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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Idaho-Based Bowl History (2011 Edition)

The inaugural Humanitarian Bowl — since renamed five times — matched Cincinnati, then of Conference USA, against Utah State, then of the Big West, and hasn’t been mentioned by anyone over the 14 years since. This is the Humanitarian Bowl, regardless of the sponsor: permanently in your rearview mirror. But the games themselves have often been as unpredictable as the bowl’s seemingly annual search for a sponsor, which has led the bowl through six different incarnations – from a Web site to a computer hardware distributor to a transportation data provider to a potato.

At least this is no ordinary potato: it’s a Famous Idaho Potato, a spud grown in our 43rd state as a side dish for meals at McDonald’s, Per Se and all restaurants and kitchens in between. I’m eating a Famous Idaho Potato – baked, buttered, salted and Tabasco’d – as we speak.

The first two Humanitarian Bowls, beginning with Cincinnati’s win over Utah State, had no sponsor. Simple, elegant, tasteful: Humanitarian Bowl. In 1998, underdog Idaho rode four touchdowns from quarterback Josh Welsh to a 42-35 win over Southern Mississippi.

But bowl games cost money. They cost money to host: those beloved gift bags may be free to the players, but someone needs to pony up. So beginning in 1999, the bowl-formerly-know-as-Humanitarian took on Crucial.com, an Idaho-based computer company specializing in memory upgrades, as its sponsor.

What the company actually does it a mystery, though its mission statement does claim that employees “spend hours installing and uninstalling memory modules into motherboard after motherboard,” which sounds… dirty. Crucial.com sponsored four bowl games, from 1999-2002, a period that included each of Boise State’s first three major bowl victories.

In 1999, the yet-undiscovered Broncos knocked off Chris Redman-led Louisville, 34-31, in a seesaw affair sealed on a touchdown run by the unforgettable Davy Malaythong – that also sounds dirty. A year later, the Broncos had far less difficulty beating UTEP, 38-23, in Dirk Koetter’s final game with the program. In 2002, Boise topped Seneca Wallace and Iowa State, 34-16, to finish 11-1.

The game went back to its original nomenclature in early 2004 by renaming itself the Humanitarian Bowl. Perhaps the end of the computer bubble – not sure if this is a real thing – signaled the end of smaller Web-based companies sponsoring F.B.S. bowl games, though that’s just a hypothesis.

Whatever the case, the bowl returned to its Humanitarian roots at the tail end of the 2003 season, though the pairing – Georgia Tech and Tulsa – wasn’t much of a draw, either on TV or at the game itself. From that point forward, the bowl would feature at least one team with a geographical presence in the area.

Over the next three years, from 2004-6, the bowl was sponsored by MPC Computers, a now-defunct hardware firm whose former parent company, Micron Technology, also owned Crucial.com – as they say: the names change, but the parent company remains the same. Yet there was something magical about MPC Computers, as the three bowls it sponsored rank among the best in the bowl’s 14-year history.

In 2004, Fresno State beat Virginia in overtime, 37-34. Both teams backed into the game: Fresno State because the Big East couldn’t send a representative, and Virginia because Clemson declined a bowl invitation after a brawl marred its season finale against South Carolina.

Boston College’s win over Boise State a year later was the Broncos’ last loss at home prior to losing to T.C.U. in November. In 2006, Miami (Fla.) squeezed past Nevada, 21-20, in Larry Coker’s final game with the program.

Up next: Roady’s, an independent chain of truck stops with headquarters in New Plymouth, Id., about 50 northwest of Boise. Roady’s put its John Hancock on three bowl games, each featuring one entrant from the WAC; the best game – one of the best bowl games in recent memory – was Idaho’s 43-42 win over Bowling Green in 2009, when the Vandals went for and converted a two-point conversion with four seconds left.

Roady’s still exists, just not as a postseason sponsor. The bowl didn’t stray too far last fall, replacing a truck stop with uDrove, a “compliance management tool for the transportation industry.” Draw your own conclusions. As a reward for putting its name behind the bowl, uDrove witnessed Northern Illinois’ 40-17 mauling of Fresno State. Perhaps as a result, uDrove no longer sponsors any major bowl games.

So here comes the potato – the Potato, rather. Ohio, 9-4, takes on Utah State, 7-5, in the Aggies’ first bowl berth since, yes, the 1997 Humanitarian Bowl. We’ve come full circle, in a way: Utah State against the second-place team from a non-B.C.S. conference. It’s just a different game. And a different sponsor.

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  1. BobJ says:

    What, no sour cream on that potato? Chives? Bacon bits? Butter and Tabasco is just getting started.

    Paul: Sour cream is gross. And bacon bits smell weird. Don’t ask. Now, you want to fry up some bacon in the skillet, cut it up and put it on a potato? Bring it on.

  2. Bobak says:

    I was with this article until I read the comment on sour cream, now I’m sad.

    Also, is this the longest and most thorough article ever written about the Humanitarian Bowl to not mention the blue turf?

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