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BOGACZYK: Boca Bowl Getting Postseason Props

Jack Bogaczyk
Dec. 11, 2014

By JACK BOGACZYK

HERDZONE.COM COLUMNIST

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – It was a different time in college football, and the game was in a very different place.

There were eight major conferences and a goodly number of what was called "major independents," too. The Power 5 consisted of Notre Dame, Miami, Texas, Washington and "pick ‘em" among several other schools that usually topped the polls.

But this 1990 season was different, and not just because Louisville smoked Alabama in the Fiesta Bowl while Cardinals Coach Howard Schnellenberger smoked his pipe.

Colorado and Georgia Tech would split the wire service-polls national championship. The Yellow Jackets had to stake their claim through the Citrus Bowl, because the ACC didn’t have the Orange Bowl berth it would soon occupy.

And at then-Joe Robbie Stadium – suburban home of the Miami Dolphins – a new bowl started auspiciously. It was the Blockbuster Bowl, and it landed two of those "indies" in No. 6 Florida State and No. 7 Penn State.

It had Paterno versus Bowden before St. Bobby was really challenging JoePa for the record number of coaching wins. It also had a sellout crowd of 74,021 to see the Seminoles’ 24-17 victory.

First-year bowls usually can’t pull off something that attractive, but back then, there were only 17 bowl games. Now, the number is 38, and the world of the oblong ball has gone through the BCS era and the College Football Playoff years have drawn a line in the sand between the Power 5 – conferences now – and the Group of 5.

OK, so this preamble is longer than that of the U.S. Constitution, but the point I’m getting to is that first-year bowls seldom have the chance to do what the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl has in matching Marshall (12-1) and Northern Illinois (11-2).

The Dec. 23 game at FAU Stadium is the only bowl outside the two Playoff semifinal games matching FBS conference champs. Shoot, the CollegeAD.org website has declared the Boca Bowl as No. 2 behind the Rose (Oregon-Florida State) among the "10 Most interesting Bowls to Watch."


 

 

The Herd really wanted to play in the Boca Raton Bowl all along, and for a lot of reasons – recruiting, ability to get fans and players’ families to the game, recruiting, the pre-Christmas date, recruiting, prime time TV on the "mother ship" that is ESPN, recruiting, south Florida weather, recruiting …

MU Athletic Director Mike Hamrick spent a good amount of time at a Monday press conference defending the decision – in concert with Conference USA – to play in this particular game.

Look, I know Hamrick was an outside linebacker during his Herd playing days more than three decades ago, but I don’t think he needed to play so much defense about a game that matches conference champions with a combined record of 23-3.

The only bowls with a better combined team record are the Rose (25-1, Oregon-FSU) and the Sugar (24-2, Alabama-Ohio State) – those CFP semifinals.

Marshall is 8-3 (.727) all-time in bowls and has won seven of its last eight. Among schools that have played in at least 10 bowls, only Utah (13-4, .765) has a better percentage than the Herd.

Are Marshall and NIU now the same as Penn State and Florida State then, in that first Blockbuster? Of course not. However, as compelling lesser-tier bowls go, you’d have to dig pretty deep in the NCAA record book to find another new bowl that has this kind of matchup.

Playing the Big Ten’s No. 11 bowl selection – Illinois (6-6) in the Heart of Dallas Bowl – is nothing special. Had Marshall played and beaten the Fighting Illini on Dec. 26, the Power 5 leagues would have look at it and yawned, as it will if AAC members beat ACC members, like UCF over NC State (7-5) or Cincinnati tops Virginia Tech (6-6).

The attitude would be this: "Come back, Doc Holliday, when you’ve taken down a Georgia, Oklahoma, Clemson or UCLA."

Yahoo! Sports ranked the Boca Bowl No. 10 among its Nos. 1 through 38, behind the six CFP bowls and the Alamo (Kansas State-UCLA), Belk (Georgia-Louisville) and Outback (Wisconsin-Auburn). The Heart of Dallas was second-last.

CBSSports.com ranked the 36 bowls outside the CFP semifinals in order. The Boca Bowl was No. 15. The Heart of Dallas was No. 35, beating only the Camellia matchup of South Alabama-Bowling Green.

Holliday and his players, having missed out on the CFP access bowl (likely Peach) they wanted, were looking for someone good to play. And Mid-American Conference champ Northern Illinois fits the bill.

And has anyone even noticed that to create this matchup, the MAC agreed to move the Huskies to Boca? The MAC’s No. 1 bowl selection was supposed to head to the GoDaddy.com Bowl (formerly the GMAC Bowl that Byron Leftwich made famous). Instead, Toledo is going to Mobile, Ala., and NIU is facing the Herd in a de-facto Group of 5 title game.

Now, had the MAC been sending another team to Boca Raton, I could see the Herd heading to Dallas. But an 11-2 Northern Illinois – a program in its sixth straight bowl game – is a quality matchup.

Besides, those Huskies are 3-1 against the Big Ten in the last three years, the loss an 18-17 decision to Iowa at Chicago’s Soldier Field. (By the way, Illinois is 4-20 in the Big Ten in those three seasons.)

As Hamrick pointed out Monday, C-USA only has so many bowl options. When the BCS went away and the Power 5 had the chance to create a new dynamic, they gobbled up some of the bids that once belonged to C-USA and its Group of 5 brethren – like berths in the Liberty, Military, Detroit, St. Pete, etc.

New games like Boca Raton, Bahamas, Camellia, Miami Beach were startups.

I honestly think – win or lose in Saturday’s Conference USA Championship Game – the Herd was going to Boca Raton. The only difference would have been had Marshall fallen to Louisiana Tech, the MAC foe in Boca would have been a lesser light … and then grousing Herd fans would have had some griping grounds on which to stand.

Tech is going to Dallas, where the Bulldogs will take plenty of fans for a 250-mile trip. Tech will bus it, as will UTEP to the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque. C-USA revenue sharing will be enhanced because of that, in particular to the league’s five bowl participants.

So, it’s another new bowl in south Florida, just as the Blockbuster was 24 years ago. It’s the exit stage for Rakeem Cato and other Herd seniors who dominated the All-Conference USA picks Tuesday.

One of Doc Holliday’s pet phrases is: "I’ve never been to a bad bowl."

Whether that’s always been true in his 23 previous postseason games, it’s accurate this time.

The Boca Bowl has plenty to like. It could even be a blockbuster in its own right.

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