Note on predictions: The "Vegas" prediction is constructed by combining the over/under and the point spread currently listed by Las Vegas sports books. My predictions went 17-20-2 against the spread and 23-16 straight up over the regular season.
(All times are Pacific)
Las Vegas Bowl (Las Vegas, Nev.) Dec. 22 5:00 PM ESPN
Just a year removed from coming within a whisker of the Rose Bowl, have the high and mighty fallen or what? (Who would have thought California would end up here when the season started?) Pac-10 bowl tie-ins stink to high heavens when a four-loss fringe Top 25 team is playing three days before Christmas in Las Vegas, as there are four- and five-loss teams from the other BCS conferences playing a week later, in more prestigious games (the Independence Bowl, anyone?). I will bet Stanford, who would have likely played here with another conference win, would not have complained though.
The main (and perhaps only) reason for Cal's falloff has been the lack of steady quarterbacking, as the rushing attack and defense have remained white-hot. I do not understand how Cal (7-4) is only a seven-point favorite here. I get it: they cannot pass. They will not have to here, as the defense should smother BYU (6-5), and the offense should be able to do to the BYU defensive front what the bulldozers have done to Stanford Stadium.
Vegas: Cal 34, BYU 27
Daniel: Cal 34, BYU 7
Poinsettia Bowl (San Diego, Calif.) Dec. 23 7:30 PM ESPN2
You know no one cares about your bowl game when it gets shelved to the Deuce – the New Orleans Bowl, the GMAC Bowl and the Fort Worth made it to straight-up ESPN, so to be a cut below that really says something. For what it is worth, Stanford might have played here with another win, but instead a foe familiar to the Cardinal, Navy (7-4), will lineup against Colorado State (6-5).
In Navy's corner is the fact that Colorado State's rush defense uncharacteristically stinks, which is no minor advantage for the Midshipmen, who will likely run 40-plus times in the contest. In Colorado State's corner is the fact that the Rams play tougher competition week-in and week-out, a shorter trip to San Diego (though there should be more Navy fans there), and better athletes, as recruiting is not cumbered by service academy restrictions. Vegas has no idea on this one, and when teams are relatively even, I think the more athletic squad usually finds a way to win.
Vegas: Navy 30 Colorado State 29
Daniel: Colorado State 27, Navy 24 (OT)
Insight Bowl (Phoenix, Ariz.) Dec. 27 5:30 PM ESPN
Fast forward four days to that glorious week of bowl season between Christmas and New Year's, and we have finally reached a bowl I can remember being played in years past. Good job by the bowl committee (or fortunate luck) to set-up a win-win situation for both squads: Arizona State (6-5) gets another home game, while Rutgers (7-4) gets its second bowl bid all-time, and its first in 27 years.
Rutgers is getting at least a field goal on the 11-point line because their reaching a bowl is a feel-good story. Let me specify: just like Connecticut last year, the college football media and powers-that-be really want a powerful team in the New York City area. Like with Connecticut last year, I think desires are blinding expectations – I have seen Rutgers on highlight shows far more than their talent would merit, and to think they have a chance against Arizona State is laughable.
2005 Arizona State has been the Jekyll and Hyde of all Jekyll and Hyde teams, and couple that with the off-the-field problems they have been having, and it really looks like the coaching staff is in over their heads. It should not matter here – how many Rutgers players could play for Arizona State? We will know definitively after the game, but coming in, I would guess maybe five. Arizona State has to win this one, lest the Pac-10 hear about losing to Rutgers, a middle of the road Big East team, for the next year.
How about this gem: Rutgers' only other bowl appearance was the 1978 Garden State Bowl. In that bowl, the Scarlet Knights also faced Arizona State, and Rutgers, again, was an 11-point underdog. Arizona State won that barnburner 34-18. Why mess with history, that score sounds good for 2005 as well.
Vegas: Arizona State 37, Rutgers 26
Daniel: Arizona State 34, Rutgers 18
Emerald Bowl (San Francisco, Calif.) Dec. 29 1:30 PM ESPN
Yet another potential bowl destination for the Cardinal had one play gone differently against Davis, UCLA or Notre Dame (assuming, of course, those narrow wins against Washington State and Arizona still stood up). Stanford, in my opinion, would have been three-point dogs to Utah and about 11-point dogs to Georgia Tech, so it would have been an uphill battle.
Here, Georgia Tech (7-4) is the better team on paper, but (insert cliché here – games are not won on paper, or perhaps it's about Jessies and Joes, not Xs and Os). No matter your cliché preference, you have to recognize that the Yellow Jackets, after starting their season with a victory over Auburn, might just view this as a let-down game, and play some uninspired football. If that happens, Utah (6-5) is good enough to claim the victory, despite losing so many pieces (including the head coach and the #1 NFL draft pick) from last year's 12-0 squad. I am not in a position to predict human emotion though, so I have to call this one for Tech.
Vegas: Georgia Tech 27, Utah 19
Daniel: Georgia Tech 24, Utah 14
Holiday Bowl (San Diego, Calif.) Dec. 29 5 PM ESPN
This should be yet another great Holiday Bowl with true national appeal, and yet another Holiday Bowl that will go a long way in determining the perceived strength of the BCS conferences. (By the way how much more fun would it be if, as has been proposed, the Pac-10 faced off against the SEC here – do any two conferences hate what the other stands for more?) Here, the Pac-10 has nothing to gain and everything to lose – if Oregon (10-1) wins, well congratulations, but you just beat the Big 12's fourth-best team; if Oregon loses, that Pac-10 is sure weak because the league's best team this side of USC lost to a middle-of-the road squad from a middle-of-the-road conference.
Two problems with that analysis (not mine, but again, you know that is how the national media will spin it). One: Oregon is without the services of quarterback Kellen Clemens, who is going to be cashing some handsome paychecks signed by a guy named Taglibue in the not-too-distant future. The defense remains solid, and the offensive cupboard remains stocked, but can all the offensive potential translate into points on the board?
Two: Oklahoma (7-4) is no middle-of-the-road Big 12 squad. Yes, the start was slow, but this team has gelled over the past month or two, and I would not want to be facing them right now (or, for that matter, next year). Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson against Haloti Ngata and the Oregon defensive front should be a thrilling match-up, and one of the best one-on-one tests we will find this side of Pasadena this post-season. I expect this one to go down to the wire, where Bob Stoops' top-notch playcalling proves the difference.
Vegas: Oregon 29, Oklahoma 26
Daniel: Oklahoma 27, Oregon 23
Sun Bowl (El Paso, Tex.) Dec. 30 11 AM CBS
Ignoring the Army-Navy game, never have two weaker defenses generated so much publicity, not to mention a national audience on network television. Apparently all Vegas knows about the two teams is that they score a lot and have no defense, because the 75 over/under is the highest I have seen in my life. Bet the under here, if only because both teams should be able to run the ball at will, and, thus, might not be inclined to pass as much, draining the clock.
Both teams have a porous defense front and a porous secondary, while each linebacking corps is surprisingly solid, led by a standout (UCLA's Spencer Havner and Northwestern's Tim McGarigle). We can call that a tie. Offensively, UCLA's playmakers are just a little better across the board. Northwestern (7-4) has a solid offensive line that sparks its spread offense, but UCLA (9-2) has a stouter line yet. Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton is an all-conference performer, but so is UCLA's Maurice Drew, who is a more explosive back (not to mention the threat he represents on special teams). Perhaps the biggest difference will be at receiver – two of Northwestern's top receivers went to my high school, so I am not going to dog them too much, but the unit is towards the bottom end of the Big 10. When you add Marcedes Lewis to a solid Bruin receiving corps, UCLA undoubtedly ends up ahead in that comparison. Considering Drew Olson's proficiency, I feel pretty safe picking the powder blue.
Vegas: UCLA 39, Northwestern 36
Daniel: UCLA 45, Northwestern 24
Fiesta Bowl (Tempe, Ariz.) Jan. 2 1:30 PM ABC
As a lifelong Michigan fan, could we just have both teams lose? Watching them this year, it seemed at times that Notre Dame's secondary would have trouble covering a goldfish in a bowl. Not good news when you are lining up against quarterback Troy Smith, and wide receivers Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes, all guys who are fast-as-blazes and are all-conference level performers. Despite his normally conservative playcalling, Jim Tressel has no problem airing the contest out when he realizes it is to his advantage, so bomb away, Sloopy (the Ohio State band always plays "Hang on, Sloopy" – who is Sloopy anyways?) and watch out, Notre Dame. Notre Dame's defensive strength is their front four, but between a sub-par rushing attack and the sizeable advantage in the passing game, Ohio State should rarely have to run at the unit.
If Ohio State's defense can just battle Notre Dame (9-2) to a tie, this one will make Notre Dame's last BCS trip (also in the Fiesta Bowl, a 41-9 loss to Oregon State five years ago) look like a barnburner. Indeed, that is just what I see happening as Ohio State (9-2) reels in its third BCS bowl victory in the past four years, a streak topped only by USC (Orange over Iowa, Rose over Michigan, Orange over Oklahoma, Rose vs. Texas this year). Running back Darius Walker, quarterback Brady Quinn and those two enormous wide receivers are a tough test, no doubt, but Ohio State's defense (and entire team) is one of the most underhyped in the country. Notre Dame, naturally, is overvalued, and that is the only reason the line is so close.
Vegas: Ohio State 30, Notre Dame 26
Daniel: Ohio State 45, Notre Dame 14
Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.) Jan. 4 5 PM ABC
Excuse me for not buying the hype that this year's granddaddy of them all is the best ever – but where exactly is the defense on either squad? And who, exactly, has either team beat? I know it's heresy, but what if there has been no complete team in college football this year, and Southern Cal (12-0) and Texas (12-0) are merely the best of the mediocre bunch?
USC has the stronger offensive skill position players – pretty much a given considering the once-in-a-generation talent they have stockpiled in the offensive backfield. Do not overlook a USC offensive line that has been consistently spectacular these past couple of years, providing quarterback Matt Leinart time to throw, and running back Reggie Bush time to posterize. Texas' defensive front needs to neutralize USC's offensive line (and rushing attack) in order to be able to focus on stopping the pass and have a fighting chance. After watching Notre Dame's stellar front struggle against Bush and fellow back LenDale White, I do not think the Longhorns have the beef (pun intended) to stop USC from plowing them over.
On the other side of the ball, Texas too should score plenty, but not quite as readily or easily. USC's secondary has been a pleasant surprise this season, and the linebackers have been strong throughout this three-year run. While the defensive ends have remained strong from years past, the defensive tackles were a bit of a liability earlier in the season. While those gap pluggers are still probably the weakest of USC's 22 starters, that is more an indication of the Trojan talent than it is their relative weakness. USC's defensive front has grown enormously this season, and should have no problem doing what no one has been able to thus far: contain Texas quarterback Vince Young, and make him win with his arm. That Young and an undermanned receiving corps will be able to match Leinart, Bush and co. score-for-score seems highly unlikely, so I call for USC to take home the hardware in its second-straight rout of a Big XII South school.
Vegas: USC 39, Texas 33
Daniel: USC 55, Texas 24
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