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College Football Season

Bowl Season Preview

by Mike Mitchell

The college football bowl season offers some interesting matchups, quite a few duds and the highly-anticipated USC-Texas showdown for the national title.

Arkansas State's first-ever 1-A bowl trip highlights the opening game when the Indians face Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl. This year, of course, the New Orleans Bowl isn't in New Orleans - it's in Lafayette. Maybe we should just call it the Lafayette Bowl. Or, since it is at Cajun Field, the Cajun Bowl sounds good.

Anyway, this is also about the biggest dud of the bowl season. It usually is. Southern Miss is a 16-point favorite over the Sun Belt co-champs (with Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe). The Golden Eagles beat North Texas 31-10 in this game last year.

Southern Miss isn't the only team playing in the same bowl game as last year. In all, four teams will have a feeling of deja vu. Minnesota is headed back to the Music City Bowl for the second straight year and the third time in the last four years. Miami is making a return trip to the Peach Bowl. Texas is playing in back-to-back Rose Bowls.

Ohio State went to the Alamo Bowl last year but is back at the Fiesta Bowl for the third time in the last four seasons. Florida went to the Peach Bowl last year but is back in the Outback Bowl for the third time in the last four years.

Arkansas State is one of four teams going bowling for the first time. Akron, Central Florida and South Florida are the others.

Akron is making its first 1-A bowl appearance at the Motor City Bowl as the MAC Champs take on Memphis. The Zips moved up to 1-A in 1987.

Central Florida, which tried and failed to become kings of the MAC for three seasons from 2002-2004, switched to CUSA this year and found success. Last year, the Golden Knights went 0-for-11 in the MAC after a 3-9 season in 2003. This year, UCF dropped its first two games before ending a 17-game losing streak with a home win over its former MAC counterpart, Marshall. The Golden Knights are 8-2 in their last ten games and headed to the Hawaii Bowl for their first postseason trip as a 1-A school. Central Florida will take on WAC co-champ Nevada.

UCF began its football program in 1979 and moved up to 1-A in 1996.

South Florida is even younger.

USF didn't have a football program of any type until 1997. Now, the Bulls are facing N.C. State in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte. The Bulls moved up to 1-A in 2001, joined CUSA in 2003 and switched to the Big East this year.

The Meineke Car Care Bowl (formerly the Continental Tire Bowl), despite its stupid sponsor-only name, was ranked by Sports Business Journal behind only the NFL's Houston Texans and ESPN The Magazine on its list of Best Sports Start-Ups over the past five years. The bowl started in 2002 and has averaged over 65,000 fans with two sell-outs in three games.

Speaking of Bowl Start-Ups, the Poinsettia Bowl is brand new this year. The NCAA certified the Holiday Bowl organization to run the event after the Silicon Valley Classic was not renewed. Like the Holiday Bowl, the game will take place in San Diego at Qualcomm Stadium, home of the NFL's San Diego Chargers. This year's participants are Colorado State and Navy.

While some young football programs are finding success and enjoying their first bowl trips, one very old football school is pretty inexperienced at this whole bowl thing, too. Rutgers participated in the first college football game ever played in 1869, but it wasn't until 1978 that they participated in a bowl game.

While it's great that the Scarlet Knights are finally headed to their second-ever bowl game, whose idea was it to have them play the only team they've ever faced in a bowl game? That's right, Rutgers' only other bowl game was a loss to Arizona State in the short-lived Garden State Bowl.

The Scarlet Knights couldn't have asked for a much worse situation, either. The Insight Bowl is practically a home game for their opponent. At least this isn't 2006 when the game will be moved from Bank One Ballpark to Sun Devil Stadium.

There are other teams that haven't exactly made it a habit to go bowling. Nevada is playing in its first bowl game since 1996. When Kansas meets Houston in the Ft. Worth Bowl, the Jayhawks will be making just their fourth bowl appearance in the last thirty years.

At the other end of the spectrum, Michigan is going to its 31st consecutive bowl game. Florida State makes it 24 in-a-row, Florida is on its 15th straight and Virginia Tech is fourth on the list of current consecutive bowl games at 13. Tennessee was third on the list at 16 but failed to make the grade this season.

Michigan is playing Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl. Nebraska missed the postseason last year after 35 straight bowl appearances. The two teams have played in a combined total of 78 bowl games and each, ironically, has a .500 record in those games. They've faced each other only once before in the postseason, a 27-23 win by Michigan in the 1986 Fiesta Bowl.

Florida State plays Penn State in the Orange Bowl. Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno are ranked 1-2 on the list of all-time coaching victories in major college football. Bowden has 359, Paterno has 353. Bowden turned 78 last month. Paterno turns 79 on December 21st.

Florida and new head coach Urban Meyer will battle Iowa in the Outback Bowl. Each team went 3-2 in their last five games.

Virginia Tech stained the BCS bowl line-up with a 27-22 upset loss to Florida State in the ACC Championship game. For the Hokies, it was their 12th straight loss to the Seminole and 15th straight to a Bobby Bowden-coached club. Someone call a psychiatrist. That school is obviously suffering from Bubbaphobia. The 10-2 Hokies get to return to the scene of the crime in Jacksonville to play Louisville in the Gator Bowl. That's about 13 million bucks below what the 8-4 Seminoles will get paid on their trip to the Orange Bowl.

Still, the Gator Bowl is one of the best bowl matchups. The Cardinals come in at 9-2 while the Hokies enter at 10-2. Louisville scores a kazillion points a game but Virginia Tech's defense usually only allows a fraction to be scored against it.

Miami, which had put itself in position to win the ACC title with a win at Virginia Tech in early November, winds up in Atlanta for the second straight year where they'll play LSU in the Peach Bowl. It should also be one of the better games of the bowl season as the Tigers enter at 10-2 and the 'Canes are 9-2.

That brings to mind that there are five schools in bowl games from the state of Florida and I've mentioned all of them. To test your reading comprehension, look away from this article and name all five.

Texas also has five schools appearing in bowl games - UTEP, Houston, TCU, Texas Tech and Texas.

California has four bowl entrants - Cal, UCLA, USC and Fresno State.

Do you remember that USC lost to TCU in the 1998 Sun Bowl and Utah in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl? Both of those games were prior to Pete Carroll. The year before Carroll arrived, USC scored 298 points in a 12-game season. This year, they scored 600 points in a 12-game season and averaged nearly 600 yards of offense per game.

And the answer to the Florida question is: Florida, Florida State, Miami, Central Florida and South Florida. FAU and FIU are the only two 1-A football schools in the Sunshine State that are not playing in the postseason and both of them just moved up to the 1-A level this year.

Computer Hits, Misses: The computer's preseason forecast projected Texas and USC as the national title game participants. It also nailed the exact final regular season records of 13 teams, missed 46 teams by one game, and 22 other teams by just two games. That's a total of 81 teams that it forecasted within two wins or losses. Last year, it hit 82 teams within the same margin but it nailed the exact records of 18 teams.

This year's forecast came within 1 on all but three ACC teams and within 2 on every team in the conference.

It correctly tabbed Virginia Tech as the ACC Coastal champ, Colorado and Texas as the Big 12 divisional champs, Texas as the Big 12 titlist, Notre Dame as the top independent, USC as the PAC-10 champ and LSU as the SEC west winner.

The computer's biggest miss was West Virginia. It forecasted the youthful Mountaineers to go 2-9 and land in the basement of the Big East. But they finished 10-1 and took home the Big East title and assured themselves of a BCS bowl bid.

Streaks: USC has won 34 straight games over-all 27 in-a-row at home and 23 consecutive PAC-10 games. The Trojans are 45-1 since losing at Washington State on October 5, 2002. The 34-game over-all winning streak is the longest in PAC-10 history, breaking their own record of 25 games set in 1931-1933. USC shoots for its third-straight national title when the Trojans play Texas in the Rose Bowl on January 4th. USC won the AP title in 2003 (LSU won the BCS title) and took home the undisputed title last year.

Texas has won 19 straight games, second-longest streak in the nation behind USC.

TCU has won 9 straight. It's regular season was completed on November 12th.

Boise State will carry a nation-leading streak of 30 straight home wins into the 2006 season. Regular season complete.

New Mexico State owns the nation's longest losing streak at 13 games. Season complete.

Temple has the second-longest losing streak at 12 games. Season complete.

New Coaches: The 2005 season began with 23 coaching changes. Eleven teams fared better this season than last, three teams finished with the same record and nine wound up with records worse than last season. See how they fared versus their predecessor.

Six teams that switched coaches are going bowling - LSU, Notre Dame, Florida, South Carolina, BYU and Utah. Two others - Miami (Ohio) and Western Michigan, were bowl eligible.

Nine of the teams that switched coaches this year went bowling last year. Of those nine teams, four failed to qualify for the postseason this year - Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma State and Marshall. A fifth - Miami (Ohio) - qualified at 7-4 but wasn't invited.

South Carolina was eligible last year but had to stay home as punishment for participating in a brawl with Clemson players during their state rivalry game. Steve Spurrier not only led the Gamecocks back to the potseason, he did so with a better record than last year's club - 7-4 vs. 6-5.

BYU was 5-6 last season and ineligible for bowl selection.

Here is how each fared, by order of success:

LSU, 10-2 under Les Miles, Miam, Peach Bowl.
Notre Dame, 9-2 under Charlie Weis, regular season complete.
Florida, 8-3 under Urban Meyer, Iowa, Outback Bowl.
Miami, O., 7-4 under Shane Montgomery, season complete.
So. Carolina, 7-4 under Steve Spurrier, Missouri, Independence Bowl.
Western Michigan, 7-4 under Bill Cubit, regular season complete.
BYU, 6-5 under Bronco Mendenhall, California, Las Vegas Bowl.
Utah, 6-5 under Kyle Whittingham, Georgia Tech, Emerald Bowl.
East Carolina, 5-6 under Skip Holtz, season complete.
Pittsburgh, 5-6 under Dave Wannstedt, season complete.
Stanford, 5-6 under Walt Harris, season complete.
Indiana, 4-7 under Terry Hoeppner, season complete.
Marshall, 4-7 under Mark Snyder, season complete.
Ohio, 4-7 under Frank Solich, season complete.
Oklahoma St, 4-7 under Mike Gundy, season complete.
Mississippi, 3-8 under Ed Orgeron, season complete.
San Jose St., 3-8 under Dick Tomey, season complete.
Utah State, 3-8 under Brent Guy, season complete.
Illinois, 2-9 under Ron Zook. season complete.
UNLV, 2-9 under Mike Sanford. season complete.
Washington, 2-9 under Ty Willingham. season complete.
Syracuse, 1-10 under Greg Robinson, season complete.
New Mexico St., 0-12 under Hal Mumme, season complete.


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