Bowl Games 2011: Opening Slate

Let’s start off with all the pre-Christmas bowl games. The full set of winner-loser predictions are available, but more detailed previews will come closer to the games themselves.

As usual, all times Eastern, and all predictions wrong.

Saturday, December 17
2:00: Temple vs. Wyoming (New Mexico Bowl @ Albuquerque, NM; ESPN): Bowl season kicks off down in New Mexico, where anything could happen in this MAC-MWC matchup. Which, like many of these sorts of games, make it hard to predict. The matchup the Owls will be looking to exploit is their 7th-ranked rushing attack against the nation’s 115th-ranked rushing defense. Temple also has a decent defense themselves, which makes me inclined to think they’ll prevail.
Previous meetings: Only one, back in 1990. Wyoming won 38-23.
Last bowl game: For the Cowboys, it was the 2009 edition of this very game, where they beat Fresno State 35-28. Temple also last went bowling in 2009 despite an 8-4 record last year. They lost to UCLA 30-21 in what was then the Eaglebank Bowl, but is now the Military Bowl.
Fun facts: New for this year, I’ll attempt to unearth some sort of interesting (to me, at least) fact about either or both of the teams involved in the game. Generally this means I’ll look something up on Wikipedia, so hopefully the schools involved don’t generally have their pages vandalized very often. But today, I will remind you that brown and gold are Wyoming’s official colors. This leads to what I think are college football’s most charming and, at the same time, ugliest uniforms:

When EA Sports’ NCAA Football games used to have a create-a-school option I generally tried to make the home uniforms as ugly as possible. After they took that out, well, it was pretty obvious which team I had to lead to glory.

5:30: Utah State vs. Ohio (Potato Bowl @ Boise, ID; ESPN): Utah State chose pretty much the most dramatic route to a bowl game possible. After a 2-5 start including a game at Auburn that they led in the fourth quarter and a double overtime loss to Colorado State, they rallied to win five straight. Nonetheless, they only one two of their games by more than a touchdown, which means that the Bobcats will likely be in this thing to the end. Both these teams would prefer to run the bowl, especially Utah State, whereas Ohio features a more balanced offense. That said, I like the Bobcats. While their numbers are very similar, I think the MAC was a tougher conference than the WAC this year. I guess we’ll find out for sure on Saturday, though.
Previous meetings: Once, amazingly, in 1994. If I had more time, I would look this up, because Utah State apparently won 5-0. (I just checked on Google, but even 1994 as a search term it still just came up with articles for this year’s game.)
Last bowl game: For the Aggies, you have to go all the way back to 1997, when they lost to Cincinnati 35-19 in the Humanitarian Bowl. The Bobcats are headed to their 3rd straight game and their first win in a bowl game (they’re 0-5 all-time in bowl games). They lost 48-21 to Troy last year in the New Orleans Bowl.
Fun facts: Utah State’s basketball arena is known as the “Dee Glen Smith Spectrum”, which reminds me that one of these days I need to figure out how “Spectrum” became used as a word for indoor sports arenas, as Idaho has the Keenan Spectrum for basketball, and Philadelphia, of course, had the most famous version.

9:00: San Diego State vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (New Orleans Bowl @ New Orleans, LA; ESPN): The Ragin’ Cajuns should definitely enjoy home field advantage in their first ever bowl game. That said, I don’t think that will be enough to get them past a superior San Diego State team.
Previous meetings: None.
Last bowl game: The Ragin’ Cajuns have been playing major college football since 1973, and this will be their first bowl game. In that time, they only have two other seasons with more than 6 wins: 1993 (8-3) and 1976. The Aztecs are now in a bowl game two years running. Last year they beat Navy 35-14 in the hometown Poinsettia Bowl.
Fun facts: There have been numerous debates in Louisiana over the years about which school there had the right to call itself just “the University of Louisiana”. While there’s always definitively been one Louisiana State, the University of Louisiana system was only formed in 1974 as a conglomeration of existing campuses. That said, Lafayette is the largest campus in the system.

Tuesday, December 20
8:00: Marshall vs. Florida International (Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl @ St. Petersburg, FL; ESPN): Neither of these teams really do the “scoring points” thing particularly well, but at least FIU does prevent other teams from scoring points. The result? A situation where I’ll actually pick a Sun Belt team to win.
Previous meetings: None.
Last bowl game: For the Herd, it was the 2009 Little Ceasars Bowl, where they beat Ohio 21-17. FIU, of course, made their first ever bowl appearance in that very same game, but in 2010, where they beat Toledo 34-32.
Fun facts: FIU was established in 1965, which has to make them one of, if not the, youngest universities in major college football.

Wednesday, December 21
8:00: Louisiana Tech vs. Texas Christian (Poinsettia Bowl @ San Diego, CA; ESPN): While TCU finds itself in the somewhat strange situation of being outside the top ten teams in the country in defense, they’re still pretty good. And I’ll roll with the MWC champs over the WAC champs any day.
Previous meetings: None.
Last bowl game: LaTech was last seen beating Northern Illinois in the 2008 Independence Bowl, 17-10. TCU meantime, is back in the Poinsettia Bowl (where they played in 2008, beating a 12-1 Boise team 17-16) after two straight appearance in BCS bowl games. Boise got revenge in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl, winning 17-10, but the Horned Frogs mustered just enough to win the Rose Bowl 21-19 against Wisconsin last year. TCU has also made a bowl appearance every year since 2004, and discounting that, every year since 1998.
Fun facts: Unlike, say, Georgia Tech, the full name of LaTech is actually “Louisiana Tech University”. And they really are a university, since they have 19 bachelor’s degrees in the liberal arts. If you’re reading this, you likely already know the answer to this question, but I’ll ask anyway: in major college football (Division I-A or FBS, that is) there are 120 teams. Five of them, one of them being Georgia Tech, do not have the word “university” in their title (as GT is the Georgia Institute of Technology). What are the other four?

Thursday, December 22
8:00: Arizona State vs. Boise State (Las Vegas Bowl @ Las Vegas, NV; ESPN): Unless Boise just comes in completely deflated and unmotivated in making their second straight Las Vegas Bowl appearance after having BCS aspirations (with this year being especially painful since they this was probably their best chance of getting into the BCS title game ever), this should be a cakewalk for Boise. The best Arizona State can hope for, most likely, is a shootout. [insert obligatory mention of Arizona State quarterback Brock Oswelier’s 6’8″ stature here]
Previous meetings: One, back before Boise State was any sort of powerhouse. The Sun Devils won easily, 56-7.
Last bowl game: Probably part of the reason Dennis Erickson got the ol’ heave-ho is that this is the Sun Devil’s first bowl game since 2007, where they lost to Texas 52-34 in the Holiday Bowl. Boise beat down Utah 26-3 in last year’s Las Vegas Bowl, continuing a streak they’ve had since 2002, or 1999 if you discount that they went 8-4 in 2002 but didn’t get an invite.
Fun facts: While I don’t really mind the blue turf myself, it has invited a host of copycats. Most famous of these non-Boise surfaces is, of course, Eastern Washington:

But there’s also the field donated to Barrow High School, which I believe is the world’s northernmost American football field:

But this? There’s just… well, I guess if you’re the Central Arkansases (I guess that’s the plural of “Arkansas”?) you’ll do just about anything to stand out:

Saturday, December 24
8:00: Southern Mississippi vs. Nevada (Hawaii Bowl @ Honolulu, HI; ESPN): Nevada entered the season with hopes of dominating this year’s watered-down WAC, but instead lost two conference games and got sent to Hawaii. Southern Miss, of course, just pulled off a pretty big upset to take the Conference USA crown, and they did it by forcing Case Keenum to have the worst day of his life. However, instead of ending up in the nearby Liberty Bowl, shenanigans occurred and they got sent to Hawaii. I mean, there are worse places to go for sure, but it’s not so good in terms of having a victory lap for one of the most successful seasons in school history. They’ll also need to switch gears from their stifling pass defense to their pretty good run defense, as they face the Wolf Pack’s unique pistol offense. The Golden Eagles are no slouches on offense themselves, though, and they should eventually pull away in the second half for the victory.
Previous meetings: Two, in what was likely a home-and-home arrangement. Southern Miss won both legs, though. In 1997 the Golden Eagles prevailed 35-19, and then really poured it on in 1998 in a 55-28 win.
Last bowl game: Southern Miss is on a pretty long bowl game run themselves: every year since 2001, and 1997 if you discount that. Last year they lost 31-28 to Louisville in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl. Nevada’s made a game every year since 2005, and last year beat Boston College 20-13 in the Fight Hunger Bowl.
Fun facts: In 1923, California finished 9-0-1 and claims a national title for that year. The only blemish was a 0-0 tie to Nevada. The Golden Bears had a 50-game winning streak at the time as well, making this one of the most unlikely upsets ever.