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College football's bowl-nanza is about to start

By Ralph D. Russo

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Dec. 17 2010 12:22 p.m. MST

Congratulations! Your coach got fired. Here's a bowl bid.

That would be you, Pittsburgh Panthers and Miami Hurricanes.

Then there are those playing in the postseason whose coaches nearly got fired.

Looking at you, Georgia Bulldogs and Illinois Fighting Illini.

The loser of the first bowl game of the season is guaranteed to finish below .500. The New Mexico Bowl, matching UTEP (6-6) and BYU (6-6), starts a 23-day bowl-nanza, featuring 35 games and 14 teams that are simply trying to avoid losing seasons.

While there's no such thing as too much college football, even BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock, one of the leading advocates for the bowl system, said the current postseason system is nearing capacity.

"Some number of bowl games is too many," Hancock said. "I don't know what the threshold is, but surely we're close to it. On the other hand, is it appropriate for us to deny any group of athletes the memorable, multiday experience that a bowl trip brings?"

Among the teams that earned a memorable experience with a 6-6 record, four — Army, Middle Tennessee, Georgia and Tennessee — have no victories against major college teams with winning records. Troy State (7-5) and Fresno State (8-4) also have not beaten a winning team.

Army hasn't even beaten a .500 team this season. But it's hard to complain about the Cadets squeaking into a bowl for the first time since 1996. It wasn't long ago that the Black Knights were losing to teams such as Duke and Tulane.

As for Middle Tennessee, playing in the Sun Belt Conference — where only Troy had a winning overall record and most of the members pay the bills by being professional homecoming opponents — doesn't offer many opportunities to knock off over-.500 teams. The Blue Raiders at least did well against their peers, going 5-3 in conference.

Then there's Georgia and Tennessee from the big bad Southeastern Conference. The Bulldogs went 3-5 in the SEC, but can claim victories against three other bowl teams — Georgia Tech (6-6), Kentucky (6-6) and the Volunteers.

That leaves the Volunteers as this year's winners of the Backing Into the Bowl Award. Coach Derek Dooley's first Tennessee team was clearly in a rebuilding year. And remember the Vols had LSU beat if not for Dooley being bewitched by Les Miles' voodoo.

But as Bill Parcells used to say, you are what your record says you are, and Tennessee's record includes three victories against nonconference patsies (Tennessee-Martin, Alabama-Birmingham and Memphis) and three more against the three worst teams in the SEC (Vanderbilt, Mississippi and Kentucky).

The Wildcats, by the way, were runners-up to the Vols, saved from the ignominious title by beating South Carolina the week after the Gamecocks knocked off Alabama.

With all that said, don't be surprised to see Tennessee knock off North Carolina at the Music City Bowl.

The pre-New Year's Day bowl picks:

SATURDAY

New Mexico Bowl

UTEP (plus 11½) vs. BYU

Cougars won five of final seven to get bowl eligible for sixth straight season. ... BYU 35-14.

Humanitarian Bowl

Northern Illinois (minus 1) vs. Fresno State

Huskies were upset in MAC title game; Bulldogs tend to roll over on Boise State's blue turf. ... NIU 28-24.

New Orleans Bowl

Ohio (plus 2½) vs. Troy

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