What is better than a week of holiday travel through snowstorms and busy airports, awkward parties with extended family who you haven't talked to since last Christmas, and a barrage of dress socks and ugly sweaters you'll unwrap and then bury in the back of your closet for two years?
Pre-Christmas bowl games!*
(exclamation point brought to you by mandate of the BCS, bowl lobby, and Jim Delany's pimp hand)
Hell, you wouldn't have thought so last Saturday. Three games, and three completely uninteresting blowouts. When the highlight of the day comes at the end of the last game and is completely unrelated to football--and totally related to awesome facial hair--it is a rude awakening to just how forced and meaningless most of these bowl games are. You could write books on the great match ups in Rose, Orange, and Cotton bowls past, but something about the UDrove Humanitarian Bowl just doesn't scream "tradition" and "excellence". The pre-New Year's Day bowls only redeeming qualities come from competitive games between teams you probably wouldn't have paid any attention to otherwise. Graded on that standard, Saturday's fare landed with a hollow thud.
What does the future hold? Will we finally get a bowl game that hasn't been decided by the end of the first quarter? Let's dive into this week's lineup:
Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl St. Petersburg Bowl
Southern Mississippi (8-4, 5-3 C-USA) vs. Louisville (6-6, 3-4 Big East)
Tuesday, December 21st, 8:00pm, ESPN
Before we delve too deeply into this match up, let's hear from Dr. Saturday himself, Matt Hinton, on the warmth and joy that an alumni feels when his team goes to such an illustrious bowl game (via twitter):
There are many unsavory aspects of witnessing one's alma mater in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl. The most demeaning: The superfluous apostrophe.
No, that wasn't a typo in the header. There are apostrophes on either side of the "O" in 'O' Brady's. Why? Who knows. I have never been to a Beef 'O' Brady's--and would like to keep it that way--but it doesn't strike me as the kind of restaurant that is concerned with anything but serving mountains of unhealthy food at rock bottom prices.
As for the game itself, the match up has the makings of an interesting game. On one side is the stout defense of Louisville, led by coach Charlie Strong. The Cardinals are 12th in the nation in total defense and 15th in scoring defense. The Cardinals have only given up 30 or more points twice this season (35 to both Oregon St. and Cincinnati). Southern Miss on the other hand, has been putting up some impressive numbers on the other side of the ball as the 15th ranked total offense in the country that has scored 40 or more points seven times this season and is also a very balanced offensive attack with 200 ypg coming on the ground and 250 ypg coming through the air.
In the end this looks to be the first taste of real, honest to God, four quarter football action that the bowl season has seen yet. Two strong units face off for the right to whatever hideous trophy Beef 'O' Brady's rolls out. Add in the dance-off turned brawl from earlier in the week, the subsequent twitter feud, and the tragedy that befell three Southern Miss players earlier in the year and you have an emotionally charged game that could easily go all twelve rounds.
And if that isn't enough to keep you interested, stay to listen to Lou Holtz try to pronounce Beef 'O' Brady's.
MAACO Bowl Las Vegas
Utah (10-2, 7-1 MWC) vs. Boise St. (11-1, 7-1 WAC)
Wednesday, December 22nd, 8:00pm, ESPN
This looks from the outside to be a great match up, but I am not too sure. Boise St. is the real deal. This is a team that is back-to-back missed FG's away from playing in Pasadena in a week and a half, and arguably a better team that over half of the eight teams slated to play in the four major BCS bowls. Does this mean we will see an apathetic Bronco squad on the field Wednesday, or a team out for blood? If you have watched Boise St. play over the past half a decade it should be readily apparent that this team is never just happy to be there. Chris Petersen's boys will be out for blood.
If you look at the record and take recent history as any indication, Utah seems like the kind of team that can hang with Boise St. for an entire game. However, looks can be deceiving. Utah's signiture win is an overtime escape at home against Pittsburgh in the first game of the season. The Utes then rolled off seven more wins to move to #5 in the national polls, only to be thrown violently back to earth by TCU in a 47-7 bloodbath. The next week a trip to Notre Dame ended in humiliating defeat once again. Utah finished the season scraping by SDSU and BYU by a combined five points.
All of this adds up to a Boise St. romp in Las Vegas. Two of Utah's three marquee games have been blowouts, and the other a OT win against a Pitt team that made a habit out of collapsing over the rest of the season. Odds are, this one won't even be close.
More later this week.