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Bowl Journal

   by Larry Ness - 12/23/2009

They are called minor bowls for a reason. The bowl schedule now features 34 games which means 64 schools are participating. With that many bowl openings, there almost has to be, by very definition, room for some schools which would qualify for the "cash for clunkers" program.

Wyoming was surely one of those schools but the 6-6 Cowboys, who had four wins by three points or fewer and hadn't stayed within single digits of any of the five bowl foes it met during the regular season, beat an 8-4 Fresno State team 35-28 in double OT. The New Mexico Bowl was the first of four bowl games to be completed in the 2009-10 season and so far, underdogs have gone 3-1 SU and ATS.

The New Mexico Bowl has been the lowest-scoring of the four bowl games to-date, as Rutgers beat Central Florida 45-24 in the St Petersburg Bowl 45-24, Middle Tennessee St beat Southern Miss 42-32 in the New Orleans Bowl and then BYU beat Oregon State 44-20 in the Las Vegas Bowl. That's four 'overs' in a row with games averaging 67.5 points per contest and surpassing the total on average, by 12.8 PPG.

One must admire the job done by Rutgers' Greg Schiano. On November 6, 1869 at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, Rutgers beat Princeton 6-4. It was the first-ever intercollegiate game. Rutgers would wait until the 1978 season before its first-ever bowl appearance and then would not make a second one until 2005, in Greg Sciano's fifth season. This year's St Petersburg Bowl appearance by the Scarlet Knights made it five straight bowl trips for a school which previously made just one bowl appearance from 1869 through 2004 and Saturday's win was the Scarlet Knights' fourth straight win.

Southern Miss is not known as a football power but the team has posted a winning season in each of the last 16 years. This year's New Orleans Bowl appearance made it 12 bowl games in the last 13 years (mostly under Jeff Bower, who is now coaching the New Orleans Hornets, how about that for a transition?), including seven wins in its previous 11 bowl games. Sunday's New Orleans Bowl was the Golden Eagles' fourth visit in the last six years with the school going 3-0 SU and 2-1 ATS in the previous three.

Southern Miss opened a 14-0 lead but MTSU would come back to win 42-32, giving the Blue Raiders the school's first bowl win in school history. MTSU just moved to FBS in 1999 with only one previous bowl appearance to its credit, a 31-14 loss to Central Michigan in the 2006 Motor City Bowl.

QB Dwight Dasher of MTSU completed 15 of 25 passes for 162 yards (2 TDs / 0 INTs) and ran 26 times for 201 yards, adding another two TDs. Dasher broke the QB bowl rushing record of 200 yards set by Texas' Vince Young in the 2005 national championship game when the Longhorns beat the Trojans 41-38 at the Rose Bowl in January of 2006 (that's pretty good company!).

Max Hall re-shirted his freshman year ('04) at Arizona State and then transferred to BYU but left for a mission. When he took over as BYU's starting QB, he hadn't played a competitive game in four years. All he did in '07 was lead BYU to an 11-2 season, ending the season on a 10-game winning streak after its 17-16 Las Vegas Bowl win over UCLA. Hall passed for 3,848 yards in '07, throwing 26 TDs and just 12 INTs (completed 60.1 percent). Hall led BYU to a 10-3 season in 2008, completing 69.0 percent of his passes for 3,957 yards with 35 TDs and 14 INTs. Hall entered the 2009 season with a 21-5 record as a starter, a 61-26 TD-to-INT ratio and 11 career 300-yard passing games (threw for a career-high 537 yards vs Tulsa in 2007).

He opened his senior year at BYU by leading the Cougars to a 14-13 upset of Oklahoma at Cowboys Stadium back on September 5 and closed his career at BYU by leading the 15th-ranked Cougars to a 44-20 win over the 16th-ranked Oregon St Beavers in the Las Vegas Bowl. It was the first time the Las Vegas Bowl had featured two ranked teams but it didn't produce a very interesting result.

BYU dominated from start to finish, as the Cougars led 23-7 at the half and by 37-7 early in the fourth QB. Hall threw for a modest 192 yards but had three TD passes with no INTs. He finishes he college career with 94 career TD passes and just 40 INTs with 19, 300-yard games. More importantly, he led BYU to a 32-7 record, giving him more wins as a starting QB than any BYU previous player, a list that includes Steve Young and 1990 Heisman-winner Ty Detmer (who held the previous record).

The win gave the Cougars their third win in five straight bowl appearances in Sin City and ended the Beavers' run of five consecutive bowl wins. Also, BYU now owns 43 wins over the last four seasons (2006-09), moving the Cougars into a tie with Ohio State for fourth-most in the country over that span (Buckeyes will go for win No. 44 in this year's Rose Bowl on January 1 vs Oregon). Let me also point out that the MWC is now 12-4 in bowl games in that span (and counting).

The MWC goes for another bowl win on Wednesday night, when No. 23 Utah (9-3) takes on 8-4 California in the Poinsettia Bowl. Most remember that Utah completed a perfect 13-0 season last year by upsetting then-No. 4 Alabama 31-17 (as nine-point underdogs) in the Sugar Bowl, finishing No. 2 in the final AP poll.

That success saw the Utes ranked in the AP preseason poll (at No. 19) for the first time, They opened the 2009 season with wins over Utah St and San Jose St, extending the nation's longest active winning streak to 16. However, the Utes would lose 31-24 at Oregon on September 19. They would win six in a row after that but lost two of their final three regular season games, 55-28 at TCU and 26-23 (OT) at BYU. Still, Utah takes the nation's longest active bowl winning streak into its game with Cal, having won eight straight bowl games.

California began the year with three straight wins and rose to No. 6 in the AP poll with RB Jahvid Best being considered as a leading Heisman candidate. However, the Golden Bears lost 42-3 loss at Oregon on September 26 and 30-3 in Berkeley the very next Saturday to USC. Cal would win five of its next six games, including beating Stanford in the "Big Game." That win moved Cal back into the AP poll at No. 19 but the Bears concluded the regular season with an embarrassing 42-10 loss at Washington on December 5.

It was recently announced that RB Best would not play in this game but it should be noted that Cal has reached a bowl game for a school-record seven consecutive seasons under head coach Jeff Tedford, winning the last four. The current line has Cal favored by three points (52 is the total).

Christmas Eve's Hawaii Bowl features 7-5 SMU vs 8-4 Nevada. Most people know the story at SMU. The Mustangs were one of the nation's top teams in the early 80s but in the middle of that decade the program was put on three years probation before the NCAA shut down the program in 1987. The program got up and running again but before hiring June Jones to begin the 2008 season, the Mustangs had gone 58-153-3 under four coaches and posted one winning record, 6-5 in 1997.

Jones had a highly successful career at Hawaii, and in his ninth and final season with the Rainbows, led them (along with QB Colt Brennan) to an undefeated regular season and a BCS Bowl bid (Sugar Bowl) against Georgia, Jones would leave for SMU after the team's 41-10 loss to the Bulldogs. SMU went just 1-11 last year but this year went 7-5 and Jones got the bowl bid he desired, a return trip to Hawaii.

Up in Nevada, Chris Ault returned to Reno in 2004 and this year's bowl trip is the school's fifth straight. Hopefully, the setting will bring back good memories as after beating UCF 49-48 (OT) in the 2005 Hawaii Bowl, Nevada has lost its last three bowl trips. The Wolf Pack began the 2009 season 0-3 but then won eight consecutive games, averaging 51.6 PPG and an incredible 445.6 YPG rushing (8.4 YPC) during the streak. That winning streak came to an end on the "blue turf" of Boise, as the Broncos beat the Wolf Pack 44-33. Nevada is favored by 12 1/2-points with a total of 72 1/2.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all and I'll return with another Bowl Journal, early Saturday morning.

Good luck, Larry

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