The Foam Finger: Bowling for Pride, Dignity

L.A. sports from the fan stands

It’s that time of the year again. You know, the one we’ve been waiting for since late August: Bowling Time.

The college football bowl games were announced yesterday evening, and, aside from the BCS national championship game and the Fiesta Bowl, the results are underwhelming. Still, they are important. Let’s start at the top:

An undefeated Notre Dame team—yes, the one that handily defeated the Trojans at the Coliseum just a couple weeks ago—will take on No. 2 Alabama (12-1, 7-1 SEC). That’s where we once thought we’d see the Trojans take on an SEC powerhouse. Right now, it’s hard, even if you’re a Trojan, not to root for Notre Dame. Nick Saban and Alabama, along with the SEC in general, don’t need the spotlight for another year.

Though No. 1 Notre Dame competes as an independent at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, anything would be better than another SEC champion. Cheering on Notre Dame might feel like voting for Ralph Nader, but it’s not; Notre Dame has the chops to get the job done. The team has one of the best defenses in the country, touting stonewall stats like eight touchdowns allowed in 33 red zone possessions—the lowest ratio for any FBS defense in the last eight seasons. Notre Dame, led by linebacker and Heisman candidate Manti Te’o, who finished the season with 103 tackles, seven interceptions and the Butkus Award (given to the nation’s top linebacker), is the country’s best in terms of scoring defense. After the game on January 7, the squad might also be BCS champions.

Then we’ve got the Fiesta Bowl, in which Oregon (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12) will face off with Kansas State (11-1, 8-1 Big 12), two teams that were in the mix for the BCS title until Notre Dame pulled off its undefeated run. No. 4 Oregon and No. 5 Kansas State both had their slip ups (hence the ugly-looking ‘1’s in their losses column), but their match-up might be the second-most exciting to watch, especially if the BCS title game turns into the same punt battle that was USC vs. Notre Dame.

As for the other bowl games… well, do you really care? I could tell you that C Florida (9-4, 7-1 C-USA) and Ball State (9-3, 6-2 MAC) are pairing up for what should be a thriller in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, but I’d be willing to guess you won’t watch that one. Let’s face it: The teams that matter to us most—UCLA and USC—are playing in bowls that we usually don’t pay attention to.

UCLA (9-4, 6-3 Pac-12), the team we saw come this close to taking the Pac-12 championship away from Stanford, will suit up for the Holiday Bowl in San Diego against a near .500 Baylor team (7-5, 4-5 Big 12). USC (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12) announced yesterday its participation in the Sun Bowl, in which the Trojans will take on a less-than .500 Georgia Tech team (6-7, 5-3 ACC). (Yes, the Yellow Jackets were granted a waiver by the NCAA to obtain bowl eligibility despite their finishing under .500 after losing to Florida State in the ACC championship, 21-15.) This is what we’re dealing with.

The circumstances aren’t glorious, and it might sound ridiculous to say so, but we’ve got our bowl bids and that’s what counts. From a fan’s perspective, the berths absolutely mean something. For a UCLA team that made history the wrong way last year—the Bruins finished 6-8, losing to Illinois, 14-20, in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, the first bowl team to ever finish a season with eight losses—and a USC team that hasn’t played in a bowl game for three straight years, these upcoming games are a shot at redemption.

The season didn’t turn out the way we thought it would for USC and UCLA. There’s Heisman madness with Johnny Football instead of Matt Barkley. There’s hope in Brett Hundley and a Bruins squad that looks better every game. And there’s Monte Kiffin’s departure from USC after the bowl game—that’s right, no more “Tampa 2.” It’s been head-spinning. But at the end of the day, L.A. has two bowl bids and a couple chances to make SoCal football-relevant again. With the speculating at a minimum, I’m already excited for fall 2013.