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The World's Greatest College Football Report Pt. 5: Lunch Pails, Cheez-Its, Webfoots & Our New COVID Toteboard!
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Maryland Terrapins (6-6) vs. Virginia Tech Hokies (6-6)
December 29, 1:15 p.m.
Bronx, New York
The game has potential but the Pinstripe Bowl never delivers much of note. Since its inception in 2010, the Pinstripe Bowl has been affiliated with a number of conferences but now has a simpler tie-in: two mediocre teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big Ten.
Some intrigue does kick in when the Big Ten team is a powerhouse down on its luck. Recent Big Ten conference reps have included Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State, names we associate with New Year's Day, not the Wednesday after Christmas. (The ACC has sent the likes of Duke, Miami, Boston College, and Wake Forest. Not exactly a murderer's row.)
The ACC-Big Ten match-up has only featured a ranked team once - in the 2016 edition, #23 Pittsburgh lost to Northwestern in a fitting conclusion to a bizarre season for the Wildcats. If we had a larger staff, we could list all the teams to start a season by dropping two games at home including a loss to an FCS team and yet still go on to win a bowl game against a ranked team, but the intern quit. Let's just all agree that it would be a short list. A very short list.
This year doesn't bring much razzle-dazzle apart from the setting. Yankee Stadium is a tight squeeze for a football field. The endzone corners are treacherous (note the seating map) but the setting is spectacular nonetheless.
The Pinstripe Bowl is also only one of four bowl games played outdoors in what's considered a "cold weather" stadium. Wednesday looks rainy in New York with temps in the mid-40s and a steady drizzle, which would make for an awful commute if anyone commuted anywhere beyond downstairs but sounds like good football weather.
Between the weather and the baggage both teams drag into New York, the game could get messy. The Terrapins broke out of the gate fast in 2021, going undefeated in its first four, but didn't beat a team with a winning record after September. The Hokies stumbled to 5-5 before turfing head coach Justin Fuente.
In firing Fuente, Virginia Tech jumped into what became a fierce competition among power conference schools seeking new leadership. Openings at flagship programs like Notre Dame, USC, Florida and LSU made for a hot market. The craze exposed more cracks in hiring and recruiting practices in what became a land grab for transfer portal talent, early recruiting season commitments, signing and re-signing big-name coaches. The first-mover advantage to fast-acting schools proved valuable enough to even make outbidding NFL teams for coaches a possibility. Like Christmas, firing season in college is creeping up the calendar. Schools have realized that retaining early commitments and enticing new prospects means putting on a show, with new coaching hires at center stage.
The Hokies took defensive coordinator Brent Fry from Penn State in a nice bit of karma. Fry served as an assistant under the architect of Virginia Tech's famous "Lunch Pail Defense." Coordinator Bud Foster ran the defense for over 30 years, retiring at the time as the longest-serving college assistant head coach. That may make for a brighter future, but it's going to be a long night in the Bronx. The Hokies lost both its starting and back-up quarterbacks to the transfer portal along with numerous others, plus several starters will be sitting out in advance of the NFL draft. Maryland's passing attack puts up big numbers, good for 13th in the country, which should bring the Hokies season to a merciful end.
Maybe Fry will bring back the Lunch Pail for the game to fire up the defense. Virginia Tech, seemingly ignorant of the power of pageantry in college football, announced plans in 2020 to phase out the battered bucket. Bring back the bucket, Brent!
Our pick: in a toss-up between playing Maryland (-3) or the under, we will bet on the total falling short. Under 55.
#19 Clemson Tigers (9-3) vs. Iowa State Cyclones (7-5)
December 29, 4:45 p.m.
Camping World Stadium
The Cheez-It Bowl embodies the beautiful simplicity of bowl season. What game is it? The Cheez-It Bowl. Who sponsors the game? Cheez-It. Does the game have anything to do with anything? No. Pass the Cheez-Its.
The Cheez-It Bowl began life as the Sunshine Classic but took on the lead sponsor's name beginning with Blockbuster in 1990 to Cheez-It as of 2020. The utter lack of identity and continuity fits with the corporate element of bowl season. Finally, the location is perfect. Of course, it's in Orlando. There is no better place for the Sponsor's Name Here Bowl.
Perhaps Cheez-It will mark a new beginning. Can the snackmakers of America unite behind a single idea? An annual bowl game treating viewers to the latest in snacking innovation is what we need as a country. Tell us all about Snap'd®, Duoz® and Grooves®. Cheddar comes in Scorchin' Hot now? Cheez-It has mashed up Caramel Popcorn and Cheddar? How are we going to choose from the 21 different flavors of Cheez-It without this information?
(That said, there will have to be transparency measures put into place. Fans should know which company makes the snacks, for example. For those of you keeping your boycott lists current, note that the Kellogg Company makes Cheez-It under its Sunshine Biscuits division.)
Thanks to Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, we might see a new tradition emerging to give the build-up to gameday some flair. Swinney threw down the gauntlet in what was apparently the inaugural Worst Press Conference Look Face-Off. Dabo debuted his Highway Mowing Guy Orange onesie for the occasion and Tigers Twitter about lost its mind.
Getting ready for the prom pic.twitter.com/TNGcLEf0xu— Grace Raynor (@gmraynor) December 28, 2021
Onesies aside, this isn't the Clemson of last season. The departure of star QB and #1 overall draft pick Trevor Lawrence left a huge hole his replacement has struggled to fill. The Tigers eventually pulled it together after a choppy start beginning with a brutal 10-3 loss to Georgia to kick off the year. Clemson comes in riding a five-game winning streak with a combined score of 152-58 while Iowa State will be trying to replace All-American running back Breece Hall. Rather than focus, at least for the moment, on the wave of stars like Hall sitting out the postseason, let's watch for players like Iowa State junior running back Jirehl Brock. After watching Hall take almost all the snaps this year, Brock has a chance to prove why he merited a Top 20 position ranking nationally in his class as a recruit.
Our pick: We will be rooting for Brock to shine but Clemson (-2.5) has too much talent and depth.
Valero Alamo Bowl
#14 Oregon (10-3) vs. #16 Oklahoma (10-2)
December 29, 8:15 p.m.
San Antonio, TX
Now here is a proper bowl game: the Alamo Bowl, played in the Alamodome in San Antonio, home of the Alamo. San Antonio likes to promote the River Walk as a tourist destination. This is true, but only if you're looking for a shallow trickle of water running through a concrete culvert choked with tangled bead necklaces and plastic cups for Margaritas By The Yard. It might not be so bad if the River Walk wasn't in Texas, which is so broken people were scooping up water from the river during the utility collapse earlier this year. But here we are!
Oregon wised up for this one and picked special uniforms that won't, in contrast to many worn by the Ducks, sear your retinas.
The rest of the product on the field for Oregon isn't so bad either. In typical fashion for the Webfoots, the team seemed destined for the playoffs after beating favorite Ohio State early. Two losses to #23 Utah, in the regular season and again in the Pac-12 championship game, torpedoed any chance of the playoffs leaving a short-staffed OU to sort out its own coaching situation after HC Mario Cristobal took his talents to the 'Canes in South Beach.
The best storyline for the Alamo Bowl involves former Oklahoma head coach and legend Bob Stoops, who took the Sooners to a BCS National Championship in 1999 in only his second season. Stoops finished his career in 2016 with a 190-48 record overall, including dominant seasons in-conference (eight years with only one loss at most) in what used to be the highly competitive Big 12. Hot young head coach Lincoln Riley peaced out for Southern California (and a big payday) abruptly in November leaving the stunned Sooners rudderless. The sky was falling for OU fans.
A few days later, Stoops shared the stage in a presser announcing his return, albeit only for this bowl, as head ballcoach. In stark contrast to the hysteria from a whirling coaching carousel, Stoops' comments on the matter hearken back to an earlier age: "You guys win and lose. You're OU football. He isn't. I'm not. And any other coach who comes here isn't. OU football has been here a long time. And it isn't going anywhere else." Hot damn. Just reading quotes from Stoops is enough to give you goosebumps. Here's to seeing his trademark visor on the sideline Wednesday.
Our pick: Boomer Sooner to cover the number (-7) in a throwback game.
The COVID Toteboard
With the cancellation of today's Wasabi Fenway Bowl, the tally of games scratched due to COVID has reached five. (Also including the Holiday, Arizona, Military, and Hawaii Bowls.) For tomorrow's games, we have the odds of cancellation at:
Duke's Mayo Bowl: 20-1
The game matches up North Carolina against South Carolina, not the best combo for CDC compliance.
TransPerfect Music City Bowl: 50-1
People will riot if the Music City Bowl is canceled. There is literally nothing else to do for tourists in Nashville this time of year. Or ever, really, outside of live music. The other highly rated attractions include a Parthenon knock-off, someplace called Andrew Jackson's Hermitage, and God protect you, the Grand Ol' Opry.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: 100-1
This is a goodie: #12 Pitt squares off against #10 Michigan State in what should be an interesting match-up between two good, not great, but good, squads. Plus, it's the Peach Bowl. Lots of history here.
SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl: 10-1
Mouth-breathing Badgers fans have descended on Sin City, and if the team hotel isn't already a giant petri dish, it will be by kickoff.
Mike Luce is the world's greatest college football writer. He welcomes your comments.
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