Bowling for Dollars

No, sports fans, Santa won't grant your fondest wish and bring you an actual NFL-caliber team in place of the hapless Arizona Cardinals, whose season, thankfully, ends this Sunday in Denver.

But football fanatics still have plenty to look forward to as the Valley hosts a terrific college bowl game between two evenly matched and entertaining teams.

We don't mean next week's Fiesta Bowl, the "national championship" game with the whopping 12-point spread featuring a top-ranked Miami Hurricanes team that should run roughshod over the No. 2-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. (Just a tip: If you go, be prepared for long, momentum-sapping breaks in the action that go with televising an ad-heavy title game. At least this year, there's beer on sale to keep things entertaining.)

No, we're talking about the more even match-up happening in Phoenix's baseball stadium, Bank One Ballpark, on the day after Christmas. The Insight Bowl features the 8-4 Oregon State Beavers, returning to the desert for a postseason game after defeating Notre Dame in the 2000 Fiesta Bowl. The Beavers are slight favorites over the Pittsburgh Panthers, also 8-4. Each team will be paid $750,000, regardless of who wins.

Tension is mounting. Will the Beavers' 10th-ranked defense be able to stop the assault by Panthers running back Brandon Miree and freshman wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald? Oregon State has won four of its last five games, just last month stomping its in-state rival, the Oregon Ducks.

The Beavers' quarterback Derek Anderson and running back Steven Jackson will be on the counterattack, but it's the Beavers' defense that will have to make a stand if they're to stop Pittsburgh QB Rod Rutherford. (Note to Oregon: Rutherford is prone to turnovers, so work that angle.)

Although it's a "minor" bowl game, this year's Insight Bowl will have two talented teams brawling for bragging rights, at least. And hey, you might even be able to get tickets to this one.

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Brendan Joel Kelley