The 35-ring circus of bowl season is full of sideshows, freak shows, split stats and split personalities. And the biggest and best bowls have the most exciting high-wire acts, thanks to their award winners, NFL prospects, high-priced coaches, rabid fan bases and big dog endorsement deals. Here’s a look at 15 weird and wild facts, stats and trends from the best bowls this postseason.
BCS National Championship Game
Monday, Jan. 7, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
Notre Dame vs. Alabama
1. Third Year’s an Irish Charm
In 2010, Brian Kelly left Cincinnati for Notre Dame to replace Charlie Weis and take the golden-dome throne in South Bend. Now in his third season, the 51-year-old is the national coach of the year after leading Notre Dame to a perfect 12–0 record and a spot opposite Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game.
If Kelly’s Fighting Irish are able to take down the Crimson Tide in Miami, he will be the fifth coach in Notre Dame history to win his first national title in his third season at ND:
1943 – Frank Leahy (3rd season, 1st National Title)
1966 – Ara Parseghian (3rd season, 1st National Title)
1977 – Dan Devine (3rd season, 1st National Title)
1988 – Lou Holtz (3rd season, 1st National Title)
2012 – Brian Kelly (3rd season, ???)
2. Roll O-line!
Nick Saban does more good for the NFL as a college coach by preparing future pros who graduate from Saturday to Sunday with relative ease. Over the past four seasons, Alabama has had 24 players selected in the NFL Draft, including 11 first-round picks.
This season, the Crimson Tide offensive line has washed away the opposition. All five members have started all 13 games this season. All five will have NFL careers; four have a chance to go in the first round when they are eligible and/or declare for the draft.
LT – Cyrus Kouandjio, 6’6”, 311, Soph.
LG – Chance Warmack, 6’3”, 320, Sr. (All-America 1st Team)
C – Barrett Jones, 6’5”, 302, Sr. (All-America 1st Team)
RG – Anthony Steen, 6’3”, 303, Jr.
RT – D.J. Fluker, 6’6”, 335, Jr. (All-SEC 2nd Team)
Thursday, Jan. 3, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
Oregon vs. Kansas State
3. Kelly Spreads His Wings?
The NFL came calling Oregon coach Chip Kelly last offseason. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wooed the Ducks’ hurry-up spread offensive mastermind but fell short of their target, ultimately settling for another college coach in Rutgers’ Greg Schiano.
“After numerous discussions, I concluded that I have some unfinished business to complete at the University of Oregon,” Kelly said at the time.
Kelly’s business may be finished after this season, however. With a slew of NFL jobs — Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, etc. — expected to be open, Kelly is sure to be on the top of many lists. After posting a 45–7 record, 33–3 mark in the Pac-12 and four straight BCS bowl berths (including a national title game trip after the 2010 season), Kelly may be flying the coop after the Fiesta Bowl.
Should Kelly leave Phil Knight’s neon Nike outfit for one of Roger Goodell’s shield operations, UO offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is expected to take over in Eugene. But who cares? What jerseys will the Ducks be wearing in Glendale? That’s what people really care about. According to To The Athletes Who, they’ll be Kelly green blurs for at least one more big game.
4. Tostitos Tickets
Kansas State fans will paint University of Phoenix Stadium purple and silver, with waves of Wildcats turning Glendale into Manhattan West. The K-State faithful devoured their 17,500 ticket allotment, then requested an additional 4,000 tickets. Meanwhile, Oregon still had 2,000 tickets left unsold as of mid-December.
This is the Wildcats’ third trip to the Fiesta Bowl, having defeated Syracuse, 35–18, in 1997 and losing to Ohio State, 35–28, in 2004. With a presumed homefield advantage, Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Collin Klein and legendary coach Bill Snyder will look to pull off an upset of the jaded Ducks.
Wednesday, Jan. 2, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
Florida vs. Louisville
5. Blind Side Booster
Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is a third-team All-America talent with first-round NFL potential when he chooses to go pro. But he won’t have to exit Gainesville early due to financial hardship. The 20-year-old junior was recently adopted by Kevin Lahn, a booster whose improper benefits resulted in a two-game NCAA suspension for Floyd earlier this season. Lahn was also forced to disassociate himself with his alma mater, South Carolina, during a major NCAA investigation.
But in a case similar to Michael Oher’s famed story in The Blind Side (Oher was adopted by Sandra Bullock, right?), Floyd and Lahn have hit the gapped loophole like a dominant 3-technique D-tackle should. As a result, the NCAA can’t say a word about the 2012 Ford Explorer XLT leased to Floyd, or his new apartment, or the birthday party yacht trip in Miami also attended by Gator teammates Ronald Powell and Dominique Easley — all paid for by Lahn.
“It was not something we planned, but it’s been a natural fit,” Lahn said in an email to USA Today. “My wife and I love Sharrif and he feels the same way about us.”
6. Strong Resumé
Louisville coach Charlie Strong is “getting close” to a contract extension to 2020, according to athletic director Tom Jurich. After turning down the Tennessee job and a potential jump to the SEC, Strong appears to be putting down roots at the U of L, where he has gone 24–14 over three years, including a 10–2 record this season.
Judging by Strong’s coaching history, it looks like the 52-year-old should be the coach at Florida, the team he’s facing in the Sugar Bowl. But Strong was passed over by the Gators and Will Muschamp is in charge of the chomping at The Swamp.
Strong coached under both Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer as part of two national championship teams and four SEC title squads. He coached 13 All-Americans and seven first-round picks during his four stints in Gainesville:
1983-84 – Florida graduate assistant
1988-89 – Florida OLB coach
1991-94 – Florida assistant head coach, DT coach
2003-09 – Florida assistant head coach, defensive coordinator, interim head coach
Tuesday, Jan. 1, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
Florida State vs. Northern Illinois
7. Werner is Coming
Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner was born and raised in Berlin, Germany, before becoming a cult hero in Tallahassee, Fla. The Seminoles’ top pass rusher is a 6’4”, 255-pound beast who was named first-team AP All-America this season after recording 18 tackles for 134 lost yards, including 13 sacks for 117 lost yards, along with seven pass beatdowns, one forced fumble and another fumble recovery.
Werner’s relentless effort on the field and international man of mystery style have given him a larger-than-life warrior persona. As a result, an internet meme inspired by the HBO hit series Game of Thrones has gone viral, and the Florida State marching band has made a habit of playing the Game of Thrones theme song in honor of the Seminoles’ chief defender and most popular player.
8. BCS Busters
Northern Illinois has MAC-attacked the BCS this season, crashing the Orange Bowl. Although the Huskies are one of only five schools with 10 or more wins in each of the past three seasons — along with Alabama, LSU, Oregon and Stanford — most casual fans aren’t giving NIU a chance against FSU. History, however, shows that assumption is a flawed one.
Non-Automatic Qualifiers in BCS Bowls:
5–2 record all-time in BCS Bowls
4–1 record vs. Big Six Conferences
Boise State (2–0), Utah (2–0), TCU (1–1) and Hawaii (0–1) have paved the way for Northern Illinois, a team with a superstar of its own in quarterback Jordan Lynch — who passed for 2,962 yards, 24 TDs and five INTs, while rushing for another 1,771 yards and 19 TDs on the ground this season.
Tuesday, Jan. 1, ESPN, 5:00 p.m.
Stanford vs. Wisconsin
9. Kulabafi in the Backfield
Stanford running Stepfan Taylor has posted three straight 1,000-yard, 10-TD seasons. This year, he rumbled for 1,442 yards and 12 TDs on the ground, with another 270 yards and two scores as a receiver out of the backfield.
The workhorse runner had his biggest games in the biggest games — with 213 total yards and two scores in a 21–14 upset of USC, 200 total yards and a TD in a 21–3 win at Cal in The Big Game, 161 rush yards in a 17–14 overtime victory at Oregon, and a combined 302 total yards and three trips to the end zone in back-to-back wins over UCLA in the season finale and Pac-12 title game.
But it is Taylor’s alter-ego, Kulabafi, who makes the most noise on The Farm.
10. Barry’s Bonus
After Bret Bielema bolted Wisconsin to take the same post at Arkansas, many Badgers fans had hopes that UW athletic director and former head football coach Barry Alvarez would return to the sideline in Pasadena for a shot at his fourth win in the Rose Bowl. That wish was granted.
The 65-year-old who coached Heisman Trophy winning runner Ron Dayne and went 3–0 in the Rose Bowl — compared to Bielema’s 0–2 mark in the “Granddaddy of Them All” — is back in charge. And he’s getting a nice pay bump to be coach-slash-AD during the month of December. Alvarez’s $203,500 monthly salary is a $118,500 increase and has a chance to be a cool $168,500 if he can lead the Badgers to victory.
$195,000 – 90 percent of Bielema’s monthly salary as coach
$8,500 – 10 percent of Alvarez’s monthly salary as AD
$50,000 – Rose Bowl winner’s bonus incentive clause
“We weighed the factors involved, including the unique circumstances that developed less than a month before the game, the challenges of the job, the marketplace and his strength as a coach and concluded that this is a reasonable arrangement,” said Wisconsin Board of Regents president Brent Smith.
Friday, Jan. 4, FOX, 8:00 p.m.
Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma
11. Johnny Football’s House
The Cotton Bowl will be played at Cowboys Stadium, while the Heart of Dallas Bowl will kick off at the Cotton Bowl. Makes sense, right? Either way, Jerry’s House will be Johnny Football’s House when the new SEC powers from Texas A&M take on their old Big 12 rivals from Oklahoma.
The first freshman to win college football’s most prestigious award, Johnny Manziel will be the eighth Heisman Trophy winner to play in the Cotton Bowl. It’s a good group that has combined for a 3–4 record in the game.
1948 – Doak Walker, RB, SMU (W, Cotton Bowl)
1963 – Roger Staubach, QB, Navy (L)
1977 – Earl Campbell, RB, Texas (L)
1984 – Doug Flutie, QB, Boston College (W)
1985 – Bo Jackson, RB, Auburn (L)
1987 – Tim Brown, WR, Notre Dame (L)
1998 – Ricky Williams, RB, Texas (W)
Monday, Dec. 31, ESPN, 7:30 p.m.
LSU vs. Clemson
12. Playing Chicken
Only the Mad Hatter would have a conflict of interest involving fried chicken. LSU coach Les Miles has an endorsement deal with Raising Cane’s, a chicken finger joint that opened in Baton Rouge in 1996 that has since expanded to 17 states nationwide.
As a result of his business partnership, Miles has refused to chow down on any of the Chick-fil-A spread during pre-bowl functions and festivities.
“I have a chicken issue,” said Miles, adding to his surreal reputation.
Capital One Bowl
Tuesday, Jan. 1, ABC, 1:00 p.m.
Georgia vs. Nebraska
13. Plan B Bowl
According to Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel, the Capital One Bowl would have preferred to invite Texas A&M and Northwestern to town. But after both the SEC and Big Ten objected, the bowl relented and reached out to the runners-up of both conference’s championship games, Georgia and Nebraska.
“You have to understand that we’ve had a 20-year relationship with the SEC and Big Ten where we’ve had the top (non-BCS) selection from those conferences. That’s an important place to be and we’d like to continue that relationship,” said Steve Hogan, executive director of the Capital One Bowl.
Tuesday, Jan. 1, ESPN, 1:00 p.m.
South Carolina vs. Michigan
14. NFL Scouting Combine
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is currently the clear-cut No. 1 overall prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft. Meanwhile, Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan is jockeying for position as a first-round prospect in this year’s draft. All eyes will be on Lewan as he takes on Clowney in easily the most talented one-on-one matchup of this year’s bowl schedule.
Saturday, Dec. 29, ESPN, 6:45 p.m.
Oregon State vs. Texas
15. Dreaded Vote of Confidence
Texas coach Mack Brown has a 21–16 record over the past three seasons and appears to be losing considerable ground in the Lone Star State — which has produced the past two Heisman Trophy winners in Baylor’s RG3 and Texas A&M’s Johnny Football, neither of whom were offered to wear burnt orange as quarterbacks. Now, the 61-year-old has been given the dreaded vote of confidence from his bosses.
“Now that the Longhorn football team has finished its regular season, there has been an increase in media speculation about Coach Mack Brown’s future,” wrote University of Texas president Bill Powers. “I’d like to state unequivocally that Coach Brown has my full support as well as the support of Men’s Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds. Put succinctly, Mack Brown is and will remain the Longhorns’ head football coach.”