The 2008 bowl season kicks off this Saturday with the inaugural Eagle Bank Bowl between Wake Forest and Navy in Washington DC. And while the eyes of the nation may not be transfixed upon the rusted scaffoldings of RFK stadium, early-season bowl games like the Eagle Bank Bowl aren't without their fair share of intriguing questions and story lines. With that in mind we begin our expanded bowl preview coverage here at ITB, taking a look at 34 of the top questions going into each and every bowl game. From how young Chandler Harnish will attack the Louisiana Tech secondary to whether or not Tebow will outshine Bradford in the National Title, no question or bowl is too insignificant to escape our coverage. Today we look at the pre-Christmas bowl games, starting with Saturday's kickoff in DC.
Eagle Bank Bowl (Dec 20th, 11 a.m. ET, ESPN) How big of a factor is a healthy Kaipo? A good deal of the media attention on this game has focused around Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner and how he can't possibly play any worse this time around against the Midshipmen (four interceptions in a 24-17 loss to Navy earlier this year). But I think the bigger question is whether or not Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaeheaku-Enhada is fully healthy from a hamstring injury which has plagued him all year. Navy moved the ball effectively against Wake earlier in the year with Enhada in the game, but was slowed down in the second half with Jarod Bryant taking over after Kaipo's hamstring gave out. We finally saw some explosiveness out of Navy's offense two weeks ago against Army with a healthy Kaipo under center, and if the Hawaii native really is 100% than it could be a long day for even the disciplined Wake Forest defense.
New Mexico Bowl (Dec 20th, 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) What is Fresno State's mindset after the 61-10 loss to Boise? It seems like just yesterday that we were talking about Boise State and Fresno State deciding the WAC championship and a possible BCS bowl berth in their regular season finale on November 28th. Yet where Boise made good on the preseason expectations the Bulldogs fell short, struggling through a conference slate which saw Pat Hill's veteran team go just 4-4. With the memory of a 61-10 drubbing by their conference rival the last time they took the field, the question becomes how does Hill - usually a master at getting his teams ready to play "name" opponents - sell his club on focusing against a Colorado State team which is just happy to be bowling?
Magicjack.com St. Petersburg Bowl (Dec 20th, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN 2) Can the South Florida offense get back on track? Even well oiled offensive machines can sometimes show rust coming off the long break between the end of the season and their bowl game, a point which must be particularly painful for South Florida fans who have seen the Bulls fail to score more than 20 points in their final five games of the season. Quarterback Matt Grothe has been woefully inconsistent through the stretch, throwing 11 of his 14 interceptions over the last five games. Even with the nation's 13th ranked defense the Bulls will have to get production out of Grothe and the offense to avoid an upset by what should be a motive Memphis team.
Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl (Dec 20th, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN) Can Stoops Keep His Players Focused? I know everyone wants to talk about BYU's disappointing season and how dangerous this Arizona team can be, but has anyone else noticed this is Arizona's first bowl game since 1998? Furthermore, has anyone else noticed that it's in VEGAS? Look, BYU is going to be focused for this game. It's their fourth consecutive Las Vegas bowl and they've escaped Vegas without too much incident in the lead-up to their past three games here. I'm not saying Arizona is going to have a bunch of players "living it up" instead of gameplanning, but I think it's valid to ask how Stoops will keep his team focused while in Sin City.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl (Dec 21st, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) Is this game referendum on the Sun Belt? The Sun Belt conference has had its fair share of apologists in recent years, and while I'm often inclined to concur on the point of playing murderous nonconference schedules against SEC schools, there is still no escaping the league's less-than-impressive image and resume. It's probably too much to hope for 6-6 Florida Atlantic to defeat Central Michigan, but a poor showing by an 8-4 Troy team against a mediocre Southern Miss team which started the year at 2-6 could really be a setback kneel for those who argue the conference has been making strides.
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl (Dec 23rd, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN) What about the "other" matchup? Boise State's talented and well-schemed offense? Check . Texas Christian's vaulted and top ranked rushing defense? Check. Boise State's defense and TCU's offense? Hey, it's not like the two won't combine for half of the dynamic in this highly anticipated matchup of non-BCS heavyweights, with TCU quarterback Andy Dalton and the nation's 13th ranked rushing attack poised to go against Boise's 16th ranked total defense. Averaging nearly three sacks per contest, it'll be interesting to see how Boise's front seven attacks this TCU offensive line, which is allowing a sack and a half a game this year.
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl (Dec 24th, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN) Is this a "must win" for the Irish? Charlie Weis and Notre Dame are under a microscope, that's nothing new. But should the Irish lose this game will anything really change going into the offseason? My answer: Yes. Weis and company need this game to keep their recruiting class intact, and while the game may go unnoticed to much of the country you can bet the list of four star Irish commits will be tuned in. As I said on the show the other night the Irish can make headway with Hawaiian recruit and linebacker stud Manti Te'o with a good showing, while preserving some of their west coast commitments if they can come out on top. If not, then we could see this Irish recruiting class - ranked 12th by Scout.com - start to fall apart.