When eight teams in a 10-team conference play in postseason contests, bowls obviously don't mean what they used to. I remember the 1978 Texas Tech team, which finished 7-4 including a win over No.5 Houston, staying home. Nowadays a pathetic excuse for a UCLA football team goes 6-7 and plays in a bowl. Ah, it is to spit. And spit into the wind, I might add.
Looking on the bright side, however, several Big 12 teams are involved in intriguing matchups. And despite not receiving a BCS berth, the Kansas State Wildcats could bring much glory to the chaotic Big 12 with a win over talented Arkansas of college football's 900-pound gorilla, the SEC.
Independence Bowl—North Carolina versus Missouri: The Tigers very quietly put together a solid second half of the season winning four of their last five, including victories over Texas A&M and Texas, both of whom were ranked No.16 at the time. Their lone loss in that stretch was by three points at Baylor.
The Tigers are 2-0 all-time against UNC, scoring a 24-3 win in 1976 when the schools last met.
Holiday Bowl—California versus Texas: The Longhorns, 12-12 over the last two seasons and losers of three of their final four in 2011, haven't been this shaky since 1996 and 1997 when they went 8-5 and 4-7 in back-to-back seasons under John Mackovic. Unsteady quarterback play has plagued the Horns, but their defense had been a bulwark until Robert Griffin and Baylor torched it for 48 points last time out.
The Golden Bears, who have won three of their last four and threw a scare into Stanford, pass the ball well enough to give Texas some problems. This one should be close.
Cal has never beaten Texas in four attempts.
Alamo Bowl—Baylor versus Washington: The Bears are among the hottest teams in college football having won five straight after blowout losses to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. Baylor is only average on defense, but with Heisman finalist Robert Griffin pulling the trigger and runaway train Terrance Ganaway toting the rock, that defense doesn't need to be spectacular.
Washington has been a mild surprise under second-year head man Steve Sarkisian, but the Huskies have lost three of their last four, including a 38-21 stink bomb against Oregon State. Their only win in that stretch came against Washington State. Most ominous of all, Washington is 99th nationally in scoring defense. The Huskies are 1-3 all-time against Baylor.
Pinstripe Bowl—Iowa State versus Rutgers: The Cyclones only managed a 6-6 mark in 2011, but are probably the nation's best break-even team. Unless you count shutdown corners Leonard Johnson and Jeremy Reeves, this team doesn't have any stars, but they are solid across the board, very well coached, and play physically in the running game.
Rutgers is 8-4, but plays in the lowly Big East. The Scarlet Knights are, however, No.12 nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 19 points per contest. Rutgers and Iowa State have a common opponent in Connecticut whom the Cyclones vanquished early in the season, while Rutgers fell to the Huskies 40-22 in week 12. Unsurprisingly, Iowa State and Rutgers have never met on the football field.
Insight Bowl—Iowa versus Oklahoma: There's no getting around it—Oklahoma has been one of the biggest disappointments in college football this season. Many felt they would win the national championship, yet here they are in something called the Insight Bowl with a 9-3 record. Scoring points hasn't been much of a problem for the Sooners, but preventing the opposition from doing so has. OU gave up 41, 45 and 44 points in losses to Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State respectively.
The Hawkeyes never really caught fire in 2011, but they did scrape and claw their way to a 7-5 mark. They are capable of playing well as demonstrated by their 24-16 defeat of Michigan. Thing is, the week before, they lost to hapless Minnesota.
Iowa lost to Iowa State early in the season in a rivalry game, while OU throttled the Cyclones two Saturdays ago. OU and Iowa have played only once, all-time with the Sooners collecting the win.
Texas Bowl—Northwestern versus Texas A&M: Simply put, this is one of several bowl games that should be illegal. The Wildcats and the Aggies are both 6-6, and neither team generates any national interest whatsoever. Northwestern has won four of its last five games, but those wins came against Indiana, Nebraska, Rice and Minnesota, hardly a Bataan Death March. Northwestern and Texas A&M have never met on the football field, and if Western Civilization weren't in a terminal spiral, they wouldn't be doing so now.
Fiesta Bowl—Oklahoma State versus Stanford: But just when you thought college bowl season was the acme of the ridiculous, you look down the schedule and see the Cowboys and the Cardinal and think it might not be so bad after all.
This game will be the ultimate quarterback battle with Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Stanford's Andrew Luck going throw for throw. At the end of the day, however, the Cowboys have a better defense and played in a much more difficult conference. The Cardinal, moreover, are a bit overrated. Look for OSU to smoke Stanford in the first meeting between the two schools.
Cotton Bowl—Kansas State versus Arkansas: The Fiesta Bowl is a BCS matchup, but the Cotton Bowl will produce a better game when the Wildcats and Razorbacks hook up. This will be a tremendous contrast of styles. The Razorbacks have a multi-dimensional, high-flying, flashy offensive attack, while the Wildcats look like something dredged up from the bottom of a Precambrian bog. This game could well resemble the thriller that took place between K-State and Oklahoma State in Stillwater.
The Wildcats have beaten the Razorbacks three out of four meetings, although Arkansas won the last contest 24-7 in 1967.