Taking the temperature of bowl season
It's the most wonderful time of the year.
The 2011 college football bowl season kicks off with three games Saturday. Between then and the Jan. 9 Allstate BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans, we'll see 35 games between 70 teams.
What's hot this postseason? The SEC, BCS championship game tickets and interim coaches.
What's not? The Pac-12, New Year's Day and the coaching carousel.
Here's a look at all that's hot and all that's not during bowl season:
What's hot (and not) for bowl season
If you believe Las Vegas oddsmakers, it could be a lean postseason for the expanded Pac-12. Oregon is the only Pac-12 team favored to win its bowl game.
|BCS championship tickets
With LSU and Alabama playing so close to home, the BCS title game is one of the hottest tickets on record. The cheapest ticket for sale on StubHub.com earlier this week was $1,325 and club level tickets were priced for as much as $14,000 each. Face value: $350.
|Virginia Tech ticket sales
The Allstate Sugar Bowl chose Virginia Tech because Hokies fans have traditionally traveled well to bowl games. But earlier this week, Tech had only sold roughly half of its 17,500 allotment.
|Fiesta (scoring) Bowl
The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl will feature two of the country's best quarterbacks. Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Stanford's Andrew Luck combined to pass for nearly 7,500 yards with 69 touchdowns this season.
|Hunger (for scoring) Bowl
If you like points, you might not like the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl between UCLA and Illinois. The Bruins averaged 23.8 points; the Illini averaged 22.8. Illinois scored 17 points or fewer in its six losses.
Nine teams will have interim coaches -- or in Toledo's case, a newly hired coach -- leading them into bowl games: Tim DeRuyter (Texas A&M), David Gunn (Arkansas State), Tony Levine (Houston), Vic Koenning (Illinois), Everett Withers (North Carolina), Luke Fickell (Ohio State), Tom Bradley (Penn State), Mike Johnson (UCLA) and Matt Campbell (Toledo).
|Too many coaches
Fickell will coach in the bowl, while newly hired Urban Meyer will assemble his coaching staff and concentrate on recruiting. Ohio State's request to have dual staffs through the bowl was approved by the NCAA. At least this time, Ohio State got permission from the NCAA to break its rules.
|Rose Bowl running backs
Oregon's LaMichael James and Wisconsin's Montee Ball. James led FBS players with 149.6 yards per game. Ball led the country with 32 rushing touchdowns and his 38 total touchdowns are one shy of tying Barry Sanders' NCAA season record.
|Auburn running backs
The Tigers suspended starting tailback Michael Dyer from playing in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. They are left with two scholarship running backs: Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason.
If you're looking for a reason to watch the Little Caesars Bowl, here it is: Western Michigan's Jordan White is the best receiver you probably haven't heard of. White led FBS players with 127 receptions for 1,646 yards and 16 touchdown catches.
Many schools lost key coordinators. Nebraska DC Carl Pelini is FAU's new coach; Florida OC Charlie Weis is Kansas' new coach; and Arkansas OC Garrick McGee is UAB's new coach. Auburn lost both of its coordinators.
The AT&T Cotton Bowl between No. 6 Arkansas and No. 8 Kansas State has a BCS-like feel. But don't expect Hogs coach Bobby Petrino to be cursing Wildcats coach Bill Snyder on the sideline. Snyder, 72, might wash out Petrino's mouth with soap if he does.
Fans might need to visit an optometrist after seeing some teams' bowl uniforms. At least they'll be spared from Maryland's latest fashion statement, after the Terps finished 2-10 under first-year coach Randy Edsall.
Forget Mardi Gras. The Big Easy will host three bowl games, including two contests that will feature local teams: Saturday's R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl (San Diego State-La.-Lafayette), followed by the Sugar Bowl (Virginia Tech-Michigan) and BCS title game (LSU-Alabama).
The weather forecast for Saturday's Gildan New Mexico Bowl calls for a 30 percent chance of snow showers and lows near 28 degrees. At least the Temple Owls will feel right at home after traveling nearly 2,000 miles to face Wyoming.
Thirteen teams will play in bowl games in their home states: Baylor, California, Florida, FIU, Florida State, Houston, Louisiana-Lafayette, LSU, NC State, Texas A&M, UCLA, Vanderbilt and Western Michigan.
Fans of Washington (2,161 miles), Illinois (2,129), Wisconsin (1,967) and Temple (1,927) will face the longest transcontinental road trips during bowl season.
For the first time in its 14 years in the BCS, the ACC sent two of its teams to BCS games. No. 11 Virginia Tech was a surprise choice by the Sugar Bowl. ACC champion Clemson plays West Virginia in the Discover Orange Bowl.
For the first time since 2006, a team from a non-AQ conference won't play in a BCS game. Houston's CUSA championship game loss cost the Cougars.
Louisiana-Lafayette will make its first appearance in a bowl game as an FBS team and its first since playing in the 1970 Grantland Rice Bowl, which was held for teams from the NCAA's smaller College Division from 1964 to 1972. The Ragin' Cajuns will play San Diego State in Saturday's New Orleans Bowl.
Arizona State's game against Boise State in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl might be the end of the road for Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson. Erickson, who won two national championships at Miami, was fired last month after ASU finished 6-6.
Five schools have played in bowl games in each of the past 15 seasons: Florida State (30 seasons in a row), Florida (21), Virginia Tech (19), Georgia (15) and Georgia Tech (15).
|Where you been?
Western Kentucky, which has never played in a bowl game, was deserving of a bowl invitation but didn't get one after winning seven of its last eight.
Auburn, Mississippi State and Rutgers have a chance to extend the country's longest bowl winning streaks to five games.
Northwestern can end the country's longest bowl losing streak at eight with a win in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.
Believe it or not, the Big East has the best record in postseason bowl games since the BCS was introduced in 1998. Big East teams (including past members) went 40-25 in bowl games from 1998 to 2010.
If only bowl games were played in the blistering cold. The Big Ten has posted only one winning bowl seasonsince 2003, a 4-3 mark in '09. Big Ten teams went 0-5 in New Year's Day games last season.
|Famous Idaho Potato
The Idaho Grower Shippers Association announced it is donating three potatoes to food banks for every fan attending Saturday's game, estimated to be about 84,000 potatoes or 42,000 pounds.
Tulsa, which plays BYU in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, had more turnovers than any other team playing in the postseason. The Golden Hurricane had 32 turnovers.
With Army and Navy failing to qualify for the postseason, Air Force is an appropriate replacement in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman. The Falcons won four of their last five games and average 320.3 rushing yards per game.
|Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
It seems only fitting that UCLA ended up in the Dec. 31 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. The Bruins have been starving for success all season and had to petition the NCAA to play in a bowl with a 6-7 record.
Wisconsin won the Big Ten and will try to win its first Rose Bowl since 1999. Cornerback Tyrann Mathieu -- aka the "Honey Badger" -- leads LSU into the BCS championship game in his hometown of New Orleans.
Neither Buffalo nor South Florida qualified for a bowl game (neither did the Colorado State Rams). At least there will be a few horned animals represented, like the Texas Longhorns and UNC Tar Heels.
|New Year's Eve
College football fans can prepare for 2012 with five bowl games, including Georgia Tech against Utah in the Hyundai Sun Bowl and Auburn against Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
|New Year's Day
We'll have to wait until Jan. 2 for our traditional bowl game feast. New Year's Day falls on a Sunday, which is reserved for NFL action. Six bowl games kick off on Jan. 2.
Players from Texas A&M and Northwestern will receive 32-inch flat-screen TVs from the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. If only the TVs were programmed to broadcast just the Aggies' first half.
|Not enough TVs
What could be three of the most competitive bowl games -- the Outback Bowl, Capital One Bowl and Gator Bowl -- all kick off at 1 p.m. ET on Jan. 2. Get your remote controls ready.
Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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