It is time to clear off the space a late-night copy of Eddie & the Cruisers 2: Eddie Lives! is occupying on your DVR and get ready to capture a few of the better bowl games coming in the next few weeks (trust me, record these as the Arena Football League may or may not be around to satisfy your college-football junkie needs in the spring as it has in the past).
Granted, the bowl season leaves a lot to be desired this season with a slew of 7-5 vs. 6-6 teams from conferences with no viable connection to one another or the bowl site. However, just like an overall disappointing year at the box office or the record store, there are a few gems in the piles and piles of bowl games that are more than worth your time to view (or record and save for later).
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl – Tuesday, December 23, 8 p.m. EST on ESPN
Boise State (12-0) vs. TCU (10-2)
Both Chris Peterson (Boise St.) and Gary Patterson (TCU) have surfaced as names in more than one or two of the coaching searches near the end of this season. Peterson’s early success in Broncoland was attributed to maintaining the talent left behind by now Colorado coach Dan Hawkins. However, the emergence of redshirt-freshman QB Kellen Moore proves he and his staff can recruit and coach solid talent at Boise St. Couple this with an off-the-chart winning percentage (92%, 13-0, 10-3, 12-0 in 3 seasons), it is no wonder why other teams pursue the leader of the blue turf machine.
Patterson’s record may not be as sexy at Peterson’s, but there is no denying the solid football team he has built at TCU. Since taking over for Dennis Franchione at the end of the 2000 season, Patterson has lead the Horned Frogs (props for the one of the most unusual mascots in collegiate athletics) to six bowl games posting four wins. Patterson’s teams do it with defense, consistently ranking near the top. According to the NCAA, TCU is ranked #2 in total defense this year behind only the machine of the Southern California Trojans.
But the coaches just pace the sidelines – this game is about the players: The Boise State offense vs. the TCU defense. The Horned Frogs feature a couple of dynamic defenders in Sr. LB Jason Phillips and Jr. DL Jerry Hughes who will want to exert a lot of pressure on the young Boise St. QB Kellen Moore. Though not really used as a running threat, Moore has evaded pressure this season with the help of a great offensive line which has surrendered only 11 sacks in 12 games. Moore’s 70% completion rate ranks him 10th nationally. The Broncos in blue can also run the ball effectively averaging over 160 yards+ a game this season. The key to this game is how much pressure and turnover opportunities TCU can create vs. how many points Boise State can produce. Watch this one as you may see one or both of these coaches at the helm of some of the bigger named teams in the nation in the very near future.
Pacific Life Holiday Bowl – Tuesday, December 30, 8 p.m. EST ESPN
Oklahoma State (9-3) vs. Oregon (9-3)
This one makes my “must see” list because it is one of the few (and I mean, very few) bowl match-ups between teams with the same records and more than 7 wins.
It is hard to ignore the coaches in this one, Oklahoma St’s Mike “I’m a man!” Gundy vs. Oregon’s Mike Bellotti. Gundy has built Oklahoma State into a strong Big 12 program and if they weren’t in the most top heavy division (Big 12 South) of the conference, they might actually win some hardware. Oregon plays in the land of the Pac-10, currently dominated by Southern California, but is consistently strong and has more wardrobe opportunities than a Celine Dion Vegas show. Gundy’s Cowboys (backed by truckloads cargo plane loads of T. Boone Pickens’ cash) are emerging as a strong player not only now, but in the future. Bellotti’s solid and steady approach has helped maintain a much better than average winning percentage in Duckland since he took the reins in 1995. Bellotti gets my vote for coach of the year (no disrespect to Darth Saban at Alabama) for winning 9 games while playing five (5!) different quarterbacks this season.
This game also showcases the versatility of the often ballyhooed, seldom understood “spread offense.” Oklahoma State features the “power spread,” mixing in elements of the smash mouth running game with the wide-open passing schemes. Oregon runs the “spread option” game with tons of motion, reverse direction, and smoke and mirrors that moves the ball at a very good clip. Oklahoma State is led by its version of the Big3: QB Zac Robinson, RB Kendall Hunter, and WR Dez Bryant. Remember those names as they will soon be gracing uniforms for some of the worst teams in the NFL (e.g., the fate of all high draft picks). For Oregon, RB Jeremiah Johnson, QB Jeremiah Masoli and RB LeGarrette Blount account for the bulk of their yards through the air and the on the ground. Neither team has a great defense, but both are in the Top 10 on offense. Expect to see some fireworks on the field and the scoreboard in this one.
The Rose Bowl presented by Citi – Thursday, January 1, 5 p.m. EST ABC
Southern California (11-1) vs. Penn State (11-1)
Much like he Godfather, the game that insists upon itself actually makes an offer that is hard to refuse this year between two traditional powers in college football. The flash, speed, and star power of USC vs. the stalwart of Happy Valley, PA – Joe Pa – brings about the obvious question, “Wouldn’t this be a great semi-final game in the national championship playoff?” Sigh…
The Pete Carroll-led Trojans are built for everything on defense (except Oregon State early in the season apparently) giving up an average of 206.8 yards a game while the offense led by “Hollywood” Mark Sanchez has provided consistent enough performance to get the Trojans to yet another double-digit win season. The Nittany Lions bring the “spread HD” into the Rose Bowl led by QB Darryl Clark who emerged as one of the more exciting players on the Big 10 landscape this season. It’s got all the pageantry of big time game without any meaningful hardware to go along with it. Kind of like The Godfather Part 3.
Watch this one because it may be the last time you see one of these coaches with his team and I’m not talking about Joe Paterno.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl – Monday, January 5, 6 p.m. EST FOX
Texas (11-1) vs. Ohio State (10-2)
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t believe Ohio State deserved a BCS game this season. However, I’ll be the first (that I know of, at least) to say that this game could very well be preview of next year’s BCS National Championship game.
Ohio State is led by an “animal” on defense in James Laurinaitis and some solid talent on the offense in the form of RB Chris “Beanie” Wells and up-and-coming QB Terrelle Pryor. For all that Pryor may lack in his game at this time, he has done of a better than average job of managing games for the Buckeyes this season. His 18 TDs (6 rushing and 12 passing) are glimpse of things to come at Ohio State. He’s Troy Smith, but taller and with potential for a better arm if he can hone his mechanics. Wells, in spite of an early season injury, rolled up another 1,000 yards and 8 TDs this season. Ohio State has lived off of the defense, ranking in the Top 10.
For Texas, it’s all about QB Colt McCoy and his gaudy 77% completion rate and his 42 TDs (32 passing, 10 rushing) . The Heisman Trophy runner-up is very durable, almost unflappable in the pocket, and distributes the ball to the players on that offensive squad in a more than adept manner. Has he faced a defense as ferocious as OSU’s? Not really, but he has the tools to win against just about any team you can throw out there.
The Fiesta Bowl should be a fun way to burn the first working Monday night of 2009 for sure.
The BCS National Championship Game – Thursday, January 8, 8 p.m. EST FOX
Oklahoma (12-1) vs. Florida (12-1)
It is a game featuring the last two Heisman trophy winners coached by two men who have already won a BCS National Title. It’s a game between the unreal offense of Oklahoma and the uber-fast defense of Florida. Sam Bradford. Tim Tebow. Bob Stoops. Urban Meyer. National Championship!
You will be watching two coaches defining his legacy. For Meyer, building Florida into a multiple championship winner in four years and for Stoops winning the big games that have so eluded his team in the most recent past. You will see teams loaded with talent destined for the NFL in the very near future. You’ll see plenty of big plays from exciting players and you may see a few make names for themselves on the biggest stage of the year in college football.
What more can be written to build up this game than has already been or will be?
Not much save to borrow an old line from Highlander – there can be only one.