Bowl Games 2015: Raising Arizona

During Saturday’s binge, I went 4-2, bringing my overall record to 10-8. Let’s talk about the next couple of days.

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Monday, December 28
2:30: Navy vs. Pittsburgh (Military Bowl @ Annapolis, MD; ESPN): It’s been a season of lost opportunities for both teams. Pitt suffered one of the season’s biggest losses before the season had really even begun with All-American running back James Conner was lost for the season. Then in Week 3, they missed a chance to nip the Iowa hype-train right in the bud with a 27-24 loss on the road. Their other losses were also understandable, but their eight wins lack any oomph. The Midshipmen, of course, had a shot to make a conference title game their first year in a conference, but blew the opportunity with a loss at Houston. Though they barely scraped by Army a couple weeks ago, I still like them and I think Pitt’s ability to defend their offense hasn’t necessarily gotten better with time.
Confidence: 27
Previous Meetings: These two have met 39 times in the regular season, and usually for long stretches, including every year from 1961 through 1979. The first meetings, however, go back to 1912-1916. The most recent was a 24-21 Navy win in 2013. Overall, Pitt holds a 22-14-3 advantage.
Last bowl game: I’ve probably said this each of the past few years, but if not for a 5-7 season in 2011, the Midshipmen would be riding a 13 game postseason streak. As it stands, though, their current streak dates to the 2012 Fight Hunger Bowl, where they lost 62-28 to Arizona State. They beat San Diego State 17-16 in last year’s Poinsettia Bowl. Pitt’s eight-game streak dates to the (previously referenced) worst game ever played, the 2008 Sun Bowl where they lost 3-0 to Oregon State. They lost to Houston 35-34 in last season’s Armed Forces Bowl.
Announcers: Eamon McAnaney and Rocky Boiman

5:00: Central Michigan vs. Minnesota (Quick Lane Bowl @ Detroit, MI; ESPN2): Central Michigan isn’t bad or anything, and I think they’re more than capable of winning this game. Also, it’s not like I feel great about picking a 5-7 team to win. I just think that Gophers are probably just a tad better, despite their record.
Confidence: 20
Previous Meetings: Just once, in 1987. Minnesota won 30-10.
Last bowl game: Central Michigan were the darlings and/or villains of last year’s bowl season, as their tremendous fourth quarter comeback in the Bahamas Bowl came up just short on a two point conversion attempt, resulting in a 49-48 loss to Western Kentucky. This is Minnesota’s fourth straight bowl game; they lost last season’s Citrus Bowl 33-17 to Missouri.
Announcers: Dave Neal and Matt Stinchcomb

Tuesday, December 29
2:00: California vs. Air Force (Armed Forces Bowl @ Fort Worth, TX; ESPN): I have this as one of the largest mismatches of the bowl season. The main question is which version of Cal we’ll get. If it’s the version with the offense firing on all cylinders, then I don’t think their atrocious defense will cost them against the Falcons.
Confidence: 40
Previous Meetings: Eight meetings, dating back to 1961. The two met occasionally in the 60’s and 70’s, and then again in 2002 and 2004. Their last meeting was in this game back in 2007. Cal won 42-36. The Bears have a 6-2 overall record in the series.
Last bowl game: This is Cal’s first bowl game since the 2011 Holiday Bowl, which they lost 21-10 to Texas. Air Force played in and won last year’s Potato Bowl with a 38-24 win over Western Michigan.
Announcers: Dave Flemming and Mike Bellotti

5:30: North Carolina vs. Baylor (Russell Athletic Bowl @ Orlando, FL; ESPN): Now this, this might be one of the best bowls of the season. Two very evenly matched teams with high powered offenses and mediocre defenses mean that, if nothing else, you should probably take the over. Of course, the problem for Baylor is if they’ll have a quarterback, after all, the only reason they’re here is because they lost to Texas due to not having a quarterback in the first half. (The Bears eventually abandoned any pretense of passing and just started running the single wing in the second half.) Their third string quarterback (who was unavailable for the Texas game) is back, but they’re also missing their best receiver and running back. North Carolina is still fully functional on offense, though, with Marquise Williams and the high-flying Tar Heel attack ready to go. Given Baylor’s injury situation, I’ve revised this pick at the last minute, downgraded the confidence, and changed my pick to the Heels.
Confidence: 3
Previous Meetings: This is the first meeting between these two teams.
Last bowl game: This is Carolina’s third straight bowl game. They lost 40-21 to Rutgers in last year’s Quick Lane Bowl. This is Baylor’s sixth straight bowl, dating to the 2010 Texas Bowl, which they lost 38-14 to Illinois. They lost last season’s Cotton Bowl 42-41 to Michigan State.
Announcers: Mike Patrick and Ed Cunningham

7:30: Colorado State vs. Nevada (Arizona Bowl @ Tuscon, AZ; see website): I’m not sure why this game exists. As you may or may not know, the driving force behind the creation of most of the new spate of college football bowl games is ESPN, as they need live content to continue to justify their existence. Even if there’s no one in attendance, ESPN is still pulling in viewers (like me) to their live content that they can actually still sell advertising for. The Arizona Bowl is not going to be on ESPN. In many areas, it’ll be on a digital subchannel of some sort (see the website link), or on the American Sports Network if you get that. Otherwise, it’ll be streamed live online. While online streaming is probably they way everything is going, this isn’t the sort of venture that will really serve as a justification for it. Matching up two teams from the same conference is also not doing a very good job of justifying this game’s existence. As I noted before, the game did not try to get one of the Pac-12’s extra teams because they would be too expensive. As though a matchup featuring two teams from the same conference on hard-to-find channels would really do much to help the game not go broke.
I guess they did succeed at one thing: I’ve probably written more about this game than any of the other bowls. Ugh.
As for the game itself, these were not exactly the best teams in the Mountain West, and this game might feature the lowest average rated teams in any bowl. I’m picking Colorado State to win in obscurity.
Confidence: 4
Previous Meetings: Seeing as how these two are in the same conference, they have met often since the formation of the Mountain West back in 1997. (The first game was in 1974, though.) They met last year, and the Rams won 31-24, and hold an 11-2 advantage in the series.
Last bowl game: This is Colorado State’s third straight bowl game. They lost to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl last year, 45-10. Nevada lost to Louisiana-Lafayette 16-3 in last year’s New Orleans Bowl.
Announcers: Ron Thulin and Doug Chapman

9:00: Texas Tech vs. Louisiana State (Texas Bowl @ Houston, TX; ESPN): In quite possibly the most horrifically botched public relations move the year, LSU essentially did everything but fire Les Miles. Thankfully for those of us who need funny quotes from coaches with personality (especially in this dark, post-Spurrier era), the Bayou Bengals decided to retain The Hat. At any rate, the game itself is a giant mismatch in total favor of LSU. The Red Raiders do have hope, though. It’s a tall order against this defense, but if they can figure something out they’ll be able to outscore LSU. That said, I’m not betting on that happening.
Confidence: 29
Previous Meetings: Just two, and LSU won them both, in 1954 (20-13) and 1957 (19-14).
Last bowl game: The Red Raiders’s last postseason appearance was the 2013 Holiday Bowl, wherein they beat Arizona State 37-23. LSU’s 16-game streak dates to the 2000 Peach Bowl, where they beat Georgia Tech 28-14. Last season, they lost to Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl 31-28.
Announcers: Joe Tessitore, Jesse Palmer, and David Pollack