ESPN is right--this is the most wonderful time of the year. Bowl season is upon us. Sure, the first week and a half of bowls aren't exactly marquee match ups, and some of them might be played in half-empty stadiums, but it is bowl season! Time to park your butt on the couch, grab potato chips as rations, and take up residence in front of the TV until the second week of January.
Oh, and bring your computer, cause we will be keeping tabs on all the story lines of bowl season, and to start it off here is a primer for you, chop full of my ever-so-insightful picks.
Gildan New Mexico Bowl
Temple vs. Wyoming, Sat. Dec. 17, 2:00 p.m. ET
Who needs LSU-Alabama when you've got two great powers--Temple and Wyoming--clashing more than three weeks before the BCS National Championship Game. This game pits two 8-4 schools from non-AQ conferences against one another, and quite frankly has very little going for it other than the fact that it is the very first bowl and college-football-starved fans will be ravenously awaiting it. Temple blew out Maryland early in the season, which looked to be a monumental win for the program, until it turned out that Maryland was terrible and finished 2-10.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Utah State vs. Ohio, Sat. Dec. 17, 5:30 p.m. ET
I can say, with some confidence that I know as much, if not more, than just about anyone about sports... but the "Famous Idaho Potato Bowl?" That is new to me. Utah State had a perplexing season. The Aggies started out by taking Auburn to the brink in Week 1, then proceeded to play pretty poorly for most of the first half of the season before winning their last five games. The Aggies are a running team and rank sixth nationally on the ground. Ohio came into the MAC Championship Game on a five-game winning streak before falling to Northern Illinois. Of the Bobcats' four losses, only one came by more-than three points (at Rutgers).
Pick: Utah State
R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
San Diego State vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, Sat. Dec. 17, 9 p.m. ET
Louisiana-Lafayette doesn't have to travel far for it's bowl game this year. And the Ragin' Cajuns can score points with most anyone in the country--the question is will they get enough stops to win? San Diego State has had a steady season, with three of their four losses coming to some of the nation's best teams, Michigan, TCU and Boise State.
Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl
Florida International vs. Marshall, Tues. Dec. 20, 8 p.m. ET
If there is one reason to watch this game (big if), it is to see Florida International's electric wide receiver and return man T.Y. Hilton. The diminutive (5-foot-10, 183 lbs.) Hilton is one of the most exciting players in the nation, and Marshall players will undoubtedly have one goal in mind: keep the ball out of Hilton's hands. In Marshall there is very little to be inspired about. Nothing like having a 6-6 Conference-USA team, ranked 98th in offense and 84th in defense nationally playing in a bowl game. Whoop-di-doo.
Pick: Florida International
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
No. 18 TCU vs. Louisiana Tech, Wed. Dec. 21, 8 p.m. ET
TCU was a bounce or two (actually two) away from being undefeated and perhaps playing for the BCS National Championship Game. Surely I jest, you think. But no, a fluky week-one two-point loss at Baylor and an overtime loss against SMU is all that stopped TCU from heading to another BCS game. Louisiana Tech is no slouch, having won seven consecutive games. Also, let it be noted that Louisiana Tech is traveling to San Diego for a bowl game and San Diego State is traveling to Louisiana. Cause that makes perfect sense and is cost effective. Right.
MAACO Las Vegas Bowl
No. 7 Boise State vs. Arizona State, Thurs. Dec 22, 8 p.m. ET
Let me start by saying that this is the top pick in my confidence pool. Boise State is angry after being snubbed from a BCS game with just one loss, it is Kellen Moore's going away party and Arizona State has a lame duck coach. Seems like the perfect storm... for an upset. Just kidding. Arizona State mailed it in after a Nov. 5 loss at UCLA, and hasn't won since.
Pick: Boise State
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl
No. 21 Southern Miss vs. Nevada, Sat. Dec 24, 8 p.m. ET
The Golden Eagles are flying high coming into the Hawaii Bowl after beating undefeated Houston in the Conference-USA title game and earning a December trip to the Aloha state. They would be flying higher if their coach Larry Fedora hadn't abdicated his throne to take over North Carolina, however. Nevada had a solid, if not spectacular season. No marquee wins, no glaring, ugly losses. Luckiest people involved in this game though: the broadcasters. Free trip to Hawaii to call a game. Great life.
Pick: Southern Miss
Advo Care V100 Independence Bowl
Missouri vs. North Carolina, Mon. Dec. 26, 5 p.m. ET
This is the first bowl match up between two AQ schools, albeit mediocre ones. Despite being a program in turmoil, North Carolina started the season strong, winning five of its first six games, before closing losing four of six in the (bad) ACC conference. Missouri had moments throughout the season in which it looked like a really good team--and then times like the second half of the Oklahoma State game happen and you remember it is just Mizzou.
Little Caesars' Bowl
Western Michigan vs. Purdue, Tues. Dec. 27, 4:30 p.m. ET
The thought of writing the blurb for this game has literally made my eyes roll back in my head and my fingers lock up on my keyboard. But someone's got to do it. Let's talk about how Purdue, at one point this season, had three NFL starting quarterbacks! WTF. The only other school that could say that is USC. It's Purdue! They define mediocre. When you look up the word average in the dictionary, you very well might see a Boilermaker. Anyways, Purdue, quarterback history and all (I see you, Len Dawson), doesn't score nearly at Western Michigan does. The Broncos are 18th in the nation in scoring. Okay, I did it, I'm done.
Pick: Purdue, I guess.
Louisville vs. North Carolina State, Tues. Dec 27, 8 p.m. ET
The Belk Bowl? Really? Sounds German. (Says the man who speaks no German). What is Belk? Please tell me if you know, my curiosity has piqued. Anyways, Louisville was oh-so-close to backing into a BCS bowl as a 7-5 team. Thanks, again, Big East, you abomination of a conference. NC State actually has some solid wins this season, including a romp of No. 7 Clemson on Nov. 19.
Pick: NC State
Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman
Toledo vs. Air Force, Wed. Dec. 28, 4:30 p.m. ET
Let me start by saying that when a military academy in the Military Bowl--you pick the military academy. Sorry Toledo, especially because I'm sure most casual fans will root for Air Force too. That's too bad for the Rockets, who can seriously score points, averaging 42.3 per game. Air Force, and it's run-oriented offense (ironic, I know), will have to be the Falcons' best defense, keeping Toledo's vaunted offense off the field.
Pick: Air Force
Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl
California vs. No. 24 Texas, Wed. Dec. 28, 8 p.m. ET
First off, it is a complete joke that Texas is still ranked. The Longhorns are 7-5, and had a losing record in the Big 12 conference this season. Oh, and they beat one team with a winning record. Second off, I hate Cal. As you loyal readers may already know, I went to Stanford, so it is engrained in my blood to hate Cal, and I do a good job of it. That being said, I'm a journalist and thus I will look at this objectively. Cal and Texas are frankly fairly similar teams. Both would be quite good if they got consistent quarterback play. Neither has, which is why they are both 7-5.
Pick: Cal (smh)
Champs Sports Bowl
Florida State and Notre Dame, Thurs. Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. ET
Normally when these two teams square off, it's in a far bigger game than the Champs Sports Bowl. The Seminoles began the year in the top five, which made no sense at the time, makes even less sense now, and helps prove how idiotic preseason polls are. Notre Dame was off-and-on ranked this season, which is more a product of the name on the uniforms than their play on the field. The Fightin' Irish's best win, by far, was way back in September over Michigan State.
Pick: Notre Dame
Valero Alamo Bowl
No. 12 Baylor vs. Washington, Thurs. Dec. 29, 9 p.m. ET
Baylor and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III easily could be playing in a BCS bowl, but the Sugar Bowl opted for Virginia Tech instead of the Bears (or Boise State or Kansas State). This game should be a fun one, with very little defense to be found. Expect a lot of scoring, but more from Baylor, as Washington seems to be a year away from really being a force.
Bell Helicopter Armed Forced Bowl
BYU vs. Tulsa, Fri. Dec. 30, 12 p.m. ET
Tulsa is a really good team. The Golden Hurricane have four losses, but those losses are to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Boise State and Houston. Granted, they got smoked in all four losses, but still, not too shabby. Other than a perplexing 54-10 loss at home to their mediocre arch-rival Utah, the Cougars had a very solid season. This is a game that pits a good offense (Tulsa) against a good defense (BYU). Only one can prevail.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Rutgers vs. Iowa State, Fri Dec. 30, 3:20 p.m. ET
This game is played at Yankee Stadium, which is awesome. Iowa State is a perplexing team. Their season consists of four runs--a three-game win streak then a four-game losing streak then a three-game win streak then a two-game losing streak. According to the pattern, they should lose this game. Oh, and they are bad on offense and defense. Rutgers, on the other hand, is still a far cry from their Ray Rice teams (in fact they are 112th in the nation in rushing), but can really play defense. Look for Iowa State to struggle to move the ball in this one.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
Mississippi State vs. Wake Forest, Fri. Dec. 30, 6:40 p.m. ET
It's fitting that two southern schools would play in this game. What isn't fitting is that neither team has a winning record and Mississippi State was 2-6 in conference play. That being said, those six losses have come to Auburn, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Arkansas, so they could be worse. Some might remember that the Bulldogs' defense gave LSU a lot of trouble on a Thursday night in September. Wake Forest is coming into the game having lost four of their last five and five of their last seven contests. Not very good.
Pick: Mississippi State
No. 14 Oklahoma vs. Iowa, Fri. Dec. 30, 10 p.m. ET
Oh how the mighty have fallen. Preseason No. 1 Oklahoma playing at 10 p.m. on Dec. 30? Yikes. Still, the Sooners are a very good team, despite losing star wide receiver Ryan Broyles for the season. Quarterback Landry Jones was a bit disappointing the second half of the year, but still possesses NFL-type talent. Iowa beat Michigan this year... and next-to-nobody else. It will be interesting to see if Iowa is especially fired up as a big underdog, or if Oklahoma has a letdown game.
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas
Texas A&M vs. Northwestern, Sat. Dec. 31, 12 p.m. ET
Another game in which the teams' combined records is 12-12. Yippie! The Aggies actually looked like one of the top teams in the country for part of this season--that part being the first half of games. The since-fired Mike Sherman must have been giving Ben Stein-esque halftime speeches given how terribly Ryan Tannehill and the rest of the Aggies played after halftime this season. Except for an impressive win over Nebraska, Northwestern beat essentially high school teams. It will be intriguing to see if Texas A&M, who should be favored, shows up for a game after their coach was dismissed.
Pick: Texas A&M
Hyundai Sun Bowl
Georgia Tech vs. Utah, Sat. Dec. 31, 2 p.m. ET
I have a strategy in picking bowls, and that is to pick against teams that have gimmicky or rare offenses. They tend to be hard to prepare for in a week, but easy to stop if you have a month, which you do before bowls. Georgia Tech is one of the few option offenses left in AQ football, and while Utah is not a particularly dangerous team, I think that the Yellow Jackets may struggle to move the ball.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Illinois vs. UCLA, Sat. Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET
I may have made fun of some bowl match ups earlier, but this is the worst. I have to imagine it is the first bowl game ever in which the teams combine to have a losing record, thanks to UCLA's 6-7 showing. (Note: 7-5 Western Kentucky isn't going to a bowl). To make matters worse, Illinois is coming into the game on a six-game losing streak. That's right, they started the season 6-0 and finished it 0-6. How symmetrical. To take it a step further, both teams also fired their coaches after the season. Suffice is to say, this should be a doozy.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt, Sat. Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET
Cincinnati would be in the Orange Bowl but for being ranked below West Virginia in the BCS standings. Then again, that isn't much of an accomplishment in the Big East. Vanderbilt may be a bit overlooked here. Like Mississippi State, most of Vanderbilt's losses (6) were to the nation's top schools, and the Commodores did really well against the spread, whatever that is worth.
No. 25 Auburn vs. Virginia, Sat. Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET
Just like Texas, Auburn has no business being ranked. Had the Tigers not won the BCS National Championship game last year, at 7-5 they'd be just another team with more bad losses than good wins. Virginia is a strange group. The Cavaliers were playing so well, until the last week of the season when they laid an egg at home against in-state rival Virginia Tech and lost 38-0.
No. 19 Houston vs. No. 22 Penn State, Mon. Jan. 2, 12 p.m. ET
Houston has got to be disappointed to be playing in this game. The Cougars were one win away from being in a BCS game, and instead, the Ticketcity Bowl against a school mired in controversy. This game is an outstanding matchup of a high-powered, spread offense (Houston) versus a tough, physical defense (Penn State). It is also the going away party for passing record holder Case Keenum at Houston. Some at Penn State are likely happy that the season is coming to a close after such a tumultuous year.
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl
Ohio State vs. Florida, Mon. Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET
Last time these two teams met in a bowl game, it was the BCS National Championship game. Oh how times have changed. Both teams come in 6-6, and Florida's offense has looked like it wouldn't be able to move the ball against a powderpuff team. And now offensive coordinator Charlie Weis is off to coach Kansas, though I'm not sure if that's a downgrade or an upgrade for the Gators. Ohio State has been up and down all season and ended the year on a three-game losing streak.
Pick: Ohio State
No. 17 Michigan State vs. No. 16 Georgia, Mon. Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET
Now we are getting to the meat and potatoes of the bowl games. A couple of ranked teams squaring off! After starting 0-2 Georgia broke off a 10-game winning streak before losing to LSU in the SEC Championship Game. At times this year Michigan State has looked like one of the best teams in the country (vs. Wisconsin) and at others it has looked putrid (vs. Notre Dame). The Spartans were a running into the kicker penalty away from perhaps a trip to the Rose Bowl, so hopefully the Outback Bowl isn’t a letdown.
Capital One Bowl
No. 20 Nebraska vs. No. 9 South Carolina, Mon. Jan 2, 1 p.m. ET
South Carolina quietly had a very good season, despite a number of roadblocks. The team’s best player, and arguably the best running back in the nation, Marcus Lattimore was lost for the year midway through the season to a knee injury and former starting quarterback Stephen Garcia was booted off the team after a number of issues. Still the Gamecocks managed to go 10-2. Nebraska is a difficult team to predict because of the oddness of their quarterback, Taylor Martinez’s play. Martinez can look unstoppable at times with his speed, and can look pee wee-like at others with his throwing.
Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio
No. 5 Oregon vs. No. 10 Wisconsin, Mon. Jan. 2, 5 p.m. ET
The granddaddy of them all should be another great one. I actually think these are two of the nation’s very, very best teams. Remember my theory above about Georgia Tech? Same goes for Oregon. IF it weren’t for the first game of the season and the bowl games, Oregon would be pretty unstoppable these past few years. I truly believe that Oregon was a lot better than Ohio State in 2009, when the Buckeyes beat the Ducks in the Rose Bowl, and that Oregon was better than Auburn last year when the Tigers beat the Ducks in the BCS National Championship Game. But with time to prepare, Oregon can be stopped. Wisconsin on the other hand has one of the most balanced attacks in the nation with star running back Montee Ball and quarterback Russell Wilson. And remember—Wisconsin is a couple hail marys away from being in the title game. It should be a fun, high-scoring game.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
No. 3 Oklahoma State vs. No. 4 Stanford, Mon. Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET
I suppose this is the de facto third-place game. I also think it might be the single most entertaining bowl game this year. As a Stanford fan, I’m being candid in saying that I don’t like the match up for the Cardinal. I think Stanford, with it’s physical style of play, matches up far better with LSU or Alabama than a team with the speed and athleticism of Oklahoma State—remember when Oregon played Stanford. That said, both teams have electric offenses and Stanford’s defense is markedly better than Oklahoma State’s—so long as Andrew Luck and co. don’t turn the ball over. The Cowboys have feasted on turnovers this season, but with Luck at the helm playing his last collegiate game, I expect the Cardinal to hold onto the ball—so long as the wide receivers don’t decide to drop the ball into opponents hands (which happened on more than half of Luck’s interceptions this season, but Heisman voters apparently were too ignorant to figure that out). This very well could turn into a game of, whoever has the ball last, wins.
Pick: Stanford (duh)
Allstate Sugar Bowl
No. 13 Michigan vs. No. 11 Virginia Tech, Tues. Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET
If you want to make an argument about the BCS being an unfair system, this game is a pretty darn good example of why. Both participants were at-large selections, despite there being multiple higher-ranked teams. It is a glaring example of the fact that college football is not about the games and the teams, but is about the money. Virginia Tech got walloped in its last game, the ACC Championship Game, and hasn’t beaten anyone of consequence all season—but BCS it is! Michigan makes a bit more sense as an at-large choice because at least the Wolverines have been playing well of late. I expect Denard Robinson to give the Hokie defense fits.
Discover Orange Bowl
No. 23 West Virginia vs. No. 15 Clemson, Wed. Jan 4, 8:30 p.m. ET
So long as the ACC and Big East continue to get automatic bids to BCS games, the Orange Bowl will likely continue to be an underwhelming game every year. The ACC champ gets an automatic bid to the Orange Bowl and the ACC is 2-11 in BCS games (yet the brilliant BCS people thought it was smart to give us TWO ACC teams this year!). Despite the conference’s ineptitude, Clemson is the clear favorite here. West Virginia does not belong in a BCS game, and is only there because the idiotic system rewards the Big East for its low level of play. Earlier in the season Clemson looked like a title contender, before inevitably slipping up. Still, the Tigers, behind Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins have a prolific offense and I expect them to roll the Mountaineers.
AT&T Cotton Bowl
No. 6 Arkansas vs. No. 8 Kansas State, Fri. Jan 6, 8 p.m. ET
This is a matchup of two teams that flew under the radar most of the season but were among the nation’s best. It is fitting that two of the teams that most deserved BCS bids are playing each other in what is probably the best non-BCS matchup. Bill Snyder has pulled another miracle at K-State, making chicken salad out of the proverbial chicken… yeah, you get it. But the Wildcats don’t have the talent of many of their competitors, but still manage to find ways to win. Arkansas, on the other hand has two losses this season—to the two teams playing for the BCS National Championship Game. In other games the Razorbacks are 10-0.
BBVA Compass Bowl
SMU vs. Pittsburgh, Sat. Jan. 7, 1 p.m. ET
This is one of those “why do you exist” bowls. It is there to tease you in the lead up to the National Championship Game. Pittsburgh just lost it’s coach, Todd Graham, in a most unceremonious way last week, so it will be interesting if the team responds poorly or well to it. SMU has lost four of six coming into this make believe bowl game.
Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois, Sun. Jan. 8, 9 p.m. ET
This is another bowl game that probably shouldn’t exist. I’m sure the bowl founders envisioned GoDaddy.com when they thought up the idea of postseason bowl games. This game actually pits two really good teams that people don’t seem to know much about against one another. Arkansas State went 10-2 this season and undefeated in the Sun Belt Conference. Their coach just left the program, and Gus Malzahn is taking over, but not for the bowl game. Northern Illinois was the champion of the MAC, is riding an eight-game winning streak and averaged 38.3 points per game this season, good for 13th in the nation.
Pick: Arkansas State
Allstate BCS National Championship Game
No. 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Alabama, Mon. Jan. 9, 8:30 p.m. ET
This is for all the marbles. Unless Alabama wins, in which we don’t really know who the best team in the country is cause LSU and Alabama will be 1-1 against each other this season. I’m not a fan of the rematch, even if these are the two best teams in the country. Alabama had it’s shot at home, and if the regular season is supposed to be a playoff, well ‘Bama was eliminated. Both defenses are outstanding—but the difference is on offense, where LSU has better quarterback and wide receiver play, and special teams. LSU won in Tuscaloosa, I don’t see why they won’t win in New Orleans.