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Bowl season rolls on. We're on top of it.
Game: Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Time: Saturday, December 29, ESPN, 11:45 a.m. (Amon Carter Stadium, Fort Worth)
Teams: Rice Owls (6-6, 4-4 C-USA) vs. Air Force Falcons (6-6, 5-3 MWC)
How they got here: We were going to say something obnoxious about the Falcons arriving by helicopter, but does the Air Force fly choppers or only planes? Somehow, we have a mental image of Top Gun-types pooh-poohing the idea of flying a helicopter. Real men fly jets, that sort of thing. Those that can't hack it can either push paper or fix helicopters. But with costs for next generation choppers topping out at seven figures each, we doubt the Air Force hands the stick over to any hacks.
Comment: Bell Helicopter is a division of multinational conglomerate Textron, headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, with global locations in 29 countries. Textron ranks 236th in the Fortune 500 with approximate revenues of $11.3 billion, and owns a number of other businesses including the Cessna Aircraft Company. Textron began in 1923 as the Specialty Yarns Company and quickly cornered the market on synthetic yarns (including fun fabrics like acrylic, nylon and polyester, as well as household favorites like polypropylene.) But the company really came into its own - and fell in with the military-industrial complex - when a 1942 investment formed the Atlantic Parachute Corp, just as parachutes were becoming a very big deal.
Textron also owns E-Z-GO, so if you notice an unusually high number of advertisements for golf carts, you now know why. In a better world, the Bell Helicopter Bowl would be known as the E-Z-GO Bowl and the winning players would each be awarded an E-Z-GO 2Five, the "street legal" model, and could ride off into the Texas sunset.
Pick: Air Force (-2)
Game: New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Time: Saturday, December 29, ESPN, 3:15 p.m. (Yankee Stadium, Bronx)
Teams: West Virginia Mountaineers (7-5, 4-5 Big 12) vs. Syracuse Orange (7-5, 5-2 Big East)
How they got here: West Virginia rocketed up the polls, topping off at #5 with a 5-0 record, but a five-game losing streak, due in large part to a horrendous defense (117th in the country in points allowed), dropped the Mountaineers to the lowest Big 12 bowl. (The New Era has a tie-in to the conference, but is only allowed the seventh overall team.) Syracuse delighted fans with a conference co-championship by ending the season with a win over fellow co-champ Louisville followed by two road Ws to earn a return trip to the Bronx, having beaten Kansas State in the inaugural Pinstripe game in 2010.
Comment: Neither of these former Big East rivals figured to see each other again this season. The series between the two teams spanned 1955 to 2011 until conference realignment sent the Mountaineers to Big 12 this season. More changes are on the way as well, with Syracuse joining the ACC in 2013. Beginning in 1993, the winner of the annual match-up was awarded the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy, a 95-pound hulking mass of metal that will be collecting dust for the foreseeable future - the series hasn't been scheduled to renew.
WV QB Geno Smith hasn't fared well against the Orange, going 0-2 as a starter. Smith put up phenomenal numbers this season (4,004 yards, 40 TDs, 6 INTs) but he will have to prepare for a high-pressure Syracuse defense that produced nine sacks and forced five interceptions while only allowing three passing touchdowns. The "Mountainees" high-speed spread option (or whatever variant offensive wizard Dana Holgorsen is running these days) may get bogged down by the weather as well: the forecast calls for low 30s and snow in New York.
Pick: Syracuse (+4)
Game: Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Time: Saturday, December 29, ESPN, 4 p.m. (AT&T Park, San Francisco)
Teams: Navy Midshipmen (8-4, Independent) vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12)
How they got here: Navy runs the ball. All the time. The Midshipmen run a unique (actually, not unique so much as a the last remaining) triple-option offense that piles up rushing yards (6th overall at 275.6 yards per game) with a three-headed monster of running backs (Gee Gee Greene and Noah Copeland, each with over 600 yards rushing on the season, and QB Keenan Reynolds, with 628 yards and 10 TDs).
ASU lost four in a row during a stretch that included #3 Oregon, #11 Oregon State and #19 USC, but finished the season with a win over #24 Arizona and seemed to be piecing things together.
Comment: We strongly encourage casual fans to catch part of this game. Navy doesn't get much airtime apart from its annual game against Notre Dame, and the triple-option is fun to watch. Not only does it fool defenses, but we also expect ESPN cameramen (camerapeople?) to get suckered into following the wrong "ball carrier" more than a few times.
Pick: Arizona State (-14)
Game: Valero Alamo Bowl
Time: Saturday, December 29, ESPN, 6:45 p.m. (Alamodome, San Antonio)
Teams: #23 Texas Longhorns (8-4, 5-4 Big 12) vs. #13 Oregon State Beavers (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12)
How they got here: The biggest match-up of the day places two teams who had bigger aspirations in what is essentially a consolation game. Both started 2012 undefeated (Texas 4-0, Oregon State 6-0) but in the age of scheduling cupcakes before conference play begins, we can't know just how significant those early results are, and the latter half of the season is more telling for both the Longhorns (losing the final two games) and Beavers (falling to #14 Stanford and #5 Oregon in the last four weeks).
Comment: Watching Oregon State - albeit from a distance (we aren't exactly huge Beaver fans, that is to say, we don't necessarily cheer for Oregon State . . . ) - turn it around this year has been enjoyable. Head coach Mike Riley won only three games last season, and the six-game improvement in 2012 tied the FBS as the biggest uptick compared to the prior season.
Pick: Oregon State (-3.5)
Game: Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
Time: Saturday, December 29, ESPN, 10:15 p.m. (Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe)
Teams: Texas Christian University Horned Frogs (7-5, 4-5 Big 12) vs. Michigan State Spartans (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten)
Comment: We are filing this game under protest. Thirty-five bowl games is about a dozen too many, if we must see teams at or barely above .500 with losing conference records. How many people are going to show up at Sun Devil Stadium to watch this game, apart from however many manage to get there from East Lansing and . . . wherever TCU is based? Meh. Meh, we say!
Pick: TCU (-2)
Mike Luce is our man on campus. He welcomes your comments.