Bowl Preview IV: The Granddaddies of them All

At long last, bowls we aren't ashamed to watch. It's been awhile since Stanford's played in a game this big, but we have breakdowns for all this year's top bowl games. Will USC be as tough on Big Ten country in the Rose Bowl as those Southern Senators were in the bailout hearings? And which state school wins it all -- the one from the conference you hate, or the one with the coach you hate?

Note: The Vegas over/under and the Vegas spread are used to form the Vegas prediction.

Bowls That You Actually Remember From When You Were a Kid
(Also known as Miss Congeniality Bowls, as they're where all the runners-up go.)

26. Cotton (Jan. 2, Dallas, FOX)
Texas Tech vs. Mississippi
Mike Leach, my National Coach of the Year, meets Houston Nutt, my National Runner-Up Coach of the Year. Texas Tech got the headlines by staying undefeated into November (and, you know, a rather memorable game against Texas), but for Mississippi to go 8-4 in the SEC is probably the tougher task. Mississippi lacks the offensive speed to bend Texas Tech's defense, a la Texas, or break it, a la Oklahoma. Plus, it wouldn't shock me to see Harrell and Crabtree have a Field Day.
Vegas: Texas Tech 38, Mississippi 33
The Bootleg: Texas Tech 31, Mississippi 17

27. Gator (Jan. 1, Jacksonville, CBS)
Clemson vs. Nebraska
College football's Golden Rule No. 1: always pick against Clemson in a game of any significance. This game might not mean enough to qualify, but I'm not tempting the gods. By the way, if I had a mulligan on my way-too-early 2010 top-10, I would throw Nebraska right up there with Miami and Florida State -- who is absolutely crushing Wisconsin as I type this. If I know Clemson, they lose this one from ahead, in horrific last-minute fashion.
Vegas: Clemson 29, Nebraska 27
The Bootleg: Nebraska 31, Clemson 28

28. Holiday (Dec. 30, San Diego, ESPN)
Oregon vs. Oklahoma State
Along with the Peach Bowl, I have an irrational affinity for the Holiday Bowl. Guess it's because I'm a Pac-10 slappy, and the leagues have had plenty of close, offensive shootouts of games in recent Holiday Bowls. Incidentally, this is the realistic best-case 2009 season finale for Stanford. I don't see the Card beating USC for the Pac-10 crown, and I don't see an 11-1 season to snag an at-large BCS berth, so for me, a season where everything goes really well, i.e. hardly any major injuries, Andrew Luck is the clear starter from Day 1 of spring ball and has an Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 type of season, and the Card are 3-1 in close games, ends with Stanford/Texas in San Diego. This year, Oregon closed faster than any team in the country. Yeah, they have three losses, but they're to USC, Cal and Boise State. 100 teams in the country would have the same losses, and so I think Oregon's one of the country's most underrated teams right now. This one isn't especially close, as the Ducks run for a good 350 yards.
Vegas: Oklahoma State 40, Oregon 37
The Bootleg: Oregon 37, Oklahoma State 17

29. Outback (Jan. 1, Tampa, ESPN)
Iowa vs. South Carolina
How about Iowa recently hiring a player development director, in response to various troubles sprouting up in Iowa City? Just don't call him a babysitter. The Big Ten's been struggling for years against the SEC in January bowls, and I don't see why that changes here. This makes three in a row where I'm picking against Vegas. In my defense, it's always said that the extra weeks to prepare for your bowl game highlight the importance of sound coaching, and I don't think there are many better than Steve Spurrier.
Vegas: Iowa 23, South Carolina 20
The Bootleg: South Carolina 31, Iowa 28

The Bowls You've Been Waiting For

30. Rose (Jan. 1, Pasadena, ABC)
USC vs. Penn State
I swore I would undergo a voluntary sex-change operation before channeling my inner Bill Simmons and telling Vegas stories in a column, but taking USC and the points in last year's Rose Bowl went a long way toward financing my New Years' vacation. This year's USC isn't as good as last year's on the offensive end, but the defense is as good as ever. I know Stanford fans, especially those living in the L.A. media market, are going to scoff at this, but I also think there's a certain national media fatigue with USC, and the Trojans were somewhat overlooked this year nationally. The two major stories throughout the 2008 college football season were the three-way Big 12 South/Heisman Trophy race, and the pressure cooker that, as always, is the SEC (would preseason No. 1 Georgia live up to the hype, would Tebow repeat, would Alabama run the table, would Florida repeat, the coaching changes at Tennessee and Auburn). With USC losing early and no other top-10 teams out West, people are forgetting how good the Trojans are. This is USC, folks.
Penn State made more waves nationally with their 9-0 start, but they've slowed considerably in their final games. Plus, the month of preparation only makes the coaching staffs that much more important, and I think I'd install Pete Carroll as a ten-point favorite over Joe Paterno if they both were coaching the same team. They're not, USC's practically at home, and it feels like the Big 10 last won a Rose Bowl in the Clinton Era. If USC stays this strong, the Big 10 might have to wait for the Hillary Clinton Era.
Vegas: USC 33, Penn State 23
The Bootleg: USC 35, Penn State 14

31. Orange (Jan. 1, Miami, ABC)
Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech
Anyone who thinks the current bowl system is better than a playoff should have their eyes pried open and be forced to watch this game. Unless Kenyon Martin and Michael Vick suit up for their respective alma mater, I'm going to be busy folding socks with LongWinded. The ACC is the nation's most underrated conference because of the parity (the computers rank the league the nation's best; humans view it as fourth or fifth), I might have more stars than the average recruit currently on Cincinnati's roster and, I'm not going to lie, the Bearcats' former quarterback/wide receiver went to my high school and was a prick. Virginia Tech's the pick in a defensive struggle that will surely thrill ABC's execs.

Vegas: Cincinnati 22, Virginia Tech 20
The Bootleg: Virginia Tech 17, Cincinnati 13

32. Sugar (Jan. 2, New Orleans, ABC)
Alabama vs. Utah
I know Utah beat them, but I think TCU might just be the nation's best mid-major team. Utah won four games by three or less, over such powerhouses as 3-9 Michigan and 4-8 New Mexico. I'm skeptical enough of Alabama, also 3-0 in close games this year, to predict a Ute cover, but the Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer express rolls in front of what should be a very pro-SEC crowd.
Vegas: Alabama 28, Utah 17
The Bootleg: Alabama 24, Utah 20

33. Fiesta (Jan. 5, Glendale, AZ, ABC)
Texas vs. Ohio State
Choke-S-U is one-dimensional this year, stuck with a quarterback who struggles to actually throw the ball. That's not going to cut it against a Texas defense that historically has been stout against the run but vulnerable against the pass. Plus, Ohio State returned 20 starters from last year, so you have to figure Texas is operating on a steeper learning curve and will benefit more from the month of additional practice. The only thing the Longhorns have to fear is complacency: how will a team one play from an undefeated season and snubbed out of the BCS Title Game fight in the undercard? Maybe conventional wisdom calls for Texas to come out flat, but I'm expecting the Longhorns to try to hang 50, root for a narrow Oklahoma win three days later, and hope the head-to-head victory over the Sooners is enough to sway voters.
Vegas: Texas 31, Ohio State 22
The Bootleg: Texas 45, Ohio State 14

34. BCS Championship (Miami, Jan. 8, ABC)
Florida vs. Oklahoma
This one doesn't leap off the page at you, but Florida has played a tougher schedule, has a better defense, and will be closer to home. I'm not totally convinced Oklahoma can run the ball either, especially not against this Gator front seven. I think the Big 12 as a conference is going to get knocked down a rung or two this bowl season, as the lack of defense across league gets exposed. Certainly, Florida's defense is nothing like what Oklahoma's seen thus far. With their speed at all 22 positions, Florida is the college team that reminds me most of an NFL squad, and I'm taking the quasi-professionals in the New Granddaddy of Them All.
Vegas: Florida 37, Oklahoma 34 [Wow, that's a high over-under.]
The Bootleg: Florida 38, Oklahoma 27


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