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SMQ Bowl Blitz: The Holiday

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The least you should know about the Holiday Bowl...
Pacific Life issued its first policy in 1868 to its president, Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University and future United States senator from California, and has in the intervening 139 years survived the Panic of 1893, the great earthquake of 1906, the Great Depression, the Summer of Love, Dennis Erickson’s stint with the 49ers and multiple baseball steroid scandals to grow into the rock of a mutual holding company that today provides life insurance products, annuities, and mutual funds, offers a variety of investment products and services to individuals, businesses, and pension plans, counts more than half of the 50 largest U.S. companies as clients and annually hands out at least three sporting trophies shaped like humpback whales (CAUTION: Whale trophies not edible unless you are Rafael Nadal, possessor of immense talent, hair and unique digestive juices that would instantly rot the stomach of a lesser, balder man).
Location Inquisitor
This is the one in:

a) San Jose
b) Phoenix
c) El Paso
d) San Diego
e) Orlando

If you said d) San Diego, you’re right! There is no greater place in America or possibly on Earth to take a holiday – or "vacation," as we say stateside – than lovely San Diego, where sand and surf and illegal, impossibly cheap Mexican pharmaceuticals are only a hop, skip and border jump away.

In all seriousness, the greater San Diego area was recently destroyed by out of control wildfires, destroying thousands of miles of forest and billions of dollars in property and forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes. On the bright side, it did lend a whole new, literal connotation to the San Diego Convention and Bureau’s after hours page, "San Diego’s Nightlife Sizzles." It totally does!

The Venue
Jack Murphy Qualcomm Stadium is more than just a football stadium: you can host parties there, conferences, meetings, bar mitzvahs - even your wedding! Don’t let tens of thousands of empty seats staring down on your ceremony as it echoes throughout an aging, corpartely-named edifice ruin the greatest day of your life - rent today.
Formerly Known As...
NA. The Holiday has always been the Holiday, enduring a run of disparate sponsors: Sea World, Thrifty Car Rental, Plymouth and Culligan (I always found something offputting and slightly ominous about the water system company Culligan, probably something in the word itself, "Culligan," and the sultry way housewives said, "Hey, Culligan Man" in the ads as those giant air bubbles burp their way through the screen. It’s for the best that the affiliation with Culligan was allowed to lapse). What’s important here, as always, is the money: based on last year’s numbers, the Holiday’s $2.2 million-per-team payout dwarves the puny pre-Christmas allotments and ismatched in December games only by the Alamo (also $2.2 mil), the Champs Sports ($2.25m) and Peach Chick-Fil-A ($3.25m for ACC, $2.4m for SEC).
Past Winners Include...
The bowl existed for 20 years (1978-97) as the destination of the WAC champion, which prior to the league’s ill-fated expansion and fragmentation in the mid-nineties almost always meant BYU: LaVell Edwards’ Cougars played in the first seven and eleven of the first sixteen Holiday bowls, winning five and securing an eventual, controversial mythical championship by beating Big Ten also-ran Michigan in San Diego in 1984. There was the wild, famous BYU comeback over SMU in 1980, the second of a nine-year stretch in which the game was decided by four points or less seven times, but the Holiday really earned its high-scoring rep in the late eighties, when Oklahoma State, Penn State and Texas A&M scored 62, 50 and 65, respectively, in consecutive blowouts of Wyoming, BYU and BYU again from 1988-90. Cue Barry Sanders in 1988:

Also see here, here, here and here.

Multiple winners aside from BYU: Ohio State, Iowa and Kansas State, a pretty good group that Texas can join tonight. The Big 12 is 5-4 here since the Big 12-Pac 10 tie-in replaced the WAC-Big Ten in 1998.

Also of note: the Holiday is where jilted BCS contenders go to die – Texas in 2003, Cal in 2004 and Oregon in 2005 all thought they deserved the bigger bucks in January, and all went down to underdogs (Washington State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma) in San Diego. If Arizona State thought it deserved any such courtesy from the selection committee, it should keep quiet about it.

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

Details: Texas (9-3) vs. Arizona State (10-2) • 8 p.m. ET, ESPN. Be there or be enjoying the warmth and company of your precious loved ones at this special time of year, square.

Tune in for: The Holiday delivers, as usual, probably the most appealing matchup of the December games and, this time, because of Texas' reputation despite its second straight three-loss regular season and fourth place finish in the Big 12, as attractive a game as any bowl landed outside of the vaunted Series, including the relatively tepid New Year's Day offerings. It's annually dumped amid a bunch of unworthy, opportunistic rabble in the bowl lineup, but don't be distracted by the riffraff.

Texas and ASU were 12-5 in their respective conferences and were separated from championships therein (in Texas' case, the division championship and a shot at the Big 12 title) only by losses to the eventual champions, USC and Oklahoma, the teams favored as the best in the country by Vegas at the end of the year and slated to make much bigger bucks in the Rose and Fiesta bowls. Both offenses took a balanced approach to averaging more than 30 points and over 400 yards, and both defenses finished in the top 15 against the run. Both also have a thing for slow starts and rallies based on various degrees of frenzy - the Devils trailed Colorado 14-0 in the first quarter, Oregon State 19-0 in the first quarter, Washington State 10-7 at the half, Washington 17-10 in the second quarter and 17-13 at the half, California 13-0 in the first quarter and 20-7 in the second, UCLA 10-0 in the first quarter and Arizona 7-0 in the first quarter, and won them all without a single dramatic, fourth-quarter comeback in the lot; even in the last second win at Washington State, ASU never trailed in the fourth except in its losses to pre-Dixon injury Oregon and to USC on Thanksgiving.

Charles: Is what we thought he was, when he gets the chance.
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Texas was more apt to produce palpitations en route to the same results: the Longhorns trailed TCU 10-0 at the half, fell behind UCF 24-23 in the fourth quarter, entered the fourth quarter against reeling Nebraska (a week before the Huskers allowed 76 to Kansas) down 17-9 and were hopelessly outgunned in the first three quarters by Oklahoma State, 35-14, the following week, yet they, too, won them all with big offensive bursts in the final 15 minutes, usually sparked by big plays by Jamaal Charles off the read option look than by a sudden jolt of urgency in the passing game - though Colt McCoy certainly benefitted from the defensive breakdowns that always accompany such late meleés, and that accompanied Big 12 secondaries in general all season; UT was a dismal 72nd in pass efficiency defense, but that was still good enough for average (sixth) in the conference. Even Conference USA didn't let receivers run that free.

Turn away in disgust when: Here's a quick plot chart of Arizona State's scoring offense from the start of the season (left) to the end (right):

S1 S8 S15 S22 S29 O6 O13 O27 N3 N10 N22 D1
44 44
24 24
23 23

Production drops precipitously at the start of November, which happens to coincide with the Devils' three straight encounters down the stretch with top 50 scoring defenses, of which they had faced only one in the first two months (Oregon State, which yielded 44 points largely due to the six turnovers yielded by the Beaver offense); the other seven defenses the Devils faced through October were just that bad. Later, even very mediocre Arizona held ASU well below all of its season averages in the finale. It's no coincidence that these last four games resulted in both of Arizona State's defeats, neither of them particularly close, and two of its three narrowest wins (by four points and three points over UCLA and Arizona, both seven-game losers).

Texas, despite its significant problems rushing the passer and defending the pass, was a respectable 45th in scoring defense, but this, too, is misleading based on the `Horns' dreadful performance in November: 447 yards and 25 points to Nebraska, a whopping (whopping!) 594 and 35 to Oklahoma State, 476 and 43 to Texas Tech and 533 and 38 to previously one-dimensional Texas A&M. The results were one loss and two of the fourth quarter offensive onslaughts recounted above to stave off certain defeat in games UT was heavily favored to win - plus the offense had to score 24 points in a wild fourth quarter alone to keep the game with Texas Tech from going to the wire. No wonder a similar comeback effort fizzled against A&M: McCoy and Co. were just too exhausted.

Somehow, "late slumping offense stumbles into late slumping defense" doesn't sound like the ideal pitch the Leader is looking for.

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

PBS • 8 p.m. ET • This Old House Hour (60 mins.)
Custom garage doors are installed; tiles are put in the master bedroom; countertop choices for the kitchen are presented; and sprinkler heads are added to the property. Also: A vinyl fence is installed on a property; and a Nebraska homeowner's garage gets a protective coating. (TV-G)

BET • 8 p.m. ET • Crank That Year Back: Winners & Losers of 2007 (60 mins.)
Reflections on cultural ups and downs for the black community in 2007. Discussed: Omarion; Marques Houston; Beanie Sigel; Jalen Rose; Funkmaster Flex; and Fat Man Scoop

Too angsty to diagnose her own patients.
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ABC • 9 p.m. ET • Grey's Anatomy: "The Heart of the Matter" (62 mins.)
Adele Webber (Loretta Devine) rushes to her niece who had her prom at Seattle Grace back to the hospital for treatment; Izzie reveals her feelings for George to a mutual friend, and the reaction is not what she expects; Derek shows Cristina how to be a better teaching resident; and Norman (Edward Herrmann), an intern who's considerably older than his colleagues, misdiagnoses one of Meredith's patients. (TV-14)

NBC • 9 p.m. ET • The Office (31 mins.)
When Daryl (Craig Robinson) corners Michael about a pay increase, the meeting compels Michael to scrutinize his own salary. Meanwhile, Pam's confession to Roy (David Denman) impacts Jim. (TV-14)
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SMQ Watchability Rating: All bowl games are rated on a scale of one TV ("Christmas gifts already returned for refunds? Think of stealing more and returning those 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.

Texas began the year in the top five and spent the second half of the season creeping back in that direction until A&M broke a five-game winning streak; Arizona State was a top five team at Halloween and comes in still hovering around the top ten despite the efforts to remove the sheen by Oregon and especially USC. This is a Jan. 1 game staged five days too early and deserves that level of respect - four boxes worth of it:

Eminently worthy of note, preparation and attention.
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The Pick: Bad as its defense often was, Texas found its offense around mid-season and spent the rest of the year frustrating and teasing its fans with hot and cold stretches that were usually defined by the presence or absence of the ball in the hands of Jamaal Charles. When Charles is rolling (which, at 7.5 per carry since the loss to Oklahoma, is pretty much anytime he touches the ball), the offense is not dependent on the very limited talents of Colt McCoy, and the young quarterback is all the better for it - he's quite a dangerous passer as part of a balanced breakfast offense, but not so much when UT hasn't established anything on the ground. ASU is good against the run but has been had by the better attacks it's faced (Oregon State, Oregon, USC) and is much more move-the-chains on offense, with nothing like the explosive, home run threat Charles provides Texas on a consistent basis. A win would earn Texas its seventh straight ten-win season, though no matter what happens tonight, Mack Brown is still sitting on a single conference title going into Year Eleven.
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Texas 34 Arizona State 29