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SMQ Bowl Blitz: The Champs Sports

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The least you should know about the Champs Sports Bowl...
Champs Sports is "Where Sports Live," if by "Sports" you mean "every too-short, wannabe scrub with delusions of grandeur and a few extra bucks from his shift at Sbarro," judging from every mall I’ve had the misfortune of entering in the last decade. Click here to become a Champs Sports "VIP" by committing to spend hundreds of dollars at your local Champs Sports location.
Location Inquisitor
This is the one in:

a) Miami
b) Phoenix
c) Orlando
d) Jacksonville
e) Tampa

If you said c) Orlando, you’re right – and you’re paying attention! The game spent eleven seasons in Miami under various guises (see below) before moving North in 2001 after losing sponsor MicronPC and becoming, briefly, the Tangerine Bowl.

Time is running out on the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau's (for tax purposes, Disney doesn’t lift a finger unless it’s in one Orange County or another, which was the main confusion about the one in France) helpful 207 Things To Do in Orlando in 2007, which includes "Touch a stingray at SeaWorld Orlando" and "Sue the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau and SeaWorld Orlando for medical expenses and pain and suffering." Act now – it’s almost too late!

The Venue
In addition to the now-dearly departed UCF Golden Knight football team and the Citrus/Capital One Bowl, the Tangerine Bowl/Citrus Bowl/Orlando Stadium/Florida Citrus has hosted no less than seven failed alterna-league pro football franchises, two of which I actually remember: the Orlando Broncos (1962-63), the Orlando Panthers (1966-70), the Florida Blazers (1974), the Orlando Americans (1981), the Orlando Renegades (1985), the Orlando Thunder (1991-1992) and the much-lamented Orlando Rage (2001). They don’t care much in these parts for nouns, you know.
Formerly Known As...
No bowl anywhere could have changed hands so many times in such a short period of time and survived, and in fact it's debatable whether the current "Champs Sports Bowl" qualifies as the same entity as the "Blockbuster Bowl" begun back in 1990 at all. Blockbuster bought into and renamed the "Sunshine Classic" before the Classic ever kicked off. This is unfortunate because the video rental company set the modern precedent for sponsorship-only names of bowl games, and is a major reason this bowl has no tradition – every time it changes sponsors, it changes names completely, and it’s changed sponsors five times in 18 years. "Blockbuster Bowl" itself was not so bad, but when it became the Carquest Bowl in 1994, the floodgates were opened: it became the MicronPC Bowl in 1998 and the Bowl in 2000 (see, not the PC company, but the Web site of the PC company). The tourist group Visit Florida moved the game to Orlando in 2001 and renamed it, respectably, the Tangerine Bowl – at which point it becomes unclear that we’re actually refering to the same game, under a different sponsor and different name in a new location, but hell, Wikipedia rules – and operated it as such along with Mazda until 2003. Champs Sports took over in 2004, ditched the "Tangerine" business, and returned the bowl to its unabashedly corporate roots. It’s a feel-good story, really.
Past Winners Include...
The bowl initially brought in a couple heavy hitters in its first game, Florida State and Penn State, and has maintained a fairly consistent tie to the ACC since 1993 – the only multiple winners are Miami (which won in 1996 and 1998 from the Big East), NC State and Georgia Tech. Boston College won a New Year’s Day tilt with Virginia in the ‘93 Blockbuster Bowl (to close the 1992 season) and could join that elite group with another victory this afternoon, along with providing the conference its fifth straight win here. The Big Ten has won the Vagabond Bowl only once, when Illinois crushed Virginia 63-21 under the MicronPC banner in 1999.

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

Details: Boston College (10-3) vs. Michigan State (7-5) • 5 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 fact of Matt Ryan's being overrated on a near-historical level by his backers for the Trophy Which Shall Not Be Named - he threw 18 interceptions, 13 in the last seven games, completed less than half of his passes in three different games, and was less efficient as a passer than very un-hyped, within-the-offense types Cullen Harper, Sean Glennon, Chris Turner and Riley Skinner in his own conference; statistically, the only remotely extraordinary aspect of Ryan's season was the huge number of times he threw the ball (607 attempts in 13 games), more often per game than Colt Brennan and second only to Graham Harrell at Texas Tech, who was more efficient by a mile - should not obscure the fact that Ryan is also one of the most valuable players in the country to his team and has all the chops and clutch cool of the A-list pocket star he is reputed to be.

Hang in there, big guy.
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Ryan will be compared to Tom Brady again at some point this afternoon because of his build, jersey number, pair of high profile, game-winning throws at Virginia Tech and Clemson and geography, but Matt's success is so much messier - between the heroics at Tech and Clemson, for example, he threw a terrible interception (the last of three) that killed a potential game-winning drive at home against Florida State, then was picked in the same situation on consecutive drives at the end of the ACC Championship game, yet still has the demeanor and talent to occasionally escape doom in the pocket, create something from nothing on the fly, make clutch third down completions under pressure despite often spotty protection and no big-play, downfield receiving threats (the most frequent target was running back Andre Callender, who caught 72 out of the backfield, mostly conservative checkdowns) and emerge as the emotional fulcrum of back-to-back ten-win seasons and "Matty Ice" rep intact. If you can ignore the more ambitious visions of grandeur, Ryan is still as fun to watch as old school, pro-style pocket passers come these days. As far as farewell tours go, the Champs Sports Bowl is slumming it.

You will also want to see three very underrated skill players from Michigan State: wide receiver Kerry Reed (75 catches, Big Ten-best 1,226 yards), tight end/sporadic pass rusher Kellen Davis (16.9 per catch) and running back Javon Ringer (6.0 per carry), whose scandalous underuse in the back-to-back losses to Wisconsin and Northwestern - he had 233 total yards against the Badgers and 239 against Northwestern, on just 17 and 18 touches, respectively - might have cost MSU a nine-win season and kept it from a New Year's Day game.

Turn away in disgust when: Virginia Tech, Maryland, Florida State and Virginia Tech again showed the best way to disrupt B.C. is to pressure Ryan - a much easier and oft-exploited proposition with a true freshman at right tackle for long-injured Ryan Poles - and Michigan State would be in position to force the issue if one of the country's most feared pass rushers, Jonal "Sack Master" Saint-Dic, hadn't been suspended along with five other Spartans last week for blowing the semester academically. Without the force, the secondary that finished ninth in the Big Ten in pass efficiency defense and allowed 520 yards and five touchdowns passing in a loss to Northwestern - and that is also without one of its best playmakers, suspended safety SirDaren Adams - will give B.C. the chance to stage the marathon, dink-and-dunk drives the Eagles love so and make it ugly in more ways than one.

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

TV Guide Network • 5 p.m. ET • Making News: Texas Style - "Jay Day"
The station prepares for Jay's return to air; Tatum gets stuck at the Dallas airport; Melissa interviews a suspected murderer. (60 mins.)

Whatcha gonna do, brother, when shameless nepotism runs wild on you?
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ABC Family • 5 p.m. ET • Gilmore Girls: "A-Tisket, A-Tasket"
A picnic-basket auction brings a bounty of romantic surprises to the town of Stars Hollow. For the annual event, Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel) prepare lunches to be sold off to the hungry menfolk. The mother-daughter duo soon find they have no problems finding buyers for their less-than-delectable meals, and a bidding war breaks out between Dean (Jared Padalecki) and Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) as each guy vies for a Rory-prepared repast. Meanwhile, Lorelai and Luke (Scott Patterson) enjoy a meal in each other's company and Jackson (Jackson Douglas) makes a surprising proposal to Sookie (Melissa McCarthy) during their lunchtime date. (TV-PG; 60 mins.)

TVLand • 6 p.m. ET • I Love Lucy: "Lucy Writes a Play"
There's more than one way to break into show business: if Ricky won't use her in his act, Lucy will write a play for him to act in. And she does (a story about a Cuban tobacco picked titled "A Tree Grows in Havana"), and enters it in a competition at her woman's club. But he'll have no part in it - until he learns that a big producer will be in the audience. Club Chairwoman: Myra Marsh. Stage Manager: Maury Thompson. (TV-G; 30 mins.)

VH1 • 6:30 p.m. ET • Hogan Knows Best: "Hulkamania Forever"
Hulk must decide whether he wants to come out of retirement after WWE chief Vince McMahon offers to promote Brooke in exchange for Hulk returning to the ring. (TV-PG; 30 mins.)
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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.

For matching two potent offenses and highly visible BCS conference teams with ten wins on one side and just a few breaks from ten wins on the other (Michigan State lost two games in overtime and two more it led or was tied in the fourth quarter), the Champs Sports Bowl delivers its most appealing game since it was briefly a Jan. 1 game in the early nineties. But it's still not quite enough to be above a three-boxer:

Worth an afternoon or evening, if there's nothing better to do, until it gets out of hand.
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The Pick: Michigan State is a significant underdog in public opinion (more than 80 percent of ESPN's online contest picked BC, one of the highest numbers of any game on the slate) but only modest 4.5-5-point underdogs by the actual odds and an appealing upset pick because of the close losses and in the wake of the would-be turning point of Mark Dantonio's debut season against Penn State, where the Spartans finally closed the deal against a quality opponent. Whatever momentum carried over from the finale, though, is surely shot with the suspensions, and MSU still has to demonstrate it can find ways to win consistently after so many years of finding ways to lose. BC, on the other hand, carries itself with an air of stability, as evidenced in that eight-game bowl win streak, and has two key components it's never wise to bet against: a solid, "gutsy" veteran quarterback and, more tangibly, the top-ranked run defense in the nation.
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Boston College 31 Michigan State 26