Today is the start of the "Most Wonderful Time Of The Year", which means Christmas to many, and to we football fans, the Bowl Season. The Gildan New Mexico Bowl, one of the bowls the Pac-12 has a contract with, starts off the run of 35 bowl games in 24 days, and today's triple header, all of which are on ESPN, and of significance to football in the west for a variety of reasons.
Unfortunately, between the NCAA post-season sanction against USC, and the unexpected failings of a couple of other conference teams (Ahem, Oregon St. included), once Stanford qualified for an at-large BCS Bowl berth, the Pac-12 didn't have enough teams to fill out all of their available slots. The Temple Owls (8-4, 5-3) from the MAC were happy to cover for us though, and take on the Wyoming Cowboys (8-4, 5-2) from the Mt. West Conference this morning in Albuquerque (11 AM PST).
The Cowboys finished third in the Mt. West, behind TCU and Boise St., both teams in contention for BCS bids much of the season, and ahead of San Diego St., who will be in action this evening in the RL Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
It's only the fourth bowl ever for the Owls, whose' bowl history dates back to playing Tulane in the first ever Sugar Bowl, with Pop Warner as their coach. Temple's other bowl exploits have a Pac tie-in, as their last win was a 28-17 victory over California 32 years ago, in the Garden State Bowl, and they lost 30-21 to UCLA 2 years ago in the Eagle Bank Bowl.
There's a local tie-in, as Bret Smith, a graduate from West Salem High, the freshman of the year in the Mt. West Conference, leads Wyoming.
It's a big day for the west, as the middle bowl in the triple-header is also a western bowl, and features a western team.
The Utah St. Aggies (7-5, 5-2) from the WAC take on the Ohio Bobcats (9-4, 6-2), another MAC team, and the East Division Champions of the Mid-American Conference, this afternoon at 2:30 PST, in the Idaho Famous Potatoes Bowl from the turf in Boise.
The Aggies are making their first trip to a bowl game in 14 years, after bouncing back from a 2-5 start, with 4 of the losses by 7 points or less. Utah St. beat Wyoming 63-19, and won 5 straight once November came.
The Bobcats are looking to bounce back from losing the MAC Championship game 23-20 on a field goal as time ran out, after they led the Northern Illinois Huskies by 20 points at halftime.
This evening, as mentioned above, the San Diego St. Aztecs (8-4, 4-3) from the Mt. West take on the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns (8-4, 6-2) from the Sun Belt Conference at 6 PM PST in the RL Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
The Aztecs, coached by former Oregon St. assistant Rocky Long, feature third team All-American running back Ronnie Hillman. The spectacular sophomore ran for 1,656 yards, the third highest total in the nation, and 19 touchdowns, and finished right behind Oregon's LaMichael James in the All-American balloting.
The Ragin Cajins, who are making their first post-season appearance in 41 years, are a somewhat familiar name to Pac-12 fans, having visited the Arizona Wildcats the last week of the regular season.