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Bowl season, the annual rite of postseason pageantry, is upon us.
And so too is our annual bowl preview. This year we'll take it week-by-week for the freshest views and latest lines.
This week's festivities feature a host of midsize mammals, aerial contraptions, and an ethnic group out of Central Mexico. Without further to-do, here are the games, teams, season records, the path each team traveled, and the bottom line: Our picks.
Game: Gildan New Mexico Bowl
Time: Saturday, December 15, ESPN, 1 p.m. (University Stadium, Albuquerque,)
Teams: Nevada Wolfpack (7-5, 4-4 MWC) vs. Arizona Wildcats (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12)
How they got here: Both teams looked good at times during the regular season. Arizona started out 3-0 and ranked in the Top 25 (#22) before a crushing defeat by Oregon (49-0) followed by close losses to Oregon State and Stanford. Just like that, and 'Zona's hopes for not playing in a bowl game not sponsored by "a marketer and globally low-cost vertically integrated manufacturer of branded basic apparel" went out the window.
To top off the season, Arizona lost another close game (41-34) to intrastate rival Arizona State. So while the Wildcats get a trip to Albuquerque, ASU will play in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco on December 29.
While the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl may not belong amongst the top flight bowls, it is sponsored by a name brand and not a manufacturer of crappy sports gear.
On the plus side, Zona can catch a showing of Mariachi Christmas while in The Duke City.
Here are two things we don't know and don't care to learn about Albuquerque: one, why it's called The Duke City and, two, how to spell Albuquerque. Thank you, autocorrect.
The Wolfpack are also disappointed to be playing in the New Mexico Bowl. Not only is it in New Mexico, an especially unimpressive location if you live in Nevada, but the Wolfpack had high hopes after going 6-1 overall and 3-0 in conference play.
The Mountain West Conference has long been dominated by Boise State but with the Broncos departing for what may or not still be the Big East, the Wolfpack saw an opportunity to emerge from the pack, if you will.
However, Nevada's remaining opponents seemed to realize that those 6 Ws had come against the likes of Texas State, Wyoming, and Northwestern State, and the air of mystery surrounding the Wolfpack evaporated in three consecutive losses, a dead cat bounce victory over Utah, and an "L" to Boise to end the season.
Comment: Handicapping bowl games, especially early games between underachieving teams, can be challenging. In this case, we will go with the team from the better conference.
Vegas doesn't take action on the "total" for game time - that sort of nonsense can only be found online or offshore - otherwise we would go heavy on the over. The over/under for the point total opened at 76 and has moved steadily upward, reaching 77.5 by Thursday evening, which should make for plenty of scoring and thus plenty of commercial breaks.
This strikes us as the sort of game where you might catch a few minutes of the first half, go out to lunch, pick up your dry cleaning, refill your prescriptions, and return to the couch to find that it is still the first quarter with the score tied 21-21.
Pick: Arizona -9
Game: Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Time: Saturday, December 15, ESPN, 4:30 p.m. (Bronco Stadium, Boise)
Teams: Toledo Rockets (9-3, 6-2 MAC) vs. #22 Utah State Aggies (10-2, 6-0 WAC)
How they got here: Utah State flew Delta from Salt Lake City and Toledo flew a rocket.
Comment: What is it with Ohio teams? Ohio schools include the Rockets, the Dayton Flyers, the Akron Zips, the Bowling Green Falcons, the Kent State Golden Flashes, the Miami Redhawks, the Ohio University Bobcats, and the Cincinnati Bearcats. (Note: the Buckeyes are excluded as for the purposes of the 2013 season, as OSU does not have a football team in any way that counts.)
Why can't OU and Cincy get with the program and pick some type of airborne and/or fast-moving mascot instead of the bogus feline options? Bearcats don't even exist. I think some enterprising young Ohio state congressperson should introduce a bill to rename the Bobcats the Whizzers and the Bearcats the Zooms.
Pick: The bookmakers must know more than we do, because we are mildly surprised to see a double-digit line in this game. All the same, we like Toledo getting (+10.5) the points.
UPDATE: Bearcats do exist! Apparently, the bearcat is among thirty some-odd species of midsize mammals making up the Viverridae family. The viverrids, in addition to sounding like an awesome punk rock band name, include the genets (all of them; as it turns out there is more than one variety of genet), the binturong (more band names), the civets (various), and the African linsangs (assorted). Basically, all you need to know about viverrids is that they resemble tree-dwelling, feline-ish raccoons and that they can't be trusted with your wallet.
Game: San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
Time: Thursday, December 20, ESPN, 8 p.m. (Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego)
Teams: BYU Cougars (7-5) vs. San Diego St. Aztecs (9-3, 7-1 MWC)
How they got here: The Cougars left the Mountain West two years ago to play as an independent, leaving behind long-time rival San Diego State. The teams had shared a conference since 1978, most recently the MWC where the two faced off for 13 consecutive seasons.
The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl will bring the two back together in the reincarnation of the original Poinsettia Bowl, a championship game between the military services, first held in 1952. Thursday will mark the eighth contest since the game returned in 2005 after a 50 year siesta, now matching up a Mountain West team against BYU, with Army taking the place of the Cougars next year provided the Black Knights are bowl eligible.
Comment: The SDCCUPB feels a bit like a set-up. The Aztecs will get plenty of love from the home crowd, including the crews from the San Diego naval base. The Poinsettia Bowl isn't new turf for the Aztecs either, having won handily over Navy in 2010. Despite the mediocre record, the Cougars must have something going for them based on the number, but we can't figure out what.
Pick: San Diego State +2.5
Mike Luce is our man on campus. He welcomes your comments.