Column

College bowl calendar takes a timeout in already surprising season

Memphis over BYU in double overtime, 55-48, set the bar higher than your favorite spaghetti western bar fight

Christmas Day marks the deep-breath pause on this year's sprawling 39-game bowl calendar, the rest stop between the New Mexico Bowl and better tomorrows.

Monday's inaugural Miami Beach Bowl, which sprang spectacularly out of nowhere during daytime soap opera hours, however, deserves a special round-by-round recap. Memphis over Brigham Young in double overtime, 55-48, set the bar higher than your favorite spaghetti western bar fight.

The postgame melee involving "Mem-fist" and "BrawlYU" was shocking on many fronts. You can argue over which school started it, but both teams finished it. There were stomach punches and sucker punches. One player used his helmet like nunchucks.

"We expect better of our athletes, even in the face of a difficult loss," BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe posted in a tweet. "We intend to fully review this matter. I apologize to Cougar Nation."

BYU portends to play by a different rule book. The school, for religious reasons, does not participate in sporting events held on Sundays. Fight cards on Monday, obviously, have yet to be banned.

In 2011, BYU dismissed basketball star Brandon Davies for honor code violations after he admitted to having premarital sex.

So what's the penalty for a premeditated haymaker? The ramifications could be significant for BYU, which has gone independent in football with designs on becoming a stand-alone brand in the mold of Notre Dame.

Mike Aresco, commissioner for the American Athletic Conference, issued the condemnation statement on behalf of member-institution Memphis.

"Needless to say, we are extremely disappointed this happened, as we expect the highest standard of conduct from our student-athletes," Aresco said.

A replay of the game should be shown Friday as part of "HBO's: Boxing after Dark" series. Dec. 26, after all, is Boxing Day.

Bowling forward, let's set up the tale of the tape for this year's Rose Bowl game.

Next Thursday marks the latest incarnation of "Granddaddy" as the bowl hosts its first national title semifinal game. The Rose Bowl has gone through many procedural and philosophical changes since it agreed to join the Bowl Championship Series in 1998.

How is this Rose Bowl different?

The Rose Bowl hosted four BCS national title games in the last 16 years, but that parade float has passed. The bowl, as part of the College Football Playoff, moves into its next phase as a semifinal host. It gets a semifinal each third year over the 12 years of the contract.

How did Oregon and Florida State end up in the game?

The top four schools — Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Ohio State, were seeded by the selection committee. Alabama, as No. 1, gets regional preference in the Sugar against Ohio State, which automatically kicked Oregon and Florida State to the Rose.

Florida State is 13-0 and champion of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Seminoles are defending national champions and winners of 29 straight games. They claimed last year's final BCS crown with a 34-31 win over Auburn at the Rose Bowl. It was Florida State's third championship after titles in 1993 and 1999.

Oregon is 12-1 and champion of the Pac-12 conference. The Ducks have never won a national title in football but came close in 2010, losing the BCS championship to Auburn on a last-second field goal.

What are some of the key story lines entering Rose Bowl preparations?

The game is a marquee matchup of the last two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. This last happened when Florida's Tim Tebow and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford met for the 2008 national title.

There is no such thing, really, as a Heisman Trophy "jinx" as it relates to winning the national title. Winston won the Heisman and the national title last year. So did USC quarterback Matt Leinart (2004), Alabama running back Mark Ingram (2009) and Auburn's Cam Newton (2010).

How long can Florida State keep living on the edge?

We'll find out. Last year, Florida State's narrowest margin of victory during the regular season was 14 points. This year the Seminoles have trailed in nine of their 13 wins. Twice, against Louisville and Miami, they overcame double-digit halftime deficits. This resilient gene actually kicked in last January when Florida State rallied from 18 points down to defeat Auburn in the BCS title game.

This Florida State team is not as dominant and would really be pressing its luck by spotting Oregon any large lead.

How big is the season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury to Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered in practice last week?

It's big. Ekpre-Olomu is an All-American and team leader. He probably would have defended Florida State star receiver Rashad Greene. It should be noted, though, that Ekpre-Olomu has been hampered all year with nagging injuries and that allowed young Ducks corners Chris Seisay and Arrion Springs to gain valuable playing experience.

What's the best matchup after Winston vs. Mariota?

The game features two tremendous freshman tailbacks in Oregon's Royce Freeman and Florida State's Dalvin Cook. Freeman is a punishing runner who effectively offsets Oregon's skill-position speed, while Cook has emerged late in the season, with his track-star speed, to provide Florida State the missing offensive backfield piece.

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