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 pre-Christmas fare in the Beef 'O'Brady's, Las Vegas, Poinsettia and Hawaii Bowls.
LOCALE: Aloha means empty seats.
Any event from Hawaii is accompanied with an inherent sense of novelty and exoticism. Add Aloha Stadium's odd architecture, the bizarre shadows it casts on the turf, the perennially swirling debris, the time difference, and the drowsiness and/or inebriation of the mainland viewer, and football in Hawaii often seems like the closest thing we have to football on the surface of the moon.
Accordingly, it looks like this year's crowd for Nevada and Southern Miss may approximate the population of the moon.
TRADITION: The Las Vegas Bowl is almost old enough to hit the strip.
The Vegas Bowl was born in 1992 as an interesting champion-on-champion clash between the best of the MAC and the now-defunct Big West, a run that included Toledo finishing off an unbeaten season in the first overtime game in NCAA history in 1995. Unfortunately, the game abandoned that niche two years later for more generic pairings of assorted Western also-rans, the most notable of which was probably an obscure USC outfit that fell to Utah, 10-6, to finish a mediocre 6-6 campaign under first-year head coach Pete Carroll in 2001. And even that was only notable in retrospect, in the wake of the Trojans' rise into the kind of juggernaut that wouldn't be caught dead in the Las Vegas Bowl again for the next decade.
At least it appears to have broken its awkward teenage relationship with BYU: Before last year, the Cougars had made five straight holiday trips to Vegas to take on five different Pac-10 also-rans. With back-to-back appearances by Boise State, the game appears poised to take things to a more mature, adult level.
SWAG: Suite = Sweet.
"Gift suite" doesn't look all that great on paper, but Boise State and Arizona State players will get to spend up to $350 on some combination of the following: A Fender Starcaster guitar, a Toshiba 32" HD flatscreen TV, an 8GB iPod Touch, a Sony PSP gaming system, a Nintendo Wii gaming system, a Sony Music system, a Sony DVD 4GB Handycam Camcorder, Ogio luggage, Lane Oversized recliner and a Trek Mountain Bike.
Maybe I'm getting old, but that recliner sounds pretty awesome.
SPONSORS, PARADES AND OTHER AMBIANCE: Craig James is dead to us.
As expected, Craig James — SMU great, talking head, businessman, overprotective father — has decided to add "doomed political candidate" to his resumé by officially throwing his hat into the race for an open U.S. Senate seat in Texas. That means "The Pony" is no longer employed by ESPN. Which means he will not be calling tonight's FIU-Marshall showdown in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, or any other bowl game. Which means college football viewers are free at last. Free at last!
Look, I'm not going to sit here and tell you Danny Kanell is going to take watching a wholly unnecessary game between Marshall and Florida International to another level. At this point, Kanell's broadcasting philosophy is the same as his old philosophy as a quarterback: Any night without an obvious gaffe is a good night. But for viewers, a night without Craig "Conflict of Interest" James hooting over ordinary hits and expressing bafflement over the spread offense is like milk and honey.
Bonus Ambience: Resist as you might, you will succumb to the glorious golden locks of Louisiana Tech quarterback Colby Cameron. You will, because you are human.
THIS YEAR'S MATCHUP: Conference Champions, Unite!
The Poinsettia Bowl is one of only three games — along with the Orange and Rose bowls — featuring two outright conference champions: TCU from the Mountain West and Louisiana Tech from the WAC, both of whom are riding seven-game winning streaks since disappointing home losses (to SMU and Hawaii, respectively) on Oct. 1. In terms of championship credentials, that's about all the Frogs and Bulldogs have in common — where TCU's taken 25 straight conference games en route to three consecutive titles in the Mtn., Louisiana Tech is claiming its first championship in a decade, off back-to-back losing seasons.
The Bulldogs have still never finished in the final rankings — they spent one week at No. 25 in 1999, the only poll appearance in school history — and with four losses going into Thursday night, probably don't stand a chance even if they pull one of the bigger upsets of the bowl season.
STAR POWER: Kellen Moore's last stand.
With Boise State's 48-21 rout over UNLV on Nov. 5, Moore passed Colt McCoy with his 46th career win as a starter, more than any other quarterback in the history of college football. Since Moore took the reins as a redshirt freshman in 2008, Boise State is 49-3, including wins over top-20 outfits from Oregon, TCU, Oregon again, Virginia Tech and Georgia. His career completion percentage and pass efficiency ratings are among the highest in NCAA history. His career touchdown-to-interception ratio is better than 5-to-1. He's thrown at least two touchdown passes in 25 consecutive games, the vast majority of which he spent as a spectator in the fourth quarter.
Wednesday night is Moore's last game in a Boise uniform, which may (or may not) signal the end of the Broncos' run among the national elite. Even if it doesn't, judging from the predictable skepticism about his pro potential on the part of draftniks, it may be the last time we get to see a legitimate Hall-of-Famer doing what he's done better than almost anyone who's ever played the position.