Bowl Predictions: Part Two
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I sit down to type these predictions with wounded confidence after a rough first round of bowl games (5-6 through eleven games as this hits the main page). My confidence has not improved after looking over these second round matchups for a few seconds. In fact, my stomach now aches. These are tough games to pick! Every single game comes across as a toss-up, so I guess that means we are in for some great games to close this season out. Trying to remind myself that I had an excellent regular season at 74%, here are my predictions for the second 15 bowl games...
(Friday, New Year's Eve)
Sun Bowl - Notre Dame vs Miami - 2:00 - CBS - A decade ago, this would have been one monster of a game! But the Irish and Hurricanes have struggled to remain in the national scene. Now though, a national TV opportunity has them both ready to show the nation they are out there and still fighting. Miami is in the midst of a coaching change, and will be playing under interim coach Jeff Stoutland. Notre Dame was expected to do more under Brian Kelly, but mediocrity is still looming in South Bend. On top of more average football, ND's season included an assault case on a player as well as the death of a student videographer in a storm. Things have been better for the Irish. Miami will be playing under an interim, but I think the fresh air will allow these players to play a little bit. Kelly is a good coach who will turn ND around, but I think the U has more talent right now. Miami, 34-24.
Liberty Bowl - Georgia vs #25 Central Florida - 3:30 - ESPN - The Dawgs have had a tough 2010, but still find themselves in a bowl game against a ranked opponent. UCF, meanwhile, won Conference USA. But as I look down the Knights schedule, I would see UGA going 12-1 whereas UCF went 10-3 in that slate. With a chance to regroup and throw in a few wrinkles, I think Mark Richt and staff send UGA into the offseason on a positive note. Central Florida will be hungry for a win against a big-name SEC school, but I think the Dawgs will still come away with the W. Georgia, 29-22.
Chick-Fil-A Bowl - #20 South Carolina vs. #23 Florida State - 7:30 - ESPN - These two teams have a lot in common coming into this game. Both are division champions with nine wins. Both are looking for their first win in the Georgia Dome (this will be FSU's first appearance in the building to my knowledge). And, most importantly, both really, really want to win this game. The 10-win mark is an indicator of real success in college football, and both would love to go into 2011 feeling like they were among the elite teams in America...I have been back and forth on this game since they announced it, and I still cannot decide. From the bottom of my heart I see this as a toss-up. FSU has speedy weapons and a leader in Christian Ponder. South Carolina has Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore and a stout D. This is set to be an instant classic. Like I said, this is a toss-up, a game I just can't make up my mind on. So as a fan, my only choice is to pick against my arch-rival. Florida State, 30-26.
(Saturday, January 1st)
TicketCity Bowl - Northwestern vs. Texas Tech - 12:00 - ESPNU - I almost have to laugh out loud as I research these two teams. This is a bowl matchup?? Both teams went 3-5 in their respective leagues. So apparently now there are so many bowls that you do not even have to have a winning league record to participate. Super. Northwestern gave up 118 points in its final two games, lost five of its last seven games, and ranks 67th in scoring defense and 74th in scoring offense. A bowl team. TTU, meanwhile, isn't much better. They gave up 52 points to lowly Iowa State back in week four and are 85th nationally in scoring defense, giving up 31 ppg. I see the Red Raiders as the lesser of two evils here, and feel that Coach Tommy Tuberville will use these extra bowl practices wisely in getting Texas Tech back on track. Texas Tech, 36-29.
Capital One Bowl - #16 Alabama vs. #9 Michigan State - 1:00 - ESPN - As much as I am impressed with what MSU has done this season, I just cannot get this fixation out of my head that the defending national champions are not finished with their 2010 work. Mark Ingram, Greg McElroy, Julio Jones and crew are a formidable group, and despite not having a perfect record as they did a season ago, I still have confidence they can line up and play - and beat - any team in America. Michigan State is to be appaluded for a great season, and of course they very well may beat the Crimson Tide, but with this pick I am going to go with Nick Saban, and his having a month to come up with a good gameplan. Alabama, 30-22.
Outback Bowl - Florida vs. Penn State - 1:00 - ABC - Everyone knows the main storyline here: the 84-year old coach will return again next season, while the 46-year old coach will call it a career. It is an interesting story to say the least, but on the field, I doubt that the 22 players running around will be thinking about that. On the field, these two teams are similar. Both are used to being ranked and having less than the five losses that they both share. Neither has a star, stand-out player that is recognized nationally, as both usually do. So I have to find some sort of something for me to hang my hat on for this pick. I will move to statistics. Nationally, Florida is 47th in offense (29 ppg) and 32nd in defense (21 ppg). Penn State is 80th in offense (25 ppg) and 41st in defense (23 ppg). So with those numbers in, I will choose the Gators. Florida, 26-21.
Gator Bowl - #21 Mississippi State vs. Michigan - 1:30 - ESPN2 - I have been very big on Dan Mullen's performance at MSU in two seasons. Honestly, I was surprised he wasn't more in the running for the Florida job. On the flip side, I am very disappointed in the job Rich Rodriguez has done at UM in three full seasons now, and a loss here may send him on his way. I would like to see Rodriguez canned (so the Wolverines can throw an offer to alum Jim Harbaugh), and Mullen rewarded. Therefore I would like to predict a win by the Bulldogs here. But with his back against the wall in a major way, and with quarterback Denard Robinson playing in front of many friends and family in his home state of Florida, I think UM rallies for a huge, much-needed, job-saving win for Rodriguez. Michigan, 30-24.
Rose Bowl Game - #5 Wisconsin vs #3 TCU - 4:30 - ESPN - In a way, folks are almost as ready for this game as the BCS title game. While I say that half jokingly, it will be interesting to see what TCU does against what is certainly one of the better teams in America. Yes, the Badgers suffered an early loss at Michigan State, but since then have gone on an absolute tear, outscoring their opposition 338-155. TCU ran through its slate unbeaten and checks in with the nation's top defense, statistically. They also feature a leader on offense in Andy Dalton, the senior quarterback who is responsible for 41 career wins for the Horned Frogs. The last thing I am going to do here is get into the conversation of who played what kind of schedule. Both of these teams are darned good and would look to go unbeaten no matter what league they took the field in. So with this pick, I am not basing it on who played who or who won by what margin against what team. I am simply going by gut feel, and at this time I feel Wisconsin is as hard to beat as anyone in the nation. In a great game, I'm picking the Badgers. Wisconsin, 42-36.
Fiesta Bowl - UConn vs. #7 Oklahoma - 8:30 - ESPN - I had to start somewhere with this article, and this game is that starting point. I (and the rest of the world) feel pretty good about an OU victory here. The spread on this game is 17 points - by far the largest of all of the bowls. The Sooners have played a tougher slate, and won tougher games. They have serious weapons and a stout D. It is all there for a whoopin' of epic proportions. But let's not just hand it over to OU with no contest. The Huskies have a solid team and will not just roll over. Coach Randy Edsall had the gutsiest call of the year (IMO) in a Husky win over Pittsburgh - a win that was huge in winning them the Big East. I see them playing tough, but losing by a few scores when it is all said and done. Oklahoma, 40-21.
(Monday, January 3rd)
Orange Bowl - #4 Stanford vs. #13 Virginia Tech - 8:30 - ESPN - I have been real big on this Stanford team all year long, and I will pick them in this capsule. However, it is with hesitation that I do so. VT is one of just four teams in America that can say they have won their last eleven games. They are on a streak that sees them playing some of the best football in Frank Beamer's long, storied tenure in Blacksburg. But Stanford can claim that they have won their last seven, and the only loss all year was at rowdy Autzen Stadium to national title contender, Oregon. Both teams feature excellent quarterbacks in Tyrod Taylor (VT, 2,521 yards and 23 tds) and Andrew Luck (Stanford, 3,051 yards and 28 tds). Both teams also feature two great coaches - one a veteran, one a newby of sorts. This game has all of the makings for a true all-out war. VT has shown that they lose close in these sort of games (1-3 in BCS level games since 1999, and a loss to Boise State at a neutral site to start this year), and I like the discipline and the offensive gameplan of the Cardinal. Stanford, 40-34.
(Tuesday, January 4th)
Sugar Bowl - #6 Ohio State vs. #8 Arkansas - 8:30 - ESPN - I haven't had the chance to watch OSU as much as I have had the chance to see Arkansas. But I really like Arkansas. The Hogs only lost twice - to Auburn and Alabama - and have one of the most dynamic players in America getting the ball on every offensive touch. On the other hand, OSU - with just a single loss - features a guy that is also dynamic and will be eager to perform in a huge game in the national spotlight. Yes, quarterbacks Ryan Mallett of Arkansas and Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State will give us fans an evening filled with excitement. I respect that the Buckeyes won the Big Ten (they did, right?), but I think this Razorback team is tough and will make some noise in the Superdome. Arkansas, 38-33.
(Friday, January 7th)
Cotton Bowl - #7 LSU vs. #17 Texas A&M - 8:00 - FOX - This pick is a gamble, and I am going against all that I have learned about A&M over the years. But I will pick the Aggies. Texas A&M has let me down countless times, and they are set up for a faceplant once again. LSU is about the luckiest bunch of fools I have ever seen play, and if Les Miles has some freakshow of a happening go down in his favor once again late in the 4th quarter, I will be less than surprised. But I think the Tigers aren't quite as strong as in years past, the crowd will favor TAMU just a bit, and the Aggies seem to have a little bit of something going here in 2010. Alright, A&M - don't let me down again! Texas A&M, 21-17.
(Saturday, January 8th)
Compass Bowl - Pittsburgh vs. Kentucky - 12:00 - ESPN - Ah, the play-on-words in this game could go on for quite some time with the whole "compass" thing and all.... "These teams are heading in opposite directions." "He needs to run north-south, not east-west." "This team just seems lost out there tonight." ...Ok, ok, thats enough. I have never been for Pitt, and in this game I am no different. Kentucky is the same ole Kentucky as every other year, and at 6-6, I'm not sure if they belong in a bowl. However, in this game I will be a Wildcat fan as Pitt is unimpressive to me in every facet of being a major college football program. Kentucky, 27-20.
(Sunday, January 9th)
Fight Hunger Bowl - #15 Nevada vs. Boston College - 9:00 - ESPN - The reward for an 11-1 season and a WAC championship? A bowl game in (most-likely) rainy San Francisco against an average BC team. If not for a week-seven loss to Hawaii, the Wolf Pack would be another BCS-buster. But things are what they are, and Nevada must prepare for an Eagle team that never does much, but is annually one of those programs that is a total pain-in-the-butt to play. BC finds ways to keep the score low, and muster just enough points for ugly wins. They have been doing it for years. In this game, Nevada is better offensively, but like I said, BC will keep the score low. Nevada will get the win, but this will be a hard fought victory. Nevada, 23-18.
(Monday, January 10th)
BCS National Championship Game - #2 Oregon vs. #1 Auburn - 8:30 - ESPN - At the beginning of the season, I couldn't imagine anyone having an offense that could get anywhere close to what Oregon had going on. But dangit if Auburn didn't almost do it! The Tigers feature the best offensive weapon in America in QB Cam Newton, and are averaging 42 points per game. They scored 62 against Arkansas in a key SEC West game, and 56 against South Carolina to win the conference. Oregon, of course, comes into this game with the nation's top offense, averaging 49 points per game. The Ducks put up 48 points or more in an amazing nine games - including efforts of 72, 69 and 60. They can light it up! So going into this game, there is no doubt both teams can move the ball. So I look at intangibles at this point, and the biggest one to me is Auburn's ability to keep composure no matter the score. I have no doubt that Oregon will come out and score. They will. But even if Auburn is to get down by 21 or so points early, I know they can come back. If they have to, they have shown they can score into the 50's and 60's if that is what it takes....I have the utmost respect for both of these teams and how they have found a way to win every game they have played. A pick of either team can be justified with numbers and stories and examples. But in the end, I will go with Auburn and one of the more special players I have ever watched play. Yes, Oregon will be the ultimate test to cap off a national championship season, but betting against Cam Newton right now just doesn't seem to make much sense to me! Auburn, 48-43.
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