Before we get into the bowl previews, I just want to look at one issue with the Mike Leach situation. I’m not going to try to decode whether he did what he is alleged to do, whether it is as bad as it seems, or what punishment he should face. I justwant to ask one question – if you were going to harass one of your players, wouldn’t a smart person make sure that the player they were harassing wasn’t the son of an ESPN commentator who loves nothing more than the sound of his own voice? If Leach goes down then it will be incredibly hard to have any sympathy for him because of this shocking lack of judgement. Any self-respecting bully knows that you pick on kids who can’t defend themselves, not those who have a vocal advocate on their side.
UCLA (-5) vs. Temple
Tuesday, December 29, 4:30 pm ET
UCLA has the distinction of being the team that no one wanted this year. They were only given a contingent berth in this game – if Army had beaten Navy then UCLA would have been out in the cold and Army would be in this game. Despite that lack of love from bowls, the public likes UCLA here. About three-quarters of bets have been on the Bruins, and the line has been on the climb since opening at 4.5. There are other stories, but the biggest aspect here has to be motivation. UCLA has had a dismal season, and now they have to travel across the country to play in a meaningless cold weather bowl in front of few of their supporters. Temple is playing in their first bowl game since dinosaurs walked the earth (1979 actually, but you get the point), and are enjoying their first winning season since 1990, so fans of the team are understandably thrilled, and should make the short trip from Philly in droves. Temple will clearly have the jump on the Bruins, but it remains to be seen if that will be enough. Temple hasn’t beaten a team from a BCS conference since 2004, and has feasted on a pretty weak schedule. To win this game they will have to establish their impressive running game early. Stud freshman running back Bernard Pierce is back after missing two games to injury, and he’ll need a big day. Unfortunately, he’s up against UCLA’s strength – defense. DT Brian Price is the Pac-10 defensive player of the year, and he heads a pretty solid defense.
Champs Sports Bowl
Miami (-3.5) vs. Wisconsin
Tuesday, December 29, 8 pm ET
The first thing to notice in this one is the line movement. It opened with Miami favored by two, but has now moved through the key number of three and can even be found at four in some places. A line movement through three is very significant, and is a very good sign that the public and smart money are both on the side of the favorite. Wisconsin suffers in comparison to Miami in two big ways – the Big Ten was a disaster this year that doesn’t earn a lot of respect, and Miami has at least a perceived speed and athleticism advantage over Wisconsin. Miami QB Jacory Harris is a flashy, impressive player, and his play will have a significant impact on the game. There are a couple of reasons for us to be uncertain about what he can do. First, he is dealing with an injured thumb. He played through it effectively in the last two games of the year, but his is a tougher opponent, and the thumb reportedly hasn’t healed as well as it could. More significantly, left tackle Jason Fox, a likely first day NFL draft pick, is out with an injury, so Harris may not be protected as well as he is used to. Fox was really the lone bright spot in a line that didn’t protect Harris particularly well, and Wisconsin has a solid pass rush, so this could be a problem. Beyond that, the teams match up surprisingly evenly on paper – similar offensive and defensive production and so on. Wisconsin’s biggest edge is their run defense, but it won’t be that significant because Miami much prefers the pass.