The week before Christmas was about family and friends. It was about frantic grocery runs for a can of cranberries, for last-minute impulse buys and for assembling a bike in the middle of the night before parking it under the tree. This week, though, is about football.
Twenty-one of the 35 bowl games are crammed on the calendar between Christmas and the end of New Year’s Day in an eight-day period that is conveniently sponsored by the credit card you just maxed out.
Are there too many bowls? Absolutely. Both of the people who witnessed a now 6-7 Georgia Tech team struggle to score one point for each of their losses in the Independence Bowl know that. (Bowl sponsor health-card company AdvoCare may want to offer a dose of wellness to the Jackets' offense.)
But between now and Jan. 1 there are some interesting matchups wedged on the schedule, somewhere between the Match.com You're Going to Die Alone Bowl and the Four Loko I Can't Feel My Face Classic. Here's what I'll be watching.
Dec. 29: Alamo Bowl
No. 16 Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Arizona (7-5)
According to the bowl website, sponsor Valero provides jet fuel to commercial airlines, military aircraft and to Oklahoma State’s offense. OK, maybe that last part is implied, but there has to be some kind of turbine power involved in the Cowboys’ passing attack.
OSU’s offense is ranked No. 4 overall, putting up 354.7 passing yards per game (2nd in the nation) and scoring a ridiculous 44.9 points (3rd). Even in their two losses, they managed to stack 41 points on the board each time. It helps that when quarterback Brandon Weeden can’t pass to first-team All-American receiver Justin Blackmon, he can hand it off to first-team All American running back Kendall Hunter. Potato, potahto, potouchdown.
It’s going to be unwatchable, right? Like somewhere between a corporate training video and "Little Fockers"? Not necessarily. Arizona has faced three top-20 offenses this season (Oregon, Stanford and — believe it or not — USC) so they aren’t intimidated. They are, however, coming off a four-game losing streak to, um, Oregon, Stanford, Arizona State and — believe it or not — USC.
But if Wildcats QB Nick Foles is on, this could be a ballgame. Foles is patient, doesn’t force throws, and his 291 yard average ranks No. 7 in the country. Also in Foles’ favor? The Cowboys’ defense is terrible against the pass. In their two losses, they allowed nine passing touchdowns and 791 yards through the air.
Advantage: Oklahoma State
Disadvantage: Thanks to the 9:15 p.m. ET kickoff, anyone on the east coast whose eyes need to open on Thursday morning
Dec. 30: Pinstripe Bowl
Kansas State (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5)
OK, this day’s game schedule is the lamest of the week. If you need to eat at the kitchen table, rather than with a plate of leftovers balanced on one knee, this is the night to do it. Of the eight teams playing on Thursday, only one has a record better than 7-5. That team—Nebraska (10-3) — is rewarded by playing a 6-6 Washington team in the Holiday Bowl, which, sponsored by Bridgepoint Education, manages to sound nondescript, nondenominational and nonessential. It doesn’t help that the 'Huskers already blew out the Huskies once this season, a 56-21 beating that wouldn’t have been sadder unless Sarah McLachlin was singing on the sidelines.
Tennessee and North Carolina face each other in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, which you should only watch if you really like nouns and the Bell Helicopter Bowl — featuring Army (6-6) and SMU (7-6) — would only grab my eyeballs if it were played in a helicopter.
That leaves the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl, held at Yankee Stadium. Neither Kansas State nor Syracuse was ranked at any point during the season and neither is listed above No. 20 in any statistical category. The Wildcats did manage to hold Oklahoma State to 24 points — the Cowboys' lowest total of the year — during a 24-14 loss. Syracuse beat then No. 20 West Virginia, and also squeaked past South Florida.
Kansas State senior RB Daniel Thomas has rushed for 1,425 yards and 16 touchdowns this season, which is largely why the Wildcats have averaged 33.6 points per game. He finished the season with a 269-yard outing against North Texas.
The season’s final weeks weren’t as kind to Syracuse. In back-to-back losses, QB Ryan Nassib had two interceptions, zero touchdowns, and negative 20 yards rushing.
Advantage: Kansas State. Or that closet you needed to clean. Or that 30 Rock repeat you missed the first time.
Dec. 31: Chick-fil-A Bowl
No. 19 South Carolina (9-4) vs. No. 23 Florida State (9-4)
This one is the Battle of the Bridesmaids and, as the last game of 2010, it promises to be a good one. Both teams finished their seasons as the runner-up in their conference championship; South Carolina got a Newton-powered pummelling by Auburn while FSU lost to eventual Orange Bowlers Virginia Tech.
South Carolina ran away with the SEC East, managed to put the first L on then No. 1 Alabama’s record and, other than a midseason misstep against Kentucky, was remarkably consistent. All four of Florida State’s losses came against bowl-bound opponents.
The Gamecocks' offense relies on the arm of Stephen Garcia and the legs of running back Marcus Lattimore. The freshman running back collected 1,198 yards of offense and 17 rushing touchdowns, which were the best ground totals in the SEC, save for some guy named Cam Newton. Seminoles’ QB Christian Ponder watched the ACC title game from the sidelines and the majority of FSU’s hopes are attached to his still-healing right elbow.
If you would like to begin your end-of-year festivities early, I suggest taking a drink every time the announcers mention South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier’s connection to 1. Florida; 2. Florida State; 3. visors.
Advantage: Even with a fully recovered Ponder, this one goes to Lattimore and the Gamecocks.
You’re on your own for New Year’s Day, but as the game logos get more familiar and the participating teams’ rankings get smaller, you can’t go wrong. Not unless you’re still looking for that can of cranberries.