John McGrath

John McGrath: My preview of the upcoming bowl season

A Best and Worst primer for the college football bowl season.

Best Chance For A Team to Break The Most Obscure Of Bowl Records: The New Orleans Bowl (Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Nevada, 8 a.m. Saturday)

The 2014-15 bowl blitz begins with Louisiana-Lafeyette playing before what amounts to a home crowd in the New Orleans Superdome. If the Ragin’ Cajuns take care of business, they’ll become the first team to win the same bowl game four consecutive times.

It’s hard to believe, but the Cajuns’ potentially historic achievement has not translated into block-long lines outside the Superdome ticket booths. A year after more than 55,000 showed up to see Louisiana-Lafeyette beat Tulane, ticket sales are reported to be sluggish.

Sponsors of the game were done no favors by the made-for-TV kickoff time: 10 a.m. CST, when many Bourbon Street revelers are getting reacquainted with daylight while returning to their hotel rooms.

Best Introduction To The Next Superstar Head Coach: The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Western Michigan vs. Air Force, 2:45 p.m. Saturday).

During his second season at Western Michigan, P.J. Fleck has transformed the 8-4 Broncos from 1-11 punching bags into Mid-American conference contenders. Fleck, 34, is a sort of next-generation version of Pete Carroll: Upbeat and energetic, somebody whose players will do cartwheels on command for him.

Western Michigan is attempting to extend Fleck’s contract through 2020, but there’s no doubt Positive P.J. is going places. The University of Michigan, perhaps?

Best Excuse To Tune Into A Bowl Game You Probably Never Have Heard Of: The Boca Raton Bowl (Marshall vs. Northern Illinois, 3 p.m. Tuesday)

Before the two-day, all-you-can-watch buffet awaiting on New Year’s Eve, Boca Raton, Florida — home of three of the most expensive gated communities in the U.S. — will serve as host for the only bowl game providing a collision of actual conference champions outside the College Football Playoff.

Best New Location For Bowl-Game Tourists: The Bahamas Bowl (Western Kentucky vs. Central Michigan, 9. a.m. Wednesday)

Thomas Robinson Stadium in Nassau, built to seat 15,000 for another kind of football, will expand to a capacity of 30,000 for, well, another kind of football: Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty has thrown 44 touchdown passes this season, including eight during the Hilltoppers’ 67-66 upset of previously undefeated Marshall.

Doughty, who passed for 593 yards against Middle Tennessee and 569 yards against Bowling Green, has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. It’s a medical-hardship deal, wholly legitimate, although I suspect NCAA administrators are anxious to see Doughty throw 10 touchdown passes in one half.

And yet the storyline of the Bahamas Bowl isn’t about Brandon Doughty. The storyline is the fact it will be the first FBS bowl game held outside either the U.S. or Canada since Auburn took on Villanova in the 1937 Bacardi Bowl, in Havana.

The notion of a bowl game held in Cuba sounds absurd, but not as absurd as it did a few days ago.

Worst Matchup: The Hawaii Bowl (Fresno State vs. Rice, 5:00 p.m. Wednesday).

’Tis the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature is stirring, because the Bulldogs and Owls are on ESPN!

These teams were beaten a collective 12 times this season, and while such mediocrity is not a distinction for bowl games (see below), Fresno State’s 6-7 record sticks out like a sore, uh, loser.

On the other hand, both the Bulldogs and Owls got off to 0-3 starts before righting their ships toward Hawaii. So there’s that.

Best Opportunity For A Groan-Inducing Halftime Show: The Sun Bowl (Duke vs. No. 15 Arizona State, 11 a.m., Dec. 27)

When it’s Blue Devils against Sun Devils, there will be no excuse if the schools’ marching bands fail to take the field for a collaborative rendition of a Rolling Stones song renamed for the occasion:

“Symphony for the Devils.”

Worst Example Of Parity: The Texas Bowl (Texas vs. Arkansas, 6 p.m., Dec. 29)

The Longhorns are 6-6, as are the Razorbacks. It’s among those games — another is Miami (6-6) vs. South Carolina (6-6) in the Independence Bowl — that poses an existential question, ultimately unanswerable, about the bowl season:

What is the point?

Best Big-Time Appetizer Game Before Everything Gets Crazy: The Peach Bowl (No. 6 TCU vs. No. 9 Mississippi, 9:30 a.m., Dec. 31)

Denied their seat at the adults’ table, the Horned Frogs of the Big 12 will take their “we wuz robbed” case against Ole Miss, an SEC powerhouse that spoiled Alabama’s perfect season.

Best Game: The Rose Bowl (Oregon vs. Florida State, 2 p.m., Jan. 1)

OK, I’m biased. I grew up believing the Rose Bowl to be The Mother of all Bowls — check that, wrong gender, I mean the Granddaddy of them All — but when No. 2 clashes against No. 3, for the chance to be established as No. 1 on Jan. 12, it’s as good as it gets.

Factor in a Heisman Trophy subplot — Ducks’ quarterback Marcus Mariota won the 2014 award, Seminoles’ quarterback Jameis Winston won it in 2013 — and we’ve got a recipe for something more delicious than Bobby Flay can cook.

Worst Starting Time: The Cactus Bowl (Washington vs. Oklahoma State, 7:15 p.m., Jan. 2.)

In the immediate wake of six selection-committee games played between Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, and two other New Year’s Day bowls featuring Top 25 opponents, and another two contests set for Jan. 2, the Huskies will be challenged to entertain a national-television audience that’s been on a 48-hour binge of college football.

The 7:15 p.m. kickoff — latest starting time of any bowl game — ensures that our friends on the East Coast likely will be in the rapid-eye-movement phase of their dreams midway through the third quarter.

But, hey, at least the Huskies are bowling. Even if nobody on the other side of the Mississippi River is awake to watch them, it beats the alternative.

  Comments