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SMQ Bowl Blitz: The Alamo

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The least you should know about the Alamo Bowl...
I’d never heard of Valero gas stations when I lived in Mississippi, but in Texas, those big teal signs are everywhere. If I stop there, it’s out of convenience, not advertising or sponsorships, but the bowl claims 61 percent of ticketholders to last year’s Alamo Bowl responded that they would consider switching to companies that support the bowl. They’re either suckers or liars or had an unexpectedly great time at the game, and spent $21 million in the city in 2005 either way. Click here for a demographic breakdown of the 2004 Alamo Bowl crowd, one wealthy, well-educated, whipped bunch of middle-aged men.
Location Inquisitor
This is the one in:

a) Fort Worth
b) El Paso
c) Houston
d) San Antonio
e) Dallas

If you said d) San Antonio, you’re right! And you possess a fundamental grasp of key ninteenth century historical geography, or frequent flier miles. Either way, Texas history aficianado and Alamo Beer loyalist Hank Hill would be proud.

The Venue
The 65,000-seat Alamodome looks like it’s being prepared to be lifted by invisible cranes, or about to run up giant sails and float away to its home planet. Its otherwordly look is de riguer in modern NFL stadiums, and the Dome is the centerpiece of San Antonio’s attempt to lure a pro franchise – the Saints played four regular season games there in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (team owner Tom Benson made his fortune in San Antonio), and the city would no doubt leap at the chance to lure them from the Big Easy. This would spark an unprecedented city-on-city rumble that San Antonio wants no part of (trust me), but it looks like a nice building, otherwise, so long as it keeps its weird pillar-looking things to itself.
Formerly Known As...
The Alamo Bowl is in ear 15, all of them as the Alamo Bowl, with a few changes in sponsorship: who could forget Builders Square (1993-98), Sylvania (1999-2001) or MasterCard (2002-05)? Alas, the games offered by these companies were not all so...priceless. Thank you.
Past Winners Include...
The Alamo has maintained its Big Ten-Big 12 tie-in for 13 of its 15 seasons, and most of those two conferences have made appearances; Michigan, Texas A&M, Purdue, Texas Tech, Iowa, Oklahoma State and Nebraska have been multiple times. Tonight’s game will be the second rematch – Iowa and Texas Tech have played twice, and Penn State and Texas A&M met in the Alamo in 1999, when the Aggies were trounced, 24-0. This year is only the second time since the first game in 1993 that both teams entered the game unranked.

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

Details: Penn State (8-4) vs. Texas A&M (7-5) • 8 p.m. ET, ESPN. Be there or be vocalizing the horrible truth about the opposing team's zombie coach, square:

Tune in for: Sophomore burner Mike Goodson failed to turn the corner, literally and figuratively, into the quick-striking, all-American slayer of bad angles he was projected to be (he averaged under five yards per carry and didn't have a single run over 30 yards against a I-A defense), but he was a generally effective contributor to the Aggies' three-pronged running game, which with triggerman Stephen McGee ("The 'Gritty' One") and short-yardage elephant Jorvorskie Lane ("The Fat One") went over 230 yards six times. McGee also went over 240 yards passing in three of A&M's last four games, including probably the best game of his career as a passer (362 yards, three touchdowns) in the upset of Texas, rare hints of balance in what had been an untenably one-dimensional attack for the better part of Dennis Franchione's tenure.

The counterpunch to the Aggie running game is Penn State's front seven, sixth in the country against the run and home of classic Nittany Lion ballhawks Dan Connor and Sean Lee at linebacker. The numbers are a little misleading, as the complete, ordinary failure by Florida International, Notre Dame, Buffalo, Temple and the like more than offset 200-yard games by Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State in the final numbers, as did the Lions' great sack total (second in the nation, again, though, largely against rock bottom teams attempting to throw out of big holes) but PSU did shut down Iowa and Wisconsin and hold Purdue to one of its worst offensive games of the season, and the overall story was clear enough: the Lions are still nasty on defense.

Turn away in disgust when: Anthony Morelli continued to struggle dramatically against decent defenses, hounded into three game-killing interceptions in the loss at Illinois, just 169 yards in a nine-point effort in the loss to Illinois, 111 yards and a pick in the loss to Ohio State. His top three receivers only caught one pass over 20 yards in those three games, some evidence that the offense can go into a hole against good defenses, or when the running game isn't creating managable third down situations, slowing the pass rush or loosening things up downfield. Texas A&M was atrocious against the pass in the wide open Big 12, and on defense in general, but Penn State is not that freewheeling, and if the Aggies have success against Rodney Kinlaw early and get heat on Morelli, he has never shown he can consistently respond to that pressure.

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

CBS • 8 p.m. ET • 160;Saturday Night Football: Patriots at Giants
New England (15-0) at New York Giants (10-5). Bill Belichick's Patriots look to wrap up the league's first regular season since the 1972 Dolphins went 14-0. Tom Brady and Randy Moss are both within 1 TD of equaling NFL single-season records. (180 mins.)

I hate the Giants, but the enemy of your enemy is your friend.
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BET • 8:30 p.m. ET • Get to Steppin'
Vibrant step teams face off in this Spring Bling competition hosted by Darrin Henson and Julissa. Ne-Yo offers a performance, while Bobby Valentino, Fabolous and Lil' Fizz serve as judges. (TV-PG, 30 mins.)

Court TV • 9 p.m. ET • Body of Evidence: "Deadly Dream"
The 1985 murder of West Palm Beach resident Anita Spearman, who was bludgeoned in her home. The victim's husband, Robert, was convicted of hiring a hit man to kill her. (TV-14; 30 mins.)

Discovery • 9 p.m. ET • Fearless Planet: "Alaska"
In Alaska, Will skis from the peak of the mountain, paraglides to the top of a glacier, climbs into a moving ice crevasse, kayaks a melt-stream, scales an iceberg and observes the aurora borealis. (TV-G; 60 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.

The offenses don't promise a lot of fireworks, but for delivering two high profile, winning teams with good resumés and a manufactured sideshow in the pregame festivities, the Alamo Bowl is awarded a solid three boxes:

Worth an afternoon or evening, if there's nothing better to do, until it gets out of hand.

The Pick: A&M has to put the game on Morelli's shoulders, but its track record defensively doesn't suggest it will be able to put the brakes on Penn State's very underrated running game (170-plus yards in six of the last seven, and a very respectable 139 against Ohio State) to afford to let loose with the pass rush - not that getting after the passer was a particular strength for the Aggies, anyway, and they're missing starting defensive lineman Michael Bennett. The offense that controls the line of scrimmage with its running game will be able to pick its shots down the field, and if the offenses are a push, Penn State's defense has been much, much stiffer.
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Penn State 26 Texas A&M 21