Note: P6TR is the new experimental Pick 6 Technical Rating. When 6 particular computer rankings agree on the winning team, these computers have been correct 94% of the time, 85% when the official spread is less than 10 points. None of the six individually pick the winner more than 78% of the time.
The Early Bowl Games
Poinsettia Bowl (San Diego)
Tuesday, December 19 @ 8 PM EST
T C U Horned Frogs (10-2) vs. Northern Illinois Huskies (7-5)
PiRate Predicts: T C U 28 Northern Illinois 10
TCU's run defense is strong enough to hold ace NIU tailback Garrett Wolfe under 100 yards. The Huskies will play this game without starting quarterback Phil Horvath, who sustained a season-ending injury against Central Michigan for the second consecutive year (arm fracture in 2005/knee injury in 2006).
After stumbling early against Brigham Young and Utah, TCU has recovered to win 10 or more games for the fifth year in the last seven. The Horned Frogs can run for 200 yards and pass for 200 yards in the same game, and that type of versatility combined with an excellent defense should allow them to cruise to a rather easy victory.
Las Vegas Bowl
Thursday, December 21 @ 8 PM EST
Brigham Young Cougars (10-2) vs. Oregon Ducks (8-4)
PiRate Predicts: BYU 30 Oregon 23
This should be an interesting, close ball game. Former BYU head coach Gary Crowton is the offensive coordinator for Oregon. The Ducks now use the old BYU offense made famous by legendary coach Lavell Edwards. BYU has been the best team west of the Rockies since the end of September. The Cougars look as strong as their 1996 team. As they season progressed, they averaged more than 40 points and 500 total yards of offense per game, while yielding less than 14 points per game.
Oregon closed the season with three straight losses, and the Ducks' offense and defense disappeared at the same time. Expect both sides of the ball to play more like the Oregon team of September, but it won't be enough. Go with BYU to win game number 11 in an exciting, high-scoring match.
New Orleans Bowl
Friday, December 22 @ 8 PM EST
Troy Trojans (7-5) vs. Rice Owls (7-5)
PiRate Predicts: Rice 28 Troy 17
Normally in this situation, the team from the smaller conference would be the sentimental favorite by most of the nation's viewers. This time, the favorite will be the team most viewers want to see succeed. For Rice, it has been 45 years since they were last in a bowl. In 1961, Jess Neely's Owls appeared in the Bluebonnet Bowl and fell to Kansas 33-7. Their last bowl win occurred in the 1954 Cotton Bowl. In that infamous game, Rice beat Alabama 28-6. It was infamous for an incident that has never happened in major college football since. Alabama's Tommy Lewis left the bench to tackle Rice's Dicky Maegle. The officials penalized the Tide by awarding Rice a touchdown. Lewis was later quoted as saying he had "Too much ‘Bama in him."
Troy is another team from the state of Alabama. They pulled off the big win at MTSU to earn this automatic berth. This will be their second bowl game in three years; they lost the Silicon Valley Classic to Northern Illinois in 2004.
Rice looked anything like a bowl team at the beginning of the season. The Owls opened the season with losses to Houston, UCLA, Texas, and Florida State. After a win over Army, they lost to Tulane to drop to 1-5. Then, Coach Todd Graham's team began winning close games. A one-point upset win over UAB started the ball rolling. Rice then pulled five more upsets-- at Central Florida, at UTEP, at Tulsa, East Carolina, and SMU. They were out-gained in most of the games, but they found a way to win in the final minutes.
Troy has not set the woods on fire in winning seven games either. They have been out-gained in more than one of their victories. The win over MTSU that put them in the driver's seat saw the Trojans do almost nothing offensively for 57 minutes. They scored 14 points in the final minutes of the game to pull out the shocking win.
This game should be interesting and worth watching, if only to see something nobody 44-years old or younger has ever witnessed. Go with the Owls to win the game, but Troy could out-gain them 400-350 yards. I think the game will be lower scoring than expected, and no off-the-bench tackles will be made.
PapaJohns.com Bowl (Birmingham)
Saturday, December 23 @ 1 PM EST
East Carolina Pirates (7-5) vs. South Florida Bulls (8-4)
PiRate Predicts: South Florida 23 East Carolina 17
P6TR: South Florida
It's all about defense with South Florida. The Bulls give up just 120 rushing yards and 177 passing yards per game. They succeed by combining exceptional quickness with great teamwork, leading to many gang tackles.
East Carolina is similar to USF but not as talented. The Pirates won five of their last six games to earn this bid.
USF has the better talent and should win the game. However, don't ever count out a Skip Holtz-coached team when they have had three weeks to prepare for a game. ECU should be ready to play and give USF a battle, but I'll go with the Bulls in a close one.
New Mexico Bowl (Albuquerque)
Saturday, December 23 @ 4:30 PM EST
New Mexico Lobos (6-6) vs. San Jose State Spartans (8-4)
PiRate Predicts: New Mexico 31 San Jose State 21
The Lobos host this inaugural bowl game created for the express purpose of inviting either New Mexico State or them every year when one of them is bowl eligible. Coach Rocky Long is to be commended for taking a UNM team picked to finish 8th or 9th in the Mountain West and guiding The Lobos to a 6-6 regular season record. Why he hasn't been on bigger schools' coaching searches is a mystery.
New Mexico played a considerably tougher schedule and gets the benefit of the home field. That should be enough to handle the Spartans, but it should be a close and exciting game. The only fly in the ointment for New Mexico is the loss of offensive coordinator Bob Toledo, who just accepted the head coaching job at Tulane.
Armed Forces Bowl (Ft. Worth, TX)
Saturday, December 23 @ 8 PM EST
Utah Utes (7-5) vs. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (8-4)
PiRate Predicts: Utah 24 Tulsa 23
Both of these squads expected to be playing in higher-tiered bowls. Utah was supposed to repeat their 2004 results this year, while Tulsa was considered a contender for an 11-1 or 12-0 season. Instead, these two teams will meet at TCU's Amon Carter Stadium for a night game in what could be a chilly stadium.
As of this writing, Utah quarterback Brett Ratliff is under investigation for assault and battery. The controversy surrounding the incident in a Salt Lake City club may affect his ability to prepare for this game. I think once the Utes arrive in Texas, it will no longer be a distraction.
Tulsa coach Steve Kragthorpe is on the radar screen for one or more open positions (including Alabama) and figured heavily in the Miami search. This could cause some distraction with his team.
Tulsa' pass defense and Utah's rushing defense should control their counterparts in this game. This will be a game of several big defensive plays surrounded by a couple of big offensive plays. It's basically a toss-up, but I'll go with Utah to win its sixth consecutive bowl game.
Hawaii Bowl (Honolulu)
Sunday, December 24 @ 8 PM EST
Hawaii Warriors (10-3) vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (7-5)
PiRate Predicts: Hawaii 38 Arizona State 31
What has Arizona State gotten itself into by having to play in this bowl? Head Coach Dirk Koetter was given his walking papers after the end of the regular season. New coach Dennis Erickson will not participate in this bowl, but he is generating quite the buzz in Phoenix.
Hawaii averages 48 points and more than 580 yards per game at home, but they are not infallible on the island. Oregon State beat the Warriors in the regular season finale.
Arizona State is no Oregon State, and they will not beat Hawaii. However, they should hold Colt Brennan under 400 yards passing. I see Hawaii winning by about four to seven points and less than 70 total points being scored.
Coming Next Week: A look at the December 26 to December 31 Bowls