A Best and Worst primer for the college football bowl season:
Best Trend Projection — The New Mexico Bowl (Washington State vs. Colorado State, 11 a.m. Saturday).
Is the Pac-12 Conference as strong as Las Vegas handicappers think? They’ve made favorites out of all nine of the conference’s bowl-bound teams, including the Cougars, who according to Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings played the nation’s most difficult schedule.
Shredding a suspect pass defense shouldn’t be a problem for WSU and its abundant collection of receivers. The challenge will be on the other side of the ball: containing Colorado State sophomore running back Kapri Bibbs.
A Cougars victory, especially a decisive one, could be an early indication of Pac-12 dominance in the bowls.
Next-Best Projection — The Las Vegas Bowl (USC vs. Fresno State, 12:30 p.m. Saturday).
As the Cougars and Rams are beginning their second half in Albuquerque, N.M., USC will take the field with its third head coach in four months. The Trojans seemed to rally around interim coach Ed Orgeron, who replaced fired Lane Kiffin. Will they similarly respond to Clay Helton, a temporary replacement until Steve Sarkisian takes over in 2014?
Players at USC aren’t always jazzed up for postseason games absent big stakes. If Helton can coax a quality effort against a Fresno State team naturally motivated to upset the Trojans, it bodes well for Sarkisian.
Best Reason To Tune Into An Utterly Inconsequential Renewal Of An Intrastate Rivalry That Isn’t Even A Rivalry — The New Orleans Bowl (Tulane vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, 6 p.m. Saturday).
Last we saw of Nick Montana, son of NFL legend Joe Montana, he was fighting back tears after starting his first (and final, as it turned out) game for the Washington Huskies. Subbing for injured Keith Price at Oregon State, Montana completed 11 of 21 passes for 79 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Montana transferred to Mt. San Antonio (Calif.) College and then to Tulane, where it probably isn’t any easier being Joe Montana’s son than it was in Seattle.
Worst Deterioration Of A Bowl Tradition — The Heart of Dallas Bowl (UNLV vs. North Texas, 9 a.m. Jan. 1).
A New Year’s Day game will be played in the Cotton Bowl, among the grandest of college football settings. But it won’t be called the Cotton Bowl — that’s scheduled for Jan. 3 at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys — and it won’t pit opponents befitting the New Year’s Day spotlight.
Best Reaction Of Fans Who’d Rather Not Travel 1,394.7 Miles to Watch A “Who Cares?” Matchup — The Texas Bowl (Syracuse vs. Minnesota, 3 p.m. Dec. 27).
Orange fans either unable or unwilling to make the long trip from upstate New York to east Texas contributed to a charity fund that will donate more than 1,000 tickets to underprivileged youth in the Houston area. The kids not only will see the game for free, but they’ll also be given food vouchers and T-shirts.
Worst Sendoff For A Good Guy — The Alamo Bowl (Texas vs. Oregon, 3:45 p.m. Dec. 30).
Texas coach Mack Brown, whose underachieving team’s 8-4 record set him up to be known as former Texas coach Mack Brown, defined the essence “grace under fire” in 2013.
In return for his 16 years of admirable work with the Longhorns, Brown gets to conclude his 206-game Texas career against Oregon. Despite two November defeats that knocked them out of the BCS picture, the Ducks have national championship-caliber talent. Oh, and quarterback Marcus Mariota, hobbled by a leg injury that derailed his Heisman Trophy candidacy, appears to be healthy.
Best Bowl With A Short-Lived Name — The Advocare V100 Bowl (Arizona vs. Boston College, 9:30 a.m. Dec. 31).
Inaugurated in 1976 as the Bicentennial Bowl, the bowl game annually scheduled in Shreveport, La., also has been known as the Independence Bowl and the Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl.
The Advocare V100 Bowl? A more appropriate name for the New Year’s Eve matchup would be the Advocare 100 Yards Rushing Bowl. It features Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, the 2012 national rushing leader, and Boston College’s Andre Williams, the 2013 national rushing leader.
Worst Team That Still Found Its Way Into A Bowl — The Beef O’Brady’s Bowl (Ohio vs. East Carolina, 11 a.m. Monday).
Ohio University lost three in a row down the stretch, needing a victory over the 1-11 Minutemen of Massachusetts to assure itself of a 7-5 record. Of the nine eligible teams that were denied bowl invitations, the most deserving was 8-4 Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers won their final four games, the last of which was a 34-31 victory over Arkansas State, headed for the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Jan. 6.
I’m going to make a hunch here, without any research data to back me up, that few crisis-intervention counselors took calls when Hilltoppers fans found out Western Kentucky was deprived the opportunity to extend its season in such games as the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
Best Evidence The Bowl Season Hasn’t Gone Completely Haywire — The Rose Bowl (Stanford vs. Michigan State, 2 p.m. Jan. 1).
The Pac-12 Conference champs line up against the Big Ten champs. Old-school offenses, more prone to grind it out on the ground than empty the backfield. Old-school defenses, more steeped in basic fundamentals than exotic schemes.
I’m not appalled by the spread sets that are all the rage these days, and most of the time, I’d rather watch a 45-42 shootout than a 14-13 scrum.
But there’s something wonderful about a Rose Bowl football game, in the 100th Rose Bowl, resembling a classic, no-nonsense football game.
Best Reason To Win — The Fight Hunger Bowl (Washington vs. Brigham Young, 6:30 p.m. Dec. 27).
Winning nine games is a logical motive for the Huskies, who haven’t cleared that bar since Rick Neuheisel’s 2000 team went 12-1. And beating BYU — the school where Sarkisian became a nationally prominent quarterback — would be sweet.
But the Huskies’ motto in San Francisco should be simple: Win it for Tui.
Marques Tuiasosopo, whose passing and running led Washington to its No. 3 ranking in the final poll for 2000, will take the sideline next week for what amounts to an audition. He has no experience as a head coach, and even if the Huskies win, it won’t translate into a head coaching assignment anytime soon.
Still, the possibility of the UW players hoisting their interim leader on their shoulders as they walk of the field is a powerful thought.
Coaches come and go. Legends are forever.
Win it for Tui.john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com