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Game Day: College football’s big finish

Editor’s note: This is the Thursday, December 29, edition of the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

Good morning. Starting today, the college football bowl season gets serious. Not to imply that earlier bowls like the Wasabi Fenway Bowl, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl weren’t serious.

First, the headlines:

LeBron James voiced frustration about playing for a non-contender after the Lakers committed 26 turnovers and lost in Miami.
The Ducks beat conference-leading Vegas in a shootout as John Gibson returned from injury to stop 49 shots.
The Rams and Chargers are getting ready to collide Sunday, with Chargers coach Brandon Staley and several of his players facing their old team, and quarterback Baker Mayfield’s success reflecting Rams coach Sean McVay’s ability to adjust.
In other Rams news, owner Stan Kroenke’s company has bought more commercial property in the West San Fernando Valley, possible home for a new team practice facility.

The next five days will bring 16 bowl games featuring eight clashes between ranked teams (starting with No. 12 Washington vs. No. 21 Texas in the Alamo Bowl today), with USC and UCLA in action, perhaps the last-ever traditional Rose Bowl, and College Football Playoff semifinals setting up the championship game Jan. 9 at SoFi Stadium.

The Southern California News Group papers kicked off coverage with an online program previewing the 109th Rose Bowl, to be played Monday in Pasadena. The 47-minute show can be viewed on SCNG’s YouTube channel by clicking here.

Host James H. Williams, who writes about UCLA football, starts by talking about Rose Bowl history with Joe Blackstock, a former sports writer who writes a local history column for the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, San Bernardino Sun and Riverside Press-Enterprise.

Then Adam Grosbard, our USC beat writer, comes on and helps to analyze the Rose Bowl game between Utah, the Pac-12 champion, and Penn State, representing the Big Ten while Michigan and Ohio State both chase the national title.

One observation from Grosbard: “Usually when we get ready for this Pac-12-Big Ten matchup at the end of the year, we’re talking about how the Big Ten (rep) comes in as the more tested team, and the Pac-12 team might not be ready for that level of competition. I actually think it’s the exact opposite this year. The Pac-12 was, top to bottom, a much deeper conference than the Big Ten. … I think (Utah is) going to be ready for the physicality of Penn State.”

Williams and Grosbard explain what’s ahead for the Rose Bowl as it becomes part of the expanded, 12-team national championship playoff starting with the 2024-25 football season.

The Rose Bowl will give up its tradition of Pac-12 vs. Big Ten matchups on Jan. 1 (or Jan. 2 if New Year’s Day is a Sunday) in exchange for maintaining its prominence. It’s scheduled to host the national semifinal in the 2023-24 season (still a four-team playoff) and then quarterfinals the following two years (in the 12-team format).

“I care a lot about these traditions,” says Grosbard, who grew up in South Pasadena. “It’s kind of hard to imagine (losing them).”

That sentiment would be shared by Joe Mathews, California editor at Zócalo Public Square and a familiar byline for readers of the SCNG opinion pages.

In a column last week headlined “An obituary for the Rose Bowl as we know it,” Mathews wrote: “The causes of death were two chronic California diseases — greed and our winner-take-all culture.”

“In Pasadena, the hometown of your columnist,” Mathews wrote, “city and game officials remained in denial, claiming that the Rose Bowl was very much alive. They noted that the old stadium in the Arroyo Seco will continue to be called ‘Rose Bowl’ and will host college football playoffs for many years to come.

“But the Rose Bowl itself — a postseason football game pitting top teams from the West (Pac-12) and East (Big Ten) — is no more. Ever-changing California has lost a rare and reassuringly stable New Year’s tradition.”

Check SCNG papers’ websites for previews and coverage of major bowls in the next few days, including:

UCLA vs. Pitt in the Sun Bowl in El Paso (Friday, 11 a.m., Ch. 2). The 18th-ranked Bruins (9-3) cap the Dorian Thompson-Robinson era by going for their first 10-win season since 2014.
USC vs. Tulane in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas (Monday, 10 a.m., ESPN). The pre-game question is whether Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams, who injured a hamstring in the Pac-12 championship game loss to Utah, will play when the No. 8 Trojans face the No. 14Green Wave.
The College Football Playoffs semis on Saturday, No. 2 Michigan facing No. 3 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl (1 p.m., ESPN) and No. 1 Georgia facing No. 4 Ohio State in the Peach Bowl (5 p.m., ESPN).

Everybody kids bowls with names like the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl and the Bad Boy Mowers Pinstripe Bowl, but columnist Jim Alexander sticks up for such “minor” bowls and offers several reasons they matter.

“There are, remember, 40 bowl games aside from the CFP, which means 40 chances for teams to lift a trophy at the end and consider their seasons successful in one way or another,” Alexander writes. “And people do watch. Of the nine earliest games on the current bowl schedule, four topped 2 million viewers – including the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl – and another just missed.”

True, but there’s nothing like the part of the bowl season when ranked teams are collidingevery day, a national champion is being crowned and traditions are being celebrated (or mourned).

That part starts today.

TODAY

Clippers, who beat the league-leading Celtics in L.A., try to complete a season series sweep in Boston (4:30 p.m., BSSC).
Kings visit Colorado to face the Avalanche, who won the teams’ past nine meetings (6 p.m., BSW). Preview.

NEXT QUESTION

Who do you pick to win the college football national championship: Georgia? Michigan? TCU? Ohio State? Share your opinion and reason by email (KModesti@scng.com) or on Twitter (@KevinModesti).

280 CHARACTERS

“In pregame, Darvin Ham talked about how nice it was to see everyone stepping up to carry the load in the win over Orlando, making sure others wouldn’t overextend themselves. Looks like that sentiment could last one night.” — Lakers beat writer Kyle Goon ((@KyleGoon) tweeting during last night’s 14-point loss in Miami in which LeBron James was one of few bright spots.

1,000 WORDS

Photo finish: Eyan Turk, a sophomore at Woodcrest Christian School (Riverside) who was named Inland Empire Varsity Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year, is the subject of another great sports feature photo by Terry Pierson of the Press-Enterprise and SCNG.

LET’S TALK

Thanks for reading the newsletter. Send suggestions, comments and questions by email at KModesti@scng.com and via Twitter @KevinModesti.

Editor’s note: Thanks for reading the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

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