During lengthy bowl season, Outback provides the best view

New Year's game gives fans best of non-BCS

College Football

December 16, 2003|By Chris Reidy | Chris Reidy,HARTFORD COURANT

Once again, the holiday season is upon us. And Santa won't be the only one with travel headaches.

Just think about the teams that will participate in this year's non-Bowl Championship Series games.

Take Texas, for example. The Longhorns were steered toward a big BCS payday, probably at the Fiesta Bowl, until Kansas State upset Oklahoma, seriously messing with Texas.

Now the Longhorns get a trip to the Holiday Bowl. Almost the same, right? After all, it's only another 365 miles - and $12 million - from Tempe, Ariz., to San Diego.

Maybe it's better to skip the holiday travel, like Texas Christian. The Horned Frogs were supposed to go to Mobile, Ala., but decided they preferred going to Hawaii, or simply staying home. You see, the student athletes at TCU didn't want to risk their credits at the GMAC Bowl, because it conflicted with final exams. Right.

So instead, the Frogs worked a deal to stay at their home pad, the inaugural Fort Worth Bowl. But that trade helped ground some Huskies.

Connecticut finished 9-3, a better record than 29 bowl teams. But alas, the only bowl opening for independents went to Navy (8-4), sinking UConn's hopes.

Perhaps even more dogged, if you will, by the system was Northern Illinois, whose Huskies went 10-2. They have a conference tie, the steadily improving Mid-American Conference, and beat three teams from BCS conferences, including a victory at Alabama. UCLA, Georgia Tech, Kansas and Northwestern are all 6-6 teams that reached bowl games.

Still, whether the holiday season finds you at home or on the road, you'll want to check out this year's slate of 24 non-BCS games. To help you decide whether each game is worth a visit - or whether you should continue on your way - we've rated the games from best to worst.

1. Outback Bowl

Teams: Iowa (9-3) vs. Florida (8-4), 11 a.m.

When: Jan. 1, 11 a.m. (ESPN)

Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.

Make a stop: If nothing else, the Gators usually provide an entertaining New Year's Day game ... before losing a nail-biter.

Walk on by: If the Hawkeyes, led by RB Fred Russell (1,318 yards, 6 TDs) and Outland Trophy winner Robert Galler, run all over Florida like Florida State did.

Worth watching: Florida freshman QB Chris Leak (2,167 yards, 14 TDs).

2. Holiday Bowl

Teams: Washington State (9-3) vs. Texas (10-2)

When: Dec. 30, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego

Make a stop: If this bowl maintains its holiday tradition of close finishes. The past five games have been decided by a total of 23 points.

Walk on by: If it's nothing more than Longhorns taking out their BCS frustrations on Cougars, who couldn't hold a late lead against a weak Washington team.

Worth watching: Texas RB Cedric Benson (1,277 yards, 20 TDs).

3. Cotton Bowl

Teams: Mississippi (9-3) vs. Oklahoma State (9-3)

When: Jan. 2, 2 p.m. (Chs. 45, 5)

Where: Cotton Bowl, Dallas

Make a stop: Since Eli Manning (3,341 yards, 27 TDs) finally lived up to the hype. Worth watching for his final game alone.

Walk on by: If we see the kind of Cowboys "defense" that allowed 107 points in back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Texas.

Worth watching: Oklahoma State WR Rashaun Woods (66 catches, 1,144 yards, 14 TDs).

4. Fort Worth Bowl

Teams: Texas Christian (11-1) vs. Boise State (12-1)

When: Dec. 23, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Where: Amon Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas

Make a stop: Two teams with a combined record of 23-2? Sounds like a BCS bowl game - complete with backdoor deal-making that left (ahem) a deserving team out in the cold.

Walk on by: At the first mention of how the Horned Frogs were ready to crash the BCS party. Sure they were - until they ran into those bouncers from Southern Miss.

Worth watching: Broncos QB Ryan Dinwiddie (4,031 yards, 28 TDs).

5. Continental Tire Bowl

Teams: Pittsburgh (8-4) vs. Virginia (7-5)

When: Dec. 27, 11 a.m. (ESPN2)

Where: Ericsson Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.

Make a stop: The sort of game that could be another Larry Fitzgerald (87 catches, 1,595 yards, 22 TDs) showcase, but the Cavaliers have their own threat in multipurpose RB Wali Lundy (9 TDs rushing, 4 receiving, 1 passing).

Walk on by: You never have to feel guilty about skipping this one, a shoo-in first-ballot inductee for the Bad Bowl Names Hall of Fame.

Worth watching: Virginia QB Matt Schaub (2,708 yards, 17 TDs).

6. Houston Bowl

Teams: Navy (8-4) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)

When: Dec. 30, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Where: Reliant Stadium, Houston

Make a stop: Here's your chance to see Red Raiders QB B.J. Symons, who set the NCAA single-season passing record with 5,336 yards. He also threw for 48 TDs.

Walk on by: Since the Mids got the lone independent bowl berth.

Worth watching: Navy QB Craig Candeto (1,107 yards passing, 7 TDs; 1,022 rushing, 14 TDs).

7. Liberty Bowl

Teams: Utah (9-2) vs. Southern Miss (9-3)

When: Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Where: Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn.

Make a stop: Could be an entertaining matchup of mid-majors. Golden Eagles have won six in a row; Utes have victories over fellow bowl teams Cal and Oregon.

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