34 Things You Need To Know About The Bowls

Staff Columnist
Posted Dec 6, 2009

Some of Sunday's freshly-minted bowl matchups won't generate excitement or interest, but for the ones that do, here's a heaping platter of football thoughts to feast on as you create your bowl viewing schedule and map out picks for your confidence pool.

Mr. Zemek's e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com

34) The SEC and Big 12 meet the Sun Belt and Conference USA. When Middle Tennessee State takes on Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl (Dec. 20), the offensive gurus will bring high-level expertise to a lower-tier tussle. Middle Tennessee offensive coordinator Tony Franklin worked last year at Auburn before Tommy Tuberville grew impatient with him, while Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora spent time earlier this decade as the offensive coordinator at both Florida and Oklahoma State. As an added bit of intrigue, guess where Fedora served as offensive coordinator from 1999-2001? Yup--Middle Tennessee.

33) Number of bowls Temple has played in throughout its history as a program: 2.

32) Number of bowls Idaho has played in throughout its history as a program: 1.

31) Number of bowls Temple, Idaho and SMU have played in since the 1985 season: 1.

30) Poinsettia poignancy.
One year ago at this time, Andy Ludwig was preparing to game plan for Alabama. The offensive coordinator for the 2008 Utah Utes had just found out that his team would take on the credentialed Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. Now, in 2009, Ludwig is the offensive coordinator for Jeff Tedford at Cal. Wanna take a stab at the Golden Bears' bowl opponent in San Diego? Yessiree, it's Ludwig's former boss, Kyle Whittingham, and his Ute movement, complete with freshman quarterback Jordan Wynn. It will be an emotional reunion when this Western clash commences just before Christmas.

29) Just in case you missed it, Michigan State's not in good shape. A Nov. 22 brawl on the MSU campus involved a number of Spartan players and led to 10 disciplinary actions by coach Mark Dantonio. Two players were kicked off the team, and eight young men - including starting defensive back Chris Rucker and receivers Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham - were suspended for the Alamo Bowl against Texas Tech. This event has cast a pall over the program. Adjust your thinking accordingly.

28) Miami men will reunite in Charlotte. In 1987, the Miami Hurricanes won a national championship with help from defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt and defensive line coach Butch Davis. When their shared mentor, Jimmy Johnson, took the Dallas Cowboys' head coaching job following the 1998 season, Wannstedt and Davis assumed the same positions in Big D. When Wannstedt signed on as head coach of the Chicago Bears in 1993, Davis filled in for Wanny as the defensive coordinator for Dallas.

These two men know each other inside and out, and now - as Wannstedt's Pitt pupils prepare to take on Davis's North Carolina kids in the Meineke Bowl - they'll face off in the postseason. This will be one of the more intriguing coaching confrontations the bowl season has to offer.

27) Shootout in Shreveport? Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson torched Texas's defense for 439 total yards in the Aggies' 49-39 loss to the Longhorns on Nov. 26. Georgia's rushing attack gobbled up 339 yards of real estate in a Nov. 28 win against a Georgia Tech team that - like Texas - is a conference champion and BCS bowl participant. The A&M-Georgia encounter in the Independence Bowl figures to be rich in entertainment value (unlike last year's game between Louisiana Tech and Northern Illinois).

26) Too good to be fabricated. Tennessee and Virginia Tech met in the 1994 Gator Bowl game, usually played in Jacksonville but relocated elsewhere due to special circumstances. Back in 1994, the old and venerable Gator Bowl stadium was undergoing renovation so it could house the NFL Jaguars, who were in the process of being birthed at the time.

Just where was the most recent edition of Vols-Hokies staged? The Swamp. That's right - Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, on the University of Florida campus, hosted the Children of the Checkerboard and an up-and-coming Hokie squad quarterbacked by Jim Druckenmiller.

Who was the leader of Tennessee's offense on that night in Gainesville, Fla. Why, it was none other than a freshman named Peyton Manning. Yes, he did win a game at the Swamp, as Tennessee cruised to a 45-23 win over the Hokies.

This leaves only one question, though: What would Lane Kiffin think of playing a bowl game at the Swamp? What would he do in that town while Urban Meyer flew to a different bowl location?

25) Rematch Alley, Part I. Kentucky and Clemson played in the 2006 Music City Bowl. Kentucky - with a better, more stable quarterback situation and a lad named Andre Woodson - topped the Tigers, 28-20. UK's not as settled under center this time around, giving Dabo Swinney's team an edge in Nashville.

24) Rematch Alley, Part II. Arizona and Nebraska met in the 1998 Holiday Bowl, claimed by the Cats in a 23-20 thriller. That game marked one of the two transcendent moments in Arizona football history, the other being a 29-0 whitewash of Miami in the 1994 Fiesta Bowl.

The architect of those "Desert Swarm" smackdowns, Dick Tomey, recently announced his retirement as a college head coach. A well-traveled football lifer who built the Hawaii program and helped Mack Brown as an assistant with Texas, Tomey - now 71 - stepped down from his position as the San Jose State boss. He'll likely be watching this contest with interest; it will bring back some of the very best memories of a distinguished coaching career.

23) Rematch Alley, Part III. Houston and Air Force will meet in the Armed Forces Bowl for the second straight season, and for the third time in two seasons (they met in the 2008 regular season). This is akin to the dynamic inherited by Wake Forest and Navy; the Demon Deacons and Midshipmen played three times over the course of the past two seasons as well. The difference is that Wake and Navy played twice in the regular season and once in a bowl; the Cougars and Falcons are more bowl-heavy in their battles.

22) Rematch Alley, Part IV. Oklahoma State and Ole Miss met in the 2004 Cotton Bowl. A fellow named Eli Manning - 22-of-31 for 259 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception - had a little to do with Mississippi's triumph in a sun-kissed Cotton Bowl stadium that no longer hosts this classic postseason pageant.

Cowboys Stadium is the new location for this honored event, which will give the Rebels a small but meaningful edge. Ole Miss, you see, attended last year's Cotton clash in the old ballpark, so the move to JerryWorld enables Houston Nutt's team to treat the trip as a novel occurrence. Bowl games are all about psychology and hunger; because Mississippi's men will be excited to play in a gleaming gladiatorial arena, they should retain enough of an emotional spark to get past the collegiate Cowboys from the Big 12.

21) Houston's "half-century" hoedown. Missouri beat Navy and 1960 Heisman Trophy winner Joe Bellino, 21-14, in the 1961 Orange Bowl. Nearly 50 years later, the Tigers and Midshipmen face off in the Texas Bowl, in a delicious duel defined by contrasting styles.

Navy's cornerbacks - Kevin Edwards and Blake Carter - were able to contain Notre Dame receivers Golden Tate and Michael Floyd earlier in the year. They'll get another tough assignment in this game, as they'll have to corral NFL-bound senior Danario Alexander. Missouri, meanwhile, will have to contend with Navy's tricky triple option. This is a game that merits an extended viewing.

20) Irresistible force, immovable object, you know the drill. Stanford running back Toby Gerhart leads the nation with 1,736 rushing yards. Oklahoma's run defense ranks seventh in the country, allowing an average of just under 89 yards per game. Something's gotta give in the Sun Bowl. Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck will have to throw the ball to loosen up OU's back seven and thin out the tackle box for Gerhart. If Luck can't hit a hot streak, the Sooners will cash in - and then cash out - in El Paso, Tex.

19) Coaching crossroads. Connecticut's Randy Edsall is widely seen as a man who's been a really good coach for a long time, but hasn't received much national notice until this year, when the death of UConn cornerback Jasper Howard thrust Edsall into the spotlight. On the other hand, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier is viewed in some precincts as a man who "used" to be an excellent coach for many years, and is now on the downside of a legendary career. Two detail-oriented leaders will match wits in the PapaJohns.Com Bowl, making a no-tradition bowl a high-value television attraction.

18) Remember the Alamo, Auburn. Northwestern was a double-digit underdog last year in the Alamo Bowl against quarterback Chase Daniel and Missouri, so imagine the Tigers' surprise when the Wildcats jumped them in the first half and carried a 23-20 lead into the final three minutes of regulation. Missouri was able to kick a tying field goal and then win in overtime, 30-23, but coach Pat Fitzgerald sent a message: Underestimate Northwestern at your utmost peril.

The athletes from Evanston, Ill., have a knack for looking unimposing and then stealing an opponent's thunder after 60 minutes of action. If Auburn isn't careful, a trip to the Outback Bowl will produce a painful experience for first-year Tiger coach Gene Chizik.

17) Coincidental, but fascinating. The last season in which Iowa made the Rose Bowl - 1990 - was also the last season Georgia Tech won the national championship. There you go, Orange Bowl fans.

16) When opposites attract and attack. East Carolina's Skip Holtz - his father's son, to be sure - relies on defense and the kicking game. Arkansas boss Bobby Petrino is a clever play-calling customer. Pirates-Hogs provides a pleasantly diverse assortment of football tendencies, thereby allowing the Liberty Bowl to sing more than it normally does.

15) They don't lose to cupcakes. LSU's 2009 losses came at the hands of Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss. Meanwhile, Penn State fell to Iowa and Ohio State. The outcome of Tigers-Lions (no, there are no bears in Orlando) won't just reveal the winner of the Capital One Bowl; the result shall tell us a lot about the relative strength of the SEC and Big Ten.

The 10 best non-BCS bowls, the ones you'll want to make time for, are as follows, in ascending order of quality:

14) Poinsettia -- Utah-Cal.

13) Las Vegas -- Oregon State-BYU.

12) Independence -- Texas A&M-Georgia.

11) PapaJohns.com -- Connecticut-South Carolina.

10) Holiday -- Arizona-Nebraska.

9) Texas -- Navy-Missouri.

8) GMAC -- Central Michigan-Troy.

7) Chick-Fil-A -- Virginia Tech-Tennessee.

6) Champs Sports -- Miami(FL)-Wisconsin.

5) Sun -- Stanford-Oklahoma.

4) Formidable foes.
Cincinnati has receiver Mardy Gilyard; Florida counters with cornerback Joe Haden. The Bearcats offer No. 15, quarterback Tony Pike, he of the 21-point comeback against Pittsburgh on Dec. 5; the Gators respond by submitting their own No. 15, one of the greatest and most iconic players in college football history. (We don't even need to mention his name, it's that obvious.) UC is led by Brian Kelly, heavily courted and thought about by Notre Dame. UF's sideline sultan is Urban Meyer, heavily courted and thought about by Notre Dame. Gee, Cincy-Florida should bring some fireworks to the dance.

3) The past is prelude in the Fiesta Bowl. Eye-popping numbers from last year's Boise State-TCU bowl battle: Yards: 472-250, TCU; turnovers: two each; first downs: 28-15, TCU; touchdown passes thrown: none; interceptions thrown: three; final score: TCU 17, Boise State 16.

2) A Rose without USC's name smells very sweet. With USC no longer in the Rose Bowl after a four-year lock on the game, Oregon becomes the new face of the Pac-10 on New Year's Day afternoon in the Arroyo Seco. This gives the Ducks a chance to make a name for themselves, but far more importantly, UO's emergence will enable a Big Ten champion to pull into Pasadena free from the looming, haunting questions that have normally surrounded opponents of the Trojans during the Pete Carroll era.

A great deal of prestige is on the line in this run for the Roses. If Ohio State wins, people around the nation will say that the Pac-10 is still USC and the nine dwarfs. If Oregon wins, Ohio State's reputation will take a considerable tumble, and the Big Ten will know that its Pasadena problem reaches far beyond one program in Los Angeles.

The Rose Bowl stadium hosts a remotely important game on Jan. 7, but six days earlier, the Bucks and the Ducks will stage a showdown that will cast a long and interesting shadow over a team, a conference, and a season of college football.

1) S-E-C goes to C-A-L-I, courtesy of B-C-S. In older days, the Rose Bowl game invited teams from beyond the Big Ten and Pac-10 conferences. The last SEC team to play early-January football in the shadows of the San Gabriel Mountains was none other than Alabama, in the 1946 game against USC.

The last time a national title was decided in the Granddaddy - or the stadium attached to it - Texas brought its tradition to the West Coast and college football's most revered postseason site. Four years later, the Longhorns - victors over USC in a momentous 2006 classic - will make a return pilgrimage to the Saturday home of the UCLA Bruins.

Yet, if Texas fans are returning to the scene of the shrine, it's the Bama caravan that will bring the Tide into town on a wave of even greater ecstasy. It's been 64 years since Alabama last played a January game on the hallowed turf of the Rose Bowl. How appropriate it is, then, that on a stage made for the history books, two tradition-rich programs - who warred in the classic 1965 Orange Bowl (Texas, 21-17, on a late goal-line stand) and the contentious 1982 Cotton Bowl (Texas, 14-12, on two fourth-quarter touchdowns) - will square off for another piece of immortality?

History lives and breathes at all times in college football, but never so freely or fully as it does in the Rose Bowl. Texas and Alabama are fitting dance partners for the latest Granddaddy get-together.