Happy New Year!
As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.
Monday, January 2
12:00: Houston vs. Pennsylvania State (TicketCity Bowl @ Dallas, TX; ESPNU): I think it’s pretty safe to say that Penn State is the best team Houston has played all year. The Nittany Lions also sport the nation’s 5th ranked pass defense against the country’s top passing offense. So this is a pretty classic battle of “unstoppable force meets immovable object”. Then again, Penn State’s offense is just not in any realm that we could really consider “good”, so even if the defense does generate a few stops (and while they’re good, it’s unlikely they’ll completely shut the Cougars down) I don’t think their offense will be able mount a convincing enough response.
Previous meetings: Two, in 1964 and 1977. Penn State won both games by scores of 24-7 and 31-14.
Last bowl game: The Cougars didn’t go to a bowl game last season, so their last post-season appearance was the 2009 Armed Forces Bowl, where they lost to Air Force 47-20. Penn State is headed to their 7th straight bowl game. Last year they played in the Outback Bowl and lost to Florida 37-24.
Fun facts: Houston began life as a junior college component of Houston’s school system in the 1930’s. It became independent by 1945, though, and in 1953 became the first university to have its own TV station, KUHT. Also, I like calling the game the “Zombie Cotton Bowl” due to the location of the game.
- Michigan State vs. Georgia (Outback Bowl @ Tampa, FL; ABC): How does Michigan State rank 39th in scoring offense but 60th in yards? Well, having good special teams helps, and that just happens to be Sparty’s only really clear advantage over the Bulldogs. Both of these teams sport top-5 defenses and are just good enough to get by on offense, generally. I’m going with Sparty by just a hair.
Previous meetings: Two, both in New Year’s Day Bowl games in 1989 and 2009. UGA won both meetings. The first was the Gator Bowl, which they won 34-27 and the second was the Capital One Bowl, which they won 24-12.
Last bowl game: The Spartans are still trying to forget their last bowl outing: a 49-7 shallacking from Alabama in last season’s Capital One Bowl. They are appearing in their fifth straight bowl game. UGA is making their 15th straight bowl appearance. Appropriately enough, their streak began with the 1997 edition of the Outback Bowl, where they beat Wisconsin 33-6. Last year they appeared in the Liberty Bowl, where they lost to Central Florida 10-6.
Fun facts: East Lansing is, of course, a college town east of its namesake, Lansing. But, did you know that Lansing is the only US state capitol that is not also its county seat? Now you do.
- South Carolina vs. Nebraska (Capital One Bowl @ Orlando, FL; ESPN): I wish I could say something more insightful other than “it’s hard to see how South Carolina is going to score enough points to win this game” but that’s pretty much all I have for this one.
Previous meetings: Three times, and unsurprisingly, the Huskers are 3-0 against the Gamecocks. In 1964 they won 28-6, in 1986 they won 27-24, and in 1987 they won 30-21.
Last bowl game: The Gamecocks are making their fourth straight bowl game appearance. Last year they lost to Florida State in the Chick-fil-a Bowl 26-17. Nebraska is also making their fourth straight bowl appearance and just came off two straight appearances in the Holiday Bowl. They lost to Washington in the latter game, 19-7.
Fun facts: The Capital One Bowl used to be the Citrus Bowl, and is still played in that stadium in Orlando. Of course, from its founding in 1947 until 1983 it was known as the Tangerine Bowl. The name change occurred along with a notable boost in the profile of the invited teams. Confusingly, after that another game was founded that was called the Tangerine Bowl and is now played at the Citrus Bowl, but that’s a story for another day. Also, while working on this a promo for this game just advertised “Steve Spurrier’s bruising ‘D'” which is among a list of phrases I thought I would never hear.
- Ohio State vs. Florida (Gator Bowl @ Jacksonville, FL; ESPN2): It’s hard to imagine that the Gator Bowl needed a gimmick to match up Ohio State and Florida, but remember, these are two 6-6 teams that have some very big issues. Specifically, on offense: both rank in the bottom 20 of total offense. Florida’s defense is better in terms of yards per game, but in terms of scoring defense these teams are about identical. Even though Charlie Weis is now at Kansas, it’s hard to see Florida suddenly realizing that they are allowed to, like, score points and stuff. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, have a guy in Braxton Miller who is capable of winning the game for them but also plenty capable of losing it for them. However, the Gators really no guys in the former category, giving Urban’s new team the edge.
Previous meetings: Only once, in the 2006-2007 BCS Championship Game. The Gators won 41-14.
Last bowl game: Ohio State “appeared” in last year’s Sugar Bowl and “won” 31-26. Depending on how you interpreted the term “vacate”, the Buckeyes are making their 12th straight postseason appearance. This will be the last game in the streak due to the bowl ban for next season. The Gators, meanwhile are making their 21st-straight bowl game, the second longest streak in the nation. The beginning of the streak was the 1991-1992 Sugar Bowl, where they lost to Notre Dame 39-28. Last year, the Gators beat Penn State 37-24 in the Outback Bowl.
Fun facts: Despite occasional moments of greatness, Florida football basically didn’t exist before Steve Spurrier was hired in 1990. Since then, the Gators’ are the winningest football program in the country.
5:00: Wisconsin vs. Oregon (Rose Bowl @ Pasadena, CA; ESPN): Boy howdy, I sure do hope you like points! However, Wisconsin also plays that defense thing, so as long as the game doesn’t come down to a Hail Mary pass as time expires this season has shown that they should be okay. Then again, they haven’t played any offense that is quite like Oregon’s, either. Well, okay, really anything like Oregon’s at all. Wisconsin will of course have all sorts of size advantages on defense, but I don’t think most people would argue that they’re like LSU’s defense, which held Oregon to “only” 27 points. And Oregon will be more than happy to neutralize Wisconsin’s size with speed on both sides of the ball. That said, I’m going to go with my gut and take the Badgers.
Previous meetings: Four, and none have been Rose Bowls, but instead it appears that they played two sets of home-and-home series in 1977 and 1978, and 2000 and 2001. Wisconsin won the first three games, but Oregon took the last game 31-28.
Last bowl game: Wisconsin is appearing in their tenth straight bowl game, and their second consecutive appearance in the Rose Bowl. Last year, they lost to TCU 21-19. Oregon is making their seventh straight bowl game. Last year, they lost to Auburn in the BCS National Championship game, 22-19.
Fun facts: The cartoon version of Oregon’s Duck mascot looks a lot like Donald Duck, owing to the popularity of the Disney character during the mascot’s formative years and a handshake agreement between the Oregon athletic director at the time and Walt Disney himself. (These days, the agreement is much more formal.)
8:30: Oklahoma State vs. Stanford (Fiesta Bowl @ Glendale, AZ; ESPN): Both of these teams are good at throwing the ball and bad at defending against the pass. What does that mean? You guessed it – points! While Luck is the better quarterback, Oklahoma State really has more skill players around Brandon Wheedon, not to mention that Justin Blackmon guy. It’s hard to see how the Cardinal will have an answer for him, allowing the Cowboys to pull away in the end.
Previous meetings: None.
Last bowl game: This OSU is making their sixth straight bowl appearance. Last year they handily beat Arizona 36-10 in the Alamo Bowl. The Cardinal is making their third straight appearance, and last year they easily dispatched Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl, 40-12.
Fun facts: The (in)famous Stanford tree mascot is actually the mascot of the (also (in)famous) Stanford marching band.