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Originally published December 16, 2010 at 4:52 PM | Page modified December 17, 2010 at 1:28 PM

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Bud Withers

Bowl season kicks off with first of 35 games on Saturday

It all ends Jan. 10 with Oregon against Auburn for the national title, but the first three of 35 bowl games will be played Saturday.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

It's your time, all you outliers. Yes, the college-football bowl season is about Auburn and Oregon and TCU and Wisconsin, but it's also an opening for Troy and Florida International and Middle Tennessee State.

We hear a lot about the exclusivity of the BCS and how it shuts out the little guy. Well, the rest of the bowl system makes amends — 24 of the 70 postseason teams are from non-automatic-qualifying conferences.

That's right. There are 70 bowl teams, a record 35 games, and if you dare watch that many, figure on starting the New Year with divorce papers from your spouse.

The lowdown:

New Mexico at Albuquerque, Saturday, BYU (6-6) vs. UTEP (6-6): Skyline grad Jake Heaps, who helped BYU win four of its last five, faces Mike Price, whose team lost five of its last six. In 2012-13, this bowl becomes a Pac-12 affiliate.

Humanitarian at Boise, Saturday, Northern Illinois (10-3) vs. Fresno State (8-4): Coach Jerry Kill left NIU for Minnesota, depriving us of a Kill-Hill matchup. FSU's Pat Hill, bless him, has agreed to take a $300,000 salary cut in cash-poor California.

New Orleans, Saturday, Ohio (8-4) vs. Troy (7-5): What can you say about this game other than ... it's the only bowl matching schools of four letters. Neither team had a 600-yard rusher, and the QBs combined for 31 interceptions. And Troy was the most-penalized team (105) in the nation.

Beef O'Brady's at St. Petersburg, Fla., Tuesday, Louisville (6-6) vs. Southern Mississippi (8-4): The schools were Conference USA members from 1995-2005, and the coaches, 'Ville's Charlie Strong and USM's Larry Fedora, were on the Florida staff in 2003-04.

Las Vegas, Wednesday, Boise State (11-1) vs. Utah (10-2): When the Pac-10 couldn't send a team and BSU lost Nov. 26, Vegas made out. Utes QB Jordan Wynn is out with shoulder surgery, but backup Terrance Cain is 9-1 as a starter. He'll be sobered by this: Boise has 38 sacks more than its opponents.

Poinsettia at San Diego, Thursday, Navy (9-3) vs. San Diego State (8-4): First bowl since 1998 for SDSU, which hasn't won one since 1969. Ricky Dobbs is the playmaking Middies QB, while Ronnie Hillman rushed for 1,304 yards for the Aztecs.

Hawaii at Honolulu, Dec. 24, Hawaii (10-3) vs. Tulsa (9-3): Tulsa QB G.J. Kinne was CUSA offensive player of the year. But Hawaii's Bryant Moniz threw for 36 touchdowns, and the Warriors forced a national-high 36 turnovers.

Little Caesars at Detroit, Dec. 26, Toledo (8-4) vs. Florida International (6-6): Toledo has been outscored and outgained. FIU, in its first bowl, is the Sun Belt version of Washington, rebounding from an 0-12 season in 2006.

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Independence at Shreveport, La., Dec. 27, Georgia Tech (6-6) vs. Air Force (8-4): Since the teams are 1-2 in rushing offense, this might take only 2 ½ hours. Tech QB Joshua Nesbitt is likely out with a broken arm. The Engineers have lately been awful in bowls, losing their past five.

Champs Sports at Orlando, Fla., Dec. 28, North Carolina State (8-4) vs. West Virginia (9-3): QB Russell Wilson makes it happen for NC State. Weird Mounties stat: The past 11 bowls they've been in, the winner has scored 30 points or more.

Insight at Tempe, Ariz., Dec. 28, Iowa (7-5) vs. Missouri (10-2): The Hawkeyes had a disappointing season — then it got worse, with a drug arrest of receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and a suspension of starting RB Adam Robinson. Mizzou's defense allows only 15.2 points a game.

Military at Washington D.C., Dec. 29, Maryland (8-4) vs. East Carolina (6-6): Expect fireworks; ECU scored 458 points and allowed 521. Terps made a big turnaround from a 2-10 team in '09 behind redshirt freshman QB Danny O'Brien.

Texas at Houston, Dec. 29, Baylor (7-5) vs. Illinois (6-6): Baylor's first bowl since 1994 might come down to a rushing duel between Bears' Jay Finley (1,155 yards) and the Illini's Mikel Leshoure (1,513).

Alamo at San Antonio, Dec. 29, Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Arizona (7-5): Stop us if you've heard this one: Big 12 outfit deserves more, draws middling Pac-10 outfit. Wildcats have lost four in a row, and will have their hands full with Cowboys triad of QB Brandon Weeden, RB Kendall Hunter and WR Justin Blackmon.

Armed Forces at Fort Worth, Texas, Dec. 30, SMU (7-6) vs. Army (6-6): June Jones has the Mustangs in their second straight bowl; that's why they're paying him $2.14 million annually. Army has been to only four bowl games, none since 1996.

Pinstripe at New York, Dec. 30, Kansas State (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5): K-State, outgained by more than 700 yards, has stud RB Daniel Thomas. 'Cuse, fifth in total defense (295 yards a game), accomplished the rarity of winning all its Big East road games and losing each one at home.

Music City at Nashville, Dec. 30, North Carolina (7-5) vs. Tennessee (6-6): Carolina plodded through an agent scandal behind veteran QB T.J. Yates. Believe it or not, this will be Vols' 10th game inside Tennessee borders. They were 2-6 entering November.

Holiday at San Diego, Dec. 30, Washington (6-6) vs. Nebraska (10-3): Of the seven bowl teams that were outscored in the regular season, UW had the largest deficit — 109 points. For the risk-minded, the last two times Huskies were in a postseason, double-digit underdog — both in the Holiday Bowl — they covered the spread.

Meineke Car Care at Charlotte, N.C., Dec. 31, Clemson (6-6) vs. South Florida (7-5): No shootout here, as both are top-25 ranked in defense and 87th (Clemson) and 103rd in offense. Tigers QB Kyle Parker is the only athlete in major-college history to throw 20 TD passes and hit 20 homers in an academic year (2009-10).

Sun at El Paso, Texas, Dec. 31, Miami (7-5) vs. Notre Dame (7-5): The bizarro note of the bowl season: Miami interim coach Jeff Stoutland (Seahawks aide from 1997-99) returns to the city where he has a street named after him. The oilman father of a player he was recruiting there in the early '90s built a development and named streets after several coaches who were pursuing his son.

Liberty at Memphis, Dec. 31, Central Florida (10-3) vs. Georgia (6-6): UCF outrushed opponents by more than 1,000 yards. Georgia, winner of four straight bowls, features 6-foot-4 wideout A.J. Green, a top-10 NFL pick-to-be.

Chick-fil-A at Atlanta, Dec. 31, Florida State (9-4) vs. South Carolina (9-4): FSU QB Christian Ponder has had arm issues all season and could sit out. Marcus Lattimore (1,198 yards) will be a 2011 Heisman candidate. Quarterbacks beware: South Carolina has a nation-leading 46 sacks, FSU 39.

TicketCity in Dallas, Jan. 1, Northwestern (7-5) vs. Texas Tech (7-5): Northwestern has lost seven straight bowls after winning its first (1948 Rose Bowl). This one won't be easy, what with QB Dan Persa having torn an Achilles late in the season. It's a fourth straight January bowl for Tech.

CapitalOne in Orlando, Fla., Jan. 1, Michigan State (11-1) vs. Alabama (9-3): Question for Ohio State president Gordon Gee: If the Big Ten is such a murderers' row, why are seven of its eight bowl teams underdogs? MSU head man Mark Dantonio used to work under 'Bama's Nick Saban in East Lansing.

Outback at Tampa, Jan. 1, Penn State (7-5) vs. Florida (7-5): Joe Paterno, who turns 84 Tuesday, is 24-11-1 all-time in bowls (the tie came in his first one in 1967). Meanwhile, it's Urban Meyer's swan song at Florida. Remember when 7-5 got you to the Poulan Weedeater Bowl rather than a New Year's Day game?

Gator at Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 1, Michigan (7-5) vs. Mississippi State (8-4): New Year's Day: It's just a Big Ten bacchanal. QB Denard Robinson had 1,643 yards rushing for Michigan. State's 216 rushing yards a game will test a bad Wolverines defense. UM coach Rich Rodriguez could still lose his job.

Rose at Pasadena, Jan. 1, Wisconsin (11-1) vs. TCU (12-0): The second-best bowl offering, matching the Badgers' road-grader attack (three backs with 864 yards or more rushing) against TCU's runaway national leader in total defense (215.4 yards a game).

Fiesta at Glendale, Ariz., Jan. 1, Connecticut (8-4) vs. Oklahoma (11-2): Imagine starting 3-4 and ending up in the BCS: That's UConn. Jordan Todman's 1,574 yards rushing keys the Huskies. Sooners could be unfocused, except for the fact they've lost five straight BCS bowls.

Orange at Miami, Jan. 3, Stanford (11-1) vs. Virginia Tech (11-2): The only thing more startling than Stanford's three shutouts of Pac-10 opponents is the fact it was the last team to do it, in 1969. Terrific pairing of Andrew Luck against the ACC player of the year, Tech QB Tyrod Taylor.

Sugar at New Orleans, Jan. 4, Ohio State (11-1) vs. Arkansas (10-2): True story: Neither Ohio State (19-22) nor Michigan (19-20) has a winning bowl record. Worse, the Bucks are an unfathomable 0-9 against the SEC in the postseason. OSU will be tested by QB Ryan Mallett.

GoDaddy.com at Mobile, Ala., Jan. 6, Miami (Ohio) (9-4) vs. Middle Tennessee State (6-6): Makes you nostalgic for its predecessor, the GMAC Bowl, doesn't it? MTSU has lost an FBS-high 33 turnovers. Miami has lost its coach, Mike Haywood, to Pitt.

Cotton at Arlington, Texas, Jan. 7, Texas A&M (9-3) vs. LSU (10-2): A&M hopes to break four-game bowl losing streak behind QB Ryan Tannehill, who came on in midseason. He'll have to deal with two probable NFL first-rounders, cornerback Patrick Peterson and tackle Drake Nevis.

BBVA Compass at Birmingham, Ala., Jan. 8, Pittsburgh (7-5) vs. Kentucky (6-6): UK QB Mike Hartline was so enthralled over the bid, he got busted for alcohol intoxication and disorderly conduct and will sit out his final game.

Kraft Fight Hunger at San Francisco, Jan. 9, Nevada (12-1) vs. Boston College (7-5): The Pac-10's loss was a gain for this bowl when it fell into the Wolfpack. BC has the top-ranked run defense, but Nevada's Colin Kaepernick will test it mightily.

BCS title at Glendale, Ariz., Jan. 10, Oregon (12-0) vs. Auburn (13-0): It's going to be hard to live up to the '06 Texas-USC championship mega-thriller, but this one has potential. A guess here that the Ducks will discover about Cam Newton what everybody else has: He's awfully good. Auburn 37, Oregon 28.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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About Bud Withers

Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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