UNC's Marquise Williams talks about playing in Russell Athletic Bowl
The bowl season, which will start Saturday, keeps getting bigger and bigger. There are 40 games this season before the College Football Playoff championship game Jan. 11 in Glendale, Ariz.
The bowls from from A to Z:
A: Appalachian State. In their first year of bowl eligibility, the sons of Yosef (10-2) finished second in the Sun Belt and earned a trip to the Camellia Bowl (Saturday, Montgomery, Ala.) to face off with Ohio (8-4). The Mountaineers already own the “Best Name in Bowl Game” honors for senior receiver Simms McElfresh.
B: Belk Bowl. N.C. State’s third bowl trip to the Charlotte (Dec. 30) will be against the SEC’s Mississippi State (8-4). The Wolfpack (7-5) won its previous Belk Bowl games (in 2005 and ’11) and beat the Bulldogs in the Peach Bowl after the 1993 season.
C: Cook, Dalvin. The closest thing to Barry Sanders college football has seen in almost 30 years. Despite a balky hamstring and playing behind a patchwork offensive line, Florida State’s exquisite sophomore running back averaged 7.86 yards per carry and rushed for 1,658 yards in 10 games and one quarter. The NFL says he has to stay in college another year, but he’s ready for prime time.
D: Deshaun. Dabo. Clemson (13-0) is the No. 1 seed in the CFP behind superb quarterback Deshaun Watson and excitable coach Dabo Swinney. The Tigers have to get through Oklahoma (11-1) in the Orange Bowl (Dec. 31, Miami) to play for their first national title since 1981.
E: End of an era. The SEC had only one team (No. 2 Alabama) among the top 10 of the final CFP rankings, that’s two less than the ACC (No. 1 Clemson, No. 9 Florida State, No. 10 UNC) and Big Ten (No. 3 Michigan State, No. 5 Iowa, No. 7 Ohio State).
The SEC still has more talent than any other league, especially on the defensive line, but the general level of quarterback play has made the league both mortal, after a seven-year national title reign, and susceptible in postseason play (its ranked teams went 2-5 last season).
F: Five-win teams. For the first time there are 5-7 teams in the postseason. Nebraska (Foster Farms), Minnesota (Quick Lane) and San Jose State (Cure) all had high enough Academic Progress Rate scores to grab the final empty chairs in the bowl carousel.
G: Griffin Oakes. Surprisingly, not a TPC golf course in Bloomington, Ind., but rather the name of Indiana’s kicker. The sophomore made 22 of 25 field-goal attempts this season and led the Hoosiers in scoring (114 points).
H: Hail to the Victors. Jim Harbaugh’s first season went better than expected, with a 9-3 record, but Big Ten losses to Ohio State and Michigan State – on the flukiest of fluke plays – won’t sit well with the maniacal coach. The Wolverines will get a crack at a Florida (10-3) team, miserable on offense but miserly on defense, in the Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1, Orlando, Fla.).
I: IPTAY. “I Pay Ten A Year” is how the Clemson booster club got its name and start, but the Orange-and-White faithful will need a few more dollars to follow the Tigers to the Orange Bowl and national championship game 12 days later in Glendale, Ariz.
J: Jealous. Or “super jelly,” as the kids like to say these days, of Middle Tennessee (7-5) and Western Michigan (7-5), who will spend Christmas Eve in the Bahamas for the Popeyes Bowl. Not to be outdone, Cincinnati (7-5) and San Diego State (10-3) will square off in the Hawaii Bowl on the same day.
K: Knight. Krzyzewski. Neither is coaching in the Pinstripe Bowl (Dec. 26, New York), but when you think Duke (7-5) and Indiana (6-6), you think of those basketball legends.
L: Lincoln Riley. What difference can an offensive coordinator make? Oklahoma was good on offense last season (No. 21 in scoring, No. 24 in total offense) but is great this season (No. 3 in scoring, No. 7 in total offense) in Riley’s first season.
Without Riley, East Carolina dropped from fifth in scoring and 23rd in total offense, to 56th and 75th, respectively, and popular coach Ruffin McNeill lost his job.
M: Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson. Thompson called two conference teams – Colorado State (7-5) and Nevada (6-6) – being paired together in a bowl (which last happened in 1979) a “travesty.”
Couldn’t agree with the commish more: The existence of the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl qualifies as such.
N: New Year’s Eve. The playoff games will be played on Dec. 31 this year. Given the ratings success last season on New Year’s Day, that’s a calculated risk by the CFP. But remember, the Rose Bowl must be protected no matter what!
If you interpret this thinking as backward, remember, college football used to determine its national champion before the bowls.
O: O-hi-O. The Land of LeBron produced more bowl teams (six) this season than any other state. Ohio University (Camellia), Akron (Famous Idaho Potato), Toledo (Boca Raton), Bowling Green (GoDaddy), Cincinnati and, of course, The Ohio State (Fiesta) are all reppin’ the Buckeye State.
P: Prescott, Dak. Calling the Mississippi State senior the best quarterback in the SEC is damning him with faint praise, but he stands out in a conference not rich in quarterback proficiency. N.C. State’s secondary will have its hands full with Prescott, who threw for 3,413 yards and completed 66.9 percent of his passes. He threw 25 touchdown passes and ran for 10 more, compared to only four interceptions.
Q: Quarterbacks. Remember when Ohio State’s biggest problem was having three quarterbacks? A 17-14 home loss to Michigan State on Nov. 21 kept the Buckeyes out of the playoff this year. They’ll watch the Spartans try to do what they did last year – upset heavily favored Alabama in the semifinals – instead.
R: Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer. The gibberish cheer by Alabama fans was created long before running back Derrick Henry got to “T Town,” but he has the “rammer,” “jammer” and “hammer” parts covered in spades with an SEC-record 1,986 rushing yards this season plus 23 touchdowns.
S: Sparty. The last time Michigan State won the national title was 1966 after it tied Notre Dame 10-10 in the “Game of the Century.” The kicker? The Spartans, who finished 9-0-1, didn’t even play in a bowl that year.
T: TCU. The Horned Frogs (10-2) finally get a shot at Oregon (9-3), a year late. Still, this Alamo Bowl (Jan. 2) showdown might wind up being the best of the non-playoff games.
U: Utes. Utah (9-3) and blood rival Brigham Young (9-3) will tangle in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday. All series discontinued by conference realignment should be picked up in bowls. If only Kansas and Texas could get in gear, we could get a reunion of KU-Missouri and Texas-Texas A&M.
V: Virginia Tech. The Hokies’ 23-year bowl streak under coach Frank Beamer started in the Independence Bowl in 1993. Beamer returns to the Independence Bowl for his final game, against Tulsa (6-6).
W: Walk-on. Oklahoma senior quarterback Baker Mayfield started his college career as a walk-on at Texas Tech. After starting seven games for the Red Raiders in 2013, he transferred and sat out last season. He won the starting job for the Sooners and threw for 3,389 yards in 12 games with 35 touchdowns and only five interceptions.
X: Xavien. Xavier. Baylor (9-3) has two players whose first name starts with an “X.” The Bears have junior cornerback Xavien Howard and freshman defensive end Xavier Jones, but neither is their “X” factor. That would be junior receiver Corey Coleman, who leads the NCAA with 20 touchdown catches.
Y: Yankee Stadium. Duke’s basketball team rarely loses in the New York Tri-State area; the football team would like to follow suit. The Blue Devils haven’t won a bowl game since beating Arkansas 7-6 in the 1961 Cotton Bowl.
Z: Zero. Losses, in 11 games, by UNC against teams from outside the state of South Carolina or in games played anywhere besides Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium. The Tar Heels (11-2) should feel good about their bowl chances. Baylor (9-3) is from Waco, Texas, and the Russell Athletic Bowl is in Orlando, Fla.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio