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UCLA vs. Illinois makes case for bowl contraction
spt mm Klein goal line vs. Iowa State
Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein barks out his cadence during the fourth quarter of the Wildcats' win over Iowa State in the Big 12 Conference finale. Kansas State (10-2) takes on the Arkansas Razorbacks (10-2) in the Cotton Bowl on Friday, Jan. 6, at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. - photo by Mack McClure Great Bend Tribune

If ever there was a game that could be used to make the case that there are too many bowls, it is this one: UCLA vs. Illinois in the Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 31.
The game itself is not the problem. Played at AT&T Park in San Francisco, the home of the baseball Giants, it’s sponsored by Kraft Foods and organizers say they will donate one meal for every ticket sold to one of three local organizations that work to feed those in need.
It’s a good cause and on a schedule that includes the Bowl and the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, the Fight Hunger Bowl sounds downright noble.
The teams, however, are hardly worthy of being rewarded with a postseason game.
Both will have interim coaches, replacing guys who were fired after disappointing regular seasons.
The Bruins fell into a Pac-12 South title, thanks to Southern California’s NCAA sanctions. UCLA backed into the championship game with a 50-0 loss in the season finale to USC. That embarrassment was the final blow for coach Rick Neuheisel, who was fired before UCLA played Oregon for the league title.
With a 6-6 record, UCLA applied for and received a waiver from the NCAA to be eligible for a bowl even if the Bruins lost to the Ducks — which, of course, they did, 49-31.
Mike Johnson, Neuheisel’s offensive coordinator, will coach the bowl game. Jim Mora Jr. has been hired as the permanent replacement.
Complain if you want about a 6-7 team playing in a bowl, but is it any worse than a team that lost its last six games?
The Illini pulled off that trick, becoming the first major college team to start a season 6-0 and lose its next six regular-season games.
That got Ron Zook fired. He was replaced on an interim basis by defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. Tim Beckman of Toledo will take over the program after the bowl.
But, hey, at least the Illini haven’t blown off practice leading to the bowl game.
The Bruins did that Tuesday. There’s a tradition at UCLA called going “over the wall,” where the players bolt from the practice field. It’s a prank that has come and gone and come again at Westwood and seemed to be on its way out for good. Considering how things have gone for UCLA this season, even some of the Bruins agreed this would have been a perfect time to retire the stunt.
“There are still guys in the program who were here at the time it was going on,” junior quarterback Kevin Prince was quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times this week. “They figured once they were seniors they would get the chance to call it. I was hoping it was out of our system. Clearly it is not.”
Often there are teams that deserve better bowls. In this case, maybe the bowl deserves better teams.

The picks:

Meineke Car Care Bowl

Texas A&M (minus 10) vs. Northwestern — Wildcats have not won a bowl since 1949. ... TEXAS A&M 38-31.
Sun Bowl
Georgia Tech (minus 3) vs. Utah — Yellow Jackets on six-game bowl losing streak. ... GEORGIA TECH 24-17.
Liberty Bowl
Vanderbilt (minus 1½) vs. Cincinnati — Bearcats likely to get injured QB Zach Collaros back. ... CINCINNATI 27-24.
Fight Hunger Bowl
UCLA (plus 2½) vs. Illinois — Going over the wall and blowing off this pick.
Chick-fil-A Bowl
Virginia (plus 1½) vs. Auburn — Defending national champions did well just to get bowl eligible. ... AUBURN 21-17.
TicketCity Bowl

Penn State (plus 7) vs. Houston — Not the BCS, but Cougars at least get shot at name brand program. ... PENN STATE 34-28.
Capital One Bowl
Nebraska (plus 1) vs. South Carolina — Can Cornhuskers help Big Ten’s record against SEC? ... SOUTH CAROLINA 18-16
Outback Bowl
Georgia (minus 3) vs. Michigan State —
Spartans have lost five straight bowls, including ‘09 Cap One to Georgia. ... GEORGIA 27-21.
Gator Bowl
Florida (minus 1) vs. Ohio State —
Urban Meyer’s past and future collide. ... OHIO STATE 23-16.
Rose Bowl
Oregon (minus 4½) vs. Wisconsin —
Speed (Ducks) vs. power (Badgers) and lots of points. ... WISCONSIN 35-31.
Fiesta Bowl
Stanford (plus 3½) vs. Oklahoma State —
Winner gets to claim it should have been in national title game. ... OKLAHOMA STATE 45-31.
Sugar Bowl

Michigan (minus 1) vs. Virginia Tech — Explain again how Hokies ended up here? ... MICHIGAN 24-14.
Orange Bowl

West Virginia (pick’em) vs. Clemson — Spread’o’riffic matchup should be entertaining. ... CLEMSON 38-31
Cotton Bowl
Kansas State (plus 7½) vs. Arkansas —
Remarkable stat: Wildcats were outgained by 55 yards per game. ... ARKANSAS 42-24.
BBVA Compass Bowl
Pittsburgh (minus 5½) vs. SMU —
One team was close to losing its coach, the other did. ... PITTSBURGH 28-21.

Arkansas State (minus 1½) vs. Northern Illinois — Sun Belt speed too much for MAC power. ... ARKANSAS STATE 31-23.
BCS National Championship
LSU (minus 1) vs. Alabama —
More points, same winner. ... LSU 20-16.

Championship weekend record: 10-2 (straight); 6-6 (vs. spread).
Regular season record: 211-53 (straight); 127-112-1 (vs. spread).
Best bets: 9-4.
Upset specials (vs. spread): 7-6.