My fellow Texas fans: Please set aside your animosity and neurosis for a brief moment and revel in all that is good about the holiday spirit and the bowl season to come. For there is still football to be played.
If that is not enough, Andy Williams will join us for a song later, plus Shields and Yarnell and the introduction of the Kodak All-American Football Team. While you're at it, would it kill you to buy a copy of Rose Bowl Dreams? It is remaindered now, which means Amazon practically gives them away. Best, jonestopten
I didn't know what I was getting into
But I popped Lincoln and Jackson, too
I didn't mind seeing them fade out of sight,
I just knew I'd have some fun last night
Whenever you in town and looking for a thrill
If Lincoln can't get it, Jackson sure will
On a greenback, greenback dollar bill
Just a little piece of paper, coated with chlorophyll
If you played for Ray Charles, the set list changed every night. You had to know about 180 songs from his catalogue. The only difference between that and bowl season is that all of them were good.
Bowl season. Our nation’s great show of appreciation for advertising revenue and disciplinary action against 20-year-olds trying to find a good time in New Orleans or Shreveport. The one time a year where I pick every game against the spread. And fail to write in complete sentences.
I cheated you all out of a column last week because, well, it wasn’t really captivating football was it? Oregon and Auburn felt their way through the early stages of the afternoon games and then put away their opponents with brutal efficiency. Sound familiar? Auburn was particularly impressive in riding the momentum of a half-ending Hail Mary (answered) on their way to a 56-17 demolition of South Carolina. Steve Spurrier shrugged. The public got the title game it wanted (TCU fans excepted).
Only in the Big 12 did we get a championship game to remember. Nebraska held a 17-7 lead and might knocked Oklahoma out. Taylor Martinez instead responded with an end-zone pick. The Sooners clawed their way to a 23-20 win and Bob Stoops’s impressive seventh conference title in ten years. Nebraska left Arlington, again, pining for do-over.
As a reward, the Sooners draw your 2010 Big East Champion 8-4 UConn Huskies.
Wait, I’ll try it with an exclamation point (lol!).
As a reward, the Sooners draw your 2010 Big East Champion 8-4 UConn Huskies!
That’s just one sad symptom of possibly the worst bowl schedule in history, certainly in my memory anyway. The Big East isn’t the only problem. The flotsam at the bottom of the top heavy and USC-ineligible Pac Ten resulted in some awful opponents for teams that deserved better. Worse, the current bowl slotting system assures the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 are shielded from any potential embarrassment from the, ahem, underclass.
“Good morning, Michigan Football…uhm, Mr. Nevada, who did you say you were with?...Yes, and that’s some sort of athletic conference, is it?...We will have to get back to you…Oh, I am not sure, after the holidays perhaps?...In the meantime, could I interest you in a pay-to-play basketball match-up in 2016?”
My thoughts and picks on the 24 bowl games are below. You say there are 34 bowl games? I say it’s spinach and I say to hell with it.
On with show…and gamble at your own risk.
Boise State 42 (-17)
Imagine a Mountain West with Boise State, Utah, BYU, TCU, Air Force, Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii. Think of what that configuration would have accomplished had it existed over the last five seasons. Now picture yourself in a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies.
This would be a great October conference match-up. But as an early season bowl game between two of the true titans of mid-majorville? It’s just sad. Sadder is that Boise will completely outclass Utah, who made a pretty nice run this season with a not particularly talented roster.
San Diego State 34 (-5)
Two better teams than you think: San Diego State played TCU tougher than anyone and had only one poor performance loss, a close one at BYU. Navy did their typical overachieving act. Although it may not be overachieving anymore; beating Notre Dame has become a birthright and only a surprising loss to Duke kept them from ten wins…again. All this and the Poinsettia Bowl at least has a decent name. Whatever happened to naming your bowl after an agricultural product?
Hawaii 42.92 (-11)
The score above is simply each team’s points per game average. I added three to Hawaii because they are playing at home. It’s as good a methodology as any for predicting a bowl outcome. Aloha!
Georgia Tech 27
Air Force 37 (-3)
Hard not to take Air Force over the disappointing 6-6 Yellowjackets. These are the two statistically best rushing teams in the nation. Air Force produced a lot more points out of their yards. The Falcons also lost only to teams of equal or better talent. You never knew what you would get from Georgia Tech, the only bowl participant who managed to lose to Kansas.
North Carolina State 19
West Virginia 34 (-3)
Can’t we please forgive West Virginia for the overtime loss to UConn and let them go to the Fiesta Bowl? The Mountaineers are entertaining and play excellent defense, finishing second in the nation in points allowed. I like NC State, but this line is too low.
Missouri 31 (-1)
Missouri finished the quietest ten-win season in recent memory. An inexplicable loss to Texas Tech kept them from 11-1 and the Big 12 title game. Iowa started strong and lost three straight down the stretch to Northwestern (a forgivable nail-biting upset), Ohio State (a winnable gracious defeat) and Minnesota (Holy Mother of God What Have You Done?????). I am not sure why this is basically a pick ‘em. Both teams have the black and gold color scheme someone in college football’s past must have thought looked good.
Baylor 28 (-1.5)
Ron Zook at Illinois has outlasted Urban Meyer at Florida, albeit with two fewer national titles. Baylor is not only in a bowl game, but is actually favored in it. It would be cruel to pick against them.
Oklahoma State 49 (-6)
If it pleases the court, may I offer Exhibit I in the Pac Ten efforts to ruin our holiday season with crappy bowl match-ups? Arizona, they of the four game down-the-stretch collapse, snagged the third-best conference bowl slot. For their trouble, they travel to San Antonio for margaritas, Sea World and the opportunity to get curb stomped by a team with offensive sophistication and talent comparable to Stanford (who beat Arizona by 25) and Oregon (who beat Arizona by 19). Arizona may add some late touchdowns in front of a half-empty Alamo Dome as folks head to the Riverwalk.
I don’t really care who wins. The game is in Yankee Stadium, for what it’s worth. Bill Snyder was hoping for Ebbets Field or the old Polo Grounds. We can’t have everything in life.
North Carolina 17 (-2)
How did Tennessee ever get bowl eligible? Simple, they took their lumps and then won their last four games against good to mediocre competition, pretty handily, too. Derek Dooley knows what he is doing and his young players will be much better next year. I like this upset.
Nebraska 56 (-14)
Exhibit II in the Pac Ten bowl-screwing project. The fourth best conference slot (and actually third-best, since a Pac Ten team got bumped to the BCS title game) goes to 6-6 Washington and their enigmatic quarterback Jake Locker, who will make a fine NFL strong safety. The score above is the real live final score of the Nebraska v. Washington game from this September, played, of course, in Washington’s home stadium; so I am actually giving the Huskies the benefit of the doubt. What could give U-Dub hope? Well, the Cornhuskers may be the most popular confidence pick in bowl pools across the country and it is quite possible their starting quarterback hates his coach’s guts. Actually, that’s pretty compelling evidence they might lose.
Notre Dame 24
Miami 20 (-3)
We’ve come to this? A 2:15 slot on New Year’s Eve day in El Paso? The 1980s really are over. Next you’re going to tell me that Corey Haim’s dead.
Georgia 27 (-7)
Central Florida won ten games and the Conference USA title. They also played only two games against BCS conference teams. Lost both, to Kansas State and North Carolina State. Those two teams are rough equivalents to…Georgia. Isn’t bowl season fun? At least one of the have nots gets a shot at the SEC. Give ‘em hell, Golden Knights.
South Carolina 28 (-3)
Florida State 24
Now we’re talking. Atlanta loves this game, even though corporate America re-named it for a restaurant that doesn’t have the decency to open on Sundays when good Christian people need a chicken sandwich with pickles. The Peach Bowl almost always gets two squads just below the nation’s elite, but capable of playing excellent football. Problem is FSU is far more capable of that with Christian Ponder playing quarterback, an uncertainty due to a bad elbow. This prediction assumes he plays.
Texas Tech 34 (-9.5)
OK, these teams are a combined 14-10 and, for Texas Tech, bowl eligibility was assured only by finishing the season with two non-conference games against Weber State and an undermanned Houston, a bizarre scheduling decision that I assume has some explanation. Northwestern plays without the quarterback who started the season so promisingly and Tech plays without the whole pirate gestalt that made them so much fun in the first place. So why cover this game? Partially because I know too many Tech alums who will bitch if I don’t, but mostly because of the delicious (and profitable) irony of the nation’s largest internet ticket scalping concern purchasing the rights to their own bowl game. God I love this country.
Michigan State 27
Alabama 26 (-10)
Alabama’s better, hence the line. But I don’t know, Michigan State sort of has that magical Disney quality to them don’t they? It’s a certain way they wear their helmets. A certain moxie, a certain…dare I say it? Je ne sais quoi? You may have your national titles, Alabama, but dammit, WE want the Capitol One Bowl. It makes us want to sing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Florida 28 (-7)
Penn State 23
Penn State got worked by every decent team on its schedule. Florida mailed it in half the season for a coach who lost his passion for the game last year and made it obvious to everyone in the off-season. And we’re excited about the Outback Bowl because the two team names will look good on a t-shirt?
Mississippi State 34 (-5)
Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen did a great coaching job this year. Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez still has a job as of this writing after going 7-5, but it was certainly an entertaining 7-5. Neither team beat any of the heavyweights on their schedule, although Mississippi State made everyone in the SEC uncomfortable and Michigan thrashed the Big East Champion UConn Huskies (though not as badly as Oklahoma is about to). I’ll take consistency and coaching. You may have Denard Robinson.
TCU 27 (-2.5)
I lamented last year that TCU and Boise State were matched up in a 2010 BCS bowl game that didn’t tell us anything. Here’s TCU’s do-over. The Frogs need to make the most of it. TCU plays like a BCS conference team. What I mean by that is, in comparison to Boise State or Nevada, the Frogs are best equipped to play a week-to-week grind in a power conference. They have depth and speed, nastiness on the edge and athleticism that jumps off the TV screen. Meet Wisconsin. The Badgers are a bad day against Michigan State from being undefeated themselves. Their running game is the best in college football. Do they have a speed deficit against TCU? Only marginally: Big Ten = slow is the refuge of a lazy analyst. Even if a big speed gap existed, it certainly hasn’t bothered poor Wisconsin in numerous wins over southern teams in past bowl seasons. I like TCU just a bit more because I think they have a better quarterback. That’s about it. I am watching all of this one.
Oklahoma 41 (-17)
Yeah, yeah, we’ve been here before. Oklahoma disappointed with a bowl opponent, Oklahoma comes out flat; Oklahoma loses (see Boise State and West Virginia). Not going to happen this time. In the case of Boise State, an exceptionally well-coached team sprinkled with fairy dust came into remarkable good fortune. Against West Virginia—in a game I picked WVU to win, by the way—the public made too much of an interim coach situation and too little of a hugely talented team that had an advantage at defensive end against OU’s sloth-like tackles. UConn has neither advantage and the Sooners will kill them. I’ve got even money Bob Stoops will score sixty in this one.
Stanford 28 (-3)
Virginia Tech 21
Stanford being the best team in the nation is not all that nuts of a proposition. Seriously, what would the line be against Oregon on a neutral field? The lone Cardinal loss came at Autzen in a game they (seemingly) controlled. Virginia Tech, for their part, has been dismissed all season for blowing the Boise opener and collapsing against James Madison the next week. All the Hokies did from that point forward was run away with the ACC title and play like a top ten squad down the stretch. Can someone explain to me why Virginia Tech is seen by the cognoscenti as an over-hyped and dumb football team? What tradition or natural advantage do you think Virginia Tech has, exactly? Back to this game, Andrew Luck makes one more play than Tyrod Taylor (sort of like Kellen Moore did, come to think of it).
Ohio State 24 (-3.5)
Talk about your contrasts. I am going with the Hogs because I simply think the Buckeyes have not been attacked like Arkansas will attack them. Last year, I picked Ohio State to win in a very similar scenario against Oregon. That Duck passing attack was not as good as this one and last year’s Ohio State secondary was better. Will Terrelle Pryor prove me wrong in his transcendent moment? Nah. We’ll wait another year for that.
Texas A&M 21
LSU 23 (-1)
Cowboy Stadium could not have asked for a better Super Bowl practice. This is the only game Fox will cover in the bowl season, so they grabbed a completely open slot, signed up their NFL announcing team and then, by the luck of the draw, got two fan bases that will fill the stadium and scream like hell. This would have been a great game to play in the actual Cotton Bowl, you know, the one over on the fairgrounds? Progress. Texas A&M’s retooled and underrated defense and their mid-season substitution at quarterback, Royal Tenenbaum, resulted in a stretch run that had them playing as well as anyone in the Big 12, including wins over both title game participants. I would pick them here…if LSU weren’t so ridiculously lucky.
Boston College 12
I get the sentiment and I am all for feeding the hungry, but this is the worst named bowl game in history. What’s next: The Send an Orphan to Camp Bowl? It’s supposed to be fun, right? Nevada against a legitimate top 25 team would be a fair fight. Boston College is not one. The Eagles are gritty, resilient, tough, blah, blah, blah. They came back from 2-5 to get here, so give them credit for that. But Nevada will win this one easily behind their sublime running game of Kaepernick and Taua.
BCS National Championship
Auburn 34 (-3)
The wrong team is favored. Auburn allegedly boasts the far better resume, having gone undefeated in an incredibly strong and deep SEC West while Oregon coasted through a down Pac Ten, excepting Stanford. That’s the assumption anyway, but the two teams’ Sagarin strength of schedules are within four points in the rankings. The other myth surrounds Oregon’s defense. The Ducks are 25th overall…but 8th in yards per play. They rank a “lousy” 56th in pass defense…but 6th in pass efficiency defense and 2nd in turnovers forced. I am not exactly quoting complicated stats here. The pace they play at on offense and the general disdain for Pac Ten defense works against Oregon’s public perception.
I am not about to discount Auburn. The best player in the country plays for them (shades of Vince Young, 2005) and, arguably, the best defensive player does, too (but he doesn’t play in the secondary). Their run through the SEC is an amazing achievement. But if you were to build a team to beat them, that team would look a lot like Oregon, right down to the best punt return game in the nation (Auburn’s punting game reeks). The SEC streak ends here.
I will see you all on the other side.
Happy holidays, and in the words of Kinky Friedman, “May you be blessed by the God of your choice.”