Teams prep­ping for home bowl games

The Standard Journal - - NATIONAL SPORTS - As­so­ci­ated Press Sports Writer

BOCA RA­TON, Fla. — Some­time late Fri­day af­ter­noon, Florida At­lantic will load up its lug­gage and head south to the ho­tel that will house the Con­fer­ence USA cham­pi­ons for their bowl­game prepa­ra­tions. It’ll be a 4-mile drive. The com­forts of home await the Owls this week­end as they get ready to play in the Boca Ra­ton Bowl, and they’re hardly the only team in Amer­ica that won’t be see­ing a new part of the coun­try as part of the post­sea­son perk pack­age. FAU, Mi­ami, Navy and Mem­phis are play­ing bowl games on their home fields, and five other teams — six if Ge­or­gia makes the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off ti­tle game — will play bowls in their home states.

“A chance to stay home is re­ally spe­cial, ba­si­cally to have an­other home game,” said FAU coach Lane Kif­fin, whose Owls will es­sen­tially “host” Akron in the Boca Ra­ton Bowl. “From that ad­van­tage, it’s re­ally neat. Our play­ers ob­vi­ously at first were like, ‘Well, we don’t get to go any­where.’ But then when they re­ally looked at it, they re­al­ize, ‘Hey, we’re hon­ored be­cause we’re go­ing to the best bowl that there is for our con­fer­ence.’”

The Boca Ra­ton Bowl is Tues­day, the first of the four de facto home games for some teams in this post­sea­son. Navy is re­main­ing in An­napo­lis, Mary­land, for its bowl, the Dec. 28 Mil­i­tary Bowl against Vir­ginia. Mi­ami is headed to the Or­ange Bowl on Dec. 30, where Wis­con­sin awaits. And Mem­phis is off to the Lib­erty Bowl, set to meet Iowa State on Dec. 30.

Mem­phis had hopes of get­ting into a New Year’s Six bowl. When that didn’t hap­pen af­ter a loss to UCF in the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence ti­tle game, wide re­ceiver An­thony Miller said go­ing to the Lib­erty Bowl “was the next-best thing.”

“I don’t mind,” Miller said. “I just love the en­ergy of be­ing at the Lib­erty Bowl. I love be­ing in Mem­phis. I love the fans. It’s my se­nior year. It’s my last year. I don’t think there’s a bet­ter way that I could end it.”

FAU hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2008, so its up­per­class­men all will at­test that be­ing home for a bowl obvi- ously is bet­ter than be­ing at home with no games left to play. Navy had pre­ar­ranged many of its bowl sites for the last decade or so, though now falls into the AAC mix — and the Mil­i­tary Bowl was thrilled to pit the Mid­ship­men against the Cavaliers, given how the cam­puses are roughly 150 miles apart.

Mi­ami ended a decade-long bowl-vic­tory drought last sea­son, rose to No. 2 in the na­tional rank­ings this sea­son be­fore drop­ping its fi­nal two games and has rev­eled in how that suc­cess re-en­er­gized the fan base. The Hur­ri­canes fell out of CFP con­tention with losses to Pitts­burgh and Clem­son, but one last night at Hard Rock Sta­dium is more than a con­so­la­tion prize for their se­niors.

“It’s go­ing to be some­what of a home game for us,” coach Mark Richt said. “It is our home sta­dium. Our fans have been phe­nom­e­nal all year long. It’s been one of the best turnouts of fans, prob­a­bly in the history of Hard Rock Sta­dium. ... Even though we are home, in our home city, we know we’re go­ing to get a chance to do some things we don’t nor­mally get to do that the bowl will pro­vide for us.”

Florida In­ter­na­tional, SMU, Texas, TCU and Wake For­est are also play­ing in-state bowls. SMU is go­ing only 28 miles to Frisco, Texas, for its game, Wake For­est is go­ing 80 miles to Char­lotte, and Texas coach Tom Her­man is go­ing back to Hous­ton — his former home.

“I think it’s neat,” Her­man said. “It’s a city that my fam­ily and my­self have called home on a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions, at Rice (and) at the Univer­sity of Hous­ton. ... It is a city that I have a lot of friends and peo­ple that I know back there, and I’m ex­cited to bring our team out to Hous­ton to play in front of them.”

Navy quar­ter­back Zach Abey and his team­mates will face Vir­ginia on Dec. 28 in the Mil­i­tary Bowl in An­napo­lis, Md.

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