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Bowl Journal (Part 1)
by Larry Ness - 12/21/2010
More than three weeks before Auburn and Oregon will play in Glendale, Arizona in the BCS national championship game on January 10, 2011, the 2010-11 bowl season kicked off this past Saturday. I'll have much more on the Auburn/Oregon matchup in future Bowl Journals but let me point out that Oregon has never won a national championship and Auburn owns just one.
The Tigers began the 1957 season on probation and were bowl-banned, but finished a perfect 10-0 that year, allowing a total of just 28 points ('pitched' SIX shutouts!). Final polls back then were taken prior to the bowl games and Auburn was awarded the AP title. Auburn was not eligible in the coaches' poll and Ohio State, No. 2 in the AP poll, gave us split national champions that season (and people still insist the BCS is ruining CFB!).
Let me also point out that back in 1957, there were not only just FIVE bowl games (Gator, Orange, Sugar, Cotton and Rose) but just ONE of those five bowl games featured matchups between top-10 opponents. That was the Cotton Bowl in which No. 5 Navy beat No. 8 Rice, 20-7. Ohio State (which shared the title with Auburn that season) beat unranked Oregon 10-7 in the Rose Bowl (just 20 teams were ranked back then not 25).
In comparison to 1957, the current bowl season features a record 35 bowl games, involving 70 of the 72 schools which were bowl-eligible this year. Doing the math, 58.3 percent of CFB's 120 FBS schools will participate in bowl games this year. The two 'orphans' being 8-4 Temple and 6-6 Western Michigan, both of the MAC. Do we have too many bowl games? Probably, but it creates a plethora (as Howard would say) of opportunities for sports bettors.
Fourteen schools are going 'bowling' this year with 6-6 records but the only bowl to feature two, 6-6 teams was the very first of this year's bowl season, UTEP and BYU in the New Mexico Bowl. BYU routed UTEP 52-24 in Albuquerque on Saturday afternoon. Jake Heaps became the first freshman QB to start any of BYU's 29 bowl games, passing for four TDs. The Cougars outgained the Miners 514-to-233 in yards, as UTEP lost its fifth consecutive bowl game (last win came 14-7 over Ole Miss in the 1967 Sun Bowl). That's tied for the second-longest active bowl losing streak. Northwestern, which will play Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl on January 1, has lost seven straight (Wildcats' last and ONLY bowl win came back in the 1948 season when they beat Cal, 20-14 in the Rose Bowl).
The Humanitarian Bowl was up next this past Saturday and Northern Illinois 'wasted' Fresno State, 40-17. The game wasn't as close as the final score. Northern Illinois was stopped on its first drive but then scored on its next seven, going on a 40-3 run. The Huskies earned a school-record 11th victory and ended an very trying two-week stretch that started with a loss to Miami, Ohio in the MAC title game (12/3), then was compounded 48 hours later by the departure of head coach Jerry Kill for Minnesota. Interim coach Tom Matukewicz and QB Harnish (300 yards passing with one TD / 72 yards rushing and two more TDs) were the stars. Northern Illinois outgained Fresno State, 503-to-362 in yards. Pat Hill has led FSU to 11 bowl games in the last the last 12 seasons and the Bulldogs have been very consistent. They are now are 4-1 against BCS teams and 0-6 against the others!
Saturday's final bowl game was the New Orleans Bowl, featuring Ohio U and Troy. The Trojans scored on their first eight drives of the game and led 48-14 before the Bobcats made a defensive 'stop.' Talk about 'ugly!' Troy nearly doubled Ohio in yardage (602-308) and got a career-high four TD passes from QB Corey Robinson, as the Trojans set New Orleans Bowl records for points and total yards (602). The Trojans have won or shared the past five Sun Belt Conference titles and are 2-3 in bowl games since becoming a full member of the FBS in 2002. Meanwhile, Ohio fell to 0-5 all-time in bowl games and the Bobcats are just one of three schools to appear in at least three bowls without a win.
The favorite has covered each of this year's first three bowl games (unusual) and the games have been very high scoring, averaging 67.3 PPG. 'Over' bettors are just 2-1 though, as the totals have been equally high. I'm counting the Northern Illinois/Fresno State as a under but it did close as low as 57 (or even 56 1/2) at some places, after opening 60 (final was 40-17). Four more bowl games are on tap from Tuesday through Friday (Christmas Eve).
St Petersburg Bowl: Louisville (6-6) takes on Southern Miss (8-4) in St Petersburg, Fla in the newly-named, Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl (you KNOW there are too many bowl games!). This marks Louisville's 15th bowl game but first since 2006 (won Orange Bowl vs Wake Forest to finish 12-1 under Bobby Petrino). Meanwhile, this is Southern Miss' NINTH straight bowl game and 19th all-time. The Golden Eagles have quietly put together a remarkable program with 17 straight winning seasons and 13 bowl games in the last 14 years. Former Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong has done an excellent job in his first year at Louisville, as the Cards were off three consecutive bowl-less years under Steve Kragthorpe. Line as of Tuesday morning (12/21) was Louisville minus-2 1/2 and a total of 57.
Las Vegas Bowl: Utah (10-2) takes on Boise State (11-1). The Utes have something to prove, as they were ranked as high as No. 5 in the BCS standings this year but then lost 47-7 at home to TCU and 28-3 the following Saturday at South Bend. Utah takes a nine-game bowl winning streak into this game, the longest active of any school and just two shy of the all-time record held by Florida St. The Seminoles won 11 consecutive bowls between 1985 and 1995 and went 13-0-1 in bowl games from 1982-1995. As for Boise State, will the Broncos come in 'flat' after coming so close to another BCS bowl bid, as a win over Nevada would likely have sent Boise, not TCU, to this year's Rose Bowl? Or, will the Broncos look to "make a statement?" Boise State is making its ninth straight bowl appearance but it should be noted that the team has played seven consecutive bowl games in which the game has been decided by seven points or less (just 3-4 SU in those games). The Broncos join the Sooners as this bowl season's largest favorites, as Boise St was a 17-point choice as of Tuesday morning with a total of 60.
Poinsettia Bowl: Navy (9-3) takes on San Diego State (8-4). Navy is playing in its eighth straight bowl game (3-4 SU and 5-2 ATS) and the school's 17th all-time. The Aztecs are making their first bowl trip since the formation of the MWC (1999) and the school's first since a 20-13 loss in the Las Vegas Bowl to North Carolina in 1998. It's just the school's sixth bowl appearance in history and SDSU's lone bowl win came way back in 1969, when it beat Boston U (not, Boston College!) , 28-7. Brady Hoke is in just his second year at San Diego St and the Aztecs are hoping (praying?) that they can keep him. SDSU is playing in its home stadium but San Diego has always been a "home away from home' for Navy. The Aztecs are favored by four points and the total is 60 1/2.
Hawaii Bowl: Tulsa (9-3) takes on Hawaii (10-3) and like the Aztecs, the Rainbows get to play their bowl game at home. Tulsa averages 39.7 PPG (10th) and Hawaii 39.9 PPG (9th). The Golden Hurricane come in having won eight of their last nine games (21-18 loss to SMU their only blemish) while the Rainbows enter having won nine of their last 10 (lone loss on the famous blue turf of Boise). This will be Tulsa's 17th bowl trip and the third in four years under Todd Graham, whose first two bowls with Tulsa resulted in 63-7 (Bowling Green) and 45-13 (Ball St) GMAC Bowl wins. Hawaii is in its 10th bowl game and second under McMackin. He's hoping it goes better than his first, when his team was torched by Jimmy Clausen in a 49-21 win by Notre Dame in the 2008 Hawaii Bowl. Hawaii is favored by 10 points and the total is 73. Currently, the only higher total this bowl season is the 74 we see on the BCS national championship game between Oregon and Auburn. Who said, "defense wins championships?"
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. My next bowl journal will be posted December 25 or 26.