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Friday, December 16, 2011
Updated: December 17, 9:36 PM ET
Let's hear it for the little bowls

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN.com

Anybody can write about the Allstate BCS National Championship Game. But here are 10 of the smaller bowl games that deserve some BMOC love.

Gildan New Mexico Bowl

Temple vs. Wyoming (Saturday, 2 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN3)

Other than the actual BCS Championship, this is my favorite matchup of the postseason. It has everything you want: two longtime rivals … Heisman candidates … a bowl with a rich football tradition.

Bernard Pierce
Temple RB Bernard Pierce's eyes should light up at the sight of Wyoming's 115th-ranked rushing defense.

OK, it doesn't have any of that. But I'm going to watch for three reasons: 1) It's the first bowl of the postseason, which means it's the start of my ESPN confidence pool picks; 2) These are two pretty decent 8-4 teams, with Temple having one of the better rushing attacks in the country (seventh in rushing yards per game); 3) It'll be fun to see my wife's face when I tell her I can't stack firewood Saturday because "it's my job'' to monitor Wyoming's dodgy rush defense (115th nationally).

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Utah State vs. Ohio (Saturday, 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN3)

If I could have an official T-shirt of one bowl, this would be it. What can I say, I'm a sucker for potatoes.

Utah State was 11 points away from a 10-2 season. They lost at Auburn by four, to Colorado State by one in double overtime and at Brigham Young by three. The Aggies can score some points and, for what it's worth, they're 1-0 in the state of Idaho this season (beat Idaho in double OT).

And if Ohio hadn't blown a 20-0 lead in the MAC championship game to Northern Illinois, they'd be playing someplace else in bowl season.

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl

San Diego State vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN3)

Ticket prices on StubHub for the Bama-LSU rematch start at $1,325. For the SDSU-Louisiana-Lafayette game -- $59.

Are the Ragin' Cajuns offended? Absolutely not. They haven't played in the postseason since the 1970 Grantland Rice Bowl. So if they're smart, they'll invite Bill Simmons to the game against the Aztecs.

It would help if Simmons could play some D-line for the Ragin' Cajuns. That's because San Diego State has the best running back you've never heard of: sophomore Ronnie Hillman. All you need to know about Hillman is that he's No. 2 in SDSU single-season rushing history (1,656 yards) and that former Aztec Marshall Faulk is No. 3. Plus, Hillman ranked third nationally in rushing yards per game.

Beef 'O'Brady's Bowl St. Petersburg

Florida International vs. Marshall (Dec. 20, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN3)

I'm a little surprised that a bigger program didn't kick the tires on FIU coach Mario Cristobal. Or maybe it did and Cristobal likes what he's building in Miami.

T.Y. Hilton
Opposing defenders have become acquainted with the back of Florida International receiver T.Y. Hilton's jersey this season.

Anyway, the Panthers will play in their second consecutive bowl, this year in the Beef 'O'Brady's. My advice: spend generous amounts of time watching receiver T.Y. Hilton. He has the best nickname in college football: "Goodbye.''

And Marshall coach Doc Holliday is a recruiting cyborg. Over the years he has spent more time in Florida (especially south Florida) than some of the retirees there. His rosters always include south Florida kids.

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl

TCU vs. Louisiana Tech (Dec. 21, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN3)

Does that bowl name roll off the tongue, or what?

TCU finished 10-2 this season. Back on Sept. 2 we called TCU's 50-48 loss at Baylor an "upset.'' Now we know better, especially after Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III was last seen leaving New York City with his very own Heisman Trophy.

The Horned Frogs' 40-33 overtime loss at home to SMU? That's not so easily explained.

So here they are, facing a La. Tech team that didn't beat anybody great, but lost to three good-to-decent teams by tiny margins (at Southern Miss by two, Houston by one, at Mississippi State by six in OT).

Will TCU be interested enough to play hard?

Does Gary Patterson wear glasses?

MAACO Bowl Las Vegas

Boise State vs. Arizona State (Dec. 22, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN3)

From an undefeated season and possible (probable?) national championship appearance to the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas? Welcome to the wonderful world of non-Automatic Qualifying status, where three-loss West Virginia gets to play in the Orange Bowl and Virginia Tech, fresh off a 28-point loss in the ACC championship game, gets to play in the Sugar Bowl.

Meanwhile, Boise's Kellen Moore, the winningest quarterback in FBS history, waves farewell to the college game from Las Vegas. If not for a one-point loss to TCU, the Broncos might have been in New Orleans on Jan. 9.

Kellen Moore
Kellen Moore probably deserved a better stage to end his illustrious career than the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.

I'm going to miss the lug. He's the thinner, shorter, non-neckbeard version of Stanford's Andrew Luck.

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl

Southern Miss vs. Nevada (Dec. 24, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN3)

Nothing says Christmas Eve like an Eagles-Wolfpack game. With a lame duck coach (Larry Fedora is leaving Southern Miss for North Carolina). In Hawaii.

Actually, I wish I were going -- especially after the way Southern Miss crushed previously unbeaten Houston at home in the Conference USA championship game.

As for game stats, I'd love to see the TV ratings from Chapel Hill. Will more Tar Heel fans watch their new coach in his final game at Southern Miss, or their old interim coach in his final game two nights later as Carolina faces Missouri in the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl?

New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Rutgers vs. Iowa State (Dec. 30, 3:20 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN3)

It won't be much of a road trip for Rutgers (the Scarlet Knights are only 50 miles away from the Bronx), but still, it's Yankee Stadium and the locals will draw a decent crowd. And it's never a bad thing to watch junior wide receiver Mohamed Sanu go to work (109 receptions, sixth nationally in receptions per game).

Rutgers lost to non-bowling UConn, 40-22, in its season finale. Iowa State won by four earlier in the season at UConn. Paul Rhoads' Cyclones also ended Oklahoma State's national championship hopes with the upset in Ames on Nov. 18.

So, of course, Rutgers is a 1 ½-2-point fave.

And please, officiating crew, no game-deciding, bogus unsportsmanlike conduct penalties like the one you guys called against Kansas State last year in this game.

BBVA Compass Bowl

SMU vs. Pittsburgh (Jan. 7, 1 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN3)

Todd Graham's compass had a late magnetic malfunction and he headed due west, leaving Pitt after one so-so season for Arizona State. If Graham ever gets fired by ASU, let's hope the school cans him the same way he informed the Panthers players of his decision to ditch Pitt: by text message.

Anyway, that means Pitt will set a Big East record for Most Head Coaches In 13 Months. They've gone through Dave Wannstedt (looking pretty good right now, isn't he?), Michael Haywood (fired after 16 days), interim coach Phil Bennett, Graham, interim coach Keith Patterson and whomever they hire to replace Graham.

Maybe it will be SMU's June Jones, who supposedly was all set to leave the Mustangs for Arizona State -- until ASU pulled its offer.

Let's just call this game The Orphan Bowl.

GoDaddy.com Bowl

Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois (Jan. 8, 9 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN3)

Hugh Freeze (Michael Oher's high school coach in "The Blind Side") is gone to Ole Miss after one season as Arkansas State's head coach. Gus Malzahn is giving up his offensive coordinator job at Auburn (huh?) to replace Freeze, but only after Auburn plays in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Then he might or might not coach the Red Wolves against 10-3 Northern Illinois. At the very least, he'll be on the sidelines for the game.

Whatever. All that matters is that quarterbacks Ryan Aplin (Sun Belt Player of the Year) and Chandler Harnish (MAC Offensive Player of the Year) are going to be there. Good enough for me.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.