By Dave Wischnowsky–
Christmas is over. New Year’s is looming. And in between this week the Big Ten gets its bowl season rolling.
At 9 p.m. tonight, the Iowa Hawkeyes square off with the Missouri Tigers in the Insight Bowl, the first of eight bowl games involving Big Ten teams.
Here in Chicago, you already know plenty about the Legends (Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern) and the Leaders (Illinois, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin) that are playing football this week and next.
(Those division names haven’t gotten any better, by the way.)
But I thought I’d fill you in with a little bit of information today about the teams facing the Big Ten brethren on the gridiron…
Insight Bowl: Iowa vs. Missouri,
9 p.m., Dec. 28, Tempe, Ariz., ESPN
It’s just a guess, but I suspect the Gabbert family isn’t terribly popular in Lincoln, Neb.
Well, the Missouri Tigers are currently led by star junior quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who decommitted from Nebraska during high school to sign with the Tigers. Ironically, Missouri’s heir apparent at quarterback is Gabbert’s younger brother, Tyler, a freshman – who also decommitted from Nebraska during high school to sign with the Tigers.
Texas Bowl: Illinois vs. Baylor
5 p.m., Dec. 29, Houston, Texas, ESPN
Long before he went Super Bowl Shufflin’ in Chicago – and got canned as the coach of the San Francisco 49ers – Chicago Bears Hall of Famer Mike Singletary was a two-time All-American at Baylor.
During his senior year in 1980, Singletary led the Baylor Bears to a 10-win season and a spot in the then-illustrious Cotton Bowl. Since then, however, Baylor football has fallen on hard times, qualifying for just five bowl games since Singletary graduated, including none in the past 16 seasons – until this one.
TicketCity Bowl: Northwestern vs. Texas Tech
11 a.m., Jan. 1, Dallas, Texas, ESPNU
Remember Adam James?
The son of ESPN and ABC football analyst Craig James was a hot-button topic a year ago when Texas Tech coach Mike Leach allegedly ordered his coaching staff to lock the sophomore receiver in an equipment closet after Leach thought he was giving a lackluster effort in practice. James was said to be suffering the after-effects of a concussion.
The drama led to Leach’s firing, but James is still playing football at Tech. Don’t expect to see much of him vs. Northwestern, though. He has caught only two passes for 26 yards this season.
Outback Bowl: Penn State vs. Florida
Noon, Jan. 1, Tampa, Fla., ABC
New Year’s Day marks the final game of Urban Meyer’s coaching career. At least at Florida. And at least for now.
Just 46 years old – 38 years younger than his opponent, Joe Paterno – Meyer is stepping down due to health concerns and a stated desire to spend more time with his family. Some think he might wind up in broadcasting. Many others believe he’ll eventually coach again.
If the Brian Kelly Experiment doesn’t ultimately work out at Notre Dame, don’t count out South Bend as a potential destination. On multiple occasions Meyer has referred to the head coaching position there as his “dream job.”
In 2009, however, he told a newspaper that he would never leave Florida for Notre Dame. With his retirement in Gainesville, though, Meyer would no longer have to leave UF to coach the Irish.
Capital One Bowl: Michigan State vs. Alabama
Noon, Jan. 1, Orlando, Fla., ESPN
Come Saturday, Alabama’s star tailback and 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram might experience a few mixed feelings when he trots onto the field to face Michigan State. After all, Ingram is a big fan of Sparty.
He’s a native of Flint, Mich. His parents went to Michigan State, where his father and grandfather played football. His aunt is also an MSU grad and his grandma earned a master’s degree from the school.
“I still cheer for them when I see them on Saturdays, especially in basketball,” Ingram said this week. “It’ll just be exciting to go up against a childhood favorite team.”
Progressive Gator Bowl: Michigan vs. Mississippi State
12:30 p.m., Jan. 1, Jacksonville, Fla., ESPN2
While Michigan’s coaching staff sweats its job security this weekend (my sources tell me Rich Rodriguez & Co. are out), Mississippi State’s players no doubt will have a fallen teammate on their minds.
On Nov. 2, 20-year-old Nick Bell, a redshirt freshman defensive end for the Bulldogs, died after a very short battle with synovial sarcoma, a rare and deadly form of cancer. Bell was diagnosed in September after experiencing headaches and had surgery on Oct. 1 to remove a malignant tumor in his brain.
“I know he’s looking down on us right now,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said last month. “And I’m sure he’s already been picked for a team up in heaven to play football again – the game that he loved.”
Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. TCU
4 p.m., Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif., ABC
Southern California apparently still has a few things to learn about Texas Christian University – such as the Horned Frogs’ nickname.
This week, Javier Rubio, an employee at Shelly’s Café on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, told the Forth Worth Star-Telegram he’s looking forward to seeing some fans of TCU’s “Horny Frogs” swing by his diner.
“Tell the team, we want something to put in the window or the logo or something,” Rubio said. “I didn’t know what a Horny Frog was, so I looked it up on the Internet. I know Texas and Oklahoma, Texas A&M, but I never knew TCU. They were at the bottom and now they’ve moved up to the top.”
Sugar Bowl: Ohio State vs. Arkansas
7:30 p.m., Jan. 4, New Orleans, LA., ESPN
Usually it’s the Big Ten that’s looking for respect come bowl season. This time around, though, the SEC is striving to prove itself after a down year.
Arkansas, which has never before appeared in a BCS game, faces the Ohio State Buckeyes, who have been selected to play in one six straight seasons and nine times overall, more than any other school in the country.
“We want to represent the (Southeastern Conference),” Arkansas defensive end Damario Ambrose said this week. “We don’t want to come out there and be like, ‘Oh, well, maybe the SEC isn’t as good as everyone thinks. We want to make sure we come out and we represent for the SEC so that we can show we are the best conference in the nation.”
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.