It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, with more bowl games in store. But the prettiest sight you’ll see, is the Baylor-UCLA game that will be, the Hoooooliday Bowl. Okay, so maybe “store” and “bowl” are slant rhymes at best, but I tried. The alternative would have been embedding Johnny Mathis’ insufferable version of that song and making you listen to it. Because I’ll do it.
I’ll do it.
It’s really the thick of bowl season as we know it. The number of viewing options a day are beginning to accumulate, complete with ACC and MAC teams you never watched in the first place. The randomness of many of the bowl locations are becoming apparent, as if playing in Charlotte, North Carolina, Washington, DC, or Detroit are worthwhile prizes that teams covet at Week 1. Still, it’s football. Now stick a candy cane in it and read what’s on the moving pictures box for you these next few days.
- Fresno State v. Southern Methodist [Sheraton Hawaii Bowl] (ESPN, 8:00pm ET). It’s Christmas Eve, which means the Hawaii Bowl assumes its rightful place as the harbinger of Christmas day. The matchup itself pits the Mountain West #2 vs. the Conference USA West #2, as best I can tell. What makes this bowl game more curious is Southern Methodist’s woeful record. Fresno State, under first year head coach and former A&M interim coach Tim DeRuyter, is 9-3 and co-champions of the Mountain West. Boise State got the bowl tie-in by virtue of a 20-10 victory in early October. Southern Methodist, under June Jones who desperately tried to bolt for another job this offseason, is 6-6. Some of the losses are real head-scratchers, punctuated by a 27-26 loss to Tulane (which won only one other game that entire season). The schedule included games against Texas Christian, Baylor, and Texas A&M (all losses), but that should not diminish the weirdness of that loss to Tulane, or getting pummeled by Rice, for that matter. This game might drag into a fourth hour as both teams like to fling it. Both Southern Methodist and Fresno State are 20th and 22nd respectively in pass attempts per game. The only problem for SMU is that the attempts haven’t neatly translated into a quality passing offense like Fresno State. The Ponies are 60th nationally in passing offense, putting them at 115th nationally in yards per attempt. That said, don’t tell that to Houston, which was obliterated by SMU this season, 72-42. Call it payback for the 91-21 demolition of Southern Methodist in 1989, which was SMU’s first season after the “death penalty”.
- Western Kentucky v. Central State Up North [Little Caesar's Bowl] (ESPN, 7:30pm ET). Want the peculiarities of this year’s bowl schedule exemplified in one bowl game? It might be this one. This should be the B1G TEN’s first foray into the bowl season. However, Ohio State and Penn State are on probation this year and only seven other B1G TEN teams have at least 6-6 records this year. The remaining B1G TEN teams are bumped up one, sometimes two, slots in order to compensate and the Little Caesar’s Bowl was left scrambling for a substitute. Thus: Western Kentucky. Further, the MAC representative this year is 6-6 on the season, 4-4 in conference play, and finished fourth in its own division. The combined record of the non-FCS teams Central Michigan beat this year is 12-48. This is hardly for fodder for a bowl game for a MAC squad. However, the cultural awakening of #MACtion in 2012 put Northern Illinois into the Orange Bowl and made even the most mediocre of MAC teams desirable for niche value and hashtagging. Can a 6-6 team with really no quality wins (and, no, beating Iowa doesn’t count) defeat Western Kentucky? It will have to hope the defection of Willie Taggart to South Florida means more than it probably does for the sake of this game.
- San Jose State v. Bowling Green [Military Bowl] (ESPN, 3:00pm ET). A MAC team from Bowling Green, Ohio, and a WAC team from San Jose, California, are playing a bowl game in RFK Stadium in Washington, DC. Bowling Green is a respectable 8-4 this season, and San Jose State put together a 10 win campaign, but I’d be astonished if there were much more than 2,000 tickets sold for this game. This is another bowl game that exemplifies the peculiarities of this year’s postseason. The Military Bowl is the last destination for the 8th bowl-eligible ACC team, which is supposed to play a service academy that rotates yearly. This year, it was supposed to be Army. However, Army finished 2-10 and bowl-eligible Navy and Air Force accepted bids elsewhere. Further, the ACC could not field eight bowl-eligible teams. Miami’s self-imposed bowl ban, to complement UNC’s similar ban, made only six teams from the conference eligible for the postseason. So, what is supposed to be a very regional bowl game becomes a game of regional curiosity. Smart money would pick the 10-win Spartans, but San Jose State’s coach just became Colorado’s coach this month.
- Cincinnati v. Duke [Belk Bowl] (ESPN, 6:30pm ET). Remember Duke fans trolling Ohio State fans during November’s basketball game about our bowl-ineligible season? Duke fans will have to send us a postcard from the Belk Bowl in scenic Charlotte, North Carolina. Duke’s participation in this game is no small feat. In a year where only six ACC teams will be playing in bowl games, Duke earned its way with a 6-6 season that fell off the rails immediately after Duke achieved the bare minimum of bowl eligibility with that 33-30 win over North Carolina. Thereafter, Duke proceeded to be put on blast for the remainder of its season, losing games to Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Miami, often by wide margins. Still, it’s Duke’s first bowl game since the 1994 season, which ended in a 34-20 loss to Wisconsin in the Hall of Fame Bowl. Opposite Duke is Cincinnati, one of four co-champions of the Big East. Again, we have our third straight bowl game featuring an interim coach, since Butch Jones is en route to Knoxville.
- Baylor v. UCLA [Holiday Bowl] (ESPN, 9:45pm ET). Is UCLA “back”? UCLA lost the Pac-12 Championship Game for the second straight season, but this time earned its way. The Bruins, long an afterthought in a city with college football attention deficit disorder, turned a 6-8 regular season last year into a 9-4 season this year. Only the 43-17 loss at California this year seems really out of place for the Bruins this year. What UCLA did to Nebrasky, Arizona, and Southern California is nothing short of impressive, albeit in different ways. The Bruins will still deal with a structural disadvantage of having a facilities that are outright prehistoric in a part of Los Angeles where land for development is a premium. But, if having a single 80 yard practice field didn’t preclude them from putting 600 yards of offense on Nebrasky, then I guess UCLA could hack it going forward. Opposite UCLA for this yearly Pac-12/Big XII treat is Baylor, who, for all intents and purposes, hasn’t missed the 2011 Heisman winner and #2 overall NFL draft pick at all. The Bears are 3rd in the country in passing offense and 5th in points. Last year with Robert Griffin III, the Bears were 4th in passing offense and 4th in points. The Bears are -2 in win differential from last year, but have that home upset of Big XII champion Kansas State that knocked the Wildcats from the national championship game and, essentially, sent Alabama to Miami. Row Tahd, Pawwwwl. This one should have a lot of points, and a lot of yards. So, get your popcorn ready.