Bowl Games 2011: Part 5

As the “New Year’s Day” games wrap up, here’s a preview of the other five games before the last one next week.

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Tuesday, January 3
8:00: Michigan vs. Virginia Tech (Sugar Bowl @ New Orleans, LA; ESPN): Why is VPI in this game? I’m nominally an ACC partisan and even I’m not sure. At any rate, VPI had no answer for Tajh Boyd, and if they couldn’t contain him, it’s extremely difficult to see how they’ll stop Denard Robinson. That’s not to say this’ll be a blowout like those two Clemson games, but I just think this’ll be a more low scoring contest and that Michigan will make enough plays to win.
Previous meetings: None.
Last bowl game: This will be VPI’s 19th consecutive bowl game, good for the 3rd longest streak in the country. The streak began in 1993 with a 45-20 win over Indiana in the Independence Bowl. Last year, they got destroyed by Stanford in the Orange Bowl, 40-12. This is Michigan’s second straight bowl appearance. Last year, they lost to Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl, 52-14.
Fun facts: I call it “VPI” because the full name of the university is actually “Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University” and that’s what old-time residents of the Commonwealth (like my late grandfather) called it. It also provides me a way to be absolutely clear to what “Tech” in the ACC I refer to on this website, which is to say, the one in Georgia. It’s also an important reminder why the answer to the trivia question “how many schools in Division I-A football do not have ‘university’ in their name” is five: the three service academics, Boston College, and Georgia Tech.

Wednesday, January 4
8:00: Clemson vs. West Virginia (Orange Bowl @ Miami Gardens, FL; ESPN): The winner of this game depends entirely on which Clemson team shows up. Are going to get the offensive juggernaut that went 8-0 and then demolished Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game? Ore the one that went 1-3 with losses to Georgia Tech and NC State, got blown out by their in-state rival, and needed a last-second field goal to beat Wake Forest? I’m going to go with the Tigers, but very, very cautiously.
Previous meetings: Only one, back in the 1988-89 Gator Bowl. Clemson won 27-7.
Last bowl game: This is Clemson’s seventh straight bowl game. They lost in last year’s Car Care Bowl (now the Belk Bowl) 31-26 to South Florida. WVU is making its 10th straight bowl appearance. The streak started back in 2002 with a loss in what was then the Tire Bowl (then the Car Care Bowl and now the Belk Bowl) to Virginia, 48-22. Last year they lost to NC State in the Champs Sports Bowl 23-7.
Fun facts: Somewhat famously, West Virginia’s campus features a personal rapid transit system. It’s basically a mini-elevated rail system used to move students around the campus, which is separated into three distinct parts that, due to history and geography, are about two miles apart. In total, the line contains five stations and covers 8.65 miles.

Friday, January 6
8:00: Kansas State vs. Arkansas (Cotton Bowl @ Arlington, TX; FOX): K-State is 10-2, but those two losses came to a couple of the best passing attacks in the country. Arkansas is also in that category. However, Arkansas has trouble against the run, and that’s what these Wildcats do best. I think both of these teams will get their points, but that the Razorbacks will come out ahead in the end.
Previous meetings: Four. Back in 1910, the Wildcats won 5-0, which they followed up with a 3-0 win in 1911. They also beat Arkansas 16-7 in 1926. The last meeting was in 1967, when the Razorbacks got on the board with a 28-7 win.
Last bowl game: This is K-State’s second straight bowl game. Last year, they lost to Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl, 36-34. This is Arkansas’s third straight postseason appearance. They lost to Ohio State in last year’s Sugar Bowl, 31-26.
Fun facts: Here’s how you get a stadium named after you. By 1989, Kansas State had the losingest football program in history at 299-509-41 (or thereabouts, it sort of depends on who you ask). Bill Synder has changed all that, though. In his original tenure, from 1989-2005, the Wildcats amassed a 135-58-1 record good for the 10th-winningest team in that period. Of course, the subsequent Ron Prince era was a little rocky, which is how you get invited back to coach once again.

Saturday, January 7
1:00: Southern Methodist vs. Pittsburgh (BBVA Compass Bowl @ Birmingham, AL; ESPN): Both of these schools have been in the headlines so far this offseason, though mostly for the dalliances of their coaches. Todd Grahm left for his “dream job” at Arizona State, leaving behind a locker room of pissed off players. June Jones, meanwhile, was moments away from that same job, but had his offer withdrawn at the last minute. So which is worse: abandoning your team without warning, or attempting to abandon your team without warning and then having it backfire on you at the last moment, forcing you to go back to Dallas and say “no, see, I almost got that other job but I really want to be here!” I guess we’re about to find out, because on paper I’m giving SMU the edge.
Previous meetings: Five, but only one back in SMU’s glory days in the 80’s. SMU won the first game in 1938, and lost 34-7. Two years later the teams were locked in a 7-7 tie, and then in 1942 Pitt won 20-7. SMU then won 33-14 in 1948. They finally met again in the 1982-83 Cotton Bowl, when SMU managed a 7-3 victory.
Last bowl game: SMU is making its third straight bowl appearance. Last year they went to the nearby Armed Forces Bowl, where they lost to Army 16-14. Pitt is making its fourth straight bowl game and second straight appearance in this very bowl. Last year they beat Kentucky, 27-10.
Fun facts: Pitt is famous for its Cathedral of Learning, which is the second tallest educational building in the world. It’s 535 feet tall and has 42 stories, and contains many of the school’s classrooms and meeting rooms.

Sunday, January 8
9:00: Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois ( Bowl @ Mobile, AL; ESPN): This is almost required viewing, just for the offensive fireworks alone. (Don’t let Arkansas State’s 20th ranked defense fool you.) I’d say something along the lines of “well, NIU’s rushing attack should let them use up the clock” except that they won a game 63-60 earlier this year without the aid of any overtime periods. I think in the end the Huskies’ offense will just be too potent.
Previous meetings: As ASU began their transition back to Division I-A, the two teams met 7 straight times starting in 1990. Based on that, it’s not too surprising the Huskies won the first 5 games and usually by pretty comfortable margins. The Red Wolves broke through win their only win in the series in 1995, 28-21 victory, and then went right back to losing with a 31-30 loss in 1996, the two teams’ last meeting.
Last bowl game: Arkansas State is making its first bowl appearance since the 2005 New Orleans Bowl, where lost to Southern Miss, 31-19. That game was also their first ever bowl game. The Huskies, meanwhile, are making their fourth straight bowl game. Last year they destroyed Fresno State in the then-Humanitarian Bowl (now the Potato Bowl), 40-17.
Fun facts: is a domain registrar. I would highly recommend against utilizing their services.