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BOWL PREVIEW: The Weekend

Your handy guide for the bowls from now through Christmas, after which the next batch will go up. First, an editorial note: I'm currently 2-0 in choosing results, 1-1 versus the score (again, within a TD of each team's score). This will almost certainly change.

SATURDAY

Bowl: PapaJohns.com Bowl, 1 p.m., ESPN2

Teams: Southern Miss vs. No. 22 Cincinnati*

Southern Miss' season was... Pretty much a disappointment. So much a disappointment, in fact, that they fired a universally respected head coach. Expected to be C-USA champions and a mid-major contender, they instead went 7-5, ended up 4th in their division and will spend their bowl game in Birmingham, Alabama.

Cincinnati's season was... Much better than a pre-Christmas bowl berth. The Bearcats went 9-3 in the Big East, purportedly a BCS conference, and won some impressive games along the way riding a stout defense. Third place in said BCS conference. And yet, here they are.


We're going where?


Southern Miss impact player: RB Damion Fletcher. If there really is such a thing as an "impact player," Fletcher is it. He rushed for 1,431 yards and 15 TDs. In the Golden Eagles' five losses, he averaged 98.6 yards a game. In USM's seven wins, he rushed for 134.0 ypg.

Cincinnati impact player: QB Ben Mauk. He's exactly what you want in the signal-caller for a good defensive team: 205-of-334, 2,787 yards (253.4 ypg in 11 games), 27 TDs and 6 INTs. Actually, that's pretty good for any team.

Fun Sponsor Fact: You can order pizza there 21 days in advance. Why would you need to order pizza 21 days in advance? I have no idea. But if you ever need to, you can. And if you so desire, you can order by text message. How far we have come, thanks to technology.

Prediction: Southern Miss is a team that deserves to be here. Cincinnati is a team that deserves much better. The letdown keeps the game closer than it should be until the Bearcats pull it out, 27-21.

The rest of the bowls after the jump...

Bowl: New Mexico Bowl, 4:30 p.m., ESPN

Teams: Nevada at New Mexico (who else?)

Nevada's season was... Thoroughly mediocre. They went 6-6 overall and 4-4 in the WAC, finishing 4th in a 9-team league.

New Mexico's season was... The prototypical 8-4 season. Mostly expected wins, a mildly surprising victory, losses against highly-regarded opponents and one upset defeat.

Nevada impact player: QB Colin Kaepernick. In his freshman campaign, Kaepernick is 120-of-216, throwing for 2,038 yards, 19 TDs and just 3 INTs. He also rushed for 567 yards and six scores. Oh, and he did all that missing two games.

New Mexico impact player: WR Marcus Smith. He's only notched 3 TDs, but has 86 catches for 1,039 yards.

Fun Sponsor Fact: "Partners" include the New Mexico Pecan Growers, who apparently have enough money to help sponsor an utterly meaningless exhibition game designed for one of the local teams. Two-to-one odds that they lobbied for comprehensive immigration reform.

Prediction: I like Kaepernick, and I think Nevada faced a little bit better schedule than the Lobos, but just barely. I think New Mexico's probably the better team, but look for an upset as Nevada wins, 26-20.


Bowl: Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl, 8 p.m., ESPN

Teams: UCLA vs. No. 17 Brigham Young

UCLA's season was... So disappointed they fired their almost universally reviled coach -- at least among Bruin fans. In fact, 2007 was as Dorrellian as any other year under their now-former coach. A 44-6 clubbing by Utah looked like a blip as "the other Los Angeles school" marched to a 4-1 record. The only two teams UCLA defeated from there were an overrated Cal and a Dennis Dixon-less Oregon. They did, though, win a 27-17 victory over ... BYU.

BYU's season was... Aside from their defeat against the Bruins, the Cougars lost only to Tulsa and rolled up an 8-0 conference record en route to their Mountain West title.

UCLA impact player: DE Bruce Davis. He has 12 TFL for 59 yards, 9.5 sacks for a loss of 51 yards and has broken up nine passes.

BYU impact player: QB Max Hall. The sophomore has completed 277-of-461 for 3,617 yards and 24 TDs, though he also has 12 INTs. Five of those picks, though, came in two games -- the loss to Tula and the win against UNLV. The UNLV game was also the only time Hall threw more picks (3) than TDs (1).

Fun Sponsor Fact: The fifth picture when you do a Google image search of Pioneer Electronics:


Prediction: The Cougars are on a roll, and looking for some revenge. And UCLA without a permanent head coach might even be worse than UCLA with Dorrell. Might. BYU 34, UCLA 10


SUNDAY

Bowl: Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, 8 p.m., ESPN

Teams: No. 24 Boise State vs. East Carolina

Boise State's season was... The end of an era. For the first time since they were in the league, the Broncos were ousted from their traditional perch atop the WAC. Some foresaw this. Besides a 12-point loss to BCS-bound conference champ Hawaii, Boise State lost only to ... Washington? By two TDs?

East Carolina's season was... A middling 7-5 campaign. Losses to Virginia Tech, Southern Miss, West Virginia, Marshall (!) and N.C. State (!!!), matched with wins against North Carolina, Houston, UCF, UTEP, UAB, Memphis and Tulane.

Boise State impact player: RB Ian Johnson. Perhaps it's not a surprise that the newly-married and Zabransky-less Johnson rushed for nearly 700 fewer yards this year (1,030 in 2007, down from 1,714) or nine fewer TDs (16, down from 25). But he also was more integrated into the passing offense (25 catches, 312 yards, 1 TD), and he missed two games. And it's not like his numbers this year were bad or anything.

East Carolina impact player: RB Chris Johnson. He's rushed for 100 ypg even -- 1,200 yards -- and 16 TDs. Johnson has also been a solid part of the passing game, grabbing 34 passes for 496 yards and 5 TDs.

Fun Sponsor Fact: Sheraton Hotels also recently sponsored a worldwide virtual pillow fight. I wish that I was making this up.

"Sheratonplay.com uses a unique functionality to encourage our on-line guests to interact as a group in a fun, creative way as they book a reservation or simply search their travel options," said Brian Povinelli, Vice President of Marketing for Sheraton. "Our research tells us that the Sheraton guest is a 'social being' who enjoys interacting with others while traveling. This site naturally supports our brand platform and positions Sheraton as a leader by leveraging technology in an unprecedented way."

In "pillow fight" a user's cursor is connected to a pillow, providing the option to engage with up to four other guests in a live pillow fight that occurs in a virtual Sheraton room. A second variation, "splash fight," invites visitors to jump into a Sheraton pool for a virtual splash fight -- complete with sound effects. A live counter is updated every seven seconds at the top of each game to reflect the number of users playing at that moment across the Web. After 15 seconds of play, there is a "time out" and guests can choose to continue playing or click through to the Sheraton landing page.


Again, the things we can do with technology today.

Prediction: Conference champion or not, Boise State is the better team, and there's no reason to think their second visit to the island will be as unpleasant as their first.


*Rankings are ESPN's because I can't access the BlogPoll right now.