Bowl season is upon us, and there are only a few hours left to lay in your supplies. So read quick, sports fans, and hit that supermarket before Saturday morning rolls around and finds you unready.
As previously mentioned, Saturday launches with a bang when our Inner Circle fave Nevada Wolf Pack descends in full howl on New Orleans, to take on Louisiana-Lafayette in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. Nevada comes in 7-5 to the Ragin’ Cajuns’ 8-4, but of course Nevada is Mountain West to the Cajuns’ Sun Belt, so the Pack is giving a weensy little 1 in the line.
Wolf Pack QB Cody Fajardo is healthy and the ULL run defense stinks on ice, so there’s good potential for gratifying fireworks. 10:00 AM Central for the kickoff.
The Inner Circle rides again Saturday afternoon (evening, for the East coast contingent) when Air Force meets Western Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise. This one will convene on the Smurf Turf – always a visual challenge – with the 8-4, much-improved WMU Broncos giving 1.
Our next Inner Circle bout meets on Tuesday evening in Qualcomm Stadium, where Navy (7-5) will go head to head with San Diego State (7-5) in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.
Although the weather in SoCal is predicted to be idyllic, there’s always the possibility that the weather in some of the other bowl garden spots will be ever so slightly better, so we won’t claim victory just yet.
LU Nation sports fans will remember the Aztecs as the MWC West runner-up: the team that lost out to Fresno State for the division title, but, in the ineffable way of the MWC West, came out with a better W-L record than the Bulldogs at the end of it all. They bring an excellent all-around RB in Donnel Pumphrey, and the hometown-crowd factor, to their give of 2.5 in the line.
Navy has more appearances in the Poinsettia Bowl – four – than any other team, and will hope to avenge a 2010 loss to SDSU in their most recent outing. But Navy’s important job for the year is complete: thumping Army one more time.
These Inner Circle bouts take us through the week; the next one will be on Saturday the 27th when Virginia Tech meets Cincinnati. We’ll preview that one, and the follow-on Booger Bowls, next week.
In the meantime, the rest of the bowl fare is scrumptious, starting with Utah State (9-4) and UTEP (7-5) in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Saturday, coming to us from Albuquerque. The Aggies are giving 10, for good reason.
#22 Utah will play Colorado State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, which for two years running now has been OFF our list of Bowls With The Most Annoying Names. The 8-4 Youths give only 2.5, bettors apparently respecting the 10-2 Rams’ horns, even after the season-finale loss to Air Force. Utah DE Nate Orchard will be his usual lively self; it remains to be seen how CSU will perform with head coach Jim McElwain’s move to Florida already announced.
South Alabama and Bowling Green round out Saturday with the first-ever Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama. For those keeping track, the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl is a brand spanking new Booger Bowl – not one of those cheap, warmed over, renamed Booger Bowls you see so many of. (It’s unconnected in any way with the old Camellia Bowl playoff for the pre-Div II ranks, which ended in 1980. A nice bit of trivia related to that other Camellia Bowl, however, is that Oklahoma’s former Central State University – now the University of Central Oklahoma – won it in 1962, beating Lenoir-Rhyne 28-13.)
The new Camellia Bowl features a Sun Belt and a MAC team, in this case the 6-6 Jaguars and the 7-6 Eagles. South Alabama gives 2, and although we’re high on BGSU, we figure the oddsquad has this one right.
Monday brings us a single bowl in a featured afternoon slot – and one of those venues that will give San Diego a run for its money. BYU (8-4) and Memphis (9-3; new motto: “Who knew?”) will meet in the Miami Beach Bowl, another brand spanking new bowl no one has ever played before. This one will be held in Marlins Park, which in our view just prompts the question why they don’t have the darn thing on a cruise liner and be done with it.
In a jarring disturbance of the space-time continuum, Memphis is giving – yes, we said giving – 1.5 in the line.
Miami artist Lebo is designing the cover for the game program, which apparently is the sort of thing they worry about in Miami. Samples of his oeuvre can be found here.
On Tuesday, the warm-up act for Navy-SDSU will be Marshall and Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl (I did warn you that there were a lot of highly competitive sweet-weather venues out there in the Booger Bowl jungle). This one is yet another brand spanking new bowl, and begins to make us long for the days of those bowls that changed names and cities every year, but still purported to maintain a “tradition.”
If you can’t have tradition, however, you sure might as well have Boca Raton. Plus, you’ll get to see two conference champs collide: 12-1 Marshall of C-USA and 11-2 Northern Illinois of the MAC. The Herd’s giving 10 but we expect the Huskies to cover.
Wednesday the 24th brings our true weather-off for the bowl season. The first game of the day will feature Central Michigan and Western Kentucky, both 7-5, in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl in Nassau, Bahamas (official name: The Why-Didn’t-We-Think-of-this-Before Bowl). Frankly, the MAC has got a lot of explaining to do.
No bowl game can divert to the Caribbean without prompting a reference to the much-lamented Bacardi Bowl, which long-time aficionados of The Optimistic Conservative Football Commentary Service have commemorated in previous years. The Bacardi Bowl was held intermittently in Cuba between 1907 and 1946, and if there’s any good thing that can possibly come from the POTUS-in-Chief and his ignominious appeasement maneuver this week, it would be a resumption of that bowl schedule. Clearly, the MAC is the conference to pester about it.
The Hilltoppers are giving 3, but of course, the game’s in the Bahamas, so who cares? Meanwhile, Fresno State (6-7) and Rice (7-5) will give the Bahamas a run for their money with a meet in Honolulu for the Hawaii Bowl. We are sorry to report that Sheraton has pulled out as the bowl sponsor, but perhaps the narrowly handicapped contestants – Owls give 2 – won’t miss them.
Christmas Day will be given over to basketball, according to the modern tradition. But Friday, 26 December, will round out a zesty bowl week with Illinois (6-6) and Louisiana Tech (8-5; new motto: “Those bad WAC memories are really starting to fade”) kicking off first in the – God’s honest truth – Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.
This five-year-old bowl used to be sponsored by TicketCity, but TicketCity has moved on to, well, browner pastures, with the Cactus Bowl. More on that later. Zaxby’s, if you don’t know, is a chicken wings franchise in the southeast. And the game is played in the Cotton Bowl. So eat your heart out, Weather Wednesday. Bulldogs give 6.
We’re always sorry to see the military-hating Scarlet Commies go to a bowl, but if they have to, it might as well be the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit. That’s where 7-5 Rutgers will be Friday afternoon to take on 6-6 North Carolina. This is another brand spanking new bowl, sponsored by Ford through its Quick Lane auto shop brand. Apparently, there are political reasons why it’s not technically a replacement for the late-unlamented Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl – but we’ve already talked enough politics for one football post, so we’ll just note that the game will be at Ford Field, and UNC’s giving 3, and then move on.
North Carolina’s getting a lot of football out of the way next Friday: our final game of the night will be NC State (motto: “They have a football team?”) and Central Florida in the can’t-make-this-stuff-up Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl. You old-timers out there may remember it as the Beef O’Brady’s St. Petersburg Bowl (really old-timers might remember its brief stint as the Magic Jack St. Petersburg Bowl). The Bitcoin payment service BitPay picked it up this year.
The 7-5 Wolfpack and the 9-3 Golden Knights will meet at Tropicana Field, with UCF giving 2.
Next week: Booger Bowls to Big Boy Bowls – the Transition.
The Div III championship in Salem, VA will be played Friday night between Wisconsin-Whitewater and Mount Union, both of which are perennial top seeds in Div III. We doubt anyone but Wisconsin-Whitewater fans is betting against Mount Union.
The Div II championship meets Saturday, 20 Dec in Kansas City, KS. Its participants are showing some welcome diversity this year: Minnesota State-Mankato and Colorado State-Pueblo are by no means chopped liver, but they’re not the usual suspects either.
Probably the most interesting bonus tidbit about either team is that in 2011, the CSU-Pueblo offensive coordinator made the news when he managed to down a 72-ounce steak at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. Stick with us, sports fans, and you’ll never be at a loss for cocktail talk. Congratulations to the Thunderwolves – and MSU-Mankato’s Mavericks – for making it to the championship game.
Frankly, we don’t think you’re missing a lot if you’re not seeing tonight’s Titans at Jaguars game. In spite of their best efforts, the Jaguars are up 21-10 in the 4Q, the Titans having basically fallen apart after the half.
One of the bennies of December is pro football on Saturday. We’ll be cheering the Redskins on – however fruitlessly – as they host the Eagles. Chargers and Niners will be a big sentimental game for California fans, not to mention a big game for the teams, at least one of which is still in a death-scrabble for the wild card slots. Philip Rivers’ back injury is bad news for the Bolts, although he’s reportedly planning to play.
Sunday rolls around to bring us Falcons at Saints in the always-entertaining NFC South. We love that both teams could conceivably end up 6-9 after this game, and both would still be in contention for the division title.
Not so for Chiefs at Steelers. Steelers need to keep winning, and knock off the Bengals next week, to bag the AFC North. Chiefs are in it to fight for a wild card spot.
Sunday afternoon brings a surge of freighted match-ups, starting with 10-4 Colts at 10-4 Cowboys. The division-leading Colts don’t need this one that badly, but the Cowboys could really use it to sustain their edge over Philly. DeMarco Murray’s hand fracture has added a fresh coat of unwanted drama to the countdown.
The NFC West faceoff on Sunday night between number 1 Arizona (11-3) and number 2 Seattle (10-4) bids fair to be the game of the week. The early line has the Seahawks giving 9, with Drew Stanton still out for the Cardinals and linebacker Bobby Wagner back in action for Seattle.
The freight-surge continues Monday night with Broncos at Bengals. Cincinnati, 9-4, is trying to stay on top in the AFC North, and probably wouldn’t pick 11-3 Denver to play out of division this late in the season. Our LU Nation Steeler fans will be pulling hard for the Broncos.