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The College Football Bowlgame Breakdown for 2014-2015 December 17, 2014

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NewMexicoBowl2012

The 2012 New Mexico Bowl between Arizona and Nevada turned out to be a thrilling, high-scoring affair. Let us hope that when the Wildcats line up against Boise State in this upcoming Fiesta Bowl, we the fans will be treated to similar fireworks!

Yes, folks, we are but a few short days away from looking LIVE at a bevy of bowl games.  This plethora of postseason pigskin contests will span two weeks and change, and we will likely be satiated with college football, at least until the Spring games in April.  So, here is a break-down of what not to miss, and a few that you’d like to miss, but will not be able to help yourselves just the same.

Ticket to die for:  Oregon vs. Florida State in the Rose Bowl, Thurs., Jan. 1.  Actually the real ticket to die for is the playoff championship game held a week later, but the semifinals must be played first to determine who plays then.  Fair enough, you say, but what about Bama vs. the Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl?  That’s a good one, to be sure.  But in the minds of most fans and commentators, the Ducks vs. the Seminoles seems to have just a slightly greater degree of sex appeal, that’s all.

Best non–Power Five vs. Power Five match–up:  Utah vs. Colorado State in the Las Vegas Bowl, Sat., Dec. 20.  For one, this might be the only worthwhile bowl game to watch on the first day of the post–season.  For another, there are actually a few other decent match–ups to keep one’s eye on as said post–season unfolds, namely Illinois (wait, they’re in a bowl this year?) vs. Louisiana Tech in the Heart of Dallas Bowl and N.C. State vs. Central Florida in the St. Petersburg Bowl (wait, what happened to it being called the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl?), both on Fri., Dec. 26.  Indeed, the latter line–up might be cause to reconsider who merits the “best” distinction. The reason I say that is, with the Rams’ coach having bolted to take the Florida job (who can blame him for taking such a prestigious post?), nobody knows what sort of team will show up to face the Utes.

Then again, this is the mystery that shrouds most bowl game line–ups.

Best non–Power Five match–up:  Marshall vs. Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl on Tues., Dec. 23.  So Florida Atlantic is going to host a bowlgame?  Apparently they’re good for something after all. Sorry, Owls, but things haven’t been the same since Coach Schnellenberger retired.  The Huskies won the MAC decisively in Detroit, while Marshall has been a strong non–Power Five team all year long, notwithstanding almost coughing it up to the La. Tech Bulldogs recently.

Upset alert:  Oklahoma vs. Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl, Mon., Dec. 29.  This is the safest upset to predict because whereas the Tigers are ranked (No. 17), the Sooners are not, and Clemson’s postseason performance is unreliable, right, Dana Holgersen?

Must win:  Ole Miss vs. TCU in the Peach Bowl, Wed., Dec. 31.  The winner of this game will be the team that is the least disappointed to be there after having much higher aspirations during the regular season.  A win here will also help them salvage some consolation from not having lived up to said aspirations.

Offensive explosion:  Boise State vs. Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl, Wed., Dec. 31.  At least, this match-up has a good a chance as any to rack up some points.  The Wildcats and the Broncos both have been fairly adept at that this season, after all.  The bonus in this game is that there is great potential for snazzy colors in the team uniforms on both sides of the ball!

Defensive struggle:  Boston College vs. Penn State in the Pinstripe Bowl, Sat., Dec. 27.  Neither team really lit up the scoreboard this year, did they?  Add cold weather on top of that (it will be played in Yankee Stadium, after all), and that is likely to put a further damper on offensive output.

Great game no one is talking about:  Iowa vs. Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Fri., Jan. 2.  This used to be called the Gator Bowl for the previous 67 years, fyi.  What makes this game so good is that the Hawkeyes have been very quietly winning a critical mass of games this year, while the Volunteers are a year away under Coach Butch Jones before becoming really good.  Translation:  this is a closer match–up than most SEC fans would be willing to acknowledge.

Intriguing coaching match–up:  Nick Saban of Alabama vs. Urban Meyer of Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, Thurs., Jan. 1.  This is a no–brainer.  They’re arguably the two best coaches in the business, no what it takes to win, and both of multiple national championships under their belts.  Moreover, the two have gone head–to–head before when Meyer was coaching at Florida.  This oughtta be a good one, folks!

Who’s bringing the body bags?  LSU vs. Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl, Tues., Dec. 30.  The only way this game is remotely competitive is if the Tigers just lie down for most of the game, for the Irish have been exposed time and again as overrated frauds late this year.

Why are they playing?  Florida vs. East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl, Sat., Jan. 3.  The only reason in any known universe that these two programs would be playing each other in a bowl game is because the Gators are that far down as a program at the moment.

Plenty of good seats remaining:  Western Michigan vs. Air Force in the Idaho Potato Bowl, Sat., Dec. 20. Nothing against Western Michigan and the fine year they have had (by MAC standards, at least).  Nothing against Air Force, because they’re the troops.  But still, it will be in frigid Boise, Idaho.  Unless you’re going there to ski, why bother being anywhere near there this time of year?

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Nevada vs. Louisiana–Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl, Sat., Dec. 20.  Yes, I know, these past 13 years, the New Orleans Bowl has been the traditional kick-off game for the bowl season, but let us be honest:  this strikes us as only a slightly better–than–average non–Power Five early season match–up.  Do I lie?

That said, an honorable mention for pointless match–up is Toledo vs. Arkansas State in the GoDaddy Bowl (played in Mobile, Ala.) on Sun., Jan. 4.

Red–and–Black Special:  Louisville vs. Georgia in the Belk Bowl, Tues., Dec. 30.  These two teams seem too good for the Belk Bowl.  Still, the bowl itself has managed to climb its way up the prestige ranks a bit over the course of a decade.  It must be the sponsor:  “Belk Bowl” has far better ring to it than “Continental Tires Bowl”.  Yes, that’s what it used to be called.  Honest!

Most exotic location:  Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl on Wed., Dec. 24.  Do not adjust your screens, for you read that correctly.  Yes, there is now a bowl game in the Bahamas (Nassau, specifically), an obvious “first”.  Let’s hope the teams have the opportunity to enjoy things and live it up a bit.

Two great programs in a so–so bowl:  Miami vs. South Carolina in the Independence Bowl, Sat., Dec. 27.  Maybe after these two proud programs get down knocking heads, the bowl game will be a bit less so–so, and more reminiscent of recent times when the likes of LSU and Notre Dame slugged it out (1997) or when Mississippi State and then–Big XII rep Texas A&M duked it out in a blizzard (2000).  It already has made us forget the less–than–memorable match–ups of the past few years.

The explosive offense meets the immovable defense:  Baylor vs. Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, Thurs., Jan.1. Plus, there will be lots of green!  Seriously, though, the Bears have put up scorching numbers on offense, but the big knock against them has constantly been, whom have they played this year?  On the other hand, Michigan State has proven themselves to be a force with which to be reckoned after upsetting Stanford in the most recent Rose Bowl.  Lesson learned:  Mark Dantonio and the Spartans are not to be taken lightly.

Consolation game:  Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, Jan. 1.  Similar The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, if Mississippi State wins this, it will be because they overcame their disappointment of not making the Top 4 in the playoffs.  With that said, when was the last time that the Bulldogs have made it to such a prestigious bowl game?  Certainly not in my lifetime!

The 2013-2014 NCAA Bowl Games: The Good, The Bad, and the Intriguing December 21, 2013

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OkStMizzou2010

Oklahoma State and Missouri used to play each other routinely as conference foes, even as recently as 2009. Since Mizzou skipped the Big XII for the SEC, however, that routine came to an abrupt end. Now, they are to meet each other again in the Cotton Bowl.

Ticket to die for:  Could it be any more obvious?  No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 2 Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game (Jan. 6)

Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: (two good ones) No. 20 Fresno State vs. No. 25 USC in the Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 21), and Boise State vs. Oregon State in the Hawaii Bowl (Dec. 24)

Best non-Big Six matchup: Utah State vs. No. 23 Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl (Dec. 26)

Upset alert:  No. 5 Stanford vs. No. 4 Michigan State in the Rose Bowl (Jan. 1)

Must win: No. 12 Clemson vs. No. 7 Ohio State in the Orange Bowl (Jan. 3)

Think there’s enough Crimson?  No. 11 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl (Jan. 2)

Old Rivals Reunite:  No. 13 Oklahoma State vs. No. 8 Missouri in the Cotton Bowl (Jan. 3)

Offensive explosion:  No. 14 Arizona State vs. Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl (Dec. 30)

Defensive struggle: Middle Tennessee vs. Navy in the Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 30)

Great game no one is talking about:  BYU vs. Washington in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (Dec. 27)

Home Field Advantage:  Louisiana-Lafayette @ Tulane in the New Orleans Bowl (Dec. 21)

Could be bad for the home team:  No. 10 Oregon vs. Texas in the Alamo Bowl (Dec. 30)

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Brady Hoke of Michigan vs. Bill Snyder of Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Dec. 28)

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 15 Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1)

Why are they playing?  UNLV vs. North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl (Jan. 1)

Plenty of good seats remaining: Buffalo vs. San Diego State in the Idaho Potato Bowl (Dec. 21)

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Vanderbilt vs. Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl (Jan. 4)

2012-2013 Bowl Game Awards January 10, 2013

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What, you’d think I’d be lying down on the job just because the regular season is over?

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Charlie Strong, Louisville

Wouldn’t be bad to be him, either:  Nick Saban, Alabama

Glad I’m not him: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Lucky guy:  Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Poor guy: Patrick Higgins, Purdue (interim coach)
Desperately seeking a clue (long-term, notwithstanding the win):  Mack Brown, Texas
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Bill Blankenship, Tulsa

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Lane Kiffin, USC

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Texas A&M (beat No. 11 Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 4, 41-13)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Florida (see below)

(Dec. 15-31)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Purdue (see below)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Louisville (see below)
(Jan. 1-7)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Alabama

Thought you wouldn’t get your butt kicked, you did: Notre Dame

Dang, they’re good: Alabama (and Texas A&M!)
Dang, they’re bad:  Purdue

They can’t be that good:  Oklahoma State

Dang, they’re overrated:  Notre Dame

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Mississippi State (lost to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl, Jan. 1, 34-20)

Did the season start? USC
Can the season end?  West Virginia
Can the season never end?  Louisville (or Clemson, though really, Louisville more so!)

GAMES
Play this again (Jan. 1-7):  Outback Bowl – No. 10 South Carolina 33, No. 18 Michigan 28

(Dec. 15-31)

Play this again:  Peach, I mean, Chick-Fil-A Bowl — No. 14 Clemson 25, No. 8 LSU 24

Also, play this again:  New Mexico Bowl – Arizona 49, Nevada 48
(All Bowls)

Never play this again: Heart of Dallas Bowl – Oklahoma State 58, Purdue 14
Don’t bother with this one again, eitherIdaho Potato Bowl – No. 22 Utah State 41, Toledo 15

What? Chick-Fil-A Bowl — No. 14 Clemson 25, No. 8 LSU 24

HuhHoliday Bowl — Baylor 49, No. 17 UCLA 26

Are you kidding me? Sun Bowl — Georgia Tech 21, USC 7

Oh – my – God: Sugar Bowl – No. 21 Louisville 33, No. 3 Florida 23

Wow, dudeBCS National Championship – erstwhile No. 2 Alabama 42, erstwhile No. 1 Notre Dame 14

nick_saban34_cr_400

Cal Sport Media / AP Images

That’s why you line them up and play.  My father repeated this mantra to me as I was growing up.  Going in to the BCS National Championship game, it seemed as though Notre Dame and Alabama were rather evenly matched on paper.  The Fighting Irish had some rather impressive wins on their resume this year, far more impressive than the mediocre schedule they had played in recent years.  Beating a tough Stanford squad at home, going on the road to humiliate Oklahoma, and then closing out the regular season on the west coast to beat USC, all in the same year, is no small feat.  With such a record, it looked like Notre Dame was back, ready to butt heads with the big boys for national prominence.

Moreover, it was supposed to be a down year for the SEC, remember?  Michigan played South Carolina down to the wire (though seriously, the overall outcome was as predicted, if not by a slightly truncated margin of error), and an underachieving Nebraska challenged a, well, underachieving Georgia squad.  Mississippi State, for what a great regular season had – by MSU standards, at least – came for naught when they coughed it up to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl.  The most striking example of building the case for a SEC down year was the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.  No way, under normal circumstances would LSU lose to Clemson, though to be sure, the ACC team has been known to pull one over on the SEC team in that bowl game (remember the 2001 Peach Bowl between Auburn and North Carolina?).  No. 3 Florida inexplicably losing to No. 21 Louisville can also add fuel to that fire (not that U of L’s win is something to be rued outside of SEC country!).

Forget that the SEC had three losses going into this game.  The conference was 5-3, to be exact; still a winning record.  Look at the Bama team itself.  They had graduated tons of talent to the NFL.  Quarterback A.J. McCarron was not a transcendent player at that position (as one often expects on a team that would be in the running for the national title).  The offensive line was young and inexperienced.  The Crimson Tide’s defense was not overwhelming, either, especially when compared to the smothering D’s of recent champion squads.  When paired up against the other team, one could readily predict some clearly potential mismatches.  After all, Notre Dame’s receiving corps was big and talented, and proved to be a game-winning factor throughout the season, as the Irish’s opponents had no answer for that part of their offense.

But there was more.  What gave the Irish the strong look of national viability was that Coach Brian Kelly had done an amazing job of massively upgrading the team’s defense.  At a school this is much more academically rigid as ND, certain recruiting restrictions tend to put the defensive side of the ball at a disadvantage.  One can recruit smart linemen, quarterbacks, tight ends, and receivers, after all, and they are out there.  Defense is another issue.  Never as well-choreographed as offensive, players on that side of the ball tend to be a bit more reckless, and often have to be to make key stops.  Making good grades and doing what defensive players have to do to succeed on the field is oftentimes an incompatibility.  Yet Kelly somehow made it work.

So how did things turn out they did?  Even yours truly predicted a close game, at least until some time in the 3rd quarter.  Turns out, in hindsight, we all made the same mistake we made going into the 2007 BCS game.  That year, Ohio State was the undefeated, No.1  team.  Florida got in the game almost as an afterthought.  Yet despite a touchdown by the Buckeyes on the opening kickoff, the Gators dominated from then on, leaving many viewers in a state of shock and disbelief, and also to ask each other:  how did we not see this coming?

The answer comes in two parts.  The simplest part is, they are SEC teams.  Florida then and Alabama this year played in the most brutal of all college football conferences.  Anybody who emerges as the conference champion is battle-hardened, battle tested, and ready and able to go toe-to-toe with anybody else in the country.  If one does not believe that the SEC, despite its down year this year, is still not the best conference in the country, you are both blind and detached from reality.  For one, SEC teams have won every national title since the 2006-’07 season; that’s seven consecutive years and counting.  But even more to the point, the NFL is the ultimate truth serum when it comes to who produces the best players in college football.  One NFL team general manager once observed that you could field a competitive team in the pros just by drafting players out of the Southeastern Conference.  Lots of money, along with people’s mortgages and livelihoods, rest on making such key decisions – think about that.

So Ohio State then, and Notre Dame this year, were frankly NOT consistently playing the same level of competition that SEC teams face week in and week out.  It’s fine for Notre Dame to beat Oklahoma on the road, but to turn right around the struggle at home to Pittsburgh the next game should have raised a few more eyebrows than it did.

The other part to explain how Bama ended up dominating Notre Dame is that Nick Saban is the best college coach in the business.  He learned his grinder’s work ethic from his father growing up in West Virginia, and learned how to be detail-oriented as an NFL assistant under Bill Belichick.  Being detail-oriented is a transferrable skill that works well at either the college or the pro level.  Saban knows how to prepare.  Alabama might have seemed relatively weak (compared to recent teams) having to go from one tough game to another (LSU then Texas A&M, for example).  But give Saban a full month to prepare, and the team’s true potential shines through.  Pay no attention to the Tide getting humiliated to Utah in the 2008 Sugar Bowl; pay attention to Saban’s, and the team’s, more recent body of work, that being three national titles out of the past four years.  They say that hindsight is 20-20, and in this case, it most certainly is:  Bama played better competition throughout the year, had even better overall athletes, and are guided by the best coach in the business.  Sometimes, you have to line them up and play just to be able to see those things with sufficient clarity.

2012-2013 Bowl Games of Some Interest December 15, 2012

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As mentioned in the previous installment, I have ranked the bowl games by category, with the major criterion being level of desirability to view, partly on my end, partly on the end of the average viewer who is NOT a certifiable college football addict like yours truly!

To find a complete bowl game schedule where each game is found in order of date and time each game is to be played, go here.

This second installment is of bowl games about which I am rather interested, which is, to me, higher than “moderately interested:”

New Mexico Bowl (Albuquerque, N.M.), Sat., Dec. 15, 1:00 PM EST

Arizona (7-5) vs. Nevada (7-5)

Chris Ault leads the now-Colin Kaepernick-less Wolfpack back to a bowl game to take on the rejuvenated Arizona Wildcats in a fairly evenly-matched game in the Land of Enchantment.  Speaking of which, Enchantment Bowl has a nicer ring to it than New Mexico Bowl, doesn’t it?  But I digress.  What makes this game truly interesting is that there will be lots and lots of yards gained on the ground by both sides.  How do I know?  Both teams each have some of the leading rushers in the FBS this season, in Ka’Deem Carey (is the apostrophe really necessary?  Then again, the name is already made up, so might as well be stylin’ while we’re at it!) for Arizona and Stefphon (sic) Jefferson for Nevada (one too many consonants in that first name, don’t you think?).  Moreover, both teams also sport mediocre run defenses.  It all adds up to lots of rushing yardage gained on both sides of the ball, with an inability to stop each other on the other side.  Think:  the equivalence of Baylor-Texas Tech, ground game edition!  The fact that the hilarious writers at EDSBS referred to both of these two teams as the plague monkeys of their respective conferences is the icing on the cake!

New Orleans Bowl, Saturday, Dec. 22, 12:00 PM EST

East Carolina (8-4) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4)

If I miss this game, it won’t be the end of the world.  It used to be that we CFB fans would look forward to this game because it kicked off bowl season.  Now, it’s just another bowl.  Still, it pits two solid teams within their respective conferences against each other, which was my rationale for designating this game the “Best Non-Big Six Matchup” for this set of bowl games.

MAACO Bowl (Las Vegas, Nev.) Saturday, Dec. 22, 3:30 PM EST

Washington (7-5) vs. No. 19 Boise State (10-2)

This used to be called the Silver Bowl, but that was before sponsorship took over bowls big time.  Soon, they renamed this game after a slightly classed-up version of Earl Scheib.  That notwithstanding, this could be a decent match-up.  On one hand, Steve Sarkesian has worked diligently to bring the Huskies back to respectability.  On the other hand, Boise State has had a slightly down year compared to their last several.  Could be interesting.

Pinstripe Bowl (Bronx, N.Y.), Sat., Dec. 29, 3:15 PM

West Virginia (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5)

Old conference rivals reunite in this bowl game, between a squad that hit the wall when they reached the real meat of their schedule, and a team that gradually improved throughout the year.  On paper, the Mountaineers are more talented than the Orange, but will the former have time to regain their energy?  Plus, the game is in [new] Yankee Stadium:  how cool is that?

Fight Hunger Bowl (San Francisco), Sat., Dec. 29, 3:15 PM

Navy (8-4) vs. Arizona State (7-5)

So which is it going to be, the Pinstripe Bowl or this one?  I choose this one, my “intriguing coaching matchup” bowl game pick, and for multiple reasons.  For one, you have one coaching philosophy of pounding the rock vs. the opposing one that amounts to a watered-down “west coast” offense.  But that’s not all: on one side is Ken Niumatalolo and his apparent philosophy of family, loyalty, dedication, etc., and in the opposing corner is the notoriously mercenary, leave-in-the-dead-of-night Todd Graham.  Very intriguing indeed!

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Tempe, Ariz.), Sat., Dec. 29, 10:15 PM

TCU (7-5) vs. Michigan State (6-6)

(What used to be the Insight Bowl, and before that, the Copper Bowl) Okay, so the Spartans have been no team to write home about this year, given their inability to, you know, score touchdowns.  Meanwhile, on TCU’s side, their performance this year has been one of peaks and valleys.  Where the Horned Frogs are with respect to their highs and lows will determine whether they mop the field with MSU, or the game remains a defensive struggle.  What could really set things off, though, is if the two teams show up in their chrome purple and green helmets, respectively (oh boy, oh boy!)!

Music City Bowl (Nashville, Tenn.) Mon., Dec. 31, 12:00 PM

North Carolina State (7-5) vs. Vanderbilt (8-4)

Last year, the Wolfpack was in the Belk Bowl, and defeated a young Louisville team.  It looked like they were really up-and-coming.  They return to a bowl game this year, and fire Tom O’Brien.  It makes no sense.  Will head coach-in-waiting Dave Doeren lead the team, or will Tom O’Brien play out the string?  Or will the assistant coaches be left to watch over this mess before Doeren comes in to right the ship?  All this will be moot anyhow, since this is a glorified home game for Vandy, who by all rights should kick N.C. State’s butt.  And that’s what’s really enticing; would it not be grand to see the Commodores win a bowl game?  Goodness knows they have earned it!

GoDaddy.Com Bowl (Mobile, Ala.), Sun., Jan. 6, 9:00 PM

No. 25 Kent State (11-2) vs. Arkansas State (9-3)

College football on a Sunday night instead of pro football?  Yes, please!  Plus, this game is my “intriguing no-coaching matchup,” given that Kent State’s erstwhile coach Darrell Hazell took the Purdue job and Arkansas State’s erstwhile coach Guz Malzahn bolted for Auburn.

Heart of Dallas Bowl (Dallas), Tues., Jan. 1, 12:00 PM

Purdue (6-6) vs. Oklahoma State (7-5)

Okay, how on Earth did this become a New Year’s Day bowl game?  I know that the Cotton Bowl is no longer played in the Cotton Bowl (stadium, that is), but that does not mean that this manufactured bowl game deserves to be on the same day as the Capital One, Outback, Rose, and other bowls that have earned being on this date.  That aside, this game is a rematch of the 1997 Alamo Bowl.  Just don’t expect the Boilermakers to beat the Cowboys 33-20 like they did 15 years ago.  In fact, expecting the score to be reversed in the Pokes favor might be an overestimation.  Still, Purdue is playing in it, so one has to watch it.

Bowl Game “Categories” December 11, 2012

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COACHES: (following Week 15)

Lucky Guy:  Ken Niumatalolo, Navy

Poor Guy:  Rich Ellerson, Army

TEAMS:

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t:  Navy

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Army

UPCOMING BOWL GAMES:

Ticket to die for:  No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama in the BCS National Championship, Miami, Jan. 7

Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Nevada vs. Arizona in the New Mexico Bowl, Dec. 15

Best non-Big Six matchup: East Carolina vs. Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl, Dec. 22

Upset alert: No. 16 Nebraska over No. 7 Georgia in the Capital One Bowl (formerly the Citrus Bowl), Orlando, Fla., Jan. 1 (the reasons for this possibility are to be explained in a subsequent article).

Old Rivals Reunite:  No. 9 Texas A&M vs. No. 11 Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, Dallas (Arlington), Jan. 4    Also:  West Virginia vs. Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl, Bronx, N.Y., Dec. 29

Home Field Advantage:   Vanderbilt vs. North Carolina State in the Music City Bowl, Nashville, Tenn., Dec. 31

Must win:  Pitt vs. Ole Miss (both 6-6) in the BBVA Compass Bowl, Birmingham, Ala., Jan. 5

Offensive explosion: Baylor vs. No. 17 UCLA in the Holiday Bowl, San Diego, Dec. 27

Defensive struggle: possibly none.  Then again, possibly TCU vs. Michigan State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Tempe, Ariz., Dec. 29.

Great game no one is talking about: Mississippi State vs. No. 20 Northwestern in the Gator Bowl, Jacksonville, Jan. 1

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Ken Niumatalolo of Navy vs. Todd Graham of Arizona State in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, San Francisco, Dec. 29

Intriguing Lack-of-Coach matchup:  No. 25 Kent State vs. Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl, Mobile, Ala., Jan. 6

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 21 Louisville vs. No. 3 Florida in the Sugar Bowl, New Orleans, Jan. 2               Also:  See next item below!

Why are they playing? No. 15 Northern Illinois vs. No. 12 Florida State in the Orange Bowl, Miami, Jan. 1

Plenty of good seats remaining: Rice vs. Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl, Fort Worth, Texas, Dec. 29

They shoot horses, don’t they?  USC vs. Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas, Dec. 31

ArmyNavy2012-1When it comes to the bowl games themselves, plenty more humorously-talented writers than I have taken their stab at wryly skewering most of the matchups.  Perhaps the best example of this would be the talented folks at everydayshouldbesaturday.com, who have done just that regarding the aforementioned skewering.

Having said that, a brief pause is in order for the Army-Navy game this past weekend, for it was a viewing pleasure.  The game was the best of this storied match-up in recent memory; big plays on both sides, a close score throughout the game, and lots of heart and extra efforts on both sides of the ball.  It was a darn shame one of them had to lose, especially Army, who lost in heartbreaking fashion after fumbling the ball with only 15 yards and a minute to go before scoring a touchdown to otherwise win the game.  Instead, the Midshipmen have triumphed over the Black Knights for the 11th year in a row (!).  But the game was also a viewing pleasure from a uniforms aesthetics standpoint, too.  The gold in Army’s helmets was a true old gold, and harkened directly back to the glory days of Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis.  Why don’t they use that gold in their helmets all the time today?  The WWII maps in their jersey numbers and black helmet stripe was a way-cool touch, too!  Meanwhile, Navy’s tri-tone white helmet was awesome to behold.  Chrome-gold on blue on white is something never before seen at any major level of football; congrats to the Middies for this new innovation in artistic helmet design!

Teams that could beat Notre Dame November 22, 2012

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From the latest edition of Sports Illustrated. The Latin phrase at the top translates to “The Miracle of Our Lady 2012”

In case some dear readers have been hanging out in a cave for an extended period of time, Notre Dame is now the no. 1 college football team in the nation for the first time in 19 years to the month.  Given the national following the Fighting Irish have, there has been more than a bit of hoopla over this development.  Without going into obscene details, I can see Regis Philbin and other ND-loving celebrities losing control of themselves right about now.  But just because the Irish are no. 1 by default, does not mean they are invincible?  Of course not.  Yes, they are undefeated; yes, they have beaten some decent teams.  To be fair, Notre Dame is formidable.  Brian Kelly has done an incredible job of bringing in a talented receiving corps for the offense while massively upgrading the team’s talent defensively.  Their front five and front seven are both sufficiently physical to compete with anybody.  But there are teams out there that would give ND fits, if not ruin their season outright if the two played each other.  I therefore submit this list of teams to a candid world:

Practically sure things:

LSU:  Without a doubt, LSU would give Notre Dame all it would want and then some.  Over the past decade, there is no team that has been known to show up in big games and win them like LSU.  Yes, they lost at home to Alabama this year.  Yes, they lost the national championship game to Alabama at the end of last season.  Yet ought these not to be a strong commentary on the Crimson Tide’s prowess rather then to the Bayou Bengals’ detriment?  The Tigers have won two national titles within a decade.  Aside from the BCS game this past season, they have won almost all of their bowl games*.  Stretch the scale of time back to 15 years, and every time the Irish have played the Tigers in a bowl game (the 1997 Independence Bowl, the 2006-’07 Sugar Bowl), LSU has won both games handily.  The odds, talent, and the mindset are all in LSU’s favor.  Notre Dame ought to pray that the two teams do not meet anytime soon.

*LSU’s only bowl losses were to a tough Texas team in the 2003 Cotton Bowl, and inexplicable losses in the Capital One Bowl to both Iowa (30-20 on Jan. 1, 2005), and Penn State (19-17 on Jan. 1, 2010).

Stanford:  Don’t laugh.  Yes, they already lost to Notre Dame this year, but by that same token, let us put things into perspective.  A), the game was in South Bend, B) the weather was horrible, C) what did the Cardinal in was two consecutive horrible play calls on the goal line in overtime.  Now imagine the two teams playing each other again, this time on a neutral field, and reasonable weather.  Stanford has the personnel to fight the Irish effectively on the line on both sides of the ball.  They sport a very physical front seven, and their offense is ground-and-pound.  This approach was two horribly-called plays shy of working under very adverse circumstances on the road.  Imagine how well it would work in, say, Glendale, Ariz., or Pasadena.

Texas A&M:  The Aggies have proven that they can move the ball on tough defenses.  Quarterback Johnny Manziel has gotten better and better as the season has progressed.  They moved the ball effectively on Alabama, after all.  Moreover, Coach Kevin Sumlin has proven to be an excellent motivator in getting his men ready for big games.  Some of their margins of victory are impressive.  For example, they beat a respected Mississippi State squad 38-13, and then turned around the following week and beat then-no. 1 Alabama.  What this tells me is that you can count on consistent play from A&M at this stage of the season.  That, plus quick defense and superior quarterback play add up to being too much for the Irish to handle.

Ohio State:  Yes, Brian Kelly has proven to be one of the best coaches in the college game.  But so has Urban Meyer, and his resume of winning big games with more teams, one could argue, trumps Kelly’s.  Never count out Meyer in big games.  Moreover, once he brings in more of his own style of players, they will execute his spread offense all the more effectively.  True, the Buckeyes were playing some teams too closely for comfort earlier in the year.  After all, they only scored 29 points on abysmal UAB, of all teams!  But lately the offense runs like a well-oiled machine.  During their last games, they have averaged scoring 49 points each.  Their lower scores during that span were 29 points (where Purdue’s defense actually showed up) and 21 points against Wisconsin’s traditionally stout ‘D.’  Notre Dame has not encountered anything like Ohio State’s offense throughout this memorable season of theirs.

Questionable teams:

Florida:  Yes, their defense is practically impregnable.  Good luck moving the ball on the Gators.  The problem is on the offensive side of the ball.  Jeff Driskel is a mediocre quarterback at best, and Notre Dame’s defense will not play dead simply because they are facing such a vaunted program.  The game would be very low-scoring, with the outcome depending on how well Driskell executes, which is a crap-shoot.

South Carolina:  On paper, this team should be a very formidable foe for the Irish.  A strong running game, one of the best QB’s in college football in Connor Shaw, and defense with potential NFL talent, anchored by Jadeveon Clowney.  The problem lies in consistency.  The Gamecocks blew out a tough Georgia team earlier in the year, only to embarrass themselves at Florida a few weeks later.  After that, they played an awful Tennessee much more closely than the game should have been, again, on paper (they won that game only 38-35).  The Ol’ Ball Coach triumphing over the hot-headed Irish Coach will depend on the team that gave Georgia its only loss of the year to show up.

Georgia:  The Bulldogs have an incredibly talented offense led by experienced, highly-rated quarterback Aaron Murray.  On paper, the offense would give Notre Dame’s talented defense all they could handle.  Defensively, Georgia sports a typical talented, ultra-quick SEC defense.  The problem, like that of South Carolina, is consistency.  Yes, they could theoretically take Notre Dame, but it all comes down to which team shows up against them:  the team that beat Florida handily on an ostensibly neutral field, or the team that lost badly earlier on to South Carolina?

Alabama:  Easily the least-questionable team within this category.  The only reason they are in said category as opposed to the above one is that Texas A&M exposed a chink or two in their impressive armor.  Their defense is talented, but young, and their offense is not the most imaginative of teams at their level.  But let us say that the two – Bama and ND – end up playing each other in the BCS national championship game.  Give Nick Saban a month to prepare – a luxury no team has had thus far, to be sure – and he is practically unstoppable.  Advantage, Crimson Tide.

If any dear readers think other teams merit being added to the list, I would be more than happy to entertain suggestions!  (P.S.: Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!)