Well college football fans, bowl season is officially upon us. Some of you might lament; we hate these lesser bowls, they are meaningless, the teams playing don't deserve to be there, it is only about the money. All of which are valid claims, and opinions which I myself have voiced. But the fact of the matter is we are all college football fans, and like it or not we are stuck with this current system. This past Saturday, with the first three bowl games on the schedule, produced two close games. I enjoyed Louisiana-Lafayette putting together an excellent drive with 35 seconds left for Brett Baer to kick the game winning field goal as time expired, allowing the Ragin' Cajuns to pull out the victory over San Diego State for their first bowl win as an FBS school.
I do not work for ESPN, and therefore I have no vested interest in boosting television ratings. The reason I'm saying this is because despite what they might tell you, there isn't a reason to watch all of the bowls that ESPN throws at you. Some of these games are going to be terrible. For example the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl featuring Illinois (6-6) vs UCLA (6-7). UCLA astonishingly reached the Pac-12 championship game (helped greatly by the fact that their South division is extremely weak, and USC is facing a postseason ban) where they were thoroughly dominated by Oregon and dropped below .500. Illinois after starting the season 6-0, reeled off 6 straight losses. In the process the Head Coaches for both teams have been fired. Why would anyone besides a family member, current student/faculty, or alumni be interested in seeing this game? And I guarantee you even they would have a hard time watching. But that's enough of that, despite the amount of bad football we will see, there are some things we should be thankful for the opportunity to see in these lesser bowls and here they are:
MAACO Bowl Las Vegas
Date: December 22, 8:00 p.m. ESPN
Matchup: #7 Boise State (11-1) vs. Arizona State (6-6)
Reason worth watching: Boise has a very good team, a top 10 team in fact, and if it hadn't been for another heartbreaking loss on a missed field goal they would be in a much better bowl than this one. Although Arizona State had a disappointing season they have a bright future. Watching Boise QB Kellen Moore carve up the ASU secondary will be a treat, and his counterpart Brock Osweiler who stands at 6'8", the tallest quarterback in Division I, has the potential to build on his solid junior campaign and springboard into a big senior season.
Valero Alamo Bowl
Date: December 29, 9:00 p.m. ESPN
Matchup: #12 Baylor (9-3) vs. Washington (7-5)
Reason worth watching: Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III isn't quite finished yet. He has Baylor bowling for the second straight season which is no small feat in itself, but with this game against a porous Washington secondary, he has the potential to significantly add to his already impressive numbers. The Baylor defense is very weak as well so look for Washington quarterback Keith Prince, who quietly had a very good season in his first year as a starter, to make this one a shootout.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Date: December 30, 3:20 p.m. ESPN
Matchup: Iowa State (6-6) vs. Rutgers (8-4)
Reason worth watching: On paper this doesn't look like a great matchup, but Iowa State and Rutgers are both programs headed in the right direction. Iowa State Head Coach Paul Rhoads has turned the program around, and this year the Cyclones had one of the biggest upsets in college football defeating than 2nd ranked Oklahoma State. Iowa State also just recently signed Rhoads to a 10 year extension. Iowa State might see themselves a few years down the road when they look across the field and see the level of rebuilding Rutgers Head Coach Greg Schiano has done with a previously hapless Rutgers program. To these teams this bowl game means more than just an extra game and some money.
Date: January 2, 12:00 p.m. ESPNU
Matchup: #19 Houston (12-1) vs. #22 Penn State (9-3)
Reason worth watching: Well I'm sure this is not where either team imagined they would end up. Houston, after being upset in the Conference USA championship game and losing out on a shot for a BCS berth had to settle for this. Penn State after a season that started off with such promise, watched their season begin to slip away courtesy of Jerry Sandusky and the turmoil that followed. On the field it is a matchup of Houston's high powered passing attack led by record setting quarterback Case Keenum, and Penn State's old school combination of a power running game featuring Silas Redd, and of late Stephfon Greene, and a dominating defense. I'm always interested to see which style will win out in these matchups.
Date: January 2nd, 1:00 p.m. ABC
Matchup: #16 Georgia (10-3) vs. #17 Michigan State (10-3)
Reason worth watching: This game features two teams who finished as runner ups in their respective conferences. Michigan State lost a heartbreaker in their Big 10 title game rematch against Wisconsin, and Georgia leading at the half was dismantled in the 2nd half by unbeaten and top ranked LSU in the SEC championship game. I'm sure both of these teams are disappointed with their bowl bid, but it should be a great matchup of Big 10 power against SEC dominance.
AT&T Cotton Bowl
Date: January 6, 8:00 p.m. FOX
Matchup: #6 Arkansas (10-2) vs. #8 Kansas State (10-2)
Reason worth watching: This matchup is my personal favorite of the bowl season. The fact that both of these teams were passed over by the BCS in favor of Michigan vs. Virginia Tech is insane in my opinion. Quarterback Tyler Wilson leads a potent Arkansas offense against a gritty Kansas State squad led by do it all quarterback Collin Klein, who simply finds ways to win, although it might not always be pretty (sound like somebody familiar?). Klein had 38 total touchdowns this season and ran for over a thousand yards. This should be a high scoring affair, and it features two great coaching minds as well in Bobby Petrino, and Bill Snyder.
Date: January 8, 9:00 p.m. ESPN
Matchup: Northern Illinois (10-3) vs. Arkansas State (10-2)
Reason worth watching: This bowl features two conference champions, albeit champions of the MAC and Sun Belt conferences. Some of you may have never heard of these schools, but they play a very high level of football. These teams both feature high powered offenses so if you enjoy shootouts, and I happen to be a fan, you should check this one out. Keep in mind the NFL regular season will be over and the postseason games of the day should be over by 8, so if you're bored this will be your only football option for the night.