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SMQ Bowl Blitz: The New Orleans

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The least you should know about the New Orleans Bowl...
R+L Carriers, a prompt, efficient, careful delivery service that for some reason has never caught on the scale of UPS or FedEx, possibly because R+L ritually destroys all inquiries addressed to "R and L" or "R&L" in a ceremony that calls for a curse to descend on the intended recipient’s address. It’s math, dammit!
Location Inquisitor
This is the one in:

a) Memphis
b) New Mexico
c) New Orleans
d) El Paso
e) All of the above

If you said c) New Orleans, you’re right! And you can read and/or possess an underveloped sense of irony! These will get harder, I swear to god they will.

The Venue
I’ve been to many, many events in the Superdome, before and after the big storm, and one fact about the building remains: it’s the best place on Earth to be a part of a geared-up, electric crowd, and the absolute worst for half-empty doldrums. Coughs echo all over the building, whistles on the field are jarringly loud, the air conditioner set for 65,000 bodies leaves the crowd shivering – chattering teeth, you’ll find, are a surprisngly effective noisemaker. You can hear the defensive calls and audibles, if you listen. For the Friday before Christmas, I’d be satisfied if I were in charge with 25,000 and a concession stand stocked with mittens and Robitussin – the, uh, the non-drowsy kind, of course.
Formerly Known As...
NA. The New Orleans Bowl boasts a remarkable tradition of stability, having been forced to relocate from its metropolitan namesake in the aftermath of a devastating natural disaster only once since it began in 2001. Sponsors have come and gone, as the fickle merchants are wont: Wyndham Hotels & Resorts hosted the first three games under a much nicer logo before giving up the title to R+L Carriers in an unprecedented transfer of power among linking glyphs.
Past Winners Include...
The Sun Belt has sent its champion to New Orleans every year, with little success – briefly, North Texas was the Buffalo Bills of the Big Easy, losing times in four years from 2001-04. Troy reinstated some measure of Sun Belt pride by whipping Rice last year, but Memphis (2003 winner over UNT) is playing tonight to join Southern Miss as the only two-time winner. I, for one, am rooting for them.
Perfect Christmas Idea
True aficionados would never leave for the game without their stylish bright white polo with grey accents by ProLine Sportswear, displaying the New Orleans Bowl logo in embroidered applique. Cotton/polyester blend, moisture wicking, durable: perfect to be pressed over and over and over again. A steal at $45. Order yours before supplies run out.

The second edition of an ongoing public service to enlighten readers of their bowl viewing options...

Details: Florida Atlantic (7-5) vs. Memphis (7-5) • 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2. Be there or be enjoying the warmth and company of your precious loved ones at this special time of year, square.

Tune in for: You haven't seen the first second of Memphis or Florida Atlantic (more on FAU's big primetime debut below), but the statsheet shows an obvious theme: Score! Score, baby! Yeah! Memphis is 12th nationally in passing offense, FAU 19th, and throwing the ball is the only aspect of the game either team performs remotely well. Luckily for disinterested fans just looking to escape the family get-together for a few minutes, that streak of futility includes defending the pass and rushing the passer, at which both teams are mediocre-to-bad even among their peers in the worst two conferences in the country. The two names viewers will take away are Martin Hankins and Rusty Smith, who will throw the ball about two-thirds of the time, if things get interesting. And they definitely should. Memphis has a lanky, power forward-type leaper, 6-foot-8-inch Carlos Singleton, who had an eye-popping touch-to-touchdown ratio (ten scores on just 47 catches, eight in the Tigers' surge over the last five games) and is probably good for an acrobatic haul or two.

Actually, Florida Atlantic is good at one other aspect of the game: pouncing on fumbles. Well, and also intercepting terrible quarterbacks, which FAU did in tandem well enough to tie Kansas for the best turnover margin in the nation, plus-nineteen. This is, of course, a double-edged sword: if the Tigers don't put the ball in mortal danger, as each of the Owls' victims did on multiple occasions, the comparatively athletic Tigers could stride away quickly.

Gather round, charges. Gather round and hear how a real man incessantly wooshes about in his wind suit.
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Turn away in disgust when: One can never be certain about these things, but as best I can tell, Florida Atlantic has played exactly one game on national television in its seven-year history, and I know this only because I was the only person who watched the Owls lose a 6-0 heartbreaker to Louisiana-Lafayette on a random Wednesday last October, which I compared unfavorably to that night's particularly offensive new episode of South Park:

South Park: Included post-coital scenes of a nude female kindergarten teacher in bed with an unintelligible five-year-old male student, while making it very clear verbally the two had just engaged in intercourse.
UL-Lafayette at Florida Atlantic: Combined for six turnovers.

South Park: Portrayed law enforcement and males in general as unprofessional, uncaring, neo-frat boys devoid of decency or perspective in even the most depraved instances concerning the sexuality of young, attractive women.
UL-Lafayette at Florida Atlantic: Portrayed Howard Schnellenberger as the "Best-Dressed Coach in College Football."

South Park: Trivialized the damaging effects of alcohol as a debilitating addiction as well the hardships and sacrifices endured during the often torturous process of recovery.
UL-Lafayette at Florida Atlantic: Trivialized the concept of offense with 15 punts, a long play of 23 yards and a zero percent conversion rate by Lafayette on 14 third down attempts.

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This is the extent of my exposure to Florida Atlantic - and, for the most part, to Sun Belt football in general - and yours, too, and is evidence that, on some level, TV execs know what they're doing in keeping the conference and its literally sub-standard swatches of empty seats (the Owls saved their bacon by averaging 15,700-plus in home games this year thanks to games with Minnesota and South Florida, up from less than 9,300 in 2006) off the air waves.

The conference could have gotten away with a vastly more attractive representative in defending champion Troy, which last year ended the league's three-year New Orleans Bowl losing streak, then trounced Oklahoma State in September, became just the second Sun Belt team to reach eight overall wins, boasted a legitimate, kooky-monikered star in quarterback Omar Haugabook, ranked in the top 50 of almost every singificant stat category and only lost in quasi-respectable, shootout fashion to SEC heavies Arkansas, Florida and Georgia. The Trojans were an exemplary Sun Belt champ, probably the best potential bowl representative the conference has produced in its short existence, right up to the finale, when FAU scored 21 points in the third quarter and clung to the lead over the Trojans in the fourth to capture a share of the SBC title, and with the tiebreaker the automatic berth. Aside from that win, the Owls bring a three-point win over Minnesota to their name (uh, okay?) but lost by 36 to the same OSU Cowboys that flopped a week later in Troy and no identifiable names to even the most diehard fans. They are demonstrably bad on defense by every measure - nine of twelve opponents topped 30 points, including all five opponents from outside of the Sun Belt. Admittedly, all of them were better than Memphis (the Tigers were even worse defensively, and also lost to Sun Belt also-rans Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee State), but on the whole, the New Orleans Bowl's history of rampant mediocrity from both parties is just reinforced.

What Else is On
You have no life. But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy these actual non-gridiron alternatives:

Lifetime • 8 p.m. ET • Reba - "The Shirt Off My Back" (30 mins.)
For the sake of Kyra's college fund, Reba reluctantly partners with Barbra Jean to make handmade patchwork shirts; Van sacrifices his vanity in the name of team unity. (TV-PG)

Fake love for a fake lesbian/ celebrity/ person. MTV hits its self-made zeitgeist, like, again.
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MSNBC • 8 p.m. ET • Countdown With Keith Olbermann (60 mins.)
The nightly news program ranks the day's top five stories by what will likely be the next morning's hot topics for discussion. `It's a hard-news broadcast produced and hosted by people who are uncontrollably silly,' quips the wry Olbermann, who also conducts newsmaker interviews.

Animal Planet • 8:30 p.m. ET • Orangutan Island: "Orangutan 911" 30 mins.
Donald is treated for malaria, but test results indicate something else and the staff worries it might be contagious; Chen Chen sets off to find a new playmate and succeeds in piquing the interest of Yeyen. (TV-G)

MTV • 9 p.m. ET • Shot at Love With Tila Tequila (60 mins.)
In the first-season finale, Tila chooses between the last two contestants to see who gets a shot at love.
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SMQ Watchability Rating: All bowl games are rated on a scale of one TV ("Christmas shopping done? Yes? Think of more people. Leafing through the phone book suggested if necessary.") to five ("Block out a few hours - and possibly the sun, if there's a glare - for this can't-miss classic.") based on completely subjective factors, up to and including potential cheerleader hotness/fulfillment of requisite nubile teen lust fantasies, which are so sadly lacking anywhere else on contemporary television or the Internet.

Again, you haven't seen a single sign either of these teams' existence all season, or even many of their respective conferences. Why would you want to start now? As always, ignorance is bliss.

Christmas shopping done? Yes? Think of more people. Leafing through the phone book suggested if necessary.
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The Pick: The only granule of pride Conference USA could possibly salvage from this miserable season is that at least one of its also-rans was still able to beat the Sun Belt champion, as become a sort of unacknowledged custom. Last year was a break from that, and if Troy were here instead of FAU, there would be no good reason to doubt the Trojans' ability to shred the Tigers' beleaguered defense into tiny, striped bags of flea bait. FAU may do this, too, but Memphis is on as hot a streak as it's been on in years (winners of four straight to close the season, five of six, six of eight, etc. since a 1-3 start) and has more dangerous skill players on this level - since September, the Tigers' offense has been quietly prolific and won't meet any resistance here.
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Memphis 36 Florida Atlantic 27