Bowl Games 2014: Going Out on a High Note

Let’s go ahead and blow this open: nine games, three days, wrapping up in some of the best non-playoff teams of the season, and taking us through the end of the calendar year.

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Monday, December 29
2:00: West Virginia vs. Texas Agricultural and Mechanical (Liberty Bowl @ Memphis, TN; ESPN): Looking back, I’m not quite sure why I’m confident about this one. Both these teams play a lot of offense and very little defense, which bodes well if you like high-scoring shootouts. Part of it could just be that the Mountaineers looked significantly better to close their season than the Aggies, with narrow losses to TCU, Texas, and K-State, plus a resounding win over Iowa State. Since TAMU upset Auburn back in early November, they’ve gone 0-2 to an eminently beatable Missouri and allowed an at-times lost looking LSU offense to score 23 (a lot for them) and win. We’ll see how well the eye test holds up, I guess.
Confidence: 33
Previous meetings: This is the first meeting between these two teams.
Last bowl game: This is WVU’s first bowl game since the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl, which they lost to Syracuse 38-14. This is TAMU’s sixth straight bowl, starting with a 44-20 loss to Georgia in the 2009 Independence Bowl. They scraped by Duke 52-48 in last year’s Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
Announcers: Clay Matvick and Antony Becht

5:30: Clemson vs. Oklahoma (Russell Athletic Bowl @ Orlando, FL; ESPN): Speaking of ways teams closed the season, it was about as bad as it could get for Oklahoma. Basically this prediction is based entirely on the fact that Cole Stoudt is starting for the Tigers, which means that I cannot predict them to win.
Confidence: 5
Previous meetings: Just three. The Sooners won the first two meetings in 1963 and 1972, and by pretty healthy 31-14 and 52-3 margins. Clemson won the last meeting in the 1988-9 Citrus Bowl, 13-6.
Last bowl game: This is Clemson’s tenth straight bowl game, going back to the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl, in which they beat Colorado 19-10. Given another shot at the Orange Bowl after the 2012 debacle against West Virginia, they won last year’s contest 40-35 over Ohio State. The Sooners own the fifth longest bowl streak in the land, with this being their sixteenth straight postseason game. The beginning of the streak was the 1999 Independence Bowl, which they lost to Ole Miss, 27-25. In one of the largest upsets of last year’s bowl season, they beat Alabama 45-31 in the Sugar Bowl.
Announcers: Mike Patrick and Ed Cunningham

9:00: Texas vs. Arkansas (Texas Bowl @ Houston, TX; ESPN): I’m not sure why I’m confident about Arkansas in this one either. I suppose I’d chalk it up to their bruising rushing attack, which propelling them to upset wins over LSU and Ole Miss and bowl eligibility in the first place, even if they drop the ball against Mizzou. Texas also got pasted by TCU in their regular season finale, but that was pretty much expected.
Confidence: 32
Previous meetings: These former Southwest Conference foes have no shortage of meetings, with a grand total of 77 dating all the way back to 1894. Texas, as one might expect, has historically dominated the series by a 56-21 margin. The last three meetings took place during the 2003, 2004, and 2008 regular seasons. Texas is 2-1 in those, and has won two straight, most recently by a 52-10 margin.
Last bowl game: This is the fourth straight bowl game for the Longhorns, going back to a 21-10 victory over Cal in the 2011 Holiday Bowl. They got wrecked by Oregon in last year’s Alamo Bowl, 30-7. This is Arkansas’s first bowl appearance since the 2011-2 Cotton Bowl, where they beat Kansas State 29-16.
Announcers: Dave Pasch and Brian Griese

Tuesday, December 30
3:00: Notre Dame vs. Louisiana State (Music City Bowl @ Nashville, TN; ESPN): Notre Dame has lost 5 of their 6, with the only win coming over Navy. Losses to Florida State and Arizona State were understandable. Northwestern, less so. Getting blown out by Southern Cal, well, that was not exactly a good look. If LSU can put up some points, it’s hard to see how the Irish will have any success at all against their defense.
Confidence: 30
Previous meetings: Ten of ’em, and the series is an even 5-5 split. LSU won the last won, a 41-14 pounding in the 2005-6 Sugar Bowl.
Last bowl game: This the Domers’ fifth straight bowl game. They kicked off the streak with a 33-17 win over Miami in the 2010 Sun Bowl, and last year they beat Rutgers 29-16 in the Pinstripe Bowl. LSU owns the sixth longest bowl streak, with this being their fifteenth straight. The streak, unfortunately, started with a 28-14 win over Georgia Tech in the 2000 Peach Bowl. Last year the Bayou Bengals beat Iowa 21-14 in the Outback Bowl.
Announcers: Mark Jones and Rod Gilmore

6:30: Louisville vs. Georgia (Belk Bowl @ Charlotte, NC; ESPN): While I would love to use this space to gloat about their loss to us, the fact remains that Georgia is still a pretty decent football team. Louisville is solid, but they lost pretty convincingly to the two teams they played closest to UGA’s talent level (FSU and Clemson). I like UGA’s chances, as long as they show up.
Confidence: 31
Previous meetings: This is the first meeting between these two teams.
Last bowl game: This is Louisville’s fifth straight bowl game, going back to the 2010 Beef O’Brady’s Bowl, where they beat Southern Miss 31-28. Last year they stomped future conference-mates Miami 36-9 in the Russell Athletic Bowl. UGA is tied with Georgia Tech for the third longest bowl streak in the land, with this being their eighteenth straight bowl. They started with a 33-6 win over Wisconsin in the 1997-8 Outback Bowl, but last year they lost 24-19 to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.
Announcers: Anish Shorff and Kelly Stouffer
Fun facts: This is the first time since the 2006 edition of this game (when it was the Car Care Bowl), that it has not selected a team from either North or South Carolina. (Boston College beat Navy 25-24.)

10:00: Maryland vs. Stanford (Foster Farms Bowl @ Santa Clara, CA; ESPN): Things like losses to Rutgers are really preventing me from believing in you, Maryland. Also not helping are things like your lack of wins over teams that finished the regular season above .500. Meanwhile, the Cardinal finished their somewhat disappointing regular season with convincing wins over Cal (expected, even if Stanford scoring 38 wasn’t) and UCLA (a massive upset in which Stanford won 31-10). So I have to go with what is basically the home team in this one.
Confidence: 28
Previous meetings: This is the first meeting between these two teams.
Last bowl game: This is Maryland’s second straight bowl, after losing last year’s Military Bowl to Marshall by a 31-20 margin. (In retrospect, maybe that was more of a glimpse of things to come for the Herd than it was for the Terps.) This is Stanford’s sixth straight bowl, and a bit of a step down after four straight BCS-bowl games. The streak started with a 31-27 loss to Oklahoma in the 2007 Sun Bowl, and last year they lost 24-20 to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.
Announcers: Dave Flemming and Greg McElroy
Fun facts: According to Google Maps (and they should know, given the area), it is 12.8 miles from Stanford University to Levi’s Stadium. It is 42.1 miles from the Civic Center area of San Francisco to Levi’s Stadium. Just sayin’.

Wednesday, December 31
12:30: Mississippi vs. Texas Christian (Peach Bowl @ Atlanta, GA; ESPN): This day and the next will be a day of reckoning for the Big 12. In addition to scheduling better, one way they can prove themselves is to score some big wins in bowl games. Both these teams play good defense, though by any metric Ole Miss plays great defense. But given their issues in their three losses, it seems more likely that if one of these teams is going to come up with a big play offensively, it’ll be the Horned Frogs.
Confidence: 17
Previous meetings: Six, but none since a pair of regular season meeting in 1982 and 1983. Ole Miss is 5-1 all time, with TCU’s only win coming way back in 1949. Ole Miss won the last one 20-7.
Last bowl game: This is Ole Miss’s third straight bowl game. Two years ago, they beat Pitt in 38-17 in the Compass Bowl, and last year they won the Music City Bowl by a (sadface) 25-17 margin over Georgia Tech. This is TCU’s first bowl appearance since the 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (the Arizona version), where they lost 17-16 to Michigan State.
Announcers: Joe Tessitore and Brock Huard

4:00: Arizona vs. Boise State (Fiesta Bowl @ Glendale, AZ; ESPN): My pick of Boise in this one is more of a reflection of Arizona than anything else. I just had a hard time buying what Arizona was selling all year. Perhaps I’m letting recent results influence me too much, but boy howdy getting owned 51-13 in the Pac-12 Championship was not a good look for the Wildcats at all. Boise also has a running back in Jay Ajayi that has declared for the draft and could make things bad for any team that potentially has issues stopping the run.
Confidence: 18
Previous meetings: This is the first meeting between these two teams.
Last bowl game: This is the third straight bowl appearance for the Wildcats. They beat Nevada 49-48 in the 2012 New Mexico Bowl, and also won last year’s Advocare V100 Bowl 42-19 over Boston College. Boise, meanwhile, is tied with Wisconsin for the seventh longest bowl streak, with this being their thirteenth straight appearance. They started way back with a 34-16 win over Iowa State in the Humanitarian Bowl, but lost last year’s Hawaii Bowl 38-23 to Oregon State.
Announcers: Sean McDonough and Chris Spielman

8:00: Georgia Tech vs. Mississippi State (Orange Bowl @ Miami Gardens, FL; ESPN): I worry about a lot of things. I’d say I’m pretty good at it. In terms of this football contest, though, I have the usual worries:
1) Our undersized offensive line against an SEC-caliber defensive line, that also defeated one good spread attack (Auburn) and one bruising rushing attack (Arkansas) this season.
2) Our very bad defense’s ability to stop anyone from doing anything. When it doesn’t generate turnovers, the results look a lot like they did against FSU. And, at least this season, Miss State’s Dak Prescott has looked every bit as good, if not better, than Jamesis Winston. Miss State’s loss to Alabama can be chalked up to their three turnovers, but their loss to Ole Miss was pure and simply that Ole Miss’s defense is really good. The Bulldogs lost around two turnovers a game this season. I’m going to guess we’ll need a margin of three to have a chance.
3) The offense after a month layoff. Not because Miss State has had a chance to prepare, but mostly because of rust. A lot of times in our bowl games, we’ve looked more like we do in early September than late November, which is to say that angles are off slightly, the blocks aren’t as clean, and the ball perhaps a little harder to hold on to at game speed.
My usual policy is that I will not predict Tech games, and that if I’m in a situation where I have to, I will pick us to win by a slim margin. This is reflected in the confidence score below.
Confidence: 1
Previous meetings: Tech is 4-0 all-time against Miss State, with the most recent victory by a 42-31 margin. See the fun facts section below for more.
Last bowl game: Tech is tied for the third longest bowl streak with Georgia, with this being our eighteenth straight bowl game. GT its streak with a 35-30 win over West Virginia in the 1997 Carquest Bowl, and last year lost 25-17 to Ole Miss in the Music City Bowl. This is Miss State’s fifth straight bowl game, going back to a 52-14 win over Michigan in the 2010-11 Gator Bowl. They demolished Rice 44-7 in last year’s Liberty Bowl.
Announcers: Brent Musburger and Jesse Palmer
Fun facts: Despite being members of the same conferences from 1921 through 1964, four all-time meetings. Yep. And only one of those meetings was in conference, in 1929. The first was in 1908, before there were really conferences, and the last two were in 2008 and 2009. Why? There’s a lot of reasons, but it essentially boils down to the ability for schools to set their own conference schedules back in the day, and like many reasonable people, Georgia Tech’s coaches didn’t want to go to Mississippi. (We have also only played Ole Miss four times.)

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