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2015-2016 Bowl Games Preview December 15, 2015

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
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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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Teams that could beat Notre Dame November 22, 2012

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
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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!)