Bowl season kicks off tonight

    
December 20th, 2007

If you're a diehard college football fan, then this is the season for you. Thirty-two games spanning the nation from tonight until the National Championship game on January 7th will allow the winners to head into the off-season with a positive feeling. Truth be told, there's too many bowl games out there, most of them sponsored by companies who will bombard you with commercials touting the virtues of their products. And with the exception of the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, I could care less what these people are hawking.

But that's all for another day, as is the argument that Division I-A (I refuse to refer to is as the Football Bowl Subdivision...that change was flat-out stupid) should have a playoff system. Guys who play once a week will clearly miss too much class time during a month in which most schools are out of session, while college basketball players continue to have perfect attendance during the month of March. Here's a preview of the games from tonight's San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl to Sunday's Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl (San Diego)
December 20th, 9 PM EST (ESPN)
Utah vs. Navy

The Midshipmen head into this game without the services of Paul Johnson, who has moved on to take the head coaching job at Georgia Tech. But if there's a team with the discipline required to deal with such a change, Navy would be that group. QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, who may have the longest name in college football, leads the Middies in both passing and rushing this year. But don’t forget about the diminutive Reggie Campbell, a game-breaker who put together a masterful performance against rival Army. And in a season with two important firsts (their first win over Notre Dame in 43 years; the first-ever six-game win streak in the history of the Army/Navy series), a win over the Utes would be a good way to close out 2007.

But they will have their hands full with a Utah team who's quietly been one of the nation's hotter teams in the final month of the season. Up until their season-ending loss to bitter rival BYU, Utah had won seven in a row. QB Brian Johnson’s return has helped the Utes on the offensive side of the ball, but it’s been RB Darrell Mack (1128 yards, 10 TD) who’s led the attack this season. Utah also boasts the top scoring defense in the Mountain West, but they will have their hands full with the nation’s best rushing offense. I like Utah to win this game because of the fact that they get to see some semblance of the option attack every season (Air Force is a member of the Mountain West), along with the spread attack that they run themselves.

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
December 21st, 8 PM EST (ESPN2)
Florida Atlantic vs. Memphis

After a 2-4 start and the tragic shooting of Taylor Bradford, it would have been easy for the Memphis Tigers to mail it in and simply play out the string. But they refused to do so, winning five of their final six games, resulting in a tie with East Carolina for second in the East Division of Conference USA. Martin Hankins has remained healthy this season, throwing for more than 2900 yards and 22 touchdowns. And he’s got a capable stable of receivers at his disposal, led by sophomores Duke Calhoun and Calvin Singleton. But defense will be a concern, as the Tigers surrendered 375 points this season. But they will put some on the board, especially when you consider FAU’s 405 points allowed this season.

Howard Schnellenberger has taken a program that was just created in 2001 to their first Sun Belt title, winning their season finale at Troy to clinch the New Orleans Bowl berth. But how do they get it done? QB Rusty Smith has thrown for more than 3300 yards and twenty-seven scores, with nine of those belonging to WR Cortez Gent. Charles Pierre can offer a diversion through the running game, but the Owls will look to do the majority of their damage through the air. With both defenses showing the ability to give up points, expect a high-scoring affair…and I like Memphis to leave the Superdome with the win.

Papajohns.com Bowl (Birmingham, AL)
December 22nd, 1 PM EST (ESPN2)
Southern Miss vs. Cincinnati

Hate to say it, but it’s a good thing that the Georgetown/Memphis basketball game will be going on at the time this one kicks off, because it’s got all the makings of a blowout. Southern Miss comes into this one with a lame duck coach in Jeff Bower, who after fourteen seasons of service has been asked to move on (can you say “delusions of grandeur”?). The Golden Eagles have traditionally been a good defensive team, but they’ll have a tough time corralling Ben Mauk and the rest of the Bearcats. Southern Miss has one of the better running backs in Conference USA in Damion Fletcher, who has 1431 rushing yards and fifteen touchdowns on the season.

Cincinnati will come into this game with mixed emotions. Good news is that they’ve locked up head coach Brian Kelly with a nice extension, a man whose name has come up in regard to a few openings this off-season. Bad news is that despite their 9-3 record they’re playing in a bowl game before Christmas much less the New Year. But even with that feeling of disappointment, their defense is dynamic enough to take away Fletcher and put the game in the hands of Golden Eagles QB Jeremy Young. And on the other side of the ball, UC has plenty of weapons either on the ground or through the air. I like Cincinnati by two touchdowns in this one. And while Larry Fedora is a good hire for USM, I believe they made a mistake by forcing Bower out.

New Mexico Bowl (Albuquerque, NM)
December 22nd, 4:30 PM EST (ESPN)
Nevada vs. New Mexico

For the second straight season, the Lobos will finish their year on their home field, but they’re hoping for a better result than last year’s loss to San Jose State in the inaugural New Mexico Bowl. Having to make up for the graduation of DonTrell Moore was tough, but Rodney Ferguson stepped up to the tune of 1177 yards and thirteen touchdowns on the ground. However, Ferguson is ineligible for this game so look for the Lobos to take to the air early and often in this one. QB Donovan Porterie has played well this season, and it’s hard not to when you’ve got a pair of wide receivers like Marcus Smith and Travis Brown. Their watershed moment had to be the win at Arizona in which these two shredded a highly touted secondary that featured the eventual Jim Thorpe Award winner (CB Antoine Cason).

UNM is 5-1 at home this year, but the defense will have a hard time slowing down the “Pistol” offense and its young quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The freshman signal-caller leads the nation’s eighth-ranked offense, which is fortified by the running of Luke Lippincott (1380 yards, 15 touchdowns). Nevada has a tendency to give up points on the defensive end, but when you can score the way they can you can get away with it. And with Ferguson out, this is one of those games. New Mexico’s wide receivers will keep the game close, but in the end I like the Wolf Pack to make it two in a row for the WAC in the New Mexico Bowl.

Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl
December 22nd, 8 PM EST (ESPN)
UCLA vs. BYU

On the surface, you’d think that this one would be a blowout in favor of the Mountain West champs. But keep in mind that the Bruins beat BYU back in September (27-17). But to be fair, that was before UCLA was hit hard by the injury bug, and QB Max Hall wasn’t completely comfortable in the BYU offense. He is now, finishing with twenty-four touchdown passes and more than 3600 yards. RB Harvey Unga has run for 1211 yards on the season, and he’s a tough man to bring down once he heads downhill. And for a program that hasn’t been known for its defense until the past couple of seasons, BYU only allows eighteen points per game.

In addition to the MASH unit that they’ll have to trot out Saturday night, the Bruins are also without Karl Dorrell, who was let go following their loss to USC. Defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker is the interim head coach, a man the players would love to see get the job when AD Dan Guerrero makes his decision. UCLA has some talent on both sides of the ball, most notably safety Chris Horton and defensive end Bruce Davis. Recent history would lead you to believe that the banged-up Bruins would find someway to win a game they have no business winning, but BYU’s skill combined with the aforementioned September meeting make this one easy to call. I like BYU to close out an outstanding season with a performance along the lines of last year’s beating of Oregon in the same bowl game.

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl (Honolulu, HI)
December 23rd, 8 PM EST (ESPN)
Boise State vs. East Carolina

Nothing has seemed to come easy for the Pirates this season, from beginning their season at Virginia Tech to having to travel all the way to Hawaii for their bowl game. But at least they’ve got a nice locale in which to cap a 7-5 campaign. Running back Chris Johnson has run for more than 1,200 yards on the season, and look for him to get a good number of touches in this one. Quarterbacks Patrick Pinckney and Robert Cass have both thrown for more than 1100 yards, but neither is the game-breaker through the air that Boise State’s Taylor Tharp is.

Tharp has thrown for twenty-eight touchdowns and 3,070 yards for the season, and there’s also a nice stable of running backs as well. Ian Johnson has run for more than 1,000 yards again despite being banged up for part of the season, but his injuries only allowed Jeremy Avery and D.J. Harper to step up and show their ability. It’s not the BCS, but it is an opportunity for the Broncos to close their season with a solid win. And as we saw in the Fiesta Bowl last season, no trick will be held back by Chris Peterson if the opportunity presents itself. This game will be closer than it looks on paper, but I still like the Broncos to win the game.