If there is a good descriptor of my Off Tackle Empire Editorial career, it’s probably “Misguided Ideas Guy” in that most of my job has been to be behind the scenes offering bad ideas:
“Hey, what about a Power Poll about soups?”
“Would it be cool to do an entire week about Notre Dame, only instead of actually talking about Notre Dame, we take not-so-subtle digs at them and then flame the hell out of them on Friday?”
These relatively harmless ideas have never been as ridiculous as my latest bad idea: Jesse and MNW previewing the entire 2017 bowl slate in conversational format.
I mean, on one hand, this isn’t all that awful an idea in that you - the wonderful OTE public - like content and this is lots of content. On the other hand, what possible knowledge could we offer on every bowl? The answer to that is that this is the most comprehensive and least informative preview you’ve ever had, it’ll be organized at random intervals as we fit this in over the next few weeks, and you’ll hopefully learn things like, “I never knew that coach was there that long!” and “cats purr so that they rebuild their bone density.”
Neither of these things is probably true, but you get the idea. Today we’re kicking off the previews with Day One of Bowlapalooza:
Saturday, December 16
- Celebration Bowl, 12 p.m on ABC: Grambling Tigers vs. North Carolina A&T Aggies
- New Orleans Bowl, 1 p.m. on ESPN: Troy Trojans vs. North Texas Mean Green
- Cure Bowl, 2:30 p.m. on CBSSN: Georgia State Panthers vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
- Las Vegas Bowl, 3:30 p.m. on ABC: Boise State Broncos vs. Oregon Ducks
- New Mexico Bowl, 4:30 p.m. on ESPN: Marshall Thundering Herd vs. Colorado State Rams
- Camellia Bowl, 8 p.m. on ESPN: Arkansas State Red Wolves vs. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
I’d say, “this is the best of times and this is the worst of times,” but I’ve already wasted enough space with an intro. On to the ‘previews’.
I honestly don't know what to say about the Celebration Bowl. It's a cool thing, highlighting HBCUs for a guaranteed hour (and full 3.5 hours on network TV), but I just can't get into it, save for the marching bands. That probably makes me a really shitty person, though.
I guess the other thing I do like is that their kickers are generally ass and it makes EVERY extra point and field goal a goddamn adventure, and that's really fun for me because laughing at these unpaid athletes' inability to do something I was vaguely not-terrible at once is kind of fun for me. I remain a shitty person, and I've made my peace with that.
Look, anytime we have amazing marching bands that can play whatever they want on demand, kids playing at schools they really wanted to be at, and forced mention of HBCU’s, I’m a fan. Do I know literally anything about either of these teams? No. Not even one thing. I can’t tell you a player, coach, or anything else. And yet, I’m going to watch. So I think that’s cool. Are we picking every one of these? Because I don’t even know where to start. I’m literally going to flip a coin.
Wait. On second thought, Grambling is the program that was so broke and so dysfunctional a few years ago that their players were boycotting. And now they've made their second straight Celebration Bowl. That's kinda cool. Go Tigers.
But have you seen the Aggies logo? It’s boss.
Anyhow, let’s get to the games we can potentially preview with an inkling of knowledge. We start our trip across the bowl landscape in New Orleans where the Troy Trojans take on the North Texas Mean Green. I don’t know how you don’t take Troy in this one - if for nothing more than their gorgeous taunting of the LSU Tigers - but I’m open to arguments here.
Sean Littrell is one more 8-win season from getting a look at a Pac-12 also-ran or an AAC school. The Mean Green have a legit offense that put a scare in Iowa for a few quarters. Yeah, they lost to Florida Atlantic, but Lane Kiffin did actually good things there and dominated on C-USA. I could be convinced that UNT could take this one.
This is also the point where I feel obligated to mention (again) that I am a proudly-immature owner of the UNT 125th anniversary mug. You know, the one that put the "UNT" on the unfortunate side of the mug handle. So I might be a tad biased in this one.
Also, those nice things said, about Sean Littrell, Neal Brown deserved a serious look from Mississippi State for their head coaching gig and still could be on the table for someone like Arkansas, who's been suspiciously quiet on the hiring front. What are you up to, Razorbacks?
I just looked it up, but apparently Troy is ranked 26th nationally in Total Defense. That’s damn impressive. They move all the way to 19th if you take into account yards per play. I’m assuming that means that there will be thousands of points scored in this one. Also, to your point about the Razorbacks, it’s probably not a bad thing that we haven’t heard much from them. Sometimes being quiet and not Tennessee isn’t all bad.
Holy shit. That's actually ridiculously good. And that QB of theirs, Silvers or something [ed: it’s Brandon Silvers, and you should check this game out if just for him], can chuck it around a little bit. That'll be fun. A nice little appetizer if you're sitting at home doing nothing on a December Saturday. I should probably get my Christmas shopping done now.
So...the Cure Bowl? I thought the American was supposed to be playing in this, but instead we've got the Sun Belt's Georgia State Panthers making the trip down from Atlanta to face Conference USA's Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. This ain't your older brother's 'Toppers, either...this is a squad that lost to Illinois. We basically have to take the Panthers then, right?
Normally I’m with you on that one, but Jeff Brohm had shown his ability to do a little recruiting in his time there, and I think the Hilltoppers are probably still the more talented team overall. Honestly, maybe the more impressive thing is losing to Illinois, not letting the season go to hell, and making a bowl after all. But, I digress. Nothing spectacular jumps out to me in this game, but I’m willing to be wrong.
I don't think we'd be allowed to write here anymore if we weren't allowed to be wrong.
The one thing I'd point out is that WKU got its 5 FBS wins against teams with a composite 14-46 record. That's...holy shit. I mean, that's ass. Defined.
I at least like the Georgia State story -- school redefining its mission in the Atlanta area, planning to play in a renovated and retrofitted Turner Field (from baseball to football, which even random people in the Atlanta area could tell me, which I found interesting)... But holy shit. They won 6 games over FBS teams...with a combined 16-56 record. So basically there's no fucking reason to watch this game. And we just spilled probably 250 words about it.
DEAR GOD JESSE CAN WE PLEASE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE
I do find it impressive that the 12 teams these two teams beat to make bowls won 30 games. I look forward to some bad football because it probably means something insane will happen. Speaking of which, the Boise State Blue Turf Monsters and the Oregon Neon Jersey Monsters are squaring off in the Las Vegas Bowl. There are so many intriguing storylines here, right? Willie Taggart going back to Florida to take over the Florida State Seminole program? Um, Boise State losing and beating Fresno State in two weeks? I don’t know… Basically the Taggart thing. This really does have potential to be fun, though, right?
Oh hell yeah. This is what the first week of bowl season is made for. Has Oregon regressed to the point that its name hires bolt after 1-2 years? Can Boise's schtick work when they're not on the smurf turf, doing silly things and forcing me to learn things like the fact that Boise is the most isolated metro area in the contiguous 48?
Weirdly, though, this Boise State team is actually better on defense (30th in S&P+) and merely above-average on offense. And that's strange. Irregardless, I find myself not actually giving a shit about Oregon anymore because Chip Kelly's at UCLA now and that means the Pac-12 North is going to become Washington, Stanford (right? are they in the North?) and whatever flavor of the month (read: Wazzu or Oregon) is good that given year. That doesn't mean this “shouldn't” be a fun 45-42 blowout, but I actually feel vaguely down on the Vegas Bowl and I don't like that.
This game has made me wonder if the Boise State string hasn't played itself out. Bryce Harsin (another Boise alumnus) has them achieving 9-win seasons with regularity and they keep popping up in the Mountain West Championship Game, but... did we ever seriously talk about Boise as a G5 NY6 rep this year? Did we last year? Now they're just an eye-blinding football team without 30 trick plays a game to go with it. They can vacillate between the Vegas Bowl and Potato Bowl and I can go back to not caring about them.
This is the perfect bowl game for the Broncos. We don’t ACTUALLY have to care about the game, but we can gleefully laugh as Oregon’s ‘defense’ blindly runs around trying to figure out who has the ball on a Little Giants style huddle play. Seriously, though, I like the Ducks here. I realize that Boise State has been the better team but Oregon also didn’t have starting QB Justin Herbert through the teeth of its schedule and it showed. In games where he played, Oregon was 6-1, and that one loss was at Arizona State and was hardly his fault. Look for Boise’s defense to be tested much more than it has all season, and look for Taggart to be the next FSU coach.
Can't argue with that.
Instead, might we interest you in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, reminding you that yes, ESPN owns the rights to most of these shitty bowl games and yes, you will be forced to watch Blake Shelton hawk plain white T-shirts at you upwards of 10 times during commercial breaks? We're getting the 7-5 Colorado State Rams, who had a kinda-fun start to the year with a blowout of Oregon State and a little scare for Definite Playoff Team Alabama, got bowl-eligible by October 20, and then...dropped 4 straight, including a snowy clusterfuck at Wyoming that I WOULD'VE GONE TO if I weren't such an idiot and hadn't subjected myself to Northwestern-Nebraska on TV instead.
They'll meet Marshall, who is still coached by the awesomely-named Doc Holliday. He has been there 8 years, survived an attempt to fire him by the governor of West Virginia, and has shifted from the high-flying offense of the early 2010s to a hard-nosed defense that loses games 9-7 to UTSA because what the fuck.
Can we stop and talk about Gildan for a moment? Like, they’re literally the purveyors of the worst t-shirts in your wardrobe, right? They wash terribly, fit awkwardly from the onset, and have the softness of a piece of dried cedar. Good for them for being gigantic enough to sponsor a bowl - although I question the validity of that statement in that I am pretty sure I could buy a bowl sponsorship - but the t-shirts suck.
Ok, now that we got that over with, let’s talk this bowl game. Remember when beating a Power 5 team meant something? Beating that Oregon State team was definitely more of a sign of how bad a team was than how good a team could be. That said, I like Fort Collins and Senior Nick Stevens isn’t as hyped as that other Mountain West QB, but his statline is impressive on its own. I expect him to try and put up a NFL film game in order to maybe avoid UDFA status next year. On the other hand, as you mentioned, Marshall has a defense. I like games like this. Two teams who have some strengths that will face each other, and then madness on the other side. On first glance, give me Mike Bobo’s crew over Doc Holliday’s.
I learned a lot while reading one Wikipedia page as research for this game. And that's that these two programs have some fucking awesome rivalry games. Take Colorado State-Wyoming. They play for the Bronze Boot, and the respective ROTC units at each university run the game ball from the visitors' school to the state line, where the home school takes the ball and runs it to the stadium. 65 miles. Pretty awesome.
On the other hand, Marshall. Being the junior college of West Virginia (this is not true but it feels accurate), Marshall should, in my opinion, have some really angry, couch-burning rivalries. But they don't :disappointed: there's just the Battle for the Bell with Ohio, which has kind of died off since the Herd left for C-USA in 2005, and the awesomely-named Friends of Coal Bowl with West Virginia, which has died since 2012 and might have just been a politically-motivated thing. And stuff with WKU and maybe some other regional kinda-programs. It's a major bummer.
But you're right -- if Colorado State comes out and it's just the Nick Stevens Show, I would tune in and watch him throw the ball 65 times, even if he only completes 34 of them. That's what this is supposed to be, right? A game that takes 4 hours because every other pass is incomplete and both teams throw it a million times? I wanna see Blake Shelton's Sexiest Man Alive face (we would talk about this if we had the world's shittiest podcast) hawking those cedar plank T-shirts as much as possible.
CSU and Wyoming are no joke. I remember there was some whole rivalry thing with pranks and vandalism and whatever when my wife was going to school in Fort Collins. Anyhow, can we get back to the part where we stop this bowl nonsense and start discussing Blake Shelton, Sexiest Man Alive? Because I know very little about the Camellia Bowl. Mainly, why is there a Camellia Bowl and what the hell is Raycom Media? Oh, and uh… is this secretly a fun game where each of the previous three matchups have been one possession games?
I can picture that being part of a wild night in Laramie: "What do you wanna do?" "I dunno, wanna go get baked in Fort Collins and steal their ram?" "Fuck yeah, dude." (That is what I think a wild night in Laramie is and I would like to visit for a snowy Wyo football game and sing the fight song and Beer Song while obliterated. Feel free to pay for my tickets to come do that, Wyobros.)
You know, I was pretty surprised by that one-possession stat, but looking it up, that's a high-quality slate of games:
- 2014, BGSU vs. South Alabama, where you've got the MAC runner-up who beat Indiana against a team in just its second year of bowl eligibility -- both teams bad, but good enough to make it a game (also let's pour some out for former USA HC Joey Jones, who resigned this year after four straight 7-loss seasons but brought South Alabama football pretty seamlessly into FBS competition).
- 2015, Appalachian State vs. Ohio, with the S&P+ #40 team taking on the #71 team and both clubs having average-to-good ratings on both sides of the ball -- really the silver standards for mid-major teams where you say "I can't think of a season they've been...like, _bad_, but have they ever blown me away?" Ohio blew a 17-point lead (MACTIONBELT), took a 1-point lead in the fourth, then lost it at the death on a FG.
- 2016, Appalachian State vs. Toledo, where you've got a similar program situation and a game in which App State never trailed but couldn’t blow a team out, either. And Kareem Hunt was there! He’s a Good Thing in the NFL! Man, these were fun games.
This year? I'll defer to you on Arkansas State, because...holy shit, are the Red Wolves actually good? They're 7-4, but 23rd in S&P+! That...whoa. Middle Tennessee lost to Minnesota by like 30 and Minnesota, it turns out, was hot garbage but hot garbage that succeeds academicallyatheticallyspirituallysocially, so I assume they're shit. That begs the question: How will this game find a way to be a one-score game?
On Camellias and Raycom and without looking, I have a feeling Raycom is like the Mediacom of the South, only with a lot more obscure FCS games and D-I mid-to-low-major hoops to show. Like, after Iowa piss-pounded Northwestern at Kinnick in 2014, we wound up at a bar later in the day where people were actively watching and commenting on a Northern Iowa-Illinois State game on MEDIACOMSPORTS23 or whatever the channel is.
Now imagine that in the South, where you've got things like Sam Houston State BearKat Football on during the weekends, then weekdays taken up with something like LIVE FROM ITTA BENA: IT'S ALABAMA A&M, COMING OFF A 52-POINT LOSS TO NORTH CAROLINA. IT'S MISSISSIPPI VALLEY STATE, COMING OFF A 12-GAME ROAD TRIP IN WHICH THEY LOST BY AN AVERAGE OF 31.3 POINTS PER GAME [and that's counting a win over Chicago State, somehow]. IT'S SWAC BASKETBALL, LIVE ON RAYCOM31: NORTHWEST MISSISSIPPI'S LEADER IN PREP AND COLLEGE SPORTS.
You can sew up this first slate of bowl games however you want. I am off to find a way to order Raycom31 on my next sports package, because dear God I just realized how many SWACsketball games I'm missing out on by not getting Raycom Media. That Alabama A&M-Mississippi Valley State game, by the way, will pit the 349th-best team in the nation, per Kenpom, against the 351st-best (or, read: ABSOLUTE FUCKING WORST) team in the country. They play this game on February 5th and I need to get a subscription ASAP. Thanks, Camellia Bowl!
I… I have no more things to add here. Well, maybe that Arkansas State stands as Nebraska’s best win in 2017. I’m going to go ahead and assume the cancelled game with Miami will go down as one of those things in the ‘it’s better this way’ column for the Red Wolves.
And with that, we’ve covered Day One. Six bowls down, like, seventy to go. This is going to be a ridiculous series.