From the Sidelines: Perusing the NCAA bowl picture

Published 10:51 pm Tuesday, December 9, 2008

It seems that the greatest argument for a college football playoff system would be the bowl games themselves. Not only are these things almost unwatchable at times, they are largely the most meaningless games of the season. However, a lot of them are good for a laugh. And, if nothing else, they get some exposure for some smaller programs and players who otherwise would receive little to none.

So, in the spirit of college football’s most inane season, let’s go bowling and take a look at some of the most obscure and intriguing matchups of the next month.

– The magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl — This one deserves attention less for its matchup, which is Memphis against South Florida incidentally, but more for its name. The sponsor, magicJack, markets a telephone service that is supposed to use the home computer to cut down on expensive long-distance calls. Fair enough. The St. Petersburg part is self explanatory as the game will take place on Dec. 20 in St. Petersburg, Fla. However, the game would likely be much more interesting if it were played in St. Petersburg, Russia. In fact, Myles Brand should jump on that one. It’s a gold mine in the making.

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– The Champs Sports Bowl — This game features a decent contest between a 7-5 Wisconsin team and an 8-4 Florida State squad. While its Big Ten tie-in makes it largely uninspiring as a game, the real problem with this bowl comes in that it is the Champs Sports Bowl. It is no longer the Champs Sports Citrus Bowl. If the NCAA is truly as concerned with preserving college football’s tradition as it claims, then it should keep around the old standby bowl games such as the Citrus Bowl or the Peach Bowl, which is now known as the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

– The R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl — Alright, so this one is actually a fairly interesting game. Perennial Conference USA sleeper Southern Miss will take on Troy. After being snubbed by bowl selecters last season, the Trojans get an opportunity to prove their worth in front of a national audience. The good news for the New Orleans Bowl folks is that the crowd from Hattiesburg will travel well and the Trojan faithful will likely crank up is road support after their beloved team failed to get an invite to the party last season. Keep in mind, however, that the last time Troy visited the state of Louisiana, it botched a 31-3 halftime lead to lose to LSU.

– The Bowl — The complaint with this one is easy. A dreadful matchup of North Carolina State and Rutgers aside, why is this thing the Bowl? Why not just the Papa John’s Bowl? Who orders pizza over the internet? Really? And how does a bad football game played on a Monday afternoon make people want to order pizza over the internet?

– The Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl — First off, the name of this thing makes me snicker like an adolescent every time I read it. That’s the best sponsor they could find? That notwithstanding, Vanderbilt is in the postseason action for the first time in my life time. Way to go Commodores! Let’s just hope they bring the defense that got them off to a hot start and not the one that limped down the stretch. The good knews for Vandy fans, aside from the game being a virtual home contest, is that Matt Ryan is no longer Boston College’s quarterback and, no matter what happens in the game, Bobby Johnson should be able to write his own ticket for finding any kind of success in Nashville.

– The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl — Most of my friends chuckle at references to this bowl. Apparently they think I am kidding when I say it is a real bowl. Nonetheless, college football’s most obscure bowl has a good game this year. It gets to host an undefeated Boise State team whose invite to the BCS reception apparently got lost in the mail. The Broncos will seek to take out their frustrations on the No. 11 Horned Frogs of TCU. With 22 wins between them, this could be one of the best games of the postseason.

– The Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl — The Air Force half of this game makes sense. However, why is Houston in this game? Doesn’t it stand to reason that Navy, who is facing Wake Forest in the EagleBank Bowl, would make for a much more logical opponent?

– The Insight Bowl and The Texas Bowl — These two are notable for the same reason. They will both be aired on NFL Network. The fact that NFL Network is not available from the vast majority of cable providers seems counterproductive to the intent of gaining exposure for these programs. The games, by the way, are Rice against Western Michigan in the Texas Bowl and Kansas against Minnesota in the Insight Bowl.

– The Sheraton Hawaii Bowl — So this bowl was created simply to give Hawaii a place to play each year. But what is odd about this year is the team who is traveling to face the Warriors. That would be none other than Notre Dame. Despite its pride, tradition and refusal to allow its football team to compete in a conference, Notre Dame is playing in a pretty humbling bowl game. Given this Christmas Eve affair, can we officialy say the mystique has worn off of Charlie Weis?

– The Chick-Fil-A Bowl — See above reference to note my beef about the name as, per CFA’s advertising campaign, there is absolutely no beef allowed at this game. The contest itself is pretty promising. Georgia Tech will stay at home in Georgia to take on LSU. The Bayou Bengals, despite having a down year at 7-5, are still the reigning national champions and always travel well. So the Yellow Jackets and Tigers should make for an entertaining cap to the year New Year’s Eve night.

– The Rose Bowl — I do not like to acknowledge the fact that this thing is now officially “The Rose Bowl Presented by Citi.” But, to point out the sheer money-grubbing absurdity of the system, I will acknowledge that. This is an intriguing contest. Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions emerge from a dreadful Big Ten conference to take on the Pac-10’s only relevant program, USC. Both teams enter at 11-1 and have strong arguments for the need for a playoff system. Ironically, the Rose Bowl has long remained as the biggest obstacle to such a system.

– The FedEx Orange Bowl — This game deserves a look for one reason and one reason only. It pits Cincinnati against Virginia Tech. What better case could be made against the absolute lunacy that powers the BCS? In what universe are the Bearcats and Hokies a tasty New Year’s Day treat?

– The AT&T Cotton Bowl — This actually should be a very good game. Even though it is ludicrous that Texas Tech is playing in this exhibition rather than three nights later against Texas in the Fiesta Bowl, the Cotton Bowl got its matchup right by taking Ole Miss over Georgia. Houston Nutt’s 8-4 Rebels knocked off soon-to-be national champion Florida and have earned the right to be featured on a big-time stage.

– The Allstate Sugar Bowl — Apparently the new trend for the BCS is to punish undefeated non-BCS conference teams by sending them to the Sugar Bowl to be pummeled by hacked off SEC squads. See last season’s New Orleans Massacre in which Georgia routed Hawaii 41-10 and assaulted quarterback Colt Brennan in a manner that would have been felonious in any other venue. Expect much of the same this go-round for the Utes.

– The International Bowl — This game is actually noteworthy for a few reasons. First of all, it is played in Toronto. For those scoring at home, that’s in Canada. That means it isn’t in the United States. That means that the bowl is aptly titled. Go figure.

It also pits Buffalo against Connecticut. While the game is almost completely uninteresting, it will have a good subplot. Buffalo coach Turner Gill is a prime candidate for the Auburn vacancy.

The game is also being played on Jan. 3. Remember the days when it was something special to get a bowl game in January? Yeah. The powers-that-be in college football apparently don’t.

– The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl — Texas, who has a legitimate gripe about being left out of the National Championship, deserves its spot. That is more than can be reasonably stated for the Longhorns’ next victim. There is apparently a little known BCS by-law that dictates Ohio State be given the opportunity to embarrass itself against a superior opponent from a better conference on a national stage every January. That is the only logical reason for allowing in a two-loss team who was on the short end of a 35-3 trouncing against USC earlier this season instead of an undefeated Boise State program that provided one of the most memorable bowl games in BCS history the one and only time it was allowed to crash the party.

– The FedEx BCS National Championship Game — As hard as it is for many to root for either team, this should be a very good game featuring the likely winner and probably runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow will both put on a show as the SEC looks to once again establish its dominance en route to a third straight national title. And, while there is a lot of reason to not like how we got to this point and even quibble about who gets the chance to play for the crystal football, it would be difficult to come up with a better matchup to round out the college football season.