SAN FRANCISCO — For only the third time in its 12-year history, the Fight Hunger Bowl will feature two teams with more than seven wins on their resumes.
“It’s probably our best matchup,” Gary Cavalli, the game’s director, said of Friday’s game between Washington (8-4) and BYU (8-4).
Beginning next year, when the game moves from AT&T Park to the new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Cavalli anticipates an even better matchup.
The 2014 edition, which is expected to have a title sponsor and a new name, will be the first of six games pitting the Pac-12 Conference against the Big Ten Conference.
“We’re calling it Rose Bowl North,” Cavalli said.
Since the bowl’s inception in 2002, AT&T Park has been a welcoming host, and the game has had its moments. Cal beat Miami in the 2008 game in front of 42,628 fans. Colin Kaepernick played his final collegiate game here in 2010 before being drafted by the 49ers.
But as college football enters a new era next fall, with its first four-team playoff, the sport’s changing landscape convinced Fight Hunger Bowl officials they needed to respond.
“We had to ask ourselves the hard question: What do we have to do to be competitive, stay relevant in the new era?” Cavalli said.
The 49ers offered the ideal solution: A new, state-of-the-art stadium that will open next year and seat 68,500.
Cavalli is grateful for what the Giants and AT&T Park have provided his game. But playing in what he called “the best baseball stadium in the world” doesn’t translate to football without some compromises, such as field configuration and sight lines.
Moving the game to Levi’s gave Cavalli the opportunity to negotiate a stronger alliance with the Pac-12; the league will send its No. 4 team, rather than its No. 6 team, to the bowl for the next six years. At the same time, Cavalli sought to sign a higher profile partner on the other side of the matchup.
As happy as organizers are to have BYU, with its national following, and Washington, with a strong West Coast fan base, there have been less desirable pairings. In 2011, for instance, the Fight Hunger Bowl matched Illinois, with a 6-6 record and a five-game losing streak, against a 6-7 UCLA team that needed an exemption to be eligible.
That game wasn’t all bad, as it spawned a relationship that aided in the new Pac-12/Big Ten arrangement. Mark Rudner, associate commissioner of the Big Ten, attended the game and went home impressed.
“It sort of fed into our belief that we wanted to place our teams in areas of the country where there were large numbers of Big Ten alumni, in world-class cities, at a well-managed bowl with good opponents,” Rudner said.
There is not a predetermined Big Ten slot that will feed to the bowl. Instead, as the conference adds Maryland and Rutgers next fall to reach 14 members, the bowl will get the Big Ten’s No. 5, 6 or 7 team, to be negotiated each year.
Under those guidelines, this year’s Fight Hunger Bowl likely would have featured UCLA vs. Nebraska, Minnesota or Michigan.
Pac-12 associate commissioner Kevin Weiberg said the combination of Levi’s Stadium and a more stable opponent sold the Pac-12 on providing its No. 4 team to the bowl.
“The opponent has been kind of a moving target,” Weiberg said. “Because of the long history of competing against the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl, there’s a familiarity there. It adds some prestige to the game.”
Cavalli said San Francisco will remain the bowl headquarters, although coaches probably will be given the option to house their teams in Santa Clara on the eve of the game. Otherwise, the teams will continue to tour Alcatraz and serve holiday meals at Glide Memorial Church and St. Anthony’s dining room.
Folks on all sides are embracing the Fight Hunger Bowl’s future.
“Midwesterners do a lot of California dreaming this time of year,” the Big Ten’s Rudner said. “Whether it’s playing the Pac-12 in San Diego or Pasadena or the Bay Area, it’s special.”
Maryland ends ACC run in Military Bowl vs Marshall
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Seems like Maryland is always saying farewell at the Military Bowl.
When the Terrapins last played in the event, Ralph Friedgen walked off the field for the final time in 2010 as coach at his alma mater.
On Friday, Maryland’s first bowl appearance under Randy Edsall will be the football program’s last game as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. After facing Marshall in the sixth Military Bowl, the Terrapins will bid goodbye to ACC football and begin preparing to play next year in the Big Ten.
Maryland’s affiliation with the ACC began in 1953, when it joined as a charter member.
“It is bittersweet,” athletic director Kevin Anderson said Thursday. “I understand how much people love the university and being part of the ACC. I do embrace that. But as we move forward, going to the Big Ten is great for the institution and great for the athletic department.”
The Terrapins (7-5) understand the significance of the move from the ACC. They would love to go out in style, as they did in their final conference game, a 41-21 rout of North Carolina State on Nov. 30.
“We take pride in representing the ACC the right way,” quarterback C.J. Brown said. “We’ve been in this conference a long time. We ended our schedule on a high note, and we’re looking to build upon that in this game.”
Marshall (9-4) has other ideas. The Thundering Herd believes it can make a statement on behalf of Conference USA with a win over the Terrapins.
“We played an ACC school (Virginia Tech) and lost in triple-overtime. That kind of hurt,” Marshall right tackle Clint Van Horn said. “We like the challenge of playing up in competition. We have an opportunity to do that, and you can expect nothing less than the best from us.”
Minnesota returns to Texas Bowl against Syracuse
HOUSTON — Minnesota looks to reach nine wins for the first time since 2003 and end a five-game bowl losing streak when the Gophers face Syracuse in the Texas Bowl on Friday.
It’s their second straight trip to this bowl after they lost to Texas Tech 34-31 last year after a late rally by the Red Raiders.
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill hopes the familiarity with Reliant Stadium will help his team.
“It certainly helps us manage,” he said. “You just don’t know when you’re playing one game, one shot. There’s a lot of enthusiasm and so forth. I’m always kind of a routine guy, so to speak. Certainly it doesn’t hurt any, that’s for sure.”
Quarterback Philip Nelson believes not just the location, but simply playing in a bowl game last season will make Minnesota better prepared this time.
“You definitely know what to expect now,” Nelson said. “I think the whole team has some good experience under their belt. We know what a bowl game is all about, and what it takes to come close, but now we just need to finish the job this year.”
Syracuse coach Scott Shafer joked that the game was “a good opportunity to play some football down in Texas where it might have been invented.”
By wire sources