Busy this bowl season, with mixed emotions

January 7, 2011 

My first bowl game experience came in 1961. I was a sophomore at Wichita State, and we played Villanova in the Sun Bowl. To this day, I'm still disappointed the Shockers lost to the Wildcats.

My next bowl game didn't happen until 1985, when I was coaching at Minnesota. The Golden Gophers defeated Clemson -- where I had coached previously -- in the Independence Bowl. What a joy for a former Tiger coach!

Our Minnesota squad lost to Tennessee a year later in the Liberty Bowl -- where my final bowl game also took place. I was working at Ole Miss when the Rebels defeated Air Force in the 1992 Liberty Bowl. It was a wonderful experience playing Air Force, because I had an opportunity to talk with several Falcons at a dinner that week. To this day, the Falcons remain one of the teams I most respect, because of the players' dedication to serving our nation.

This season's bowl schedule featured five of my favorite teams playing. However, I've been somewhat disappointed, as three of those teams have lost their games.

It was delightful for this ol' option dinosaur to watch two option offenses -- Air Force and Georgia Tech -- battle in the Independence Bowl, which the Falcons won. Another of my favorite option teams, Army, defeated SMU -- a big-time passing team -- in the Armed Forces Bowl. Unfortunately, another of my option teams, Navy, lost to San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Despite the loss, I still respect and admire the Midshipmen for their upcoming service for our country. The service academies long have been among my favorite college teams.

Clemson and South Carolina hurt my feelings by losing their bowl games.

I was really disappointed the Tigers lost to South Florida in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. From my perspective, the Tigers lost because their quarterback, Kyle Parker -- who helped the Tigers win quite a few games -- was mentally wounded during the game. I believe Clemson coach Dabo Swinney no longer considered Parker a QB who could help the Tigers win games. I'm sure Kyle was emotionally stunned by his late-season stint as a backup QB, and it affected his play.

This ol' Tiger roots for the Gamecocks when they aren't playing Clemson, so I was disappointed the "Chickens" lost to Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. When Steve Spurrier's squad lost its exceptional running back, Marcus Lattimore, to a first-half injury, I'm sure it affected the Gamecocks' game plan. A critical aspect to winning is having backup players as good as starters.

An ancient football quote describes why the Tigers and Gamecocks failed to make me a happy Palmetto State fan: "Often a team does more to lose a game than what an opponent does." Penalties, busted offensive and defensive assignments, and a decline in mental toughness during the games surely helped South Florida and FSU win.

I must admit, another bowl caught my attention -- the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl -- but for a silly reason. Florida International edged Toledo, but the teams weren't the reason I tuned in for the game. The sponsor was.

At this age, I've become addicted to pizza like I was when I was a teenager, so I had to check out Little Caesar's pizza. I love pizza so much that if I were a head coach, I would have pizza for my players' pre-game meal, feeling the meal would make them unbeatable.

The next big game I am looking forward to -- I consider it the International Bowl -- is the Junior World Championship. The game will be played on Feb. 2 -- football signing day -- in Austin, Texas. The game will be played by players from around the country under the age of 19, and most of the 45 players on the American roster are top college football recruits. Delightfully, a South Carolina kid is on the U.S. roster: Hakeem Flowers, a wide receiver from Wade Hampton High School in Greenville.

The Americans will play an international team created by the International Federation of American Football, based in Paris, which is comprised of 59 countries. Last year, the U.S. team won the first international junior championship. Please do it again, kids!

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