Sunday, January 2, 2011

The "Home" Bowl Advantage (Part 1)

I'm finally back from Christmas vacation, and it's obvious that I owe Packfan7 thanks for picking up the slack while I was away. Blame my absence on getting caught up with the wrong sorts of people.

With the preponderance of preposterous bowl games with equally ridiculous and unwieldy names polluting college football's postseason, some of them are bound to have tie-ins that result in a few teams getting either a quasi- or actual home field advantage. This is because the principal aims of these bowl games are to sell tickets and fill up hotel rooms and restaurants, and inviting a team close to where that game is being played obviously makes perfect sense in that regard.

Such will be the case when Nevada faces Boston College on January 9th, with tens of thousands of Pack fans expected to flood San Francisco and no Pac-10 fans to pick up the remaining slack. It may seem unfair to turn what's supposed to be a neutral contest into a glorified home game for one of the two teams involved, but just how advantageous is having no or minimal travel in these games? I decided to have a look at some of this year's results and find out.

Poinsettia Bowl

Out of three teams with actual home field advantages in their bowl games, San Diego State was the only one that took care of business. The only thing really working against them was the soggy field that had only recently been drained (cue the obvious Navy jokes), but that would work against both teams on most nights. Just about everything else favored the home team, though, including a more balanced offense, prior experience defending Air Force's triple option and the motivation of actually playing in a bowl game for the first time since the Clinton administration.

Hawai'i Bowl

Needless to say, things didn't go as well for the Warriors on their home field. 35 points would be enough to win a lot of bowl games, but not when your team coughs up the ball six times and is prevented by injuries from fielding all eleven starters at any one time. With Bryant Moniz, Kealoha Pilares and Greg Salas all out of the game at various points, it's no wonder an equally potent Tulsa offense was able to overcome its circumstances and win its third straight bowl game.

Little Caesars Bowl

Toledo is one hour across the border from Detroit, and the Rockets have played in this same bowl game three other times in the last ten years. But this was another case of a team new to the bowl experience -- Florida International this time -- finding a way to pull out the win. And if you saw the end of this game (Who didn't? It's the friggin' Little Caesars Bowl, after all!) you'd know that "pull out" -- as in "pull out of one's ass" -- is the proper term.

Military Bowl

You should start to notice a pattern of motivation here, and Maryland had whole wheelbarrows full of it in their bowl game. Playing just twenty miles from their campus in College Park and on behalf of a loyal head coach who was more or less forced out the door (not an easy task against a man of Ralph Friedgen's girth), Maryland's players beat down East Carolina and sent a strong message: we love our coach, and he deserves better than this bowl game and this exit. I know if Coach Ault were ever kicked to the curb the way Friedgen was, I'd be the one passing out torches en route to storming the offices at Legacy Hall.

Texas Bowl

Here's a case of a team playing in a bowl game for the first time in a while AND in front of a very partisan quasi-home crowd just not capitalizing on the opportunity. Baylor rolled over and died against Illinois just days before the entire Big Ten decided to do the same in its New Years Day bowls, making an already embarrassing loss look that much worse. On the other hand, maybe Ron Zook and the Illini finally got tired of losing their bowl games, as they themselves hadn't won one since 1999?

In my next entry, I'll take a look at the Armed Forces, Pinstripe, Music City, Meineke and TicketCity Bowls for more possible trends in "home" bowl games.

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