The college football bowl season actually began a week ago, not with tonight's Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla.

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Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah.

Mea culpa, too. The college football bowl season actually began a week ago, not with tonight’s Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla. Our apologies if you’re feeling wronged at the exclusion of the Dec. 14 Wyndham New Orleans Bowl.

Southern Mississippi won that game over North Texas, and a good time was had by all. It ushered in a bowl season with 28 games.

Until this year, the feeling here has always been that bowl games are like Christmas cookies — there’s always room for one more.

Then they announced this pairing, at the junction of ennui and insouciance: Troy (7-4) will meet Northern Illinois (8-3) Dec. 30 at the Silicon Valley Classic — boy, there’s an oxymoron — in San Jose, Calif., a city whose support of the local college team is so lukewarm there have been serious talks of folding the program.

As the promoters always say, tickets are going fast but good seats remain.

Dennis Poppe, managing director of baseball and football championships for the NCAA, wouldn’t cast aspersions directly on the Silicon Valley Classic, but he and others of influence realize that the bowl season has grown like the paunch of a holiday hedonist, and expansion must stop somewhere.


Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla.:

Georgia Tech (6-5) vs. Syracuse (6-5), 4:45 p.m., ESPN

“Logic would tell you the process needs review,” Poppe says.

Poppe says the NCAA’s football licensing subcommittee likely will be Scrooge-like next spring in granting new bowl bids, and may in fact enforce a cutback mandated by a three-year average-attendance requirement of 25,000.

This year, the Pac-10 failed to fulfill two of its agreements, so the Mid-American Conference has as many bowl teams (five) as the Pac-10.

Not that there aren’t some attractive matchups. USC vs. Oklahoma, each team undefeated and playing in the Orange Bowl, could be an extraordinary game. The jilted one, Auburn, is worth a long look in the Sugar. Utah will draw curiosity-seekers in the Fiesta.

It’s just that to get there, you’ve got to wade through the Champs Sports and the Continental Tire bowls.

By the numbers

Unbeaten bowl teams (Boise State, Utah and Auburn) left out of national-title game.

5 Pac-10 teams in bowls, same number as the Mid- American Conference.

10 Combined losses for teams in each of these five bowls: Champs Sports, Fort Worth, Las Vegas, Insight and Music City.

28 Accredited bowl games this season.

25,000 Three-year average- attendance requirement to keep a bowl game licensed.

Ratings key

***** Call in sick if necessary
**** Worth setting on TiVo
*** Don’t decline party invitation
** Go see “Meet The Fockers”
* They can’t be serious, can they?


Champs Sports Bowl *

Matchup: Syracuse (6-5) vs. Georgia Tech (6-5).

Where: Orlando, Fla.

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Time, TV: 4:45 p.m., ESPN.

Comment: Somehow, Paul Pasqualoni survives as Syracuse coach. Maybe it’s because he’s 6-2 in bowl games. Little-known fact: Tech’s 21-11 record leads the nation in teams that have played in 20 or more bowls.


GMAC Bowl **

Matchup: Memphis (8-3) vs. Bowling Green (8-3)

Where: Mobile, Ala.

Time, TV: 5 p.m., ESPN

Comment: Memphis running back DeAngelo Williams has 1,828 yards rushing, while Bowling Green quarterback Omar Jacobs has a 36-3 touchdown-interception ratio. A Bowling Green news release says the game “has been one of the most anticipated of this bowl season.” Uh, we’ll be the judge of that.


Fort Worth Bowl *

Matchup: Cincinnati (6-5) vs. Marshall (6-5)

Where: Fort Worth, Texas.

Time, TV: 3:30 p.m., ESPN

Comment: Cincy tuned up for the game with a 70-7 loss to Louisville. Marshall’s Josh Davis has 301 career catches, second all-time.

Las Vegas Bowl **

Matchup: UCLA (6-5) vs. Wyoming (6-5)

Time, TV: 6:45 p.m., ESPN

Comment: It’s pretty much classic UCLA. The Bruins have the superior athletes, but there’s the age-old question of whether they’ll deign to take a team like Wyoming seriously. The teams have never met.


Hawaii Bowl **

Matchup: Hawaii (7-5) vs. Alabama-Birmingham (7-4)

Where: Honolulu

Time, TV: 4 p.m., ESPN

Comment: Talk about road games. It’s the first bowl for UAB, whose wide receiver, Roddy White, has been getting some All-America recognition. Hawaii quarterback Timmy Chang has an NCAA-record 16,667 career passing yards.


MPC Computers Bowl **

Matchup: Fresno State (8-3) vs. Virginia (8-3)

Where: Boise, Idaho

Time, TV: 11 a.m., ESPN

Comment: Fresno State averaged 56 points over its last five games and has won two straight bowls against BCS teams. Boise is probably not the destination Virginia had in mind for the postseason.

Motor City Bowl **

Matchup: Toledo (9-3) vs. Connecticut (7-4)

Where: Detroit

Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., ESPN

Comment: Polish dog, anybody? Matchup of two good quarterbacks: Toledo’s Bruce Gradkowski and UConn’s Dan Orlovsky.


Independence Bowl *

Matchup: Miami, Ohio (8-4) vs. Iowa State (6-5)

Where: Shreveport, La.

Time, TV: 3:30 p.m., ESPN

Comment: The $1.2 million payout is the largest ever earned by a MAC team. Iowa State’s Dan McCarney, whose team was 2-10 last season, is the Big 12 coach of the year.

Insight Bowl ***

Matchup: Oregon State (6-5) vs. Notre Dame (6-5)

Where: Phoenix.

Time, TV: 6:45 p.m., ESPN

Comment: The Irish have a patchwork coaching staff, while the Beavers have kept four players suspended, including receiver Anthony Wheat-Brown, for their November dustup with a soldier in Corvallis. Among the top 20 schools nationally in passing yardage, OSU’s .53253.2 completion percentage is the lowest.

Dec. 29

Houston Bowl ***

Matchup: Texas-El Paso (8-3) vs. Colorado (7-5)

Where: Houston

Time, TV: 1:30 p.m., ESPN

Comment: Mike Price’s UTEP team will try to beat a Big 12 program for the first time since 1957. The Buffs gave their “Fugitive Award,” which they say symbolizes an “I-don’t-care attitude for the benefit of the team,” to the entire squad. Insert snide joke here.

Alamo Bowl ***

Matchup: Ohio State (7-4) vs. Oklahoma State (7-4)

Where: San Antonio

Time, TV: 5 p.m., ESPN

Comment: The Buckeyes’ Mike Nugent won the Groza Award for best kicker. The other State has running back Vernand Morency, whose 1,454 yards placed him eighth nationally.

Dec. 30

Continental Tire **

Matchup: Boston College (8-3) vs. North Carolina (6-5)

Where: Charlotte, N.C.

Time, TV: 10 a.m., ESPN2

Comment: Quarterback Paul Peterson of BC should return from a broken hand suffered in November. Carolina, picked 10th in the ACC, says it sold 30,500 tickets by Dec. 13.

Emerald Bowl **

Matchup: Navy (9-2) vs. New Mexico (7-4).

Where: San Francisco

Time, TV: 1:30 p.m., ESPN2

Comment: Another bowl the Pac-10 couldn’t fill. The Naval Academy hopes to transport 3,000 midshipmen to see a Navy team whose 17 wins are its most over two years since 1907-08. New Mexico, which lost to Washington State in its opener, won five straight to finish.

Holiday Bowl ****

Matchup: California (10-1) vs. Texas Tech (7-4)

Where: San Diego

Time, TV: 5 p.m., ESPN

Comment: Cal throws judiciously; Tech throws wantonly. The Red Raiders complete 65 percent of their attempts and their 389 passing yards a game lead the country. The 6.99 yards per carry of Cal’s J.J. Arrington also is a national best.

Silicon Valley Classic *

Matchup: Troy (7-4) vs. Northern Illinois (8-3)

Where: San Jose, Calif.

Time, TV: 8 p.m., ESPN

Comment: It’s the first bowl game for Troy, and first for NIU since 1983. The athletic director at NIU is Jim Phillips, a finalist for the Washington job earlier this year.

Dec. 31

Music City Bowl **

Matchup: Alabama (6-5) vs. Minnesota (6-5)

Where: Nashville, Tenn.

Time, TV: 9 a.m., ESPN

Comment: How to qualify for a bowl game: Minnesota has won one game since the first weekend of October — against lowly Illinois. ‘Bama makes its record 52nd bowl appearance. The Tide is 112th in the country in pass offense, but the Gophers are 112th in pass defense.

Sun Bowl ***

Matchup: Arizona State (8-3) vs. Purdue (7-4)

Where: El Paso, Texas

Time, TV: 11 a.m., CBS

Comment: Déjà vu for the Sun Devils, as sophomore quarterback Sam Keller replaces injured Andrew Walter. In their last Sun Bowl appearance (1997), Steve Campbell filled in for Ryan Kealy. Last call for Purdue’s Taylor Stubblefield of Yakima, whose 309 career catches are an NCAA record.

Liberty Bowl *****

Matchup: Louisville (10-1) vs. Boise State (11-0)

Where: Memphis, Tenn.

Time, TV: 12:30 p.m., ESPN

Comment: Lots to like in a matchup of the Nos. 1-2 scoring teams in the nation, which combine to average exactly 100 points. Watch the quarterbacks — BSU’s Jared Zabransky (son of a potato farmer) and Louisville’s Stefan Lefors, whose 185.4 pass-efficiency rating leads everybody by a mile.

Peach Bowl ***

Matchup: Miami (8-3) vs. Florida (7-4)

Where: Atlanta

Time, TV: 4:30 p.m., ESPN

Comment: Dating to 1986, Miami has won the past five between the two. Charlie Strong, defensive coordinator, is a one-game head coach for the Gators. Miami quarterback Brock Berlin, who started his career at Florida, finishes against the Gators.

Jan. 1

Outback Bowl ****

Matchup: Georgia (9-2) vs. Wisconsin (9-2)

Where: Tampa, Fla.

Time, TV: 8 a.m., ESPN

Comment: Defense, anyone? Two of the top ends in the country, Georgia’s David Pollack (winner of the Lombardi and Bednarik awards) and Wisconsin’s Erasmus James (Big Ten defensive player of the year) match moves. The Georgia seniors have won 41 games.

Cotton Bowl ***

Matchup: Texas A&M (7-4) vs. Tennessee (9-3)

Where: Dallas

Time, TV: 8 a.m., FOX

Comment: Only meeting of the two was in the 1957 Gator Bowl, when the Vols hung a 3-0 loss on A&M in Bear Bryant’s last game as Aggies coach. You want tradition? It was a 1922 bowl game in Dallas in which student E. King Gill came out of the press box to be at the ready on the A&M sideline. He didn’t play, but the school’s 12th Man ritual was born.

Gator Bowl ***

Matchup: Florida State (8-3) vs. West Virginia (8-3)

Where: Jacksonville, Fla.

Time, TV: 9:30 a.m., NBC

Comment: It’s 21 straight bowl games for FSU, whose coach, Bobby Bowden, did a six-season stint at West Virginia (1970-75) before coming to Tallahassee. On opposite sides are brothers Mike Henshaw, a backup safety at WVU, and Seminoles reserve tight end Matt Henshaw.

Capital One Bowl ****

Matchup: Iowa (9-2) vs. LSU (9-2)

Where: Orlando, Fla.

Time, TV: 10 a.m., ABC

Comment: Heard of Drew Tate? He, not Purdue’s Kyle Orton, was the all-Big Ten quarterback. But don’t expect offense; each team allowed fewer than 300 yards a game. The coaches, LSU’s Nick Saban and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, worked together for Bill Belichick at Cleveland in the early ’90s.

Rose Bowl ****

Matchup: Texas (10-1) vs. Michigan (9-2)

Where: Pasadena, Calif.

Time, TV: 2 p.m., ABC

Comment: Amazingly, Michigan had nine players named to the coaches’ all-Big Ten first team, six on offense. It’s the first BCS bowl for Texas, whose linebacker Derrick Johnson won the Butkus and Nagurski trophies. Texas’ Cedric Benson has 5,370 career rushing yards.

Fiesta Bowl ****

Matchup: Utah (11-0) vs. Pittsburgh (8-3)

Where: Tempe, Ariz.

Time, TV: 5:30 p.m., ABC

Comment: It’s the dead-coach-walking bowl, as Utah’s Urban Meyer will head to Florida and Pitt’s Walt Harris to Stanford. Utah, the first non-BCS school to crash the big party, has scored 70 touchdowns, second to Louisville’s 74. Pitt won six of its last seven to become the ruffian guest from the Big East.

Jan. 3

Sugar Bowl ****

Matchup: Auburn (12-0) vs. Virginia Tech (10-2)

Where: New Orleans

Time, TV: 5 p.m., ABC

Comment: It’s not likely, but Auburn could make a claim to the national title with a convincing victory. The Tigers combine a ground game of CarnellCadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown, quarterback Jason Campbell and a defense that has allowed a national-best 134 points. Tech quarterback Bryan Randall was ACC player of the year, as the Hokies won the league their first year in it.

Jan. 4

Orange Bowl *****

Matchup: USC (12-0) vs. Oklahoma (12-0)

Where: Miami

Time, TV: 5 p.m., ABC

Comment: Wondrous Reggie Bush, not quarterback Matt Leinart, was USC’s MVP. Trojans defensive-line coach Ed Orgeron is off to be head coach at Ole Miss after this. His troops will try to slow down Oklahoma’s fabulous freshman, Adrian Peterson, who had 1,843 yards rushing. Leinart meets Jason White in a rare battle of Heisman Trophy winners. White and Peterson are aided by an offensive line that has a phenomenal combined 179 starts. It says here the Sooners will atone for their slip-up a year ago by winning, oh, about 26-20.