in the roof that’s letting water drip into the house. Just had a roofer over—fortunately he doesn’t think we need a new roof, but he does think I need to get up there on a dry day and re-caulk a seam that wasn’t sealed all that well the first time. I think I’ll do that during this game. I suggest you find something equally useful to do. It will be a better use of time than this year’s Sun Bowl.
Prediction: A couple years ago, Oregon State beat Pitt 3-0 in this game on a long field goal in the second quarter. 75% chance that game will seem like a classic compared to this one.
12/31 AUTOZONE LIBERTY BOWL, MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE
Iowa State (6-6) vs. Tulsa (10-3)
When the Liberty Bowl debuted, in 1959, it was one of only nine bowls. That first game, between #11 Alabama and #14 Penn State (Penn State won 7-0) was such a commendable display of stout college football greatness that both teams moved up in the polls. A few nights ago on the radio I heard a story about how in 2005 Eastman Kodak was ahead of Apple on the Forbes 500. Now Eastman Kodak is bankrupt and Apple makes the world’s most popular camera that’s also a phone, a gaming device and an iPod, amongst about 87 other things. The only time I’ve ever been punched in the face, the last thing the guy said was “Things change fast, Wendt.” For the Liberty Bowl, things changed slow, but still too fast for them to keep up.
Suggestion: Don’t waste time on things that are dying.
Prediction: In two years, this will just be called the AutoZone Bowl, and in another couple years it will move to Orlando and get another new name when AutoZone bails and then no one will remember that the Five Dollar Foot Long Bowl used to be one of the greatest days on the college football calendar.
12/31 CHICK-FIL-A BOWL, ATLANTA, GEORGIA
LSU (10-2) vs. Clemson (10-2)
Used to be the Peach Bowl. Used to care.
Suggestion: As a rule, don’t use your gooey-chicken-sandwich fortune as a platform for your hang-ups with gay marriage. It’s your right, but it’s unseemly.
Prediction: Tigers by 7.
1/1 HEART OF DALLAS BOWL, DALLAS, TEXAS
Purdue (6-6) vs. Oklahoma State (7-5)
From the game’s website: “Heart of Dallas will leverage the power of sports and entertainment to fuel bold social change and to inspire the next generation of Dallas leaders.”
Prediction: Oklahoma State will leverage the power of a superior offense to fuel a bold scoring output that will depress the next generation of Purdue fans.
1/1 TAXSLAYER.COM GATOR BOWL, JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA
Northwestern (9-3) vs. Mississippi State (8-4)
I’m looking into having this game cancelled.
1/1 CAPITAL ONE BOWL, ORLANDO, FLORIDA
Georgia (11-2) vs. Nebraska (10-3)
Georgia just lost a close game to Alabama that would’ve sent them to the National Championship Game. Nebraska is coming off a 70-31 humiliation at the hands of an unranked team in the Big 10 title game. The records look comparable, but don’t be fooled—Georgia’s in a different class.
Prediction: Nebraska doesn’t lose often, but when they do they really do (they lost 63-38 to Ohio State; last year they lost this very game 30-13 to South Carolina). Expect a basketball-like score in Georgia’s favor.
1/1 OUTBACK BOWL, TAMPA, FLORIDA
South Carolina (10-2) vs. Michigan (8-4)
It would be nice to make fun of this game, which features a boomerang-shaped football in its logo, but sometimes the right thing to do is take the high road. This is one of those times. I hate to say it, but this is a good matchup. The well-coached gunslingers of South Carolina against the Big 10 people-movers (and their exciting quarterback) from Michigan is a quality football game. There. I said it.
Suggestion: Drinking game: Knock one back every time one of the announcers calls SC coach Steve Spurrier “the ol’ ball coach.” You’ll be drunk by the second quarter, which is the only way you can stand listening to that kind of faux-insider down-home BS.
Prediction: South Carolina pulls away in the second half to win by two touchdowns.
1/4 AT&T COTTON BOWL, DALLAS, TEXAS
Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2)
Once upon a time, the Cotton Bowl was one of the games that could decide the national champion. It put Joe Montana on the map, when Golden Joe led Notre Dame to a national title with a win in the 1978 game. This year, no championships on the line, but the Cotton Bowl is back. The #9 and #11 teams in the land, former SWC/Big 12 rivals, some dude whose nickname is Johnny Football—sounds like a Must-See TV to me.
Prediction: If A&M can beat Alabama, they can beat Oklahoma. It’s the only game on January 4th—set out some week-old cocktail nuts and pour yourself the last glass of egg nog. This one should be old-time Cotton Bowl good.
1/5 BBVA COMPASS BOWL. BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA
Pitt (6-6) vs. Ole Miss (6-6)
1/6 GODADDY.COM BOWL, MOBILE, ALABAMA
Kent State (11-2) vs Arkansas State (9-3)
The BBVA Compass Bowl’s tagline is “Southern Hospitality. Serious Football.” Larry the Cable Guy is the guest speaker at the GoDaaddy.com Bowl’s Pre-Game Mayor’s Luncheon. Avoid both games at all costs.
AND NOW, A BRIEF CONSIDERATION OF THE BCS GAMES, ALL OF WHICH ARE SPECIAL BUT NOT ALL OF WHICH ARE GOOD.
1/1 ROSE BOWL GAME PRESENTED BY VIZIO, PASADENA, CALIFORNIA
Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5??? Yes, 8-5)
You know those nights when you and your significant other think it might be nice to catch a movie but it’s already 8 so you’ve already missed the early start times and then you look up the movies and there’s nothing you’re willing to stay up late for so you think maybe you’ll check Netflix and you aren’t thrilled with the options so you just end up going to bed early? Welcome to the 2013 Rose Bowl.
1/3 TOSTITOS FIESTA BOWL
Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1)
When I was a kid there was a weekly column by an LA Times writer called “The Bottom 10,” tracking the worst teams in college football. Why my local paper, The Oregonian, carried it I don’t know—Oregon and Oregon State were in it just about every week. I don’t know when it ended exactly—probably around the time the Ducks and the Beavers played to their infamous rain-soaked turnover/missed-field-goal-riddled 0-0 tie in the 1983 Toilet Bowl (OSU was 2-8 going in, UO was 4-6). After that there probably just really wasn’t any point. You know who else regularly darkened the Bottom 10? Kansas and Kansas State. The idea back then that these could be the two most exciting teams in the game, the football equivalents of the adrenaline plunger scene from “Pulp Fiction,” was about as expectable as a black president and an NBA Finals featuring teams with mighty-mite youth soccer names like “Heat” and “Thunder,” but…things change fast, man.
ALLSTATE SUGAR BOWL, NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Florida (11-1) vs. Louisville (10-2)
In “Hostel 2,” a hateful despicable rotten movie you should never see, there’s a scene in which a guy is followed into an elevator by a pair of giant maniacal dogs. The doors close, the elevator descends, a few seconds late the doors open and the dogs leave a blood-spattered elevator car. Louisville, you’re elevator has arrived.
1/1 DISCOVER ORANGE BOWL, MIAMI, FLORIDA
Florida State (11-2) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1)
Karl Rove: But my brain has three electoral votes, and I’m casting them for my candidate, which means he is now the president.
Megyn Kelly: No Karl. Your brain has no electoral votes, and even if it did it wouldn’t be enough.
Rove: Excuse me? Yes it would. I know the real math, Megyn. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I know what I’m talking about. Dick Cheney said I had my own electoral votes. He said I could decide the president.
Kelly (rolls her eyes): Hey, Kirk Herbstreet. You want to weigh in here?
Kirk Herbstreet: Oklahoma is a BCS team. That’s what my eyes tell me. It’s all about the eye test. My eye test. I don’t need Karl’s numbers or anyone else’s numbers. Northern Illinois isn’t a BCS team. No way. It’s a joke.
Kelly: But, Kirk, you know how the BCS works.
Herbstreet: The BCS works how I say it works. I’m with Karl on this one. Ohio’s not a blue state if Karl says it’s a red state, and Northern Illinois doesn’t go to the Orange Bowl unless or until I say so. I never played against Northern Illinois. I don’t even know what that is. Is that a community college?
Kelly: But the computer…it says Northern Illinois is better—like a lot better—than Wisconsin, Louisville—
Herbstreet: Screw it. I can’t work in an environment like this. Karl, you want to go get a beer? Let’s go get a beer.
Rove: Can we toast Romney?
Herbstreet: You better believe it. See ya, Megyn. Call me.
1/7 DISCOVER BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, MIAMI, FLORIDA
Notre Dame vs. Alabama
In 1930, Notre Dame and Alabama each finished undefeated and shared a national title. Look how far we’ve come.