Friday, December 17, 2010

Kneeling in the End Zone Guide to College Bowl Games

Jesus fumbles?Here's your annual report of religiously affiliated schools whose football teams will be playing in bowl games. This year eight sectarian universities, representing six religious traditions/denominations, will be participating in the postseason, twice as many as last year. Here's what the faithful can look forward to in the coming weeks:

Latter Day Saints
Brigham Young (6-6) vs. UTEP (6-6) in the New Mexico Bowl, Saturday December 18. The spiritual descendants of Joseph Smith open this year's bowl season in a Saturday afternoon clash of former Western Athletic Conference rivals. (Appropriately BYU and UTEP are playing in a stadium operated by another former WAC school.) The Cougars and Miners met 25 times in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, with BYU winning all but one of these contests. While this year's Cougars squad isn't nearly as good as the great teams that have made BYU one of college football's most storied church-affiliated programs, the Cougars finished the season strong and face a UTEP team that went 3-5 in Conference USA.

Presbyterian Church (USA)
Tulsa (9-3) vs. Hawaii (10-3) in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, Friday December 24. The Golden Hurricane spent last Christmas at home. This year they are back among the elect, but they face a talented Hawaii team on the Rainbow Warriors' home turf. I expect that many Oklahoma Presbyterians will be checking football scores on their phones during this year's Christmas Eve services, eager to learn whether the Golden Hurricane are predestined for a bowl victory and a ten-win season.

Baylor (7-5) vs. Illinois (6-6) in the Texas Bowl, Wednesday December 29. Usually Baptist football fans must put their faith in Wake Forest to deliver in bowl season. But with the Demon Deacons backsliding, Baptists should be thankful that the Baylor Bears have immersed themselves in the postseason. The Bears, who have performed poorly down the stretch, are blessed to play in a bowl game close to home against an opponent that has underperformed all season.

United Methodist
For the first time since 1989, two United Methodist schools are going bowling. Both are playing games on New Year's Eve, Eve. (If Duke can scrape together a few more wins next season, the United Methodists might achieve entire [football] sanctification.)

Southern Methodist (7-6) vs. Army (6-6) in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, Thursday December 30. Last year, the Mustangs showed college football fans what The United Methodist Church thinks of the death penalty, playing in and winning their first bowl game since the NCAA shut down SMU's football program in the late 1980s. This year SMU enters bowl season as the winners of Conference USA's West Division, seeking a second consecutive postseason win. If United Methodists weren't morally opposed to gambling, they'd have to like the Mustangs' odds against an Army team that went .500 against a weak schedule.

Syracuse (7-5) vs. Kansas State (7-5) in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Thursday December 30. After several years in the Big East's basement, the Syracuse Orange have to feel "strangely warmed" by a trip to the postseason. While the Orange owe their bowl appearance in large part to a non-conference schedule that included two FCS opponents and 1-11 Akron, second-year coach Doug Marrone has Syracuse football going on to perfection (with God's help, of course).

Roman Catholic
Notre Dame (7-5) vs. Miami, FL (7-5) in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, Friday December 31

Boston College (7-5) vs. Nevada (12-1) in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Sunday January 9

Ben 16 and company have to be pleased that both Roman Catholic FBS football programs are playing in bowl games this year. On the other hand, Notre Dame fell short of preseason expectations and Boston College had its worst regular season since 2003. So penance may in order.

Notre Dame faces Miami in a lackluster reprise of the best college football rivalry of the late 1980s. (Now that Miami runs one of the cleanest programs in the country, the "Catholics vs. Criminals" moniker no longer applies. Then again, Miami just fired the coach responsible for the cleaning up.) BC has the misfortune of traveling across country to play a 12-1 Nevada squad that would be playing in a national championship playoff, if there were such a thing.

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
#3 Texas Christian vs. #5 Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, Saturday January 1. Once again the Horned Frogs are the class of church-affiliated college football programs. While TCU will win the inaugural Kneeling in the End Zone National Championship regardless of what happens in Pasadena, this year's Rose Bowl boasts the most interesting and exciting New Year's Day matchup.

Brought to you by Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons From the World of Sports, by me. (Buy a copy if you haven't already.)


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