The holiday season is upon us. For each person, that means something different. For some, it means sharing the joy of the Christmas spirit with friends and family. For some, it means lighting the Menorah and celebrating eight magical nights of Hannukah. For some, it means doing whatever it is people do on Kwanzaa. For some, it means crying alone in the corner and pounding Xanax as their seasonal affective disorder kicks into high gear. For some it means trampling young children at Walmart in order to save five cents on a Dora the Explorer doll. For me, it means heading to church on December 24th, then coming home, putting on a Santa hat, and getting in the hot tub with a cigar and a White Russian. It’s a long-running annual tradition I call “A Very Ballin’ Christmas Eve.”
Of course, if you’re reading this, you’re a fan of college football, and that means that another season is upon us. Bowl season is one of the most exciting times in all of sports. Yes, when it comes to selecting a true champion, college football leaves a lot to be desired. We all look forward to the day when a playoff system is implemented. But let’s not sell bowl season short. Pairing off a bunch of successful, evenly-matched teams and having a game nearly every night for three weeks is a winning recipe for viewers. We might sometimes lack a unanimous championship, but we’re never short on excitement.
Normally this is a gambling column, but bowl season presents a unique problem. I can’t in good conscience give out advice for games that won’t be played for three more weeks. So instead, I’m going to try something slightly different. I participate in an annual college bowl game pool. Today I’m going to share all of my picks from this pool, along with some brief commentary (i.e., jokes) about each game. If I feel there’s a bet worth taking, I’ll let you know. Otherwise, take my analysis with a grain of salt and make your own decisions.
Here we go…
New Mexico Bowl
Dec. 15, 1:00pm (All times are EST)
Nevada (7-5) vs. Arizona (7-5)
Predicted Winner: ARIZONA
Let me begin my picks by stating the obvious: You never know who’s going to win these bowl games. Granted, you never know who will win in the regular season either, but at least from September through November most teams will show some consistency in their effort and play calling. When it comes to bowl games, all bets are off. Coaches have moved on, teams have checked out mentally, players are busy studying for finals. OK, so two of those things are true. Arizona is the more talented team in this match-up, but will a bunch of kids from one of the nation’s top party schools still care about football a month after their regular season has ended? Some teams see a bowl game as a chance to cap off a season. Others see it as a free vacation. Unfortunately it’s impossible to determine which teams fall into which category. That’s why it’s not only difficult to gamble on bowl games; it’s difficult to pick them straight-up. My gambling philosophy during bowl season is, unless you have a strong opinion about who will win, take the points. With that in mind, I’ll go with Arizona to win and Nevada to cover.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Dec. 15, 4:30pm
Toledo (9-3) vs. Utah State (10-2)
Predicted Winner: UTAH STATE
Utah State is a good team who quietly has moved its way up to #18 in the BCS poll. Toledo is a respectable squad in its own right, but I don’t think they have what it takes to hang with the Aggies. On the bright side, they get a free trip to Idaho and all the potatoes they can eat.
Dec. 20, 12:00pm
BYU (7-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3)
Predicted Winner: SAN DIEGO STATE
This is a tough one. When teams are evenly matched, which is the case with many bowl games, I like to see who has defied expectations this season and who has fallen short. San Diego State is playing great this year. BYU has been alright, but I have to imagine they’re slightly disappointed with their 7-5 record. I think the Aztecs will look to put a bow on a great year, while BYU will look to move on to next season. I’m predicting that San Diego State jumps out to an early lead, and BYU falls just short in a comeback effort.
On a related note, I was trying to figure out if poinsettias are poisonous, and apparently it’s a HUGE point of contention online. If you’re challenging the poinsettia flower in a chat room, be prepared to throw down, cause that shit is serious. Eventually I came across an article that asked, “Are poinsettias beautiful or dangerous? Dr. Stoppler uncovers the truth.” That’s when I thought to myself, “Tom, we’ve already invested 10 minutes in this stupid plant, let’s re-examine our motivations here.” It’s not the Super Bowl, it’s BYU vs. San Diego State, let’s move along.
Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl
Dec. 21, 7:30pm
UCF (9-4) vs. Ball State (9-3)
Predicted Winner: UCF
This is one of the most evenly matched games of the entire bowl season. Ball State tied for second in the underrated MAC Conference, while Central Florida just lost out to Tulsa in semi-decent Conference USA. For that reason I’ll take the points when gambling. I honestly have no idea who will win, so I’m going with UCF because quarterback Blake Bortles has a ridiculously hot girlfriend. He also had a 142.5 QB rating and threw for nearly 3,000 yards. But mostly it’s because of the girlfriend.
New Orleans Bowl
Dec. 22, 12:00pm
Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) vs. East Carolina (8-4)
Predicted Winner: UL-LAFAYETTE
On the one hand, it kind of sucks for UL-Lafayette that their big bowl game of the season takes place in their home state. Some teams get a trip to Hawaii; they get a 5-hour bus ride down Route 55 with a lunch break at Squealin’ Willie’s House of Hog. On the other hand, they should have a nice home field advantage. I like the way the Ragin’ Cajuns have been playing this season and the Sun Belt was the most underrated conference in America this year. This game should be a shootout and the 64 point OVER/UNDER looks pretty nice.
Las Vegas Bowl
Dec. 22, 3:30pm
Boise State (10-2) vs. Washington (7-5)
Predicted Winner: BOISE STATE
I’m not a huge fan of Boise this year, but I can’t pick a Huskies team that lost to Washington State. I think we’re looking at a 17-13 finish here. This game would have sounded a lot better earlier in the season. Unfortunately it’s been an up-and-down year for Washington as disappointing year for Boise, at least as disappointing as a 10-2 season can be. Luckily it’s in Vegas, and it’s a 3:30 kickoff, so fans will have plenty of time to get drunk and hit on transvestite prostitutes afterwards.
Dec. 24, 8:00pm
SMU (6-6) vs. Fresno State (9-3)
Predicted Winner: SMU
If you’re a mid-level team, is there a better bowl game to be offered than the Hawaii Bowl? Some other chump from your conference is in Detroit playing in the Motor City Bowl, and you’re tanning outside a Waikiki resort. I’m going to go with a big upset here. Fresno State is favored by 12 and SMU needed to pull off an upset of Tulsa in week 13 to even get bowl eligible. Which means SMU will definitely win. Because bowl season is insane and nothing ever makes sense. Would this be redemption for SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who was thrust into National Championship Game as a freshman at Texas and then lost the starting job to David Ash just a couple years later? Umm, no. Not at all. Let’s be real, it’s the Hawaii Bowl, it doesn’t even compare to a September weekend at Texas. Still, it’d be nice for him.
Little Caesars Bowl
Dec. 26, 7:30pm
Western Kentucky (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (6-6)
Predicted Winner: WESTERN KENTUCKY
Central Michigan is the best directional Michigan school. Western Kentucky is the best directional Kentucky school. You know what that means. Absolutely nothing. I’ll take Western Kentucky because I’ve actually seen them play.
On a sidenote, I’d like to say that Little Ceasars is my favorite of all the chain pizza stores. I know, that’s like saying the Kia Optima is the most high-performance of all the Kia automobiles. Still, I grew up in a place where there was only one non-chain restaurant, and that was reserved for prom dinners, so Little Ceasars was often the best available option. My friend Michelle used to work there, and when they sold the $5 Hot-N-Ready pizzas -- originally they were available only on Fridays -- she used to set up a folding table in the parking lot behind the store and hand out $5 pizzas to cars as they drove by. That’s right, it was a drive-thru folding table. Let’s hear it for Upstate New York. Anyway, if the National Championship Game is a New York City pizzeria, this bowl game is a stack of Hot-N-Ready’s on a folding table in an Upstate parking lot. But hey, enjoy.
Dec. 27, 3:00pm
Bowling Green (8-4) vs. San Jose State (10-2)
Predicted Winner: SAN JOSE STATE
Another match-up of two good mid-major teams. San Jose State has had a really outstanding year and I like them to take this one. Is it just me, or should the Military Bowl feature at least one military team? I’d love to see them pair up an armed services team against whatever team had the most arrests that year. That way it’s a Good Guys vs. Bad Guys, Honor vs. Dishonor type of thing. In fairness, I guess Army vs. LSU wasn’t available.
Dec. 27, 6:30pm
Duke (6-6) vs. Cincinnati (9-3)
Predicted Winner: CINCINNATI
Munchie Legaux (pronounced “Munchie Lego”) has my favorite name in college football. He’s also a pretty good player. Duke is 6-6, which is great by Duke standards, but of course that’s like saying a female construction worker is hot by female construction worker standards. Duke has the homefield advantage in this game, so I don’t expect a blowout, but I do think Cincy takes it. Now, can we talk about Duke’s backup QB Anthony Boone? He sent out the following tweet a couple weeks ago:
That’s not even close to being the dumbest thing on Twitter, but it’s not exactly Shakespeare either. I thought Duke was supposed to be one of the smartest and most discerning schools in the country. Is this an Allen-Iverson-getting-into-Georgetown type of situation? Either way, backup QBs need to shut up. You can’t talk smack unless you’re actually going to have some sort of influence on the games. Even the punter has a better case for smack talking than this guy. Oh well, at least he’s better than the Ohio State third-string QB who said he doesn’t attend classes because “we came here to play football, we ain’t come to play school.” Mark that down as my favorite quote of the 2012 season.
Dec. 27, 9:45pm
Baylor (7-5) vs. UCLA (9-4)
Predicted Winner: BAYLOR
Now we’re starting to get to the good stuff. I really like the way Baylor ended the season, with wins over Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Those are three quality victories. The Bears are playing well, and with the leadership of Nick Florence I think they keep the streak going with a Holiday Bowl victory. This should be a shootout, so I was going to say take the OVER, but then I looked it up and saw it was currently at 79 points. That’s really high. Definitely don’t take the UNDER though. I’ve bet the UNDER on Big-10 and PAC-12 games before. Even when you win, you spend the whole second half sweating it out like a whore in church. It’s not worth it, trust me.
Dec. 28, 2:00pm
Louisiana-Monroe (8-4) vs. Ohio (8-4)
Predicted Winner: UL-MONROE
This is a tough game to choose. Both teams have backed into this bowl game. For Ohio, the wheels have completely fallen off the wagon. The Bobcats started 7-0 before finishing the year with 4 losses in their last 5 games. Lousiana-Monroe has struggled of late against conference foes Arkansas State and UL-Lafayette. I’m going with UL-Monroe because QB Kolton Browning has the best quarterback name of anyone in college this year. The more you sound like a member of a yacht club, the better you are at quarterback. It’s science. Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton could get into a yacht club, but Kolton Browning would be the one wearing an ascot and popping the champagne. So, UL-Monroe it is. Yeah, that’s a stupid reason, but what do you want from me, both of these teams are equally mediocre.
Russell Athletic Bowl
Dec. 28, 5:30pm
Virginia Tech (6-6) vs. Rutgers (9-3)
Predicted Winner: RUTGERS
There are two types of “defensive struggles,” ones like Alabama-LSU where moving the ball is difficult and field position is paramount, and ones like this, where both offenses suck. It’s been an unusual year for Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech, one that I’m sure Hokies fans are delighted to see end. I like Rutgers, who I thought would win the Big East, just a little bit better than this Hokies squad. Of all the games on the slate this December, this will undoubtedly be one of the tougher ones to watch. Low-scoring, run-heavy, ball security will be crucial. You know how some games come down to whoever makes the last play? This is the opposite. Whoever screws it up last will probably lose.
Meineke Car Care Bowl
Dec. 28, 9:00pm
Minnesota (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
Predicted Winner: TEXAS TECH
I honestly don’t know how Minnesota became bowl eligible. It’s a better Minnesota team than usual, but refer to my earlier comments on Duke for what that means. Texas Tech is in the midst of some coaching changes, but I still think they Take It All, Howie Mandel style. Seth Doege is too good for the Gophers to handle. Blowout, woodshed, whatever you want to call it. I’m looking at the -13 line and I’m liking it a lot. By the way, that Howie Mandel show sounds like something a porn star would yell out during filming. “Take it! Take it all!!” Nice work there, NBC. But I digress.
Armed Forces Bowl
Dec. 29, 11:45am
Rice (6-6) vs. Air Force (6-6)
Predicted Winner: AIR FORCE
Ah who cares. I’d be OK if we took this game off the schedule completely. This should have been one of the first bowl games, on its own night, with a 6pm kickoff. Because I think a lot of college football fans would have watched this game if there was absolutely nothing else on. “Armed Forces Bowl or Jeopardy reruns? Yep, I’m in.” Next year let’s honor our Armed Forces with at least one team that’s better than .500.
Dec. 29, 3:15pm
Syracuse (7-5) vs. West Virginia (7-5)
Predicted Winner: SYRACUSE
I’m going with a semi-upset here. New York City -- home of the Pinstripe Bowl -- is essentially a home game for Syracuse. After all, Syracuse is “New York’s college team!,” or so marketers would have you believe. (New York has 8 million people; so really every college is their team.) This game has shootout written all over it, and should be one of the more exciting games of the entire bowl season. I personally think that Ryan Nassib can compete touchdown-for-touchdown with Geno Smith, even though Geno will basically be auditioning for an NFL career. I’m excited to watch this one. On a sidenote, I attended the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl, when Cuse played Kansas State, and it was a great time. Tickets were cheap, it wasn’t as cold as you’d expect, and getting to Yankees Stadium from wherever you happen to pre-game in the city is super easy. If anyone in the NYC area was debating going to this game, I highly recommend it. Finally, a note to Geno Smith: The better you perform in this game, the more likely you’ll be playing for the Buffalo Bills next year. Mail it in and let my Cuse have the victory.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Dec. 29, 3:15pm
Arizona State (7-5) vs. Navy (7-4)
Predicted Winner: ARIZONA STATE
I’m not enthralled with Arizona State, but they have a good offense, with a decent quarterback, two good running backs, and a bunch of young up-and-comers. Navy, on the other hand, almost lost to Army. I know it’s a rivalry game, but still. I’m having trouble finding a line for this game -- did something happen that I don’t know about? -- but I think ASU puts the smack down.
Dec. 29, 6:45pm
Texas (8-4) vs. Oregon State (9-3)
Predicted Winner: OREGON STATE
I’ve been betting on Texas all year and I just keep on losing. My friend Spills even emailed me about my Texas pick two weeks ago and told me to “stop chasing the dragon.” I haven’t put this much energy into a fruitless effort since I learned math in high school. Seriously, when’s the last time you used the Pythagorean Theorem in real life? Suck squared + It squared = Texas squared. I’m done with the Longhorns, I’ll take the Beavers at -2 and call it a day. Also, let’s take a moment to celebrate the fact that I’ve made it through a whole season of Oregon State Beavers football without making one vagina joke. Way to go, me.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
Dec. 29, 10:15pm
Michigan State (6-6) vs. TCU (7-5)
Predicted Winner: TCU
Michigan State will go down as one of the biggest disappointments of the 2012 season. Andrew Maxwell just isn’t that good, sorry MSU fans. TCU has been a slight disappointment themselves. Granted, they did OK, but I can’t help but think they could have accomplished big things if Casey Pachall hadn’t decided to drive drunk. Let that be a lesson to all you kids out there. As soon as you get to college, find a straight edge kid, make friends with him, then get him to drive you everywhere for the next 4 years. I’ll take TCU by a touchdown in a physical game.
Music City Bowl
Dec. 31, 12:00pm
North Carolina State (7-5) vs. Vanderbilt (8-4)
Predicted Winner: VANDERBILT
Dec. 31, 2:00pm
Georgia Tech (6-7) vs. USC (7-5)
Predicted Winner: USC
I don’t know, man. I want to pick against USC, but Georgia Tech is just so bad. It’s like a tree sloth fighting a caterpillar. You don’t want to put your faith in the sloth, but you know the caterpillar can’t match up. You’d think that Lane Kiffin and guys like Marquise Lee and Robert Woods would want to end a disappointing season on a high note. But it’s possible they’ve checked out completely. I’m going with the superior talent, keeping in mind that USC has burned me plenty of times this year. I will not be betting on this game, that’s for sure.
Dec. 31, 3:30pm
Iowa State (6-6) vs. Tulsa (10-3)
Predicted Winner: IOWA STATE
Iowa State beat Tulsa 38-23 in week 1 of the season, which of course has little bearing on this game. Vegas has this one as a pick ‘em, and I agree, it’s one of the most evenly-matched games on the lineup. I’m going with Iowa State because they’re more battled-tested, having played a difficult schedule in the Big 10. I expect this one to be close though, maybe one of those classic 3 overtime games that make bowl season so great.
Dec. 31, 7:30pm
LSU (10-2) vs. Clemson (10-2)
Predicted Winner: LSU
Great game. I’ll take SEC over ACC, great defense over great offense, ground-and-pound over read option and bubble screens, insane coach over sane coach. Bet the UNDER on this game (58.5). I know Clemson features some prolific scorers, but LSU’s defense is the real deal.
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl
Jan. 1, 12:00pm
Northwestern (9-3) vs. Mississippi State (8-4)
Predicted Winner: NORTHWESTERN
This is an example of tremendous corporate branding, because as we all know, gators and tax returns go hand-in-hand. I let an alligator do my taxes in ’07 and it turned out great. He ate all the forms and I ended up never paying taxes. I also like the name TaxSlayer.com. They won’t just do your taxes, they’ll fucking murder them. As for the game, I’ll take Northwestern with the +2.5 line or straight-up. Look at Mississippi State’s schedule. They cruised to 7-0 when they were playing mediocre opponents, but once the schedule stiffened, they lost 4 of their last 5, beating only the hapless Arkansas. Northwestern has been consistent if not great.
Heart of Dallas Bowl
Jan. 1, 12:00pm
Purdue (6-6) vs. Oklahoma State (7-5)
Predicted Winner: OKLAHOMA STATE
OK State all the way. The line is -16.5, and it’s worth a look. The Cowboys have gotten better as the season has gone along and are a formidable opponent. Purdue hasn’t beaten a good team all year and is luckily to be bowl eligible. Thanks for coming out, Purdue. Oklahoma State, big.
Capital One Bowl
Jan. 1, 1:00pm
Georgia (11-2) vs. Nebraska (10-3)
Predicted Winner: GEORGIA
This is a match-up of two teams who had higher aspirations. Nebraska wanted to play in the Rose Bowl and Georgia had the title game on their mind. I have a feeling this game will be won before either team steps on the field. Whoever swallows their disappointment and shows up ready to play will emerge victorious. I don’t know who that will be, so I’m going with the Dawgs, because all things being equal mentally, Georgia is the more talented team. They really should have won that game against Bama. Nebraska on the other hand was an embarrassment in the Big Ten title game. Even Mark Richt can’t fuck this one up. Actually… nevermind, let’s move on.
Jan. 1, 1:00pm
South Carolina (10-2) vs. Michigan (8-4)
Predicted Winner: SOUTH CAROLINA
SEC vs. Big Ten, enough said. Farewell Denard Robinson, it’s been real. I look forward to your brief attempt at playing in the NFL followed by 15 years of commercials for local auto dealerships. “Hi, I’m Denard Robinson, and I used to run all over the field. But now I get around in a stylish pre-owned Elantra from Ann Arbor Hyundai!”
If someone had told you this bowl match-up before the season, you would have been pretty excited. Robinson vs. Lattimore, a showdown of two of college football’s best. Except now it’s happening, one of those guys won’t play at all, and the other will play only a handful of snaps at a different position. What a disappointment. This still should be a pretty good game, though. I’ll take the Gamecocks in a slow-paced, one-score victory. You know, classic Gamecocks.
Jan. 4, 8:00pm
Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2)
Predicted Winner: TEXAS A&M
Something about this year’s Oklahoma team just doesn’t feel right. I know they’re 10-2, but it’s a weak 10-2. Landry Jones is ready to get the eff out, become the starter for the Arizona Cardinals and get sacked 400 times next year. Meanwhile, Johnny Manziel is coming off a historic Heisman victory and now has to prove for the next 3 1/2 years that he deserved to be the first-ever freshman Heisman winner. He knows there’s nowhere to go but down, but right now, he’s hot, so screw it. He’s basically the Lindsay Lohan of football. Three years from now he’ll wrap his Mercedes around a street light while coked out of his mind. I can picture the headlines now. “Come On, Manziel!: Heisman Winner Arrested for DUI.” That’s the thing about these child stars. They don’t last long, but while they are around, they’re glorious. I think Johnny Football pulls out some early Lohan magic and gets the victory in this tough Cotton Bowl match-up. And PS, this game is being played on a Freaky Friday. And PPS, yes, I’m gay for saying that.
BBVA Compass Bowl
Jan. 5, 1:00pm
Pittsburgh (6-6) vs. Mississippi (6-6)
Predicted Winner: PITTSBURGH
How did this game sneak into the middle of BCS bowl week? That’s like the girl from “Mike & Molly” becoming a Victoria’s Secret model. This is another one where I have no opinion. Pitt seems to play a great game about 1 out of every 7 tries, so I’ll take them and hope them Tino Sunseri lights it up. I realize how ridiculous that sounds. Just go with it.
Jan. 6, 9:00pm
Kent State (11-2) vs. Arkansas State (9-3)
Predicted Winner: ARKANSAS STATE
This is secretly one of the best match-ups of bowl season. Kent State was one play away from winning the MAC and snagging a BCS bid. Arkansas State is a powerhouse, probably my favorite mid-major team of 2012. It’s kind of sad but I’m actually really looking forward to this game. America seems to be on to my Red Wolves, since they’re now favored by 4 over the nationally-ranked Kent State. You ever have a favorite bar or restaurant, some place that nobody knows about, then one day you show up and it’s packed with dudes in Ed Hardy shirts? That’s how I feel about Arkansas State. I’ve been betting on them all year. At first I was in a club all by myself. Now that club is packed, they’re blasting the new Ke$ha song and some dude just spilled a vodka cranberry all over me. Oh well, I’m taking them anyway. Red Wolves for life!
Jan. 1, 5:00pm
Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5)
Predicted Winner: STANFORD
Alright, now that we’re down to the BCS games, let’s get into a little bit more serious conversation.
Wisconsin really shot their wad in that 70-31 win over Nebraska. No way they achieve that kind of feat against the Stanford D. Especially with Brett Bielema’s absence. I have to say, I don’t know what Bielema is thinking, leaving a great Wisconsin program to go into that mess at Arkansas. It’s not like Arkansas is his home, or his alma matter. Does he have family down there? A secret girlfriend? Is he disgusted by bratwurst? Does he really, really hate the cold? Whatever the case, more power to him. He’s a great coach, he runs a good program, and as a Penn State fan, I’m glad to have him out of the conference. Excellent move by the Badgers having Barry Alvarez coach the bowl game. That was a no-brainer, but still, they made the right move. I have a lot of respect for Wisconsin, however, I just don’t think they match up well against the Cardinal. Wisconsin has struggled at quarterback all year. They’re going to have a real tough time against Stanford’s great linebackers. Montee Ball will have to have a career day for the Badgers to compete. I’ll take Stanford with the -6.5 spread. Watch for the Cardinal defense to make a few huge plays. Also, keep an eye on the Stanford tight ends. They have two guys who should end up in the pros. I think the defense and the tight ends win this one, with quarterback Kevin Hogan managing the game.
Jan. 1, 8:30pm
Florida State (11-2) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1)
Predicted Winner: FLORIDA STATE
I really, really, really want to pick Northern Illinois. Florida State’s performance against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game was a disgrace. I don’t know if the Noles were out getting high and chasing tail the night before that game, but they certainly didn’t show up to play. Now the season is over and they have to stay mentally strong for a month before the Orange Bowl. I don’t see it happening.
Anyone who hasn’t seen Northern Illinois play, their quarterback Jordan Lynch is outstanding. He was a brief contender for the Heisman, and while I don’t think he’s the best player in football, he’s definitely in the discussion. The Huskies won a BCS berth by beating Kent State in overtime, but the game wasn’t really that close. If Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren had stayed instead of accepting the job at North Carolina State, I would pick the Huskies to pull off the upset. I don’t blame the guy for looking out for his best interests, but I do think his loss is a huge obstacle for Northern Illinois to overcome. No offense to new coach Rod Carey, but taking over the reins and preparing your team for a BCS game in just a few weeks is a tall order. If Doeren stayed, I would pick the Huskies to shock a sluggish Florida State team. As it is, I think Northern Illinois jumps out to an early lead, but the Seminoles do just enough to win. EJ Manuel will win the MVP, but Jordan Lynch will outplay him in a losing effort.
Before we move on, let me mention one last thing. I’m glad that Northern Illinois is included in the BCS. Some people, especially Kirk Herbstreit, have said they don’t think the Huskies belong. Listen, it’s hard to argue that Northern Illinois is better or more deserving than teams like LSU, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Georgia, even Oklahoma or Clemson. But I do like a system that allows mid-majors to have a shot at the big boys. Boise State’s upset of Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl is the greatest game I’ve ever seen in my life. You don’t get that unless you give mid-major teams a chance. In 2007, Boise wasn’t “Boise State” yet, they were just some mid-level team with blue turf that no one knew much about. Yes, there will always be teams like Hawaii who get embarrassed in the BCS, but unless you keep allowing these types of teams in the games, you’ll never get to witness the kind of magic we saw that one January night. All the major conference teams still have an opportunity to win their conference or secure an at-large big. So I say congrats and good luck to Northern Illinois. Now, when the next realignment takes place and we’re left with two 64-team conferences, then maybe I’ll change my opinion.
Jan. 2, 8:30pm
Florida (11-1) vs. Louisville (10-2)
Predicted Winner: FLORIDA
Florida is a solid team, worthy of their #3 ranking. They lack a defining win or moment this year, they didn’t win their division, and they’re led by a young quarterback and new-ish coach, thus they’re overlooked when it comes to ranking the best teams in the nation. But to me, there’s no doubt the Gators are a top-5 team. Their defense is tremendous and they use their running game with Mike Gillislee to control the tempo of games. Louisville had a good year, and I don’t want to come off as disrespectful to the Cardinals, but they’re overmatched in this one. They had some tight games toward the end of the year, and they haven’t played a defense that remotely resembles the Gators. The Louisville offense relies too heavily on medium and long passes, which requires time. Time that Bridgewater won’t have against the Gators’ front seven. I think Florida stuffs the run, harasses Teddy Bridgewater all day, and wins this one by at least two scores.
Jan. 3, 8:30pm
Kansas State (11-1) vs. Oregon (11-1)
Predicted Winner: OREGON
I’ll be betting the OVER of 75.5 in this game. Remember when Baylor ran up the score against K State? Oregon’s going to do the same thing. The Ducks attack in a similar style to Baylor, except with much better talent. I don’t see the Wildcats being able to stop Mariota, Thomas, Barner, et al. However, I don’t think this will be a blowout. Black Mamba will be out banging chicks in Scottsdale all week while Collin Klein is snuggling with his wife and studying game film. “Oh honey, I love you so much, getting married while in college was definitely a great decision.” The Cats will put up some points. I think this will be this year’s Clemson-West Virginia, except a little closer. I’ll take the Ducks to win, 49-40.
I must mention that I don’t feel right about picking all favorites this year. There’s almost always one BCS upset, and this game could certainly be it. Collin Klein has led this team through sheer determination all year, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Wildcats get a (semi-) upset over the Ducks. I really like Klein, and I hope he can go on to a successful NFL career. I see him as a great fullback or tight end. Some people have been using the Jaguars’ Matt Jones as an example of how Klein can transition to the pros as a receiver. I actually think he has a chance to be like the Seahawks’ Michael Robinson, an Orange Bowl-winning college QB who bulked up and is now valuable as an old-school fullback. I just hope Klein doesn’t let his ego get in the way and do the “I’m a quarterback first” thing that has kept so many talented athletes from ever seeing the field. Yes, Tim Tebow, we’re all looking at you.
[*Note: When it comes to getting married in college, I abide by the Ryan Tannehill Rule. If your wife looks like Lauren Tannehill, go ahead and get married. Otherwise, wait til you turn pro and make millions, then decide.]
Jan. 7, 8:30pm
Notre Dame (12-0) vs. Alabama (12-1)
Predicted Winner: ALABAMA
My pick for this game is “NO ONE.” Why? Because Bama will win, and then 7 years from now have to forfeit the title as part of the inevitable sanctions against Nick Saban. Sort of like what happened with USC and the ’05 title. I’m thinking 10 years down the road with this pick. I love when the NCAA does that. Hey, you know that championship game your team won? Never happened. “But I was ther…” Nope, didn’t happen. “I paid $800 for the tic…” SILENCE! Let’s face it, there’s no way Saban took Bama from mediocrity to playing for the title 3 out of 4 years without cheating. For legal reasons I’ll say that’s just my opinion, but we all know it’s true. Luckily for Saban, by the time sanctions come, he’ll be coaching the Los Angeles Jaguars and the only people who get penalized will be the fans and players who were in elementary school at the time of the violations. Bama fans, don’t take that personally. At least you got the wins. I’m a Penn State fan. We get the disgrace without any of the glory.
Notre Dame and Alabama are very similar in terms of style, except that Alabama is better at nearly every position. Bama has the better quarterback, offensive line and running backs. The receiving corps are evenly-matched thanks to Notre Dame’s outstanding tight end Tyler Eifert. I give the overall edge to Alabama’s defense, despite the fact that they don’t have anyone quite like Manti Te’o. That’s not to say it will be a blowout. Notre Dame’s D won’t be pushed around, and I think they can hold the Tide’s offense in check for most of the game. But A.J. McCarron and Eddie Lacy are going to make some plays, and the Bama defense is going to force the young Everett Golson to make plays with his arm by putting eight in the box and focusing on the double-headed ND rushing attack of Riddick and Wood. I’ve seen Saban coach plenty of games, and his philosophy is to always take away the opponent’s strength. Notre Dame has had a great year, but they win games a certain way, by controlling tempo and rushing the ball. If Alabama is successful in stopping the run, and they certainly have the talent to do so, then Notre Dame will have to find other ways to win. The Irish will be need big passing plays and defensive or special teams scores to take this one. That’s totally possible, but it’s not something you want to bet on. Therefore I’m going with Alabama by a touchdown.
To the Notre Dame fans, don’t take this pick as a personal attack. I respect the Irish. Your team is really good, you have the coach of the year in my opinion, and to paraphrase George Costanza, “You’re back, baby!” You have some great young talent, and as long as Brian Kelly stays put, you should be good for years to come. So congrats.
It’s just that, the SEC is really good. They’ve won six championships in a row and once again they’ve sent a powerhouse team to challenge for the title. If one company kept producing winning products, at some point you’d be an idiot for not investing in that company. Think about Apple’s iPad Mini. It seems pointless, but every other Apple product is a massive success, so you’d be foolish to bet against this one. The SEC is Apple and Alabama is their latest device designed for world domination. Which, by the way, is a pretty accurate description of Nick Saban.
Well that’s it. Every bowl game. I hope you enjoyed it, because I sure didn’t. Turns out writing picks and commentary for 35 games at once is a huge pain in the ass. Especially when some of those games are Rice vs. Air Force or Texas Tech vs. Minnesota. On a happier note, it’s been awesome writing this weekly column. Regardless of what happens in these bowl games, it’s been an exciting season filled with lots of memorable moments. I had a lot of fun, I got to talk with some great college football fans, I lost a ton of money, and I can’t wait to do it again next year. See you then.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @thefaketomz