Too Many Bowls

A viewer’s guide to New Year’s Day bowls and beyond

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Unbelievably — or excruciatingly given some of the lopsided results thus far — we’ve arrived at a couple of games past the midway point of the 2010-2011 bowl season.

Hopefully, as the calendar flips from ’10 to ’11, the best has been saved for last.  Honestly, though, can it get much worse than what’s been wrought thus far?

(Kansas State-Syracuse, North Carolina-Tennessee, consider yourselves excused from the criticism.)

With that as a backdrop, here’s a handy viewer’s guide to the remainder of the bowl season, both for the games themselves and for the intriguing storylines that are intertwined with some of the matchups.

Must-See TV
For all of the obscenity-laced ridicule the BcS has received — and rightfully so, might we add — the cartel has blind squirreled its way into one helluva title nut.  Simply put, the two best teams in college football this season have been Auburn and Oregon, and they will square off in Glendale in a championship game that has all the makings of an instant classic. A once-a-decade, worth-the-money talent in Cam Newton on one side of the offensive equation, a fast-break Oregon offense that would make Paul Westhead say “dayum” on the other.  Toss in neon green socks as a fashion accessory, and how can you lose?

Must-Flee TV
Somehow, it’s morbidly appropriate that GoDaddy.com is the title sponsor of the bowl game featuring Miami of Ohio versus Middle Tennessee State.  The RedHawks lost their head coach to Pittsburgh, and lost their starting quarterback to a spleen (thanks random broadcasting guy who thinks it’s cool to refer to someone being “out with a knee”).  Provided he can replicate last year’s New Orleans Bowl magic, MTSU quarterback Dwight Dasher might be this game’s saving grace.  Then again, based on how his season has played out, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Ticket City Bowl: Northwestern vs. Texas Tech
Texas Tech has two quarterbacks – Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield – that they can use at any point in the game. Both Potts and Sheffield were vying for the starting gig in the preseason before Potts ultimately won the job. Northwestern, on the other hand is using their backup quarterback, Evan Watkins, after Dan Persa went down on the final play of a victory over Iowa with a foot injury. While there’s no official word, we’re hearing rumors that NU coach Pat Fitzgerald has asked Tommy Tuberville if he could borrow Sheffield for a game. Our guess? Not gonna happen.

Progressive Gator Bowl: No. 21 Mississippi State vs. Michigan
As if there were any other story lines. All the rumors swirling out of the greater Ann Arbor area point to Rich Rodriguez’s head on the guillotine. It’s just a matter of whether AD David Brandon pulls the rope or not. Rodriguez’s buyout falls from $4 million to $2.5 million on the Jan. 1, and given the unceremonious firings in Maryland and West Virginia, it wouldn’t be a terrible surprise if RichRod was simply asked “not to return home with the team”. There is one guy, however, who can save Rodriguez’s job. That would be Denard Robinson, who probably prevented his coach from being fired already.  Speaking of which…

RichRod, standing on the precipice of…
Another season at Michigan?  The unemployment line?  It’s hard to believe that how the Wolverines perform in the Gator Bowl against Mississippi State will be the be-all, end-all for Brandon’s decision on Rodriguez and the football program’s future.  An embarrassing loss, however, could serve as the final nail in a coffin that’s already four feet under.  It will take a minor miracle, regardless of how the game with the Bulldogs turn out, to keep it from dropping the remaining two feet.  And waiting above ground, with shovel in hand…

Out of Luck on head coach, quarterback front?
You’ll have to pardon Cardinal fans if they seem to be a bit on edge these days.  Yes, they are in a BcS bowl (see below) for just the second time in the school’s history, and the first since the 2000 Rose Bowl.  That’s the positive.  The negative is the attrition looming on the horizon.  Will head coach Jim Harbaugh head back home to Ann Arbor to take over a stumbling and bumbling Michigan program in dire need of change?  Will Andrew Luck take his considerable quarterback talents off The Farm and into the NFL draft?  Not much riding on the answers to those questions; just the immediate future of the football program is all.

Discover Orange Bowl: No. 4 Stanford vs. No. 13 Virginia Tech
For as much criticism as Boise State has received for their lack of a “signature win”, these two teams haven’t been much better. Stanford’s best win came in the waning moments against a bowl-less, 8-5 USC. Virginia Tech has wins over Florida State and North Carolina State, both of whom showed flashes of greatness this season, but also pillow-fought and prissy-slapped their way through the ACC Atlantic.  To be honest, this game seems pretty evenly matched. Both have amazing coaches in Jim Harbaugh and Frank Beamer (who should get more recognition than he does), and both have really great quarterbacks in Andrew Luck, who could be jumping to the NFL afterward, and Tyrod Taylor. This could be a game decided on who gets the ball last.

Will the Big 12 wake up any time soon?
There’s the bottom dropping out of something, then there’s what has happened to the Big 12 thus far this bowl season.   Coming into the postseason with high hopes, it appears instead those hopefuls were high as the conference has stumbled their way to a 1-4 mark out of the gate.  Just to get back to the .500 mark, the Big 12(-2) will need to win all three of their remaining games.  So, yeah it’s not so good for commissioner Dan Beebe and his league.  Combine the rocky bowl start with losing two schools to other conferences via expansion and Texas’ inexplicable implosion, and it’s been a really, really bad last six months or so for the ten-member Big 12.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: UConn vs. No. 7 Oklahoma
After losing to underdogs Boise State and West Virginia in successive Fiesta Bowls, you’d have to think third time’s the charm, right? Certainly, Oklahoma can’t lose 3 Fiesta Bowls in a row, can they? “Big Game Bob” Stoops hasn’t won a BCS game since the 2002 Rose Bowl and playing 8-4 UConn certainly gives him a chance. But, I’ve counted out UConn more than a couple of times this season, and each time, I’ve been wrong. If the Huskies can win this game, or even make it frighteningly close, the Big East might be able to stop some of the massive PR blood loss from this season.

Ya get it?  He’s that freaking old!
What’s the over/under on how many times we hear some derivative of the “JoePa’s 84 years old, and he’s not the one retiring” joke during the Outback Bowl matchup between Penn State and Florida?  I’ll just go ahead and set the line at “ad nauseam” and be done with it.  But, yes, this game marks the Gator swan song for Urban Meyer, although it’s pretty well established that this likely won’t be the last time Meyers prowls a football sideline.  Unbelievable, though, that Meyer is stepping down, while Coach Paterno will still… dammit, got sucked into the vortex as well.

Didja know that Coach Woodcock used to coach the Spartans?  Didja?
Speaking of running things into the ground,  Alabama head coach Nick Saban used to hold the same title at Michigan State.  The two schools will square off in the Capital One Bowl, so you can see which direction talking heads will take this one.  What we’re more interested in, though, is Mark Ingram.  Specifically, will this be his final season in Tuscaloosa?  The running back has already won a Heisman and a national title; he’s also dealt with injuries this season that gives a glimpse into the relatively short shelf life a tailback possesses.  Add all of that to the presence of Trent Richardson on the depth chart, and what better way for Ingram to ride off into the collegiate sunset than with a win over the school he grew up rooting for?

AT&T Cotton Bowl: No. 11 LSU vs. No. 17 Texas A&M
During the latter half of the season, there may not have been a hotter team in the country than Texas A&M, who after a 3-3 start, reeled off 6 straight wins – including 2 over Oklahoma and Nebraska – to end at 9-3. The question mark here is how a layoff that spanned over a month will affect the Aggies. LSU has the speed on defense to match up with Ryan Tannehill and the A&M offense, so the Aggies better be sharp.  A&M can’t afford to fall asleep on defense, either, with Les Miles prowling — and chewing on — the sidelines.

Can tOSU remove “Property of the SEC” from their backsides?
Forget the Buckeye Five and their five-game suspensions to begin the 2011 season; the main storyline is whether or not Ohio State can get the SEC bowl monkey gorilla off their backs.  The Buckeyes have played Those Schools Down South nine times in the postseason, and lost every single one of ’em, including, you may have heard, a pair of embarrassing national title game blowouts.  The Sugar Bowl against Arkansas will allow the Buckeyes a shot at regaining a little bit of their lost and battered manhood.  Or further neuter them in the eyes of the national media.  One of the two.

BBVA Compass Bowl: Kentucky vs, Pittsburgh
In a lot of ways, this game is eerily similar to the Champ Sports Bowl between West Virginia and North Carolina State. Earlier this month, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt  was fired – excuse me – “resigned” and it will be interesting to see just how the Panthers respond against a decent, but not great, Kentucky team.  Pittsburgh began as the preseason favorites to win the Big East. Now, they’re 7-5. Will the disappointment be too much? After all, we all saw how West Virginia reacted to distractions in their bowl game.  The “X Factor” in this game has to be Kentucky’s Randall Cobb, who has thrown, caught, and rushed his way to an All-American season. Pitt has the talent on defense, but they will have their hands full trying to contain Cobb.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: No. 15 Nevada vs. Boston College
While it might not blow up the Nielsen Ratings, this has to be the most feel-good bowl of the season.  Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick has been an absolute stud throughout his entire career and has never received the praise he deserves. During his time at Nevada, he has accounted for over 10,000 yards of total offense.  On the other side of the ball will be BC linebacker Mark Herzlich, who as many of you probably know by now, successfully recovered from a battle with cancer. Herzlich has been an amazing inspiration and I know all (two) of us here at CFT wish Mark nothing but the greatest success at the next level and throughout the rest of his long life.

(Many, many thanks to the mighty Ben Kercheval for his help in compiling this viewer’s guide.  And direct any complaints to him as he wrote all of the really crappy/mean ones.  Thanks in advance for your cooperation.)

Surgery to sideline Okla. St. WR Marcell Ateman for start of season

AMES, IA - NOVEMBER 14: Defensive back Nigel Tribune #34 of the Iowa State Cyclones tackles wide receiver Marcell Ateman #3 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys as he rushed for yards in the first half of play at Jack Trice Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Ames, Iowa. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
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Oklahoma State already knew it was going to be forced to replaced the production lost with the departure of leading pass-catcher David Glidden.  Now, at least early on, the Cowboys will have to replace a man who was expected to help replace Glidden’s lost production as well.

According to a report from The Oklahoman, Marcell Ateman may not make his debut this coming season until October because of surgery performed on his foot recently.  Ateman sustained a non-contact injury during summer workouts.

Should Ateman not return until the second month of the season, he would, at minimum, miss games against SE Louisiana (Sept. 3), Central Michigan (Sept. 10), Pittsburgh (Sept. 17) and at Baylor (Sept. 24).  They also have a home date with Texas the first of October.

Ateman’s position coach confirmed the procedure to the newspaper, although he didn’t give a timeline for a return.

“I don’t know [when] that’s going to be,” said Kasey Dunn. “I’m hoping as soon as possible. He’s had a great summer. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. I think he’ll be back probably sooner than later.

“I’m bummed though, because it’s a little bit of a setback for him. His play was going up, up, up. And it all started about Game 6 or 7 last year, where he really started to climb. Played well against Baylor. Played really well against Ole Miss. Had a great offseason. Summer was killer. And then he gets nicked.”

At least one report, and at least in these early stages, is a bit more optimistic:

Ateman’s 45 receptions and 766 receiving yards were each third on the team.  His five touchdown receptions were good for second.

The good news for the Cowboys is that one of their most productive pass-catchers of a year ago, second-team All-Big performer James Washington (53-1087-10), returns, as do four other receivers who caught at least 17 passes in 2015 — Jalen McCleskey (29-253-3), Austin Hays (22-200-1), Jhajuan Seales (18-321-2) and Blake Jarwin (17-200-2).

Two Power Five teams among handful of FBS schools to express interest in ex-Gator Treon Harris

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 14:  Treon Harris #3 of the Florida Gators drops back to pass against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Less than a week after he left his first college football home, teams are lining up to inquire about being Treon Harris‘ second.  Reportedly.

According to 247Sports.com, at least nine FBS programs have either spoken to Harris’ family or “have interest and have requested Harris’ release so they have the option to make contact.”  Two included in the latter group are Power Five teams — Kansas and Minnesota.

Other FBS teams in that second group also include Coastal Carolina, East Carolina, Eastern Michigan and SMU.  Georgia State, Southern Miss and Texas State have all reportedly made contact with Harris and his family.

Additionally, a handful of FCS programs have been in contact.

Should Harris move on to another FBS program, he would be forced to sit out the 2016 season, but would then have two years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2017.  A move to the FCS would give him immediate eligibility in 2o16.

Monday, Florida confirmed that Harris had decided to transfer out of the Gators football program.  There was no specific reason given for the departure, although the announcement came less than a week after Jim McElwain confirmed that Harris would be moved from quarterback to wide receiver.

At his press conference prior to the start of spring practice, McElwain acknowledged that a pair of his players, Harris and wide receiver Antonio Callaway, haven’t been a part of the Florida football team since January.

And that’s without even mentioning Harris’ in-season issue in 2014 that was ultimately resolved a week later.

Harris started the 2015 season opener, but gave way to Will Grier — with a suspension thrown in for good measure — until Grier was himself suspended in October for the remainder of the season.  The true sophomore then started the last eight games of the year, with the Gators going 4-4 in that span.  Included in that stretch were three losses to close out the year by an average of nearly 25 points per game, with Harris completing under 44 percent of his passes (36-83) and directing the offense to a combined 24 points.

A four-star member of the Gators’ 2014 recruiting class, Harris was rated as the No. 18 player at any position in the state of Florida and the No. 123 player overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.

FSU, WVU closing in on agreement to open 2020 season in Atlanta

JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 01:  Head coach Bobby Bowden of the Florida State Seminoles is greeted by the Governor of West Virginia, Joe Manchin III, before taking on the West Virginia Mountaineers during the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl on January 1, 2010 at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida. Florida State defeated West Virginia 33-21 in Bobby Bowden's last game as a head coach for the Seminoles.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
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Jimbo Fisher‘s native and adopted states could soon be crossing paths on the gridiron, this time in the regular season.

Mike Casazza of the Charleston Gazette-Mail was the first to report that West Virginia and Florida State are in talks for a game that would open the 2020 season, and that the two sides were close to finishing the deal.  ESPN.com‘s Brett McMurphy subsequently confirmed that report.

The game, which would be the latest iteration in the long-running Chick-fil-A Kickoff series, would be played Sept. 5 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

The football programs have met three times previously, with all three coming in the Gator Bowl.   As WVU was in the process of moving from the Big East to the Big 12 in February of 2012, it cancelled a 2012-13 home-and-home series with the Seminoles.

The final of what was a trio of FSU wins over WVU came in the last game for Bobby Bowden, the legendary head coach of the Seminoles who coached the Mountaineers for six seasons before leaving for Tallahassee.

Bowden’s successor at FSU, Fisher, is a native of Clarksburg, WV.

Justin Timberlake, Larry the Cable Guy stump for Big 12 candidacies of Memphis, UCF

SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 07:  Actor/singer Justin Timberlake watches the game between the Memphis Tigers and the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2008 NCAA Men's National Championship game at the Alamodome on April 7, 2008 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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As you no doubt know by now, the Big 12 announced earlier this month that the conference will expand.  Wednesday night, a pair of entertainment heavyweights threw their celebrity behind two of the potential candidates.

A handful of teams have been mentioned as possibilities, from Houston to UConn to USF to BYU to Tulane to East Carolina to Cincinnati to Colorado State to Boise State.  Additionally, Memphis and UCF have been heavily speculated on for months, and they’re the two programs that have seen Memphis native Justin Timberlake and Nebraska fan Larry the Cable Guy, respectively, stumping for them within a couple of hours of each other.

It’s highly, highly doubtful that the celebrities throwing their support behind their favorites will have any impact whatsoever on the process or the Big 12’s ultimate decision. Still, it certainly can’t hurt in the court of public opinion.