Thursday Bowl Tripleheader Open Thread

Bob Stanton-US PRESSWIRE

So far, the Pac-12 is 1-1 in the bowl season. UCLA tries to improve the conference's record in the Holiday Bowl against Baylor. The Military and Belk Bowls are also on today's slate of action

Bowl season continues with a Thursday tripleheader of action. And at least two out of the three games are of interest to us West Coast and Pac-12 fans. The day starts with San Jose State trying for an 11-win season and it ends with UCLA trying to do the Pac-12 proud by winning its bowl game.

MILITARY BOWL, PRESENTED BY NORTHROP GRUMMAN

12:00 pm PT, Washington D.C. (TV: ESPN)

San Jose State (10-2, 5-1 WAC) vs. Bowling Green (8-4, 6-2 MAC)

First, San Jose State tries to cap a wildly successful season in the Military Bowl. You can see this one on ESPN at Noon PT. A main storyline, of course, is that the Spartans will be without Coach Mike MacIntyre, who accepted the head coaching job at Colorado after leading San Jose State's remarkable turnaround.

Mike MacIntyre engineered a stunning turnaround at San Jose State that allowed him to move to a more high-profile job.

Dave Clawson went backwards a bit after a solid first season with Bowling Green, but the fourth-year coach now has his program on the upswing.

Teams that combined for three victories two years ago meet Thursday in the Military Bowl when the No. 24 Spartans face the Falcons for the first time.

Neither of these teams could have been expected to be headed to bowls in 2012 based on how MacIntyre fared at San Jose State in 2010 and Clawson did at Bowling Green that same year.

MacIntyre inherited a program that won two games in 2009 and guided the Spartans to a 1-12 mark in his first season. A 5-7 season followed before San Jose State went 10-2 this year to finish in second place in the Western Athletic Conference and clinch the program's first postseason game since the 2006 New Mexico Bowl.

"It's all new for all of us," senior tight end Ryan Otten said. "I was here on teams when we won one game, two games. We were toward the bottom of college football. Now, to crack the Top 25, we've come so far."

MacIntyre has moved on as he was named the coach at Colorado. Defensive coordinator Kent Baer will be the team's interim coach for this game.

BELK BOWL

3:30 PM PT, Charlotte, N.C. (TV: ESPN)

Cincinnati (9-3, 5-2 Big East) vs. Duke (6-6, 3-5 ACC)

After the Military Bowl is wrapped upon in Washington D.C., ESPN takes you to Charlotte for the Belk Bowl, featuring the Big East's Cincinnati Bearcats and the ACC's Duke Blue Devils. What is a "Belk," you ask? It's a department store of course. (Confession: until last year, I didn't know what Belk was.)

On its face, the Belk Bowl matchup looks like a bit of a dud. Cincinnati finished 9-3 (5-2 Big East) while Duke (6-6, 3-5 ACC) lost its last four games of the season. But make no mistake: Duke is happy to be there.

For a team that finished the regular season with four consecutive losses, Duke couldn't be happier about how its year is ending.

The Blue Devils will play a postseason game for the first time in almost 18 years at the Belk Bowl in nearby Charlotte on Thursday night, facing a Cincinnati team that's dealing with yet another coaching change.

A 6-6 season may not be special for most programs, but it is progress at basketball-mad Duke after the football team suffered through 17 consecutive losing years. The Blue Devils, who last earned a bowl bid following the 1994 season, went 37-158 (.190) from 1995-2011, including winless campaigns in 1996, 2000, 2001 and 2006.

That's why Duke's 6-2 start eventually earned ACC coach of the year David Cutcliffe a contract extension through the 2018 season.

"This is certainly one of the goals, was to reach this bowl eligibility, but it's just the beginning," Cutcliffe said.

BRIDGEPOINT EDUCATION HOLIDAY BOWL

6:45 pm PT, San Diego (TV: ESPN)

Baylor (7-5, 4-5 Big 12) vs. UCLA (9-4, 6-3 Pac-12)

For us Pac-12 fans, those first two games are just the prelude. The game of most Pac-12 interest is the nightcap of the tripleheader, the Bridgepoint Holiday Bowl at 6:45 pm PT. UCLA comes into the Holiday Bowl having lost in the Pac-12 championship game to Stanford. For that matter, UCLA also lost its regular season finale to Stanford, so the Bruins are likely ecstatic that they're playing someone other than Stanford this time.

If you're interested, Bruins Nation has wall to wall coverage of the Holiday Bowl. Earlier this week, BN previewed the high-powered Baylor offense.

Baylor is 1st nationally in total offense with 579 ypg. They are balanced, averaging 226 ypg on the ground (18th nationally), and 353 ypg through the air (3rd nationally). They've put up these numbers despite losing their starting quarterback, running back, and leading wide receiver, and they've managed to find pretty damn good replacements.

Quarterbacks

Baylor is led by Nick Florence (6-1, 205, SR.), who has had a great season replacing Robert Griffin III. Florence has completed 61% of his passes for 4,121 yards with 31 TD's and 13 INT's. He's also ran for 531 yards and scored another 9 TD's on the ground.

Florence may not have even been mentioned in the Heisman race, but it is interesting to compare Florence's number to Griffin's. Last season, Griffin completed 72% of his passes for 4,293 yards with 37 TD's and 6 INT's, and rushed for an additional 699 yards with 10 TD's. Obviously, Griffin's numbers are better across the board other than passing yards, but not by a whole lot. The coaching staff should get a lot of credit, but Florence is an impressive quarterback in his own right, and it's a shame that he only gets one season to shine.

Running Backs

Last season, Baylor essentially relied upon Terrance Ganaway as the workhorse back. This season, Baylor has spread the carries out amongst three backs. That said, Lache Seastrunk (5-10, 205, SO.) has recently taken over the role as lead back, and he'll get the lion's share of the carries. In case you're wondering, Seastrunk is the guy in the middle of the Oregon-Willie Lyles fiasco that will probably lead to some fairly severe sanctions for Oregon. He originally signed with Oregon and redshirted, then transferred to Baylor and sat out his freshman season.

Seastrunk leads the team with 874 yards on just 115 carries. Those stats don't really tell the whole story though, as Seastrunk only became the lead back 5 games ago. In that 5 game span, Seastrunk has 86 carries for 693 yards and 5 touchdowns. Seastrunk has also made a bit of noise recently when he declared that he was going to win the Heisman next year.

This one could be an entertaining, high scoring affair. Baylor averages 44 points per game and gives up an average of 38 points per game. And we know that UCLA has some offensive weapons in quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin. So fasten your seat belts and get ready for some points.

This is your open thread for this tripleheader Thursday. Enjoy the games.

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