With the weekend come new football opportunities, and although the death-spiral tie in the NFC East is truly the most exciting football action out there, the NCAA’s booger bowl line-up is a second so close as to make no difference.
Tonight’s action is already underway, with Central Florida leading Ball State 38-17 in the 4Q of the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg, FL. The game is going at a leisurely pace, with UCF more than holding its own. The crowd doesn’t look too thin either. (Central Florida won, with a bit of a flourish, 38-17.)
Mopping up a bit of old business, we note that BYU meandered into Qualcomm stadium Thursday night and knocked off the surging Aztecs 23-6 in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. Cougar linebacker Kyle Van Noy ruined San Diego State QB Adam Dingwell’s night, with not one but two touchdowns scored off Dingwell turnovers (one a forced-fumble recovery in the Aztec end zone, the other an interception in the 4Q). It just wasn’t Dingwell’s night; he fumbled again, right after Van Noy’s first TD, to set up the other Cougar TD of the night. In all, he racked up five turnovers in the game. It was a satisfying night for BYU fans.
FBS fans can pace themselves this week, with booger bowls strung out over the next seven days. Saturday cues up the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl at 11:00 AM Central, featuring East Carolina and Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns come in 8-4, as do the purple Pirates, but LA-Lafayette has the better record on the road. The oddsquad has the Ragin’ Cajuns giving 6 – but East Carolina plays in a tougher conference (C-USA). Not sure how much flash there will be, but East Carolina’s running duo Vintavious Cooper and Shane Carden will definitely bring some dash.
The late game on Saturday is the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, which we just have to mention is an annoying bowl name. For Vegasites, it will start at 12:30 PM. Boise State, 10-2 and having lost a little of that Bronco edge in the last couple of years, will be there to take on 7-5 Washington, which has been barely above average this season, but handed surprise defeats to top 10 hot-runners Stanford and Oregon State. Boise State’s giving 5 or so, but the Huskies may surprise them. Low 50s and breezy at game time.
Sunday sees a little NFL quality time, with games to watch in both conferences. More on that in a minute. But Monday, Christmas Eve, gives us the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl in Aloha Stadium. Fresno State and SMU will kick off at 2:00 PM, island time, and will unquestionably have the best weather of anyone playing football in the next week. The 9-3 Bulldogs give 12, and might oughta give more, considering the 6-6 record of the Mustangs. SMU finished the season with a bang, knocking off C-USA champ Tulsa in the final game, but their offensive weapons are limited this year, and Fresno State – which lost to Tulsa 27-26 in September – brings a pretty fair D.
On the 26th, the nation’s eyes turn to Detroit for the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, kicking off at 4:30 PM at Ford Field. The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl used to be the Motor City Bowl, and was sponsored by the Big Three automakers until GM and Chrysler bowed out in 2009 due to their financial embarrassments. Ford still sponsors the bowl, along with Little Caesars, which retains the title sponsorship.
Booger bowls often change names and sponsors; that’s what makes them so cute, and historically fascinating. This year’s iteration of the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl will feature Western Kentucky in its first-ever FBS/Div IA bowl appearance, squaring off against Central Michigan. The oddsdudes give the Hilltoppers the nod by about 6, but at 7-5 they’re only one better than the Chippewas. Hey, it’s football, and it’s 26 December. Just enjoy.
27 December brings us the Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman, which kicks off at 3:00 PM Eastern in Washington, DC. The oddsfellows show San Jose State giving 7 to doughty Bowling Green, which makes it to a booger bowl just about every year. San Jose State is 10-2 and #24 in the BCS, second in the WAC behind Utah State. Bowling Green doesn’t play quite the same level of ball, coming in at 8-4 and second in the Mid-American East Division behind Kent State. If the Spartans are on their game, they should win handily. But a Spartans-Falcons match-up during Christmas week is always a watchable event.
Also on the 27th, Duke and Cincinnati will face off in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, NC. The Belk Bowl was formerly the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Continental Tire Bowl, and the Queen City Bowl. The Belk Bowl is, of course, sponsored by the Belk Department Stores. Kickoff is at 6:30 PM Eastern. Cincinnati, not having it best year, is 9-3 and tied with Rutgers behind Louisville in the Big East. (The Bearcats lost to both Louisville and Rutgers.) But Duke comes in 6-6 and struggling, so the oddsquad’s 7-point nod to Cincinnati is the sensible one.
Nighttime on the 27th brings the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl in San Diego, one of our all-time favorite bowls – not only because it’s in San Diego, but because Bridgepoint Education, an adult education business, really exists, and you can see its headquarters from the 163 freeway in north San Diego. This year, Baylor will meet UCLA in Qualcomm Stadium, and it should be a pretty good game. Baylor is 7-5, but was the epic spoiler of Kansas State’s heartbreak run with a 52-24 victory out of nowhere in mid-November. Never count Baylor out.
UCLA, after several years of just plain awful, wound up 9-4 and took the PAC-12 South title, beating Nebraska and USC along the way. The Bruins clock in at #17 in the BCS, and would seem to be an obvious favorite for Thursday’s outing. But the oddsbubbas call it a pick ‘em. Tune in to this game; you won’t be disappointed.
Friday comes next, and with it, the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA, which is our kind of place. (Believe it or not, I have a Shreveport story. I’ll tell it one of these days.)
AdvoCare V100, for those not in the know, is a multivitamin supplement, which we regret to report is currently out of stock at the AdvoCare website. (AdvoCare also offers an herbal cleanse, which appears to be in stock.) Kickoff is at 1:00 PM Central, with Ohio facing off against local favorite Louisiana-Monroe. Both teams are 8-4, the Bobcats in the middle ranks of the Mid-American, and the Warhawks second in the Sunbelt. Oddsdudes have LA-Monroe giving 7, which sounds about right.
The evening game is the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, FL, featuring TOC favorite Virginia Tech versus Rutgers. The Hokies have had a less than stellar 6-6 season, but they looked more like their old selves winning the last two games against Boston College and Virginia. QB Logan Thomas is a running threat, which is good since RB Marcus Davis is spotty and problematic. Beamer never has been a big fan of offense. Rutgers, meanwhile, has had a good year, hanging in there with a much-improved Louisville until the final week of the season. We always like to see the Scarlet Commies get trounced, so VA Tech needs to look sharp, and play Beamer Ball like there’s no tomorrow. Tech gives 2.
Then there’s the late game on the 28th, in which Minnesota will take on Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, which has moved to Houston, TX. The Golden Gophers and Red Raiders kick off at 8:00 PM Texas time. Evenly matched on paper, the 7-5 Red Raiders have home-state advantage if not momentum. The big thing they could use is a defense.
But the 6-6 Golden Gopher squad hasn’t been that much of a threat offensively this year, racking up an average 317 yards per game. We expect TT to make it exciting, and the Gophers to bring their adorable Mascot, Goldy. Hey, Minnesota’s better at ice hockey.
The excitement will build until next Saturday dawns, bringing us a veritable football bowl smorgasbord, including the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in which Navy will take on Arizona State. We’ll prognosticate on that head next week. Meanwhile, we congratulate Mount Union for claiming the Division III championship – AGAIN – in its title match last week with St. Thomas (MN). We congratulate Valdosta State as well, for its win over Winston-Salem State and its third Division II national championship since 2004.
In FCS action, Sam Houston State will meet North Dakota State for the national championship game on 5 January. More on that as the date nears.
In the NFL, there are two games left, and a couple of divisions in which that matters. In the AFC North, the Ravens, Bengals, and Steelers are all potentially still in it. And in the NFC East, the Silliest Division in Football, the Redskins, Giants, and Cowboys are tied at 8-6, with division honors and wild card spots at issue. Vikings and Bears are duking it out for a wild card berth in the NFC North, with the Seahawks still in the hunt behind the 49ers in the NFC West. Beyond the tight AFC North division, the Colts in the AFC South still have playoff hopes.
On Sunday at 1:00 PM Eastern, Washington needs to beat Philly at Philly, and Dallas needs to beat New Orleans at home, for both teams to advance to 9-6. The Giants are at Baltimore, and both teams need a win to keep their division and playoff hopes in good health. It’s crunch time for the NFC East.
Chicago, at 8-6 and tied with Minnesota in the NFC North, hopes to down Arizona on Sunday evening to remain in contention for a wild card slot. Minnesota, at 12-2 Houston, the AFC South champ, has its work cut out for it. Sunday Night Football will see a rattling clash between division rivals San Francisco, 10-3-1 and leading the NFC West, and 9-5 Seattle, which lost the teams’ first game in October.
The AFC North is facing crunch time too, of course. The 9-5 Ravens could be out of even a wild card berth if they lose their last two games. Their final game is against the Bengals, who at 8-6 are sniffing at their heels. The Bengals play the Steelers on Sunday, with 7-7 Pittsburgh in a do-or-die situation. A loss for the Steelers means dropping out of playoff contention. Meanwhile, the 9-5 Colts look to knock off Kansas City on the road, to boost their playoff chances over the also-rans that eventually shake out in the battling AFC North.
Love the smell of football in December. TOC will be on vaca, -ish, over Christmas and New Year’s weeks. There’s a cross-country drive that starts tomorrow. So I will wish all in TOC Nation a wonderful and blessed holiday, whether yours started and ended already (i.e., Hanukkah), or perhaps involves a solstice, or a newly-designated ethnic festival, or simple enjoyment of the season. For some, of course, our survival of 12-21-12 merits a special celebration. I’m pleased as punch that we’re all still here.
For those who celebrate Christmas, I will be celebrating right along with you. God bless us, everyone!