Time to predict the 16 bowl games played between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Of course, some of us can remember when there were less than 16 bowl games total.
Little Caesars Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Central Michigan. Chippewas 41-30. My vote for the worst bowl. A 7-5 Sun Belt team against a 6-6 MAC team. How did Little Caesars end up with the two schools that should have been the only two bowl-eligible teams not playing? Western Kentucky got a bowl bid over Middle Tennessee, which finished two games ahead of Western in the Sun Belt, was 8-4 overall and beat Western. Central Michigan got a bid and 9-3 Louisiana Tech did not.
Military Bowl: San Jose State vs. Bowling Green. Spartans 30-10. San Jose State’s excellent season, 10-2, cost it its coach. Mike MacIntyre is now at Colorado. This bowl, played at the Redskins’ stadium, is crying for Army to get good.
Belk Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Duke. Blue Devils 34-14. Cincinnati, the cradle of coaches, with Mark Dantonio going to Michigan State and doing a much better job than Mike D’Antoni is doing with the Lakers; Brian Kelly waking echoes at Notre Dame; Butch Jones off to Rocky Top if not the mountain top of the SEC; and now Tommy Tuberville finding happiness in Lubbock, Texas, in the rearview mirror. Quite a contrast to Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who did a solid job at Ole Miss and was fired when he refused to axe some of his staff and now has made Duke relative and not jumped at other prime opportunities.
Holiday Bowl: Baylor vs. UCLA. Bruins 41-40. You know, the scout in you should watch this game. Baylor stayed competitive without Robert Griffin and just might do the same without Nick Florence. Expect this to be high-scoring, but the Bears won their 2012 Alamo Bowl 67-56. Not going to be that high-scoring.
Independence Bowl: Ohio vs. Louisiana-Monroe. Warhawks 38-36. There was a time when I was talking Ohio to the Orange Bowl. The Bobcats were unbeaten, including a knockoff of Penn State. But injuries ravaged old pal Frank Solich and his team led by Okies. Now Ohio U. is just a consolation prize for Shreverport, which hoped to match Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana Tech, which took turns playing Cinderella this season but eventually gave way to Northern Illinois, which got that Orange Bowl slot.
Russell Athletic Bowl: Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech. Scarlet Knights 23-14. Here’s how desolate is Big East football. This bowl matches a school that not so long ago was in the Big East (VPI) against a school that’s leaving the Big East (Rutgers), AND IT’S NOT EVEN THE ONLY BOWL THAT FITS THAT DESCRIPTION! The Pinstripe does, too.
Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl: Minnesota vs. Texas Tech. Golden Gophers 29-28. In the 2006 Insight Bowl, Minnesota roared to a 31-point lead, but Texas Tech rallied to win in overtime. The Gopher brass was so angry, it fired coach Glen Mason. And has been paying for it ever since. The Gophers are 26-48 since that bowl debacle, Mason had gone 64-57 in 10 seasons. He was the first Minnesota coach with a winning record since Murray Warmath, who retired after the 1971 season.
Armed Force Bowls: Air Force vs. Rice. Falcons 31-20. Do you realize how close we came to having all three Oklahoma schools in DFW bowls? If Tulsa had lost to Central Florida in the Conference USA title game (TU won in overtime), the Hurricane likely would have ended up in this Fort Worth bowl against Air Force. That would have meant TU, OSU and OU all playing in the Metroplex in a seven-day span.
Fight Hunger Bowl: Navy vs. Arizona State. Sun Devils 38-22. Some people have a life of luxury. Pac-12 schools make the following road trips regularly — Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Salt Lake City and barely-inland Oregon, where you’re 45 minutes from the most beautiful coast in America. But the exotic locales don’t stop there. In bowl season, the Pac-12 is sending/sent teams to San Francisco, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Antonio, Phoenix and Pasadena. El Paso and Albuquerque aren’t necessarily tropical, but they are a little exotic.
Pinstripe Bowl: West Virginia vs. Syracuse. Mountaineers 44-34. West Virginians long have been excited about going to New York for the Big East Tournament. But now they’ll be headed to Kansas City for conference hoops and New York on occasion for a bowl game. Probably not a great trade. Which makes me think. Won’t the Pinstripe soon try to cut a deal with the ACC, to replace the Big East?
Alamo Bowl: Texas vs. Oregon State. Beavers 32-27. The Longhorns have played Oregon State twice. In 1980 and 1987, the Beavers came to Austin. Now Oregon State finally gets UT on a neutral field — 79 miles south of Austin. But this is a good Oregon State team. If you ranked teams only by road performance — hey, that’s a great idea, I’ll do that maybe tomorrow — then the Beavers are a top 10 team. They won at UCLA, Arizona and BYU, and lost 20-17 at Washington and 27-23 at Stanford.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: Michigan State vs. TCU. Frogs 21-6. The Spartans are the cardiac kids. Eight of their 12 games were determined by four points or less. They nipped Boise State, rallied to win at Indiana and won at Wisconsin in overtime. The Spartans also lost by one to Ohio State, two at Michigan, in double overtime to Iowa, by four to Nebraska on a rooked call and by three against Northwestern.
Music City Bowl: Vanderbilt vs. North Carolina State. Commodores 27-17. Does the SEC care about Vanderbilt? The evidence suggests no. This is Vandy’s third bowl game since 1982. The Commodores played in Nashville’s Music City Bowl in 2008 and in Memphis’ Liberty Bowl last season. James Franklin has done an admirable coaching job, getting the Commodores back into the post-season in successive years for the first time ever. Vandy is 8-4, and its victims include some reputable football schools, like Missouri, Auburn, Tennessee and Ole Miss. But Vanderbilt’s reward is another trip across town to Nashville.
Sun Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Southern Cal. Trojans 45-31. Here’s an idea for the Big 12. Go hook up with the Sun Bowl again. The Sun Bowl wasn’t crazy about the seventh or eighth pick of the Big 12, so it signed on with the ACC, which volunteers its No. 4 team. But ACC bowl shopping is thrift store; Georgia Tech is 6-7. Even if the Sun just swapped with the Heart of Dallas Bowl, the Sun would have had 7-5 Oklahoma State this year. The Big 12 suddenly is standing tall on bowl attractiveness. The Sun got OU in 2009 and Missouri in 2005 in a partial-contract with the Big 12. The Sun could get Texas Tech or TCU or maybe even Texas in a down year. Anything beats a mediocre team from the ACC, which is three quarters of the country away from El Paso. The Sun is a well-run, long-established bowl that is well-supported by the locals. Let’s go, Big 12.
Liberty Bowl: Iowa State vs. Tulsa. Golden Hurricane 26-24. My Tulsa colleague, John Klein of the Tulsa World, is about to cover Iowa State for the fourth time this season. He saw the Cyclones play Tulsa, OSU and OU. I saw the Cyclones play the latter two, but I won’t make it to Memphis. Too bad for Iowa State, that it has to have a rematch of a game it won in September. But good for Tulsa. It gets a shot at a Big 12 head, in a game it most definitely can win. The Liberty is a lot like the Sun; a long-established bowl that once had its moments. It’s just not as well-supported as the El Paso game.
Chick-fil-A Bowl: LSU vs. Clemson. Clemson 27-20. I like Chick-fil-A as much as the next guy. But man, do I miss the Peach name. The Peach Bowl. What a great name. Can we not get the chicken folks to add the Peach back? As for the game, it’s a quality affair. Great time slot — only New Year’s Eve night game. Great future — looks like Atlanta will become a major bowl on the semifinal rotation. And great matchup — I rank this game No. 4 on the bowl season, behind Alabama-Notre Dame, Oregon-Kansas State and OU-A&M.