There are a half dozen bowl games before Christmas, and its an important segment of the bowl season in the west, as 3 of them match Pac-12 teams against Mt. West teams, and a 4th Mt. West team is also involved. 4 of the 6 are located in the "west" (Mountain, Pacific, or Hawaiian Time Zones) as well, and represent more than 1/3rd (4 of 11) of all western bowls. So while some are just "warming up" for the meat of the bowl season, its an important segment in the on-going battle against mis-perception and lack of awareness in the eastern half of the country that continually plagues the Pac-12 and Mt. West Conferences.
The Bowl season starts Saturday when Washington St. (6-6, 4-5) takes on Colorado St. (7-6, 5-3) in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque, at Noon MST (11 AM PST) on ESPN, in the first Pac-12-Mt. West matchup.
The Cougars are making their first bowl trip in a decade, in their second season under head coach Mike Leach. Back to back late November wins, 24-17 at Arizona, and then 49-37 over Utah, in what amounted to a bowl play-in game for both teams, broke a 3 game Washington St. losing streak, put the Cougs into the post-season.
The Rams had to win a 7th game because of their extra game, a product of their schedule that included a Hawaii trip, which they accomplished with a 58-13 win over Air Force. Colorado St. won 3 of their last 4 games to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2008.
Washington St. is a 3 1/2 point favorite.
The second game of the day Saturday is another Pac-12-Mt. West matchup, when #21 Fresno St. (/#20 in the BCS) (11-1, 7-1) takes on USC (#25 in the BCS) (9-4, 6-3) in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl at 12:30 PST on ABC.
The Bulldogs are a 62-52 loss at San Jose St. in their last regular season game away from a BCS Bowl, after downing visiting Utah St. 24-17 in the Mt. West Championship game. This game features another of the best receivers in the country, Davante Adams, who with quarterback Derek Carr formed a combination that rivaled Oregon St.'s Brandin Cooks-Sean Mannion duo all year.
The Trojans are on their 3rd coach of the year, with offensive coordinator Clay Helton acting as the interim interim coach, filling in for Ed Orgeron, who took over for Lane Kiffen, and turned the season around, but resigned when Steve Sarkisian was hired away from Washington to take over after the bowl game.
Orgeron won 5 straight, and 6 of 7, after Kiffen was dismissed in the airport following the Trojans' 62-41 loss at Arizona St., but didn't get the job permanently after USC lost 35-14 to UCLA.
USC is a 6 1/2 point favorite.
The game overlaps the first 2 games of ESPN's triple header, so (of course) USC gets the coveted 12:30 ABC time slot, with the downside being that Pac-12 fans will have to engage their recorder to catch all the action in both games, both of which stand to be very interesting contests.
The second game of the Saturday ESPN triple header involves another Mt. West team, as Buffalo (8-4, 6-2) from the MAC takes on San Diego St. (7-5, 6-2) in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise at 3:30 PM MST (2:30 PM PST), the bowl game closest to the mid-valley and northwest.
The Bulls ran off a 7 game winning streak before losing 2 of their last 3 games, but still finished second in the MAC Eastern Division, and are back in a bowl game for the first time since the 2008 season.
The Aztecs finished second in the Mt. West West division. San Diego St. had bounced back after losing their first 3 games, including their late 34-30 defeat by Oregon St. when Steven Nelson picked off quarterback Quinn Kaehler for the game winning pick 6, to win 7 of 8, including 3 of 4 overtime contests, before dropping their last game 45-19 at UNLV.
Saturday is capped off by the R.L. Carriers New Orleans Bowl, between a pair of local teams, as Tulane from Conference-USA (7-5, 5-3) takes on Louisiana-Lafayette from the Sun Belt Conference (8-4, 5-2) at 8 PM CST (6 PM PST) on ESPN.
Exploding the theory that neither small schools nor minor bowls can sell tickets, the Green Wave and Rajun Cajins have sold about 60,000 tickets. Having both teams within easy driving distance helps, but its a good indication of what can happen when the universities as well as the teams want to be there.
The Green Wave stumbled down the stretch to a 4th place finish in the C-USA West, losing 3 of their last 4 games, though 2 of the losses were by a combined 7 points, after a 4 game winning streak had gotten them off to a 6-2 start. Of note, the Green Wave is quarterbacked by Nick Montana, who began how career at Washington, and made his only start at the FBS level prior to this year against Oregon St.
The Cajuns appeared to really be Raging when they recovered from an 0-2 start to reel off 8 straight wins, which sewed up the Sun Belt Championship. But with the hardware and a trip to the Superdome secured, La-Lafayette dropped their last 2 games, to rival Louisiana-Monroe and South Alabama. That created some drama for Oregon St., as both LA-Monroe and South Alabama by capping their seasons with a win became bowl eligible at 6-6 in the process. Both suffered the fate of being left out of the at-large bowl derby, which was a concern for Beaver Nation as well.
Monday's only bowl is the Beef O'Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg, FL, which matches Ohio (7-5, 4-4) from the MAC and East Carolina (9-3, 6-2) from C-USA at 2 PM EST (11 AM PST), and its on ESPN.
The Bobcats finished 3rd in the MAC East, and this is the 5th consecutive bowl trip for the better than most realize "other" Ohio state university. Ohio got into a bowl by snapping a 3 game losing streak with a 51-23 win over U-Mass. The Bobcats had won 6 of 7 previous to their late season downturn.
The Pirates lost a showdown the same day as Oregon St. and Oregon were engaged in the Civil War with Marshall for the C-USA East title, ending a 5 game winning streak (and 7 of 8 winning stretch). It's the 7th bowl trip in 8 years for East Carolina, another program that's probably off the radar of most football fans in the west.
The first week of bowl action of course ends with the one Beaver Nation is most interested in, the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, the third Pac-12-Mt. West matchup, and a northwest neighborhood rivalry as well. Boise St. (8-4, 6-2) meets Oregon St. (6-6, 4-5) at 3 PM Hawaii Time (5 PM PST) on Christmas Eve, on ESPN.
The Broncos are in their 12th consecutive bowl game, after finishing second in the Mt. West Mountain Division. The story here of course is that Boise St. is being coached by interim coach Bob Gregory, who took over for Chris Peterson, who has moved up the road at Washington. This before Gregory and most of the rest of the Bronco staff follows Peterson to Washington, with former Bronco player and assistant coach Bryan Harsin, whom Beaver fans will recall was on the Texas staff last year, waiting in the wings to take over.
The Beavers will be looking to put a positive end on a streaky season that has seen a 6 game winning streak followed by a 5 game losing skid. It may also be the last collegiate performance by Cooks, though he'll make a decision about moving on to the pros early after the game, and possibly also Scott Chrichton.
Less likely to move on is Mannion, who will be looking to regain his first half of the season form, and add to the Oregon St. records he and Cooks have already set as a passing-catching combination.