The Symphony That Is The College Bowl Schedule Is Set

The college bowl schedule is now set. With the announcement of the BCS bowl matchups yesterday evening, the door was opened for the rest of the schedule to fall into place as the bowls made their selections in accord with their conference commitments.

Bowl season is like a great symphony, with its gradual buildup, alternating between a rapid pace and slower movement, and finally building to its championship crescendo. What we’re going to do here today is break down ┬áthe schedule by those movements. TheSportsNotebook’s bowl coverage will be structured around this schedule layout, with previews and wrap-ups as each movement begins and ends.

Here’s how the 2013 college bowl schedule sets up, with some editorial comments along the way.


THE OPENING ACT
Sat, Dec 21 (New Mexico ): Washington State-Colorado State (2 PM ET, ESPN)
Sat, Dec 21 (Las Vegas): Fresno State-USC (3:30 PM ET, ABC)
Sat, Dec 21 (Famous Idaho Potato): Buffalo-San Diego State (5:30 PM ET, ESPN)
Sat, Dec 21 (New Orleans): Tulane-UL-Lafayette (9 PM ET, ESPN)
Mon, Dec 23 (Beef O’Brady): East Carolina-Ohio (2 PM ET, ESPN)
Tue, Dec 24 (Hawaii): Boise State-Oregon State (8 PM ET, ESPN)
Thur, Dec 26 (Little Caesars Pizza): Bowling Green-Pitt (6 PM ET, ESPN)
Thur, Dec 26 (Poinsettia): Utah State-Northern Illinois (9:30 PM ET, ESPN)

Comments: The most interesting piece here was Northern Illinois going to the Poinsettia Bowl, something that’s good for college football. The Poinsettia has a spot reserved for Army, one we’ve known for some time would be an open berth. Normally those open spots go to teams at the very end of their conference pecking order.

The MAC has three bowl tie-ins, but apparently something worked out for NIU to go to San Diego, and this game with Utah State will feature two of the really good programs at the midmajor level. I expect both teams to come determined to win.

Commitment to winning isn’t always a part of the bowl game experience anymore, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve come to enjoy these opening act matchups as much as any. You can tell from looking at the schedule there’s a lot of midmajor teams involved and none of those kids, or their fan bases, take these opportunities for granted, or look down their noses at them.

FOUR-DAY FESTIVAL
Fri, Dec 27th (Military): Marshall-Maryland (2:30 PM ET, ESPN)
Fri, Dec 27th (Meineke Car Care of Texas): Syracuse-Minnesota (6 PM ET, ESPN)
Fri, Dec 27th (Fight Hunger): BYU-Washington (9:30 PM ET, ESPN)
Sat, Dec 28th (Pinstripe): Rutgers-Notre Dame (Noon ET, ESPN)
Sat, Dec 28th (Belk): Cincinnati-North Carolina (3:20 PM ET, ESPN)
Sat, Dec 28th (Russell Athletic): Miami-Louisville (6:45 PM ET, ESPN)
Sat, Dec 28th (Buffalo Wild Wings): Michigan-Kansas State (10:15 PM ET, ESPN)


Comment: After the first two days of this four-day run that will leave you bleary-eyed, there’s an intermission for NFL Sunday, which will be Week 17. TheSportsNotebook will also split its coverage of this part of the schedule in half, and take two days at a time, both in previews and recaps.

From a marketing standpoint, it’s hard to criticize Rutgers-Notre Dame playing in Yankee Stadium, but the disarray the Rutgers’ program is in takes some of the shine off. I would have much rather seen the Pinstripe Bowl choose Houston as its American Athletic team. A Notre Dame-Houston matchup would have awakened the echoes of 1978 and the Cotton Bowl, when Joe Montana began forging his comeback legend, as he rallied the Irish from 34-12 down and beat the Cougars on the final play.

I was surprised the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl chose Michigan as its Big Ten team over Nebraska. Given that the opponent would be from the Big 12, it seemed an ideal chance to stir up some bad blood between the Cornhuskers and their old rivals.

Mon, Dec 30th (Armed Forces): Middle Tennessee-Navy (11:45 PM ET, ESPN)
Mon, Dec 30th (Music City): Ole Miss-Georgia Tech (3:15 P ET, ESPN)
Mon, Dec 30th (Alamo): Oregon-Texas (6:45 PM ET, ESPN)
Mon, Dec 30th (Holiday): Arizona State-Texas Tech (10:15 PM ET, ESPN)
Tue, Dec 31st (Advocare V100): Arizona-Boston College (12:30 PM ET, ESPN)
Tue, Dec 31st (Sun): Virginia Tech-UCLA (2 PM ET, CBS)
Tue, Dec 31st (Liberty): Rice-Mississippi State (4 PM ET, ESPN)
Tue, Dec 31st (Chick-fil-A): Duke-Texas A&M (8 PM ET, ESPN)

Comment: The Liberty Bowl did fans a disservice when they voluntarily picked a .500 Mississippi State team as the SEC opponent for Conference USA champion Rice, when an 8-4 Vanderbilt squad was available. The Commodores would have provided a good challenge for the Owls, and beating an SEC team of that caliber would have been a signature achievement for the Rice program.

I was mildly surprised at the Chick-Fil-A matchup. I thought this committee might opt for Miami over Duke as its ACC team, but was glad to see the Dookies get this opportunity on New Year’s Eve night. They’ll have a much better chance of a good showing here than they did against Florida State in the ACC Championship Game.

A bigger surprise was this same bowl opting for A&M over Georgia. I’m sure Aaron Murray’s torn ACL had something to do with it, but this game is played in Atlanta. How well will the Aggies travel after a disappointing season? How motivated is Johnny Manziel going to be as he presumably prepares for the NFL? Let me clarify that I don’t consider this like Rice-Mississippi State, where I feel fans are getting a raw deal. Duke-Texas A&M is a fine matchup. I’m just surprised is all.

THE NEW YEAR’S BUILDUP
Wed, Jan 1st (Gator): Nebraska-Georgia (Noon ET, ESPN2)
Wed, Jan 1st (Heart of Dallas): UNLV-North Texas (Noon ET, ESPNU)
Wed, Jan 1st (Capital One): Wisconsin-South Carolina (1 PM ET, ABC)
Wed, Jan 1st (Outback): Iowa-LSU (1 PM ET, ESPN)


Comment: This is usually where the SEC cleans up on the Big Ten by something akin to a combined score of 94-36 in their three matchups that set the table for the major bowl games that start in mid-afternoon. Wisconsin-South Carolina is one of the spicier matchups of the entire non-BCS card, but the Nebraska-Georgia matchup is a disappointment.

We just watched a Nebraska-Georgia game a year ago in the Capital One Bowl. They’ll move the proceedings from Orlando to Jacksonville and just do it all over. This is why it would have been better if at least one of these teams had been chosen by other bowls, per discussion further above.

If you’re just looking for a good football game, don’t sleep on UNLV-North Texas. Both of these programs had breakthrough seasons and to be playing on January 1 is a great opportunity for both. You have to think the kids and coaching staff will want to make the most of it.

THE BCS BEGINS
Wed, Jan 1st (Rose): Stanford-Michigan State (5 PM ET, ESPN)
Wed, Jan 1st (Fiesta): Baylor-Central Florida (8:30 PM ET, ESPN)
Thur, Jan 2nd (Sugar): Oklahoma-Alabama (8:30 PM ET, ESPN)
Fri, Jan 3rd (Cotton): Oklahoma State-Missouri (7:30 PM ET, Fox)
Fri, Jan 3rd (Orange): Clemson-Ohio State (8:30 PM ET, ESPN)

college football bowl historyComment: The Cotton Bowl is not actually a BCS game of course, but the nature of the calendar left their game conflicting with the Orange Bowl. Oklahoma State-Missouri is frankly as good a game as any on the slate of the official major bowl games, so perhaps it works out just as well.

TheSportsNotebook will preview the four BCS games individually, while melding the Cotton Bowl preview into the Saturday-Sunday games below. As far as the matchups, it mostly went as expected. I was disappointed the Sugar opted for Oklahoma over Oregon. The Ducks would have been a better matchup for Alabama. But both Oklahoma and Oregon finished 10-2 and when you lose to Arizona by 26 points late in the year like Oregon did, you pretty well sign away complaining rights.

THE WEEKEND WRAPAROUND
Sat, Jan 4th (BBVA Compass): Vanderbilt-Houston (1 PM ET, ESPN)
Sun, Jan 5th (Godaddy.com): Arkansas State-Ball State (9 PM ET, ESPN)

Comment: These games wrap around the NFL playoff doubleheader that will go on both days, with the pros kicking off at 4:30 PM ET on Saturday, and then finishing in the early evening on Sunday. Vanderbilt and Houston should both be in better games, but their head-to-head matchup will be a good one.

THE GRAND FINALE
Mon, Jan 6th (BCS National Championship): Florida State-Auburn (8:30 PM ET, ESPN)

Comment: No controversy in the last year of the BCS. My only surprise is that Auburn is already getting as many as nine points in the early point spreads I’ve seen. We’ll talk about this game in much more detail when the time comes, and by that point we’ll be able to assess how both the ACC and SEC are faring in bowl competition, but (+9) for a hot team from the conference that’s won seven straight of these championship games seems like a lot.