Bones’s Bowl Preview: Week Two

As we roll into the second week of bowl season, take heart! Some of the games which take place between the 26th and 31st actually feature teams you might have heard of! Now, you might be wondering, “Bones, why aren’t you doing the January 1st bowls? Are they not technically a part of the second week of bowl games?” Yes, they are, but there’s 6 games on that particular day. Since I already have 15 games to preview here (plus a week 1 review to write sometime), it’s in everyone’s best interests that January 1 be given its own blog entry. Now, let’s get week 2 rolling with what could be the single worst bowl of the postseason!

December 26, 2010

Little Caesar’s Bowl

Florida International vs. Toledo

How they got here: Florida International holds the distinction of being the “best” team in the Sun Belt. That’s something like being the best hockey player in Brazil. I understand that the Sun Belt has its own set of issues, but is there any reason that a 6-6 team should be the conference champion? That’s a major argument against having a playoff featuring all the conference champions. On the other side of the ball, Toledo went 7-1 in the MAC, but they were slaughtered by Northern Illinois in their only conference loss. Outside the conference, Toledo went 1-3 with one win over Purdue and losses to Arizona, Wyoming, and Boise State. In other words: don’t let the 8-4 record fool you, Toledo is just about as mediocre as FIU.

Should I watch this game: No. It’ll be the day after Christmas. You can take back some bad gifts you got, or travel back to your house in the big post-Christmas rush. What you should not do is spend your Sunday night watching a game between two mid-level teams. Unless, of course, you actually care about those mid-level teams, in which case you have my apologies for all of the bile I’m spewing onto the Internet. Cheering for Toledo is punishment enough, I imagine. Oh, and the game’s in Detroit, which should provide further inspiration not to watch this game.

Blogger’s Pick: Toledo. They beat a mediocre major conference team, as opposed to FIU, which did not beat their mediocre major conference foe (Rutgers). Stats look to favor the Golden Panthers, but that might be because their conference is slightly worse than Toledo’s. Either way, take this pick as a shot in the deep darkness, because I haven’t seen either of these teams play this season.

December 27, 2010

AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl

Air Force vs. Georgia Tech

How they got here: Air Force arrives in this game tied for 3rd in the Mountain West. They, like everyone else in conference, were slaughtered by TCU, but they kept the games with Utah and San Diego State interesting. Factor in the fact that Air Force was quite close to beating Oklahoma, and you have the story of a team coming off of a pretty good season (further, factor in that Air Force is a service academy, making these accomplishments all the more meaningful). Georgia Tech, meanwhile, fell hard from their perch atop the ACC. The Yellow Jackets scraped their way into the postseason with a November win over Duke, which is good for them since they lost 4 of their last 5 games. Georgia Tech hasn’t beaten a team with a winning record since September 18, when they topped UNC. In short, it was a disappointing year for the Yellow Jackets, especially when you consider their level of competition.

Should I watch this bowl: That depends entirely on how you feel about the option. This game features two of the top 3 rushing teams in the nation. Both squads run the triple option offense, which also explains why they’re both in the bottom 5 nationally in terms of passing offense. So if you like rushing football, fairly quick and low scoring games, you’re in luck! Both these teams’ defenses practice against the triple option, which should make for a good game. If you like pretty, pass-intensive, high-scoring football with good-looking quarterbacks who have nice hair, then this isn’t the game for you. Also, you’re probably a communist.

Blogger’s Pick: Air Force. The Mountain West may not be an AQ superpowered conference, but their top half is at least alright. Air Force is 10 points away from an 11-1 season. Georgia Tech really only has one thing in its favor: Air Force’s run defense is much worse than Georgia Tech’s. I don’t think that’ll be enough given the extra practice time.

December 28, 2010

Champs Sports Bowl

#22 West Virginia vs. NC State

How they got here: NC State had a very good run to start the year before blowing a game they should have won against Virginia Tech. After that loss, the year was decidedly mediocre for the Wolfpack and they went 4-3 in their last 7 games. West Virginia actually had the best record of any team in the Big East, but they finished with the same conference record as UConn and Pitt. Their loss to UConn was what sunk them, but they finished 9-3. That’d be more remarkable and more respectable if they played in a conference that wasn’t the Big East.

Should I watch this game: Eh, go ahead. Might ease the pain of being back at work after your Christmas break. This game may as well be called the “we shoulda” bowl. A few twists and turns in the right direction and you’d be seeing these two match up in the Orange Bowl. As it stands, this will be a distracting little sideshow.

Blogger’s Pick: NC State in a low scoring game. This game should come down to a matchup between NC State’s passing attack and West Virginia’s 11th ranked pass defense. I’ll give the edge to NC State for two reasons: 1, they played in a (marginally) tougher conference and 2, as a Virginia Tech fan I’m required to hate West Virginia. No, it isn’t a valid reason. But if you read my writing for valid reasons, then you’re probably misguided as is.

Insight Bowl

#12 Missouri vs. Iowa

How they got here: Missouri had two bad weeks, which cost them the BCS and the Big 12 title. Especially harmful was their loss to Texas Tech, wherein the Tigers blew a 17-3 lead to finish up with a 24-17 loss. Mizzou got no chance to go to the Big 12 Championship, which pretty much sank their hopes for a BCS bowl. Remember, only conferences and teams with unnecessarily high preseason rankings get to send non-champions to BCS bowls!

Oh, and Iowa got to go to this game by finishing 4th in the Big 10. Once it became apparent that they weren’t going to finish in first in the conference, the Hawkeyes mailed in the last half of the season, losing their last 3 games. Their 4-4 conference record is nothing to crow about, and you have to wonder about the size of the gap between the top of the Big 10 (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State) and the lower teams in the conference. But we can ponder that later…

Should I watch this bowl: Probably. It could give us a good barometer of how the Big 10 and Big 12 will do this bowl season. Missouri’s the favored team, and if they fall (or just barely beat Iowa) then we could be looking at a very long year for the Big 12. On the flip side, if Iowa gets blown out then it won’t be a good sign for the Big 10, especially when you consider that Iowa has given defeats to Michigan State, Penn State, and Michigan–all bowl-bound teams.

Blogger’s pick: Missouri. The Tigers play in a much higher scoring conference than the Hawkeyes, yet their scoring defense is slightly better. Considering that a few of Iowa’s offensive pieces are missing (best running back, best wideout), I think we’ll see Missouri take this one by a touchdown or two.

December 29, 2010

Military Bowl Presented By Northrop Grumman

(Winner of this year’s “longest bowl name” competition!)

Maryland vs. East Carolina

How they got here: Maryland had a heck of a turnaround from the ’09 season, going from a 2-10 year to being 8-4 this year. Sure, the ACC isn’t great (this year or last) but it’s hard to scoff at a 6 game turnaround. It’s also hard to believe that Maryland hired the guy responsible for the turnaround. Sure, he’s the same guy responsible for the 2-10 year, but shouldn’t he have been fired then? Not after turning the team around. I digress. East Carolina, meanwhile, has had a season full of fairly thrilling games, with 2 OT games and one last-second Hail Mary. ECU started much stronger than they finished, however, as they dropped 4 of their last 5 games–and most of those weren’t close. Both teams, for the record, beat NC State.

Should I watch this game: Yeah, sure. ECU passes quite well (7th best in the country) and Maryland’s defense is mediocre. ECU’s problem will come from their defense, which is easily the worst scoring defense of any bowl team (fun stat: ECU has allowed almost 10 points more per-game than Michigan, the 2nd worst bowl-bound scoring defense.) Since Maryland is middling overall, and ECU can score well but can’t defend, look for a high-scoring matchup. Mind you, you’ll likely be watching this game while at work, since it’s at 2:30 on a Wednesday.

Blogger’s pick: Maryland. Overall mediocrity is better than an all-or-nothing approach. Plus, Maryland didn’t blow a 21 point lead to NC State to go into overtime, unlike the other team in this bowl.

Texas Bowl

Illinois vs. Baylor

How they got here: Illinois arrived here by having another gloriously mediocre season. Ever since they made the Rose Bowl in ’07, Illinois has been somewhere between bad and pathetic. They improved to 6-6 this season, which really says more about their last two years than I could hope to. Baylor looked like a realistic threat to take their division of the Big 12 for a while, then they remembered they were Baylor at about the same time that they hit the hard part of their schedule. Baylor has lost their last 3 coming into this game, and it’s not a coincidence that 4 of their 5 losses came to the 4 currently ranked teams they played. Furthermore, they have one win over a bowl-bound team. Not a great sign.

Should I watch this game: Eh, not really. It’s two mediocre teams from big conferences. You’ll have already seen a much better Big 10/Big 12 matchup in the Iowa/Missouri game. If watching the 6th place teams from two slightly above average conferences appeals to you, then by all means, watch this game. Otherwise…I dunno, watch Jeopardy.

Blogger’s pick: This one’s a toss-up. I think Baylor wins, but I say that with no confidence. So don’t bet money on this one.

Valero Alamo Bowl

#14 Oklahoma State vs. Arizona

How they got here: Oklahoma State had a pretty good season, only dropping games to the two contestants in the Big 12 Championship game: Nebraska and Oklahoma. Those losses dropped them down to this bowl game, but it’s not that bad of a fate, considering. Arizona, on the other hand, started out red hot and finished on an outright skid. Sure, 2 of those losses were close, but 4 straight losses by 1 point or by 40 would have been just as devastating to the Wildcats’ overall record. To be blunt, I imagine Arizona got here through geographical convenience, rather than through pure merit.

Should I watch this game: Maybe. Both sides will be scoring points a’ plenty, though their defenses are both fairly pedestrian. Look for lots of passing and plenty of scoring.

Blogger’s pick: Oklahoma State. This is one of 9 matchups featuring a ranked team playing an unranked team. Doesn’t bowl season exist precisely to prevent games like that? Even on the off chance that all 9 of those games end with the unranked team taking the win, it still doesn’t solve the problem, because that means that the rankings were inaccurate. Either way…pure silliness. Oh, and Oklahoma State’s offense is better, I think, hence the pick.

December 30, 2010

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl

Army vs. Southern Methodist

How they got here: Army got here by winning 6 games against…well, no one. They’ve beaten 0 bowl bound teams, and the 6 teams they’ve beaten have a combined 18 wins. For those who might be bad at math, that’s an average of 3 wins per team. Army made it to bowl eligibility by beating some very bad teams. The Black Knights haven’t been to a bowl since ’96, though, so that’s some good news for them. SMU continues their comeback from the dead (a phrase that is probably the most overused thing in reference to any one team in the history of college football) by making their second straight bowl game. The Mustangs weren’t exactly world beaters, finishing 7-6 with their loss in the conference championship game. Hence their presence in this fairly obscure little bowl.

Should I watch this game: Sure, if only because of the contrasting styles of offense. Army has literally the worst passing attack in the country, 120th out of 120, to go with their top 10 rushing attack. SMU is coached by June Jones, meaning that they throw the ball…a lot. Army’s pass defense and SMU’s run defense are both in the top 50 in their respective categories, meaning that we might see a close one in this game.

Blogger’s pick: SMU. The game should be close, if only because Army will kill clock with their run attack, but I don’t think that they’ll keep up with SMU. Especially since the Mustangs are bowl eligible, and beating them would mean that Army would defeat their first bowl-bound team this season. Given that they had 4 other chances to beat bowl teams, I don’t like their odds in this one…

New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Kansas State vs. Syracuse

How they got here: Kansas State’s biggest achievement was taking Texas to task back in November. The Wildcats only beat one bowl team (Central Florida), and finished a distant 3rd in the Big 12 North division. But, hey, at least they made a bowl, the first time they’ve been bowling since ’06. Syracuse is in a similar situation: the Orange didn’t really beat anyone good (does West Virginia count?), but they at least made a bowl for the first time since 2004. Sure, their path there included 2 wins over 1-AA teams (they’re 5-5 against other 1-A teams). So (and I know I’ve used this phrase a lot in this bowl writeup) look for a battle of mediocre teams!

Should I watch this game: Only if there’s nothing else on. Ostensibly the matchup between Syracuse’s defense and K-State’s offense should be a good one, but both these teams have beaten no one, so it’s really impossible to say just how good of a game this’ll be. Honestly, this game is as much of a mystery to me as the Ohio/Troy game was. Oh, but if you’re into baseball and hate the Yankees as much as I do, you can pretend how nice it would be if Yankee Stadium double booked this game with an exhibition game for the Yankees and Derek Jeter got run over by a linebacker. That’s about it.

Blogger’s pick: Syracuse, based solely on their victory over a ranked team. Seriously, that’s it.

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

North Carolina vs. Tennessee

How they got here: Carolina got here by having about half of its defense suspended to start the season. Had those players been able to play, methinks we’d see Carolina a bit later in the bowl season, possibly even in the Orange Bowl. As it stands, the Tar Heels had a pretty rough year, with their coach’s future in limbo after dual recruiting and academic scandals. Tennessee had a pretty big turnaround after their 2-6 start. Yes, most of that turnaround came against the worst teams on the schedule, but the Volunteers can rest easy that they still are better than Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

Should I watch this game: Pretty much copy/paste what I wrote about the Syracuse/K-State game above. This game should be fairly close (after all, both teams’ best games this year came in narrow losses to LSU–UNC’s because of suspensions and Tennessee’s because they can’t count), but I can’t claim that it’ll be great football. Heck, both squads probably have more draft choices on the roster than Virginia Tech or Boise State or TCU, if you’re into that whole “college football is a meat farm for the pros” mentality. Otherwise, this game (like the others on this particular day) should serve as something of an appetizer for the much better slate of games on the 31st and 1st.

Blogger’s pick: North Carolina. The Tar Heels’ defense is much better than those of the teams which Tennessee has beaten, meaning that the Volunteers will likely find it tough to get a sniff of the end zone. Key word there: “likely.”

Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl

#18 Nebraska vs. Washington

How they got here: Nebraska was sent to this game due to two inexcusable losses (most notably to Texas) and a defeat in the Big 12 Championship. On the bright side, the Huskers did win 10 games this season, and one of those was against Washington. Washington got to go to this bowl after a fairly disappointing season. Jake Locker failed to live up to his Heisman hype (admittedly more his receivers and O-line’s fault) and the rest of the team foundered along with him.

Should I watch this game: Probably not. It’ll be late on the East Coast, and those of you on the West Coast can watch this nifty highlight package from the first Nebraska/Washington game. I know the old expression about how difficult it is to beat the same team twice, but it’s hard to say that this game will be radically different than the 56-21 beatdown in Seattle…

Blogger’s pick: Nebraska. No reason to go against established trends, the only real risk here is Nebraska failing to get psyched for the game. Given Bo Pelini’s penchant for yelling, I’m pretty sure that’s a small risk.

December 31, 2010

Meineke Car Care Bowl

South Florida vs. Clemson

How they got here: Both teams got here by having incredibly average seasons. Clemson went .500, giving Auburn its best game of the year, but losing badly at home to rival South Carolina. South Florida gave Big East champions UConn a good game, but got thumped by West Virginia. At least the Bulls beat Miami, something Clemson failed to do.

Should I watch this game: This one falls into the same category as the Music City Bowl and Pinstripe Bowl–two mid-level teams from AQ conferences. Mind you, this game is between a Big East team and an ACC team, thus reducing the national interest to a comfortable low. Sure, watch the game if you like good defense: both teams rank in the top 20 in points scored against them, so it should at least be a close game.

Blogger’s pick: South Florida. They beat Miami, which is the difference between their 7-5 record and Clemson’s 6-6 record, which is good enough to give them the nod.

Hyundai Sun Bowl

Miami (Florida) vs. Notre Dame

How they got here: These teams got here by imagining that they’re still nationally relevant. Seriously, the last time this many delusional people got together was at the ’08 Convention for the Criminally Insane. (While fictional, I imagine that event was far more interesting than this Sun Bowl will be.) These two franchises have gone through 4 coaches since 2004, with each team on their 3rd coach in 6 seasons. Those other coaches’ crimes consisted of not winning national titles (or just not winning in Charlie Weis’s case). Miami went 7-5 without a single win over a ranked team, and they’ll be playing with an interim coach. Notre Dame was better this season, but they weren’t exactly world beaters at 7-5.

Should I watch this game: No, as a protest. Because whoever wins this game will be declared as being “back” by the ignoramuses in the sports media. (See also: Notre Dame winning the 2008 Hawaii Bowl and being declared competitors for the ’09 title by sports commentators not named Lou Holtz.) And you don’t want that and I don’t want that. So just watch the 3rd or 4th quarter of the Car Care Bowl and prepare for the start of the Liberty Bowl.

Blogger’s pick: Call it Notre Dame, based on their wins over Utah and Southern Cal. Not much confidence in that pick, but I also don’t have much confidence in Miami’s interim coach.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Georgia vs. #25 Central Florida

How they got here: Georgia recovered from their awful start to crawl their way back to 6-6. Central Florida won Conference USA, thus earning the right to play a middling SEC team in their bowl game. I understand making lesser conference champions play lower level teams, but a 6-6 SEC school? That’s ridiculous! And a little sad.

Should I watch this game: Sure. Should be a reasonably good matchup, when you consider that both teams score almost the same number of points, and each allows the same number of points. Georgia passes much better than Central Florida, but UCF’s run offense is much better than Georgia’s. Both teams struggle a bit against the other’s strength, meaning that we could see each squad score 30 points or more.

Blogger’s pick: Georgia. They’ve been tempered by games against better competition, which should prepare them for adversity, should they encounter it in this game. Yeah, we’ll go with that.

Chick-Fil-A Bowl

#20 South Carolina vs. #23 Florida State

How they got here: Both teams had decent seasons in the weaker divisions of their respective conferences (well, an argument can be made about that in Florida State’s case). Both teams went to their respective conference championship games, where South Carolina was blown out by Auburn and Florida State was slowly taken out of the game by Virginia Tech. Each team mirrored one another fairly well this season, meaning that this could be a very good game.

Should I watch this game: Yes, for the “mirror” reason listed above. Both teams’ stats and rankings are very similar to one another. Both teams also struggled against the best teams they played this year, with South Carolina’s upset over Alabama as the only victory over a currently ranked team for either school. This one should be a good game, provided that neither team rolls over and dies when faced with a halfway decent opponent.

Blogger’s pick: Florida State in a close one. I think the hangover of getting destroyed in the SEC Championship will make South Carolina come out flat, leading to an early lead which Florida State exploits to a win.

That’s all for week two! In case you were wondering, I’m currently at 5-2 after week one. So no Ottoman Empire posts yet.