Friday, December 16, 2011

The Gala Bowl Preview!


El Hombre was going to send this installment via text message, the same way Mr. Integrity, former Pitt coach Todd Graham, informed his players he was bolting Steel City for the Arizona State job, but with the bowl season upon us, it’s gonna take way more than 160 characters to break down all the action. Graham spent less than a year directing the Panthers, the same amount of time he invested at Rice, where he was two stops before Pittsburgh. One would have to believe he’ll be renting in Tempe. While he’s at it, he should see if he can pick ups some character.

While the Panthers scramble to assemble a representative effort in the prestigious BBVA Compass Bowl in March (okay, Jan. 7), the rest of the post-season opens up Saturday and promises to be the most exciting and dramatic in college football history. That, of course, is a lie. With 35 “classics,” an avalanche of mind-numbing corporate sponsorships and some matchups that were concocted in chambers of commerce, instead of by people with a modicum of football sense, it’s easy to look at the three-plus weeks of action with a jaundiced eye. But embrace the majesty of the Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl. Enjoy the thrilling action of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. And try to figure out exactly what the hell the Belk Bowl is.

It all kicks off Saturday, with Temple and Wyoming squaring off in Albuquerque. (What, Roswell was busy?) And it doesn’t conclude until Brent Musburger makes an asinine reference to a sponsor in the BCS National Championship, or as it’s known in Stillwater, OK, Satan’s Playground. It would be great to break down all 35 spectacular contests, but there just aren’t enough superlatives in the world to describe the pageantry and tradition of the Bowl or the ramifications of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Instead, here’s a look at some of the most compelling storylines of the bowl season – and a pledge to watch at least some of every single one of them.

Replacement Parts: Nothing screams “BUY TICKETS NOW!!” like a matchup between two schools with a combined 12-13 record, a pair of interim coaches and a slow slide to mediocrity over the final weeks of the season. But that’s what the good folks in San Francisco get for sticking a bowl in a baseball stadium and hoping for the best. Illinois and UCLA skulk to the Fight Hunger Bowl New Year’s Eve with eyes squarely on the future, since looking at the past is too depressing. Gone are coaches Ron Zook and Rick Neuheisel, who began the season with high hopes and ended it with the locals chasing them out of town with pitchforks and torches. What better way to close out 2011 than with a bowl game featuring two programs in limbo? How about with residents of the Occupy Calcutta camp showing up at your house to use the bathroom?

Thanks For Nothing: As punishment for missing a chip-shot field goal against Texas Christian, Boise State went from a BCS bowl to the MAACO Bowl in Las Vegas. Instead of cranking up its prolific offense in front of a huge audience, the Broncos get to turn it on for a bunch of folks who got comped by some Glitter Gulch hotel and wonder why the concession stand doesn’t feature a $1.99 all-you-can-eat buffet. After this treatment, is it any wonder Boise State has decided to join the Big East? Of course, given the state of that conference, BSU could find itself playing the Mid-American Conference runner-up in the Caligula Bowl in five years. Blue turf can only take you so far, fellas. After that, you have to face facts: You’re from Idaho, for crying out loud! That doesn’t exactly engender TV network love. So, enjoy Vegas, fellas. Oh, and don’t split a pair of 10s.

Wipeout: The Big Ten will have to go a long way to match last year’s 0-for-5 performance on New Year’s Day that included losses to three SEC schools by a combined score of 138-45. But the potential for danger is there again, as the conference faces another trio of bullies from the south, not to mention a favored team from Conference USA. No wonder the Big Ten Network has so many subscribers. Thanks to commissioner Jim Delany’s ability to win friends and influence people, the Big Ten has a whopping 10 bowl invitations this year, a testament to Delany’s P.R. skill and conference members’ ability to beat up on MAC (10 of ‘em), I-AA (another 10) and Sun Belt (five) teams in the non-league portion of the program. That’s why an Illinois team that lost its last six games gets a bowl invitation, and a Purdue squad that gave up 62 points to Wisconsin and lost to Rice will be playing bowl football. Hats off to Delany. He had just better hope his teams’ heads don’t come off, too.

History Lesson: When the Tournament of Roses wanted to increase attendance back in 1901, it decided to stage a football game between teams from the east and west. Michigan came to Pasadena on New Year’s Day, 1902, and smacked Stanford around so hard, the Palo Alto crowd tapped out after three quarters. (Too bad the undefeated Wolverines didn’t have Hurry Up Yost coaching them when they tanked against Stanford 70 years later.) Since that time, bowl games of every size and level of importance have sprung up across the country with one aim in mind: increase tourism in the cities where the games are staged. That’s it. Period. The goal was never to pick the best teams. It was to pick the schools whose fans would travel in the largest numbers and spend the most money. That’s why BYU is such an unattractive candidate. The LDS crowd finds other church members in the community and stays with them. They don’t eat out. And they sure as heck don’t drink. Junk food and candy sales, however, soar when the Cougs come to town. So, all the fuss over the Sugar Bowl’s choosing Michigan and Virginia Tech over Kansas State and Boise is ridiculous. U-M and VT pledged to buy more tickets and probably promised a better hotel presence, too. That’s how it works, even though the Hokie faithful aren’t exactly, ahem, gobbling up the school’s ducat allotment. Coaches who don’t like it would be well served to camp out in their school presidents’ offices and demand they lobby for a playoff. Otherwise, enjoy the Cotton Bowl.

Best of the Best, Part I: Because enough Harris Poll voters awoke from their mid-afternoon naps and decided Alabama was more worthy of a spot in the “national title” game than Oklahoma State, the Cowboys will square off in the Fiesta Bowl Stanford in the best game of the season. Nobody can say for sure whether the Cowpokes and sugar daddy Boone Pickens would have beaten the Crimson Tide in a head-to-head, but wouldn’t it have been fun to find out in a way other than through an election staged by coaches (huge conflict of interest) and peripheral college football types (dinner at 4 p.m.!) and the cast of The Big Bang Theory. Heisman runner-up Andrew Luck tries to keep up with the OSU offense, which is capable of scoring 50 points in one possession. Enjoy the action and try to avert your eyes from the garish Oklahoma State uniforms.

Best of the Best, Part II: When the New England Patriots entered Super Bowl XLII with an 18-0 record, everyone figured the game would be a coronation. How could the New York Giants possibly hang with the Greatest Offense Ever? The Pats were 12-point favorites and invincible. Oops. The Giants hit Tom Brady like he was a piƱata and whipped the Pats, spoiling their undefeated season. Well, it sure looks like Alabama and LSU are the two best teams in the land, but what appears to be true isn’t always right. Wouldn’t it have been nice to see the Tide play Oklahoma State, and LSU face off with Stanford, Oregon or Anybody? Then, we could have the top two teams play. Of course, an eight-team playoff would be better. A 12-teamer would be ideal. We don’t have that, because of greed, corruption, liars and espn. So, we’ll watch what everyone hopes will be a game with more than 15 points scored and try not to excuse bad offense as solely the product of great defense. It’s the national championship! Or at least what passes for it in college sports’ USSR.

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EL HOMBRE SEZ: Tebow! Tebow! Tebow! Tebow! El Hombre doesn’t give a rat’s posterior whether Denver comeback specialist Tim Tebow is a future Hall of Famer, a championship passer or even in the league in three seasons. He just enjoys the ride. In the homogenized NFL, it’s great to see someone creating excitement and drama off script. Forget about the future and live in the moment. Of course, remember this come Sunday: Pats 34, Broncs 13…The scoreboard on Chicago Bears WR Sam Hurd, who was arrested Thursday for distributing drugs: 5-10 kilos of yayo, and 1,000 pounds (that’s right, kids, a half-ton) of weed – A WEEK!! Seems he was dishing some off to the rest of the NFL, too, not that you’ll hear espn talk about that. Can’t upset those corporate partners now. Guess that new labor agreement has necessitated Hurd’s finding a second job. Times are tough all over…A 10-year contract for Albert Pujols sounds pretty good for three or four seasons, but the guy turns 32 in January and has seen his batting average drop each of the past four seasons and his homers and RBI fall in the last three. Unless he’s going on the BALCO Bonds plan, don’t expect the Angels to be very happy about shelling out $25 mil when The Machine is 39 and in need of a new engine and a Metamucil drip…Great job by everybody involved in the Cincinnati-Xavier basketball embarrassment. The coaches refused to address the pre-game garbage spewed by the players. The refs couldn’t step up and stop the talking when it started. And the players didn’t know how to behave when tensions flared. Yancy Gates’ six-game suspension is a joke. He should miss 10-15 for throwing multiple punches. And X’s Tu Holloway needs to sit for a while after yapping at opposing coaches. The coaches shouldn’t be making these decisions. The schools’ presidents should have stepped in to rescue their institutions’ reputations.

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YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? Even if the Eagles lose their final three games by a combined 120-0, and the fans and media scream for a month straight, Andy Reid isn’t going anywhere. His ties to owner Jeffrey “The Phantom” Lurie and Dynamite Joe Banner are way too tight. Further, the spin has already started. The Eagles went from Super Bowl contenders to “rebuilding.” Next year, however, is a different story. If Reid doesn’t fix his defense – and that means firing Juan Castillo and wide-nine maven Jim Washburn – and teach Michael Vick how to be a real NFL quarterback, instead of a video game hero, he should be sent packing the minute the 2012 season concludes. Frankly, he needs to be gone right now, but that isn’t happening. Trouble is, even if Reid goes, Howie Roseman stays, and given the Birds’ recent drafts, that’s hardly heart-warming. If Lurie and Banner had any football savvy, they would examine successful teams like the Packers, Steelers and Ravens and see the value of an established GM and a coach who works in concert with him, rather than bullying him, as Reid does Roseman. But all of that must wait. Reid is coming back for more, so save your voices. And lower your expectations.

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AND ANOTHER THING: From the time David Stern took over as NBA commissioner in 1984, he has had a steady hand on the tiller and something of a magic touch. Sure, his arrival coincided with the entrances of Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley over the next couple years, but it was Stern who focused the league’s marketing efforts on the players, rather than the teams. The result has been expansion, revenue growth and strong TV ratings. But Stern is losing it, and the Chris Paul mess proved it. It’s understandable that the “owner” of a team (the league is in control of the New Orleans franchise) should have veto power on trades, but rarely is that say-so played out so publicly, as it was in the case of the Lakers’ and Clippers’ pursuit of the New Orleans guard. The first deal Stern turned down wasn’t great, but it was good enough and involved players who would impact the Hornets, Rockets and Lakers. He then went thumbs down on a trade that would have sent Paul to the Clippers, before acquiescing and allowing the Hornets and L.A. to connect. El Hombre understands the need to preserve the franchise’s value, but Stern’s public hand-wringing gave the impression of someone who couldn’t control the other NBA owners and who seemed unable to conduct business privately. That’s not how a powerful commissioner works. It’s time to begin assembling the succession plan for the top of the NBA food chain.


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