- Ryan McGee, ESPN Senior Writer
Welcome back to Going Bowling, where we still dream of a world in which we could attend all 35 bowl games in one season. But to pull that off, we'd need some serious transportation help. Psst ... are you listening Bell Helicopter (Armed Forces Bowl), Northrop Grumman (Military Bowl) and R+L Carriers (New Orleans Bowl)?
Non-BCS Matchup Meter: Front Office Edition
Now that we've had several days to marinate in this year's bowl matchups, it's time to take a look at the biggest winners and losers when it comes to bowl business. I'm not even going to bother with the five BCS games, which are all big-time, primetime, sure-to-sellout affairs. (Easy now, let's not pick on UConn here. It's not the Huskies' fault that they came out on top of a conference battle that looked like this.)
Instead of the usual first to 35th rankings (read my man Mark Schlabach's excellent ESPN.com rankings here), my groupings are from a purely business standpoint. To reach my conclusions, I'm blending two factors. The first is the appeal of the matchup from a national perspective, which in theory should lead to some nice TV audience numbers. The second part of my equation is that most sacred of postseason cash cows -- ticket sales.
Put those two together and it should put some serious smiles on the faces of the suits in the front office.
MAACO Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State vs. Utah, Dec. 22
It's an early Christmas present from and for our friends in Sin City. Utah nixed a three-game series with the Broncos when it jumped to the Pac-10/12. Boise is mad about that. And though there has been a bit of a Boise backlash this year, the haters still tune in to watch. Initial fears that bummed Broncos fans wouldn't travel have proven unfounded. Both schools are snapping up their ticket allotments, though local hotels are already irritated that most fans, particularly the Utes, are coming in for one night or just for game day.
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Miami vs. Notre Dame, Dec.31
The second oldest bowl is in the first year of a new ACC alliance and ended up with two of college football's biggest names. Yes, both programs are a far cry from the Catholics versus Convicts glory days, but that didn't stop the game from selling out in record time, beating the previous mark by 15 days.
Capital One Bowl: Michigan State vs. Alabama, Jan.1
The Big Ten versus SEC has become college football's ultimate showdown, and Orlando, Fla., has been the sight of its greatest non-national title showdowns. Saban Bowl; Mark Ingram and Julio Jones saying farewell; Mark Dantonio's cast iron cajones and post-heart attack comeback ... what else could you want? Alabama will sell all of its tickets, as usual. As of Wednesday, Michigan State had sold nearly 90 percent of its 12,500-ticket allotment.
AT&T Cotton Bowl: LSU vs. Texas A&M, Jan. 7
The Aggies will be playing what amounts to a home game versus the well-traveled fans of the Bayou Bengals on a Friday night in "The House That Jerry Jones Built" (Texas Stadium). By Tuesday night both schools had already sold out their ticket allotments and ticket prices on StubHub.com were in the $250 range, tops among non-BCS games. I have to figure the Cotton has a chance to sneak into the BCS rotation when the current evaluation period ends after 2011.
Valero Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Arizona, Dec. 29
Both teams, particularly the Cowboys, think they should be in bigger games, but when tickets went on sale Thursday morning they moved quickly and politely, perhaps because of this finely-penned plea for sanity by OSU's Daily O'Collegian. The final score of this one will either be 14-10 or 72-68. And it will be fun to watch coaches Bob Stoops and Mike Gundy's faces change colors.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: North Carolina vs. Tennessee, Dec. 30
The Music City announced a sellout by lunchtime on Wednesday, bolstered by UNC fans happy to not be in Charlotte, N.C., for the Meineke Car Care Bowl again and Tennessee fans happy to be in any bowl game at all. These border states never play. They were about to renew the series, but Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton embarrassingly torpedoed the series because he said the Vols needed to soften up their schedule. Really? Thus, this is officially a grudge match.
Chick-fil-A Bowl: South Carolina vs. Florida State, Dec. 31
"The Artist Formerly Known As The Peach Bowl" is one of the greatest bowl success stories, wisely doing an SEC-ACC deal that has sold out every game since. This one will be a sellout, too, though fans of both schools haven't made a mad rush for tickets, as they continue to lick their wounds from their conference championship game beatdowns. Also, South Carolina fans are angry at being passed over by the SEC bowls with higher selections than the Chick-fil-A, starting with the Capital One Bowl and followed by ...
Outback Bowl: Florida vs. Penn State, Jan. 1
South Carolina fans weren't thrilled with the idea of traveling to Tampa, Fla., for the fourth time since 2001, but were still mad that the Gators, a 7-5 team that SC beat up on, were chosen over them because they were local and guaranteed a sellout. And though there hasn't been a stampede to the box office in Gainesville, it is expected to be a sellout by New Year's Day. Originally, I had this game down as a double, but Wednesday's little piece of Urban Meyer news nearly made me bump it up to triple status.
Gator Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Michigan, Jan. 1
The Gator Bowl also passed on South Carolina and had reportedly wanted Tennessee. But it is more than happy with the Bulldogs, whose fans snapped up their entire 15,000-seat allotment and had already requested 2,000 more just a few hours after tickets went on sale. The first year of the Gator's new SEC versus Big Ten tie-in is all but guaranteed to be a sellout, which had become an annual question mark during the bowl's previous contract with the waning ACC and Big East.
S.D. County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: Navy vs. San Diego State, Dec. 23
At the end of the day, the score doesn't matter and neither does what you might think of the matchup. In a city packed with Aztecs and sailors, selling tickets hasn't been a problem.
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl: Tulsa vs. Hawaii, Dec. 24
AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl: Air Force vs. Georgia Tech, Dec. 27
Texas Bowl: Illinois vs. Baylor, Dec. 29
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Kansas State vs. Syracuse, Dec. 30
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: UCF vs. Georgia, Dec. 31
Meineke Car Care Bowl: USF vs. Clemson, Dec. 31
TicketCity Bowl: Northwestern vs. Texas Tech, Jan.1
I lump these games together because the same rule applies for all seven. One team will sell a lot of tickets, one team will not. The first team listed in each matchup above is the one that won't.
Champs Sports Bowl: West Virginia vs. NC State, Dec. 28
Two teams that nearly won their conference championships are bummed to be going to Orlando. So are their fans. One year ago, West Virginia sold its 12,000 Gator Bowl tickets in a couple of hours. After two days, they'd sold less than half of their 12,500 for this year's game.
Insight Bowl: Missouri vs. Iowa, Dec. 28
On paper, this is great matchup, especially for a bowl that hosted Iowa State and Minnesota last year. But at one time each of these teams had conference and even BCS title hopes. Do we expect them to be pumped to be playing in this game? Will their fans make the trip? The good news is that bowl officials say they've sold more than 45,000 of 56,000 tickets. The bad news is that 22,000 of those are from the mandated allotment that each school is required to purchase, 11,000 tickets apiece. As of Wednesday, Mizzou and Iowa had sold around 4,000 each.
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl: SMU vs. Army, Dec. 30
Don't laugh. Tickets for Army's first bowl game since 1996 have been selling briskly. On Tuesday Forbes.com listed the game based in Fort Worth, Texas, is bowl season's seventh hottest ticket.
New Mexico Bowl: UTEP vs. BYU, Dec. 18
BYU fans liked to complain about going to the Las Vegas Bowl every year. Now it doesn't look so bad, does it?
Military Bowl Presented By Northrop Grumman: Maryland vs. East Carolina, Dec. 29
Getting the home team to play in D.C. is a great thing, and ECU fans always show up no matter where the Pirates play. Sadly, none of that means that anyone will watch the game on TV.
Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl: Nebraska vs. Washington, Dec. 30
The sequel no one wanted, especially the legendarily-loyal fans of the Huskers. In the Big 12 title game, their team literally fumbled away a trip to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, promptly falling to its second consecutive Holiday Bowl berth. Nebraska was allotted 11,000 tickets for the game in San Diego and as of Wednesday night still had 5,000 available, an unheard of postseason shortfall in Lincoln.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Nevada vs. Boston College, Jan.9
For a pure college football fan it will be pure joy to see the Eagles' slobberknocker defensive stars take on Wolf Pack QB Colin Kaepernick and the Pistol offense. But bowl officials were forced to rely on Nevada to sell the majority of the tickets. Good thing Nevada fans have stepped up and done just that, already selling out their allotment. The problem will be BC. Its fans don't travel to Florida for postseason games. I'm thinking the 3,200-mile jaunt to San Francisco might be a tough ask.
BBVA Compass Bowl: Pitt vs. Kentucky, Jan. 8
Pitt just fired its coach, and Kentucky ended the season with three losses in five games, and when I snuck into Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., back in April it looked like it was about to collapse. Good times.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Ohio vs. Troy, Dec. 18
uDrove Humanitarian Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. Fresno State, Dec. 18
Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl: Southern Miss vs. Louisville, Dec. 21
Little Caesars Bowl: Toledo vs. Florida International, Dec. 26
GoDaddy.com Bowl: Miami (OH) vs. Middle Tennessee, Jan. 6
It's a very big deal for these schools to be playing in the postseason, and I congratulate them. Whatever tickets the games manage to sell or TV audience they manage to lure is gravy. Past that, I really don't have a lot to add ... at least not until the next portion of this blog.
FIU's Bittersweet Bowl Bow
The good folks at Florida International should be celebrating their first-ever bowl berth, no small accomplishment considering they didn't play their first game until 2002. But frankly, they're feeling a little abused.
Don't get me wrong, they're plenty proud of earning a trip to Detroit's Little Caesars Bowl (you may remember it as the Motor City Bowl) to face nearby Toledo, but instead of being overwhelmed with warm and fuzzy feelings the Golden Panthers are getting a lesson in the harsh reality of bowl politics and economics.
FIU finished the regular season at 6-6 and in a tie for the Sun Belt title with a conference record of 6-2. Had they taken care of business against Middle Tennessee State on Saturday, they would have owned the championship outright and taken the conference's semi-traditional slot in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 18. But a late-game fumble prevented the Panthers from setting up the field goal that would have won the game and would have kept Middle Tennessee, then 5-6, from becoming bowl eligible.
Instead FIU lost 28-27, fell to .500 and became co-champs when Troy defeated Florida Atlantic, and the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders got to six wins.
Worst. Case. Scenario.
Everybody's really excited about the conference championship and the bowl game we're going to. But do I agree with everything that's happened in this league and the bowl process? No, I do not agree with it.
"-- FIU AD Pete Garcia