One of our favorite things about December and the Holiday Season is the pre-Christmas Day bowl games. We've run a bowl pick 'em contest for our family and friends (The aptly named Mike Bowl Challenge) for the last 10 years, and though the championship is usually won in the Dec. 29-Jan. 1 stretch, it's always fun to watch the first few games and then make fun of the person (Andrew Weber) who starts 0-4.
When we began the MBC, it was always the Las Vegas Bowl that got things started, then for the past few years it was the New Orleans Bowl featuring the pride of the Sun Belt that kicked things off. The new pistol firer this year is the Poinsettia Bowl featuring TCU and Northern Illinois.
We dig this move because, even though these aren't world beaters, this matchup provides a much crisper, cleaner, breath of fresh air for all of us who have been deprived of any college football for two and-a-half weeks than a North Texas/Houston matchup would.
What: San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
Who: TCU (10-2) vs. Northern Illinois (7-5)
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
Favorite: TCU by 11 1/2
TCU's run defense ranks fourth in the country (67.3 ypg), but they've faced just one back, New Mexico's Rodney Ferguson, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season. Now they're faced with the unenviable task of trying to slow daown Garrett Wolfe, the nation's leading rusher who ran for 1,900 yards and 18 touchdowns on 289 carries this season.
The Horned Frogs have won eight straight since disappointing early losses to Utah and BYU. Their offense has been especailly impressive in the past three games over which time quarterback Jeff Ballard has completed 57 of 73 passes for 746 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. A win tonight will run Ballard's record as a starter at TCU to 20-2.
But let's not kid ourselves, the real reason to watch tonight is Wolfe who will be playing in his final game for the Huskies after a three-year career that included a school-record 5,136 yards and 52 touchdowns.
Watchability Ranking (10=A Stuart Scott and Stephen A. Smith nationally televised brawl, 1=Stuart Scott and Stephen A. Smith doing anything else): 6.4
Prediction: TCU 27, Northern Illinois 17