34 Things You Must Know About The Bowls
Virginia Tech QB Tyrod Taylor
A list of 34 notable highlights, fascinating facts, and intriguing possibilities on display in the wake of the official announcement of the 34 FBS bowl matchups.
34) This year's Gator Bowl is a rematch of the 1982 Orange Bowl. Clemson beat Nebraska, 22-15, to win the national championship under coach Danny Ford. A good 27 years later, the Tigers and Huskers will once again play in Florida on New Year's Day, but this time, the city is Jacksonville and not Miami. These are two proud programs looking to climb back to the top. The brand-name identity of the schools, especially Nebraska, makes this contest interesting.
33) This year's Peach (err, uhh, Chick-Fil-A) Bowl is a rematch of the 2000 game played in Atlanta. Eight years ago, LSU--coached by a fellow named Nick Saban--defeated George O'Leary and Georgia Tech, 28-14. On that night, the Tigers used a bowl win to catapult themselves into a 2001 season that brought Saban his first SEC championship. This season, it's the Yellow Jackets who, under Paul Johnson, might very well be able to use Atlanta as a springboard to a conference title the following year.
32) The Holiday Bowl, long known as one of the most consistently entertaining non-BCS bowl games, has a matchup true to its history. Remember BYU winning shootouts in the 1980s? Recall Barry Sanders running wild in 1988? Were you watching when Major Applewhite led Texas to an incredible comeback win over Washington in 2001? Yes, this bowl—just 30 years old—has delivered fireworks and surprises in its comparatively brief life. This year, Oklahoma State—averaging 41.6 points per game—takes on an Oregon outfit averaging 41.9 points a contest. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
31) The last three Sun Bowls have averaged 81 points. This year, Pittsburgh and Oregon State offer stud running backs and two men who have been NFL head coaches, Dave Wannstedt and Mike Riley. Panthers-Beavers in El Paso rates as a quality TV view.
30) The best under-the-radar coaching matchup in this bowl season will take place in Canada. Randy Edsall of Connecticut and Turner Gill of Buffalo squeeze maximum production from the talent at their disposal. This alone makes the International Bowl intriguing.
29) The Meineke Car Care Bowl involves a reunion of sorts. North Carolina coach Butch Davis used to study West Virginia when his Miami teams played in the Big East Conference. The Mountaineers, for their part, had a regular ACC adversary in Virginia Tech over the past few seasons. On Dec. 27, a Carolina coach and a Big East school will reconnect with portions of their past.
28) Dud rematch No. 1: The Armed Forces Bowl. Air Force and Houston played an ill-advised game in September, instead of waiting a few months to do things right. The Falcons and Cougars played in Dallas on a morning when Hurricane Ike was ripping through Texas. Now, these two teams will play in Fort Worth. Why?
27) Dud rematch No. 2: The inaugural (and quite possibly the last) EagleBank Bowl. Pray tell, why would organizers of a new bowl produce a repeat of an ugly regular-season contest in which Navy beat Wake Forest? The Demon Deacons committed a ton of turnovers, while the Midshipmen—as is customary these days—overachieved. Navy has nothing to gain from this game, and Wake Forest can't exactly be overjoyed.
26) Notre Dame deserves kudos and congratulations, and no, that's not a sarcastic statement, either. In the 1990s, the Fighting Irish refused to accept an Aloha Bowl bid, despite the fact that--during the same decade—they accepted a spot in the 1995 Fiesta Bowl with a 6-4-1 record, and snapped up a 1992 Sugar Bowl invite despite a 8-3 record. Now that Notre Dame has agreed to play in the Hawaii Bowl, it seems that a mindset of fair play is reappearing at the program. It's good that the Irish are respecting the spirit of collegiate athletic competition. The fact that the school also treated Charlie Weis fairly only adds to ND's stature as a place that lives up to its noble ideals.
25) The Champs Sports Bowl is a battle of generations. When Florida State's Bobby Bowden matches wits with Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, a bowl game will witness one of its largest age differences in terms of the head coaches involved. Bowden is 79, Bielema 38. That's 41 years.
24) Hot pizza and hot football will be talked about in Birmingham later this month. The PapaJohn's.com Bowl will serve up more than pepperoni and sausage. This postseason newbie will offer Rutgers, owner of a six-game winning streak, and an N.C. State club that has won four straight contests. These aren't sexy programs, but you might want to order a pizza and see this battle in Alabama.
23) If you don't have NFL Network, don't worry. The two bowl games broadcast on the niche cable network, which doesn't enjoy good market penetration at this point (but might soon become a mainstream entity if the Obama administration has its way with the Federal Communications Commission), aren't worth the time. Rice has two all-time-great players in Chase Clement and Jarett Dillard, but a matchup with the third-place team in the MAC West doesn't provide too much of a "wow" factor in the Texas Bowl. The other NFL Network bowl game is the Insight, in which Kansas—fresh from the exhilarating upset of Missouri—should whip a reeling Minnesota team that has lost stamina, resolve and identity.
22) You won't need to abandon or truncate your New Year's Eve party schedule in order to watch the Cotton Bowl this year (thank goodness!). The Weekly Affirmation has always been a fan of the Cotton Bowl, the one legendary bowl game in college football history that has sadly lost its stature over the years. One of the reasons for this classic's diminished appeal has been its absurdly early (10:15 a.m. in Dallas) kickoff time on New Year's Day. In 2009, however, football fans can catch the Cotton Bowl Classic on Jan. 2 at 2:10 p.m. Eastern, 1:10 p.m. in Dallas. As was the case in 2004, Ole Miss will be the SEC team playing in a Friday afternoon Cotton Bowl. Whereas the Rebels played Oklahoma State five years ago, this assemblage of Mississippi men will tackle Texas Tech.
21) GMAC stands for "Great Men Aiming (for) Completions." When Tulsa and Ball State play in a very appealing GMAC Bowl matchup on Jan. 6, you'll see two of the very best non-BCS conference quarterbacks in the United States. David Johnson and Nate Davis should light up the scoreboard and rev up the engines in this high-octane encounter.
The best non-BCS bowl games: 20) GMAC – Tulsa v. Ball State; 19) International – Connecticut v. Buffalo; 18) Papa John's – Rutgers v. N.C. State; 17) Gator – Clemson v. Nebraska; 16) Meineke Car Care – North Carolina v. West Virginia; 15) Outback – Iowa v. South Carolina; 14) Chick-Fil-A – LSU v. Georgia Tech; 13) Sun – Pittsburgh v. Oregon State; 12) Holiday – Oklahoma State v. Oregon; and…
… 11) Poinsettia – Boise State v. TCU. When Ball State lost the MAC Championship Game, this encounter became the undisputed non-BCS conference blockbuster of the bowl season. Bronco coach Chris Petersen—after the masterpiece against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl—has to be given a great deal of respect. He'll have a tremendous game plan ready for the Horned Frogs, who—though 10-2—lost to Oklahoma in Norman and came agonizingly close to beating Utah in Salt Lake City. Had kicker Ross Evans not biffed two easy kicks (and Evans was a Lou Groza semifinalist, it should be noted), TCU—and not the Utes—would have won the Mountain West Conference and found itself playing Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Given the fire-breathing nature of TCU's defense, led by the overwhelmingly athletic Jerry Hughes, Petersen's going to have to have to come up with something special.
There you have it: It's the brainy Boise boss against TCU's talented toughs. Offensive creativity comes up against defensive dominance. Irresistible force, meet immovable object. Yum, yum, gimme some. Let's get it on in San Diego!
10) If Alabama gives a hoot, Utah's finished… but if not? The Sugar Bowl comes down to one thing, and one thing only: Will Alabama really care about this game? The Tide just got knocked out of the national title tilt and failed to claim an SEC crown. That's a big double-whammy to bear for a team that has been known to go through the motions in letdown games against inferior opposition. (See Kentucky, Ole Miss and Tulane this year.) But as last year's Sugar Bowl showed, an SEC heavyweight—when playing with passion and purpose—will break the little guy's bones to bits. Georgia laid down a frightfully fierce and physical performance against Hawaii, and the Warriors limped off the Superdome field, one by one, as the game continued. Utah has a lot of pluck and spunk, but the Utes did not play heavyweights outside the Mountain West Conference. Tackling Bama in a dome packed with Crimson Tide fans represents a big ask for Kyle Whittingham's crew. If Bama brings its best, game over. If the Tide sulk or sag, then we'll have a fight to the finish line.
9) The biggest wild card in the BCS bowls is Cincinnati. With Virginia Tech, you know what to expect, for better or worse. Tyrod Taylor will scramble a bit, Darren Evans will run a bit, Bud Foster will coach up his defense, and the Hokies will score a modest amount of points but not get absolutely dismantled. With Brian Kelly's Bearcats, it's very hard to predict what Cincy squad will show up on New Year's night in Miami. Will this be the team that sleepwalked through three quarters in Hawaii? Will this be the team that scored 19 fourth-quarter points to win Saturday night on the island? Will quarterback Tony Pike be clear-headed and confident, or will the Bearcats have quarterback issues due more to health than anything else? Will the Big East champion soar or sink in its first taste of an event as prestigious as the Orange Bowl? If you want to get a good feel for Hokies-Bearcats, you'll need to gauge the Cincy side in the days before kickoff.
8) Nick Saban will make his third Sugar Bowl appearance this decade when Alabama takes on Utah in New Orleans.
7) Jim Tressel will make his fourth Fiesta Bowl appearance this decade when Ohio State meets Texas in Tempe.
6) The Fiesta Bowl is an interesting matchup, but not an entirely fresh one. There's this small matter of a home-and-home series played by Ohio State and Texas in the 2005 and 2006 seasons. A guy named Vince Young—ever heard of him?—led the Longhorns to victory in Columbus in '05, while a fellow named Troy Smith went into Austin the following year and brought the Buckeyes a bold breakthrough deep in the heart of Texas. This Fiesta fistfight therefore marks the third meeting between these proud programs in the past four seasons. Ohio State-Bama and Utah-Texas, while enabling fans to travel shorter distances and thereby save both money and fuel in these difficult economic times, would have also created sexier matchups.
5) OSU-Texas does one good thing for humanity: It will prevent the tired Big Ten-SEC storyline from being repeated in the weeks before the Fiesta Bowl. Bucks-Horns won't be decided by speed. It will be decided by intelligence, and more specifically, the wisdom of Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Jim Tressel's prized pupil will encounter a tough, smart Texas defense coached up by the superb coordinator, Will Muschamp. The celebrated Buckeye freshman will have to use his practice time wisely, because he'll need to be supremely prepared for the formidable challenge awaiting him in suburban Phoenix. If Pryor can use his speed to outrun the Horns without having to outthink them, Ohio State could have a big night in Glendale. But if Pryor can't bust loose with his legs, it's likely that Texas will take this tilt. Colt McCoy isn't likely to lose this game; Pryor will need a primo performance to lift his teammates over the top.
4) Joe Paterno's record at Penn State from 1968-1974: 71-9, three perfect seasons, six New Year's Day (Cotton/Sugar/Orange) bowl games, 5-1 bowl record.
3) Pete Carroll's record at USC from 2002-2008: 81-9, one perfect season, six BCS bowls (not counting the 2009 Rose Bowl), 5-1 BCS bowl record.
2) In the first BCS-era national title game to be played in Miami (2001 Orange Bowl), a Florida school offered a reigning Heisman Trophy winner in Chris Weinke, while Oklahoma countered with the Heisman runner-up, Josh Heupel.
1) In the second BCS national title game contested in Miami (2005 Orange Bowl), the last two Heisman Trophy winners met. Take those last two facts and let your imagination run wild as you contemplate the potential backdrop to Florida-Oklahoma on January 8.