As we enter the most wonderful time of the year for college football fans, I thought I would give some thoughts and predictions on the bowl games that interest me between now and the BcS championship game in Miami. Generally, I think the bowl matchups seem to be gettting worse rather than better. I guess we need to get used to that when college football’s brave new world starts in 2014.
Belk Bowl, Cincinnati (-11) vs. Duke, 12/27
Who would have thought in September that Duke would be in a bowl game and Auburn and Arkansas wouldn’t? I doubt very many hands including mine are up right now, but David Cutcliffe has done a fine job up the road in Durham. The Blue Devils are heading down I-85 to Charlotte to play a Cincinnati team that has lost its head coach to Tennessee. Duke has improved and probably has hit their ceiling, but I like the Bearcats to win but likely not to cover.
Final Score: Cincinnati 35, Duke 27
Holiday Bowl, Baylor (-1) vs. UCLA
Baylor and its high-powered offense travel out to sunny San Diego to take on the Pac-12 South champion, UCLA Bruins. Many people thought Baylor would go back to being Baylor after RG3 left for NFL riches and a likely Rookie of the Year award. The Bruins will have to match Baylor score for score to have any chance to win. Baylor’s win over Kansas State was beautiful to watch as they derailed a Heisman campaign and a national championship game appearance. UCLA seems to be getting its act together, but I just don’t think they have the talent on offense to keep up. Baylor wins a game that is likely not as close as the final score indicates.
Final Score: Baylor 41, UCLA 30
Russell Athletic Bowl, Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech (-1)
Virginia Tech entered this season as a ACC championship favorite and national championship dark horse and had an epic face plant this season limping into a bowl game. Rutgers was close to winning the Big East this season and now begins to look to their upcoming move to the Big Ten. Tech has gotten inconsistent quarterback play, and Hokie fans certainly will wonder if their team will show up in Orlando. Rutgers beat up Arkansas this year, but a lot of teams did that as well. That win gives them the edge with me in a mild upset. I just don’t want the teams to chew up the sod for the track meet that I hope happens a few days later when the Dawgs show up.
Final Score: Rutgers 24, Virginia Tech 20
Pinstripe Bowl, West Virginia (-3.5) vs. Syracuse
West Virginia made the leap from the Big East to big boy football in the Big 12 and had early success rising high into the top 10 at one point this season with Geno Smith mentioned as a Heisman candidate. As the season wore on, the Mountaineers suffered the same fate of Missouri in the SEC as injuries and depth issues wore them down. Syracuse won some games this year including a win over Louisville that knocked them from the ranks of the unbeaten. The game is being played in New York, but that’s the only hope the Orangemen have against a very athletic West Virginia team. I like West Virginia to win, cover, and run the Orangemen all the way back to upstate New York.
Final Score: West Virginia 51, Syracuse 20
Alamo Bowl, Oregon State (-1) vs. Texas
Texas is an underdog in a bowl game in their own state. My, how far the Longhorns have fallen since the national championship game against Alabama. Mack Brown has tinkered with the offense but hasn’t had a quarterback since Colt McCoy broke David Greene’s record for most career wins as a starter. After turning the tide against Bob Stoops, Texas has gone back to being cannon fodder in the Red River Shootout. I don’t know much about Oregon State, but I think they’re better than Texas regardless.
Final Score: Oregon State 28, Texas 20
Music City Bowl, NC State vs. Vanderbilt (-5)
Vanderbilt is a 5-point favorite in a bowl game? Surely, the Mayans didn’t get the end of the world wrong. Seriously, James Franklin has done a heck of a job turning around a program that was close to dead. The only game they looked like Vandy in was the 48-3 rout in Athens where the Dawgs came out and just demolished the Commodores. NC State fired Tom O’Brien and hired Northern Illinois’ coach who is going to the BCS. I question how much the Pack Nation cares about a meaningless game in Nashville, the home of the Commodores. As a result, this game will the first of many this bowl season where everyone will hear the “S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-C!” chant at the end.
Final Score: Vanderbilt 27, NC State 20
Sun Bowl, Georgia Tech vs. USC (-10)
The North Avenue Trade School returns to the Sun Bowl this time for a date with the USC Trojans. Tech had to get a special allowance by the NCAA to play in a bowl game as a result of their 6-7 regular season including the glorious 42-10 beatdown they received in
Clean Old Fashioned Hate in Athens. USC opened the season as the consensus #1 team in the country with Matt Barkley as the pre-season Heisman favorite. I’m convinced that Notre Dame isn’t playing for the national title if Barkley had been available. I can’t believe I have to pull for Lane Kiffin two games in a row. If the Trojans are interested, they win big. If not, the Jackets could win and make Kiffin’s life in southern California miserable for the next 9 months. Either way, I’m happy.
Final Score: USC 31, Georgia Tech 26
Chick-fil-a Bowl, Clemson vs. LSU (-3)
The Chick-fil-a Bowl is probably one of the most compelling match-ups of the bowl season including the BCS games as two of Georgia’s 2013 opponents end the season in the Georgia Dome. I’ll watch for that reason alone. These two teams are a clash of styles with the spread offense and no defense of Clemson and the pedestrian offense and monster defense of LSU. If LSU decides this game is important to jumpstart 2013, the Bayou Bengals will win. If LSU decides to play to their level of competition, Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins will make life miserable for Corn Dog Nation. It’s hard to bet against Les Miles when he has this much time to prepare, and Dabo Swinney is on the other sideline.
Final Score: LSU 28, Clemson 20
January 1 (Pre-BCS)
Gator Bowl, Northwestern vs. Mississippi State (-2)
Mississippi State plays in another bowl game but really didn’t beat anybody all season long, so I’m still not sold on the Bizarro Dogs. Northwestern is the Vandy of the Big 10 with a lot more success over the last 15 years. It’s really hard to be successful at State when you’re the little guy in the neighborhood with Alabama, LSU, and now, Texas A&M. Hugh Freeze is turning things around in Oxford quickly, so Mullen might be starting to think about his next gig before it’s too late. The Bizarro Dogs have too much talent for Northwestern to handle especially if it’s warm and humid in Florida on New Year’s Day.
Final Score: Mississippi St. 27, Northwestern 24
Outback Bowl, Michigan vs. South Carolina (-4)
Darth Visor leads South Carolina to another New Year’s Day bowl game against a college football blue-blood in Michigan. Entering the season, Michigan was a trendy Rose Bowl pick with a Heisman candidate in Dennard Robinson. Alabama shattered all of that in one quarter in Dallas. The reason I mention that is that Alabama did that without a dominant SEC pass rusher. If you didn’t know, South Carolina has two of those in Super-Freak, Jadeveon Clowney, and his running mate, Devin Taylor. If Connor Shaw can take care of the ball, it will be a long afternoon in Tampa for the Wolverines. Although it pains me to say it, I like South Carolina to win and cover.
Final Score: South Carolina 30, Michigan 17
Capital One Bowl, Nebraska vs. Georgia (-8)
Of course, I’ll put up a preview from Orlando before the game but wanted to get my initial thoughts out there. I believe this game completely hinges on whether Georgia decides to show up with a bad attitude. If so, Georgia wins easily based on a high-octane offense that can score points and generate yards by the bunches. If the Dawgs show up in Orlando with the attitude that they were five yards short of playing for the national championship, Nebraska will give us all we want with a power running attack led by a running quarterback and may send the Bulldog Nation into depression with an upset. Right now, I think something happens between those two extremes as the Dawgs win and cover but don’t look impressive in doing it.
Final Score: Georgia 38, Nebraska 27
Cotton Bowl, Texas A&M (-3) vs. Oklahoma
Texas A&M showed this year they belong in the SEC. I’m not sure over time if the Air Raid offense will continue to put up big numbers as SEC defensive coordinators adjust, but Kevin Sumlin has shown he can flat out coach. While I would have loved to have seen the Aggies and the Longhorns in Jerry’s World, this match-up with “Big Game” Bob Stoops has the makings to be a great game. Between Johnny Manziel and Landry Jones, there is going to be a lot of offense and points galore. At the end of the day, I like the SEC to continue its unbeaten run as the Aggie faithful get their first chance to engage in the “SEC! SEC!” chanting.
Final Score: Texas A&M 41, Oklahoma 35
Compass Bowl, Pittsburgh vs. Ole Miss (-1.5)
While Kevin Sumlin may have made the biggest splash, Hugh Freeze may have done the best job in the SEC this year by taking a team picked to finish dead last in the West and making them bowl-eligible. Yes, it probably helped that Auburn was beyond pitiful and that Bobby Petrino had his little motorcycle accident, but the Rebel Black Bears played most of the season like they belonged in the SEC. Pitt had their chance to knock Notre Dame out of national title contention and couldn’t make a field goal in overtime. I doubt they’re going to be interested in a meaningless game in Birmingham as they prepare to enter the ACC.
Final Score: Ole Miss 27, Pitt 18
BCS Bowl Games
Rose Bowl, Wisconsin vs. Stanford (-6), 1/1
I certainly didn’t think Stanford was going to be able to keep it up after Jim Harbaugh moved across the Bay to take the 49ers job and Andrew Luck took his skills to become the #1 overall selection as Peyton Manning’s successor in Indianapolis, but David Shaw is a great football coach. They have continued to play hard-nosed running football in a league that is built on passing and finesse. Wisconsin fire-bombed Nebraska in the Big 10 championship game with 70 points to return to the Rose Bowl without their head coach, Bret Bielema, who decided to take the Arkansas job. I like Stanford to win but probably closer than the experts think.
Final Score: Stanford 27, Wisconsin 21
Orange Bowl, Northern Illinois vs. Florida State (-13.5), 1/1
In what appears to be the biggest mismatch of the bowl season, the ACC champions, Florida State, take on the BCS-busting, MAC champion, Northern Illinois. The Noles may have gotten a title shot if they had beaten Florida at home combined with a Notre Dame loss in Los Angeles, but FSU frankly laid an egg against the Gators. If Florida State decides to come to Miami to make a point, this game will get ugly and get ugly quickly. I can’t help but look at FSU’s last 2 games as an indicator of what’s going to happen in Miami. The loss to Florida where they couldn’t move the ball and couldn’t stop the Gator running game and a sloppy performance in the ACC championship against a Georgia Tech team that didn’t score a touchdown against Georgia until after the starters were out indicate to me that the Noles will be more interested in South Beach than the game. FSU wins but doesn’t cover.
Final Score: Florida State 27, Northern Illinois 17
Sugar Bowl, Louisville vs. Florida (-14.5), 1/2
The SEC East runners-up end up in a BCS game against the champion from the weakest BCS conference. This game is exactly what is wrong with the current system that penalizes a team that loses its conference championship game and rewards a champion from a league that should be a mid-major. Regarding the game itself, Florida should be able to out-athlete Louisville on both sides of the ball. If the Gator team that struggled mightily in multiple wins this year, Louisville has a good chance to pull off the upset of the bowl season in the Big Easy. This game is the only one where I will not pull for the SEC team to win, but the Gators take care of business. ESPN starts pushing Florida as pre-season #1 as soon as the game is over.
Final Score: Florida 38, Louisville 20
Fiesta Bowl, Kansas State vs. Oregon (-8), 1/3
Rumors are flying that an NFL team is going to make a run at Chip Kelly, and at the same time, the NCAA may be getting ready to drop a bomb on the Oregon football program. Whether or not any of it is true has to be a distraction as the Ducks go to the desert to face the most over-rated of the conference champions in Kansas State. If K-State thought Baylor had a lot of speed, they haven’t seen anything like Kenjon Barner and the Black Mamba, DeAnthony Thomas. Kansas State had a great season behind Collin Klein this year, but I don’t think they can keep up with all of the athletes that Phil Knight and Nike will throw at them. Oregon wins a game not as close as the score may indicate.
Final Score: Oregon 51, Kansas State 34
BcS Championship Game, Alabama (-10) vs. Notre Dame
ESPN gets its classic match-up between the Tide and the Irish in Miami for the national championship. Alabama has been the standard of excellence over the last 4 years in the nation’s best conference, and Notre Dame is waking up the echoes. The only statistic that matters is 41-14 and 13-6, the scores when both teams played Michigan early in the season. Alabama made Michigan look like a mid-major, and Notre Dame struggled mightily to beat the Maize and Blue. Nick Saban will have every situation scouted and will know Notre Dame better than Brian Kelly knows his team. Notre Dame is very good on defense, but they haven’t seen an offensive line like Alabama’s with five players that could be 1st round selections and 2 backs who are feature backs. Notre Dame doesn’t have the skilled people on offense to challenge the Alabama defense the way Texas A&M & Georgia were able to match up against the Tide. While this game will be won on the field, this game has the potential to be a huge mismatch. Alabama wins and covers easily.
Final Score: Alabama 38, Notre Dame 14
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