Five Under The Radar Bowls To Watch
Bowl week, a week so magnificent it stretches out over nearly three weeks, is upon us and everybody knows the big BCS matchups. Of course, those are literally weeks away but in the meantime there are a number of bowls that may not have the same sizzle as Texas-Alabama but should nevertheless be entertaining. Put these five bowls on your holiday to-do list:
MAACO Las Vegas Bowl, December 22-Oregon State vs. BYU Once again the Oregon State Beavers quietly put together a great season and came within one game of the Rose Bowl. Oregon State is led by the Rodgers brothers, running back Jacquizz (a future NFL back for sure) and speedy wide receiver James. BYU was the original BCS buster this year after the Cougars upset Oklahoma but a loss to Florida State derailed BYU's BCS bid. A loss to TCU ended BYU's chances to win the conference but the Cougars rallied to win their final four games. Both teams average more than 30 points per game and true to Las Vegas the scoreboard should light up like The Strip.
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, December 24-Nevada vs. SMU Welcome back, SMU. The Mustangs will play in their first bowl since the 1984 Aloha Bowl (one day shy of the 25th anniversary.) It took SMU 20 years to recover from the NCAA's death penalty and it looked like another losing season midway through October but three straight wins propelled them to bowl eligibility. The Mustangs are coached by June Jones, who took Hawaii to the Sugar Bowl two years ago, and his wide-open offense will be on full display. Meanwhile Nevada brings the unique pistol offense, which tends to be a pass-happy offense but this year the Wolfpack added a potent running attack that finished first in the country in rushing. Nevada destroyed UNLV in early October with 559 rushing yards. Not total yards, mind you, rushing yards. That's no fluke. Nevada averaged 362 rushing yards this year.
EagleBank Bowl, December 29-UCLA vs. Temple The job done by Temple coach Al Golden is nothing short of a miracle. Golden took over in 2006 after a winless season but in his first year the Owls only won once. But the program began turning in year two with a 4-8 record followed by a five win campaign last year. It looked like another down year after opening the season with ugly losses to Villanova and Penn State but the Owls reeled off nine straight wins and are bowling for the first time since 1979. Like Nevada, Temple loves to run. The Owls average nearly 200 yards per game and they are physical. Last time we saw UCLA, the Bruins were ready to go to war after a running-up-the-score job by USC. Early on things looked promising for UCLA has they opened with three straight wins but once conference play began UCLA struggled. Offensively the Bruins don't bring much to the table but UCLA is a good defensive team led by Brian Price. Both teams are looking for respect on the national level.
Roady's Humanitarian Bowl, December 30-Bowling Green vs. Idaho What better place to spend the holidays than beautiful Boise, Idaho? All jokes aside this matchup features two teams more than happy to be playing in a bowl. The Falcons of Bowling Green were not expected to do much this year and 2009 appeared to be a lost season after a 1-4 start. Meanwhile, the Vandals were picked to finish last in the WAC but a fast start quickly erased those preseason predictions. Two things make this game interesting: in all seven wins Bowling Green scored more than 30 points while in five losses Idaho gave up 42, 70, 31, 63 and 52 points. Scoring may not be a problem for the Falcons. Second thing of note: keep your eye on Idaho's offensive line. Guard Mike Iupati might be the best at his position and is of NFL caliber. Iupati will be a starter on Sundays next season.
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, December 31-Houston vs. Air Force This is one of those bowls that makes bowl season great. It is a classic matchup of strength versus strength. Houston has the nation's number one passing offense while Air Force is first in pass defense. Something's gotta give. The Cougars are led by quarterback Case Keenum, who would've won the Heisman if he played at Texas instead of Houston. Keenum threw for 5,449 yards but will face a fast, playmaking defense in Air Force that forced 28 turnovers. Of course, the Falcons are known for running the ball and Air Force finished fourth in rushing in 2009. This is also a rematch of last year's Armed Forces Bowl, won by Houston 34-28.