The Bowl Games You Should Watch; R.I.P. San Francisco Bowl Game
Yes, it's time once again for those "meaningless" college football bowl games. Games that are so meaningless that they draw more television viewers, on average, than Major League Baseball.
Admittedly, as a former bowl director (more on that below), I'm prejudiced. But other than the fact that bowls have some dumb names (see Bad Boy Mowers Pinstripe Bowl, Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl, and RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl) and that there are too many of them, 42 this year, what's not to like? It's entertaining, exciting programming during the holidays. And since college football won't return for eight months, why not take advantage of the few opportunities we have left to enjoy the best sport in the world? Before I present our annual bowl viewing guide, a quick salute to the Pac-12 Conference, which once again is not represented in the playoff, but had six teams in the top 18 in the final CFP rankings this year--Utah at No. 8, USC No. 10, Washington No. 12, Oregon State No. 14, Oregon No. 15 and UCLA No. 18). No other conference came close; the vaunted SEC had four, the Big 10 had three, and the Big 12 and ACC had two each. Tulane was the 18th team.
Now on to the games. These are the 15 you should watch (a heads up calendar wise. 12 of the 15 are scheduled between Dec. 28 and Jan. 2. All times Pacific):
Friday, December 16 Duluth Trading Cure Bowl, No. 24 Troy vs. No. 25 UTSA, 12 noon, ESPN Two conference champions meet in a game that, for pure high-scoring entertainment, will be hard to beat. USTA went 11-2 to win Conference USA and Troy improved from 5-7 last year to 11-2 this year to win the Sun Belt. USTA has an excellent QB in Frank Harris and one of the best receivers in the country in Zakhari Franklin. Saturday, December 17 SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl, No. 14 Oregon State vs. Florida, 11:30 ESPN How many people thought we'd be writing "No. 14" in front of Oregon State at the beginning of the season? Jonathan Smith has done an amazing job at his alma mater, posting a 9-3 record, including a win over Oregon. Two of his losses were by three points to USC and Washington. These teams have never met before. Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl, Washington State vs. Fresno State, 12:30 ABC Former Cal coach Jeff Tedford hasn't lost his magic. His Bulldogs won eight straight after starting 1-4. This game matches two excellent quarterbacks, Washington State's Cameron Ward, the transfer from Incarnate Word, and Fresno State's Jake Haener, the transfer from Washington. 44-41 anyone? Wednesday, December 28 Autozone Liberty Bowl, Arkansas vs. Kansas, 2:30 ESPN Kansas is going to its first bowl game since 2008. The Jayhawks were 5-0 before quarterback Jalon Daniels went down with an injury. Arkansas beat some good teams this year--South Carolina, BYU, Cincinnati, Auburn and Mississippi--and has an explosive offense directed by quarterback K.J. Jefferson. San DIego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl, No. 15 Oregon vs. North Carolina, 5:00 Fox Maybe the best bowl in this year's lineup. An attractive matchup of quarterbacks Bo Nix and Drake Maye. Nix, the transfer from Auburn, laid an egg in the opener against No. 1 Georgia, but so did a lot of quarterbacks. He was brilliant thereafter, accounting for 41 touchdowns and 3900 yards passing and rushing for the Ducks. Maye, the ACC Player of the Year, was even better, accounting for 42 TDs and 4750 yards through the air and on the ground. Thursday, December 29 Cheez-It Bowl, No. 13 Florida State vs. Oklahoma, 2:30 ESPN Two iconic programs meet in Orlando. Coach Mike Norvell's Seminoles finished strong with five straight wins, led by quarterback Jordan Davis. Oklahoma had a disappointing 6-6 season after Lincoln Riley's departure to USC. This will either be a shootout or a Florida State blowout. Valero Alamo Bowl, No. 12 Washington vs. No. 20 Texas, 6:00 ESPN This one promised to be a great matchup featuring one of the best quarterbacks in the country--Washington's Michael Penix Jr-- who threw for 4300 yards and 29TDs--and one of the best running backs in the country--Texas' Bijan Robinson, who rushed for 1580 yards and 18TDs. Robinson may opt out, but Penix is still worth the price of admission. It's also an interesting matchup between the Huskies' first-year coach Kalen DeBoer and the Longhorns' Steve Sarkisian, who used to coach at Washington. Friday, December 30 Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl, No. 18 UCLA vs Pitt, 11:00 CBS Chip Kelly got it together in his fifth year in Westwood, guiding the Bruins to a 9-3 record, including quality wins over Pac-12 champion Utah and Washington. The game will feature two of the nation's best running backs--UCLA's Zach Charbonnet, who rushed for 1359 and 14 TDs, and Pitt's Israel Abanikanda, who finished with 1431 yards and a national best 20 rushing TDs. TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, No. 19 South Carolina vs. No. 21 Notre Dame, 12:30 ESPN The Gamecocks finished the season with wins over top 10 teams Tennessee and Clemson. Now they get to face the fabled Fighting Irish. I'm a big fan of coach Shane Beamer, whose father, Frank, was not only a great coach but one of the best people I met in college sports. Notre Dame, which inexplicably lost to Marshall and Stanford, finished 8-4 in Marcus Franklin's first year but will be without quarterback Drew Pyne, who has entered the transfer portal. Capital One Orange Bowl, No. 6 Tennessee vs. No. 7 Clemson, 5:00 ESPN How fitting to have two orange-clad teams in the bowl of the same name? A little luster is off with the injury to Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker, who had been the top candidate for the Heisman Trophy, but backup Joe Milton can really sling it. And Clemson has switched to five-star freshman quarterback Cade Klubnik after his performance in the ACC championship game. Saturday, Dec. 31 Allstate Sugar Bowl, No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 9 Kansas State, 9:00am, ESPN The question is whether some of Alabama's star players, notably 2021 Heisman winner Bryce Young and projected No. 1 draft pick Will Anderson, opt out of this one. Nick Saban's boys are bummed they're not in the playoff, but they lost two games to Tennessee and LSU, so they're fortunate to even be at No. 5. Kansas State will view this as a chance to make a statement about the Big 12 vs. the SEC. Vrbo Fiesta Bowl, CFP Semi-Final No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 TCU, 1:00 ESPN Michigan's Jim Harbaugh prefers smash-mouth, run-it-down-your-throat football, while Sonny Dykes' Horned Frogs like to air it out. Still, with All-America Blake Corum sidelined, the Wolverines can open up more, as they did against Ohio State. No one expected TCU or their quarterback, Heisman runner-up Max Duggan, to be here, so they'll come in as 9-point underdogs. Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, CFP Semi-Final, No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 Ohio State, 5:00 ESPN Two teams loaded with high NFL draft picks meet in Atlanta. Georgia was No. 1 for the entire season; Ohio State is coming off a one-sided loss to Michigan. Thus, the Bulldogs will be favored by six or seven points. Ohio State has quarterback CJ Stroud and a boatload of great receivers; Georgia has the best defense in the country and the under-rated Stetson Bennett at quarterback. I'll be surprised if Georgia doesn't win this one handily. Monday, Jan. 2 Goodyear Cotton Bowl, No. 10 USC vs. No. 16 Tulane, 10:00 ESPN Normally you'd expect a game between USC and a Group of Five team to be a blowout. But the Trojans have proven that their defense can't stop anybody. Tulane averaged 35 points per game and has an excellent running back in Tyjae Spears, who rushed for 199 in the AAC title game. So they may be able to keep it close against Heisman winner Caleb Williams and company. Rose Bowl, No. 8 Utah vs. No. 11 Penn State, 2:00 ESPN Two very physical, very talented teams meet in the Grandaddy of Them All. Utah has won two straight Pac-12 championships and returns to the site of its classic matchup with Ohio State a year ago. Penn State dominated everyone on their schedule other than Ohio State and Michigan. Expect a bruising, highly competitive battle. The National Championship Game is set for Monday, Jan. 9 at 4:30 on ESPN.
RIP San Francisco Bowl: No official announcement has been made, but it looks as though the bowl game that I co-founded and ran for 15 years in the Bay Area has died.
The game hasn't been played for the past three years, and there are no signs of life coming out of the bowl's twitter, email, or personal accounts. Nor has there been any press release from the Pac-12 or Big Ten, the game's conference tie-ins. A brief history. The game was founded in 2002 by John Marks, head of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, Giants executive Pat Gallagher, and yours truly for the purposes of utilizing the Giants new ballpark, bringing visitors to SF during a typically slow time of the year, and rewarding two teams for successful seasons with a wonderful bowl experience in one of the greatest cities in the world. Over the years, it was known as the Diamond Walnut, Emerald, Kraft Fight Hunger, and Foster Farms Bowl. We had a great run, including four sellout games (UCLA-Florida State in '06, Cal-Miami in '08, USC-Boston College in '09 and Nevada-Boston College in 2011), and three of the highest rated bowl games ever televised on ESPN (the first three aforementioned sellouts). We also gained a national reputation among coaches and athletic directors for the incredible hospitality provided to the participants. The teams toured Alcatraz, served food at San Francisco soup kitchens on Christmas Day. stayed at great downtown hotels, enjoyed terrific meals, and were honored at rallies on Union Square and a bowl kickoff luncheon for 1,000. We even had special events for the wives, kids, and assistant coaches. After I retired the 49ers assumed management of the game, which had moved to Levi's Stadium in 2014, and switched networks from ESPN to Fox. That ill-advised move, along with a few other unwise decisions, the COVID pandemic, and the impact of the College Football Playoff, ultimately spelled doom. The 49ers and Fox dropped the game in early 2020. My former associate Ryan Oppelt tried gamely to keep it going, but was unable to land a title sponsor or finalize affordable conference agreements. Since the game has apparently gone the way of the World Football League, a few thank yous are in order. My deepest appreciation goes to: My comrades Kurt Dargis and Dave Brown at ESPN Our title sponsors Michael Mendes (Diamond Foods/Emerald Nuts), Stephen Chriss (Kraft Foods), and Bryan Reese (Foster Farms). Pat Gallagher, Stephen Revetria, Tom Zorn, Todd Pierce and Brad Hansen of the San Francisco Giants, who provided a wonderful home for 12 years.
Glide and St. Anthony's soup kitchens. Conference commissioners John Swofford (ACC), Tom Hansen (Pac-10), Craig Thompson (Mountain West) and Karl Benson (WAC) Athletic Directors Chet Gladchuk (Navy), Dan Guerrero (UCLA), Gene DeFilippo (Boston College) and the late Jim Weaver (Virginia Tech). Coaches Mike Riley (Oregon State and Nebraska), Frank Beamer (Virginia Tech), Pete Carroll (USC), Kyle Whittingham (Utah), Randy Shannon (Miami), Jeff Tedford (Cal) and Bobby Bowden (Florida State). Players Colin Kaepernick (Nevada) and Luke Kuechly (Boston College). Our nonpareil PR man, Doug Kelly, and his volunteer assistants, the late, great Sam Goldman and his wife, Adele. The nation's best hospitality committee, including such stalwarts as Steve Steinhart, Chris Johnson, Evan Combs, Dewayne Barnes, Heather Jones, Desiree Hemmelgarn, Kendra Thomas, Donna Labriola, Chuck Hayes, the late Jim Caylor, Mike McElligott, Mike Pereira and others too numerous to mention. Our Board of Directors, so ably led by the aforementioned John Marks, Jack Boland, and the late Ron Kovas. It was an honor and a privilege for me to work with all of you.