Bowls: There are a lot of them. Most of which seem to have been created solely to bilk taxpayer-funded universities for the sake of upselling a few hotel rooms. As a public service, we're cutting through the fat in search of a few good reasons — or any reason — for these spectacles to exist. Today: We kick off the season with the New Mexico, Famous Idaho Potato and New Orleans bowls.
LOCALE: Weekend in New Orleans? Yeah you right.
As far as the game itself is concerned, the Superdome remains a first-rate venue, and one of the best places on the planet to be a part of a geared-up, electric crowd. It can also be one of the worst places to endure a sleepy game in front of 20,000: Coughs echo all over the building, whistles on the field are jarringly loud and air-conditioning set for 70,000 bodies leaves the crowd shivering. (Although, on the bright side, you may find that chattering teeth make for a surprisingly effective noisemaker.) When it gets to the point that you can hear the popcorn popping at the concession stand from your seat, it's time to forget the game and break out your handy flow chart for Saturday night in the Quarter.
On that note, a quick word to the wise for San Diego State fans: Win or lose, do not attempt to keep pace with the cajuns at the bar. Yeah, I know, you can drink all your old frat buddies under the table. That one time when you partied with those Marine guys? Wow. Everybody knows you're the man. This time, just… don't.
TRADITION: Complaining about the winter weather in Boise, Idaho.
This year's entry to the canon comes from Ohio punter Paul Hershey, who posted to his Twitter feed earlier this month (and I quote) "Idaho?? Who the (bleep) want to play there in December??" and soon discovered that social media hell hath no fury like a Boise State fan scorned. Hershey backtracked, explaining "Punters don't like the cold. That's all I'm sayin," and promptly put his account behind a wall.
SWAG: Samsung Galaxy Tablet, courtesy of the New Orleans Bowl.
While their counterparts in Albuquerque and Boise will be leaving with clothes, backpacks and other assorted knickknacks — a New Mexico Bowl Christmas ornament? Alright! — players from Louisiana-Lafayette and San Diego State will be going home armed with a Dual core 1GHz processor, full gig of ram and Honeycomb platform. Whatever those things are, the shiny piece of plastic that houses them fetches up to $600 retail, and is very, very shiny.
SPONSORS, PARADES AND OTHER AMBIANCE: The New Mexico Bowl's awesome trophy.
They could have gone with another piece of random, postmodern gobbledygook, probably designed by the daughter of a major sponsor because those three semesters toward an art history degree are going to be good for something, dammit. Instead, the New Mexico Bowl commissioned a piece of authentic Zia pottery, crafted by a husband-and-wife team from their home in the Zia Pueblo. Another Zia artist crafts traditional leather shields for the most outstanding offensive and defensive players.
True, few traditional tribal pieces feature a crude football player or a corporate logo frolicking amid deers, eagles and other native icons. (And as native icons go, they could at least drop in a nod to "Breaking Bad.") Still, within the genre, it's the most unique and locally flavored trophy of the lot. And at least it's not just another pedestal with a football on top of it.
Bonus Ambiance: Gigantic fake potato, y'all.
THIS YEAR'S MATCHUP: Everybody's happy to be here.
Wyoming, Utah State and Louisiana-Lafayette are easily three of the most pleasant surprises of the year. In fact, I listed two of them in August — Wyoming and UL-Lafayette — among the dozen worst teams in the nation for the upcoming season, and I could have easily included Utah State, which hadn't delivered a winning record since 1996. The December dregs of the bowl schedule takes a lot of heat for accommodating obscure stragglers limping in off 6-6 seasons, but all six teams today — while admittedly obscure — will come in and go out with winning records.
At places like Temple, Utah State and UL-Lafayette, that's no small feat: In the Ragin' Cajuns' case, they're in search the first bowl win in school history. They're all
STAR POWER: San Diego State RB Ronnie Hillman.
Hillman ranks third nationally in rushing yards, second among active backs in yards per game for his career and first in the Mountain West in all-purpose yards.
Oh, and first for the longest run of the season, courtesy of his 99-yarder against Wyoming on Oct. 29:
Which, by the way, wasn't even the most impressive run of his career. Against a ULL defense that yielded 200-plus yards on the ground to four different offenses in the Sun Belt, we expect all of this and more, Ronnie. Don't let your public down.