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Tis The Season: A Guide To The 35 Bowl Games

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(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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JOHN MARSHALL,AP College Football Writer

Like it or not, the BCS championship game will be a rematch between LSU and Alabama.

Oklahoma State complained it should have had a shot at the top-ranked Tigers, BCS bashers had more fodder for the we-need-a-playoff debate and many fans scrunched up their noses at the thought of another field goal-kicking contest like the previous incarnation of the Game of the Century.

The good news, particularly if you’re in the no-rematch camp, is that there are 34 other bowl games with some great players, great matchups and even some interesting nicknames, starting with that rascally Honey Badger in the Bayou.

Here’s a rundown of some of the things to look for over the next month or so:

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TOP GAMES

Even if you’re not a fan of LSU and Alabama getting a return engagement in the BCS title game, you HAVE to watch. It is for the national title, after all.

But there are plenty of other games worth watching.

Fiesta Bowl, Stanford vs. Oklahoma State, Jan. 2, Glendale, Ariz. — If the national championship game were to have an undercard, this could be it. Two great offenses, two great quarterbacks in Andrew Luck and Brandon Weeden — expect lots of yards and points in what has the potential to be the most entertaining bowl of them all.

Rose Bowl, Wisconsin vs. Oregon, Jan. 2, Pasadena, Calif. — Speaking of shows, how about Badgers running back Montee Ball and Ducks dynamo LaMichael James trading jukes and touchdowns? Going to be some day on the couch the day after New Year’s.

Alamo Bowl, Baylor vs, Washington, Dec. 29, San Antonio, Texas — Robert Griffin III on one side, Keith Price and Chris Polk on the other, not a lot of defense. Yeah, this is going to be good.

Cotton Bowl, Arkansas vs. Kansas State, Jan. 6, Arlington, Texas — Arkansas’ two losses were to LSU and Alabama, K-State’s to the two big Oklahoma schools. All you need to know.

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PLAYERS TO WATCH

Robert Griffin III, Baylor. The Heisman Trophy? You may have heard of it — and him.

Andrew Luck, Stanford. The Cardinal quarterback is the fourth player to be Heisman runner-up in consecutive seasons, a threat to pass or run, the likely No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.

Tyrann Mathieu, LSU. The Honey Badger has a knack for coming up with big plays at big moments. Now he gets his chance on the big stage.

Case Keenum, Houston. The sixth-year senior will leave Houston with his own section in the NCAA record book. Being relegated to the TicketCity Bowl against Penn State after a late-season loss will likely have him motivated to go out with a big game.

Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State. The All-American is just the second two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top receiver, and a big-play threat every touch.

Trent Richardson, Alabama. The Crimson Tide’s running back won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best running back and was third in Heisman voting.

Montee Ball, Wisconsin. Montee should have a ball at the Rose Bowl.

LaMichael James, Oregon. Give him a seam and he’s gone; a likely Heisman finalist for the second straight season if that elbow hadn’t kept popping out of place.

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BOWL SPONSORS

After a run of dot-coms, food-related companies have been kings of the bowl-game sponsorships recently, and this year is no different with seven: Tostitos, Beef O’Brady’s, Chick-fil-A, Outback, Little Caesars Pizza, Kraft Fight Hunger and Famous Idaho Potato.

OK, so Fight Hunger is more of a cause and the Idaho bowl is sponsored by a spud commission, but this is a loosely based count.

Financial companies are right behind with six and the automotive industry pulls in with five.

There are also sponsorships from a helicopter company, an aerospace and defense contractor, a department store, a moving company, one that sells blank T-shirts and sweatshirts that can later be screened, and a ticket broker.

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NICKNAMES

Every team has players with nicknames. Here’s some of the coolest we could find:

Honey Badger, LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. He reportedly didn’t like the ode to the furry and ferocious little beast at first, but it has grown on him.

RG3, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. Combination of initials and being the third in a line of Robert Griffins sounds like a cool new line of shoes.

Wolf Man, Utah running back John White. Has a tattoo of a wolf on his chest because wolves roll in packs and eat meat to the bone.

Sharks, Oklahoma’s defensive backs. Pulled from a Lil Wayne song, quite catchy.

Zeus, Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower. A mythologically proportioned linebacker at 6-foot-4, 260 pounds.

Moose, Stanford offensive lineman Jonathan Martin. Protector of Andrew Luck’s blindside got the moniker after mauling other kids in Pop Warner.

Nuke, Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Had a preference for Nuk (pronounced Nuke) pacifiers when he was little and would spit out any other brand. Somehow still cool.

Shug, LSU running back Michael Ford. A name given to him by his grandmother.

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ODDS

Based on the close game they played the first time around, it’s no wonder the BCS championship game between LSU and Alabama had the closest odds among the 35 bowls, opening at 1 point on the Glantz-Culver line and a pick ‘em as of Tuesday.

Next closest was 1½ points: Arkansas State over Northern Illinois in the GoDaddy.com Bowl and Auburn over Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

The biggest spread? Oklahoma at plus-14 over Iowa in the Insight Bowl. Highest over/under is 74½ points between Oklahoma State and Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl.

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DISTANCES

Last bowl season, several teams had the chance to play in their home cities, including SMU, which played the Armed Forces Bowl in its own stadium because TCU’s was being renovated.

This year, there won’t be any so-called home games, but there are several teams that won’t have to go very far: LSU in the BCS title game (it’s in New Orleans), Texas A&M in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston, Florida State at the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, and Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

Western Michigan also is playing in Detroit, Louisiana-Lafayette in New Orleans, Vanderbilt in Memphis, Tenn., and N.C. State in Charlotte.

The longest trip will be Southern Mississippi in the Hawaii Bowl, a distance of (we’re ballparking here) 4,200 miles.

Longest kids-in-the-car trip? Illinois at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco, a distance of just over 2,100 miles. That’s roughly 31 hours with long, horizon-rarely-changes sections through the Midwest and Nevada, so good luck if you try that one.

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NUMBERS

8_Wins in Texas this season by Baylor, which plays in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.

13_Straight seasons Oklahoma has gone to a bowl game.

22.67_Points Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III is responsible for per game.

41_Years since Louisiana-Lafayette last played in a bowl game. The Ragin’ Cajuns face San Diego State in the New Orleans Bowl.

91_Solo tackles by Tulsa linebacker Curnelius Arnick, most of any player in a bowl game and third in the nation.

599_Yards of offense averaged by Houston, best in the nation.

986_Over/under on the number of times TV announcers say Urban Meyer’s name during the Gator Bowl between his former team, Florida, and his new one, Ohio State.

1,037_Combined yards averaged by Fiesta Bowl foes Oklahoma State and Stanford during the regular season.

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ABSENTEE COACHES

Every bowl season there are a handful of teams that play under interim coaches because the head coach has either been fired or moved on to another job. This year seems to have an avalanche of absenteeism.

Arkansas State. Hugh Freeze is headed for Mississippi, leaving the Red Wolves to play under running backs coach David Gunn against Northern Illinois in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.

Southern Mississippi. Coach Larry Fedora is leaving for North Carolina. Fedora will coach the 22nd-ranked Golden Eagles a final time in the Hawaii Bowl.

Arizona State. Dennis Erickson was fired after five seasons, but will still coach the Sun Devils in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State.

Houston. Kevin Sumlin led the Cougars to the brink of a BCS bowl berth and became a hot commodity in the coaching market. He landed just down the road at Texas A&M, leaving Houston to play for interim coach Tony Levine in the TicketCity Bowl

UCLA. Rick Neuheisel was allowed to coach the Bruins in the Pac-12 Championship game after being fired, but O-coordinator Mike Johnson will run the show in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Illinois. UCLA won’t be the only team in the Fight Hunger Bowl with an interim coach. The Illini will be under the guidance of defensive coordinator Vic Koenning after Ron Zook got the hook following a six-game losing streak. Maybe Manpower.com should have stepped in to sponsor this one.

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Follow John Marshall at http://twitter.com/jmarshallap

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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