Bones’s Bowl Preview: New Year’s Day

Historically, January 1 was the day of big bowls. It was the day on which many a national title was decided in years past. Thanks in no small part to a combination of ballooning bowl numbers, greedy bowl execs, and the BCS system, New Year’s Day is now just a day with a high number of relatively high-profile bowls. Still, it’s a national holiday AND a day with a very high number of bowls, so let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth. Even if it’s a slightly diseased gift horse, like the first bowl of the day…

January 1, 2011

Ticketcity Bowl

Northwestern vs. Texas Tech

How they got here: By going 7-5. To paraphrase Roger the Shrubber, what sad times are these when 7-5 teams can get bowls on New Year’s Day. Northwestern spluttered down the stretch, losing 5 of their last 7, which was (unsurprisingly) when they played the better teams on their schedule. Texas Tech wasn’t much better, going 3-5 in Big 12 play and defeating the following nonconference giants: Southern Methodist, New Mexico, Weber State, and Houston. Neither team has exactly lit up the headlines, and the only currently ranked team either squad has beaten was Texas Tech’s one win over Missouri.

Should I watch this bowl game: Sure, for an hour. Use it as your warmup for the much, much better slate of games that’s coming up later. Neither team is exceptionally remarkable except for Texas Tech’s passing attack, which ranks 8th in the nation primarily because of the fact that they throw the ball just over 40 times per game (comparison stat: Northwestern throws the ball about 27 times per game). Northwestern ranks 85th in their passing defense, meaning that we could be looking at the makings of a bad game.

Blogger’s pick: Texas Tech, due to the afore mentioned difference in the pass attack/pass defense. I know the predictions page on College Football Cafeteria currently says I picked Northwestern, but that was before I looked closely at the games. My bad.

Capital One Bowl

#16 Alabama vs. #9 Michigan State

How they got here: Alabama got here by being the nation’s best 3-loss team. That statement is about half sarcasm, half serious analysis. If ‘Bama had gotten a little luckier against LSU and Auburn, they’d be 11-1 and would have almost certainly gone to the SEC Championship Game and the BCS. As it stands, they lost 3 games and I get to post an unnecessary link to one of the single stupidest covers a major magazine has made in recent years. Heh heh heh.

Oh, and Michigan State got here because they finished in a 3-way tie atop the Big 10. Now, understand that I’m not a big advocate of Michigan State, but I do find it odd that the only reason they’re not in a big time, BCS payday bowl is because of their preseason ranking. They were unranked, as opposed to Ohio State and Wisconsin, who started the year as #2 and #12 respectively. Heck, Michigan State even beat Wisconsin, the team selected to go to the Big 10’s automatic bowl (the Rose). Yes, Michigan State’s loss (to Iowa) was the worst of the 3 one-loss teams in the Big 10, but I question whether or not it mattered. Any loss for Michigan State would have sent them here, so they should enjoy it as best they can.

Should I watch this game: Yes, I say with enthusiasm. There are 3 simultaneous Big 10/SEC bowl games taking place on New Year’s Day, but this one features the best combination of teams. The squads seem to be pretty well-matched, but Alabama’s defense is much better in terms of points allowed–giving up a touchdown less per game. This game will give you the best possible preview of the Ohio State/Arkansas game on January 4, as well as providing two legitimately good programs, rather than the also-rans in the other 2 Big 10/SEC bowls on the 1st. While we’re on that subject, allow me to ask the following: why are there 3 games featuring the same two conferences against one another on the same day? Can’t they spread these things out any more? Yes, Big 10 and SEC fans fill seats better than anyone else, but the rest of us would like a little variety on our day off, OK?

Blogger’s pick: Alabama. The key matchup in the game will be Michigan State’s run defense against Alabama’s dual attack of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. If the Tide running backs can find holes in the Spartan defense, things could get ugly. I don’t think it’ll matter that much, as Alabama’s scoring defense should hold the Spartans to under 20 points regardless of how well MSU plays.

Outback Bowl

Florida vs. Penn State

How they got here: Both of these teams had seasons that were disappointing by their standards. Actually, 7-5 is pretty disappointing regardless of who you are, but especially with the kind of seasons these two teams are used to. Florida followed up 2 straight BCS trips with a decidedly bad 7-5 season, which ended in arguably the worst way possible: a 31-7 drubbing at the hands of rival Florida State. Penn State didn’t fare much better, finishing with the same record as the Gators with just as many wins over currently ranked teams (0).

Should I watch this game: Yes, if only for the postgame interviews featuring a doubtlessly teary Urban Meyer and a mildly self-aware Joe Paterno. So a coach has a down year at a power school that he led back to glory and rather mysteriously bolts at the end of the season. Sound familiar? It should. I have no evidence of anything, but keep an eye on Florida in the coming months, my friends. JoePa, despite not wearing a headset (or knowing exactly where he is) for the last several years keeps right on trucking. Why do I get the feeling that the Penn State coaching staff feels kind of like the two guys in Weekend at Bernie’s? No, JoePa’s not dead, but does anyone outside of Happy Valley think he’s coaching? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Blogger’s Pick: Penn State. Florida has officially mailed in this season. Their last win against a bowl-bound team was when they beat Georgia in October. Their last win over a team with a winning record was in week 2 against South Florida. Penn State hasn’t been too much better, but they beat a team with a winning record within recent memory. Florida’s also had some players get taken out due to injury, which could provide the opportunity for Penn State to pick up a win over the Gators. And I’m sorry, I don’t buy the “win one for the outgoing coach” prediction, because Urban was going to be leaving at the end of last season, too. Maybe he and Brett Favre can get together and play dice to decide who gets more media attention during the offseason.

Progressive Gator Bowl

#21 Mississippi State vs. Michigan

How they got here: Mississippi State’s season followed a weirdly symmetrical pattern: a win, 2 losses, 6 wins, 2 losses, and a win. Win or lose, this bowl will screw up that nice little palindromic thing they had going on. MSU’s 8 wins are a bit misleading, because their best win is probably their 10-7 road victory over Florida. The Bulldogs hung close with Auburn and Arkansas, but got smashed by Alabama and LSU, and those 4 losses are the reason they wound up in sort of a middle-tier bowl game.

As for Michigan, what more can I say? If you’re a regular reader, you know that the Wolverines have repeated last year’s pattern: open up the season with impressive wins over lesser competition (UConn’s Big East title notwithstanding) and hit a wall when faced with better schools, closing the year out by losing 5 of their last 7. Their dynamic, sure-fire freshman Heisman candidate turned into someone who can hammer slow defenses but struggles with teams that can react quickly to the option and broken plays. It really seems like history was put on a slightly improved loop in Ann Arbor this season. “Slightly improved” meaning that they beat Illinois and Purdue this season.

Should I watch this game: Yes, but only when the Gator Bowl and Capital One Bowl are on commercial break. The matchup between Mississippi State’s run defense (19th in the country) and Michigan’s run offense (11th in the country) will be interesting, but just about everything else is pretty much chaff. As stated: watch this one during commercial breaks and, if it’s close, in the 4th quarter, since the other 2 games start 30 minutes earlier. Actually, scratch that, the Rose Bowl starts at 4:30. Unless you’re a Michigan or Mississippi State fan, just watch this one during the commercial breaks.

Blogger’s pick: Mississippi State. When in doubt, always pick defense. Denard Robinson will certainly score some points, but Mississippi State’s ground defense is strong enough to force some mistakes out of the young QB. Michigan’s defense will also likely be a liability for the Wolverines. In short, my fellow Michigan bashers should enjoy this bowl season, because the Wolverines are improving, and could very easily make some noise next season. And I mean real noise, not the early-season clanking of tin cans we’ve seen the last two seasons.

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio

#5 Wisconsin vs. #3 Texas Christian

How they got here: This section is much easier to write for the BCS games. Wisconsin was one of the three teams tied atop the Big 10 at 11-1. They’re the highest ranked team in the Big 10, meaning that they got their berth to the Rose Bowl the second that the final BCS standings were released. TCU got an automatic berth by virtue of being a non-AQ team ranked in the top 12. TCU hasn’t lost a regular season game since November of 2008, but they weren’t a football power in 1960, so they don’t get a shot at the title. At least they’re headed to the Big East in 2012, which should help alleviate some of the controversy TCU seems to generate.

Should I watch this game: Obviously. This is the only real headline game between a non-AQ team and a big name college team. All the others (Air Force/Georgia Tech, ECU/Maryland, Georgia/UCF, Nevada/Boston College) are footnote bowls at best. And they have a weirdly high number of ACC teams…Any hoo, this game will provide us all with some nifty water cooler talk. Or pew talk, since they’re playing on a Saturday and you’ll likely have to cut through layers of caked on NFL-talk if you wait until Monday to discuss this with co-workers. This looks to be a good one, with Wisconsin’s powerful run offense going against a fast (but small) TCU defense. We’ll see if TCU’s amazing (seriously, under 12 points against per game?!) stats were inflated by playing inferior foes, or if the Horned Frogs were cheated by the lack of a playoff. (Blatant pandering to blogger’s alma mater follows: Be sure to catch the Rose Parade in the morning, as the Western Carolina University Band will be playing in said parade. Hey, it’s pretty much all we have here in the mountains, and how many opportunities will I have to pimp WCU to a national audience?)

Blogger’s pick: TCU, on one condition: that the game is close. This is sort of a stupid statement, but here’s my “rules o’ the game:” If the final margin is 7 points or less, it’s a TCU win. If the final margin is anything more than 7, then Wisconsin won. Furthermore, if Wisconsin wins, I’d put money that it’s by at least 20. I, however, am thinking it’ll be a close game, which would lead to a TCU win. Hooray, circular logic!

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

Connecticut vs. #7 Oklahoma

How they got here: By winning their conferences. UConn won the Big East, which was this season’s equivalent of winning a shoving match between the members of a high school Chess Club (OK, Spanish Club, the MAC would be the chess club). Oklahoma took home another Big 12 championship, their 4th in the last 5 seasons. Oklahoma nearly lost several games (they’ve won 6 games by 8 points or fewer), but the important bit is that they only dropped 2 games, both of which they lost to fairly good teams.

Should I watch this game: For at least the first half, yes. Like most people, I expect UConn to get ripped to shreds in this game. If they’re still in it at the half, then this game might just be worth watching. After all, as many pundits have pointed out, Oklahoma has been favored heavily in the Fiesta Bowl before. By the way, if you live out there (looking at you, Utah guys on this blog) you may as well go to the game. Upper-level tickets are currently selling for about $14. Sideline seats are selling for $75. UConn’s sold about 1/4th of their tickets as of midnight on December 29th, meaning that they have about 3 days to sell 13,000 tickets. So if you live in Arizona, Utah, California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, or west Texas, take a road trip! You’ll spend more on gas than on the tickets, and you’ll get to go to a BCS bowl.

Blogger’s pick: Oklahoma, for reasons which should be painfully obvious. UConn does have the advantage on the ground, but Oklahoma’s pass attack could very easily rip the Huskies for 400+ yards. It is extremely difficult to give UConn a fighting chance, and I would hardly be surprised if this game is over at the half. Best of luck to UConn, and I sincerely hope they make it a game, but I just don’t see it happening. The Sooners win this one going away.

There’s my predictions for the new year. I hope you all had a great 2010, and I hope 2011 is even better! (PS: Bowl picks are at 7-4 as of December 29. Thanks, Missouri.)