LITTLE ROCK — Apologies to bowl sponsors, organizers, and hard-working volunteers from San Francisco to New York, and the other 21 bowl sites with games prior to Jan. 1, there are no plans to sit through contests with teams that have lost almost 200 times.
Twenty of the teams playing before New Year’s Day have lost at least five games each and the number of losses per team goes up if the 12-1 of Northern Illinois and 11-1 of Fresno State are removed from the math. Including both Mississippi schools from the SEC and three teams from the Pac-12, 10 bowl teams were below .500 in conference play. A league has commitments to keep and coaches are eager to accept a bowl bid so they can practice 15 times with an eye on 2014 and beyond, but only alumni and kinfolk are required to watch.
Before checking the match-ups in the games between Dec. 21 and 2014, more than a half-dozen contests were eliminated because they kick off in the morning or early afternoon during a year-end vacation and there is always a chance of golf on a sunny day with temperatures above 36.
Maybe I’m spoiled by the availability of the many games of import in recent weeks, but a half-hearted attempt to find a game to hold my interest for three hours plus turned up nothing. Only the Dec. 31 game from Atlanta merited a second look — not because of Duke coach David Cutcliffe or Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, but because the game might work as a bridge to the New Year for somebody who doesn’t stay up late.
Nothing on the 35-game schedule comes close to Florida State vs. Auburn in the BCS title game. Given almost a month, maybe FSU can devise a plan to slow down Auburn’s running game, but I am surprised the Seminoles are favored by more than a touchdown.
Other than the Jan. 6 game in Pasadena and recognition of Arkansas State’s third straight bowl game on Jan. 5, the bowl season focus is on two SEC teams new to Arkansas’ schedule — Georgia vs. Nebraska in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1 and Missouri vs. Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 3.
Back to the Bulldogs and the Tigers after a note about the four lesser BCS games.
The Rose (Stanford vs. Michigan State) and Fiesta (Baylor vs. Central Florida) are on Jan. 1. The Rose is a showcase for defense and the Fiesta is the launching pad for Bryce Petty’s 2014 Heisman campaign.
From now until Jan. 2, the question will be whether Alabama is motivated for the Sugar Bowl vs. Oklahoma since there is no national championship on the line. In the Orange, quarterbacks Tajh Boyd of Clemson and Braxton Miller of Ohio State upstage teams that lost their last game of the season.
The Gator and the Cotton are ideal for scouting because the SEC teams are in transition at quarterback and the loss of an established quarterback can make a difference.
Georgia’s four-year starter, Aaron Murray, is out with a knee injury which means my first look at Hutson Mason and the offense that Arkansas will deal with next Oct. 18. The fact that Georgia is the Razorbacks’ only opponent in Little Rock in 2014, that attendance will be closely monitored with long-range implications, and that most of Arkansas’ other SEC opponents have a quarterback returning makes the Gator Bowl of particular interest.
Instrumental in Missouri’s run to the Eastern Division championship, quarterback James Franklin is a senior, but Maty Mauk will play some against OSU. I don’t know how many snaps the freshman will take, but I’ll wager that the Tigers will stick with their touted front four on defense instead of changing up like they did in a futile attempt to stop Auburn’s running game.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is email@example.com.