Being a student of the game of college football, the bowl season arrives for me with much anticipation. Having logged an obscene amount of hours in front of the tube watching and handicapping the sport this year, the opportunity to test my knowledge picking winners in contests between the season's best teams playing on neutral turf is one I await with baited breath. Making matters all the sweeter is the fact that my beloved (and vastly underrated) Ohio St. Buckeyes will cap off the bowl season on Friday, January the 3rd when they face the defending champion Miami of Florida Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship. Before we move on to my capsules and predictions of the 26 bowl games that kick off starting on December 23rd, let's take a quick look at my documented numbers handicapping college football over the past year…
Bowl season: 18-7
'02 Swerb's Blurbs: 25-24-2
'02 Saturday morning newsletter: 46-40
The Saturday morning newsletter was sent out to roughly 110 of my readers every Saturday morning with analysis on all my final NCAA plays, as well as my top 5 NFL plays of the week, which went 30-29-1. Going forward the updates will be sent out on Sunday mornings, as all of my bowl plays will be detailed here. I'll be thoroughly analyzing and handicapping the final 2 weeks of the NFL season, as well as the playoffs. Last season I managed a 7-4-1 record ATS in the playoffs despite playing against New England every week. To be added to the mailing list, just drop me a line indicating as much to me on e-mail at email@example.com. Here we go…
Monday, December 23rd / Orlando, FL / 5:30 PM on ESPN
Texas Tech Red Raiders (8-5) vs. Clemson Tigers (7-5)
Take Texas Tech –5 ½ (over/under 66)
Projected to be the highest scoring bowl game with an over under in the mid to high 60's. Should be a shootout between Kliff Kingsbury, who is ending an illustrious career (all-time Big 12 passing leader) as a Red Raider, and Clemson freshman signal caller Charlie Whitehurst (9 TD, 2 INT), who took over late in the season and led the Tigers to 3 wins in their last 4. Neither team lost to a non-bowl team this year. Texas Tech has looked spectacular in wins at New Mexico and Texas A&M, as well as in home wins over Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma St., and Texas but looked miserable in losses at Ohio St., Iowa St., Colorado, and Oklahoma. Aside from the experience at QB, the Red Raiders are a much more experienced team and should get the job done comfortably here.
Kingsbury provides a royal ending to a great career. 44-28 Red Raiders.
Las Vegas Bowl
Wednesday, December 25th
/ Las Vegas, NV / 4:30 PM on ESPN
UCLA Bruins (7-5) vs. New Mexico Lobos (7-6)
Take New Mexico +11 (55)
Two of the nation's top freshman runners (UCLA's Tyler Ebell and New Mexico's DonTrell Moore) will face off in the Sin City in the Las Vegas Bowl, a game the Mountain West representative has won 3 years in a row. New Mexico coach and former Bruin defensive coordinator Rocky Long faces his former team, led by interim coach Ed Kezirian…who replaces the ousted Bob Toledo for just this game. After a 2-4 start, the Lobos won 5 of their last 7 to get here despite going 0-4 against bowl teams. The Bruins had a chance to put themselves in a New Years Day bowl before catching back-to-back beatings at the hands of USC and Wazzou to end the season. UCLA is the more talented team, but how ready will they be to play with distractions of Vegas and an interim coach? Since losing 49-0 to Texas Tech, the Lobos covered 6 of their last 7 and will stay inside this number as well, and could quite possibly win this game again for the Mountain West.
New Mexico provides the first shocker of the bowl season. 26-24 Lobos.
Wednesday, December 25th
/ Honolulu, HI / 8:00 PM on ESPN
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (9-3) vs. Tulane Green Wave (7-5)
Take Hawaii –12 (63 ½)
It's an injustice that the Green Wave earned this invite instead of a talented South Florida team that was left home. Tulane lost to both Army and Memphis this season. Not only should they not be here, they should lose scholarships for losing to two teams that bad in the same season. Tulane's defense was a pleasant surprise this year, and RB Mewelde Moore is one of the nation's top all-purpose backs, but to win in this setting with no Green Wave fans making the trip…in addition to the distractions a trip to Hawaii brings with it, will be extremely tough. Add in the fact that June Jones' high-powered offensive attack led by QB Timmy Chang will be playing on their home field. The Rainbow Warriors are a legitimate team whose only loss is their last 8 games was a 21-16 defeat at the hands of Alabama. Tulane was 8-3 ATS this year, but will be hard pressed to cover the number in this one.
What else is on TV on Christmas night at 8:00? Timmuh! 41-10 Rainbow Warriors.
Motor City Bowl
Thursday, December 26th
/ Detroit, MI / 5:00 PM on ESPN
Boston College Eagles (8-4) vs. Toledo Rockets (9-4)
Take Toledo +4 ½ (60)
In what should be one of the best games the general public doesn't know about, two veteran teams led by solid senior quarterbacks will look to finish the season in the Top 25 rankings with a win in Detroit. Both squads beat the teams they were supposed to beat, and struggled against the tougher competition they faced. Both teams played at Pitt, with Toledo losing 37-19 and BC losing 19-16. Both squads were good bets down the stretch this year, as they went a combined 15-9 ATS, with both teams covering 5 of their last 6. And both teams are poor defending the run. Whichever of the two talented backs (BC's Derrick Knight and Toledo's Aston Martin) has the better day will go a long way in determining the winner here. The MAC has won this game 4 times in 5 years and I see this game being decided by a field goal one way or another, thus I will back the MAC getting more than a three piece here.
The MAC continues to try and garner national respect. 30-27 Rockets.
Thursday, December 26th
/ Phoenix, AZ / 8:30 PM on ESPN
Oregon State Beavers (8-4) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (8-4)
Take Pittsburgh +2 (45)
Another contest that should make for a phenomenal game, and provide viewers with a helluva ESPN doubleheader on the day after Christmas. The two programs combined eight defeats were all close losses to legitimate bowl teams, and the two rosters are littered with players who will be playing on Sundays in the very near future. Each team has a very talented QB/RB/WR trio (Pitt-Rutheford, Miree, Fitzgerald/Oregon St.-Anderson, Jackson, Newson) capable of taking a game over. Pitt and Oregon St. are evenly matched teams from opposite sides of the country, and the winner of this game will receive a well-deserved boost heading into what should be a promising '03 season. Oregon St. comes in as the favorite, as they have been in their last 7 games (3-4 ATS), but I like Pitt to get the job done here in the desert. They are more battle tested, and Walt Harris is the better coach in my opinion here. Walt and the Panthers will prevail again in the postseason, just as they did last year when they defeated NC St. 34-19 in the Tangerine.
Pitt's return to prominence takes yet another step forward. 24-20 Panthers.
Friday, December 27th
/ Houston, TX / 1:00 PM on ESPN
Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-5) vs. Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (7-5)
Take Southern Mississippi +7 (48)
In a curious match-up in the game formerly known as the www.galleryfurniture.com bowl, the surprising Okie St. Cowboys take on the disappointing Eagles of Southern Miss. The Cowboys come into this game flying high off their second straight upset of Oklahoma. Southern Miss stumbles into the contest having lost 4 of their last 7, and covering the point spread in only 2 games this year. Oklahoma St. was 7-4 ATS this year, but just 1-3 ATS away from Lewis Field where they were dominant (wins over Nebraska, Tex A&M, Oklahoma) this year. Each team features a surefire NFL 1st round draft-pick, as Oklahoma St. WR Rashaun Woods and Southern Miss LB Rod Davis were amongst the best players in the country this year. Common knowledge says the Cowboys should win here, but they have been a very unimpressive team away from home. Southern Miss played a solid schedule, and suffered some close losses this year. I like them to keep this game close, and possibly even win outright if RB Derrick Nix is healthy enough to go and take some pressure off a weak Southern Miss passing attack.
Okie St. prevails, but in a tight game. 27-24 Cowboys.
Friday, December 27th
/ Shreveport, LA / 4:30 PM on ESPN
Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-6) vs. Mississippi Rebels (6-6)
Take Nebraska –4 (50 ½)
Chalk Mississippi up with Tulane as being another one of the least qualified bowl teams in recent history. Ole Miss dropped 5 consecutive games before ending the season with a victory against 1-win Mississippi St., and their fluke win over Florida was their only triumph this season over a Division I team with more than 3 wins. Nebraska should be insulted they are only 4-point favorites here, as it's a chilling barometer of what exactly has happened to this program. As bad as Nebraska has been, they should be able to control this contest with Jamaal Lord, Dahraan Diedrick, and their ball control offense. Ole Miss got this bid and a lot of undeserved hype because of their QB's last name, but they have no business being here.
For at least one night, Nebraska will resemble the ‘Huskers of old. 30-10 Cornhuskers.
Friday, December 27th
/ San Diego, CA / 8:00 PM on ESPN
Kansas State Wildcats (10-2) vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (8-5)
Take Arizona State +18 (62)
Kansas St. and egomaniac head coach Bill Snyder roll into this game feeling slighted by the BCS and insulted to be playing their bowl game 5 days before New Year's Day. How will it affect the Wildcats? Will they take out their frustration on the Sun Devils with their vaunted two prong running attack of Roberson and Sproles, or sulk their way through what is a potentially dangerous and very explosive Arizona St. team? If inspired, K St. is amongst the most lethal teams in the country, having won their last 5 game by an average score of 50-6, and finishing with the #1 defense and #2 scoring offense in the country. Arizona St. will need huge days from WR Shaun McDonald and DE Terrell Suggs, both of whom will be high NFL draft selections, in order to have a chance in this one. Sun Devil QB Andy Walter has been a huge surprise, and will need to have a big day as well against a Wildcat defense that shut out Missouri and their talented frosh QB Brad Smith in their place to end the season. The Sun Devils are a young team that will be very loose in this one, while Kansas St. is likely to press. I like Arizona St. to cover the generous number in this one, and perhaps put a little scare into all the people who assigned 25 points to K St. in their bowl pools.
Bill Snyder is a dick. 40-30 Wildcats.
Continental Tire Bowl
Saturday, December 28th
/ Charlotte, NC / 11:00 AM on ESPN2
West Virginia Mountaineers (9-3) vs. Virginia Cavaliers (8-5)
Take West Virginia –5 (50 ½)
The Continental Tire people have to be elated here, as both of these talented teams…recently revitalized under new head coaches…were passed up by higher ranking bowls and now find themselves in a border war in Charlotte. Surprisingly, the two teams have not met since 1985. The Mountaineers feature one of the nation's top running attacks at a whopping 286 yards per game, and were also the nation's most profitable team this season, going 9-2 ATS and covering each of their last seven games. Virginia features a prolific passing attack led by QB Matt Schaub and WR Billy McMullen. This game has the potential to be a fine one, but I think the West V running attack will prove to be too much in the end. The Cavaliers surrendered over 200 yards a game on the ground, and each of their 5 defeats came at the hands of hard nosed teams that specialized in running the ball. Also, West V is the benefactor of a trend in this game that has went 10-2 in bowls since '96 as they have 7 or more senior starters than the Cavs.
Avon Cobourne ends an unbelievable career with an amazing day. 27-13 Mountaineers.
Saturday, December 28th
/ San Antonio, TX / 8:00 PM on ESPN
Colorado Buffaloes (9-4) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (7-6)
Take Wisconsin +7 ½ (52)
After starting 5-0, the Badgers proceeded to drop 6 of their last 8 games, hobbling into this match-up against the talented Buffaloes who started slow (1-2) before finishing the season 8-2, with both losses coming at the hands of Oklahoma. Amazingly, they also covered the spread in each of those 8 final wins. Both teams are amongst the best in the country at running the ball, although the Colorado duo of Chris Brown and Bobby Purify (top duo in NCAA) are both banged up. This game will be played in a dome, where Colorado has not played all year. Wisconsin beat Minnesota indoors in one of their 2 Big Ten wins this season. The Buffaloes are a bit dejected over getting shunned for the Holiday Bowl, and nearly getting passed over for this bowl because of how poorly their fans travel. Wisconsin should be the more motivated team here after not making a bowl last year…and despite their abysmal finish this year, they still managed to play Ohio St., Penn St., and Michigan within 7 points. I like them to stay inside the number here behind a big day from RB Anthony Davis, as well as better play out of the quarterback position.
Alvarez and the Badgers atone for a horrid finish. 20-19 Badgers.
Music City Bowl
Monday, December 30th
/ Nashville, TN / 2:00 PM on ESPN
Arkansas Razorbacks (9-4) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-5)
Take Arkansas –8 ½ (47 ½)
Another squad that rode a joke of a schedule to a bowl eligible W-L record, Minnesota takes on Arkansas in their 3rd bowl game in 4 years under Glen Mason. They lost outright as favorites in those appearances, and are likely to get waxed as underdogs in this one. The Gophers beat just one team with a winning record this year and lost their last 4 games by an average of 23 points. They were completely ineffective against any worthy foe they faced this year, and will find the conditions in Nashville cold and hostile, as they are a dome team bringing next to no fans to this game. In Arkansas, they face a team that has quality wins over Boise St., South Florida, Auburn, and LSU this year and gave Oklahoma all they could handle in last year's Cotton Bowl in a 10-3 loss. The Razorbacks are a gritty team that plays good defense, and runs the ball well and I see them having little trouble doing to Minnesota what any other team with a pulse did to them this year.
Minnesota is here only because of their laughable non-conference schedule. 34-13 Razorbacks.
Monday, December 30th
/ Seattle, WA / 5:30 PM on ESPN
Oregon Ducks (7-5) vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-6)
Take Oregon –7 (57)
Oregon, much like Wisconsin, started the season 6-0 before completely falling apart down the stretch thanks in large part to a porous secondary. In this contest, they should be able to take out the frustrations of losing their last 3 (and 5 of their last 6) on a Wake Forest team that will essentially be walking into a road game with little to no fan support. Both teams went 2-5 SU in their 7 games against bowl teams this year, but the Ducks clearly have the more potent offense in this showdown, especially if RB Onterrio Smith is available to play in this game as expected. Wake has played in just one bowl game over the past 9 years, while the Ducks have won their bowl game each of the past 3 years, despite being underdogs each time. Wake is a solid running team, but the way to beat the Ducks is through the air…and I doubt the Demon Deacons have the firepower to keep up with Oregon for 60 minutes in this one, especially in a hostile environment. Belotti is a solid bowl coach, and the Ducks will be motivated to perform well here given their poor finish.
Wake is happy just to be here. 40-24 Ducks.
Tuesday, December 31st
/ Boise, ID / 12:00 noon on ESPN
Boise State Broncos (11-1) vs. Iowa State Cyclones (7-6)
Take Iowa St. +11 (68 ½)
After falling 41-14 to Arkansas in week 2, Boise St. exploded for 10 straight impressive wins to get the nod to stay home and represent the WAC in this game against an Iowa St. team that beat Iowa, yet lost at home by 17 to Connecticut. The Cyclones were a tough team to figure out this year, as they got off to a 6-1 start (wins over Nebraska, T.Tech, Iowa) behind then Heisman Trophy candidate Seneca Wallace before falling to pieces down the stretch. This will be the 6th ranked team they have faced on the road this year, and they lost each of those first 5 contests, which accounted for the high point spread in this game. Boise has the #1 ranked offense in the country in nearly all categories, and the blue turf of Bronco Stadium is not an easy place for visiting teams to come play. Despite a relatively weak schedule after the Arkansas loss, they did beat Hawaii by 27 and Fresno St. by 46…and both games were on the road. However, something is fishy here, and Iowa St. has a lot to prove after the U Conn. debacle that ended their season. This should be one of the more exciting games of the bowl season, and one I feel Iowa St. can cover in.
Boise wins on a late 3 pointer at the buzzer. 48-45 Broncos.
Tuesday, December 31st
/ El Paso, TX / 2:00 PM on CBS
Washington Huskies (7-5) vs. Purdue Boilermakers (6-6)
Take Purdue +3 ½ (58 ½)
Purdue played in this game a year ago, losing a 33-27 thriller to Washington St. in what was possibly the seasons most entertaining bowl game, and one where Purdue QB Kyle Orton set an NCAA record with 74 pass attempts. Two years ago, Drew Brees led the Boilers to the Rose Bowl where they lost to Washington 34-24, who they find themselves facing again this year in this contest. To get here, Purdue had to win 3 of their last 4 after losing back-to-back-to-back nail biters to Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan. Washington came into the season as a BCS contender, and then lost 4 of 5 games in a tough mid-season stretch. However, they ended the season impressively, beating Oregon St., Oregon, and rival Washington St. in their final 3 games. Both teams lost by 2 points to Michigan this season. Purdue's 6 losses this year were all to bowl teams and were by a combined total of just 24 points. Despite being just a 6-6 team they led the Big Ten in total offense and were tied with Ohio St. for #1 in total defense. Their albatross was a –11 turnover ratio. I like Purdue to win this game outright here. The only thing that bothers me is Washington coach Rick Neuheisel's 6-0 record ATS in bowls. Purdue is the more experienced and overall solid team despite the Huskies torrid late season run that landed them as favorites here.
Purdue wins this Big 10/Pac 10 showdown in another Sun Bowl thriller. 30-27 Boilermakers.
Silicon Valley Bowl
Tuesday, December 31st
/ San Jose, CA / 3:30 PM on ESPN2
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (7-5) vs. Fresno State Bulldogs (8-5)
Take Fresno State +3 ½ (48)
This will be the 3rd straight trip to the Silicon Valley Bowl for Fresno, who lost to Michigan St. by 9 last year and Air Force by 3 in '00. Coach Pat Hill has openly worried about his upperclassmen becoming a bit complacent going back to the same bowl for the 3rd straight time, despite the home field edge they will enjoy yet again. Fresno did win their last 4 games to get here, but struggled mightily against upper tier competition, going 1-5 SU and 3-3 ATS against bowl teams while getting out gained by 150 yards per game in those contests. Georgia Tech was humiliated 51-7 by rival Georgia in their final game, and have been wracked by injuries this season. Regardless, Chan Gailey turned in a fine effort in his inaugural season as the Yellow Jacket coach, leading the team to back-to-back wins over Virginia and North Carolina St. when it appeared the season was slipping away. The Yellow Jackets are the much better defensive team here, and should prevail, even though this is Georgia Tech's first game played in the state of California since 1969. However, I cannot lay more than a field goal with them in this environment.
The Yellow Jackets send Fresno to their 3rd straight Silicon implant. Barely. 21-20 Yellow Jackets.
Tuesday, December 31st
/ Memphis, TN / 3:30 PM on ESPN
Colorado State Rams (10-3) vs. Texas Christian Horned Frogs (9-2)
Take Texas Christian +5 (53)
Colorado St. makes their 3rd trip to the Liberty Bowl in the past 4 years here, and won their 6th conference title in Sonny Lubick's 10-year tenure as head coach en route to their showdown with TCU in this game. The Rams missed an opportunity to run the table in the Mountain West by losing at home to a sorry UNLV squad in the final week of the season. Many forget that this team opened the season with wins at Virginia and at home against Colorado. Both teams defeated Louisville, with TCU winning by 14 on the road and Colorado St. hanging on to win by a field goal at home. TCU lost their opener to Cincinnati, and then reeled off 8 straight wins before falling at East Carolina in a game they committed 7 turnovers. The Frogs have one of the better defenses in America, and a talented freshman runner by the name of Lonta Hobbs that is starting to remind a lot of people of TCU alum LaDanian Tomlinson. Also, keep an eye on TCU LB LaMarcus McDonald, who may be the best defensive player in the entire country. My opinion here is that the Rams caught Virginia and Colorado at the right time, and have not been that impressive since then. 5 points is too many for them to be laying here against a solid TCU team that can run the ball and play solid defense. TCU is also a senior laden squad that will be looking to end their careers right. I like the Frogs outright.
TCU adds to the Rams misery, and sends them spiraling out of the rankings. 23-17 Horned Frogs.
Tuesday, December 31st
/ Atlanta, GA / 7:30 PM on ESPN
Maryland Terrapins (10-3) vs. Tennessee Volunteers (8-4)
Take Maryland –1 (47)
Peach Bowl officials were delighted to land this match-up, pitting the 10-win Terrapins against a Tennessee team that was expected to contend for the national championship before being decimated with injuries. Amazingly, the Vols defeated just one bowl team this year, and it took them 6 OT's on their home field to pull that off against Arkansas. It's also interesting to note that Tennessee has played only one game in the past 4 years on artificial turf, and it was last year's spanking at LSU's hands in the SEC Championship in this same building. Maryland started off 1-2 (losses to ND and Fla. St) when RB Bruce Perry went down and Scott McBrien was getting acclimated at the QB position. After the slow start, the Terps ripped off 8 consecutive victories including wins at West Virginia and Clemson and at home vs. NC St., before getting caught with their pants down in a 48-13 loss at Virginia. They then steamrolled Wake Forest at home to end the season. Once again, odds makers are treating Tennessee like they are the Volunteers of old. Maryland is clearly the better team in this game, and I will gladly lay one point with them in this situation.
Fear the Turtle. 20-10 Terrapins.
San Francisco Bowl
Tuesday, December 31st
/ San Francisco, CA / 10:30 PM on ESPN2
Virginia Tech Hokies (9-4) vs. Air Force Falcons (8-4)
Take Air Force +11 ½ (54 ½)
The inaugural edition of the San Francisco bowl features a pair of teams that had promising beginnings to the '02 campaign. Virginia Tech started the season 8-0 and climbed as high as #3 in the country before dropping three consecutive games to Pitt, Syracuse, and West Virginia. The Falcons of Air Force were 6-0 heading into their mega-showdown with then 7-0 Notre Dame before losing that game as well as the next two against Wyoming and Colorado State. Both teams also finished the season with losses, setting the table for the two four loss teams to meet on the west coast in this game. Both teams have very run heavy philosophies offensively, but VT's QB Randall tries to make more happen through the air than Harridge, his counterpart from Air Force…who threw for just 971 yards this year. Randall is still a raw passer, and the Hokies had a hard time covering double digit point spreads this year as a result. I see more of the same here. While VT's physical advantage gives them a big edge, I like the Falcons to improve on coach Fisher DeBerry's 9-4 ATS record in bowls with another cover here.
Service academies pay dividends in bowl games. 25-17 Hokies.
Wednesday, January 1st
/ Dallas, TX / 11:00 AM on FOX
Texas Longhorns (10-2) vs. Louisiana State Tigers (8-4)
Take Texas –10 (46 ½)
Texas heads to its 22nd Cotton Bowl appearance after a late season loss to Texas Tech wrecked their hopes of appearing in a BCS Bowl. These two schools were a trendy national championship game prediction before the season, with Texas coming much closer to living up to those expectations. The Tigers were defeated soundly by Virginia Tech to open the season, and their 36-7 pasting of Florida would be the only time they played well against a legitimate team all season. Defensively, LSU is up to snuff…but before and after the injury to QB Mauck, the team was simply ineffective through the air. In addition to their loss to Texas Tech, the only time Texas fell this season was their yearly loss to Oklahoma. The Longhorns should win this game easily, with "The Mack Factor" (Coach Mack Brown's inability to win big games) being the only thing that scares me a bit here. LSU has won 5 straight bowl games but the offensive inefficiencies and their opponent this year make a 6th straight win highly unlikely.
Hook ‘em Horns. Mack "John Cooper" Brown finally wins a big game. 30-7 Longhorns.
Wednesday, January 1st
/ Tampa, FL / 11:00 AM on ESPN
Florida Gators (8-4) vs. Michigan Wolverines (9-3)
Take Michigan +1 ½ (47 ½)
Two schools rich in tradition, and who are both fixtures on New Year's Day (7 straight times for Michigan, 10 straight times for Florida) but have never played each other. Despite being a lower tier bowl, Michigan will be glad not to be going to the Capital One Bowl (formerly Citrus) where they have appeared 3 of the last 4 years. Michigan got absolutely humiliated in that game last year 45-17 by Tennessee and have vowed to avenge that embarrassing loss this year. Both of these teams were horrible bets in big games, as the Wolverines went 1-7 ATS against bowl teams and the Gators went 2-6 ATS. Both teams also ended their respective seasons with crushing losses to their arch-rivals (Ohio St. and Florida St.). Before last season's loss to Tennessee, Michigan had won their bowl game the previous 4 years. Throw out all Florida's past bowl history because Zook is a much different coach with a much different offense than Spurrier. Although both teams would have been pissed had you told them this was going to be their destination at the beginning of the year, the two schools are both relieved to be here now. Should be a competitive game in the low 20's that I feel Michigan will win.
Maize and blue makes my stomach ill. 14-9 Buckeyes... I mean ...23-20 Wolverines.
Wednesday, January 1st
/ Jacksonville, FL / 12:30 PM on NBC
North Carolina State Wolfpack (10-3) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-2)
Take North Carolina State –1 (40)
These two teams were a combined 17-0 heading into the weekend of November 2nd. From that point on they combined to go 3-5, spiraling the pair into a showdown in the Gator Bowl. The Wolfpack actually lost three straight games to Georgia Tech, Maryland, and Virginia after their hot start before rebounding to knock off Florida St. in their season finale. After the Irish lost to BC, they barely held off Navy and beat Rutgers before getting pounded by USC to finish their season at 10-2. These two teams have never played each other, and Notre Dame will surprisingly be looking for their first bowl win since 1993. The Domers were an impressive 9-3 ATS, but accomplished a lot of that via turnovers and defensive touchdowns…not things you can count on in one individual game against a New Year's Day worthy bowl foe. NC St. is playing in their 3rd straight bowl (1-1 ATS) under Chuck Amato, and was also impressive ATS this year going 8-4. The teams played 3 common opponents with NC St going 2-1 SU and 3-0 ATS and ND going 3-0 SU and 2-1 ATS in those contests. NC St. is a well-rounded club with the much better offensive players and edge in experience. The GT loss deflated the team a bit, but the next two games they lost were 3 and 5 point losses at Maryland and Virginia…who were tough clubs to beat at home this year. I like the ‘Pack in this one, as they are adamant about the fact that they are elated to be playing Notre Dame and plan to make a statement.
Even God won't be able to save the golden domers in this one. 27-13 Wolfpack.
Capital One Bowl
Wednesday, January 1st
/ Orlando, FL / 1:00 PM on ABC
Penn State Nittany Lions (9-3) vs. Auburn Tigers (8-4)
Take Penn State – 6 (50 ½)
Formerly known as the Citrus Bowl, Joe Paterno will look to improve on his amazing 10-0-2 record ATS in bowl games his Nittany Lions are favored in. The two teams have played only once before, and it was in the '95 Outback Bowl, a game Penn St. won 43-14. Penn St.'s only 3 losses this year were in OT vs. Iowa and at Michigan and Ohio St., and the Lions could have easily won each of those games had the ball bounced a little different. Auburn started 4-3, then won 4 of their last 5 games, including a huge win at Alabama to end the season. Coach Tuberville gave his players 3 weeks off after that game, and is on record as saying that this game is a reward for his players and not a "high pressure showdown". Coach Joe Pa insists that this trip to Orlando is all business and dude is still salty over what he perceived as poor officiating that contributed heavily in their 3 losses. To make matters worse for Auburn, Penn St. and Joe Pa have been left home for the bowl season the past 2 years. Auburn has only been beaten by more than 7 points one time this year (38-17 loss to Arkansas at home), but I do not like the situation they are walking into here. Penn St. is a veteran club with many players who will be looking to make a good impression for the NFL scouts. Joe Pa may be the best bowl coach ever.
Penn St. takes out their frustration on a content Auburn club. 41-21 Nittany Lions.
Wednesday, January 1st
/ Pasadena, CA / 5:00 PM on ABC
Oklahoma Sooners (11-2) vs. Washington State Cougars (10-2)
Take Washington State +6 ½ (55 ½)
For the second straight year the Rose Bowl will not feature the traditional Big 10/Pac 10 showdown, yet the NCAA won't go to a playoff because they don't want to ruin "the tradition of the bowls". The breaking big news in this match-up is that Wazzou head coach Mike Price will leave the team to take the gig at Alabama, yet will stay to coach the team here. I doubt that the fact that he is leaving will positively impact the Cougars, but I'm not about to go out and unload on the Sooners because of it. Oklahoma really struggled away from home this year, and in the Cougars, they are facing one of the most well rounded teams in the country in an environment where they will essentially be visitors. Wazzou was dominated in the second half of their early game vs. Ohio St. but responded to reel off 7 consecutive wins before dropping an OT affair to the rival Huskies of Washington. The Cougars went 5-2 ATS against bowl teams and they also have 17 upperclassmen starters. How the team responds to coach Price leaving is a huge factor, but he's well liked by his players and his top assistant will stay on to take over next year, minimizing the impact. Regardless, money will likely flow in on Oklahoma…moving this number to at least 7, a number the Cougars should easily cover if they don't win this game SU.
The Price will be right in his final show as a Cougar. 23-22 Cougars.
Wednesday, January 1st
/ New Orleans, LA / 8:30 PM on ABC
Georgia Bulldogs (12-1) vs. Florida State Seminoles (9-4)
Take Georgia –8 (51)
In another game recently impacted by breaking news, Georgia coach Mark Richt faces his mentor of 15 years when he was Bobby Bowden's offensive coordinator at FSU. The breaking news revolves around the QB position at FSU, as normal starter Chris Rix overslept a final exam and will be ineligible for this game. As a result, the ‘Noles will be forced to start untested junior Fabian Walker, and the game is currently off betting boards around the country. When it does resurface with a new line, it's likely the Bulldogs will jump to 7 or 8 point favorites, up from the 4 points they were previously laying. Georgia has been very impressive this season, going 12-1 SU and 9-3 ATS and they could have easily won the only game they lost vs. Florida were it not for dropped passes and a late Gator defensive TD. The Seminoles will still be strong defensively as well as in the running game behind RB Nick Maddox and one of the nations top offensive lines. Still, I feel going to a new and untested QB in this setting against a team as well balanced and talented as Georgia will be too much for them to overcome here. Also, this game will be played in a dome, an environment Georgia just excelled in during their thrashing of Arkansas in the SEC Championship game in the Georgia Dome. FSU has not even played on turf since '98. The Dawgs are very motivated to secure the #2 spot in the rankings, while FSU has lost 4 games already.
Coach Richt will assuredly let the Dawgs out against his former teacher. 33-16 Bulldogs.
Thursday, January 2nd
/ Miami, FL / 8:00 PM on ABC
Southern California Trojans (10-2) vs. Iowa Hawkeyes (11-1)
Take Iowa +6 (57)
Many people are more excited about this game, being billed as the "Rose Bowl East", than they are the national championship game, which takes place the following evening. The game matches two of the hottest teams in the country, who are both ranked in the top 5, as well as the top two finishers in the Heisman Trophy balloting in QB's Carson Palmer and Brad Banks. USC got dismantled early in the season at Colorado, and lost in OT at Washington St. Since then, they have been simply dominating…and played one of the toughest schedules in NCAA history with just one of their 12 opponents (Stanford) not making a bowl game. In those 10 victories, they covered in 8 of them…and finished the season with their offense and defense ranked in the top 5 in the country. Iowa's season ended November 16th, and they end up having 46 days in between games here. What a season it was for the Hawkeyes ever since they gave up a 24-7 halftime lead to lose to rival Iowa St. back in mid-September. The Hawkeyes won their last 8 games, nearly all in convincing fashion in sweeping through the Big Ten regular season, and finishing the season 9-2-1 ATS. The Hawkeyes offensive line is hands down the best in the country, with at least 4 future NFL players on it. This is a showdown between two mega-talented veteran squads and should make for a phenomenal game. Having watched nearly every Iowa game this season, they should not be getting 6 points from anyone. They are simply too proficient offensively and too strong defensively against the run.
I'd love to watch this classic with the chairman of the Rose Bowl. 30-29 Hawkeyes.
Friday, January 3rd
/ Tempe, AZ / 8:00 PM on ABC
Miami of Florida Hurricanes (12-0) vs. The Ohio St. Buckeyes (13-0)
Take Ohio State +13 ½ (53)
All bias aside, how any team can be laying 13 ½ points to this 13-0 Buckeye team is beyond me. Miami was good this season, and there is no arguing with their 34 game winning streak and scary offensive weapons. But the ‘Canes proved to be very mortal at times and barely beat Pitt, Florida St., and West Virginia en route to going just 4-8 ATS. The Buckeyes may have not won with the same flair Miami often won with, but they beat every team on their schedule. They dominated Washington St., and held Texas Tech and Penn St.'s potent offenses to next to no production. Coach Tressel has appeared in 6 Div IAA (4 titles) Championship games over the past 12 seasons and approached each of the Buckeyes last 3 games as playoff games to get to this, their ultimate goal. Tressel is a master motivator, and I guarantee was salivating when he saw what this number opened at. This Buckeye team is far from the Nebraska team Miami steamrolled last year, yet that game is the biggest reason this number is 13 instead of the 7 or 8 points it should realistically rest at. Maurice Clarett will be at full health, and when he was, the Bucks were a different team offensively…averaging 239 yards/game rushing and 37.4 points/game. QB Krenzel plays mistake free ball and is adept at running just enough to move the chains and convert 3rd downs…areas Miami was hurt badly by Pitt QB Rutheford and Virginia Tech QB Randall. With a healthy Clarett, the Bucks will be able to move the ball on this team a lot easier than many think. No team scored more than 21 points all season against the Bucks veteran defense, which was vastly improved when WR Chris Gamble emerged into a shutdown CB halfway through the season to replace the injured and overrated Richard McNutt. In addition to these factors, Ohio St. has a big advantage in the special teams, as P Groom and K Nugent are amongst the best in the country at what they do. Chris Gamble is just as dangerous as his Miami counterpart Roscoe Parrish taking back punts. Not only will the Buckeyes easily cover this game, but they also have a great chance to win it straight up as coach Tressel excels in game management and will keep this a close game with much help from the defense. The Buckeyes know how to win close games in the fourth quarter and that's exactly what they will do here, finally earning the respect of the national media.
Tressel the Savior puts the capper on a dream season. 23-20 Buckeyes.