A Vandy fan's guide to the best of the bowls

Yeah, Vandy fans are confined to their couches for the 22nd consecutive year. Yeah, most of the bowls are superfluous, and some are downright unwatchable. Yeah, the BCS is a croc. But the bowls are still the best college football has to offer, and a handful of them make for must-see TV. VandyMania's Brent Wiseman provides a preview of the half-dozen bowl telecasts no self-respecting Vandy fan will want to miss.

Thursday: No. 21 Texas Tech (7-4) vs. No. 4 California (10-1) in the Holiday Bowl (7 p.m., ESPN)
Why it's of interest: Three years ago this winter, Vanderbilt and a dozen other colleges were in the market for new football coaches. Vandy got Bobby Johnson; Florida got Ron Zook; Notre Dame got Tyrone Willingham; Indiana got Gerry Dinardo, etc. Meanwhile, California hired no-name molder of quarterbacks Jeff Tedford, who has since managed turned the Bears into a national power, and one of the nation's most fun-to-watch teams. Cal missed out on a BCS bowl when it was leapfrogged by Texas late in the season. Tedford, who could have run up the score in several late-season games, was too gentlemanly to do so, and now the go-figure BCS appears to have penalized him accordingly. Cal's only loss came to USC. Texas Tech, meanwhile, scored 70 points against Nebraska this season and averages an ungodly 389 passing yards per game. Have fun, expect to see a lot of balls in the air.
The line: California by 11-1/2.
Who will win: California is the team with something to prove, and should come out like a pack of grizzlies. Expect a Cal blowout, but with enough offensive highlights on both sides to fill an hour-long ESPN SportsCenter.

Friday: No. 10 Boise State (11-0) vs. No. 8 Louisville (10-1) in the Liberty Bowl (2:30 p.m., ESPN)
Why it's of interest: No one's laughing any more about little Boise State. Coach Dan Hawkins' Broncos are on a 22-game winning streak, after winning the WAC for the third straight year and going through its schedule undefeated. Hawkins may be the hottest name in the coaching market right now... next to Louisville's Bob Petrino, that is. Both schools gave their coaches lucrative contract extensions in order to effectively take their head coaches off the market (though Louisville could still lose Petrino to LSU). Holy cow, hat's the over-under on this game? Louisville leads the nation in scoring with 50.3 points per game, and Boise is No. 2 with 49.7.
The line: Louisville by 13-1/2.
Who will win: The Cardinals from Kentucky will win the horserace... but may lose in the long run if their coach bolts for the bayou.

Friday: No. 14 Miami (8-3) vs. No. 19 Florida (7-4) in the Peach Bowl (6:30 p.m., ESPN)
Why it's of interest: Typically when these two teams meet, it's in a much more meaningful setting. But the Hurricanes, whom everyone assumed would roll to the ACC title in their first year in the league, managed to lose to three conference opponents, including North Carolina in perhaps the year's most shocking upset. Florida, which has already fired Coach Ron Zook, will be coached by outgoing defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, who will be auditioning for a head coaching job somewhere. But it doesn't matter where it's played-- Florida-vs.-Miami always offers an exhibition of some of the nation's greatest athletes. Former Gator Brock Berlin gets a chance to go against his former teammates one last time.
The line: Miami by 3.
Who will win: Conventional wisdom would say the 'Canes win, but something tells me to go with Florida. The Gators lost four games this season, but none was by more than 7 points; and Florida was robbed of a win by the zebras in Knoxville. This is not a great Gator team by any means, but I look for them to shake off the distractions.

Saturday: No. 17 Tennessee (9-3) vs. No. 25 Texas A&M (7-4) in the Cotton Bowl (10 a.m., Fox)
Why it's of interest: OK, Vanderbilt never seems to make it to a bowl game, but Vanderbilt fans can still get their jollies by rooting for whomever the Vols happen to be playing. There are six games on the traditional New Year's Day, but none of hold much interest for the Vanderbilt fan besides this one. UT is heading west to the Cotton Bowl, and Phillip Fulmer, the man everyone loves to hate, matches wits with our old friend, Dennis Franchione. Surely that's enough to get a few people up early to shake off their hangovers! Franchione resuscitated programs at TCU and Alabama, and in just two seasons has breathed some new life into the Aggies' program. A&M finished 7-4, but three of those losses came to BCS teams (Utah, Oklahoma, Texas). Tennessee fans can at least take comfort in the fact that this game won't be played in the Georgia Dome, where the Vols have lost four straight and seem to be jinxed. It will be played outdoors, probably in cold weather. Fulmer, whose Vols have stunk it up in the last two Peach Bowls, will be under enormous pressure to prove he still knows how to coach in the post-season.
The line: Texas A&M by 3.
Who will win: Texas A&M. Fulmer outwitted Franchione twice when Dennis coached at Alabama, but this time Slick Denny gets his revenge.

Monday: No. 9 Virginia Tech (10-2) vs. No. 3 Auburn (12-0) in the Sugar Bowl (7 p.m., ABC)
Why it's of interest: For the first time ever, an undefeated team from the Southeastern Conference was denied the chance to play for the National Championship by the almighty BCS computers. Actually, even though I'm an SEC guy, I don't have too big a beef about that. All things considered, Oklahoma and USC both did a little bit better than Auburn on paper this season. I also respect Tommy Tuberville for not politicking and complaining as much as he obviously could have. If his team does as USC did last year and convincingly, he will make a strong statement that the Tigers deserve a piece of the (mythical) national championship pie. However, he had better take care of business. For years the ACC paled in comparison to the SEC as a football conference, but the ACC hoped to close the gap with the addition of Miami and Virginia Tech. A win by Frank Beamer's Hokies would make a strong statement that it's a new day for the new-look ACC. Two words of advice to Tuberville: (1) keep handing the ball to your big backs, and (2) put in some extra practice time on your punt protection.
The line: Auburn by 6-1/2.
Who will win: Virginia Tech, to the delight of the BCS kingpins.

Tuesday: No. 1 USC (12-0) vs. No. 2 Oklahoma (12-0) in the Orange Bowl (7 p.m., ABC)
Why it's of interest: This has to be one of the most glamorous national title games in many a moon. For starters, you've got two Heisman Trophy winners going against each other in USC quarterback Matt Leinart (the 2004 winner) and Oklahoma's Jason White (last year's). The Sooners boast the nation's best freshman running back in Adrian Peterson, while USC also owns a dominant, punishing rusher in sophomore Reggie Bush. Both teams are undefeated. It's the genius of USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow vs. the defensive savvy of Bob Stoops. Stoops has already won one national championship, and Pete Carroll debatably won a share of one last year. It's Hollywood vs. Heartland, a blue state vs. a red state. Perhaps more importantly, it's the mighty Big XII vs. the Pac-Ten, which has the reputation of being a soft football conference.
The line: USC by 2-1/2.
Who will win: Defense wins championships? Usually that's true. Last year I correctly predicted an LSU upset over Oklahoma, based on the fact that Nick Saban's Tigers had the better defense. This year, however, I just can't bring myself to pick against Norm Chow. The USC offensive coordinator is too cagey, too cunning... and the Trojan offense too potent. Denied the chance to prove it last year, the Trojans of 2004 prove Tuesday that offense CAN win championships... sometimes.

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