We learn much from airline magazines, all in neat digestible 300-word bites. The ads interest me more than the articles, vitally informing us of America’s finest steakhouses and the rolling carry-on that will, indeed, completely change the way you feel about business travel. But the vacation ads rock the hardest. Yes, I am convinced that there is much to do in Shreveport that the casual observer would miss; now what’s the number for Independence Bowl tickets again? The best of the year comes from the new Hilton in Santa Fe, which boasts the "untamed energy of Las Vegas" combined with the "magic and mysticism of Native American culture." True, academics regularly cite the Anasazis’ remarkably advanced architecture, the Hopi’s artistic influences on modern culture and the Pueblo’s invention of free drinks and removing all the clocks from the casinos.
"Dine, dance and dream all in one place. Feel free. Feel electric."
Who writes this crap?
Our best vacations consist of enjoyable random events, strung together by a unifying theme and likely remembered better in the past tense than in the present. Basically, that’s a perfect description of bowl season.
Welcome back, friends, to the Jones Top Ten 2008 Bowl Preview.
I pick all of the relatively important bowl games against the spread during the bowl preview, my only attempt at prognostication during the year. Bowl results exhibiting the rough consistency of NBA exhibition games, I am not particularly good at this. Perhaps I should say I am consistently average at this. This does mark the first time in three years that I have delivered the preview before the first game is actually played, so you do get that as a bonus.
Before we go to the docket, a few random thoughts on awards and coach-firing season.
Come on, Auburn. Gene Chizik? Seriously. OK, I get that Auburn is not going to hire a black coach with a white wife, even in Barack Obama’s post-racial America and even though he won a conference title at Buffalo. But Chizik? His major contribution to the 2008 college football season is the gift of one of the all-time great unfortunate nicknames: "5 and 19 Gene." Any intellectually curious AD with Google on his desktop can easily find a coach on the open market who actually won at Iowa State (an accomplishment roughly equal to winning at Buffalo). Dan McCarney coaches the defensive tackles at Florida. Iowa State fired him for going 4-8 in 2006, failing to live up to expectations that McCarney—alone in the history of head coaches at Iowa State—set in the first place.
(Of course this entire discussion sets aside the highly inconvenient fact that the best chance for Auburn to remain competitive with Nick Saban is to keep Tommy Tuberville in the first place.)
This year the award givers for the most part got it right, astonishingly. I have never had this little to quibble about after the awards. The position awards all made relative sense, as did the Outland and Lombardi. Yes, I wanted my team’s quarterback to win the Heisman, but Sam Bradford is a worthy recipient and a class act, so what do you do?
The annual Jones Top Ten Underappreciated Player of the Year Award nominees are as follows:
Joe Ganz, Nebraska quarterback: Ganz completed just shy of 70% of his passes for 3300 yards and a 23/10 ratio. That gives him a passer rating of 156 and change, just above Matthew Stafford in the national rankings. He was a major reason Nebraska fashioned an 8-4 record. For all this, the guy is generally considered the eight or ninth best quarterback in the Big 12, depending on how you feel about Josh Freeman.
Jerry Hughes, TCU defensive end and all-around homewrecker: OK, he’s made some All-American teams and leads the nation in sacks and forced fumbles. Still, how many of you have heard of him? That’s what I thought. Nobody put him on any pre-season watch lists (which means he didn’t really exist) and he doesn’t have "measureables." He’s just the best player on one of the best defensive teams in the nation.
Myron Rolle, Florida State safety: Seriously, you go play at an all-conference level for Florida State and win a Rhodes Scholarship in your spare time. This ridiculous accomplishment may never be repeated.
You may cast your vote by emailing: email@example.com. Past winners are Kevin Smith, Jon Abbate, Patrick Willis, Daryl Tapp and Wes Welker.
Some disagreement exists as to whether the correct figure of speech is: "I could care less" or if it is more proper to go with: "I couldn’t care less." The former delivered with a sarcastic twinge: "I could care less" (implied: but I don’t really care at all). The latter provides clear literal meaning: "I care as little as I can possibly care; I could not care less than this."
This brings me to the matter of 34 bowl games. Apparently last season’s 64 bowl game participants out of 119 teams didn’t adequately reward mediocrity. We need 68 out of 120. So we get things like the magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl. "magicJack" refers neither to a Ponzi scheme nor is it street slang for recreational heroin; it is some sort of electronic device that allows you to screw your local phone provider. I know nothing of their upside potential as a company, but their VP of Marketing apparently believes that hosting a bowl game in a half-empty baseball stadium between two teams that combined to go 13-11 on the season is a genius concept.
I’ve selected 23 of the 34 games for our amusement and it is probably ten too many.
Oh, and I’m sorry, but if a college game is played on the NFL Network, then it didn’t really happen. Can you even get the NFL Network in Kansas? (EDITOR’S NOTE: Kansas will destroy Minnesota in the Insight Bowl and easily cover the spread because Mark Mangino knows what he is doing and Tim Brewster does not.)
Wake Forest 23 (-3)
This game has already been played. Wake lost to Navy 24-17 at home back on September 27th. Navy ran all over them and I am not so sure they won’t again. Wake’s defense boasts two All-American players, but this is not a great team and, unlike most BCS conference teams facing Navy, the Deacons boast only a relative talent advantage, as opposed to an overwhelming one. Give me the Middies in a repeat performance.
Las Vegas Bowl
Arizona 21 (-3)
Tough one, BYU has a superior record, but both TCU and Utah blew them out in the two games that mattered most to the Cougars. Arizona’s a wee bit manic, just like their coach. Always take Mormons in Vegas, fewer distractions.
Boise State 27
TCU 31 (-2.5)
What a great game to fall into the lap of the Poinsettia Bowl. Arguably two top ten teams square off; the sigh of relief you hear is that of a mid-tier BCS team avoiding embarrassment by having to play one of them. These two teams would show just as well as Utah in the BCS and stand a very good shot of taking out either the Big East or ACC champ and an outside shot of better. But, alas, they play each other. In that game I like TCU to slow Boise State just enough.
Notre Dame 24 (-1)
Who among you thinks Notre Dame would have accepted this invitation were the game in Detroit or Mobile? Instead, the Irish take an all expense-paid trip to the islands for a relative pick ‘em game against a 7-6 WAC team. I haven’t seen Hawaii play this season. I’ve seen Notre Dame a fair amount. Neither fact particularly helps me determine a winner.
Meineke Car Care Bowl
West Virginia 24 (pick)
North Carolina 21 (pick)
A betting line toss-up for Pat White’s one last hurrah and I will miss him. The Mountaineer QB leaves as one of my all-time favorite players. Betting with heart instead of head, I will give WVU to nod. One thing is certain: Nawth Klina will be better than this next year. West Virginia, likely worse.
Champs Sports Bowl
Florida State 35 (-5)
Not only does Wisky not want to be in Orlando playing FSU, it didn’t look to me like the Badgers wanted to be anywhere in the last half of the season. They are a major disappointment, although somewhat under-the-radar thanks to the implosions at Michigan and LSU, among others. Florida State may beat them far worse than this. My one caveat is that Wisconsin has a history of winning southern bowl games against (allegedly) faster teams. Of course, those were much better Wisconsin teams than this.
California 28 (-7.5)
I should take Cal to cover in their own backyard, but I won’t because I don’t think they have seen a defense like Miami’s. The ‘Canes are slowly revitalizin’ under Randy Shannon.
Missouri 56 (-12.5)
Mizzou needs the rest after a terrible stretch run. Even at half speed, no way Northwestern keeps up in an exhibition game played in perfect conditions.
Oklahoma State 56 (-3)
The betting public favors Oklahoma State purely on conference reputation. I like the Cowboys a fair amount, but they went 0-3 in their major Big 12 South games and the defense was atrocious in two of the three. Oregon (the team that finished the year anyway) is one of the more underappreciated teams in the nation. Like Oklahoma State, they can run the ball or throw it, but the running game will take them home against the Cowboys.
Oregon State 34 (-2.5)
The athletics departments must be thrilled to travel their respective teams from the Pacific Northwest and from the Northeast to El Paso for a bowl game. Any bets on the attendance at this one? The game should be good. Pitt’s more talented, but Oregon State’s probably the better team.
Music City Bowl
Boston College 31 (-3.5)
I’m a Vandy fan, but this line is too low. The Commodores, outside of the overall brilliance of D.J. Moore, simply do nothing that frightens the opposition. I’ll pull for them and Mrs. Jones Top Ten will do so with vigor, but it won’t be enough.
Georgia Tech 45 (-4)
This reminds me exactly of the 2005 Peach Bowl when LSU routed Miami 40-3. Same scenario, but the shoe is on the other foot. LSU packed it in a few games ago and Georgia Tech gets better every week running the crazy Paul Johnson triple option that will likely frustrate the bayou bejeesus out of a very overrated Tiger defense.
South Carolina 9
Iowa 15 (-3.5)
I don’t care if he is a genius, South Carolina’s a bad football team. Iowa will whip them on the line of scrimmage just enough to bore millions of television viewers.
Capital One Bowl
Georgia 42 (-7.5)
Michigan State 21
Georgia rolls; Michigan State’s just not very well-equipped to win this game. The Spartans versus teams with across-the-board talent yield ugly results (see Ohio State, see Penn State). No team benefits from rest quite as much as the Bulldogs, who developed some nice young offensive linemen in what many will see as a wasted season. Of course, Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno won’t be back. You would think that one of these days everything will go Mark Richt’s way.
Clemson 31 (-2.5)
Who knows? Nebraska’s better than most think and Clemson’s ready for the season to be over. On the other hand, the Clemson players seem to play hard for Dabo Swinney, their newly installed leader, and the Tigers playing fast and loose is trouble. Don’t bet this one if you have any sense.
Penn State 23
USC 21 (-9.5)
Nine and a half??? Really? I just don’t but it. This looks like last year’s West Virginia/Oklahoma game to me. Penn State is far more talented than this line would suggest. Granted USC plays their best against great competition and under the bright lights. Still, USC’s offense reeks against anyone who will punch them in the mouth. The Nitts are well-stocked with mouth punchers. Give me Joe Pa and an early evening Bourbon.
Cincinnati 24 (-2)
Virginia Tech 27
In a wide open ACC race, while we waited for the next potentially great team to come of age (UNC?, Miami?, Georgia Tech?), who emerges? Boring old Virginia Tech, the team that just punches the clock, goes about its business, never causes a huge stir in the BCS, but always needs to be taken into account. They’re as exciting as treasury bonds. What do you want to bet this game turns on a special teams play or a Macho Harris interception?
Texas Tech 42 (-5.5)
Who moved the Cotton Bowl? January 2nd? That’s simply not right. But I’ll overcome my disappointment and lose out on a couple of hours of skiing to watch it. Ole Miss played great ball over the last half; probably better than all but two SEC teams. Tech didn’t. Nevertheless, the Raiders recorded a season for the ages in Lubbock and without the "two teams per conference rule" might have taken a BCS slot somewhere. The Rebels have never seen a passing attack like this. They will make some plays, but I predict Tech puts on a show for the home folks.
Alabama 23 (-10)
I accepted a bet many weeks ago against Jeff "Cowboy" Fowler, who writes the excellent weekly Beauty Contest Standings. I told him I would take Utah in their BCS match-up, regardless of opponent because the line would be inflated. It is. And I will. ‘Bama better not picture Utah with "Hawaii" across their jerseys. Visualize Boise State instead. Or, hell, remember that Utah won a BCS bowl game recently. Has Alabama?
Ohio State 24
Texas 34 (-9.5)
Boy do I want to predict a rout; it even seems than many Buckeye fans are on that train. But it won’t happen. Texas will win because they are fundamentally a better football team. They might even cover, but that’s not a sure bet. They will have more fans at the game and everything to play for—they want to hold this season over the establishment’s head forever and a loss in the Fiesta Bowl takes all of that away. The problem? Lots of practice reps for Terrelle Pryor, which is what he desperately needs. Lots of rest for Beanie Wells, lots of NFL caliber players on defense, even if they haven’t played like it every week. Texas wins, but the long shot dreams of an AP title die in the desert night.
Ball State 51(-2.5)
The whole concept of squeezing minor bowls into the slot between the BCS bowls and the title game offends me, but this one is too good to pass up. Ball State blew their undefeated season in a turnover-ridden loss to Buffalo in the MAC title game. Tulsa did exactly the same thing, giving away the Conference USA crown to East Carolina. Ball State’s Nate Davis is the more celebrated quarterback and an NFL prospect, but it’s Tulsa’s David Johnson who led the NCAA in pass efficiency for most of the year, edged out for the lead by Heisman Bradford in the last week of the season. Again, I have no idea who wins, but watch it. It will be fun.
BCS National Championship Game
Florida 38 (-3)
I’ve gone back and forth and suffered from a lack of relevant data points. There exists no meaningful way to compare these two. No common opponents, no compelling statistical advantage, unless you are willing to analyze OU’s defensive stats only during times when games were on the line. Oklahoma will be missing two key players, but that’s not what gives Florida the edge. The edge gives Florida the edge. The only teams that have threatened OU at all defensively have had great speed rushers (Texas and TCU). Florida’s Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham are a handful; they will get to Sam Bradford just enough.
And then another one will be in the books.
God bless you and yours; I will see you when the calendar flips and we see how all of this played out. Until then, I leave with the thoughts of the great Reverend Robert Hall:
"We are often amused, but gladness is in short supply."
Here’s to gladness, the true kind.
Rose Bowl Dreams: A Memoir of Faith Family and Football is the new book by Adam Jones. Buy it for Christmas for the college football fan in your life.