’Tis the season for bowling for dollars

Dec 18, 2001 8:33 AM

The college football season is down to 25 bowl games, although only one really matters.

The Rose Bowl match-up on January 3 between top-ranked Miami and BCS flower child Nebraska will decide the national championship. The ESPN/Coaches Poll and AP may think Oregon is worthy of No. 1 if Nebraska beats Miami, but if those carried  weight then the final BCS poll wouldn’t have created such a furor.

The bowl lineup begins with four in the next seven days, but we’ll start with the game next Tuesday since it takes place in our beloved Las Vegas.

Tuesday, Dec. 25

Las Vegas Bowl, 12:30 PT

Sam Boyd Stadium

USC  (—3) vs. Utah (ABC):

This could have been the John Robinson Bowl, but UNLV fell out of the picture following losses to Utah and New Mexico. The game, Âí­instead, is redemption for Southern Cal’s Pete Carroll, whose head coaching ability was questioned after failures at the pro level with the New York Jets and New England.

The Trojans dramatically reversed another potential losing season with four straight wins, including a resounding 27-0 victory over rival UCLA as a three-point underdog.

Carroll, hailed as one of football’s top defensive minds, set the tone in a 10-6 loss to Kansas State in the second game of the year. Southern Cal then dropped consecutive games to Oregon, Stanford and Washington by a combined 10 points. USC was 6-5 ATS, but never covered more than two consecutive games. A bowl cover would be three.

Much was expected of Utah this season, so backing into the Las Vegas Bowl could heal a few wounds. The big hurt occurred at BYU, where the Utes were defeated 24-21 in the final seconds.

The Utes started the season impressively, going 5-1 both SU and ATS. However, Utah finished just 2-3 in each category, including losses to BYU and Air Force to end the regular season. The 38 points surrendered to Air Force marked Utah’s worst defensive effort of the year.

Oregon was the only common opponent. Utah lost 24-10, while USC fell 24-22.

Tuesday, Dec. 18

New Orleans Bowl (ESPN)

Louisiana Superdome

Colorado St (—13)
vs. North Texas

Colorado State, the preseason favorite to win the Mountain West, never fully recovered from a 41-14 opening game loss to Colorado.

The Rams actually saw their 6-5 season turn around during losses to Louisville (7-2) and Fresno State (25-22) as quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt inherited the starting job and worked his way into the offense. State was 4-1 SU and 3-2 ATS in Van Pelt’s last five games, including a 24-17 win at New Mexico as a 9½-point road underdog. The Rams were 6-2 ATS in their last eight contests.

North Texas is the only team to qualify for a bowl this year with a losing record. However, the Mean Green finished the regular season 6-0 ATS, including a 5-1 SU mark.  Tailback Kevin Galbreath gained over 1,000 yards and was named Sun Belt Conference Newcomer of the Year.

This game is a big deal for the Big Green and the city of Denton. North Texas had gone the longest without a bowl appearance of any Division I school, last playing in the 1959 Sun Bowl. A loss to Troy State in the regular-season finale was a disappointing end to a remarkable comeback year for North Texas, which started 0-5 SU.

Wednesday, Dec. 19


Mobile, Alabama

East Carolina (pk)
vs. Marshall

East Carolina enters the contest as a slight favorite, despite a mediocre 6-5 SU record that included losses to Louisville (39-34) and Southern Miss (28-21) to end the regular season.

The Pirates were 6-2 ATS in their first eight games, but finished 0-3 down the stretch. ECU was 1-1 ATS when favored by 2½ points or less during the year.

The mindset of Marshall will be in question after losing the MAC title for the first time in five years to Toledo. The Thundering Herd was 10 games in a row in between the Toledo defeat and a season-opening setback at Florida.

Marshall was 4-2 ATS in its last six contests, including the loss to Toledo as an eight-point road favorite. The Thundering Herd are one of the great stories in college football, having produced a championship program from the ruins of a tragic 1970 plane crash that killed the entire football team and the coaching staff.

Thursday, Dec. 20

Tangerine Bowl  (ESPN2)

Orlando, Florida

Pittsburgh (—1½)
vs. N.C. State

It took a midseason tirade from head coach Walt Harris to shake and rattle Pittsburgh, but oh, how the Panthers did roll.

Pitt didn’t quit. Harris led the Panthers to a 5-0 mark both SU and ATS after a 1-5 start. The most impressive of the victories was a 38-7 trouncing of Gator Bowl-bound Virginia Tech as a 19½-point underdog.

This is Pitt’s best finish since 1983 when the Panthers went 6-0-1 with some QB named Marino. Pitt lost to N.C. State in the 1979 Tangerine Bowl, 30-17, but lead the overall series with the Wolfpack 4-2-1.

N.C. State often performs at its best when least expected.  The Wolfpack upset Florida State and lost by just four points to ACC champion Maryland in posting a 7-4 SU regular season.

State is led by QB Philip Rivers, who is capable of putting up huge numbers. As always, the Pack is streaky. Four straight covers were followed by four consecutive ATS losses during the year. State was 0-2 ATS in its final two contests with Maryland and Ohio.

The contest could boil down to an offensive battle between Rivers and Pitt’s All-America wide receiver Antonio Bryant, who was named Big East Offensive Player of the Week for his 11-catch, 186-yard effort against West Virginia.