Bowl Games 2010: Winding Toward the New Year

I’m off to a much better start this year as compared to last, but will it hold up over the next week (when the vast majority of games are)? Stay tuned and see!

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Sunday, December 26
8:30: Florida International vs. Toledo (Little Ceasars Pizza Bowl @ Detroit, MI; ESPN): It’s tough to really do predictions for these sorts of games, as they’re not exactly teams I spend every week of the season watching. When it comes to teams like this, one has to sort of ignore how badly they get beat up by the teams they collect checks from and look at their conferences, which is the reason why I like Toledo here.
Previous meetings: Somewhat surprisingly, these teams have met twice, with FIU winning at Toledo in 2008 but losing at home last year, 41-31.
Last bowl game: Given their short history (DI-A since 2004) it’s perhaps not a surprise this is FIU’s first bowl game. Toledo had a pretty good thing going back in the late-90’s and early 2000’s but they haven’t been a bowl since the 2005 GMAC Bowl, wherein they beat UTEP 45-13. This is also their 4th appearance in what used to be the Motor City Bowl, which they last made the trip to in 2004.

Monday, December 27
5:00: Georgia Tech vs. Air Force (Independence Bowl @ Shreveport, LA; ESPN2): As all three of my readers have probably noticed, I generally avoid picking Tech games. This is mostly because of two reasons. First, well, it’s just bad form to root against your own team, even if logically they are underdogs. Second, I don’t generally like picking them to win because I think it’ll jinx them even though I know better. So, when it comes to situations like this, I decide the latter is the lesser of the two evils and predict a narrow win for the good guys. We’ll see if it works.
Most of the talk surrounding this game has been related to the two option offenses playing each other in a bowl game that could actually run under three hours. This is possible, for sure. But these are also two different option offenses. Georgia Tech runs what Paul Johnson calls the “spread option”, which is an option offense run from the “flexbone” formation that has more in common with the run-n-shoot principle of “getting the ball to players in space” than with the 1970’s Oklahoma wishbone (or the 1950’s GT wishbone, for that matter). Air Force will also run some flexbone, but they have a more “pure” historical option family tree and also mix in some option plays from other formations, from the classic wishbone and I-formations to the shotgun.
Georgia Tech will be missing at least 5 players. The first and foremost is senior QB Josh Nesbitt, who is still out from the broken arm he suffered in the Virginia Tech game. Tech will also be missing two starters and two backups due to academic issues. Mario Edwards is the missing starting safety, which is bad due to the general lack of talent and depth on defense. Stephen Hill has not had a great year, but he is a tall physical presence at WR that will be missed.
Air Force has given up around 22 points per game but allows close to 5 yards per carry. While they shut down the Navy offense earlier this year (which is still very similar to Tech’s) I’m not sure how much of that was AF or how much was bad play on the part of the Midshipmen. Tech’s defense isn’t very good, but you already knew that.
So what do I expect here? Well, anything really. I’m just going to pull for the Jackets and hope for the best.
Previous meetings: Georgia Tech has played Air Force 3 times overall, all from 1977-1979. Air Force was pretty bad back then and GT made quick work of them, to the tune of a 3-0 record by which GT outscored them 93-24. The 1978 game in Colorado Springs featured GT running back Eddie Lee Ivory setting what was then the NCAA single-game rushing record.
Last bowl game: Georgia Tech is making its 14th consecutive bowl appearance, a streak which dates back to the 1997 Carquest Bowl. Only 4 other schools have as long or longer streaks (Georgia, VPI, Florida, and FSU). GT played in last year’s Orange Bowl and lost 24-14 to Iowa. Meanwhile, AF is in its 4th consecutive bowl game, the previous three of which were the Armed Forces Bowl. Last year they pounded Houston 47-20.

Tuesday, December 28
6:30: West Virginia vs. North Carolina State (Champs Sports Bowl @ Orlando, FL; ESPN): Despite his general lack of coaching prowess, I’m not sure anyone really deserves the treatment Bill Stewart has gotten lately from the WVU athletic department. That’s part of the reason why I’ve picked them to win. The other is that West Virginia has quietly had an awesome defensive year. They rank 3rd in the country in total defense and have allowed an average of less than 13 points per game. I think NCSU will manage to score more than that, but one side has a great defense and is playing for their embattled coach, while the other had a shot at getting to the ACC title game but blew it in an inexplicable loss to Maryland.
Previous meetings: These schools have met a total of 9 times in what appear to be one off home-and-homes and a couple of Peach Bowls. The first meeting was in 1914, which NC State won 26-13. They would meet again in 1917 and then  in three straight years from 1953-1955. Then there were the 1972 and 1975 Peach Bowls, after which they’d get together for a home-and-home in 1978 and 1979, the last of which WVU won 38-14. They haven’t met since. Overall, WVU holds a slim 5-4 lead in the series.
Last bowl game: West Virginia has a decent little streak going, starting with the 2002 Continental Tire Bowl, which they lost to UVA 48-22, and lost to FSU last year in the Gator Bowl, 33-21. NCSU last went bowling in 2008, when they lost 29-23 to Rutgers in the Bowl.

10:00: Missouri vs. Iowa (Insight Bowl @ Temple, AZ; ESPN): Iowa’s had a boatload of issues so far this offseason, while Mizzou hasn’t. Missouri also still boasts a pretty good offense and had decent, if not great year, while Iowa’s was mostly disappointing. Going with the Tigers here.
Previous meetings: These two met 7 times from 1902 to 1910 and haven’t played each other since. In what was surely an exciting game, Mizzou won the 1910 game 5-0 and holds a 4-3 lead in the series.
Last bowl game: This will be Mizzou’s 4th straight bowl game. They lost 35-13 to Navy in last year’s Texas Bowl. This would be Iowa 10th straight game, but they didn’t go to one in 2007. They beat Georgia Tech 24-14 in last year’s Orange Bowl.

Wednesday, December 29
2:30: Maryland vs. East Carolina (Military Bowl @ Washington, DC; ESPN): I’ve got Maryland here, mostly due to the non-strength that is ECU’s defense. With the 108th ranked defense nationally, even the Terps should be able to put up some points here.
Previous meetings: This is the first meeting between these two teams.
Last bowl game: Maryland was last seen in the 2008 Humanitarian Bowl, where they beat Nevada 42-35. This is ECU’s 5th straight bowl game, and last year they lost 20-17 to Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl.

6:00: Baylor vs. Illinois (Texas Bowl @ Houston, TX; ESPN): I normally say about these sorts of games “which Illinois team will show up here?” but I think that’s an ultimately futile effort. That said, Illinois’s wins include both directional Illinoises, Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue, and Penn State. Baylor faded down the stretch, but at least they didn’t lose to Minnesota. Taking the Bears here.
Previous meetings: These teams have met exactly once, in a 34-19 Baylor win at Illinois in 1976.
Last bowl game: Baylor, as you might’ve heard, has not been very good for most of the of the past two decades. Their last bowl appearance was actually with the SWC, when they lost 10-3 to Washington State in 1994 Alamo Bowl. This is Illinois’s first bowl since the Zooker’s magical run to the 2007 Rose Bowl, where they (unsurprisingly) got pounded by USC 49-17.

9:15: Arizona vs. Oklahoma State (Alamo Bowl @ San Antonio, TX; ESPN): Arizona actually has a decent offense and defense, but OSU has a serviceable defense and the nation’s leading offense. Most notably, the the Wildcat defense got torched by fellow offensive juggernauts Stanford and Oregon, so there’s not reason Oklahoma State shouldn’t be able to do the same.
Previous meetings: These two have met 6 times and are 3-3 all-time. All 6 meetings were between 1931 and 1942, the last of which Arizona won 20-6.
Last bowl game: This is Arizona’s third straight bowl game. They got blown out 33-0 in last year’s Holiday Bowl. This is OSU’s 5th straight game (their only miss of the past decade was in 2005). They lost 21-7 to Ole Miss in last year’s Cotton Bowl.