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A guide to college football's 35 bowls

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A guide to college football's 35 bowls

The BCS has been criticized plenty for not getting it right over the years, from all those teams that believed they should have been playing for a national title to last year's all-SEC championship game.

But for all its faults, the system seemed to work this season, producing a matchup for the ages: Notre Dame vs. Alabama.

The Fighting Irish and Crimson Tide, programs tied for the most Associated Press national titles, in Miami, playing for a national championship - yeah, this could be pretty good.

Alabama and Notre Dame also happen to be two of the most polarizing teams in the country, so if you love one, chances are you hate the other.

Of course, if you hate both, it might be a tough night of yelling at the TV, hoping that somehow neither team wins.

Either way, the good news is there's plenty of other great games and players to watch over the next three weeks.

Here's a bit of what to look for in this year's 35 bowl games:

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TOP GAMES

Fiesta Bowl, Oregon vs. Kansas State, Jan. 3, Glendale, Ariz. For the second straight year, the Fiesta Bowl has a matchup that could be 1A to the national title game. The Ducks and Wildcats were national title contenders just a few weeks ago and have two of the nation's most dynamic players in running back Kenjon Barner and K-State QB Collin Klein.

Rose Bowl, Stanford vs. Wisconsin, Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif. There might be a collision or two between these two power programs.

Cotton Bowl, Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma, Jan. 4, Arlington, Texas. Johnny Heisman and Landry Jones could combine for 1,000 yards and 10 TDs on their own.

Orange Bowl, Northern Illinois vs. Florida State, Jan. 1, Miami. Just to see if the BCS-busting Huskies do actually belong.

New Mexico Bowl, Nevada vs. Arizona, Dec. 15, Albuquerque. Two of the nation's best scoring offenses against two of the nation's worst scoring defenses. The bowl season will kick off with fireworks.

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PLAYERS TO WATCH

Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. Johnny Football broke the freshman barrier in the Heisman Trophy vote. `Nuff said. Faces Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

Manti Te'o, Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish linebacker came up just short in becoming the first true defensive player to win the Heisman. About the only thing he's missed all season.

Collin Klein, Kansas State. Another Heisman finalist, he has a just-get-it-done quality in the vein of Tim Tebow.

Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona. Led the FBS in rushing, might get a few more yards against Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl.

Tavon Austin, West Virginia. All-American lines up all over the field, and is a threat to score from anywhere. Gets Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Montee Ball, Wisconsin. He's only scored more touchdowns than anyone in FBS history.

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BOWL SPONSORS

Food is again king when it comes to sponsoring bowls. The dot-coms? About done.

Food-related companies were tops in sponsors bowls last season with seven and there's one more this season with Insight Bowl becoming the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. It joins Tostitos, Chick-fil-a, Outback, Kraft, Beef `O' Brady's, Little Caesars and the Idaho Potato Commission in bowl sponsorship.

Tying for second most are auto-related companies and financial companies with five each.

This year's lineup also includes an aerospace and defense contractor, a helicopter company, a department store, a hotel chain and a consumer electronics company.

What's missing are the dot-coms.

Once the dominant force of bowl sponsorships, online companies are down to two: the GoDaddy.com Bowl and TaxSlayer.com sponsoring the Gator Bowl.

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ODDS

A year ago, oddsmakers were predicting a tight BCS championship game, opening with a spread of one point between LSU and Alabama.

They're looking for a little more lopsided game this year, with the Crimson Tide opening as a 7 1-2-point favorite over Notre Dame on the Glantz-Culver Line.

The closest game was one point between UCLA and Baylor in the Holiday Bowl and the highest opening spread was the Heart of Dallas Bowl, where Oklahoma State was giving up 18 points to Purdue.

Despite predictions of a close game, the Holiday Bowl has the highest over/under of 79 1-2 points between UCLA and Baylor. Could be fun to watch if they live up to the prediction.

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DISTANCES

The farthest distance to travel to a bowl this season will be SMU's halfway-across-the-Pacific journey to the Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu, a trip of about 3,800 miles.

For anyone wanting to take a long road trip in a car - good luck with that - the longest non-water distance is about 2,800 miles. That's roughly how far San Jose State will go to play Bowling Green in the Military Bowl in Washington D.C. and Navy's trip to San Francisco for the Fight Hunger Bowl against Arizona State.

Vanderbilt and San Diego State have the shortest trip: nowhere.

The Commodores get to face North Carolina State in the Music City Bowl in Nashville and the Aztecs will play against BYU in the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego.

Other short trips include Central Florida in the Beef `O' Brady Bowl (about 100 miles), Duke at the Belk Bowl (140), Louisiana-Lafayette at the New Orleans Bowl and Central Michigan at the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (both around 150).

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NUMBERS

0.0404-Points by which Northern Illinois got into the coveted top 16 of the BCS standings.

1-Bowl game for Louisiana-Monroe in its history after being selected to face Ohio in the Independence Bowl.

9-Wins by Louisiana Tech, which was left out of the bowl season after failing to meet a deadline with the Independence Bowl and wasn't pick for another bowl.

10.33-Points per game allowed by Notre Dame, best in the country. Alabama is No. 2 at 10.69.

18-Years since Duke's last bowl appearance. The Blue Devils will face Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27 in Charlotte.

173.08-Passing efficiency by Alabama's A.J. McCarron, best in the country.

383.33-Yards of total offense by Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, second nationally.

578.75-Yards per game by Baylor's offense, tops in FBS.

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GAMES NOT TO WATCH

OK, we know we're going to take a little heat on this one, but truth is, with 35 bowl games, there's going to be some clunkers in there.

So, with apologies to the bowls, the teams and their fans, here's a few game you might want to skip for something more entertaining like, say, watching icicles melt from the eaves:

Sun Bowl, Georgia Tech vs. Southern California, Dec. 31, El Paso, Texas. Georgia Tech (6-7) has a losing record and had to get a waiver from the NCAA just to get in. The Trojans may be the most underachieving team in the country, losing five games after opening the season as the preseason No. 1.

Armed Forces Bowl, Rice vs. Air Force. Dec. 29, Fort Worth, Texas. We hate saying anything negative about the men and women at the service academies, but a matchup of 6-6 teams isn't particularly exciting no matter who it is.

BBVA Compass Bowl, Pittsburgh vs. Ole Miss, Jan. 5, Birmingham. See 6-6 line above.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Michigan State vs. TCU, Dec. 29, Tempe, Ariz. Not only is it a matchup of a 6-6 team (MSU) against one that's 7-5, the calling card for these two teams are their defenses. First one to six points doesn't exactly get us jazzed up.

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Follow John Marshall at www.Twitter.com/johnmarshallap

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Remembering Kobe Bryant's 55-point game against Michael Jordan, Wizards

Remembering Kobe Bryant's 55-point game against Michael Jordan, Wizards

As the basketball world mourns the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, memories of his career and the highlights that made us fall in love with him are surfacing. One of the most well-told narratives of Bryant’s 20-year career was his pursuit of Michael Jordan as the greatest player of all-time. 

Bryant idolized Jordan and was relentless in his pursuit of at least matching Jordan’s six championships. He competed like Jordan, scored like Jordan, berated teammates and opponents alike like Jordan and came up one title short of his idol’s total.

On one night, however, Bryant did get the best of His Airness -- in their last of eight head-to-head matchups. 

On March 28, 2003, a Friday night in Los Angeles, Bryant put on a show, scoring 55 points in what would stand as his highest scoring total ever against the Washington Wizards.

The Lakers defeated the Wizards, 108-94. Jordan, who had just turned 40 that February and was less than a month from ending his legendary career, finished with a team-high 23 points in over 40 minutes.

Bryant was in a different zone, though, dropping 42 points in the first half alone. Through the first two quarters, he made 14 of 19 shots from the field, including 8 of 11 three-point attempts. While he cooled off in the second half, shooting just 1-for-10, he added to his point total by knocking down 10 free throws. The performance stands as the ninth-highest scoring total of Bryant’s career, and his three-point shooting that night -- 9-of-13 -- is the biggest reason the Wizards are the only team he shot over 40 percent from three against in his career.

Going into that game, Bryant was already a three-time NBA champion at 24 years old and seemed to have gained Jordan’s respect as a player. But Jordan may have inadvertendly fueled Bryant's performance that night. Ex-Wizard Gilbert Arenas told a story on "The No Chill Podcast" of MJ telling Bryant he could never fill his shoes after the Wizards defeated the Lakers earlier in the season. Arenas claims Bryant didn't talk to his teammates for two weeks leading up to the rematch. He internalized the jab from Jordan and turned it into the 55-point game he put up against the Wizards.

After learning of Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash on Sunday, Jordan released a statement through his spokeswoman saying Bryant was like a little brother to him.

“I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing. Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling. I loved Kobe -- he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply -- and took pride in his daughter’s love for the game of basketball. Yvette joins me in sending my deepest condolences to to Vanessa, the Lakers organization and basketball fans around the world.”


Jordan and Bryant exchanged some fun and memorable banter in not only that game but in several of their meetings towards the latter part of Jordan’s career. Just a month earlier, the two went head-to-head in the 2003 All-Star Game. Each started and clocked 36 minutes in the double-overtime game, Bryant scoring 22 points for the winning Western Conference, while Jordan scored 20 for the East.

Bryant actually finished his career with a 5-3 record head-to-head against Jordan -- four of those matchups coming against the Wizards. Jordan averaged 24.5 points in those games and Bryant averaged 22.8 points. Whether Bryant actually surpassed Jordan or other legends as the greatest basketball player is debatable, but most agree that Bryant’s style and how he approached the game was as close to Jordan as any other player.

There was no better example than this March night in 2003.

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Rui Hachimura says, 'Kobe was a hero for me'

Rui Hachimura says, 'Kobe was a hero for me'

Kobe Bryant's popularity stretched far beyond the United States. He was a global icon and especially loved in Asia. 

Following the NBA star's shocking death on Sunday, the entire sports world grieved and shared fond memories of Bryant all over social media. 

Rui Hachimura grew up in Japan idolizing Bryant, so he took to Twitter a day after the accident to share his thoughts on his hero.  

"I was very shocked to hear of this incident," Hachimura said. "I really can't believe it. I can't speak. Kobe is also a hero to me, and I've seen [him] a lot since I was little. I have met him only once.

"Three years ago, during [the] Final 4, [Bryant gave] a special pair of shoes as a surprise to the team," he said. "Not only that, he talked about what Mamba Mentality is and what people should be before basketball players. 

"He was more than just a basketball player," he said. "It is really sad that this accident was like this. I wish good luck to his family and those who have been involved in this accident. Thanks, Kobe."

After Michael Jordan retired, Bryant became the most popular player in Japan. Along with Hachimura, he inspired players like Grizzlies forward Yuta Watanabe to play the game of basketball in the first place. 

Similar to what made Bryant so popular in the United States, Japan loved him for his tireless work ethic and killer instinct on the court. That's what earned him 15 All-NBA selections and five NBA titles, and along with his efforts off the court post-retirement, earned him the love and respect of so many people around the world. 

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