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Jones Top Ten Bowl Preview 2007

Our dreams vary, but they come from remarkably similar places. Most of us are about four, maybe five-years-old when we first remember a campout or working on a project with dad—maybe carpentry or an old car; in my dad’s case it was always plumbing (sometimes successfully). You play your first team sport, help out in the kitchen, trudge off to kindergarten. In some families you can still remember the first time the relatives sat around the piano and sang, in others maybe you remember when you strapped on skis the first time and someone pointed you dangerously down a slope. Something in these nascent experiences—for better, for worse—inform the kind of adult that you become. One of the gifts of fatherhood is that you get to see the cycle repeat. We infuse our own kids with a set of memories and experiences and we wait to see who they will become. It’s a hell of an experiment.

We have some close friends who recently adopted a child. I am quite convinced that waiting on an adoption is one of life’s most emotionally wrenching experiences. My four-year-old, Ben, waited right along with them—with all the excitement and none of the anxiety. It pays to be four. We followed little Jose David’s path home through an occasional e-mailed picture. When he finally got to
Austin, we were invited over to see him. We told Ben to get his shoes on, for we were going to see Jose David. Ben responded:

"You mean the real one? Not the one in the pictures?"

Yep. The real one. The tangible one with a new life and parents who will wait to see what he becomes in this grand experiment. His world is an open book. His dreams are all before him.

And these glimpses of childhood remind me that, in my heart of hearts, what I really wanted to be was the guy who set college football point spreads for a Vegas casino.

Dreams sometimes die hard.

Welcome to the Jones Top Ten 2007 Bowl Preview. In addition to poignant moments worthy of your finer Hallmark cards and smartass commentary worthy of fifth-grade recess, your intrepid reporter will actually pick all of the games against the spread.

As long time readers will attest, I am particularly good at this. Well, at least particularly consistent. For I have an astonishing ability to pick almost exactly half the bowl games correctly, year in, year out. Sal, the neighborhood bookie here in the Northwest Hills, refers to me as Adam "Ten Percent" Jones.

There is a method to this madness. Rather than focusing in on match-ups, strengths and weaknesses, blocking, tackling, team speed, coaching, yadda yadda yadda…instead I believe that bowl season is about which team really wants to be in Dallas when it’s 40 degrees and sleeting, whose players are more likely to be arrested, how many members of the starting defense are already interviewing NFL agents and, most importantly, has the fired (relocated) coach thrown in the towel? Is a coaching swan song an inspiring motivation to his charges? Or do even the towel boys hate the miserable SOB? More entertaining, perhaps an interim coach has been assigned. Is this coach competent? Or does he have compromising pictures of the university president?

On such considerations dreams take flight. Or, if not, at least the players score a free I-pod and a Meineke Car Care Bowl hoodie.

Oh, and I don’t bother to pick all the games. I am not paid to do this and I feel sorry for the local sports guy forced to write something interesting about 32 games involving an astonishing 23 teams "boasting" at least five losses. It is not at all coincidence this season that "bowls" is an anagram for "blows."

While I lament this every year, this year the Motor City Bowl really put the "A" in atrocious. It pits Central Michigan against Purdue. Not only does this resemble an early September Big Ten/MAC pay-to-play game on paper; it actually has already taken place on the field. On September 15th in West Lafayette, the Boilermakers trounced the Chippewas 45-22. This was when we believed that Purdue was good. They weren’t, and proved it by losing their last three. Central Michigan, on the other hand, improved tremendously, going 7-2 over the last nine and winning the conference (OK, there was that 70-14 loss to Clemson, but still…). For these heroics, the Chippewas get the honor of playing…Purdue. This time on a neutral field as a nine-point underdog. Enjoy the hoodies, fellas…

As far as the season-ending awards go, I am down with Tim Tebow as the Heisman winner. The committee gets it right about once every three years. Nice to know the bylaws don’t prevent a sophomore from winning the award. Does that make Rex Grossman feel better? Or worse?

LSU’s Glenn Dorsey swept the Outland, Lombardi and Nagurski Awards but did not merit an invite to the Heisman presentation. Huh. I am a huge fan of Dorsey, who is a remarkable college football player, but I think he won on a wave of early reviews that led to this sweep. Did he have a better season than South Florida’s George Selvie or Virginia’s Chris Long? Maybe, but not overwhelmingly so.

Usually in this space I give you my nominees for the Jones Top Ten Underappreciated Player award. Past winners, chosen by the half-dozen readers who bother to cast a vote, include Jon Abbate, Patrick Willis, Daryl Tapp and Wes Welker. This year I will save you the trouble. No one has been more unappreciated than Central Florida tailback Kevin Smith. As I noted in my last column, Smith has run for over 2400 yards and can break Barry Sanders’ single-season rushing record with a good outing against MississippiState in the Liberty Bowl. Smith lost the Doak Walker Award to Darren McFadden, a decision with which I agree. However, Smith wasn’t even among the finalists for the Walker. Come again?

Finally, the irony of the proper and genteel southerners at Ole Miss replacing Ed Orgeron with Houston "Public Information Act" Nutt would be too much for me to bear…had Arkansas not then turned around and replaced Nutt with Bobby Petrino, a man with the loyalty of a feral cat. God I love the SEC.

In the words of Bugs and Daffy: "On with the show, this is it!"

Poinsettia Bowl
Navy 28
Utah 35 (-8.5)

Yes, I am actually picking the Poinsettia Bowl, which is tonight if you are sitting bored at home. Not only is the match-up between two solid, well-coached teams with deserving records, but both are also riding unprecedented streaks. This is Navy’s fifth bowl game in a row under Paul Johnson (who is now Georgia Tech’s new coach) and Utah has won six bowl games in a row. The Utes have too much firepower for the Midshipmen, but Navy will keep it close enough to cover. Bowl
Cincinnati 35 (-11.5)
Southern Mississippi 17

Cincinnati has quietly had a legitimate top twenty season, of which they should be proud. Southern Mississippi put in a workmanlike 7-5 year that arguably should have been much better. It resulted in the dismissal of long time head coach Jeff Bower. Southern Miss may play hard for their old coach, but this one won’t come down to intangibles; Cincy is a much better team.

Bitterness and Recriminations Moment:

I now will pause for a moment of protest and note that these moronic conference tie-ins are killing the bowl games. Can’t we go back to settling this in back rooms over whiskey and cigars? Four very worthy teams: BYU (10-2), Boise State (10-2), Boston College (10-3) and Oregon State (8-4) are left with four mediocre opponents in boring programming-filler time slots between December 23rd and December 28th. If these four teams played each other, then we would have roughly seven hours of compelling college football. Unfortunately, they play: UCLA (6-6), East Carolina (7-5 and looked bad doing it…), Michigan State (7-5) and Maryland (6-6), which leaves us with roughly fourteen hours of bad football. What to watch instead? The NFL. As if Jerry Jones wasn’t a happy enough man running roughshod over cable television systems and building a stadium the size of the Death Star…

Holiday Bowl
Texas 28 (-1.5)
Arizona 38

Let me get this straight. Texas is favored? While the Longhorns have fashioned a decent 9-3 record on the strength of a string of improbable comebacks, they have largely played below their potential all year and their defense down the stretch was odiferous. Arizona State, on the other hand, has done the opposite. Despite being of average talent and completely incapable of protecting the quarterback, the Sun Devils have been mentally tough and overachieved their way to 10-2 in Dennis Erickson’s first season. If Texas wins this one, then it will be a very different Longhorn team in San Diego than the one I have watched (painfully at times) for most of the 2007 season.

Texas Bowl
Houston 31
TCU 21 (-3.5)

Yes, I am aware that this bowl does not merit my rules for inclusion. Even worse, it is on the NFL network. But I am a child of the old Southwest Conference. Whattaya do? I am not sure why TCU is favored. Houston is a fine offensive team and my guess is that most of the TCU players would rather be somewhere else as they started the year with BCS aspirations. Perhaps Houston’s Art Briles heading for Baylor (EDITOR’S NOTE: Art, buddy, are you out of your mind???) will be a distraction to the Coogs.

Meineke Bowl
Connecticut 27
Wake Forest 26 (-3.5)

Sunday Morning Quarterback referred to this game as "last year’s Wake Forest versus this year’s Wake Forest" and that is about right. Two very well-coached football teams who live off the mistakes of others, this will be a good one.

Alamo Bowl
Penn State 17 (-5.5)
Texas A&M 20

Talk about two teams who don’t want to be here. I thought Penn State would hang around the 2007 top ten with a great defense and a maturing quarterback with solid skill position players backing him up. As for Texas A&M, they started the year a senior-laden team with an effective power running game and an (allegedly) improved defense. They finished the year firing a coach—even after his second win in a row versus Texas. The Ags will pull the upset playing fast and loose (and at home) with an interim head coach on the sideline.

Sun Bowl
Oregon 16
South Florida 27 (-6.5)

Both of these teams were ranked as high as number two this season. That’s bizarre. Oregon somewhat rebounded after Dennis Dixon’s injury with the help of the unfortunately-named reserve quarterback Justin Roper, who played well in the season-ending loss to Oregon State. My hunch is that Oregon will play to build experience for 2008 and South Florida will play with an urgency to validate their 2007 season with an ending bang. Advantage Bulls.

Music City Bowl
Kentucky 45 (-1.5 today, but it should probably be off the board)
Florida State 14

This could be a real mess given that FSU just suspended two dozen players for academic fraud (how does one commit academic fraud at FSU anyway?) from a pretty darn average team to begin with. This is your last chance to catch Wildcat QB Andre’ Woodson, who is well worth the price of admission.

Peach Bowl
Auburn 24
Clemson 28 (-2.5)

One last time, this is the PEACH BOWL. I do not care how tasty those little fried chicken sandwiches with the pickles are (and they are damn tasty, especially with the waffle fries), this game is not the Chik-fil-A Bowl. It makes me so mad it just made me pick Tommy Bowden over Tommy Tuberville on a neutral site. What am I thinking?

Outback Bowl
Wisconsin 24
Tennessee 31 (-3.5)

Wisconsin has fashioned a mini-reputation for putting the lie to the SEC speed myth by winning the last two Capital One Bowls, beating Arkansas last season and dominating Auburn in 2006. Of course, those two Wisky squads were much better than this one. While I am tempted to take the Badgers here, something tells me that Tennessee will click offensively and send Bucky home disappointed.

Cotton Bowl
Missouri 24 (-3.5)
Arkansas 28

Now this is trouble. On the merits, Missouri is the better team. Unfortunately, Missouri just got snubbed by the BCS in favor of Kansas—a team they defeated—and rewarded with a date in Dallas, which was a huge deal in my youth (right up to the point SMU started paying players, check that, right up to the point SMU started openly paying players, er, how about openly and outlandishly paying players without hiding it from the NCAA…) but today? Not so much. Therefore, I am not sure where Mizzou is on the Happy To Be Here scale, but I am quite sure that Darren McFadden still plays for Arkansas. I’ll take the Hog upset, even (especially?) without Houston Nutt.

Capital One Bowl
Michigan 28
Florida 31 (-10.5)

Florida by double digits? Really? In Lloyd Carr’s last game? With Michigan mostly healthy? Maybe there’s nothing more amusing than watching Michigan trying to defend the spread, but Florida’s own defense at times also leaves something to be desired. I don’t think the Gators are a good bet to cover at all.

Gator Bowl
Texas Tech 34 (-5.5)
Virginia 35

…because Virginia wins every game by one. I like Tech better, but they’re schizo. Don’t even get me started on Mike Leach.

Rose Bowl
Southern California 42 (-13.5)
Illinois 17

Illinois has been a joy to watch this season, but they are not ready for this. This one has rout written all over it. I wish the committee had invited Georgia. Oh well.

Sugar Bowl
Hawaii 27
Georgia 38 (-9.5)

Speaking of Georgia…the Dawgs get the pleasure of the nightmare opponent for which they will get no credit for beating. Trust me, Hawaii will have their moments, but there will be no Boise State repeat in New Orleans. Georgia will launch Knowshon Moreno’s 2008 Heisman campaign with a brutal second-half against the thin roster of the islanders.

Fiesta Bowl
West Virginia 28
Oklahoma 24 (-7.5)

This line is climbing; I’ve seen it as high as Oklahoma by 9. Since West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez announced he was off to Michigan and taking two assistants with him, someone named Bill Stewart has been asked to "run practices" for the Mountaineers. Stewart is not the interim head coach mind you; he is (as of today) "running practices." So who is in charge at WVU? Quein Sabes? This coaching match-up, were it held tomorrow, would basically be Bob Stoops against Pat White calling his own plays. All of this gets in the way of what would have been a great game. And that is why I think it still will be a great game and why a fully healthy and angry Mountaineer squad will upset OU. As at least a decent student of the game, there is no rational reason for me to think this way. Welcome to bowl season.

Orange Bowl
Virginia Tech 28 (-3.5)
Kansas 24

Mark Mangino put together a widely (no pun intended) celebrated coaching season and the accolades were well-deserved. On the other hand, Frank Beamer arguably did just as solid a job, negotiating the tough emotional waters of April tragedy and bringing along a team with a lot of upside at just the right pace. No where has this been more evident than in the improvement of quarterback Sean Glennon. The computers rank Virginia Tech number one and, had they not let Boston College off the mat in their first contest, the Hokies might be in New Orleans. Yet Beamer is barely mentioned among the coach of the year candidates. What does this have to do with the 22 guys who will actually play the game? Very little, other than it will be a well-coached game on both sides and fun to watch Todd Reesing try to figure out a very solid Hokie defense. I think he falls just short.

BCS National Championship
Ohio State 24
LSU 21 (-4.5)

One of the problems with the BCS (and the lack of a playoff) is that in our efforts to determine "worthiness" we spend a lot of time analyzing "resumes" or what we generally refer to as "body of work." We sometimes overthink this concept. Ohio State, for being 11-1, does not have a good resume, largely because of a lousy out-of-conference schedule and a Big Ten season that didn’t impress anyone. That the Buckeyes lost badly to Florida the last time we got to this point in a season does not help. But the lousy resume and the giant egg they laid last January masks what I think is a very good football team. One that will beat LSU, in fact. The Buckeyes are better on the offensive line and run the ball more consistently. They also have a better front seven—yes, I will happily provide the "in my opinion" disclaimer. Would I bet my house on it? Oh no, not with LSU’s dazzling array of talent, speed on the edges and basically playing a home game. Nevertheless, I’ve got to take boring over enigmatic. I will see you on the other side.