Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bowl Games 2011: Part 3

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Friday, December 30
12:00: Tulsa vs. Brigham Young (Armed Forces Bowl @ Dallas, TX; ESPN): Tulsa sports a fun, high-flying offense. BYU comes in with a pretty decent defense, so this could be a, let's say, 35-27 kind of affair. The question, which side gets to 35 first? Does BYU generate enough stops to limit Tulsa to just 27, or does the porous Tulsa defense allow the Cougars to get there first? Actually, let's make that 35-32, Tulsa.
Previous meetings: These two have met seven times, and BYU leads the all-time series, 6-1. They last met in 2007, which Tulsa won 55-47.
Last bowl game: Tulsa demolished Hawaii in last year's Hawaii bowl, 62-35. This is BYU's 7th straight bowl game, with their last game being a 52-24 beatdown of UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl.
Fun facts: Tulsa is known as the "Golden Hurricane" because at the time (the early 1920's) Georgia Tech was known was the "Golden Tornado". Tulsa stuck with their weather phenomena moniker, but the Yellow Jackets did not.

3:30: Iowa State vs. Rutgers (Pinstripe Bowl @ New York, NY; ESPN): Dear Cyclones: while I found your double overtime win over Oklahoma State exhilarating and exciting, it did, unfortunately, doom us to LSU-Alabama Part II. I'm picking Rutgers in a close, low-scoring game.
Previous meetings: None.
Last bowl game: Iowa State last made a bowl game in 2009, where they beat Minnesota 14-13 in the Insight Bowl. Rutgers had a 5-year bowl game streak snapped last year. In 2009, they won the-then St. Petersburg Bowl 45-24 over Central Florida.
Fun facts: Rutgers was not the original name for the State University of New Jersey. Founded in 1766 as Queen's College, the Revolutionary War necessitated a new name, and Colonel Henry Rutgers was around at the time, and one thing lead to another...

6:40: Mississippi State vs. Wake Forest (Music City Bowl @ Nashville, TN; ESPN): Other than Wake's now-traditional upset of Florida State, both of these teams pretty much beat the teams they were supposed to and lost to the teams they were supposed, which is pretty much how you get to 6-6. That said, it's hard to see these Bulldogs getting blown out by Vanderbilt 41-7, so I'll have to go with the ess-eee-cee again in this one.
Previous meetings: None.
Last bowl game: The Bulldogs make their second straight bowl appearance, with the previous game being a 52-14 rout of Michigan in the Gator Bowl. Wake Forest is just breaking out of one of their "down cycles", with their last bowl appearance being a 29-19 win over Navy in the 2008 Eaglebank Bowl (which is now the Military Bowl).
Fun facts: In one of my favorite university history anecdotes, Wake Forest was originally found around what would become known as Wake Forest, North Carolina, after the college. After a sizable donation in 1946, the school began work to move to nearby Raleigh, and completed the move by 1956, leaving the town named after the university with a new Baptist seminary.

10:00: Oklahoma vs. Iowa (Insight Bowl @ Tempe, AZ; ESPN): While the Hawkeyes may get a slight spark from the retirement of their long time defensive coordinator, I feel like they kind of used their "upset of clearly superior team" card this year when they beat Michigan. I'm going with Sooners in a scoring bonanza.
Previous meetings: Just one: a 21-6 Oklahoma win in 1979.
Last bowl game: This is Oklahoma's 13th straight bowl game, with the progenitor of the streak being the 1999 Independence Bowl, which they lost to Ole Miss 27-25. Last year, they destroyed UConn in the Fiesta Bowl, 48-20. This will be Iowa's fourth straight bowl game, with their previous game being this very game, actually, where they beat Mizzou in a thriller no-one saw, 27-24.
Fun facts: Of all the Big Ten's various trophy games, by far the most amusing is the Iowa-Minnesota game, which is played for a pig known as the Floyd of Rosedale.

Saturday, December 31
12:00: Texas Agricultural and Mechanical vs. Northwestern (Car Care Bowl of Texas @ Houston, TX; ESPN): My favorite running joke of this college football season has been TAMU's second half defense. It goes something like this: "Down by more than 10 points at halftime? You've got Texas A&M right where you want them." Both these teams are more than capable of putting up points, which means what this game lacks in quality or defense it should make up for in scoring. And, well, at this point, can you really pick the Aggies? Northwestern rallies in the second half to win a shootout.
Previous meetings:None.
Last bowl game: This is TAMU's third straight bowl game. The lost to 41-24 to LSU in last season's Cotton Bowl. Northwestern is actually appearing in their fourth straight bowl game, and they lost last season's TicketCity Bowl to Texas Tech, 45-38.
Fun facts: Both of these schools apparently have satellite campuses in Qatar. I'm not sure what else to say about that.

2:00: Georgia Tech vs. Utah (Sun Bowl @ El Paso, TX; CBS): This is the toughest game for me to predict, every year. Yes, I know about the Georgia Tech bowl streak, especially with regards to our offense. Do I necessarily think there's anything to it? It's hard to say. Against LSU and Iowa, we simply lost to better opponents. Against Air Force, it looked like we were just... bad. This Utah squad sports the nation's 7th ranked rush defense but unlike in past years they haven't played any option teams. However, they did win their last three games straight against Air Force. Perhaps the best matchup for the Jackets is Utah's mediocre-to-bad offense that couldn't score against Colorado with the Pac-12 South on the line against GT's mediocre-but-improving defense.
Previous meetings: One, in the 2005 Emerald Bowl. Utah won 38-10. That's really all there is to say on the matter.
Last bowl game: GT is making its 15th straight bowl appearance, which is currently tied for the fourth-longest in the country with UGA, of all teams. The streak started with a 35-30 win over West Virginia in the 1997 CarQuest Bowl, which these days is in Orlando and is known as the Champs Sports Bowl. However, starting with the last time these two teams faced each other, Tech has lost six straight bowl game, including last year's ugly 14-7 loss to Air Force in the Independence Bowl. Utah is making its ninth straight bowl appearance. Their streak started with a 17-0 win over Southern Miss in the 2003 Liberty Bowl. Last year, they lost 26-3 to Boise state in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Fun facts: Like any good football rivalry, Utah and BYU disagree on the number of wins and losses on each side. Utah counts 6 games BYU played as the "Brigham Young Academy" in the late 19th-century, while BYU says the series did not begin until 1922. Either way, Utah leads the series, but 53-33-4 or 50-30-4 depends on who you ask.

3:30: Vanderbilt vs. Cincinnati (Liberty Bowl @ Memphis, TN; ABC): Vandy has the country's 19th ranked defense, which is starting to make me think there may be something to "well, maybe most of the offenses in the SEC are just kind of bad" train of thought. I'd make this a fun fact, but it's just too fun: Cincy's quarterback for the past few games has been Munchie Legaux. While I expect the 'Dores to put up a fight as they have for most of the season, I think Cincy has the edge here.
Previous meetings: The first meeting really goes back. I mean, really, because it was in 1898 with a follow-on game in 1899. Cincy won both games, 10-0 and 6-0. Vandy put in a one-off beat down in 1934 (32-0), and then Cincinnati got to repay the favor in 1976 by winning 32-0. A year later though, the Dores decided revenge was a dish best served hot and not over half a century later by winning 33-7. Vandy won the last two meetings in 1993 and 1994 17-7 and 34-24.
Last bowl game: Vandy is making their first bowl game appearance since 2008's Music City Bowl, where they beat Boston College 16-14. Cincinnati had a four game bowl streak snapped last year. The last game in that streak was a 51-24 loss to Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
Fun facts: One of Cincinnati's chief football rivals is Miami University (you know, the one in Ohio). The series is much more even than you might expect. Miami is 59-49-7 all-time, and also is pretty even over the past 20 years even as Cincinnati has risen through the college football ranks.

3:30: California-Los Angeles vs. Illinois (Fight Hunger Bowl @ San Francisco, CA; ESPN): Well, I hate myself enough to actually watch this game. Do you? This game is the poster child for "there are too many bowl games", as UCLA had to get a waiver to even be eligible at 6-7, and Illinois just went 0-6 to end the season. Both of teams subsequently fired their head coaches and booked travel to San Francisco. At least when UCLA got blown out to end the season, it was to teams like USC and Oregon and not, you know, Minnesota. These sorts of games tend to be sloppy affairs, the question is if it'll be of the fun sort where neither side really bothers to play defense or the kind where neither team really shows up and someone happens to win at the end. I'm guessing the latter here. For some reason I'm taking the Illini.
Previous meetings: These teams have met 11 times, so I won't go through them all. They first met all the way back in the 1946-1947 Rose Bowl, with the Illini winning 45-14. I guess they worked out some sort of scheduling agreement then, because then they played 6 times in the regular season from 1950 to 1964, with the Illini going 4-2. In 1983-1984 they met in the Rose Bowl again, with the Bruins winning 45-9, and then 7 years later they also won the Sun Bowl, 6-3. They then met 12 years later with the Bruins winning with the same 6-3 score, and then finally some touchdowns were scored in they last meeting in 2004, with UCLA coming out ahead 35-17. The Bruins lead the all-time series 6-5.
Last bowl game: UCLA's last bowl game a was a 30-21 win in the 2009 EagleBank Bowl. Illinois made a bowl game last year, where they beat Baylor 38-14 in the Texas Bowl.
Fun facts: This game dampens my spirits such that I can't think of anything fun about it.

7:30: Virginia vs. Auburn (Chick-fil-a Bowl @ Atlanta, GA; ESPN): Virginia looked for awhile to actually be kind of legit, and then they got blown out 38-0 by their in-state rival. Whoops. Meanwhile Auburn just lost their offensive coordinator to Arkansas... State. Auburn also had an awful time against teams that actually played defense, which (38-0 aside) Virginia actually does. I'm going to predict a moderate score for both sides in this game, which will probably be more exciting than most observers thing, but I'll kowtow to the ESS-EEE-CEE groupthink and go with the Tigers.
Previous meetings: Two, in 1997 and 1998. Auburn won the first game 28-17, but the Cavs shut out the Tigers 19-0 in the second.
Last bowl game: This is UVA's first bowl game since 2007-8's Gator Bowl, where they lost to Texas Tech 31-28. Auburn is appearing in their third straight bowl game. You might recall they beat Oregon in last year's BCS Championship Game, 22-19.
Fun facts: Virginia's athletic teams really are named after the historical English Cavaliers, the side in the English Civil War that was loyal to the king, and later on, the original Virginia colonists who were loyalists.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Bowl Games 2011: Part 2

Merry Christmas, loyal readers. All, um, five of you.

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Monday, December 26
5:00: North Carolina vs. Missouri (Independence Bowl @ Shreveport, LA; ESPN2): Nothing quite says "mediocre bowl game" like two teams with 7-5 records and average statistical rankings, it seems like. I guess it shows I haven't paid a lot of attention to Mizzou this year, as I'm pretty shocked that they're 11th in the nation in rushing and 57th in passing, which is pretty much the complete opposite of the past few years for them. This version of the UNC defense isn't as fearsome as past editions, which makes me give a slight edge to the Tigers.
Previous meetings: Two, all the way back in 1973 and 1976. Mizzou won both games, 27-14 and 24-3.
Last bowl game: This is Carolina's fourth consecutive bowl game, with their last appearance being that that debacle of a Music City Bowl against Tennessee that they wound up winning 30-27. Mizzou makes their seventh straight bowl appearance here, but you probably don't remember their last game: the very anonymous Insight Bowl. They lost 27-24 to Iowa.
Fun facts: I'd grumble some more about 5th down, but these are supposed to be fun facts.

Tuesday, December 27
4:30: Purdue vs. Western Michigan (Little Caesars Pizza Bowl @ Detroit, MI; ESPN): The Boilermakers are pretty much here due to their miracle upset of Ohio State back on November 12th. It's hard to tell how much of a talent disparity there is in games like, this, though, as WMU's stats could be inflated by their league while Purdue's could be deflated by theirs. I'm leaning toward this being a shootout, with Purdue coming out just barely ahead.
Previous meetings: Two, which is actually lower that I would've thought given the Big Ten teams' proclivity of scheduling MAC teams as patsies. Anyway, they were both in September, but the first was in 1993 and the last in 2002. Purdue won both, 28-13 and 28-24.
Last bowl game: The Boilermakers are making their first bowl appearance since 2007, when they beat another directional Michigan (Central) in this very same game, 51-48 (though it was then the Motor City Bowl). The Broncos' last bowl appearance was actually more recent. They lost 38-14 to Rice in the 2008 Texas Bowl (which is now the Mieneke Car Care Bowl of Texas).
Fun facts: Purdue quarterbacks (a group that includes names like Bob Griese and Drew Brees) have more touchdown passes thrown in the NFL than any other school.

8:00: North Carolina State vs. Louisville (Belk Bowl @ Charlotte, NC; ESPN): Mediocrity, ahoy! Both of these teams sport anemic offenses and above-average defenses, which points to a low-scoring struggle to see who can kick the most field goals. However, NC State's kicker is 10 of 15 and Louisville's is 11 of 16, so that doesn't quite work either in terms of distinguishing these two teams. In their last two games, both teams found their offensive mojo, as NC State routed Maryland in their last game and upset Clemson before that, while the Cardinals won 5 of their last 6 after a 2-4 start. These are basically the same team, if you ask me, so I'll go with the one that beat North Carolina this year: NC State.
Previous meetings: This will be the fourth meeting between these two teams, with NCSU looking for its first win against the Cardinals. The first was all the way back in 1953, which Louisville won 26-2. In 1994 they won 35-14, and in 2007 they won 29-10.
Last bowl game: The Wolfpack went to the Champs Sports Bowl last year, where they beat West Virginia 23-7. Louisville won last year's Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, beating Southern Mississippi 31-28.
Fun facts: I'm not entirely sure how this works, but the cardinal in the Louisville logo has teeth.

Wednesday, December 28
4:30: Toledo vs. Air Force (Military Bowl @ Washington, D.C.; ESPN): Combined average defense ranking of these two teams: 73rd in the country. Mean, both these teams are more than capable of scoring: Toledo, (in)famously lost game this year 60-63 and then came back and won the next week 66-63. Air Force's defense is really awful in all phases, though, while Toledo is mainly terrible against the pass (118th out of 120), something they won't really have to worry about against the triple-option lovin' Falcons. Toledo edges out (another) shootout.
Previous meetings: None.
Last bowl game: The Rockets went to last year's Little Caesar's Bowl, where they lost 34-32 to Florida International. Air Force is making their fifth straight bowl game, and they (sigh) beat Georgia Tech 14-7 in last year's Independence Bowl.
Fun facts: Toledo's moniker, the Rockets, apparently originated as a contraction of "Skyrockets", which was made up during in the pressbox during a massive upset in the early 1920's. The name stuck, despite the university not otherwise having much to do with rocketry.

9:00: California vs. Texas (Holiday Bowl @ San Diego, CA; ESPN): After watching the Texas-Texas A&M game, I think I described the Longhorns' offense as "the McGuyver of offenses", held together by trick plays, bubblegum, and dental floss. This is the best all-around defense the Golden Bears have played all year, and they already struggled offensively against every other decent outfit they've played. Both teams will struggle to score, but I think Longhorns are more used to that and will come out ahead in the end. (Yes, I'm aware Texas just gave up 48 to Baylor, but Cal doesn't have Robert Griffin III at QB for them, last I checked.)
Previous meetings: The Bears are 0-4 against the Longhorns, and it hasn't really even been close. The first meeting was in 1959, which Texas won 33-0. Two years later, they met again, with the Texas winning 28-0. To close the decade out, they met in 1969 and 1970, and again, it was all Texas, as they won 17-0 and 56-15, respectively.
Last bowl game: Cal previously had a good bowl streak going, but missed out on the postseason last year, making this their first game since the 2009 Poinsettia Bowl, where they lost to Utah 37-27. Texas looks to restart a long streak that was also broken last year, which was only one season after the lost to Alabama in the 2009-2010 BCS National Championship Game, 37-21.
Fun facts: One of the first fight songs I ever learned was the Cal Drinking Song. Of course, there's another Cal song that has a tune that's very familiar to most Tech fans, though I've read articles elsewhere that state the common theory about the song being lifted after the 1929 Rose Bowl to be false.

Thursday, December 29
5:30: Notre Dame vs. Florida State (Champs Sports Bowl @ Orlando, FL; ESPN): FSU's offense is also a short of make-shift outfit, but they do have the dynamic E.J. Manuel, who on his good days can put some points on the board for the Seminoles. They also have the sixth ranked total defense in the country, but as their 23-13 loss to Oklahoma showed, that doesn't necessarily matter if you still can't put up the points, which hasn't been a problem for the Irish this year. I'll take the Domers in a relatively low-scoring affair.
Previous meetings: For the all the cachet this matchup has, I was actually somewhat surprised to find that FSU and Notre Dame only met once when the former was an independent, in 1981. (FSU joined the ACC in 1992.) FSU won that game 19-13. In the 90's, the two teams played 3 times, with ND winning 31-14 in 1993 and FSU winning 23-16 in 1994. On New Year's Day in 1996, they met in the Orange Bowl and FSU won 31-26. And finally, they played again in 2002 and 2003. ND won the first game 34-24, but FSU shut them out in the latter game, 37-0.
Last bowl game: Notre Dame ventured to El Paso last year for the Sun Bowl, where they beat Miami 33-17. FSU, of course, currently owns the longest bowl streak in the nation, with this being their 30th consecutive appearance. One has to go all the way back to 1976 to find the last time the Seminoles failed to reach a bowl game. The year after, they went to what was then known as the Tangerine Bowl, where they beat Texas Tech 40-17. Last year, the beat South Carolina in the Chick-fil-a Bowl 26-17.
Fun facts: Other than the usual (and tired) jokes about FSU being a women's college until 1947, I can't really think of anything to put here.

9:00: Washington vs. Baylor (Alamo Bowl @ San Antonio, TX; ESPN): The best hope for the Huskies in this one is probably to force a shootout and hope to have the ball last, because otherwise their offense isn't good enough to keep up with the Bears, even with Baylor's really bad defense.
Previous meetings: Four, and somewhat surprisingly none were bowl games. Baylor won the first two contests in 1954 and 1955 34-7 and 13-7, respectively. They met again in 1964 and 1965, and this time the Huskies managed to win a game 35-14, but the Bears came right back in '65 and won 17-14.
Last bowl game: The Huskies snapped a bowl drought last season by making the Holiday Bowl, where they pulled off one of the most shocking upsets of last bowl season by beating Nebraska 19-7. Baylor's drought was even longer before they made the Texas Bowl last year, when they lost to Illinois 38-14. Before that, they had not appeared in a bowl game since 1994, and you have to go all the way back to the 1992 Sun Bowl to find the last time they won a bowl game. (They beat Arizona 20-15 in that game.)
Fun facts: Very occasionally, there is actually somewhat clever writing on Wikipedia. For instance, referring to Washington: "The husky was selected as the school mascot by student committee in 1922. It replaced the 'Sun Dodger,' an abstract reference to the local weather that was quickly dropped in favor of something more tangible." Well done, I say.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bowl Games 2011: Opening Slate

Let's start off with all the pre-Christmas bowl games. The full set of winner-loser predictions are available, but more detailed previews will come closer to the games themselves.

As usual, all times Eastern, and all predictions wrong.

Saturday, December 17
2:00: Temple vs. Wyoming (New Mexico Bowl @ Albuquerque, NM; ESPN): Bowl season kicks off down in New Mexico, where anything could happen in this MAC-MWC matchup. Which, like many of these sorts of games, make it hard to predict. The matchup the Owls will be looking to exploit is their 7th-ranked rushing attack against the nation's 115th-ranked rushing defense. Temple also has a decent defense themselves, which makes me inclined to think they'll prevail.
Previous meetings: Only one, back in 1990. Wyoming won 38-23.
Last bowl game: For the Cowboys, it was the 2009 edition of this very game, where they beat Fresno State 35-28. Temple also last went bowling in 2009 despite an 8-4 record last year. They lost to UCLA 30-21 in what was then the Eaglebank Bowl, but is now the Military Bowl.
Fun facts: New for this year, I'll attempt to unearth some sort of interesting (to me, at least) fact about either or both of the teams involved in the game. Generally this means I'll look something up on Wikipedia, so hopefully the schools involved don't generally have their pages vandalized very often. But today, I will remind you that brown and gold are Wyoming's official colors. This leads to what I think are college football's most charming and, at the same time, ugliest uniforms:

When EA Sports' NCAA Football games used to have a create-a-school option I generally tried to make the home uniforms as ugly as possible. After they took that out, well, it was pretty obvious which team I had to lead to glory.

5:30: Utah State vs. Ohio (Potato Bowl @ Boise, ID; ESPN): Utah State chose pretty much the most dramatic route to a bowl game possible. After a 2-5 start including a game at Auburn that they led in the fourth quarter and a double overtime loss to Colorado State, they rallied to win five straight. Nonetheless, they only one two of their games by more than a touchdown, which means that the Bobcats will likely be in this thing to the end. Both these teams would prefer to run the bowl, especially Utah State, whereas Ohio features a more balanced offense. That said, I like the Bobcats. While their numbers are very similar, I think the MAC was a tougher conference than the WAC this year. I guess we'll find out for sure on Saturday, though.
Previous meetings: Once, amazingly, in 1994. If I had more time, I would look this up, because Utah State apparently won 5-0. (I just checked on Google, but even 1994 as a search term it still just came up with articles for this year's game.)
Last bowl game: For the Aggies, you have to go all the way back to 1997, when they lost to Cincinnati 35-19 in the Humanitarian Bowl. The Bobcats are headed to their 3rd straight game and their first win in a bowl game (they're 0-5 all-time in bowl games). They lost 48-21 to Troy last year in the New Orleans Bowl.
Fun facts: Utah State's basketball arena is known as the "Dee Glen Smith Spectrum", which reminds me that one of these days I need to figure out how "Spectrum" became used as a word for indoor sports arenas, as Idaho has the Keenan Spectrum for basketball, and Philadelphia, of course, had the most famous version.

9:00: San Diego State vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (New Orleans Bowl @ New Orleans, LA; ESPN): The Ragin' Cajuns should definitely enjoy home field advantage in their first ever bowl game. That said, I don't think that will be enough to get them past a superior San Diego State team.
Previous meetings: None.
Last bowl game: The Ragin' Cajuns have been playing major college football since 1973, and this will be their first bowl game. In that time, they only have two other seasons with more than 6 wins: 1993 (8-3) and 1976. The Aztecs are now in a bowl game two years running. Last year they beat Navy 35-14 in the hometown Poinsettia Bowl.
Fun facts: There have been numerous debates in Louisiana over the years about which school there had the right to call itself just "the University of Louisiana". While there's always definitively been one Louisiana State, the University of Louisiana system was only formed in 1974 as a conglomeration of existing campuses. That said, Lafayette is the largest campus in the system.

Tuesday, December 20
8:00: Marshall vs. Florida International (Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl @ St. Petersburg, FL; ESPN): Neither of these teams really do the "scoring points" thing particularly well, but at least FIU does prevent other teams from scoring points. The result? A situation where I'll actually pick a Sun Belt team to win.
Previous meetings: None.
Last bowl game: For the Herd, it was the 2009 Little Ceasars Bowl, where they beat Ohio 21-17. FIU, of course, made their first ever bowl appearance in that very same game, but in 2010, where they beat Toledo 34-32.
Fun facts: FIU was established in 1965, which has to make them one of, if not the, youngest universities in major college football.

Wednesday, December 21
8:00: Louisiana Tech vs. Texas Christian (Poinsettia Bowl @ San Diego, CA; ESPN): While TCU finds itself in the somewhat strange situation of being outside the top ten teams in the country in defense, they're still pretty good. And I'll roll with the MWC champs over the WAC champs any day.
Previous meetings: None.
Last bowl game: LaTech was last seen beating Northern Illinois in the 2008 Independence Bowl, 17-10. TCU meantime, is back in the Poinsettia Bowl (where they played in 2008, beating a 12-1 Boise team 17-16) after two straight appearance in BCS bowl games. Boise got revenge in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl, winning 17-10, but the Horned Frogs mustered just enough to win the Rose Bowl 21-19 against Wisconsin last year. TCU has also made a bowl appearance every year since 2004, and discounting that, every year since 1998.
Fun facts: Unlike, say, Georgia Tech, the full name of LaTech is actually "Louisiana Tech University". And they really are a university, since they have 19 bachelor's degrees in the liberal arts. If you're reading this, you likely already know the answer to this question, but I'll ask anyway: in major college football (Division I-A or FBS, that is) there are 120 teams. Five of them, one of them being Georgia Tech, do not have the word "university" in their title (as GT is the Georgia Institute of Technology). What are the other four?

Thursday, December 22
8:00: Arizona State vs. Boise State (Las Vegas Bowl @ Las Vegas, NV; ESPN): Unless Boise just comes in completely deflated and unmotivated in making their second straight Las Vegas Bowl appearance after having BCS aspirations (with this year being especially painful since they this was probably their best chance of getting into the BCS title game ever), this should be a cakewalk for Boise. The best Arizona State can hope for, most likely, is a shootout. [insert obligatory mention of Arizona State quarterback Brock Oswelier's 6'8" stature here]
Previous meetings: One, back before Boise State was any sort of powerhouse. The Sun Devils won easily, 56-7.
Last bowl game: Probably part of the reason Dennis Erickson got the ol' heave-ho is that this is the Sun Devil's first bowl game since 2007, where they lost to Texas 52-34 in the Holiday Bowl. Boise beat down Utah 26-3 in last year's Las Vegas Bowl, continuing a streak they've had since 2002, or 1999 if you discount that they went 8-4 in 2002 but didn't get an invite.
Fun facts: While I don't really mind the blue turf myself, it has invited a host of copycats. Most famous of these non-Boise surfaces is, of course, Eastern Washington:
But there's also the field donated to Barrow High School, which I believe is the world's northernmost American football field:
But this? There's just... well, I guess if you're the Central Arkansases (I guess that's the plural of "Arkansas"?) you'll do just about anything to stand out:

Saturday, December 24
8:00: Southern Mississippi vs. Nevada (Hawaii Bowl @ Honolulu, HI; ESPN): Nevada entered the season with hopes of dominating this year's watered-down WAC, but instead lost two conference games and got sent to Hawaii. Southern Miss, of course, just pulled off a pretty big upset to take the Conference USA crown, and they did it by forcing Case Keenum to have the worst day of his life. However, instead of ending up in the nearby Liberty Bowl, shenanigans occurred and they got sent to Hawaii. I mean, there are worse places to go for sure, but it's not so good in terms of having a victory lap for one of the most successful seasons in school history. They'll also need to switch gears from their stifling pass defense to their pretty good run defense, as they face the Wolf Pack's unique pistol offense. The Golden Eagles are no slouches on offense themselves, though, and they should eventually pull away in the second half for the victory.
Previous meetings: Two, in what was likely a home-and-home arrangement. Southern Miss won both legs, though. In 1997 the Golden Eagles prevailed 35-19, and then really poured it on in 1998 in a 55-28 win.
Last bowl game: Southern Miss is on a pretty long bowl game run themselves: every year since 2001, and 1997 if you discount that. Last year they lost 31-28 to Louisville in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl. Nevada's made a game every year since 2005, and last year beat Boston College 20-13 in the Fight Hunger Bowl.
Fun facts: In 1923, California finished 9-0-1 and claims a national title for that year. The only blemish was a 0-0 tie to Nevada. The Golden Bears had a 50-game winning streak at the time as well, making this one of the most unlikely upsets ever.

Friday, December 09, 2011

This Weekend in College Football: Week 15

The regular season is technically over, but we'll cover the Army-Navy game as well as the various playoff games that are actually on television (not to mention the others that'll be on the Internet).

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

8:00: Northern Iowa @ Montana (Division I Quarterfinal; ESPN): These teams entered as the 5 and 4-seeds (respectively) in the tournament, and thus both received byes to the second round in the 20-team bracket. The Grizzlies thumped their second opponent, Central Arkansas, 41-14 while UNI ended up winning 28-21 with some help from probably the most boneheaded play of last weekend. Nonetheless, Montana has all the cards here, with superior offensive and defensive rankings as well as a projected game time temperature of about 25 degrees in their home stadium, which looking at attendance figures will probably be sold out. Meanwhile, UNI plays their home games in a dome. I think I know who I like here.

Noon: Montana State @ Sam Houston State (Division I Quarterfinal; ESPN): Sam Houston State is the #1 seed in the tournament, but they're last in spelling, because apparently they are officially the "Bearkats". I mean, at least "dawgs" is usually an unofficial nickname, but nope, it's right there on their ESPN page. In protest, I refuse to write anything further about this game.

1:00: Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical vs. Grambling State (SWAC Championship @ Birmingham, AL; ESPNU): I really debated putting this game on the list. It's on TV and all, but... I don't know, maybe I just don't fully understand the traditions of the SWAC that would cause them to want to have their own title game and not participate in the playoffs that so many of us at the top level of the sport of would love to have. Not only that, but the SWAC has 10 teams and plays 9 conference games, which means that a title game is wholly unnecessary. Oh, and speaking of rematches, A&M beat Grambling 20-14 back in September. If anything, the game should be the resolution of the three 7-2 teams that all beat each other in the regular season (Jackson State, A&M, and Alabama State).

2:30: Army vs. Navy (@Landover, MD; CBS): This has not been a banner year for these two academies. Navy is 4-7 and Army is 3-8 and is, last I checked, narrowly favored for what has to be the first time in awhile. Both have been undone by very mediocre-to-bad defenses. That said, though, Navy's schedule was a lot tougher than Army's, with Navy's only really bad loss to San Jose State, then again, that's countered by Army's upset of Northwestern (which probably says a lot about how far the Wildcats have come more than anything else, since we can properly call it an "upset"). I'll stick with the Midshipmen to continue their nine game winning streak.

Look for bowl previews starting next week!

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Bowl Predictions 2011: Shenanigans

I didn't forsee Virginia Tech getting into the Sugar Bowl, but who did? Updated predictions are now available.

Bowl Predictions 2011: Final

This is it. I'm going and writing this up now. We'll see what's still true later today.

I have come up eight possible scenarios based on the outcome of the BCS today. Basically, these are the three most important variables:
  • Whether Oklahoma State moves ahead of Alabama to #2 in the BCS
  • Whether Michigan moves from #16 to #14 or better in the BCS
  • Whether TCU moves from #18 to #16 or better in the BCS
This means that it is currently very difficult to nail down exactly what will happen with the Big Ten, Big 12, or Mountain West. (The SEC is unaffected because Alabama will go to a BCS game if it falls out of the top two.)

For each set of scenarios, there are constants. You can see those constants here. Also common in most of these scenarios is that I do not think Boise State will get a BCS at-large bid. If TCU does not make it, then I think that's that for the mid-majors this year - unless Michigan also does not make it, thus limiting the available/attractive at-large bids.

Which do I think is most likely? What I call "Scenario 1": a LSU-Alabama rematch with Michigan in and TCU out. This is currently what is available on the main page. Each scenario is also available in its entirety:
Why do I think the first is the most likely? I don't think enough voters will suddenly decide to put Oklahoma State ahead of Alabama and Stanford to pass them in the standings. Also, while many thought the Cowboys would pass Alabama in all the computers, the first poll out of the gate is the Sagarin ratings, which puts Alabama 2nd and Oklahoma State 3rd. While the highest and lowest positions for each team are thrown out, if any of the other five polls break that way then we will not have agreement among them. Also, all these teams in front of Michigan lost yesterday: Virginia Tech, Houston, Oklahoma, and Michigan State. The last two, specifically, are likely to fall behind Michigan in the new poll. The questions is: will they also fall behind TCU? The closest loss in the rankings to TCU was Georgia, which will fall behind them, but around them in the rankings are Baylor (which just beat Texas) and Clemson (which just demolished Virginia Tech). Also, I think many of the newly-minted two-loss teams today could settle in ahead of TCU. So in other words, it doesn't look good for the Horned Frogs. And given the general leanings of the folks who control the BCS, I don't think they'll give out a bone to Boise State, even though they could be as high as 5th in the new poll.

I'll start with the conferences that are well-defined in my template. Again, regardless of what happens at the top of the polls, that will likely not have any effect on these, and are constant across all scenarios.

With Clemson back to its old ways in the ACC title game, this makes the Chick-fil-a a very good bet to grab Virginia Tech, which means the FSU-Notre Dame matchup is back in play for the Champs. There's still some room for FSU to go to Atlanta, but I don't think VPI will fall past the Champs even though they got blown out. The rest of the conference looks pretty straightforward: Tech to the Sun, NC State to the Belk, Virginia to the Music City, Wake Forest to the Independence, and North Carolina to the Military.

Big East
The Champs Sports Bowl will almost certainly use its option to take Notre Dame this year. After that, only news searches revealed my least favorite bowl scenario is going to happen. Read the article if you want the gory details. The upshot is that other online search put Louisville as a solid lock of the Belk, Rutgers in the Pinstripe, and Pitt to the Compass, which leaves Cincy to the Liberty.

Conference USA
Houston losing was really bad for the conference. Due to the wacky Big East/SEC Liberty Bowl thing it also looks like Southern Miss won't be going there. While there supposedly is an "order" for the C-USA bowls that I found today, it still doesn't make much sense to me. Either way, they will fall a team short, most likely in the New Orleans Bowl. I put Southern Miss in the Compass Bowl and Houston in the TicketCity. I put SMU in the other Dallas bowl game, Marshall in the Beef 'O' Brady's, and shipped Tulsa out to Hawaii. But of all my picks, short of guessing at-large teams, I generally always feel the least confident about C-USA. Well, and the Big East.

With their win in the title game, NIU should be bound for the Bowl in Mobile. I saw a rumor say that Western Michigan would get the nod for Pizza Bowl, so I put conference runner-up Ohio out in Boise, with Toledo and Ball State waiting nervously by the phone.

I think Stanford is a lock for a BCS at-large berth, which leaves the Pac-12 short a team or two, even with UCLA's waiver. As the best remaining team on the board at this point, I put Washington in the Alamo and Cal in the Holiday. Utah is the only other team with a winning record, so I stuck them in the Sun, and figured that left Arizona State for the Las Vegas Bowl. This leaves, of course, UCLA, which a trip to the Fight Hunger Bowl.

Since LSU and Alabama will both be in the BCS in any scenario, we can go ahead and figure the rest of the BCS. I like Arkansas to get the nod for the Capital One, which also lets the SEC bowls switch things up. Georgia and South Carolina, then will end up in the Outback and Cotton bowls, and maybe even in that order. Auburn is pretty solidly next on the plate, and with the worry of an Auburn-Clemson rematch gone, they'll get a trip to Atlanta. I think the Gator, regardless of scenario, will try to set up the Urban Meyer thing, so they'll probably take Florida. At this point, what's left is Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. I like both to stay home, relatively speaking, with Vandy going to the Music City and Miss State to the de facto capital of Mississippi, Memphis.

Sun Belt
Arkansas State, Florida International, and UL-Lafayette are all set. It's not looking good for Western Kentucky to get their first every bowl bid, though.

Hawaii lost to BYU, so unlike UCLA, they will not be bowling at 6-7. Utah State and Louisiana Tech are set with bids already. There are some rumblings Nevada may work out an arrangement to play closer to home (say, the Fight Hunger), but without anything more concrete I'm sticking with putting them in the Hawaii Bowl.

Okay, cool, so what about the conferences that are affected by the BCS? Well, let's start with the Big 12.

Big 12
Whether Oklahoma State gets into the title game doesn't matter here, as they will be in the BCS either way. The question is whether Kansas State will get an at-large berth. Oklahoma, Houston, and Virginia Tech all lost in front of them and will probably fall behind K-State, which may make them an attractive candidate generally for lack of better options. The only team that threatens K-State in this regard is Boise State. I am perhaps not giving Boise enough credit for the BCS folks here, but I think the Wildcats would be an attractive option for the Fiesta or Sugar, while Boise is probably more attractive to the Fiesta. So in all scenarios where either Michigan or TCU do not make it, or both, I have Kansas State in over Boise. The BCS bowl committees may surprise me, though! It's happened before.

Outside of that, I think Oklahoma is a pretty safe bet for the Cotton in any scenario where K-State is in the BCS, but if K-State is not in the BCS I think they are bound for Arlington. From there, things pretty much just go in this order for me: Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M, Missouri, and Iowa State. Just push them up or down a slot depending on who gets into the BCS, basically.

Big Ten
Wisconsin is in and Michigan State is out, in all scenarios. The question is Michigan. If Michigan is in, and I think they will be, I think the Capital One jumps at the chance to grab Nebraska for the second time ever and the first since 1990. If Michigan is not in the BCS, however, then I think they will go to the Capital One. Either way, I think Michigan State is a good bet for the Outback Bowl, followed by Iowa if Michigan is in or Nebraska if Michigan is out. (If Michigan is out, some of my scenarios have Texas-Nebraska in the Insight Bowl. That'd be a fun one, I'd wager, but probably not likely.) I have Ohio State in the Gator regardless of scenario as well.

Then things start to get interesting. The Big Ten has too many teams for its bids, the questions is if this will be one or two extra teams. If Michigan is in, I think that will put Penn State in the Car Care Bowl, Purdue in the TicketCity, and Northwester in the Pizza with Illinois waiting anxiously. If Michigan is out, then I like Iowa to the Car Care, Penn State to the TicketCity, and Purdue in the Pizza, with Northwestern and Illinois waiting.

Mountain West
If Boise is not in, then all indications are they will go to the Las Vegas Bowl. If TCU is not in then they will go to the Poinsettia. The only way TCU goes to the Vegas, it appears, is if Boise gets into the BCS. If TCU is in the BCS, then it looks like (as of the wee hours of Sunday) that the Poinsettia will not take the hometown San Diego State Aztecs and instead take Wyoming. All scenarios put Air Force in the Independence again, while Wyoming goes to the New Mexico if they're still available, and San Diego State if they're not. With the former scenario, SDSU will need an at-large berth.

The leftovers
In no scenario do I have Ball State or Western Kentucky making a bowl game. (Sorry Hilltoppers.) Basically, all these scenarios have an affect on how many teams need at-large bids. In cases where the Big 12 gets two teams in, I have Temple in the Military Bowl and Iowa State if not. I also have Illinois going out west to the Fight Hunger Bowl in all scenarios. That leaves the New Orleans Bowl and New Mexico Bowl needing teams, which depends heavily on if Boise/TCU and/or Michigan got BCS bids. If both do, then I have Toledo and Temple in those games. If the former but not the latter then I have Northwestern and Temple, with Toledo out completely. If the Michigan gets in and Boise/TCU do not, then  I have Toledo and San Diego State occupying those slots. If neither get in, then I have Northwestern and Toledo in those slots.

Note that when it comes to the at-larges, the situation tends to be extremely fluid and there can also be horsetrading (like I alluded to with Nevada).

I will update all 8 scenarios throughout the day as the bids come in, so stay tuned. If you really care about how I determine whether I predicted the matchups correctly, I will probably go with the scenario that most closely matches out the BCS actually turns out. I'll be keeping track of the final destinations here in a separate directory, even.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

This Weekend in College Football: Week 14

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

8:00: West Virginia @ South Florida (ESPN): The very last edition of Thursday night college football comes to you from "beautiful" Tampa, where "South" Florida will attempt to not lose to the Mountaineers. After starting 4-0, the Bulls have gone 1-6, so I can't say I really like their odds. Also, if WVU wins, they will probably get the Big East's BCS bowl bid if Cincinnati also wins.

7:00: Ohio vs. Northern Illinois (MAC Championship @ Detroit, MI; ESPN2): Unlike the other conference title game on this night, these two teams actually are the best teams in their league. Both teams can score, but the Bobcats seem to actually play defense sometimes, so I'll take them. I will say that I think this game will probably be close, unlike...

8:00: California-Los Angeles @ Oregon (Pac-12 Championship; FOX): This game. The only question is not if Oregon will win, but by how many touchdowns. By the way, UCLA did in fact get a waiver to go a bowl game at 6-7. Bruins fans: get your Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl tickets now!

  • Southern Mississippi @ Houston (C-USA Championship; ABC): Southern Miss may arguably be the best team Houston has seen all season, which is one of the reasons why the Cougars haven't been getting a lot of national attention. A win here does seal a BCS bowl bid for them, though, along with a large payday for the rest of Conference USA. Fortunately for the conscience of everyone involved, I really don't think they'll have that many issues, as the game will probably play out a lot like their game against Tulsa: a slow start and then pulling away in the second half.
  • Connecticut @ Cincinnati (ESPN): So it turns out the Big East can potentially end in a 3-way tie, among Louisville, Cincinnati, and West Virginia. Louisville is in the clubhouse with a 5-2 league record. If Cincy wins this game and WVU loses tonight, then Cincy wins the league outright due a head-to-head tiebraker. If Cincy loses this game, then Louisville wins the league outright by either having the best record (WVU loss) or due to their head-to-head tiebreaker over WVU. If there is a 3-way tie, then it will go to the BCS, and right now that benefits Cincy. In any case, I think Cincy is going to win this game.
  • Syracuse @ Pittsburgh (ESPN2): Do you want to see two 5-6 Big East teams attempt to sneak into a bowl game? Probably not, but in case you do, Pitt should win this game. The Orange have lost 4 straight after a 5-2 start and don't look to be getting any better.
12:30: Iowa State @ Kansas State (FSN): You what they say, "You don't just walk in to Bill Synder Family Memorial Stadium and expect to win." This applies to the Cyclones especially, as no one else has succeeded in beating the Wildcats at home this year expect for Oklahoma.

2:30: Nevada-Las Vegas @ Texas Christian (Versus): UNLV is awful. TCU should clinch the MWC title easily.

3:30: Texas @ Baylor (ABC): Texas basically McGuyver'ed a victory in College Station last week. Texas's offense hasn't shown enough ability to score against the other generous defenses of the Big 12, though, and while their defense is competent I don't think it'll be enough to prevent Robert Griffin III from doing his thing. If Texas had any offense at all, this would be a shootout, but instead I really like the Bears' chances.

4:00: Louisiana State vs. Georgia (SEC Championship @ Atlanta, GA; CBS): Georgia's good and all, but their best win of the year may, technically speaking, be over Georgia Tech. LSU is the best team in the land and should clear this hurdle, and probably easily.

7:30: Brigham Young @ Hawaii (ESPN2): BYU visits Hawaii! Why? Because they can! They should also get a victory for their efforts, though Hawaii does need the win to get bowl eligible.

  • Wisconsin vs. Michigan State (Big Ten Championship @ Indianapolis, IN; FOX): Here's one rematch I can't say I mind too much. I think even the first time I liked the Badgers, and I'll stick by that here. Both of these teams are "pretty good" but not "great" and this should be a close, fun game once again.
  • Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State (ABC): Oh, what could have been. The mind still reels trying to comprehend how Texas Tech beat Oklahoma in Norman. I mean, at least OSU had the decency to get upset on the road. Anyway, this is still Bedlam and it's still in Stillwater. I always think "hey, this matchup is always pretty crazy!" but this ignores the historical reality. Anyway, we also know both of these teams can score, but Oklahoma can sort of/kind of actually play defense sometimes. That said, I've liked these Cowboys all season to win this game, and I'm not changing my mind now.
  • Virginia Tech vs. Clemson (ACC Championship @ Charlotte, NC; ESPN): Clemson has lost of its last four, with, as I've grown fond of saying, that one win being a last second FG to beat Wake Forest. This Clemson team shouldn't have any business needing last second field goals to beat Wake Forest, but here we are. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, easily beat Wake Forest and just finished routing their cross-state rival while Clemson lost to theirs, continuing to look lost on offense. What I'm saying is this: I really like the Hokies to prevail in this rematch.
  • Fresno State @ San Diego State (CBSS): SDSU likes to score points, and Fresno State doesn't like to play defense. Blowout, ahoy!
Check back in starting Saturday night for bowl predictions.