Monday, December 19, 2005

2005-06 Bowl Extravaganza

The bowl season coincides with my favorite time of the year. I'm sure the bowl season itself plays a big part in my affinity for this time of year but December has always been the pinnacle of the year for me for various reasons. As if December wasn't good enough already with long school breaks, Christmas and New Year's eve, the sports world is in full force. The NBA and NHL are in full swing. College basketball is ripe with marquee non-conference match-ups. The NFL is steamrolling towards the playoffs. December is a sports fans mecca. With the overload of sports, it's not easy to keep up with everything. My gift to you is a Bowl season preview/guide/commentary/whatever you want to call that takes a look at all 28 Bowl games. It is my hope that this provides you with joy throughout the holiday season and maybe even through January if you're lucky. With no further delay, I present to you my 2005/6 Bowl Extravaganza:

New Orleans Bowl
Southern Miss (6-5) vs. Arkansas State (6-5) Lafayette, La.

Dec. 20, 8 p.m. ESPN

Southern Mississippi needed a win in their season finale against Tulane to become bowl eligible. However, I assure you that they aren’t that bad. All five of their losses came against bowl teams including a nine point loss at Alabama and a four point loss at NC State. They lost to Houston and Memphis by two and three points respectively. S. Mississippi isn’t a top 25 football team by any means but they’ve proven they can play with a fairly difficult schedule. Arkansas State, on the other hand, was far less impressive with a much easier schedule. Arkansas St. was dominated by Army 38-10 but that wasn’t even their worst loss of the season. They lost to Middle Tennessee St. (who finished 4-7) by a score of 45-7! This game looks even on paper with both teams coming from weak conferences and having identical records. Don’t let that fool you. Southern Mississippi should take care of business.

UTEP (8-3) vs. Toledo (8-3) Mobile, Ala.

Dec. 21, 8 p.m. ESPN

If you don’t have a problem watching no-namers play football, this could be an entertaining match-up. Mike Price has rebounded nicely from his mysterious escapade with a stripper down in Alabama. He’s guided UTEP to two straight winning seasons. Price has definitely taken advantage of UTEP’s weak schedule. The Miners most impressive win was over an 8-4 Tulsa team. After that, it’s hard to distinguish because their schedule was so bad. Basically, if UTEP did any worse than 8-3 with that schedule, some people might question Price’s coaching ability. It was that bad. Despite going 8-3, Toledo just wasn’t as good as they have been in the last few years. They lost by 30 to Fresno St. in a nationally televised game on ESPN. They also lost to Central Michigan for the first time since 1994.. Toledo only beat two D-1 teams with winning records; Western Michigan and Bowling Green. These two teams have similar resumes but I have more respect for Toledo. UTEP comes in having lost its last two games to UAB and SMU. Plus, UTEP barely beat Rice. Rice finished 1-10. Toledo should pull out a squeaker.

Pioneer PureVision Las Vegas Bowl
BYU (6-5) vs. California (7-4) Las Vegas, Nev.
Dec. 22, 8 p.m. ESPN

With Aaron Rodgers off to the NFL, Jeff Tedford put his season on the shoulders of Joseph Ayoob. Let’s just say that experiment didn’t go over too well. Cal started the season 5-0 but that was a bit misleading considering the opponents that led to the five wins. None of the five wins came against a bowl team and the combined record of those teams is 9-47. Cal went 2-4 in its next six games but did finish the season on a high note by winning 27-3 at Stanford. One side note, Stanford would’ve been bowl eligible had they only beaten Div 1-AA UC Davis. That has to sting. That loss is the gift that keeps on giving. BYU’s bowl participation is a direct result of its schedule strength. The Cougars six wins came against a group of teams consisting of; Eastern Illinois, New Mexico, Colorado St., Air Force, UNLV, and Wyoming. BYU did manage to put up 50 points in a one point loss to TCU. I have no idea how that happened considering TCU has one of the best defenses in football. Cal replaced Ayoob with its backup fullback from last season. That makes me a little nervous. However, Cal’s defense should overwhelm BYU and lead to a narrow victory.

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
Colorado State (6-5) vs. Navy (7-4) San Diego, Calif.
Dec. 22, 10:30 p.m. ESPN2

As I was watching the first half of the Army/Navy game, I swore that I would not pick Navy to win its bowl game no matter who it played. Navy came out and laid the smackdown in the second half which made me rethink my stance a little but I was still pretty sure I would not pick Navy. Then, it was announced that Navy would play Colorado St. and I all but abandoned my stance of not picking Navy. Colorado St. has generally been a solid team but they, like BYU, became bowl eligible this season by beating up a bunch of Mountain West lightweights. Their marquee win was a three touchdown victory over Nevada. Nevada, remember, pounded Fresno St. last week so that counts for something I guess. Navy has rebuilt its image entirely on scheduling the worst possible opponents. I thought this was a brilliant plan by Navy coach Paul Johnson. It was so brilliant, in fact, that Bobby Ross pulled Army out of Conference USA so he could do the same thing. Why play in a conference when you can schedule the worst teams from multiple conferences? I’m not being facetious here; Navy is no longer considered a joke. They’ve made three straight bowl games and have regained some national prominence. Look for Army to do the same fairly soon. Having said that, beating Duke, Air Force, Kent St., Rice, Tulane, Temple, and Army doesn’t go far in making me think Navy will beat Colorado St. This game could go either way but Navy lost to every decent team on its schedule. I’ll take CSU.

Fort Worth Bowl
Kansas (6-5) vs. Houston (6-5) Fort Worth, Texas
Dec. 23, 8 p.m. ESPN

I don’t know if I could sit down and watch this game from start to finish without turning the channel even if somebody paid me. My first thoughts are that this Houston team is probably better than the David Klingler led Houston team that was proclaimed pre-season #1 by Sports Illustrated back in 1991. My second thought is that I would be more willing to watch this match-up if halftime featured an eating contest between coaches. Mark Mangino might be a good coach but I bet he’s even a better eater. I want to see the man pull off a Tony Stewart 2-in-1-day feat. Anyhow, Kansas’s six wins can be broken down into two distinct categories; extremely unimpressive and slightly impressive. The first three victories came against Florida Atlantic, Appalachian St. and Louisiana Tech. The next three victories came against Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa St. In fact, Kansas was probably the best team in the Big XII North at the end of the season. Houston, on the other hand, was one of six Conference USA teams to become bowl eligible. Something tells me that the teams in Conference USA have figured out the secret to becoming bowl eligible. The secret formula pretty much consists of everyone beating Rice and Tulane, and beating a D-1AA opponent. That leaves each team needing three wins in their remaining eight games. That plan works so well that C-USA was very close to getting nine teams to be bowl eligible. Anyhow, as much respect as I have for beating Rice and Tulane, I think Kansas keeps on a roll and takes down Houston even without David Klinger.

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl
Nevada (8-3) vs. UCF (8-4) Honolulu, Hawaii
Dec. 24, 8:30 p.m. ESPN

There’s a C-USA theme to these early bowl games. As I said earlier, kudos to them for figuring out how to maximize bowl bids. UCF finished two games ahead of everyone else in the conference which doesn’t say much considering a). C-USA is terrible and b). they didn’t have to play UTEP. Throw in the fact that they lost by 21 to S. Miss and by 17 to Tulsa and I get the feeling that UCF is really no different than the other bowl eligible teams from the conference. Nevada seems like a dangerous team considering they just pulled off an upset over Fresno St. However, I do think that upset was more about Fresno St. being uninspired after barely losing to #1 USC. A quick glance at Nevada’s resume confirms that the victory over Fresno probably had more to do with Fresno than it did with Nevada. The Wolf Pack lost by 34 to Washington St., by 21 to Colorado St., and by 35 to Boise St. This game could go either way but if forced to choose, I’ll take George O’Leary and his fraudulent resume to beat Nevada.

Motor City Bowl
Memphis (6-5) vs. Akron (7-5) Detroit, Mich.
Dec. 26, 4 p.m. ESPN

Let me just start off by saying that Akron is the worst bowl team in college football history. There is no question in my mind that this is the case. Just to prove my point, Akron lost to Army 20-0. It has been thirteen years since Army shut out a team. That team, coincidentally enough, was also Akron. It’s been 24 years since Army shut out a D-1 team that wasn’t Akron. That was Princeton who promptly moved to D-1AA the next season. In short, getting shutout by Army is about as bad as it gets. If that wasn’t bad enough, until Army’s 20 point victory over Akron this season, the Black Knights hadn’t beaten any team by twenty points since 1999. That victory came against the memorable 0-11 Ball St. team. So, before I even get in to Memphis, it’s safe to say that I don’t have a lot of confidence in Akron. Somehow, someway, they managed to beat N. Illinois twice this season. Does that make N. Illinois the worst bowl team ever? That’s a good question. As for Memphis, they beat three of the other five bowl teams from C-USA. They also just missed beating Tennessee which, despite Tennessee not making a bowl, would’ve been extremely impressive. As enticing as it is for me to pick the team that I think is the worst bowl team ever, I’ll pass and take Memphis to rush for 400 yards and win.

Champs Sports Bowl
Clemson (7-4) vs. Colorado (7-5) Orlando, Fla.
Dec. 27, 5 p.m. ESPN

I bet the Champs Sports Bowl executives (are you serious?) were overjoyed at getting a Colorado team that just lost by 67 points. This bowl might sound new but it has been around since 1990 in some form or another. Here is a brief history of this bowl:

Blockbuster Bowl (1990-1993)
Carquest Bowl (1994-1997)
MicronPC Bowl (1998-1999) Bowl (2000)
Visit Florida Tangerine Bowl (2001)
Mazda Tangerine Bowl (2002-2003)
Champ Sports Bowl (2004-present)

Back when this bowl was the Blockbuster Bowl, it was one of my favorite games to watch. The inaugural Blockbuster Bowl pit Joe Paterno and Penn St. against Bobby Bowden and Florida St. which happens to be this year’s Orange Bowl. I want to take a minute to express my dissatisfaction for Texas and Mack Brown. I have never seen a team score 90 points in my life. Texas had 70 points with 11:00 left in the THIRD quarter. All they needed was three touchdowns in, what essentially comes down to, a half. Instead, they scored zero points the rest of the way. Ugh. A lot of times you can pick the winner of a bowl game by studying how each team finished the season. So, let’s take a look. Colorado finished the season on a three game losing streak. The last two losses were by a combined score of 100-6. In slightly more impressive fashion, Clemson finished the season by beating Florida St. and S. Carolina. Hmmm, I wonder who’s going to win. Before Gary Barnett was fired/dismissed/resigned, I thought that this bowl game could be the venue for the first ever “loser leaves town” match. Since neither the Colorado faithful, nor the Clemson faithful liked their coach, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to try something new. If Clemson lost, Tommy Bowden would lose his job as Clemson’s head coach and vice versa. My guess is that neither school would’ve signed the contract for a “loser leaves town” match so we’re forced to watch Clemson vs. Colorado with nothing on the line. If Tommy Bowden loses to Colorado, he shouldn’t be allowed to coach so maybe it will turn into an informal “loser leaves town” match. As much as I’m tempted to take Colorado to bounce back from a 67 point loss, I’ll go with Clemson.

Insight Bowl
Arizona State (6-5) vs. Rutgers (7-4) Phoenix, Ariz.
Dec. 27, 8:30 p.m. ESPN

Can any other team in college football match Arizona St.’s propensity to fall apart as the season moves along? Well, maybe Minnesota but I’ll have more to say about that when I talk about the Music City bowl. Anyhow, since 2000, ASU is 18-6 in games before October 1. In games on or after October 1, ASU is 20-28. Clearly, the record before October 1 is a bit skewed due to some easy non-conference games but there is no reason for Arizona St. to finish below .500 (games after October 1 are generally Pac-Ten games) in the conference over a five year stretch. This season was no different. After dismantling Temple, Northwestern, and Oregon St., and barely losing to LSU, ASU went into the tank. Losing Sam Keller for the rest of the season was a big blow but freshmen Rudy Carpenter filled in admirably. In eight games, Carpenter threw 13 touchdowns with just two interceptions. He completed close to 70% of his passes and had a ridiculous quarterback rating of 167.7. All of those numbers were better than Keller’s before the injury. Rutgers finally made it to a bowl game after a 27 year drought. The Scarlet Knights are a mystery as evidenced by their ten point win over Navy and their 51 point loss to Louisville. Those are the two defining games for Rutgers this season. The rest of their resume is a big pile of meaningless wins and losses with the exception of one game. Rutgers lost to Illinois. I’m going to apply the much used and extremely underappreciated transitive property here. Arizona St. beat Northwestern by 31 points. Northwestern beat Illinois by 17 points. Illinois beat Rutgers by 3. So, Arizona St. wins.

MPC Computers Bowl
Boise State (9-3) vs. Boston College (8-3) Boise, Idaho
Dec. 28, 4:30 p.m. ESPN

Amazingly, after all the dust of the season settled, Boise St. ended up right back on top of the WAC. Boise St. entered the season with much fanfare and a huge non-conference battle with Georgia. The Blue Turf Boys promptly lost their first two games of the season as well as their conference showdown with Fresno St. Fresno seemed to have the conference title wrapped up until they choked against Nevada and Louisiana Tech in the last two games of the season. Boise St. hammered Nevada and La. Tech which ended up being the key to the title. Boston College didn’t beat any marquee teams this season but having said that, their resume is filled with victories over decent teams. They beat BYU, Clemson, Wake Forest, Virginia, North Carolina St. and Maryland. If this game were being played anywhere other than Idaho, I’d take Boston College. However, when Boise St. plays on the blue turf, they’re like Smurfs jacked up on speed. I’ll take Boise St. in a mild upset.

MasterCard Alamo Bowl
Michigan (7-4) vs. Nebraska (7-4) San Antonio, Texas
Dec. 28, 8 p.m. ESPN

If Michigan fans would’ve known before the season started that the Wolverines would be playing Nebraska in the bowl game, the sell-out streak at the Big House might have been in jeopardy. Nebraska is easily Michigan’s worst bowl opponent since the 1994 Hall of Fame Bowl against North Carolina St. As a college football semi-traditionalist, I hate seeing Nebraska as a pass-happy team. It seems a bit silly to me that they abandoned the option. Nobody ever really managed to stop it. I think the Nebraska AD dropped the ball on that one. Nebraska’s history aside, Bill Callahan will have the Cornhuskers in the top ten very soon. I guess it doesn’t matter how you win as long as you win. Lloyd Carr will likely end the season on a positive note with a victory which will allow him to proclaim the season a success. I wonder if Lloyd remembers that Michigan started the season ranked #4.

Emerald Bowl
Georgia Tech (7-4) vs. Utah (6-5) San Francisco
Dec. 29, 4:30 p.m. ESPN

If the NCAA had any brains and adopted a football playoff like the basketball tournament, Georgia Tech would be one of those teams seeded high despite a less than impressive won/loss record. Nobody in college football can match Ga. Tech’s marquee wins over Auburn and Miami. Throw in a victory over Clemson and you have a rock solid resume. Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, there were nine other games on the schedule. To its credit, Ga. Tech didn’t have a bad loss this season which makes this year a success by any measure. If this Utah team played last year’s Utah team, last year’s Utah team would win by seven touchdowns. Utah is just like any other bowl eligible team from the Mountain West Conference with the exception of TCU. There are four teams from the MWC that finished 6-5 and they all stink. If Ga. Tech’s victories over Miami and Auburn mean anything, the Yellow Jackets should pound Utah.

Pacific Life Holiday Bowl
Oregon (10-1) vs. Oklahoma (7-4) San Diego
Dec. 29, 8 p.m. ESPN

Oklahoma played four good teams this year and they went 0-4 in those games. The Sooners did manage to finish 5-1 in their last six games. The loss was a two point defeat at Texas Tech. After starting the season 2-3, Bob Stoops couldn’t have hoped for a better ending to the season. Despite a somewhat salvaged season, Oklahoma was poor on both sides of the ball when compared to the Sooners normal standards. Oregon tried to complain its way into a BCS game despite having beaten a big pile of nobodies. If the BCS has to exist, I’m at least thankful that teams are not solely selected for the BCS games based on won/loss record. Ohio St and Auburn both deserved a BCS nod over Oregon. Having said that, Oklahoma lost every game in which they were tested this year. This game sounds like a test to me so I’ll take Oregon to come out motivated and win much like UCLA did against Oklahoma earlier in the season.

Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl
Minnesota (7-4) vs. Virginia (6-5) Nashville, Tenn.
Dec. 30, Noon ESPN

In the last three seasons, Minnesota has started a combined 15-0 before losing. The Gophers followed that up by going 10-13 the rest of the way. Despite pulling an Arizona St. and tanking the second half of each season, Minnesota has managed to go 3-0 in its bowl games. The Gophers beat Arkansas, Oregon, and Alabama to end each season on a high note. Virginia seems to fit right in with that group of teams. Virginia comes from a respected conference with little knowledge of Minnesota’s running game. I don’t think other conferences really understand how well Minnesota runs the ball. The blocking schemes are top notch. Combine that with talented runners like Laurence Maroney and Gary Russell and it makes for a lethal combination. Virginia has a good defense but could be biting off more than it can chew against the Golden Glen Mason’s. Minnesota should win this one in a very close game.

Vitalis Sun Bowl
Northwestern (7-4) vs. UCLA (9-2) El Paso, Texas
Dec. 30, 2 p.m. CBS

There are certain games that scream “transitive property” and this is one of them. UCLA beat Arizona St. by ten. Arizona St. beat Northwestern by 31. It seems like this game should be a blowout. The one caveat for Northwestern is that UCLA has possibly the worst defense in D-1 football. The Bruins allowed 457 yards per game. Coincidentally, Northwestern’s strength is gaining yards. The Wildcats average 492 yards on offense. If there’s a 9-2 team that Northwestern can beat, UCLA is that team. A victory over UCLA would be huge, not only for Northwestern, but for the Big Ten since this seems like a mismatch. Both teams should score in the 30’s but only one team will score in the 40’s and that should be UCLA. For a historical perspective, Northwestern is 0-4 in its last four bowl games and hasn’t won a bowl game since 1948. UCLA will come out on top.

Independence Bowl
South Carolina (7-4) vs. Missouri (6-5) Shreveport, La.
Dec. 30, 3:30 p.m. ESPN

Brad Smith rushed for over 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns for Missouri. For those of you that don’t know, Smith is Missouri’s quarterback. Unfortunately for Smith and Missouri, he isn’t anywhere near as good of a thrower as he is a runner. Other than David Klinger, Smith might have put up the most impressive numbers in the least impressive fashion in recent memory. Missouri barely managed a 6-5 record with losses to New Mexico, Kansas, and Kansas St. Smith was a waste of talent in the same way Antwan Randal El was for Indiana. S. Carolina enters the bowl game having passed all pre-season expectations except for Lou Holtz’s of course. Holtz apparently told everyone before the season that S. Carolina was the best team in the SEC. Did I mention that Holtz recruited just about every player on the Gamecock’s roster? Anyhow, Steve Spurrier put S. Carolina on the map this season by beating Tennessee and Florida. S. Carolina hadn’t beaten either team since 1992 and hadn’t beaten both teams in the same season ever. The best football, week in and week out is played in the SEC. S. Carolina should corral Smith and beat Missouri in a close game.

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
Miami (9-2) vs. LSU (10-2) Atlanta
Dec. 30, 7:30 p.m. ESPN

If these two teams switched jerseys before the game and then played, I doubt anyone would ever know except for the slight change in skin complexion of the respective quarterbacks. These two teams couldn’t be more evenly matched. Both teams struggle on offense far too often. Both teams are extremely aggressive and often dominating on defense. LSU definitely has the more impressive resume with victories over Arizona St., Auburn, Alabama, and Florida. Miami beat Clemson, Virginia, and Virginia Tech. I’m a bit concerned by LSU’s lopsided loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship game. Miami’s defense is every bit as good as Georgia’s. LSU’s conservative approach will cost them in a close battle with the ‘Canes. Miami should pull it out.

Meineke Car Care Bowl
South Florida (6-5) vs. NC State (6-5) Charlotte, N.C.
Dec. 31, 11 a.m. ESPN2

I can’t say I’m all that impressed with either team. S. Florida made some waves by hammering Louisville which goes down in my book as one of the all-time fluke wins in college football history. I would bet that if those two teams played ten times, Louisville would win nine of them. S. Florida did lose to some very good teams in Miami, Penn St., and West Virginia. However, they also lost to Connecticut which might not sound that bad until you remember that Dan Orlovsky doesn’t play for the Huskies anymore. They also lost to Pittsburgh which is not a good thing. NC State is a mystery. They beat Florida St. and Ga. Tech and barely lost to Va. Tech. Their losses weren’t to bad teams but losses to Wake Forest and North Carolina don’t sound very impressive. In a game like this, I generally go with the team from the better conference. NC State should smack S. Florida and make Chuck Amato lose his voice in joy. If Chuck Amato loses his voice and everyone is around to see it, would anyone notice?

AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Tulsa (8-4) vs. Fresno State (8-4) Memphis, Tenn.
Dec. 31, 1 p.m. ESPN

Conference USA continues its assault on the bowl season with Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane lost its first two games of the season to Minnesota and Oklahoma. After that, Tulsa finished 8-2 with victories over a bunch of nobodies. They did beat three of the C-USA’s other five bowl teams but that means about as much as Stanford beating UC Davis oh wait, never mind. Fresno St. was having a dream season as late as November 19. They entered the game against #1 USC at 8-1 with a shot at a BCS game and a top ten ranking. They barely lost to the Trojans and then tanked the rest of the season to finish 8-4. Fresno beat one good team all year and that was at home against Boise St. The difference between Boise St. at home and Boise St. on the road is like the difference between He-Man and Prince Adam. There’s just no comparison. This game would be a good game to watch if you’re suffering from a serious bout of the flu and experiencing delusions of grandeur. Other than that, scan the channels for some figure skating. If Fresno has any self respect whatsoever, they should win this game easily. Houston Bowl
TCU (10-1) vs. Iowa State (7-4) Houston, Texas
Dec. 31, 2:30 p.m. ESPN2

Transitive property time. TCU beat Oklahoma 17-10. Oklahoma beat Baylor 37-30. Baylor beat Iowa St. 23-13. This proof also works with Nebraska and Kansas. If TCU can beat Oklahoma at Oklahoma, then they should have no problem beating Iowa St. The problem with Iowa St. is that they’re a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde team. They dominated Iowa but lost to Baylor and barely beat Army. I don’t think too fondly of teams that barely beat Army so I’m going to go with TCU.

AT&T Cotton Bowl
Texas Tech (9-2) vs. Alabama (9-2) Dallas, Texas
Jan. 2, 11 a.m. Fox

This is the kind of match-up that bowl games are all about. Texas Tech’s vaunted passing game and matador defense against Alabama’s ferocious defense and non-existent offense. I like what Mike Leach has done with the Texas Tech program. He’s turned the Red Raiders into a winning program with a “gimmick”-type offense. In order to consistently win at a school like Texas Tech, you need to do something very well. Leach has that in his passing game. The problem is that without the top caliber athletes, Texas Tech won’t ever be able to compete on a national basis. Here is the list of teams Texas Tech beat this year (stop me when I get to a good team); Florida International, Sam Houston St., Indiana St., Kansas, Nebraska, Kansas St., Baylor, Texas A & M, and Oklahoma. The victory over an average Oklahoma team was the marquee win of the year. Alabama’s season was derailed by the injury to Tyrone Prothro. After Prothro went down, Bama’s offense went thirteen straight quarters without an offensive touchdown. Bama’s big win this season came at home against Florida. Other than that, they really didn’t accomplish anything special in terms of quality wins. Bama’s defense only gave up 248 yards per game which is phenomenal. This game should be an entertaining clash of vastly different styles. My guess is that Alabama won’t be able to score enough points to beat Texas Tech.

Outback Bowl
Iowa (7-4) vs. Florida (8-3) Tampa, Fla.
Jan. 2, 11 a.m. ESPN

This is a battle of two underachieving teams. Both Iowa and Florida started the season in the top ten with BCS aspirations. Iowa’s season ended quickly with an embarrassing blowout loss to Iowa St. Florida started off 5-0 before getting pummeled by Alabama. Both teams responded to early adversity by putting together a nice run to end the season. Iowa lost to Michigan and Northwestern by a combined four points and finished the season with impressive victories over Wisconsin and Minnesota. Florida beat Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida St. in the same season for the first time since 1996. Each team will be looking to end the season on a high note with a win. Iowa played Florida in the Outback just two years ago and won by 20. I look for Florida to return the favor in a close game. Both of these teams should be top ten teams next season.

Toyota Gator Bowl
Louisville (9-2) vs. Virginia Tech (10-2) Jacksonville, Fla.
Jan. 2, 12:30 p.m. NBC

Va. Tech dodged a bullet when Louisville announced that Brian Brohm would be out for the rest of the season. The Cardinals are one of the most devastating teams in college football. They play offense with machine-like efficiency. They won eight of nine games by ten points or more. They beat Oregon St. by 36, Rutgers by 51 and N. Carolina by 55. I don’t think most people understand how impressive those win margins are especially the N. Carolina game. The Tar Heels beat Utah, North Carolina St., Virginia, and Boston College (all bowl teams). They also played Ga. Tech and Wisconsin (bowl teams) in which they only lost by nine and six points respectively. I still can’t believe that Louisville beat N. Carolina by 55 points. It has to be the most impressive win of the season for any team. Louisville was dominating W. Virginia (24-7) before the Mountaineers made a remarkable comeback to force overtime. W. Virginia eventually won on a failed two-point conversion by Louisville. Given the way Louisville controlled most of the game and the fact that that the game was in Morgantown, I have to think that Louisville would clearly be the better team on just about any other night. Louisville’s loss to S. Florida was an anomaly but it happened nonetheless. Without Brohm, the Cardinals could be in trouble against Va. Tech’s defense. The Hokies were benefactors of the hype-machine early in the season before being put in their place by a couple of ACC teams that you may have heard about (Miami and Florida St.). Va. Tech is still a good team but nowhere near as good as some believed early in the season. I was looking forward to seeing Louisville jump all over some unsuspecting victim in its bowl game but without Brohm, it’s not going to happen. Louisville does have the most devastating defensive player in college football in Elvis Dumervil. He’s almost an exact replica of Dwight Freeney. Whoever drafts Dumervil will have a dominating sack-artist for the foreseeable future. Despite Dumervil’s brilliance, the Cardinals will miss Brohm and Va. Tech should win this game in a defensive affair.

Capital One Bowl
Wisconsin (9-3) vs. Auburn (9-2) Orlando, Fla.
Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ABC

I feel sorry for Barry Alvarez and the Wisconsin faithful. Two years ago they were matched up against Auburn in the Music City Bowl. Auburn was coming off of a disappointing season but that team was about to go on a 15 game win streak. Jason Campbell, Cadillac Williams, and Ronnie Brown were just finding their groove. Wisconsin had no chance. Last year, Wisconsin played Georgia in the Outback bowl. Georgia was a dominating team that had as much talent as any team in college football. Wisconsin had no chance. This year, Wisconsin gets teamed up with the most underrated team in college football. Auburn has been killing people ever since losing its first game of the season to Ga. Tech. Eight of Auburn’s nine wins this year came by ten points or more. Seven of Auburn’s nine wins came by 17 points or more. Auburn finished the season by beating two top ten teams in Georgia and Alabama. Auburn is certainly not the kind of team that you want to play in a bowl game especially if you’re Wisconsin. The Badgers season was basically made by beating Michigan. If it weren’t for the victory over Michigan, Wisconsin would’ve finished 8-4 with no marquee wins. Even with the Michigan win, Wiscy’s resume includes wins over Bowling Green, Temple, N. Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, and Hawaii. This game could get ugly as Wisconsin gets blasted by an SEC team for the third consecutive year.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
Notre Dame (9-2) vs. Ohio State (9-2) Tempe, Ariz.
Jan. 2, 4:30 p.m. ABC

Aside from Texas/USC, this is the game of the bowl season. In my opinion, the top four teams in college football right now are USC, Texas, Ohio St. and Notre Dame. Penn St. certainly has every right to be ranked higher but there’s no way that Penn St. is better than Notre Dame or Ohio St (And yes, I realize that Penn St. beat Ohio St. but good teams are supposed to win at home). Ohio St. enters just about every game with an advantage in game-planning on special teams. This game will be the rare occasion when Ohio St. might be at a disadvantage in the coaching match-up. Notre Dame came within one 4th and 9 stop from dethroning USC from the top of the mountain. The Irish scored at least 31 points in each of its last nine games. Brady Quinn had one of the greatest seasons in Notre Dame’s history. For the first time in recent memory, Notre Dame has playmakers on both sides of the ball. Ten years from now, you will likely see at least a dozen players from this game in the NFL. The talent on this field will be reminiscent of the talent on the field when Miami played Notre Dame in the early 90’s. Ohio St. clearly has the better defense. I have never seen a better linebacker corps in my 20 years of watching college football. A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter should both be first round draft picks. Anthony Schlegel might not be in their class but he’s a top notch player. Notre Dame won’t be able to run the ball so it all falls on Quinn’s shoulders. Ohio St.’s secondary gets overlooked but they are an above average unit despite giving up a million yards passing to Minnesota’s Brian Cupito. I have all the confidence in the world that if Jim Tressel doesn’t screw up the game by limiting the offensive game-plan, that Ohio St. should beat everyone. Tressel single handidly lost the Texas game by calling a game so conservatively that it made Lloyd Carr look like Mike Martz. Tressel generally has his team playing its best football in the bowl game so I expect this year to be no different. Ohio St. should win this game but it would not surprise me if Tressel over-coaches Ohio St. to a loss.

Nokia Sugar Bowl
West Virginia (10-1) vs. Georgia (10-2) Atlanta
Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ABC

Am I the only person that has noticed the dramatic decline in the quality of bowl games since the BCS took over? The automatic bids and conference tie-ins often lead to sub-par bowl match-ups that nobody wants to see. This year’s Sugar bowl is an example of what I’m talking about. W. Virginia is 10-1 coming out of the Big East conference which isn’t saying much. They are going to get annihilated by Georgia but because of the BCS, there is no way around this game. Back in the days when bowls executives were allowed to hand out bids to whoever they want, the quality of the bowl game was directly dependent on the ability of the bowl to put together a good game. Now, the quality of a bowl depends on the pre-determined set of teams that a bowl is allowed to choose from. In some cases, conference tie-ins decide the match-up all together with little to no input from the bowl organizers. The BCS stinks because it is a ridiculous way of determining a National Champion but it also stinks because it has led to watered-down bowl games. I’ll have more to say about bowl games when I talk about the Orange Bowl. W. Virginia did manage to beat Louisville but, like I mentioned above, the Mountaineers needed a miraculous comeback just to send the game to overtime. If Louisville played W. Virginia the next week, I would’ve bet $50 that Louisville would win by at least seven points. The rest of the W. Virginia schedule is a joke. Georgia is undefeated this year with D.J. Shockley in the lineup. It’s a shame he had to get injured because there was a very good possibility that Georgia would’ve finished the season undefeated and ruin the BCS love-fest. W. Virginia is no stranger to getting blown out in a bowl game after skating through a cream-puff regular season schedule. Since 1988, W. Virginia is 1-11 in bowl games. Six of those losses were by 12 points or more. I’m surprised that a bigger deal hasn’t been made of W. Virginia’s bowl record. I can’t imagine another team being worse than 1-11 since 1988. Georgia should dominate W. Virginia in an ugly way.

FedEx Orange Bowl
Penn State (10-1) vs. Florida State (8-4) Miami, Fla.
Jan. 3, 8 p.m. ABC

Another problem with the bowl season is the fact that the Conference Champion gets an automatic bid to a BCS game. That doesn’t sound too bad in theory but the Conference Champion isn’t the regular season winner, rather it’s the winner of the Conference Championship game. As a result, a team like Florida St. is now playing in the Orange Bowl when just a few weeks ago, the demise of the Florida St. football program was being mapped out all over the country. FSU hasn’t gotten any better since then. In fact, they’ve only played one game which happened to be an upset over Va. Tech. Now, a team that lost to Virginia, North Carolina St., and Clemson is playing the #3 ranked team in college football. Does that make sense? Is that really what people want to see? I don’t have too much of an issue with automatic bids to the best team from each conference. That seems fair. But, if there are going to be automatic bids for each BCS conference, the bids should go to the best teams. Miami and Va. Tech, despite both losing to Florida St this year, were the marquee teams in the Big East. Instead of having can’t-miss bowl games, the BCS is riddled with mediocre match-ups with little public interest. Just like a playoff wouldn’t be hard to pull off (since EVERY other sports league has a playoff), making more favorable bowl games would not be difficult either. I’ll put together a mock list of bowl games that I find interesting and you tell me if you’d rather watch those games, or the actual bowl games.

Penn St./LSU
Notre Dame Ohio St.
Florida St./Alabama
Iowa/Va. Tech
Boise St./UCLA
Louisville/Texas Tech
Florida/Boston College
Cal/S. Carolina
W. Virginia. Ga. Tech
Northwestern/Fresno St.

I would watch all 17 of those games. With the current bowl schedule, there are only 11 games that I have some interest in and most of those games are just because a Big Ten team is involved and not necessarily because it’s a good match-up. There are 22 teams that I didn’t use. The same process that I used for creating these 17 games could be used to pair the remaining bowl eligible teams. Simply, make the best possible match-ups with the available teams. The NCAA has proven that they care very little about college football fans. They’ve done everything to maximize profits and very little to maximize fan interest. If the NCAA was truly concerned with pleasing college football fans, it would design a committee, much like the NCAA basketball committee, to make sure the bowl games are as interesting as possible. Bowl games have become watered-down corporate events with little emphasis on the best possible games. If the NCAA isn’t going to give fans what they want in a playoff, they should, at the very least, make sure the alternative is as good as possible. Bowl season has turned into a joke.

As for the game, this game should be a toss-up. I applaud Penn St. for putting together a successful season. However, Penn St. has to be the worst third ranked team entering the bowl season in college football in a long time. Penn St. could lose to anyone. Here is a list of some of the powerhouse schools that PSU beat this year; S. Florida, Cincinnati, C. Michigan, Northwestern, Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue, and Michigan St. Penn St. did beat Ohio St. which was an impressive feat. There’s no doubt in my mind that PSU is a good team. However, there are 20 teams in college football that could’ve gone 10-1 with a schedule as easy as Penn St.’s. Penn St. probably deserves to be ranked third by using the pollster’s conventional wisdom. However, based on body-of-work, I would not rate Penn St. in the top five. USC and Texas are obviously number one and two. Notre Dame, Auburn, and Ohio St. would’ve all finished at least 10-1 with Penn St. schedule. In fact, I would go as far as saying that two of those teams would’ve finished undefeated. Florida St. has Disassociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder). They beat Miami and Va. Tech which rivals any of the best two wins by one team in college football this year. However, they also lost to Virginia, NC State, Clemson and Florida. Florida St. doesn’t do anything well. This is the least known and cared about FSU team since I started following college football. I used to know 75% of the starters on FSU just because it was Florida St. Taking away the players that I remember from recruiting, I’ve heard of six players on the entire FSU team. Penn St. should win this game. If PSU’s offense struggles, then FSU has a good chance. Va. Tech and Penn St. are essentially the same team. FSU proved they could beat a team like Penn St. in the ACC Championship game. However, Penn St.’s defense should be enough to pull this one out.

The Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi
USC (12-0) vs. Texas (12-0) Pasadena, Calif.
Jan. 4, 8 p.m. ABC

I would be looking forward to this game with more enthusiasm if it didn’t signify the hopelessness for any sort of playoff in the near future. This is the type of game that BCS officials and BSC-supporting Presidents will be referring to for the next ten years when defending the merits of the BCS. The game speaks for itself. I don’t need to add any hyperbole to the mix to convey how exciting this game could be. All three Heisman finalists will be in the game. The top two picks in the draft will likely be in the game as well. Texas has a 19 game unbeaten streak. USC has a 34-game unbeaten streak. USC is also 48-3 since 2002. USC has two different games. They have their “untouchable” game and their “skate through” game. USC played an “untouchable” game against Oklahoma last year in the Orange Bowl. They played their “skate through” game against Notre Dame and Fresno St. this season. They even managed to play both styles in the same game against Oregon. The key to this game is whether USC comes out firing. If they do, Texas will be another blowout victim. If Matt Leinart looks “off” early on, then USC will be beatable. I was surprised with the early seven point spread for USC. It would not shock me if Texas won but given USC’s recent history in bowl games, I have to think USC will come out ready to play from the opening kickoff. Vince Young will likely put up big numbers both on the ground and in the year. In fact, he very well could account for 500 total yards. However, most of those yards will probably come with Texas trying to catch up. USC should win by three.


Cool Dad said...

Brilliant post for a number of reasons, but mostly because the 17 games you chose are the best 17 games that they could give us. Instead, I'll be watching Tulsa play somebody simply because ESPN2 doesn't have Ewa Laurence racking up balls in the Celebrity Billiards Challenge or some such thing. I also have to agree reluctantly to the jacked-up Smurf comment about Boise State. Note to Colorado. Dan Hawkins will be out of your program in exactly two years when they go 3-8 for the second consecutive year. The reason the Broncos are successful has everything to do with the community and the turf and nothing to do with Coach Hawkins. Word in Boise is that he is a knothead. Good luck, Buffs.

Again, nice post, Jake.

Anonymous said...

I'd rack up Ewa Laurence, if you know what I mean.

Just for fun, and I know two games have occured, here are my picks. Let's see who does better:

Ark State
Akron (J.D. Brookhart for next Michigan coach, I mean 12-10 in two seasons isn't awesome, but its at fucking Akron!)
Arizona State
Boston College
Ga Tech
South Carolina
Fresno State
TCU (the 10-1 team no one, including me, has ever heard of being 10-1)
Texas Tech
Virgina Tech
Ohio State
Penn State
Southern California

Jake said...

Thanks for the comments k jones. I'd like to see Colorado return to national prominence if for only the fact that it would make things harder on Oklahoma and Texas. The Big XII was far too easy for Texas this year.

We'll know soon enough about Dan Hawkins. He will be expected to win right away.

Hwood, let the most powerful man win. We only have seven more differences so it's a best of seven affair.




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