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The College Football Report: Bowl Briefing

By Mike Luce

On behalf of everyone here at the College Football Report: welcome back. As most of the country busies itself with gift receipts, returning (if only briefly) to work, and extra therapy visits to offset seasonal depression (it can't be just us), fans of college football are in the midst of the true holiday season: bowl games.

At the moment, we find ourselves mopping up the last few Vaguely Interesting Bowls and among some prime offerings from the Legitimately Interesting Bowls (punctuated by Wednesday night's Miami-Wisconsin match-up). We are also fast approaching the BCS Games and the GMAC Bowl (otherwise known as the lone representative of Bowls You Didn't Know About Because They Come After The BCS Games - although we sense this could be a growing category in the future).

Somewhat surprisingly, Layoff Season has been extended into late December this year by the fiasco unfolding in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech fired head coach Mike Leach on Wednesday for - and we don't know quite how to put this - poorly managing an injury to the son of an ESPN commentator. We won't bore you with the details, but the Cliff Notes version reads that Leach mishandled an injury to mediocre sophomore wide receiver Adam James.

Most reports support Leach's position that he was protecting the player from further injury . . . albeit through such dubious means as allegedly forcing James to stand alone in a shed during practice.

In the pre-Mangino era of Big 12 football, such insensitivity might have gone somewhat unnoticed. (For reference, fellow Big 12 coach Mark Mangino lost his job over similar issues earlier this year. Mangino was forced to resign but ultimately reached a $3 million settlement with Kansas University.)

ESPN commentator Craig James seems to have successfully led a campaign for Leach's removal. From a distance, the whole affair resembles a Little League spat. Yet college football - in Texas of all places - is big business. The Red Raiders accepted an Alamo Bowl invitation after a season record of 8-4 in 2009. To remove the head coach just days before a bowl game, Texas Tech must have had a compelling reason. After all, although Mike Leach is an eccentric character he had led Tech to 10 consecutive winning seasons and five bowl victories.

As it turns out, the school had 800,000 reasons to dismiss Leach. If he remained the coach as of Thursday of this week, Texas Tech owed Mike Leach an $800,000 bonus (as stipulated in the five-year, $12.7 million contract extension signed in February - available here).

Further, the alleged abuses gave Tech officials grounds to claim Leach's dismissal was "for cause" - an important detail, in that an arbitrary firing would result in an additional $400,000 for each of the remaining years in the contract.

Viewed from a financial perspective, Tech stood to profit little by retaining Leach and could only lose by retaining him - both in the public relations department and on the books.

Finally, we can imagine some officials with the university may have seen an opportunity to get back at Leach after the bloody negotiations around his extension.

While the battle moves into the courtroom (and sources claim Leach will seek not only his bonus but also a portion of his contract), our sympathies lie with the players who have to take the field on Saturday against Michigan State. Asked if the presence of Adam James will be awkward for the team, defensive coordinator and interim coach Ruffin McNeill replied, "I hope not."

Thus, it should come as no surprise that we have bestowed the inaugural Turd in the Punchbowl Award to Texas Tech's very own Adam James. Congratulations, AJ - just like the pervy uncle who creeps around the family Christmas dinner, nobody will be asking to sit on your lap this holiday season.

As you try to clear that lovely mental image from your mind, let's get on with the business of reviewing the bowls to date followed by a preview of some upcoming action. As always, the following is for entertainment purposes only. Including gambling. If you lose your Christmas bonus wagering on one of these games, don't come crying to us.

The New Mexico Bowl: Fresno State 28 (-10) @ Wyoming 35

Comment: If you kept the Beachwood Bowl Series rule in mind ("Never depend on a school named after a state that doesn't exist") you cleaned up on this one.

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The St. Petersburg Bowl: Central Florida 24 @ Rutgers 45 (-2.5)

Comment: Had we only known the Scarlet Knights were going to rip UCF a new one, everyone would have gotten much nicer Christmas presents.

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The New Orleans Bowl: Southern Miss 32 (-3.5) @ Middle Tennessee State 42

Comment: MTSU (known around the CFR office as "Mountain Dew State" for no good reason) racked up 14 points in the second, third, and fourth quarters to come back and ultimately pull away from an early 14-0 deficit.

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The Las Vegas Bowl: #18 Oregon State 20 (-3) @ #14 BYU 44

Comment: An early entrant from the Legitimately Interesting Bowls got out of hand in a hurry as the Cougars led 30-7 after the third quarter. We had the Beavers in this one. Let's just say the merriment was a bit muted around the ol' Yule log this year. Beavers, Yule logs . . . let's move on.

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The Poinsettia Bowl: #23 Utah 37 @ California 27 (-3)

Comment: The point spread in this match-up never made much sense. The game took place in San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, not exactly Cal's home turf. While fans of the Golden Bears come out in droves for home games in Berkley, San Diego is well outside the range of the Prius and thus all but the most diehard Cal followers. And Utah is a good team. Cal, well, they lost to xxxx. This game had the feel of a situation in which a Vegas bookmaker scratched his head and scribbled down "Cal by three."

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The Hawaii Bowl: Nevada 10 (-11) @ Southern Methodist 45

Comment: SMU is back! After sustaining the "death penalty" from the NCAA in 1987, the Mustangs wallowed for years. Thursday's win over Nevada marks SMU's first bowl victory since 1984. Known in its heyday for producing such players as Doak Walker, Eric Dickerson and Craig James . . . hey, wait. You know what, screw SMU.

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The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl: Marshall 21 @ Ohio 17 (-3)

Comment: Not for nothing, but Marshall's victory on Saturday brought underdogs to a 6-1 record against both the spread and straight-up.

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The Meineke Car Care Bowl: #17 Pittsburgh 19 (-1) @ North Carolina 17

Comment: Make that 6-2.

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The Emerald Bowl: Boston College 13 @ #24 USC 24 (-7.5)

Comment: Readers of the Beachwood Bowl Series '09 ("Trojans always perform well in San Francisco") knew what to expect in this one.

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The Music City Bowl: Kentucky 13 @ Clemson 21 (-6)

Comment: Here's something I don't understand . . . the Music City Bowl will always remain the Music City Bowl. (Unless it moves out of Nashville to, say, Tupelo, in which case it could become the Tennessee Valley Authority Bowl. That would be electrifying.) But what about the Meineke Car Care Bowl? What if Meineke goes belly up? Will the game just be known as The Car Care Bowl? I'm confused. I'm also trying to avoid commenting on this game due to the boiling rage in my heart at the Wildcats' anemic offense.

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The Independence Bowl: Texas A&M 20 @ Georgia 44 (-6.5)

Comment: Who were these people that thought the Dawgs couldn't cover at least a touchdown? Seriously. I shouldn't talk, however, as I completely forgot to take UGA in this one. Stay tuned. Bad decisions ahead.

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The EagleBank Bowl: UCLA 30 (-4.5) @ Temple 21

Comment: I didn't know this game was being played. No idea. I saw the score briefly on the "crawl" at the bottom of ESPN and thought it was a basketball game.

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The Champs Sports Bowl: #15 Miami 14 (-3.5) @ #25 Wisconsin 21

Comment: We (and by "we" I'm referring to me and Chase bank) took an absolute bath on this one, further compounded by the additional 20% juice to buy the hook down to -3. Awesome. When do we get our tax returns?

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The Humanitarian Bowl: Bowling Green 42 @ Idaho 43 (-1)

Comment: Possibly the best ending to any bowl game this season . . . the teams combined to score 22 points in the final four minutes, including a two-point conversion by the Vandals for the win with 0:04 on the clock. Too bad no one was watching.

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The Holiday Bowl: #20 Arizona 0 @ #22 Nebraska 33 (-2.5)

Comment: The lesson from this game is not that Nebraska was vastly underrated but . . . that you always win the bets you don't make. We loved the 'Huskers from the start but were still suffering from a Champs Sports-sized hangover.

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And for a look ahead at some of the remaining games, here is a collaborative offering with the Beachwood Sports Seal. Yes, he's still here although headed downhill fast on a diet of egg nog, Pizza Hut Meatlovers with double-anchovies, and Stresstabs. If anyone knows a good sea mammal retreat, please let us know. We might be looking at admitting the Seal for "exhaustion" in the off-season.

New Years Eve - The Underdog Specials
~ The Armed Forces Bowl: Air Force (+4.5) @ Houston
~ The Sun Bowl: Stanford (+10) @ Oklahoma
~ The Texas Bowl: Navy (+6.5) @ Missouri
~ The Insight Bowl: Iowa State @ Minnesota (-2)
~ The Chick-fil-A Bowl: Tennessee (+5.5) @ #11 Virginia Tech

New Years Day - Don't Overthink It
~ The Outback Bowl: Northwestern @ Auburn (-8)
~ The Gator Bowl: Florida State (+3) @ #16 West Virginia
~ The Capital One Bowl: #12 LSU (+2.5) @ #13 Penn State
~ The Rose Bowl: #8 Ohio State @ #7 Oregon (-4.5)
~ The Sugar Bowl: #5 Florida (-13) @ #3 Cincinnati

There you have it. Have a Happy New Year and remember this in 2010: if you must parent, do so by hovercraft. Helicopters are so last year.

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Mike "Dr. Dude" Luce brings you The College Football Report in this space twice a week, with the generous assistance of the Beachwood Sports Seal. They both welcome your comments.

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