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2015-2016 Bowl Games Preview December 15, 2015

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What used to be the “most wonderful week of the year” has become the most wonderful two weeks of the year.  The bowl game lineup has reach an all-time high of 40.  Diminishing returns, anyone?

But that aside, here are some upcoming highlights and low-lights (note that all times are EASTERN time):

Tickets to Die For:

No. 4 Oklahoma (11-1) vs. No. 1 Clemson (13-0) in the Capital One Orange Bowl, Dec. 31, 4:00 PM

The Tigers are the No. 1 team, while the Sooners are the hottest of the four teams in the playoffs.  More intriguingly, this will be a rematch from the Russell Athletic Bowl of last year.

No. 3 Michigan State (12-1) vs. No. 2 Alabama (12-1) in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl, Dec. 31, 8 PM

The Crimson Tide has the postseason experience, but the Spartans have passed every major test over the past three years.  Moreover, the two teams are practically a mirror-image of each other.

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup:

Auburn (6-6) vs. Memphis (9-3) in the Birmingham Bowl, Dec. 30, 12:00 PM

Auburn needs this win to validate their lousy season.  Memphis needs this win to validate the best season arguably in the history of the program.  Thus, this also doubles as a Must-Win.

No. 18 Houston (12-1) vs. No. 9 Florida State (10-2) in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, Dec. 31, 12 PM

The Cougars are going to their first decent bowl game in decades, while the Seminoles might via the Peach Bowl as a come-down after recent BCS/playoff berths.  Thus, this also doubles as an Upset Alert.

Best non-Power Five matchups:

San Diego State (10-3) vs. Cincinnati (7-5) in the Hawai’i Bowl, Dec. 24, 8:00 PM

Rocky Long has continued the deceptive strong program built by Brady Hoke in San Diego, while Tommy Tuberville’s Bearcats are never to be underestimated.

Western Kentucky (11-2) vs. South Florida (8-4) in the Miami Beach Bowl, Dec. 21, 2:30 PM

The Hilltoppers have proven to be strong all year, while the Bulls have performed very strongly as of late.  The record comparison may look lop-sided, but let not that fool us, for it shall be a close game.

Intriguing Coaching Match-ups:

Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M vs. Bobby Petrino of Louisville in the Music City Bowl.

One leads one of the most progressive offenses in the SEC.  The other is one of the best offensive minds in the game.  The irony?  Do not expect an offensive explosion.

Mark Dantonio of Michigan State vs. Nick Saban of Alabama in the Cotton Bowl.

As mentioned previously, the two teams are practically mirror-images of the other.

Urban Meyer of Ohio State vs. Brian Kelly of Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, Fri., Jan. 1, 1:00 PM

Two of THE best coaches in the game, going head-to-head?  Yes, please!

Larry Fedora of No. 10 North Carolina vs. Art Briles of No. 17 Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl, Dec. 29, 5:30 PM

Potentially THE most underrated bowl game of the postseason, provided that both teams show up.

Rumble in the Phone Booth:

No. 6 Stanford (11-2) vs. No. 5 Iowa (12-1) in the Rose Bowl, Jan. 1, 5:00 PM

Both teams have great running games, meaning that this should be a dream for fans of old-fashioned, smash-mouth football.  The question becomes, will we be “looking LIVE in Pasadena, Calif., folks”?

Rematches, Anyone?

No. 13 Northwestern (10-2) vs. No. 23 Tennessee (8-4) in the Outback Bowl, Jan. 1, 12:00 PM

Recall the 1997 Citrus Bowl?

No. 16 Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. No. 12 Mississippi (9-3) in the Sugar Bowl, Jan. 1, 8:30 PM

Recall the 2004 Cotton Bowl?  This time, the results could be reversed.

Upset Alerts:

No. 18 Houston (12-1) vs. No. 9 Florida State (10-2) in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, Dec. 31, 12 PM

The Cougars are going to their first decent bowl game in decades, while the Seminoles might view the Peach Bowl as a come-down after recent BCS/playoff berths.

Offensive Explosion:

No. 15 Oregon (9-3) vs. No. 11 TCU (10-2) in the Valero Alamo Bowl, Jan. 2, 6:45 pm

Ah, Alamo Bowl, you never fail to entertain!

Defensive Struggle:

No. 14 Michigan (9-3) vs. No. 19 Florida (10-3) in the Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1, 1:00 PM

The Citrus Bowl came back!  That aside, the Gators have excelled at making games low-scoring, win or lose.  Regardless, Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines will be prepared, and should end up victorious in the end.  Also, the matchup of first-year coaches Harbaugh and Jim McElwain is intriguing unto itself.

Great Games No One Is Talking About:

Ohio (8-4) vs. Appalachian State (10-2) in the Raycom Media Camelia Bowl, 5:30 PM

They play this in Montgomery, Ala., in case you were wondering.  The Mountaineers are making their FBS bowl debut against a decent Bobcats team.

No. 24 Temple (10-3) vs. Toledo (9-2) in the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl, 7:00 PM

The Owls have proven to be a good team, while the Rockets did beat Arkansas.  It’s not a wash, but it should be a close game.

Not Sure What to Make of This One:

UCLA (8-4) vs. Nebraska (5-7) in the Foster Farms Bowl, 9:15 PM

The Cornhuskers are the second team listed here with a 5-7 record.  That said, they are better than their record suggests, and, more importantly as far as the bowl committee is concerned, their fans will TRAVEL.

Think there is enough dark blue and gold?

Pittsburgh (8-4) vs. No. 21 Navy (10-2) in the Military Bowl, Dec. 28, 2:30 PM

Why Are They Playing?

Connecticut (6-6) vs. Marshall (9-3) in the St. Petersburg Bowl, Sat., Dec. 26, 11:00 AM

UConn is bowl eligible?  That alone is an insult to Marshall, which is actually a decent team.

Plenty of Good Seats Remaining:

San Jose State (5-7) vs. Georgia State (6-6) in the Cure Bowl, Sat., Dec. 19, 7:00 PM

As if Orlando, Fla., did not have enough bowl games, they came up with this one.  The Spartans are one of three teams with a 5-7 record but are still going bowling.  Meanwhile, the Panthers are only 6-6, meaning that this is a classic example of a garbage bowl game.

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Minnesota (5-7) in the Quick Lane Bowl, Mon., Dec. 28, 5:00 PM

This is the latest iteration of what used to be the Little Caesars Bowl (still at Ford Field in Detroit).  The Golden Gophers are the third team that is 5-7 and yet still bowl eligible.  I can hear Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd mocking this bowl matchup right now.

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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 High Interest December 26, 2012

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As mentioned in the previous installments, 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 third installment is of bowl games about which I am VERY interested (as usual, all times are Eastern Standard).  Happy Kwanzaa (LMAO!  I’m sorry, I just can’t say that with a straight face!).

Holiday Bowl (San Diego), Thurs., Dec. 27, 9:45 PM EST

Baylor (7-5) vs. No. 17 UCLA (9-4)

My [potential] “offensive explosion” bowl game for the 2012-2013 season.  To paraphrase the guys at EDSBS, what’s better in a bowl game than seeing both teams’ offensive coordinators emptying the most shameful corners of their playbook?  Better yet, it pits bears vs. bruins; how often does one see that in a bowl?  Just sayin’!

Alamo Bowl (San Antonio), Sat., Dec. 29, 6:45 PM

No. 23 Texas (8-4) vs. No. 13 Oregon State (9-3)

Yes, I’ll admit, I’m a bit biased.  After all, I was part of the team that won the 1998 Alamo Bowl, arguably one of the more memorable games in the series.  But that aside, the Alamo Bowl is always a good matchup.  Is it quite as good as when it was Big Ten vs. Big XII?  The realignment to a Pac-12 vs. Big XII matchup has not watered things down any, at least not yet.  Remember last year’s offensive explosion between Baylor and Washington?  That one is not soon to be forgotten, either.  This time, the Longhorns are playing, which automatically makes it good.  Granted, Oregon State is favored on paper, but do not underestimate Texas’ home field advantage, given that their campus is only a little over an hour away.

Chick-Fil-A Bowl (Atlanta), Mon., Dec., 31, 7:30 PM

No. 8 LSU (10-2) vs. No. 14 Clemson (10-2)

Nothing like closing out the old year by watching a classic SEC-ACC matchup in Hotlanta!  Of course, there have been plenty of such “classic” matchups on paper over the past several years, but they have usually amounted to rather one-sided affairs in favor of the Southeastern Conference.  You’ll have that.  After all, not all Peach Bowls, er, Chick-Fil-A Bowls can be like the Auburn-North Carolina game back in 2001!  In any event, the funny guys at EDSBS have come up with three possible scenarios of how this one will play out (all with varying degrees of probability – refer to game ranking #6).  I particularly like the “LSU blowout” scenario!

Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, Fla.), Tues., Jan. 1, 12:00 PM

Mississippi State (8-4) vs. No. 20 Northwestern (9-3)

My “great game that nobody is talking about,” for it pits two scrappy teams struggling for respect in their respective conferences.  Better yet, it’s a very dramatic culture clash within the bowl season, for the only private school in the B1G meets, well, the “clanga-clanga” of cowbells.  It also makes for an intriguing coaching matchup in one coaches favors the pass while the other favors the run.  How can a viewer lose with this whole proposition?

Outback Bowl (Tampa, Fla.), Tues., Jan. 1, 1:00 PM

No. 10 South Carolina (10-2) vs. No. 18 Michigan (8-4)

The matchup is intriguing on the surface alone.  ­One side is a traditional blue blood, figuratively and literally.  They won the first ever bowl game and gave birth to the college fight song as we know it today.  Oh well, and Michigan also has the most wins of any football program, ever.  The other side, South Carolina, is something of a late bloomer.  A relatively late joiner of the SEC, for years they had been a conference doormat prior to the Lou Holtz and especially the Steve Spurrier eras.  But this game is where the newcomer will take down the old guard, should everything work out on paper.  Yes, that’s a rather dry way of putting it, but if I made any allusions that the Gamecocks should bury the Wolverines underneath the pavement for some horrified archaeologists to discover a century or two later, well, I might get accused of plagiarism, or something.

Capital One Bowl (Orlando, Fla.), Tues., Jan. 1, 1:00 PM

No. 7 Georgia vs. No. 16 Nebraska

First of all, let us get this out of the way right now and admit that this game is not quite as interesting as the Outback Bowl, but it’s interesting nonetheless.  If Nebraska had their hands full against a 7-5 Wisconsin team at a neutral site, good Lord, what is the seventh-ranked Georgia squad going to do to them?  Second, what on Earth are the Cornhuskers doing being ranked 16th in the AP after a such can of whoopass had been opened up on them in Indianapolis?  All that being said, the only thing that Nebraska has going for them (and I mean the only thing) is that the Bulldogs are a senior-laden team that was underachieved all season, and be very, very aware of such teams when they show up in bowl games, as they are likely to disappoint.

Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.), Tues., Jan. 1, 5:00 PM

Wisconsin vs. No. 7 Stanford

The good news for Wisconsin is that they caught Nebraska off guard during the Big Ten championship game and have earned a third-straight berth to the Granddaddy of Them All.  The bad news for Wisconsin is that they must face a Stanford squad that is arguably more formidable than last year’s Andrew Luck-led team.  The Cardinal can more than match the Badgers in the trenches, and that instantly takes away their competitive advantage.  More bad news:  barring the possibility of Stanford breaking out their black helmets and all-cardinal Nike Pro Combat unis, this bowl  game will be the matchup of the generic uniforms.  The good news for all of us is that we will be “looking live,” as ABC’s front line crew of Brent Musburger and Kirk “Herbie” Herbstreit will be calling the game, folks!

Sugar Bowl (New Orleans), Wed., Jan. 2, 8:30 PM

No. 21 Louisville vs. No. 3 Florida

Yeah, yeah, I know that I filed this upcoming game under “who’s bringing the body bags?”  That’s my safe prediction.  My less-than safe prediction, shared by others, is that Florida’s occasional quarterbacking ineptitude might align itself with Louisville’s occasionally vulnerable secondary.  Of course, even if both of those things click simultaneously, it’s not that safe of a bet that the same clicking will occur between the Gator’s formidable defense against the Cardinals’ Teddy Bridgewater, as sad as I am to say.  Then again, it is the Big Easy, and the Charlie Strong can always dial up some voodoo magic.

Fiesta Bowl (Mesa, Ariz.), Thurs., Jan. 3, 8:30 PM

No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 5 Kansas State

When two teams in a bowl game that are very closely ranked square off, it is almost always interesting.  But the game is watchable for other reasons as well, such as the intriguing contrast between the two teams.  In one corner, wearing purple trimmed with white and silver are the Wildcats, with old man Bill Snyder working his magic albeit with a conventional offense.  In the opposing corner, wearing some sort of green trimmed with yellow (we think:  it could be black, silver, or something else, for that matter), is Chip Kelly’s Ducks, along with his progressive, hurry-up, hyper-drive offensive play.  Think of the overall interest amounting to a weird variation on the old saying that “opposites attract.”

Cotton Bowl (Arlington, Texas), Friday, Jan. 4, 8:00 PM

No. 9 Texas A&M vs. No. 11 Oklahoma

Old conference rivals reunite in a relocated classic bowl game (used to be in, well, the Cotton Bowl, now it’s in Jerryland).  What makes the matchup even more interesting is that the Aggies’ current head coach, Kevin Sumlin, was at one time an assistant under Sooners’ head coach Bob Stoops.  That notwithstanding, in all likelihood the pupil will become the teacher.  Oklahoma is another one of those teams about which to beware, that being a team with lots of seniors that has underachieved all year; rarely does a team like that come through victorious during bowl season.  Moreover, during the later part of the regular season, Coach Sumlin was coaching A&M so well that it seemed as though they could beat anybody in the nation.  With that being said, this will be a major test to see whether or not they can beat anyone in the postseason.

BCS National Championship (Miami), Mon., Jan. 7, 8:30 PM

No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama

On one hand, it is unlikely that Notre Dame has ever encountered any team with Alabama’s overall athleticism.  On the other hand, Notre Dame has won lots of close games, and there is some skill to that.  Ultimately, the game will come down to one of two things:  will the Irish receivers be too much for the Crimson Tide’s secondary, or will Bama’s offensive line gradually take over in the middle of the third quarter?  The result of the game will hinge on either contingency.