- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
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Nebraska is playing in the MasterCard Alamo Bowl. It's a consolation prize for a nine-win team that expected to be in the national championship hunt, not back in San Antonio for the second time in the last four years
But don't feel too badly for the Huskers. Or their opponent, Michigan State. This year's Alamo Bowl gift bag is one of the best among the 28 college bowl games.
Both Husker and Spartan players will receive an Oakley 2.0 Crush watch, a wool letterman's jacket with both the Alamo Bowl logo and the team logo and finally, a blue, red and yellow Alamo Bowl throwback jersey.
"A lot of the Michigan State players were excited for the jersey," said Rick Hill, vice president of marketing and communications for the Alamo Bowl.
The NCAA requires that all of the certified bowl games spend thousands in gifts. Each must hand out at least 100 packages worth about $300 each to both participating teams.
Since the items are purchased in bulk, the retail value often surpasses what the bowl paid for the items. An Oakley Crush 2.0 watch, for example, retails for $275 alone.
"Bowl gifts are the physical takeaways that the players are getting from the game," Hill said. "So you want to make sure you give them things they'd want to wear."
In order to make sure they're are up with the hot list, many bowl executives ask the interns to find out the hippest items 20 year olds are looking for these days.
The Miami Hurricanes and Florida State Seminoles will receive rings for playing in the FedEx Orange Bowl. It's the second straight year the Orange Bowl is handing out rings.
By losing the national championship game last year, the Hurricanes didn't receive the 10-karat white gold ring with 66 zirconia stones that went to the Ohio State players. The Hurricanes still walked out with an Xbox machine and two video games, which went to both Fiesta Bowl teams.
CD and DVD players are on the gift lists at many bowls, but the most unique item goes to Oklahoma and LSU playing in this year's BCS championship game at the Nokia Sugar Bowl.
Aside from a throw blanket, a letterman's jacket and the BCS championship ring to the winner, the Sooners and the Tigers will receive Nokia's N-Gage -- a device that is a phone, an MP3 player, a FM stereo and a video game player all in one.
"The players might give some of their other keepsakes away, but they probably won't give that one up," said Paul Hoolahan, executive director of the game.
Rings have become more popular over the years, because they have the highest "keeper ratio" and the bowls don't have to do much leg work.
"It's a lot easier to manage on the production side," said Orange Bowl spokesman Joe Hornstein. "Merchandise is a bit of a hassle, since you have to work with the equipment manager to get all the sizes. Some guys have one size sweatpants and another size sweatshirt."
The Outback Bowl, the Toyota Gator Bowl and New Orleans Bowl also are giving away rings, with the latter sizing up the players when the check into their team hotels.
"The players really like rings," said Alex Langston, director of game operations for the Gator Bowl, which allowed this year's participants, Maryland and West Virginia, to design one side of the ring to their liking.
Aside from getting a pair of Oakley sunglasses and a three-piece set of Mercury luggage, participants in the Las Vegas Bowl -- New Mexico and Oregon State -- receive Boathouse brand sweatsuits.
The largest sizes ordered were for Lobos offensive lineman Calvin McDonald and Robert Turner, who both wear XXXL.
Other pieces of technology being doled out include Panasonic camcorders to North Carolina State, Kansas, Purdue and Georgia -- participants in the Mazda Tangerine Bowl and Capital One Bowl, which are both owned by Florida Citrus Sports.
California and Virginia Tech will receive a Sony digital camera for playing in the Insight Bowl and the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl is giving away an RCA MP3 player with Sony speakers.
Aside from giving away a Samsung MP3 player, the Humanitarian Bowl will be giving players gloves, hat and a winter parka, all adorned with the bowl logo. The reason? One of the bowl week's activities is the official snowmobile ride near Boise, Idaho -- site of the game.
Watches are also one of the frequent perks. The AXA Liberty Bowl, Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl, the Humanitarian Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, the Holiday Bowl, the Outback Bowl and the Continental Tire Bowl are all giving away Fossil watches.
"Fossil has the look everyone seems to want," said Frank Kay, spokesman for the Continental Tire Bowl.
Giving the players something to collect autographs on has become a recent trend. The PlainsCapital Fort Worth Bowl and the Gator Bowl will be giving out souvenir mini helmets, which the players can get signed.
Those playing in the Rose Bowl, MainStay Independence Bowl, the Gator Bowl, the Fort Worth Bowl, the Motor City Bowl and the Liberty Bowl will receive commemorative footballs.
"It's a great opportunity for the guys to pass the ball around and get the autographs of their teammates," said Steve Ehrhart, executive director of the Liberty Bowl, which is also offering a swag bag containing a Nike warm-up suit and parka.
The Motor City Bowl's participants, Northwestern and Bowling Green, will be receiving watches and leather travel bags, in addition to the football.
"We did the footballs because we were having trouble securing Pontiac GTO's," joked Don Loding, director of operations for the Dec. 26 game at Ford Field in Detroit. "They cost a little bit more than $300."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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