BOWLING FOR THRILLS What in the good name of Paul Bryant have we come to with twenty-eight (28!) college bowl games? With virtually half of its 117 programs going to the postseason, Division I-A college football has become the National Hockey League. But despite the excess, there are a few bowls worth watching in the weeks ahead. Here’s a (prioritized) forecast:

GMAC Bowl (Dec. 22) -- Memphis (8-3) vs. Bowling Green (8-3)

We know New Orleans native Danny Wimprine loves playing on the gulf coast (he was MVP of last year’s New Orleans Bowl). And this year he has a healthy DeAngelo Williams (1,828 rushing yards, 22 touchdowns) showing off for all the NFL scouts. An important stat to watch will be Wimprine’s passing yardage, as he needs 109 yards to become the first Memphis quarterback to throw for 10,000 in his career. If you think the Falcons will roll over for the Tigers, though, think again. Junior quarterback Omar Jacobs threw for 3,637 yards, with 36 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. Those are scary figures when put up against a rather mediocre Memphis pass defense. The Falcons scored at least 40 points in eight games this fall. Granted, the Mid-American Conference isn’t the SEC, but that’s still a lot of points. Edge: Bowling Green.

HOLIDAY BOWL (Dec. 30) -- California (10-1) vs. Texas Tech (7-4)

This is gonna get ugly. With the possible exception of Auburn, no team was snubbed like the Berkeley Bears. Ranked fourth in the country in both polls (and ahead of Utah in the BCS!), Cal winds up relegated to the Holiday Bowl, two days before New Year’s. Ouch. With a pair of studs on offense (quarterback Aaron Rodgers and tailback J.J. Arrington), Cal will show the Red Raiders just how much stronger they are than their 10-point win over Southern Miss may have indicated. As the points pile up on Texas Tech, remind yourself that an 8-3 team (Big East champ Pittsburgh, 21st in the BCS rankings) is playing in the Fiesta Bowl on January 1st. And thank the BCS. Edge: Cal.

LIBERTY BOWL (Dec. 31) -- Louisville (10-1) vs. Boise State (11-0)

Put simply, this is the greatest matchup in the Liberty Bowl’s 46-year history, the first time a pair of consensus Top 10 teams will square off in Memphis. Remember the 56-49 shootout the Cardinals won against the U of M November 4th? Well, get ready for Act II. Louisville’s point totals over their last five games: 56, 55, 65, 70, 55. The Cards are the first team in NCAA history to score at least 55 points in five consecutive games. As for the Broncos (champions of the WAC), check out their last four game totals: 69, 56, 55, 58. Louisville led the country with an average of 538 yards per game, while Boise State was second with 511. While the Broncos carry the nation’s longest current winning streak (22 games) into the contest, they may be somewhat disoriented by the Liberty Bowl’s natural grass. (Boise State’s home stadium features, yes, blue astroturf.) Edge: Louisville.

COTTON BOWL (Jan. 1) -- Tennessee (9-3) vs. Texas A&M (7-4)

This will be the Volunteers’ sixth trip to the Cotton Bowl, where they won in 1951 and 1990. UT is looking to reverse a trend of sorts, as they’ve lost four of their last five bowl contests (including a 35-21 whipping at the hands of Kansas State in the 2001 Cotton Bowl). For a team that has suffered one injury after another (including season-ending damage to their top two quarterbacks), the Vols have put together quite a season. If they lean on tailbacks Cedric Houston (943 yards) and Gerald Riggs (1,005 yards), they should be able to handle the Aggies, who will be led by junior quarterback Reggie McNeal (13 touchdown passes, 3 interceptions). What amounts to a home-field advantage should help Texas A&M, as they’ve lost three of their last four games. Edge: Tennessee.

SUGAR BOWL (Jan. 3) -- Auburn (12-0) vs. Virginia Tech (10-2)

I never thought I’d see the day when an SEC team went undefeated and wasn’t considered one of the two best teams in the country. But you know what? The BCS folks got this one right. Having been rock solid against the run all season long, the Tigers gave up some big holes against a patchwork Tennessee offensive line in the SEC championship. Jason Campbell is a dangerous quarterback, whether running with the ball or slinging it downfield. And Auburn’s twin tailbacks (Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown) are a defensive coordinator’s Freddy Krueger. But they don’t put the kind of scare in me that Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson does, nor USC’s Reggie Bush. Count on them putting a whoopin’ on the ACC champs and splitting the national title with the Orange Bowl winner.

ORANGE BOWL (Jan. 4) -- Southern Cal (12-0) vs. Okl ahoma (12-0) Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush vs. Jason White and Adrian Peterson. Two Heisman Trophy winners. When did we last have a “championship” matchup with such offensive star power? The reason this is the best game within an imperfect system is the amount of history just dripping from the two programs. USC has won six national championships, Oklahoma seven. (It should be noted the Trojans’ last three titles have been split with other programs, including their “tie” with the Sooners in 1974.) From O.J. Simpson, Ronnie Lott, Charles White, and Carson Palmer, to Steve Owens, Joe Washington, Billy Sims, and Lee Roy Selmon . . . a purist’s dream. Edge: Oklahoma.


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