Pregame Guesses: Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl / Illinois Fighting Illini Edition

Better men (and women) than me have made the case that college football needs a playoff system while also railing at the current system of bowl games. I'm not gonna even try.

But, playoffs aside, I do want to note that the bowl game thing has run its course.

As I finish up this post, I'm looking at Rutgers "battle" Iowa State in something called the New Era Pinstripe Bowl "live from Yankee Stadium." As far as I can tell, there's almost no one at the game. And there is no reason why anyone other than a diehard Iowa State or Rutgers fan with nothing better to do on a Friday afternoon would be at the game.

It's been like this the past few weeks. Random teams facing off against other random teams in random stadiums in random cities playing in games with random sponsors. As far as I can tell, there hasn't been one memorable moment in any bowl game so far.

And yet we're told that this "system" of bowl games is the best we can do to end the season of one of the best spectator sports in North America, possibly the most universally enjoyed sports we have in this country.

Whatever.

Of course, I'm writing this in advance of the good games coming up over the next week or so. Stanford and Oklahoma State looks pretty good, the Rose Bowl looks pretty good and the LSU-Alabama game looks good on paper, except for the fact that the last time they played on actual grass the game ended 9-6.

In overtime.

There are still some meaningless games left on the bowl slate and, come to think of it, as a UCLA fan I probably have no right to mention the meaninglessness of Rutgers taking on Iowa State in a baseball park ill-suited for football.

That's because we'll be taking on Illinois in another baseball stadium particularly ill-suited for football: ATT Park in San Francisco, home of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

It's not easy to come up with a justification for two teams who played so poorly this season they both fired their head coaches to be rewarded with a post-season game. I was thinking it would make more sense for the teams who "qualify" for bowl game to make their own match-ups. I mean, it would have been more interesting for UCLA to play a rematch with Cal in San Francisco. But, what do I know? Maybe all Kraft cared about were getting teams from large TV markets, attendance and interest be damned.

What do I know? I know this: UCLA is playing it's third bowl game during the Chianti Dan era with an interim coach. Mike Johnson joins Ed Kezirian (2002 Las Vegas Bowl) and DeWayne Johnson (2007 Las Vegas Bowl) as fill in coaches.

What do I know? I know this: This bowl game is considered a "reward" for the seniors -- the same seniors who led the team over the wall last week.

What do I know? I know this: I'm going to be one of the suckers who spends 3.5 hours on a Saturday afternoon watching a lame-duck, interim coach lead a team with a losing record against an equally uninteresting and uninspired team (led by their own interim coach).

What I don't know is ... Why? But I'll take a guess of my own:

I think I'm going to chill some beer and grill some brats and settle in and root for a team that barely registers for me on the excitement scale because of community and continuity. Watching and rooting for UCLA football is what we do in our house. We do it when the team is good, we do it when they're not. We look ... we strain to see ... the good and hope that the mistakes are aberrations, even when the mistakes go on game after game, season after season. If we win, we'll find a reason to believe that what we rationally know is irrelevant holds some deeper meaning or relevance. If we lose, we'll shrug and note that next year will be different, with new coaches, new players, a new system and new attitude.

Mora Grit, anyone?

As for community -- even when the team is bad and even when the weakness of the team causes rifts in Bruins Nation, we (my family) and I are part of the community and even though we'll be watching at home we'll watch to be part of the shared event that is a football bowl game. Yes, I'll be watching in my home and Nestor will be thousands of miles away in his, but we'll share the experience. If we win, we'll celebrate, if we lose, we'll curse -- but we -- all of us -- will do it together.

That's what, I think, too many folks at UCLA don't quite get. I'm not sure if it's because at UCLA basketball ruled for so long, that football held less meaning for the powers that be. Some of you might be too young to remember this (not all, maybe some) but there was a time when the retort to "USC owns you in football" was "Yeah, but we own them in basketball." UCLA fans used to be content to say that "at least our football team is better than your basketball team." Whatever the reason, the idea that a football game is also a great community event seems lost on an administration that has let a program with so much potential languish.

Let me just ask you this: Does any campus event bring together all walks of the UCLA community together more than a football game? I'm not saying that football is more important than a faculty member winning a Nobel Prize or a doctor in the hospital performing a groundbreaking transplant or a history professor writing an important book or a group of students in the computing department breaking ground on some key line of code. What I am saying is that a great football game is the one place where that Nobel Prize winner, that faculty author, that surgeon and those students can get together and share a communal experience and enjoy being Bruins together.

A great football team playing in a great football game is golden threads that binds together the blue fabric of Bruindom. It's one of the few things we all have in common. That's why it's important and that's why it's worth doing well.

Tomorrow is the last football game of the year. When it's over, I'm going to miss it.

That's why I'm going to watch -- and you are, too.

With that, here are you Pregame Guesses Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl / Illinois Fighting Illini edition:

  1. Name a senior Bruin who will score a touchdown tomorrow.
  2. Name a senior who takes the ball away (fumble recovery or INT) against Illinois tomorrow.
  3. Since he is our best player and we haven't asked a question about him all year: How many punts will Jeff Locke drop inside the twenty tomorrow?

Have a great offseason everyone and have a Happy and safe New Year.

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