January 05, 2010
Not exactly setting nearby objects on fire in a fit of excitement for tonight's Orange Bowl showdown between Georgia Tech and Iowa? There are at least 10 reasons you should be:
• It's played in a baseball stadium named after beer. Yes, they tore down the actual Orange Bowl more than two years ago, and have already played the last two Orange Bowl games in a generic pro stadium that's covered by a baseball diamond eight months out of the year and is now named after an overpriced beer marketed to aging Parrotheads. No, I'm not at all bitter about another piece of my childhood biting the dust for the sake of corporate America. Land Shark Stadium has more actual orange than the old OB, anyway.
• Irresistible quirk meets immovable stereotype. Georgia Tech led the ACC by a mile in rushing, scoring and total offense, and managed to deliver the conference's most efficient passing game in the process by executing coach Paul Johnson's triple option attack so effectively that defenses were usually dumbstruck on the rare occasions Josh Nesbitt pulled up to lob a deep ball to Demariyus Thomas. Nesbitt is an option quarterback through and through, with the erratic arm to match, but when he hits, he hits big: The Jackets averaged a whopping 23 yards per completion, and Thomas' 25.1 yards per catch was just off the national lead.
Tech only faced two defenses all year even in the ballpark of Iowa's top-10 D statistically, North Carolina and Virginia Tech, and ripped both the Hokies and Tar Heels for more than 300 yards rushing in critical division wins. To avoid the same fate, the Hawkeyes have to bring the unit that stopped the run-first offenses from Penn State and Wisconsin cold at 10 points apiece, rather than the one that was gashed for 229 and three touchdowns on the ground in the late loss to Ohio State.
• A halftime Celebration. The Orange Bowl claims "one of the most entertaining and prestigious halftimes in all college football," but since Ashlee Simpson was lustily booed by the entire crowd in one of the great moments in halftime history in 2005, the game has settled for a rotation of bankable nostalgia acts whose haters are too old, tired or dead to voice their displeasure. Last year, it was the Doobie Brothers; this year, it's jazz/R&B/soul/funk/disco superstars Kool & the Gang, entering their 47th year together, the last 23 of them without a top-40 single.
As always, all sideline interviews go through the dog. (This means you, Chris Myers. Ace doesn't care if you used to be on SportsCenter.)
• The return of Stanziball. Ricky Stanzi was one of college football's most fascinating players for most of the season, uncannily morphing from an interception-prone mediocrity in the first three quarters into Joe Montana in the fourth on a regular basis: Stanzi was picked 14 times in just 10 games, but he also brought the Hawkeyes out of fourth-quarter holes on four different occasions, including last-second wins over Northern Iowa and Michigan State and a rally from 10 points down to beat Indiana after Stanzi served up four interceptions in the third quarter alone. He was also key in the Hawkeyes pulling away from Wisconsin in a 20-10 win in Madison in October, a 10-10 game at the start of the fourth.
Stanzi was 9-0 as a starter, and obviously a key cog for the team's success despite his schizophrenia: The Hawkeyes failed to score after he went down in the eventual loss to Northwestern, and couldn't overcome Ohio State in the de facto Big Ten title game the following week; the defense held down the fort in the 12-0 win over lame duck Minnesota to close the season. Stanzi reassumes the reins from James Vandenberg tonight, which can only mean a roller coaster hurtling to an uncertain end.
• FedEx promptly delivers world class gridiron action! Judging from the over-the-top product placement at the Fiesta Bowl on Monday night, Fox requires all BCS games this year to incorporate the title sponsor on the sideline in some fashion. For the FedEx Orange Bowl, that likely means a bony, bloated, nearly naked Tom Hanks stumbling in to deliver a perfectly maintained package to sideline reporter Laura Okmin sometime in the third quarter.
• Getting over the hump. Both the ACC and Big Ten come in with 3-3 records in bowl games after slow starts to the postseason, meaning one conference or the other will bring an end to two of the nation's most dismal postseason streaks: The ACC hasn't had a winning record over an entire bowl season since going 5-3 in 2005-06; the Big Ten has languished at or below .500 in every postseason since 2002-03, with an embarrassing 1-6 mark last year. Combined, the two leagues are a dismal 16-32 in bowls since 2006.
The numbers are even uglier in BCS games: Ohio State's win over Oregon in last Friday's Rose Bowl ended a six-game BCS losing streak for the Big Ten since 2006, and a decade-long slide in Pasadena; before Virginia Tech's Orange Bowl win over Cincinnati last January, the ACC had dropped eight in a row in the big-money games. Hey, at least they're both on winning streaks now.
• Stereotypical white guy rap battle. If their requisite white-bread rappers are any indication of the teams' on-field prowess, this one belongs to Georgia Tech in a blowout:
Best ask Cuma-land, Hawkeyes: Bees don't play. (Just don't let Miami hip hop legend Luther Campbell catch wind of this before you buzz out of town, alright?)
• Unruly Iowans. Hawkeyes can't rap, but they've made the most of the mid-winter trip to South Beach, hobnobbing with Lady GaGa and Spike Lee and even bringing out the Miami police to keep them from overrunning a local hotel:
Miami, Fla. — Once Iowa fans were done whooping it up at the Hawkeye Huddle on Monday, the army invaded Miami’s trendy South Beach district — specifically, the trendy Clevelander Hotel on Ocean Drive, the site of one of WHO radio’s remotes.
It got so packed at one point in the early evening that a policeman showed up downtstairs to try and restore order. Late Monday afternoon, a crew from NFL Films turned up at the Clevelander’s lobby to tape a few scenes for an upcoming program, only to have to keep re-shooting because a Hawkeye fan, either intentionally (which was funny) or unintentionally (which was even funnier) kept walking in front of the camera.
Unruly and oblivious: That's an Iowa mob right there.
• There are three football games left in the season. Make every precious viewing experience count.