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Which Team Wants It More? December 16, 2015

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
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 Who wants it more?  More to the point, which team is happier to be there?  That is the most important question in determining the outcomes of the upcoming bowl games.  It is not easy, but it will be the make-or-break factor.  It affects the performance of the team.  If they are not that motivated to be there, but the underdog team is, the actual odds favor the latter.  Therefore, the real question becomes, which team will show up to play?  To create a better understanding of this condition, allow me to offer Exhibit A:

The season was that of 1998.  Kansas State was rising up in the polls throughout the year.  They defeated mighty Nebraska (yes, the Cornhuskers were still very vaunted then) for the first time in three decades.  The Wildcats went undefeated for the regular season, and were poised, at the No. 2 national ranking, to go to the first ever championship game of the Bowl Championship Series, which that year would be the Fiesta Bowl.

Kansas State’s only hurdle to clear to make that coveted berth was the Big XII Championship game, in which they were naturally favored.  Yet underdog Texas A&M had other plans, and managed to upset K-State that game.  Gone were the Wildcats’ national championship hopes, but it was worse than that:  other teams had already secured major bowl slots, so K-State was demoted all the way down to the Alamo Bowl.  Coincidentally, they would play Purdue, which was the team I was on as a freshman staff member.  We were happy to be there:  Kansas State, however, was disappointed to be there.  Come game time (Dec. 29, 1998), it showed.  Even though the Wildcats were still ranked at a feared No. 4 while we were unranked, we nevertheless led them throughout most of the game.  Despite a late 4th-quarter touchdown that put them temporarily in the lead, we answered by marching right down the field for a game-winning score with only about a minute remaining.

On paper, K-State should have beaten us by at least two touchdowns.  But the final, actual score said otherwise.  Why?  Though, the Wildcats were clearly the better team on paper, we wanted to be there more than they did, and by a considerable margin.

Such a scenario has played itself out many times in the years since then (and no doubt in the years before), which is what makes bowl game prognostication for more unpredictable than just comparing regular season records and major stats.  The upcoming line-up of bowl games asks this very question more than a few times.  To wit:

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 19, 3:30 PM EST, ABC

BYU (9-3) vs. No. 22 Utah (9-3)

The Utes are the higher-ranked team.  At one point they were ranked as highly as No. 3 in the nation.  Surely they must have had higher bowl aspirations.  On the other hand, the Cougars are dealing with coaching turmoil since their head coach, Bronco Mendenhall, just bolted for the Virginia job.  My conclusion is to therefore not out-think things, and go with the odds, which slightly favor the Utes.

Hyundai Sun Bowl, Dec. 26, 2:00 EST, CBS

Miami (FL) (8-4) vs. Washington State (8-4)

Beware the deception of identical records.  For whereas the Cougars have had Mike Leach in place for a couple of seasons now, the Hurricanes are going through coaching changes, having fired Al Golden mid-season, leaving assistant coach Larry Scott to serve at the helm in his temporary stead.  Incoming head coach Mark Richt will watch from the stands.  The Miami players claim they’ll show up motivated, but can these kids overcome the coaching transitions while the Washington State players will enjoy stability?

Foster Farms Bowl, Dec. 26, 9:15 PM EST, ESPN

UCLA (8-4) vs. Nebraska (5-7)

The Bruins surely had much higher bowl aspirations as the season began, and at one point enjoyed a top-ten ranking.  Getting upset at home to Arizona State did not help their campaign, though, neither did losing to Washington State, either.  The losses to both Stanford and a resurgent USC can be excused.  Be all that as it may, they’re in this particular bowl, which lacks the prestige of bowls in the days that follow.  Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers are one of those lucky dog teams who, at 5-7, are very fortunate just to get a berth.  Why?  Because Big Ten fans travel in DROVES.  Expect a sea of red in Santa Clara, Calif., and a closer game than the records suggest.  You might even take the under on Nebraska.

Russell Athletic Bowl, Dec. 29, 5:30 PM EST, ESPN

No. 10 North Carolina (11-2) vs No. 17 Baylor (9-3)

On paper, this is a very marquee matchup between two very good teams.  The problem?  Both teams feel as though they deserved better bowl games.  Last year, the Bears were in the Cotton Bowl, for goodness sake.  Meanwhile, as strong as a team as the Tarheels have been, one would think they would have grabbed a more prestigious berth, too.  What therefore makes this scenario unique is that BOTH teams will likely come in under-motivated (we’re dealing with 19/20 year-old kids, after all).  The question becomes, which team will be less under-motived than the other?  Since UNC started out with lower aspirations, they might end up making this game very, very interesting.

Birmingham Bowl, Dec. 30, 12:00 PM EST, ESPN

Auburn (6-6) vs. Memphis (9-3)

Tigers vs. Tigers?  That alone is intriguing.  But the War Eagle variety surely had higher bowl aspirations (they started out the year ranked No. 6) than the variety from Memphis, who turned out to be a surprisingly strong team.  Auburn likely views this bowl berth as both a come-down and a quasi-home game at the same time.  But Memphis might be glad just to make it to a bowl game, since their postseason appearances have been far fewer than those of their opponent.  The Vegas odds favor Auburn by 2.5.  That is enough of a margin of error for Memphis to win by a close one, provided they appear with just enough motivation.

Holiday Bowl, Dec. 30, 10:30 PM EST, ESPN

No. 25 USC (8-5) vs. Wisconsin (9-3)

Late enough for you out east?  Regardless, there are varying degrees of motivation with these two teams.  If you’re Wisconsin for example, who would not be happy to spend late December in beautiful San Diego?  If you’re USC, you’ll be glad to be there after all the coaching and leadership turmoil with which you had to contend earlier in the season.  The kicker?  That particular turmoil is now behind the Men of Troy.  New head coach Clay Helton has clearly righted the ship, and the program is headed in the proper direction again.  That’s good.  But, he just fired 4 of his assistant coaches.  That’s bad, especially when the Trojans only have a handful of practices to prepare for a game with a depleted coaching roster (using grad assistants to fill in some of the roles) while Wisconsin lacks this disadvantage.  The Badgers, furthermore, always show up well to bowl games:  they are one of the most reliable programs in that regard.  The odds-makers in Vegas still give USC a 3-point advantage, meaning that there is potential for an upset.

Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, Dec. 31, 12:00 PM EST, ESPN

No. 18 Houston (12-1) vs. No. 9 Florida State (10-2)

The Seminoles likely see having to play the lowly Cougars, while the latter will likely feel honored to play in such a relatively prestigious bowl game.  Should this scenario play out, the respective motivational levels are to be adjusted accordingly, giving us potential for one of the biggest upsets of this bowl season.

Rose Bowl Game Pres. By Northwestern Mutual, Jan. 1, 5:00 PM EST, ESPN

No. 6 Stanford (11-2) vs. No. 5 Iowa (12-1)

Since when would a team show up to the Rose Bowl under-motivated?  It is the Granddaddy of them all, folks!  But in the case of Stanford, they likely had the goal to make it to the playoffs instead.  Meanwhile, Iowa is going to their first Rose Bowl in 25 years.  To the Hawkeyes, this is a once-in-a-generation Super Bowl.  Granted, Iowa is a good team, but Stanford, on paper, is much better.  Under normal circumstances, Stanford should win by two touchdowns.  But with Iowa being especially focused and disciplined, expect a tough, close game that could go either way.

Taxslayer Bowl, Jan. 2, 12:00 PM EST, ESPN

Penn State (7-5) vs. Georgia (9-3)

This used to be the Gator Bowl, fyi.  Georgia seems to be the stronger team on paper, but they just lost their head coach and will be coached by assistants in this bowl game, while Penn State has stable leadership in James Franklin.  Expect the Nittany Lions to therefore pull off the upset, unless the interim head coach at Georgia can effectively rally his troops.

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!