A guide to the 35-game college football bowl season, which kicks off with the New Mexico Bowl at 10 this morning.
Best reason to watch the New Mexico Bowl when there are 34 more bowl games on tap: Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey leads the nation in rushing yards per game (146.4), and he’ll be a threat to roll up 200 yards against a Nevada rushing defense ranked 111th in the country. Carey – could a running back have a better name? – says he develops a “beast mode” attitude before games.
Best snapshot on the decline of the Western Athletic Conference: On Thursday night, former WAC rivals San Diego State and BYU will play in the Poinsettia Bowl at San Diego. Remember when the WAC was a real league? In 2013, it will welcome Cal-State Bakersfield, Utah Valley, Grand Canyon, Texas-Pan American and Chicago State as its newest members.
Worst situation for a bowl coach: Western Kentucky defensive coordinator Lance Guidry recently was appointed interim coach after Willie Taggart left for South Florida. But Guidry won’t keep the job – professional vagabond Bobby Petrino has been hired for next season – leaving the temp in limbo after the Hilltoppers’ Little Caesars Pizza Bowl contest against Central Michigan. Poor Guidry: Taggart hasn’t asked him to join the South Florida staff, and he’s yet to hear from Petrino.
“If all else fails,” Guidry said, “I still have my Louisiana teaching certificate.”
Best matchup of potential NFL quarterbacks: The 2013 draft class won’t be as loaded with QB talent as the 2012 class, but two potential first-day picks will be showcased in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29. Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib owns virtually every career passing record for the Orange, and West Virginia’s Geno Smith – a midseason favorite for the Heisman Trophy – finished the season with a touchdown-interception ratio of 40-6.
Worst bowl trend: On Jan. 1, Arkansas will face Purdue in the Dallas stadium known as the Cotton Bowl. Except the New Year’s Day game in the Cotton Bowl isn’t called the Cotton Bowl anymore – it’s called the Heart of Dallas Bowl. As for the actual Cotton Bowl, scheduled for Jan. 4, it will be played at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Meanwhile, don’t confuse the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando (Dec. 28, Rutgers versus Virginia Tech) with the Capital One Bowl in Orlando (Jan. 1, Georgia versus Nebraska). Both games are in the Florida Citrus Bowl, formerly known as the Tangerine Bowl, named after the game it used to be.
If you’re able to comprehend any of that without your head exploding, congratulations.
Best clash of coaches: Jim Mora, in his first season as a college head coach, surprised his many skeptics by taking a traditionally underachieving UCLA team to the Pacific-12 Conference championship game. But on Dec. 27, when the Bruins play Baylor in the Holiday Bowl, Mora won’t even be the best coach on the sidelines. That distinction will belong to Art Briles, whose Bears had nine one-play touchdown drives this season.
It was Baylor’s relentless pursuit of Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, you might recall, that changed the course of both the national championship and Heisman Trophy races.
Worst bowl game: You’d think it would be difficult to identify a postseason game less scintillating than a Sun Bowl between Georgia Tech (6-7) and the nation’s most disappointing team, USC. (The Trojans, ranked No. 1 in most preseason polls, are 7-5.)
The BBVA Compass Bowl, I submit, might be up to the task. Or down to the task. Whatever, we’re talking about a whole lot of mediocrity on the field when 6-6 Pitt takes on 6-6 Ole Miss in Birmingham, Ala. At least there are alternatives to watching the Sun Bowl: it’s scheduled for Dec. 31, along with the Music City Bowl, the Liberty Bowl and the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
The Compass Bowl has a Jan. 5 slot locked up all to itself.
Best excuse for watching the Compass Bowl: If you’re not attending Pitt or Ole Miss, or a former student at Pitt or Ole Miss, or engaged in an intense romantic relationship with a fan of Pitt or Ole Miss, there is no excuse for watching the Compass Bowl. None, absolutely none.
On an unrelated front, the Rebels are favored by 31/2 points.
Worst lull before the bowl season: When Washington’s Keith Price throws his first pass against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl, a few minutes after 12:30 p.m. on Dec. 22, the junior quarterback will have waited 717 hours since throwing his last one.
Best prelude to the BCS national championship game: If a playoff format were in place, the Jan. 3 Fiesta Bowl between Oregon and Kansas State would loom as a terrific semifinal.
Sorry, check that. The actual best prelude to the BCS national championship game: On Jan. 4, the night after the Ducks and Wildcats battle for the right to boast themselves as college football’s third-best team, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will be able to show why he won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman. Just don’t be surprised if Johnny Football’s counterpart in the Cotton Bowl, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, upstages him.
Best game: No. 1 Notre Dame against No. 2 Alabama, on Jan. 7, in Miami, with the BCS title at stake. The real deal, for all the marbles. After this one, there is no tomorrow.
Unless the Mayans turned out to be right with their calendar. If that’s the case, the last college football bowl game before the end of the world, on Dec. 21, becomes the Beef ’O’Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Ball State versus Central Florida.
I can’t say I’m excited about that confrontation. But I suppose I’ll watch, just in case.john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com