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jones Top Ten Bowl Preview 2009

Melbourne. The new wife and I sit and drink in a pub by the train station. We share a table with two young Aussies and an old Irishman, whom everyone simply refers to as "Paddy."

It may or may not be his name; we are not able to discern that before the young Aussies give us the slip and leave us with our new friend. Paddy works on construction projects all over the world, or he did anyway. There was a scaffolding accident. Paddy explains:

“Came crashin’ down I did. ‘ad a cut on mi head that went from here all ‘round to the back. Sep’rated both mi shoulders. Laid up fer a long stretch...”

Awful. We ask how he likes Australia. Enjoys the people, he says, lots of folks from Ireland here. Notes that he was in a scaffolding accident.

“Came crashin’ down I did. ‘ad a cut on mi head that went from here all ‘round to the back. Sep’rated both mi shoulders. Laid up fer a long stretch...”

Any family? He had a wife, but isn’t real clear on the history. Memory isn’t what it used to be. You know, he was in a scaffolding accident.

“Came crashin’ down I did. ‘ad a cut on mi head that went from here all ‘round to the back. Sep’rated both mi shoulders. Laid up fer a long stretch...”

We silently curse the two Aussies and plan our escape. We at least owe the man a beer. Another Guinness, Paddy?

“Came crashin’ down I did. ‘ad a cut on mi head that went from here all ‘round to the back. Sep’rated both mi shoulders. Laid up fer a long stretch...”

The story is repetitious, but at least it is spectacular. We can only hope but a few of the bowl games are as interesting as an afternoon with Paddy, who, God love him, doesn’t even get to watch Notre Dame play this season.

Welcome to the 2009 edition of the Jones Top Ten Bowl Preview. I only pick football games against the spread once a year (publicly anyway). In order to best magnify my ignorance and subject myself to open humiliation, I do this during the most unpredictable season there is. College football may be statistics rich, but bowl outcomes often depend upon unmeasurables: alcohol abuse, agent meetings, coach departures, bad coaches staying put only because they earned a back door bowl bid or have a ridiculous buy out clause, false identities, assault and battery, the passion of playing in front of dozens of disinterested spectators, blue turf, corporate gifts, academic casualties, petty theft, broken curfews, broken limbs, broken promises…it’s as American as apple pie.

By the way, I possess no burning desire to pick the outcomes of 34 college football games. I am sure the good people of St. Petersburg are gracious hosts and no one likes to eat at Beef O’ Brady’s more than I do (at least it sounds like a place I might like to eat), but I thought UCF v. Rutgers was a mid-level Big East conference game (oh, USF, right) not a holiday spectacular. It doesn’t help that it is played in a baseball stadium. Likewise, if I no longer tune in to watch Fresno State play the BCS teams on their schedule, then why would I want to watch them play Wyoming? Doesn’t Ford Field host enough mediocre football on Sundays without also hosting Ohio versus Marshall in the Little Caesar’s Bowl?
So, without further ado, here we go. The games that matter, against the spread:

Las Vegas
Oregon State 35 (-2.5)
BYU 24

Not only is Oregon State a fair amount better than BYU, but the Beavers deserve a better bowl slot in a year where the Pac Ten fielded a whole host of very good, but no truly great, teams. If the Rodgers brothers find room to roam and Max Hall has another meltdown, this could get ugly. I am trying to figure out why the spread is so small because I don’t think these two teams are comparable. BYU’s shining moment came in week one with a one-point win over a fatally flawed Oklahoma. They did outlast Utah for second in the Mountain West, but weren’t close against TCU.

Poinsettia (that would be the San Diego Federal Credit Union Poinsettia)
Utah 27
Cal 23 (-3)

Which Cal shows up? Given Cal’s maddening inconsistency, I would almost argue that the wrong team is favored. Of course, Utah has had a down year. That Utah can go 9-3 and be down is a testament to how good this program has been lately. The problem with the three losses is that those are the only three games the Utes played against anyone as good as Cal. Their best win came against Air Force. Until this game. Utah wins late.

Nevada 41 (-15)
SMU 21

I think Southern Money gets trounced by the Nevada running game, although their fans will enjoy the trip to Hawaii with much nicer accommodations. The return of June James to the island is a nice side story; pity he is not (yet) bringing a fully developed passing game to the table. Nevertheless, a pretty remarkable season for the Mustangs.

Meineke Car Care
Pitt 24 (-3)
North Carolina 16

Maybe Butch Davis and Dave Wannstedt will let Norv Turner call in a few plays for old time’s sake. That would be a great help to Nawth Klina, whose offense, like Donna Summer, when bad, is oh so bad. Pitt will figure out a way to score, assuming the Panthers can get the bad taste of letting Cincinnati off the mat out of their mouth. Tailback Dion Lewis is all man, Clyde.

Boston College 7
USC 45 (-9)

Most major powers coming off disappointing seasons are a major risk in a “don’t really want to be here” bowl. Not USC. Not after Pete Carroll sings James Taylor’s “Shower the People” on the team plane, charters a sightseeing bus, has a water balloon fight at the hotel pool and takes the guys to a Phish concert in Golden Gate Park. The Trojans will be rested, well loved and ready to meet their full human potential. They may or may not actually practice in San Francisco. It won’t matter. BC isn’t very good and they will have to fly coach cross-country.

Music City
Kentucky 24
Clemson 34 (-7)

Take a long last look at the sublime C.J. Spiller. He, along with the rest of his teammates, have played fast and relaxed all year under Dabo Swinney, who seems to be the anti-Tommy Bowden. They didn’t always win, but it looked like it was fun to be Clemson again. Kentucky played hard and, arguably, above their heads, to get to a bowl this year, but the Cats don’t have enough to take down the Tigers.

Texas A&M 34
Georgia 31 (-7)

Going completely against the grain here: A&M plays well at home and in games that are not televised. Well, Shreveport will be largely a home crowd and the Independence Bowl is barely televised, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt. This is a classic “who wants to be here?” contest. Georgia has better things to do and the Bulldogs don’t play a lick of defense. For the Aggies, this is the 2010 coming of age point for a deep crew of talented young skill position players and their underrated quarterback, Jerrod Johnson.

Champs Sports
Miami 23 (-3)
Wisconsin 17

I don’t know about this one. I think both of these teams will be better next year than this year, even though both had some great moments in 2009. I am going to go with the assumption that Randy Shannon will show his team the “U” documentary pre-game; the adrenaline rush and Jacory Harris’s haircut will carry the day.

Arizona 3 (-1.5)
Nebraska 2

You think I am kidding, but this is two more points than Oregon State and Pitt scored in last year’s Sun Bowl. To be fair, Arizona’s offense is not THAT bad. Of course, Nebraska’s is. If Ndamukong Suh scores on a pick six, instead of a safety (as predicted above), then make it 7-3, Huskers. If Suh instead simply eats Arizona QB Nick Foles during the Wildcats’ first offensive series, then make it 2-0, Huskers. If an enterprising member of the Arizona training staff shoots Suh with a tranquilizer dart as the teams come out of the locker room after halftime, then make it 13-0, Wildcats.

Armed Forces
Houston 31 (-4.5)
Air Force 35

In a repeat from last year’s Armed Forces Bowl, Air Force seeks revenge against one of the “it” teams from early in the season. Then Houston confused us all by losing (badly) at UTEP and we didn’t love them anymore. For Houston, win or lose Case Keenum usually makes it all worth while in the best aerial assault since Andre Ware called the signals. Air Force plays pretty good pass defense. But the real problem with playing the Falcons option game is that Houston couldn’t stop Tom Osborne from running the football—I don’t mean one of the classic Nebraska I-formation teams coached by Tom Osborne, I mean the actual Tom Osborne, who will turn 73 in February.

Oklahoma 28 (-8)
Stanford 17

I could easily reverse this score, but Oklahoma still has the far better roster, even though they recorded the worse season. OU’s defensive line, assuming they are fully engaged and not interviewing agents, will eat up Stanford and Toby Gerhart. In addition, the bowl practices will give Landry Jones badly needed reps. Look for Bob Stoops to get off the bowl schneid.

Navy 24
Missouri 30 (-6.5)

Navy’s so freaking fun to watch that I hate to pick against them, especially given Mizzou’s occasional patented Keystone Cops level of defensive discipline. But a healthy Blaine Gabbert and the underrated Danario Alexander will take the Tigers home.

Virginia Tech 17 (-4.5)
Tennessee 20

I don’t care how tasty the sandwiches are, this is the Peach Bowl. The Tennessee defense is exactly the wrong match-up for Tyrod Taylor in this game. Lane Kiffin will be insufferable in the post-game interviews.

Northwestern 17
Auburn 20 (-7.5)

Auburn had some moments this season and Gene Chizik did a surprisingly solid coaching job, but seven and a half points? Against a very well-coached and quarterbacked Northwestern that the Tigers might well take lightly? A Northwestern outright win wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

Capital One
Penn State 24 (-2.5)
LSU 28

A game between two teams that lost every big game they played and won all the rest. LSU’s Jordan Jefferson really started to get it in the passing game by season’s end and I am guessing it will carry over to the bowl. What might be more fun than the actual game would be to go out for drinks with Joe Paterno and Les Miles afterward.

West Virginia 31 (-2.5)
Florida State 14

Bobby Bowden’s swan song and he takes the field with the worst FSU squad of his tenure. That’s a shame. This score assumes Christian Ponder does not play. Even if he does, he can’t tackle Noel Devine. The line is too low; it is almost as if the gambling public assumes FSU puts out some maximum and heretofore unseen effort to send Bobby out a winner. They won’t. This is no way to send out a legend.

Ohio State 24
Oregon 21 (-3.5)

You think I’m crazy don’t you? But Ohio State’s defense may be the most underrated unit in the country. Only a brain dead let down on USC’s final drive and an offensive meltdown of biblical proportions against Purdue kept this from being a special season. OK, I get that’s like saying only some unfortunate personal habits have kept John Daly from winning more major golf tournaments, but work with me. The way to beat Oregon is to dominate their offensive line and upset Jeremiah Masoli’s timing. The Buckeyes can. I don’t know if they will—they are not exactly a “benefit of the doubt” kind of bowl team—but to assume Oregon will thrash the Buckeyes because of some Big Ten (lack of) speed myth doesn’t work here.

Florida 38 (-10.5)
Cincinnati 13

What a mess. Yes, West Virginia overcame this same circumstance by beating Oklahoma two seasons ago with an interim coach after Rich Rodriguez’ departure. But the Mountaineers had multiple advantages in that one: two very good defensive ends and one guy named Pat White. Tony Pike’s not Pat White, especially not after Florida’s defense takes Mardy Gilyard away from him. Tim Tebow will glide into the sunset. And there will be much rejoicing.

Oklahoma State 28
Mississippi 37 (-3)

God does have a sense of humor. The two pre-season championship darkhorses meet again in a Cotton Bowl game no longer played at the Cotton Bowl, but at Jerry Jones’s answer to the Roman Coliseum. Oklahoma State was not at all right down the stretch, especially in their disaster end-of-year loss to Oklahoma. Ole Miss was just starting to click when Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen coached the socks off of Houston Nutt in an Egg Bowl yolking that left the Rebels feeling rotten. The best player in the game will be Mississippi’s Dexter McCluster. He and the Rebel pass rush win the day.

Arkansas 42 (-7.5)
East Carolina 20

East Carolina’s a great story and Skip Holtz will eventually land a major job. Unfortunately, Arkansas will get rolling in this one and never stop. Ryan Mallett, glad to be freed of Michigan, will be the MVP. Bobby Petrino will talk to his agent about the Cincinnati job on the bus ride back to Fayetteville.

Michigan State 17
Texas Tech 42 (-8)

Seriously, Spartans, if you are going to get into a knock-down, drag-out brawl with multiple suspensions, you are supposed to do it on your bowl trip, preferably well after hours at a sketchy bar and with players from the opposing team. The Big Ten can’t do anything right; this is a consequence of having ended the season in early November. So here we are, Michigan State down ten players from a team that wasn’t that great to begin with. Of course they draw Texas Tech, playing on a fast surface and a climate-controlled stadium in their home state. Enjoy, Sparty.

Boise State 19
TCU 24 (-7)

TCU got hosed. Plain and simple. So did Boise State, of course, but TCU really got the shaft. The Horned Frogs may well be capable of competing against the best teams in college football, but we will never know that because the BCS matched them up with the other misfit toy squad. TCU can only make a statement by blasting Boise State into next week and, all things being equal, I think TCU is probably a couple of touchdowns better than Boise. But all things aren’t equal in bowl season. With a full month of practices to prepare for a single game, it is hard to imagine anyone completely torching Boise State. So Boise State will make TCU very uncomfortable, when it would be much more fun for all of us to watch Boise State make, say, Florida, uncomfortable. TCU will eventually prevail in a game that will tell us…nothing. TCU deserved better. Boise State deserved better. The fans deserved better. Instead, we get to replay last season’s Poinsettia Bowl, with only marginally higher stakes.

Iowa 23
Georgia Tech 17 (-4)

What is it with me and the Big Ten? In this case, I go back to my prediction of last year’s Peach Bowl. In that case, I thought Georgia Tech would completely flummox LSU. A funny thing happens though, when elite athletes do nothing but practice stopping the option for a month. LSU waxed them. Iowa doesn’t have the offense to rip Tech, but they are exceptionally well-drilled and disciplined on defense and boast the nation’s most underappreciated linebacker, Pat Angerer. I love Iowa in this one (which means Georgia Tech will win by three TDs).

Central Michigan 28 (-3.5)
Troy 23

While I think it is insane to play any games between the Orange Bowl and the title game, this one is worth a look if only because of a quarterback duel between Dan LeFevour and Levi Brown. The pick isn’t even an educated guess, by the way. I have only watched Central Michigan beat Michigan State this year, which completely biases my opinion against a Troy team I couldn’t distinguish from the Los Angeles Clippers.

BCS National Championship
Texas 20
Alabama 17 (-5)

You can read into my intentions what you want, but I should note that I have actually picked against Texas in a bowl game before, as recently as 2007, in fact, when I should have known better than to think Arizona State could beat anyone with a pulse. Oh well. The case for Alabama is strong, especially considering that this Texas team has faced two elite level defenses and faired poorly against both of them—in the second case, almost costing them a shot at the title. I ponder that, and then remember that Texas won both of those games. This game clearly comes down to the defenses. If you believe Alabama’s offense is a better match up against Texas than the converse, then you have more faith in Greg McElroy than I have. My hunch says the kid isn’t ready for this stage. We shall see.