Attractive Holiday Destination Bowls
11. Hawaii (Dec. 24, Honolulu, ESPN)
Hawaii vs. Notre Dame
Now that the regular season is complete, we can confirm what we'd been projecting all along -- if Stanford had reached six wins, this would have been their bowl slot. The Pac-10's first bowl opening was in Hawaii, and Notre Dame is making the trip to the islands only because the Pac-10 ran out of eligible teams after Arizona and Cal. Frankly, I think Hawaii would have been a tough matchup for Stanford: they throw for about 400 yards and run for only 50 game, which precisely plays away from Stanford's defensive strength and towards its defensive weakness. Plus, mainland teams always seem to perform a touchdown worse than they would otherwise after the six-hour flight to Hawaii and all the accompanying distractions. But, hey, who cares, we would have been in a bowl.
Here, I like Hawaii for the same reasons I outlined above: the home island advantage and the fact that Notre Dame's rush defense is better than their pass defense. Plus, the Notre Dame coaching staff is going to have to do an incredible sell job to get the players to give 100 percent for this game -- Notre Dame was thinking BCS preseason -- and I'm not sure the coaching staff has enough credibility with the team right now to do that.
Vegas: Hawaii 25, Notre Dame 23
The Bootleg: Hawaii 24, Notre Dame 12
12. New Orleans (Dec. 21, New Orleans, ESPN)
Troy vs. Southern Miss
We're picking against the Southern Miss Farves (Brett was an alum, Class of 1991) on principle here. In the second-most irrational firing in recent years (second only to Auburn canning Tommy Tuberville, he of the 13-0 season in 2004 and six straight wins over Alabama), the Golden Eagles fired head coach Jeff Bower, he of 14 straight winning seasons. You're Southern Miss. What in the world were you hoping for? Enjoy ten years of sub-.500 ball. Troy, as a Sun Belt team, probably has less talent than any other bowl team bar none, but they've earned a reputation for fighting harder than anyone over the years, especially in the trenches. I'm picking the school whose location reminds me of "The Waterboy" over the school whose nickname reminds me of an Indian casino.
Vegas: Troy 29, Southern Miss 25
The Bootleg: Troy 27, Southern Miss 24
13. Las Vegas (Dec. 20, Las Vegas, ESPN)
Arizona vs. BYU
I like to think that one of the ways in which God shows he cares is by playing little practical jokes like this: BYU's in the Las Vegas Bowl for the fourth straight year. (Bonus irony points to the Almighty, BYU being a religious school in the first place and whatnot.) Suffice it to say the Cougars are less tempted by Las Vegas' other cougars, as they've won two years running, upsetting UCLA in 2007 and flattening Oregon in 2006. 2008 Arizona did what I expect out of 2009 Stanford: start out hot enough that the inevitable backslide come Pac-10 play doesn't preclude a bowl berth. Winning said bowl, however, will be another matter entirely.
Vegas: Arizona 26, BYU 23
The Bootleg: BYU 34, Arizona 21
Not Quite As Attractive Holiday Destination Bowls
14. Motor City (Dec. 26, Detroit, ESPN)
Central Michigan vs. FAU
Ball State's 12-0 start and Buffalo's story (the Bulls were last bowl eligible about 50 years ago, but declined a berth because their black players would not have been welcome at the southern venue. This year, under a black head coach in Turner Gill, the Bulls won the MAC and return to their first bowl since then) dominated this year's headlines in the MAC, but Central and Western Michigan might be the two most underrated teams in the league. Just like I went with Wastern, as it's known in the great Wolverine State, I'm going with the Chippewas to roll with their home-field crowd past Florida Atlantic. The MAC's not better than many leagues, but it does have FAU's Sun Belt covered.
Vegas: Central Michigan 35, Florida Atlantic 31
The Bootleg: Central Michigan 35, Florida Atlantic 31
15. Music City (Dec. 31, Nashville, ESPN)
Vanderbilt vs. Boston College
Maybe I'm being too harsh on Nashville (or should put post-Katrina New Orleans in the same category), but I just couldn't put my hometown Detroit all in a category by itself. Nerd tilt alert! Half of Stanford's recruits seem to have offers from one of these schools, and many will presumably be watching the two duke (pun intended) it out. I think they'll see a Boston College team that's better, but still upset about losing in the ACC Title Game. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, is at home and is delighted to be in what feels like their first bowl since the Prohibition Era. I think emotion carries the weaker team to victory here.
Vegas: Boston College 27, Vanderbilt 23
The Bootleg: Vanderbilt 23, Boston College 21
Bowls That Sound Like Herbal Essence Shampoos But Are Actually Just Bowls
16. Poinsettia ( Dec. 23, San Diego, ESPN )
TCU vs. Boise State
Boise State takes another Pac-10 at-large spot. Still, that's a mighty far way for an undefeated, top-10 BCS team to fall. If Utah had a loss, Boise State would have their spot in the Sugar Bowl. (And I'd still rather see Boise State in the BCS than ACC Champ Cincinnati or perhaps even at-large Ohio State.) Alas, the rules are big-conference friendly and call for the automatic inclusion of only one mid-major ranked in the top 12. The Broncos are going to need all the Statue of Liberty gadgetry they can muster, because TCU has the nation's best rush defense, statistically, and for my money, is the most underrated team in the country. (Raise your hand if you knew they were ranked No. 11. No. 10 Ohio State gets five times the hype.) TCU's overdue for an undefeated season and BCS berth, but this year, I think they'll make a big statement against a Boise State team that has to be disappointed with their bowl destination.
Vegas: TCU 24, Boise State 22
The Bootleg: TCU 24, Boise State 21
17. Sun (Dec. 31, El Paso, Tex., CBS)
Oregon State vs. Pittsburgh
The Pac-10 can't ask for better matchups than these to try to run up its bowl record, and try to convince the country it's not USC and the Nine Dwarfs. Oregon State might just be the second-best team in the Pac-10 (I know, I know, Oregon beat them by thirty. Okay, scratch that.) Let's say that Oregon State was one game from playing in the Rose Bowl and this Beaver team always starts out slow but finishes stronger than anyone in the country. In fact, the Beavers have won their last four bowls under Riley, with their last loss to Pittsburgh in 2002. This Oregon State team doesn't have Steven Jackson, but this Pittsburgh team doesn't have Larry Fitzgerald either. They could use him, because they're not going anywhere against the Beavers' front seven.
Vegas: Oregon State 28, Pittsburgh 25
The Bootleg: Oregon State 41, Pittsburgh 13
18. Insight ( Dec. 31, Tempe, Ariz., NFL Net.)
Minnesota vs. Kansas
Minnesota has to be the nation's most overrated team. None of their three Big Ten wins came against bowl-eligible teams, so their wins look like this: two MAC teams, a Sun Belt team, a Division I-AA team, Indiana, Illinois and Purdue. Plus, they've lost four in a row, including a 55-0 shellacking versus Iowa in their season finale. Kansas scores points in bunches, so I expect the most lopsided game of the 2008 bowl season right here.
Vegas: Kansas 34, Minnesota 24
The Bootleg: Kansas 55, Minnesota 21
19. Emerald (Dec. 27, San Francisco, ESPN)
Miami (Fla.) vs. California
We end with the best bowl game we've previewed thus far. Cal went 7-0 at home this year, with their losses at Maryland, Arizona, USC and Oregon State. Miami can't even sell out the Orange Bowl, so I'd expect the overwhelming majority of fans to be Cal faithful. Miami's lost two in a row, at Georgia Tech and at North Carolina State, by double digits, so you have to wonder whether the team didn't check out after the ACC Title became mathematically impossible. The Hurricanes also won four games by a score or less, so I'm going with Cal here.
Vegas: Cal 28, Miami 21
The Bootleg: Cal 31, Miami 24
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