Monday, December 5, 2011

An uneducated look at this season's bowl games

I like the college football bowl season. I always have. I've never even been that upset about a lack of a playoff because of the bowls. They're just fun. I like sitting back on New Year's Day (or January 2 this year) and watching all the pageantry and games.

Of course, it's been ruined lately by the sheer number of games. I know it's all about money, and more bowl games equals more paydays for college teams, but this is ridiculous. There are 35 bowl games this year, which means 70 teams made a bowl game, which is more than half of the FBS teams. Read that again. More than half of the eligible teams made a bowl game. Going to a bowl game used to be a reward for a good season; now it's a reward for avoiding a catastrophic season.

I think 20 would be the perfect number of bowl games. That's 40 bowl teams, which is exactly 1/3 of the FBS teams. That way you can be assured that it's only good teams that make a bowl game. It's a true reward for a truly good season.

That argument aside, I still like seeing all the bowl matchups. I also like trying to predict all the games when I watched a total of about 27.5 college games this year. Fun times! So, without further ado, my picks for each game:


National Championship Game:
LSU vs. Alabama
OK, here's the thing. The actual point of the BCS is to make sure that the two best teams meet in the National Championship Game. That's it. All the other games are just filler designed to get as much money to the schools as possible. So in that regard, the BCS succeeded; LSU and Alabama were very clearly the best two teams in college football this year.

That being said, the second-most cited reason that there's no playoff in the highest level of college football - after, of course, money - is the argument that every game counts. Well, this blows that theory completely out of the water. Alabama had its chance at LSU, and they didn't get it done, losing a 9-6 overtime snoozer. But, they get a second chance at it. And it doesn't feel right. I can't imagine many people outside of the Gulf Coast are excited about this matchup.

This has happened before, you know. In 1996, Florida State finished the season as the undefeated number 1 team. Number 2 was undefeated Arizona State, but they were still contractually obligated to the Rose Bowl at that time so, lacking any other options, the powers that be gave Florida State a rematch against Florida, who the Seminoles beat during the regular season. And then Arizona State lost to Ohio State in one of the best Rose Bowls ever played, and then Florida beat Florida State, and Florida was named the national champion, and nobody really felt very good about that.

I mention all that as a long-winded way of saying that while LSU-Alabama might have been technically the correct matchup for the title game, the heads of the BCS would have been better off finding another team for LSU to play. And how satisfied will college football fans be if Alabama wins this game? I don't think they will, but I will cheer for Alabama if it somehow means a change to how things are done. Prediction: LSU 5, Alabama 2 (OT) ACTUAL: Alabama 21, LSU 0 (There's no doubt Alabama was a great team. I still would've loved to have seen their defense against a team with a real offense, like Oklahoma State)

Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Oregon
There's only one college football game I go out of my way to watch every year. I absolutely love the Rose Bowl, and I'm glad that through all the BCS changes, it has survived to retain its Big Ten-Pac 10 12 matchup. I love seeing the the historic stadium divided exactly in half with the two schools' colors (which will look especially festive with the red and green mixing this year) and I love how the stadium looks as the sun starts to set in Pasadena. It's my favorite college game of the year, and this single game is the primary reason I don't yell too loudly for a playoff in college. Yes, I'm an old-fashioned sap. Get over it. Prediction: Wisconsin 42, Oregon 39. ACTUAL: Oregon 45, Wisconsin 38 (I had no idea Oregon hadn't won the Rose Bowl since 1917. So I say good for them.)

Orange Bowl: West Virginia vs. Clemson
I'm having a hard time believing that this is a BCS matchup. I had to remind myself that Clemson somehow beat Virginia Tech twice this year to win the ACC, and West Virginia didn't win the Big East as much as they avoided losing it. Not exactly an inspirational matchup. Prediction: Clemson 31, West Virginia 17. ACTUAL: West Virginia 70, Clemson 33 (The Clemson basketball team has held its opponents under 70 points in 11 of its 14 games this year.)

Fiesta Bowl: Stanford vs. Oklahoma State
Damn Iowa State. Their upset of Oklahoma State kept the Cowboys out of a matchup with LSU. It's too bad, because it would have been cool to see if Oklahoma State's all-world offense could have scored on LSU's impossibly good defense (or if their porous defense could have held LSU under 28 points). Instead, the Cowboys get a matchup against a very good Stanford team that lost to only Oregon this year. There's been a lot of attention given to Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, the likely No. 1 pick in next year's NFL draft. Oregon exposed Luck a quite a bit when they beat Stanford, but Oklahoma State doesn't have the horses to do the same. But can Stanford stop the Cowboys? Prediction: Oklahoma State 45, Stanford 31. ACTUAL: Oklahoma State 41, Stanford 38, OT (You know what's overrated? Defense in major bowl games)

Sugar Bowl: Michigan vs. Virginia Tech
No conference champions in this BCS game. Instead, it's two teams that got an at-large bid. And mildly surprising choices at that. For Michigan, it's a good story that they're back to prominence, but if you're going to pick a second Big Ten team, Michigan State played in the Big Ten title game, only lost that game by 3, and beat Michigan. But, the maize and blue travel much better than Sparty, so they were picked. In other words, money wins again. For Virginia Tech, this was their spot to lose entering the ACC title game. Then they lost the ACC title game. Oops. Yet, they still got a BCS berth over somebody like TCU, Boise State, Arkansas, or Kansas State, all of whom would probably beat Virginia Tech. But the Hokies will probably draw more fans, so they got picked. Whatever. Prediction: Michigan 28, Virginia Tech 10. ACTUAL: Michigan 23, Virginia Tech 20, OT (Like all classic games, it featured a fake field goal where the center caught a pass on a deflection.


(Listed in the order they appear. And I refuse to mention the title sponsor of bowls, which is why some of these names might get confusing. Bear with me here.)

New Mexico Bowl: Temple vs. Wyoming
I think New Mexico is the most random place to ever host a bowl game, with the possible exception of Toronto or Shreveport, La. When I hear the schools "Temple" and "Wyoming" mentioned in the same sentence, I think that they're the two most random football teams I can think of. So really, it's a match made in heaven. Prediction: Wyoming 20, Temple 10. ACTUAL: Temple 37, Wyoming 15 (the lesson: don't underestimate Owls)

Potato Bowl: Ohio vs. Utah State
The fact that there's actually a game called the Potato Bowl is either the greatest or the most depressing thing I've heard this year. There's really no in-between. As for the game, it'd be a lot better if it were Ohio State vs. Utah. But such is life. I've heard Utah State was really good at blowing leads this year. Prediction: Ohio 31, Utah State 30. ACTUAL: Ohio 24, Utah State 23 (Do I get bonus points for that?)

New Orleans Bowl: San Diego State vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
These two schools can close their eyes and dream that they're actually meeting in the Sugar Bowl. Then they'll open their eyes and see they're playing in a quarter-full Superdome. This game is played in the Superdome, right? Anyway, last I checked, Louisiana-Lafayette is in Louisiana, as is New Orleans, so let's go that way. Prediction: La-La 27, San Diego State 14. ACTUAL: La-La 32, San Diego State 30 (As always, don't bet against Louisiana in Louisiana)

St. Petersburg Bowl: Florida International vs. Marshall
Sheesh, another team with home state advantage. Is Florida International the one that got in a brawl with Miami (Fla) a few years back? Or was that Florida Atlantic? Anyway, I think Randy Moss still has a year of eligibility left at Marshall, and he's not doing anything right now, so maybe they should sneak him onto the field. Prediction: FIU 35, Marshall 10. ACTUAL: Marshall 20, FIU 10 (Wait, so Randy Moss did come back? No? I'm confused)

Poinsettia Bowl: Texas Christian vs. Louisiana Tech
Congratulations, TCU! You beat Boise State in Boise to win your conference. You finished in the top 15 in the nation! You're moving to a much, much better conference next year! Your reward is a bowl game in San Diego! Oh, but it's not even the most prestigious bowl game played in San Diego. We save that one for teams from major conferences that you would probably beat by 30. But no hard feelings, right? Prediction: TCU 56, Louisiana Tech 9. ACTUAL: TCU 34, Louisiana Tech 27 (I forgot to factor in the possibility of TCU not caring about this game and sleep-walking through three quarters. At least they won.)

Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State vs. Boise State
Christ, another travesty. Boise State's a top-10 team, and they get stuck in this wretch of a game against a team that has already fired their coach? Wow. I think Kellen Moore will throw with his off hand for sport in this game. Boise needs to get into a real conference quickly so that a single final-second, one-point loss doesn't keep derailing their season. Prediction: Boise State 56, Arizona State 9. ACTUAL: Boise State 56, Arizona State 24 (I think they let them have the 24 to make it more of a challenge)

Hawaii Bowl: Nevada vs. Southern Mississippi
Does anybody in Conference USA like Southern Miss right now? First, by beating Houston and knocking the Cougars out of a BCS bowl, they cost the conference something like $10 million. Then, they get rewarded with a Christmas-season trip to Hawaii. They better be careful, or else the other conference teams might not let them back in. Oh, and as is required, I must mention that Brett Favre went to Southern Miss, so BRETT FAVRE BRETT FAVRE BRETT FAVRE. Thanks. Prediction: Southern Miss 24, Nevada 3. ACTUAL: Southern Miss 24, Nevada 17 (If there's one thing I know, it's how many points non-BCS schools will score in minor bowl games)

Independence Bowl: Missouri vs. North Carolina
Finally, a bowl game I've heard of against football schools that are relevant. It's been a while. A lot of pressure's on Missouri because this will be the last bowl game they ever play in after they move to the SEC next year. Might as well go out with a bang. As for North Carolina, they had a good win against Wisconsin the other day. Of course I'm talking about basketball. Who talks about North Carolina's football team? Prediction: Missouri 31, North Carolina 21. ACTUAL: Missouri 41, North Carolina 24 (I'm starting to look like I know what I'm doing here)

Game played in Charlotte named after a department store chain I've never heard of: Louisville vs. North Carolina State
I'm pretty sure Louisville tied for the Big East championship this year. It's not a good sign for the conference that a co-champion is relegated to playing what is essentially a road game in a generic no-name bowl. The Big East should just give up football and focus on basketball. It'd be a lot less embarrassing. As for NC State, I thought they finished like 11th in the ACC this year. Apparently not. Prediction: Louisville 17, NC State 13. ACTUAL: NC State 31, Louisville 24 (So, uh, ACC > Big East, huh?)

Game formerly known as the Motor City Bowl but now named after pizza: Western Michigan vs. Purdue
I don't care. Prediction: WMU 30, Purdue 8. ACTUAL: Purdue 37, WMU 31 (Whatever)

Military Bowl: Toledo vs. Air Force
Toledo is called the Rockets. Air Force is a military academy. Synergy, people! Air Force won the Commander in Chief Trophy this year, which is really the only trophy they care about. I bet they'll be handed a trophy if they win this one, too. I think Toledo's gonna win, but wouldn't it piss off the military if the military lost the Military Bowl? Prediction: Toledo 24, Air Force 17. ACTUAL: Toledo 42, Air Force 41 (If an air strike suddenly flattens Toledo's stadium tomorrow, now you know why)

Holiday Bowl: California vs. Texas
Once upon a time, a national championship was decided in the Holiday Bowl. That will never happen again. The Holiday Bowl also used to be known as the most unpredictable, highest scoring of the bowl games. Now it's just the third best team in the Pac-12 against the fifth best in the Big 12. It used to be the best of the December bowl games. Now it's just lost in the shuffle. Prediction: Cal 35, Texas 24. ACTUAL: Texas 21, California 10 (It's because Texas is bigger, isn't it)

Game played in Orlando named after a sports apparel shop: Florida State vs. Notre Dame
This would have been an awesome game in 1993. Now, I'm just surprised that Florida State wasn't banned from a bowl game this year. I predict a lot of gold helmets in this one. Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Florida State 24. ACTUAL: Florida State 18, Notre Dame 14 (The revenge of Charlie Ward?)

Alamo Bowl: Washington vs. Baylor
I liked this better when it was Big Ten vs. Big 12. Oh well. Baylor's pretty good - they beat Oklahoma, right? That says something. Washington beat ... Washington State? I think? But they play in Seattle, which must be really nice. Baylor plays in Waco, which is still mostly known for David Koresh. Prediction: Baylor 42, Washington 28. ACTUAL: Baylor 67, Washington 56 (No, wait ... sorry, that was a basketball score. What? It wasn't? Wow.)

Armed Forces Bowl: BYU vs. Tulsa
Wait, so there's a Military Bowl and an Armed Forces Bowl? And they're different games? And Army and Navy aren't playing in this one? I'm confused. And that's before you mention that Tulsa calls its sports teams the Golden Hurricane despite being 500 miles from the Gulf Coast. Too many questions for me. And don't ask me where this game takes place, because I couldn't even begin to tell you. Prediction: BYU 30, Tulsa 21. ACTUAL: BYU 24, Tulsa 21 (Huh. I'm actually doing pretty well with these so far. Oh, and I literally just finished watching this game and I still don't know where it took place)

Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers vs. Iowa State
Blame Iowa (State). If they don't beat Oklahoma State, we don't have that rematch in the National Championship Game. However, that win got them here, in a game in historic new Yankee Stadium. I'm pretty sure Rutgers was not one of the teams that tied for the Big East title, but they'll probably win it next year, considering they'll basically be the only team left in the league. Prediction: Iowa State 27, Rutgers 21. ACTUAL: Rutgers 27, Iowa State 13 (This left Iowa State with a losing record. But they're a bowl team! HAPPY!

Music City Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Wake Forest
I had to look at this game three times before finally convincing myself these two teams aren't in the same conference. I don't know why I always get Wake Forest and Vanderbilt mixed up, but I do. Fun fact: Minnesota beat Alabama in the 2004 Music City Bowl. Records since then: Minnesota, 33-57; Alabama, 70-21. Yee gods. Prediction: Wake Forest 21, Miss St. 7. ACTUAL: Mississippi State 23, Wake Forest 17 (Two straight losses. Are my powers slipping?)

Game formerly known as the Copper Bowl: Iowa vs. Oklahoma
It feels like this matchup should be in a more prominent bowl, because didn't Oklahoma have a pretty good year? Iowa was typical Iowa, of course, beating Michigan but losing to Minnesota, basically showing absolutely nothing resembling consistency. This will be the kind of game where a Big Ten team gets slaughtered and everybody talks about how the conference is overrated. Prediction: Oklahoma 33, Iowa 17. ACTUAL: Oklahoma 31, Iowa 14 (See? I know my Copper)

Texas Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Northwestern
Another team under a lot of pressure to win this bowl game as, like Missouri, this will be Texas A&M's last one for many, many years. And I can't think of a better way to celebrate moving to the SEC than firing your accomplished former NFL head coach. Good move, Aggies. As for Northwestern, they're just happy to be here, as they are with any postseason appearance in any sport. Prediction: Northwestern 38, Texas A&M 35. ACTUAL: Texas A&M 33, Northwestern 22 (Duh. Texas in the Texas Bowl. I should have known)

Sun Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Utah
When did the Big Ten stop having an automatic tie-in to this bowl? I always liked this one because unlike the Rose Bowl, the Big Ten could use the Pac-10 as its whipping boy in this game. I don't know much about Utah's team this season except it was their first in the Pac-12. Georgia Tech stubbornly runs a high school offense because they think they're a military academy or something. Prediction: Georgia Tech 30, Utah 20. ACTUAL: Utah 30, Georgia Tech 27, OT (The lesson: When given a month to prepare, teams can stop the option)

Liberty Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt
Did you know Cincinnati and Nashville, where Vanderbilt is located, are only 275 miles apart? That seems so much closer than logic should dictate. They need to make the eastern states bigger. Prediction: Cincinnati 31, Vanderbilt 7. ACTUAL: Cincinnati 31, Vanderbilt 24 (No, see, I meant a seven-point spread. Not seven total points. Really.)

Fight Hunger Bowl: Illinois vs. UCLA
Seriously? Seriously!? How is this game supposed to fight hunger? They're going to have trouble selling enough tickets to cover the teams' appearance fees, much less have money left over to give to the hungry. And while I'd technically rather watch this game than starve to death, it's a closer call than it really should be, because yuck. Both teams fired their coaches already. UCLA played in the Pac-12 championship game, but only because the USC team that beat them 50-0 was ineligible; they're the first under .500 team to play in a bowl game. Meanwhile, Illinois lost its final six games of the season, including the last one to Minnesota, which should in itself make you ineligible for a bowl. And somehow, these are bowl teams, and people are going to pay money to watch them play in a bowl game. This game right here is living proof that there are too many bowl games. Prediction: Tie, because neither team deserves to be called a bowl winner. ACTUAL: I refuse to look up to see if this game actually took place.

Game formerly known as the Peach Bowl: Virginia vs. Auburn
When this was called the Peach Bowl, this was exactly the type of matchup I expected to see in the game. Now it's named after a chicken restaurant that uses cows in its advertisements. I don't know what else to say right now. Prediction: Virginia 21, Auburn 20. ACTUAL: Auburn 43, Virginia 24 (Ooof).

Game currently played in the Cotton Bowl but is not nor hasn't ever been called the Cotton Bowl: Houston vs. Penn State
Houston was so close. So painfully close. They could have played in one of the big bowls, had the national stage to themselves. Then they crapped the bed in the conference title game. Playing Penn State is a decent consolation prize. Playing in this weird bowl with no tradition is not. I'm not even going to hint at any jokes about Penn State. Houston 31, Penn State 21. ACTUAL: Houston 30, Penn State 14 (Breaking news: Case Keenum just threw for 75 more yards while you were reading this)

Outback Bowl: Michigan State vs. Georgia
OK, I know I said I wouldn't list corporate sponsors in this section, but I always thought this was a natural name for this game. Maybe it gives me the idea of the Outback, which fits perfectly with my image of Texas, even if the Outback is technically in Australia. Even still, as I wrote that sentence, I remembered that this game is played in Florida, so now I feel like an ass. Anyway, Michigan State and Georgia are essentially the same team: Three losses, one of them in the conference title game, capable of beating good teams if they play perfectly, but not quite good enough to worry about for the national title. They're a good matchup for each other. Prediction: Georgia 28, Michigan State 24. ACTUAL: Michigan State 33, Georgia 30, 3OT (Georgia only scored three points combined in the three OTs. Yuck)

Game formerly known as the Florida Citrus Bowl Nebraska vs. South Carolina
It's a testament to the Big Ten's move that it seems perfectly natural that Nebraska is part of the conference. It's like they've been here the whole time. Also, it's strange to think that South Carolina hasn't always been in the SEC, but it's only been since 1992 for them. Odd, that. Prediction: Nebraska 31, South Carolina 24. ACTUAL: South Carolina 30, Nebraska 13 (Remind me again why I picked a team with a quarterback who can't throw to win a bowl game)

Gator Bowl: Ohio State vs. Florida
Remember that one national title game where Florida kept running the same play - Tim Tebow throwing a swing pass to Percy Harvin - over and over and over again, and kept they marching down the field because Ohio State kept playing its base 4-3 soft zone and refused to alter their game plan? Yah, that won't happen here, partially because Tebow and Harvin played against each other in the NFL this weekend, and partially because Jim Tressel is no longer the coach at Ohio State after being forced out because some of his players got free tattoos. (Read that again. After all that's going on with college sports, doesn't that seem trivial at this point?) Prediction: Ohio State 20, Florida 3. ACTUAL: Florida 24, Ohio State 17 (Remind me again why I picked the Gators to lose the Gator Bowl)

Cotton Bowl: Kansas State vs. Arkansas
Both teams lost only two games. Both teams losses came to top-15 teams. So, like MSU-Georgia, these are essentially the same team. Nice. Prediction: Arkansas 34, KSU 31 ACTUAL: Arkansas 29, Kansas State 16 (That game didn't really feel like it was that close).

Game named after a financial holding company: Southern Methodist vs. Pittsburgh
I don't have the energy any more. Prediction: SMU 21, Pitt 14 ACTUAL: SMU 28, Pitt 6 (Yah. Didn't watch it. Not even a second of it).

Game named after the web site that keeps putting Danica Patrick in a bikini: Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois
The conference champions of the two most irrelevant conferences in America. Hence their berth in a worthless, pointless bowl game. Bonus points if you can tell me where this game is being played. Prediction: Arkansas State 31, NIU 16 ACTUAL: Northern Illinois 38, Arkansas State 20 (See the previous entry).

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