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: Scanning the post-Christmas fare in the Independence, Little Caesars and Belk Bowls.
LOCALE: Little Caesars delivers the nicest house on the block.
Along with Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium and the Vet in Philadelphia, the old Pontiac Silverdome stood for nearly three decades as one of the paragons of no-frills, ACL-shredding entertainment for the Rust Belt everyman. In contrast, Ford Field's classy, glassy exterior marks it as a pioneer in the rise of 21st-Century stadiums that seem inspired by hotel meeting rooms, or your local Starbucks — an homage to aggressively neutral, upscale, post-industrial plush. Like a bookstore where a football game just happened to beak out.
You don't have to cheer, you know. Just enjoy the game at your own pace and if you feel compelled to get a little rowdy, well, then, it's appreciated — as long you maintain your enthusiasm within designated zones and appropriate levels of exuberance, so as to not impede other patrons' enjoyment of piped-in Josh Groban during timeouts. But seriously, man, no pressure.
TRADITION: The Independence Bowl has come a long way, baby.
Little Caesars and Belk are new title sponsors for bowls that have been in existence for at least a decade. Can anyone remember the old names that belonged the same games? Yeah, I didn't think so.* By comparison, the Independence Bowl is a beacon of stability: With 36 years under its belt, it's the 11th-oldest game on the postseason slate. We been overcoming embarrassing corporate sponsorships since before you were born, son.
On that note, for the record: The Independence Bowl hasn't carried the immortal "Poulan Weedeater" sponsorship since 1996 — even if deep down, its reputation as the "Weed Whacker Bowl" lives on as the enduring embodiment of a depressing holiday destination to cap a mostly depressing season. With seven wins apiece, tonight's match between Missouri and North Carolina is the first collision of two seven-win teams in Shreveport since 2003.
It wasn't always that bad, before the glut of bowl games over the last decade pushed the Independence further down the food chain. In fact, from 1991-2000, the winner of the Independence Bowl finished in the top 25 eight times, capped by Mississippi State after its overtime comeback over Texas A&M in a New Year's Eve blizzard in 2000. Whatever else happens, Shreveport, you'll always have the Snow Bowl.
SWAG: Belk gives the gift of Belk.
will receive a watch as part of their gift packages, which is nice. But only Louisville and N.C. State will get to run wild on a $400 shopping spree at Belk's flagship department store in Charlotte, which their grandmothers think is really nice. I hope Teddy Bridgewater's family back in Miami had sweaters and overpriced cologne on their Christmas lists, because that's what they're getting.
In the meantime, are Purdue and Western Michigan players allowed to trade in their commemorative Pizza Bowl football for a coupon for Free Crazy Bread®?
SPONSORS, PARADES AND OTHER AMBIANCE: A Car Care Bowl divided against itself cannot stand.
You may remember the Belk Bowl from such bowls as the Meineke Car Care Bowl, and you may also be thinking, "What do you mean, remember? Isn't the Meineke Car Care Bowl still in business?" Indeed: This year, the Charlotte-based auto repair company is sponsoring an equally pointless game in Houston between 6-6 also-rans Northwestern and Texas A&M.
But that game is the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, which bears no relation to its former cousin back East. The original Meineke Car Care Bowl, which pitted an ACC team against a Big East foe in its hometown every year since 2004, has been rechristened as the Belk Bowl. The new Meineke Car Care Bowl assumes the history and records of the former Texas Bowl, a Houston institution since 2006 — which is not to be confused with its predecessor, the Houston Bowl, which began life in 2000 as the Galleryfurniture.com Bowl and fizzled out in 2005.
Confused? Obviously. Maybe this map will help:
All hail the sanctity, dignity and tradition of the bowl system.
THIS YEAR'S MATCHUP: N.C. State and Louisville are happy to be here. Man, they're happy to be anywhere.
At midseason, a Cardinal-Wolfpack matchup didn't just look unappetizing: It looked impossible. Louisville started 2-4 with losses to Florida International and Marshall; N.C. State was 3-3 with wins over Liberty, South Alabama and Central Michigan and the meat of the ACC schedule ahead. Both teams were more likely to end up in last place than a bowl game.
From that point, the Cardinals rallied to take five of their last six, including wins over bowl-bound Rutgers and West Virginia to secure a share of the Big East title, while N.C. State upset Virginia and North Carolina, destroyed Clemson and roared out of a 41-14 hole against Maryland with 42 unanswered points in the season finale. The Wolfpack had to win that game to get into a bowl, and possibly to save Tom O'Brien's job. You might even say they're two young teams on the fast track to brighter futures, if you were paid to do so and have no shame.
STAR POWER: More untapped Tar Heel potential.
North Carolina's middle-of-the-pack effort on defense belies the talent in the front seven, home to at least two soon-to-be first-round draft picks — defensive end Quinton Coples and outside linebacker Zach Brown, both first-team All-ACC picks — and possibly a third, defensive end Donte Paige-Moss. Along with All-ACC tailback Giovani Bernard and future pros Charles Brown, Kendric Burney, Dwight Jones, Tydreke Powell and Kevin Reddick, UNC may be the most talented 7-5 outfit since… well, since UNC went 7-5 last year.
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* The Little Caesars Bowl was known as the Motor City Bowl until last year, due to the collapse of the "Big Three" domestic auto companies that sponsored it; and before its previous incarnation as the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Belk Bowl began life in 2002 as the Continental Tire Bowl.