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Bowl Bloat Strikes Heartland; Thousands Feared Bored

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A few schedules having concluded, a few conference races having been decided, entries in very official bowl projections are slowly sporting the bold-faced type of certainty. Season by expanding season, these ledgers bulge into ever ghastlier monstrosities: January games, actually post-BCS, featuring some combination of Ohio U., South Florida, Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, East Carolina? A lone New Year's Eve game, on a Sunday, consisting in part of San Jose State? Superfluous, yes, for years now, but at 32 games in 13 states and two countries, the concept of "bowl eligible" begins to border on parody, teams and tie-ins spread so thin as to make quality matchups a distant afterthought in service of shoehorning everyone in, a nonstop influx that serves primarily to mock the very idea of a postseason. SMQ sees a compelling game possibly in the Outback (Wisconsin against the Arkansas-Florida loser) and maybe the Peach Chick-Fil-A (Tennessee and Virginia Tech, it seems). That's it, including the roped-off, big-money affairs. And whatever is potentially interesting about the latter event is negated by the wholesale elimination of "Peach" from its title, anyway.

Much potential outrage remains in skinny-fonted "projection" phases, dependent on games still to come, but two stupefying bowl entrants oozed their way amidst the reasonably deserving into the black today, when 6-6 Iowa snapped up an invitation to the Alamo Bowl and 6-6 Minnesota, 3-5 in conference play, agreed it was not beneath an appearance in the Insight.com Bowl. SMQ was legitimately incredulous that the Gophers, at least, were even "bowl-eligible," absolutely could not believe it, but so they are:

    W - at Kent State (6-5) 44-0
    W - Temple (1-11) 62-0
    W - North Dakota State (-) 10-9
    W - Indiana (5-7) 63-26
    W - at Michigan State (4-8) 31-18
    W - Iowa (6-6) 34-24
    Combined Record of Defeated Opponents (I-A only): 22-37

Shame they can't play North Dakota State again on a neutral field, which - if past history is to serve as any indication - would be a more challenging game than provided by Iowa, a rousing 2-6 in Big Ten play, which enters the hallowed AlamoDome after its fifth loss in six games on the merits of:

    W - Montana (-) 41-7
    W - at Syracuse (4-7) 20-13 (2OT)
    W - Iowa State (4-8) 27-17
    W - at Illinois (2-10) 24-7
    W - Purdue (8-4) 47-17
    W - No. Illinois (6-5) 24-14
    Combined Record of Defeated Opponents (I-A only):  24-34

And so it goes: Rice, SMU, Wyoming, Washington State. Connecticut, 4-6, 1-4 in the Big East, still alive! It's a disgrace.


Minnesota: proof no odds are too great to turn miserable Insight Bowl fantasies into reality

But that, reader, you knew. Among the same dregs, though, one team just inside the border of the hinterlands of eligibilty intrigues SMQ: Arizona, 6-5, winner of four out of five, three straight by increasing margins over solid to quality competition. Unlike Mssr. Herbstreit, whose ballot alerted SMQ to the Wildcats' odd resume (though, since UA was the final team in Kirk's poll, they would likely have been bounced had his mind not - understandably - blacked out when he was considering Rutgers), SMQ would not put Arizona anywhere near the top. But he ranks based on a season-long resume, treating every game equally; a voter using a more liberal, less-strict assessment of "who's better?" especially if the question is judged by asking, "who would beat whom if they played tomorrow?" then certainly Arizona at the moment has a pretty convincing case. To wit:

    Arizona Wins
    W - BYU (9-2) 16-13
    W - Stephen F. Austin (-) 28-10
    W - at Stanford (1-10) 20-7
    W - at Wash. State (6-6) 27-17
    W - California (8-3) 24-20
    W - at Oregon (7-4) 37-10
    Combined Record of Defeated Opponents (I-A only):31-25

This is more impressive if one remembers that a) Washington State was a hot, mostly ranked team coming off a couple nice wins itself when UA went into Pullman and pulled the upset, b) two of the `Cats' losses came against heavies USC and LSU, and two of the others were against UCLA and Oregon State, both bowl-eligible, and both all or partially without quarterback Willie Tuitama, whose return has sparked the resurgence of one of the country's truly hideous offenses (the other loss was against a then-hot Washington squad that, like its cross-state rivals a month down the road, most had ranked at the time) and c) if you include Wazzou, Arizona's beaten more winning teams in the last three weeks (three) than it had the entire first six years of the decade (two). Hanging on to down BYU didn't seem like much at the time, but it should now - the only other team to put the Cougars away, or even come that close, since was Boston College, in overtime.

For the first two months of the season, SMQ was made to feel foolish for immaturely falling for the brash rhetoric of the Arizona media department, which persuaded him in the preseason that - the team being "peopled by those who believe," and who "give Arizona a dose of impetus like no other factor" - the evolutionary arch of history compelled a Wildcat bowl berth. Suddenly, vindication of his reckless prediction then: "seven wins, first bowl game since 1998."


There is no surprise among the partisans, only the inevitability of their eventual success

The four-touchdown whomping at Oregon, where the Ducks have a reputation as a consistent winner and Zona's middling running game busted out with 260 yards, a week after beating a one-loss Cal team still very much in PAC Ten and mythical title discussions, is sufficient evidence to declare the hotness. If you're a speculative, "who's playing well right now?" kinda voter, Arizona - with magic win number seven en route against the flagging People's Republic of Arizona State, followed by some helpless bowl opponent like, um, Florida State - is emerging as a pretty terrific investment. A post-bowl, 8-5 team with four-five solid/quality wins and no irreconcilably hideous defeats (well, maybe Washington, in retrospect, or LSU, because of the margin, but we're letting Arkansas slide on that, huh?) would get a long, fair look for SMQ's season-ending poll.