The college football bowl season is upon us once again, with a total of 25 games over the next couple of weeks, culminating with the National Championship Game between Miami and Nebraska at the Rose Bowl.
Of course there is a lot of football to be played before January 3, and early bowl games offer plenty of opportunity for the judicious bettor.
Division I-A college football is the only collegiate sport which does not allow its championship to be decided through a playoff. It seems the powers-that-be are wedded to the idea of bowl games primarily because of money.
With 50 teams garnering some sort of post-season consideration, it seems as if everybody shares in the wealth, but that isn’t the case. An interesting example are the two teams that played the last actual regular season game of the season, BYU and Hawaii.
Hawaii drubbed BYU, ending the Cougars’ hopes for a perfect season. But even if BYU had won that game, the Cougars were not going to be invited to play Miami for the national title. While both programs are considered in the same level of college football, realistically, they aren’t.
The Mountain West Conference, which BYU won, is not part of the BCS system, restricting an MWC team to one of the four Big Bowls only as a Wild Card selection. That problem was averted with the loss, but a new problem arose as Hawaii finished its season 9-3.
The Warriors went 8-1 over their last nine games, but did not get a bowl bid. That seems impossible, considering the number of games available, but there isn’t a bowl game on the Islands this season and the school simply doesn’t travel well. Since these games are for the most part, exhibitions, the main consideration any bowl committee might have is getting teams with big followings that are willing to travel.
A team like Hawaii isn’t going to have legions of fans following them to Shreveport or El Paso for obvious reasons. Meanwhile big schools with alumni spread throughout the country and located within a day or two drive of the game itself will have a much easier time selling their share of tickets.
As far as the games themselves there are some interesting trends, especially in many of the early bowls. Last season we saw an incredible run of underdog winners, as eight won straight up in some of more anonymous, early bowls. Two of the other mid-level bowls were pick-em games. This season that same possibility is there. Again some teams are overvalued, while some less-known teams enter these games motivated and ready to play.
The postseason begins Tuesday as Colorado State plays North Texas in the first New Orleans Bowl. North Texas, in its first bowl since 1971, is the only team to get a bid with a sub-.500 record. The Eagles went 5-6 this season, but won the pitiful Sun Belt Conference, earning the right to play in this game.
North Texas is looking for its first bowl win since the 1946 Optimist Bowl victory over Pacific. The Eagles began their season with five straight losses, before rebounding to win five games in a row. They lost their final game of the season at Troy State, 18-16, keeping them under .500.
Colorado State ended its season is similar style, winning four of its last five games to become bowl eligible, thanks to a solid defense and better quarterback play. Both of these teams have decent running games, and that should be where this game is decided.
North Texas running back Kevin Galbreath rushed for over 1,100 yards this season, while Colorado State had three players each run for 500 yards or more.
The GMAC Bowl pits East Carolina against Marshall. Neither team is playing its best football. East Carolina lost its last two games, both at home, to finish the regular season 6-5. The Pirates have plenty of offensive firepower, but they haven’t been able to hold onto the ball. East Carolina had the second worst turnover ratio of all bowl teams —10, undermining an offense that averaged nearly 33 points per game.
Marshall is very explosive with Byron Leftwich at quarterback. The Thundering Herd averaged more than 37 points and over 500 yards of total offense per game. Leftwich had a monster season, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 37 touchdowns in winning Offensive Player of the Year honors in the MAC.
Both North Carolina State and Pittsburgh enter the Tangerine Bowl battle playing well, after stumbling early. The Wolfpack won four of their last five games, losing only to Maryland in finishing 7-4. Quarterback Phillip Rivers had a disappointing sophomore season after bursting onto the scene last year, but it was State’s inability to find a consistent running game that prevented a better season.
Pittsburgh won its last five games to become bowl eligible. After opening the season 1-5, including a shocking loss at home to South Florida, the Panthers made some adjustments in their offense, and began to win.
On Christmas Day, the Las Vegas Bowl has Utah opposing USC. Southern California had a tough 1-4 start before winning five of its last six games and four in a row, a solid accomplishment in Pete Carroll’s first season as head coach. The Trojans were one of the worst rushing teams in the nation, averaging just 2.8 yards per carry and less than 100 yards per game.
USC has won by not turning the ball over and playing solid defense, allowing about 18 points per game. Utah has done well against the run for the most part, giving up less than 3.5 yards per carry. On the offensive side of the ball, the Utes average almost 100 yards more than USC.
The onslaught begins starting Dec. 27 with 21 games played over the week leading to the Jan. 3 title game in Pasadena.
Dec. 18 New Orleans Bowl
Colo St. —13 vs. N.Texas
GMAC Bowl E. Carolina —1 vs. Marshall
Tangerine Bowl Pittsburgh —1 vs. NC State
Las Vegas Bowl USC —3 vs. Utah