The NFL playoffs might take over the sports world for this weekend, but college bowl season still goes each day. It starts Friday night with a Cotton Bowl matchup that’s as good as any of the major bowl games, and then has lower-tier games on Saturday & Sunday, in the time slots that wrap around the four NFL first-round playoff games.
Each game includes the pointspread and Over/Under in parentheses, along with the TV coverage. TheSportsNotebook will make its pick on each game at the bottom.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 3
Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma State-Missouri (Pick’em, 62.5) (7:30 PM ET, Fox)—How you see the favorite in this dead even game might depend on how you frame the question.
Missouri has more notable players to take about. The receivers, L’Damian Washington and Dorial-Green Beckham, are big, fast and almost impossible to matchup with. James Franklin is a steady presence at quarterback, Henry Josey a 1,000-yard rusher and they have a defensive line that is highly regarded in SEC circles. By contrast, Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf is a little erratic, and leading rusher Desmond Roland has only 745 yards.
Oklahoma State has the resume. The Cowboys have a non-conference win over Mississippi State, and have blown out Texas Tech, Texas and Baylor. A crushing loss in bad weather to Oklahoma cost Okie State the Big 12 title, but they’ve consistently hammered good teams, while Mizzou has been more of a take-care-business team. The Tigers lost to South Carolina and gave up 59 points to Auburn.
So do we conclude that Missouri is going to supply the players to the NFL, while Oklahoma State wins the football game on Friday night in Dallas? It’s a reasonable conclusion, but that depends on how much credence you want to give the SEC vs. Big 12 angle. Baylor and Texas have looked bad in bowls. This post as going online as the Oklahoma-Alabama matchup in the Sugar Bowl kicks off, but if the Sooners are blown out, it won’t speak well to the Big 12’s ability to compete.
Saturday, January 4: Compass Bowl—Houston vs. Vanderbilt (-2.5, 53.5) (1 PM ET, ESPN)—Two good receivers will be on display here, with Vandy’s Jordan Matthews and Houston’s Deontay Greenbury. Vanderbilt has quarterback problems with Austyn Carta-Samuels not expected to play, but he missed two games earlier in the year, one of which was a win at Florida.
The Commodores have also beaten Georgia, and played competitively in losses to Ole Miss and South Carolina. Houston got off to a 7-1 start, that included a win over Conference USA champ Rice, and a one-point loss to BYU. The Cougars lost three straight close games in November to Cincinnati, Louisville and Central Florida, the upper crust of the American Athletic Conference.
Houston’s conference has fared well thus far, with Central Florida upsetting Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl, and Louisville blasting Miami. None of those were against SEC foes, but with an injured quarterback and a coach rumored to be in the discussion for the newly vacant job at Penn State, will there be any distractions?
Sunday, January 5: GoDaddy.com Bowl—Arkansas State-Ball State (-7.5, 64.5) (9 PM ET, ESPN)—Arkansas State is becoming the cradle of coaches. Three years in a row the Red Wolves have lost their head coach to a bigger job. It was Hugh Frieze going to Ole Miss two years ago. Last year Gus Malzahn went to Auburn. Now this year, Bryan Harsin has departed for Boise State. I suppose Arkansas State won’t have a problem attracting talent with that kind of track record, but it makes life at a bowl game kind of hard when the coach has always departed.
Arkansas State will have a big problem in this one. While they closed the season winning four of the last five, none of the wins have been impressive, and quarterback Adam Kennedy is dealing with a knee injury that has him questionable.
Ball State rolled to a 10-2 season. They went 7-1 in MAC play, and the only losses were to North Texas and Northern Illinois. Ball State won at Virginia, and has explosive skill position talent in quarterback Keith Wenning, running back Jahnwan Edwards and receivers Willie Snead and Jordan Williams.
THESPORTSNOTEBOOK PICKS Cotton Bowl: Missouri (Pick), Over 62.5 Compass Bowl: Vanderbilt (-2.5) Under 53.5 GoDaddy Bowl: Ball State (-7.5) Under 64.5
Bowl Handicapping Record (Through games of January 1) ATS: 13-17 Totals: 17-13
The final two days of calendar year 2013 in thecollege bowl season saw Mack Brown coach his final game, and Johnny Manziel play what most believe will be his final game at Texas A&M. Mack didn’t get a fitting exit, but Johnny Football went out in style, leading a dramatic comeback. These two games lead up our review of December 30-31…
Texas A&M 52 Duke 48: The Blue Devils led this game 38-17 at halftime and the view that Manziel and the Aggies wouldn’t be fired up for Duke was decidedly holding sway. But Johnny completed 30/38 for 382 yards and A&M never turned the ball over despite being in a shootout. Duke turned it over twice and the final one was the killer blow—a pick-6 that the Aggies’ Toney Hurd took to the house with 3:33 left to complete the comeback.
Oregon 30 Texas 7: Oregon didn’t let Texas get anything in the passing game, as Case McCoy was held to 8/17 for 48 yards and threw two interceptions, the most inept passing display we’ve seen thus far in the bowl season. Both teams ran the ball pretty well, but you aren’t going to compete with anyone with those passing numbers. The Ducks had a pick-6 early in the fourth quarter to seal it.
The Texas A&M win over Duke was part of a 3-0 start to the bowl season for the SEC. The Duke defeat was part of a 0-4 sequence for the ACC, that included getting another loss to the SEC and then back-to-back blowouts at the hands of the Pac-12 that started New Year’s Eve day. Here’s the review of those four games…
Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17: I thought Georgia Tech hung in pretty well here and had a chance to win before an Ole Miss safety finally sealed it. The Rebel defense was able to contain the Yellow Jackets’ triple option, as Georgia Tech averaged barely more than three yards a pop on the ground.
Mississippi State 44 Rice 7: As the score indicates, this was an obliteration every which way. Dak Prescott was brilliant and the play of the Mississippi State quarterback makes you wonder what this otherwise bland offensive team might have done if Prescott had played more this season. He was 17/28 for 283 yards, and also led the team in rushing with 78 yards. The 10th-best team in the SEC handles the champion of Conference USA with ease.
Arizona 42 Boston College 19: The showdown of running backs, Arizona’s Ka’deem Carey and Boston College’s Andre Williams went all for Arizona. Carey had 175 yards, with Williams held to 75, on comparable carries. The big play came late in the second quarter when BC trailed 7-6 and was driving, but an interception went back the other way for a touchdown and the game was never the same.
UCLA 42 Virginia Tech 12: This game was close after three quarters, with UCLA leading 14-10. But VT quarterback Logan Thomas was out with an injury and UCLA counterpart Brett Hundley did everything. He ran for 161 yards, passed for 226 more and didn’t make any mistakes.
And we wrap with the other two games of the past two days…
Texas Tech 37 Arizona State 23: There’s always at least one head-scratcher game in the bowl season and this is it. The only way Arizona State loses this game is if they’re not interested in playing, something that is an indictment of the coaching staff—when your last game was a 24-point loss at home to cost you a Rose Bowl bid, how are you not at least mildly interested in getting the bad taste out of your mouth? The bad taste got worse, as Davis Webb threw for 403 yards to lead Tech’s win.
Navy 24 Middle Tennessee 6: Pretty much what you would expect. A ho-hum game where Middle Tennessee hung around for a while until the Middies finally put it away with a couple fourth quarter touchdowns, keyed by thorough controlling of the ground game.
The first sequence of the college bowl season is in the books after last night. The first eight bowl games ran from December 21 through December 26, and set the tone for the steady all-day action that’s going to dominate five of the next six days. Let’s take a look back on those first eight games and sort out what we learned. And the first lesson is that the MAC’s problems on the postseason stage aren’t anywhere close to going away.
With the rise of schools like Northern Illinois, the MAC’s prominence has grown in recent seasons and they’re playing more competitive football in key non-conference games during the regular season. It isn’t translating into bowl success though, as MAC schools went 0-4, including defeats by its showcase teams in NIU and league champion Bowling Green. Here’s a look at the wreckage, listed in order of significance, rather than chronologically…
Poinsettia Bowl: Utah State 21 Northern Illinois 14—Utah State has played excellent defense all season long and that made NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch, a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, endure a miserable night in San Diego. Lynch was held to 39 yards rushing on 18 carries and once you take away his ability to run the ball, it’s much easier to keep the passing game confined to underneath routes.
Northern Illinois wasn’t helped by special teams, including a couple missed field goals, and Utah State controlled the tempo on the ground, with Joey Demartino rushing 23 times for 143 yards. What we’re really left to wonder is just how good the Aggies might have been had quarterback Chuckie Keeton not gotten hurt in early October.
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl: Pitt 30 Bowling Green 27—The MAC champ was actually the favorite over a BCS opponent, albeit one with a 6-6 record. Still, it tells you how far the league has advanced in the eyes of Las Vegas, that Bowling Green was favored over a team that just beat Notre Dame in November and knocked off Duke earlier in the year.
Unfortunately for the MAC, the Falcons tough defense couldn’t stop a Pitt running game that never once conjured up memories of Tony Dorsett and the program’s 1976 national championship run. James Connor ran for 229 yards, and while Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson played very well for the second straight time at Ford Field (the previous instance being his five-touchdown effort against NIU in the conference championship game), the running game disparity was too much to overcome and the Panthers kicked a field goal with 1:17 left to win it.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: San Diego State 49 Buffalo 24—San Diego State committed thirteen penalties and quarterback Quinn Kaehler only completed 15-of-28 passes. Yet this game was a rout all the way, the lead growing to 42-10 at one point and it’s because Aztec running back Adam Muema went crazy, rushing for 229 yards.
Buffalo had a little more success running the ball than their other conference brethren, with Branden Oliver producing 114 yards, but there was no passing to help, and Kaehler’s 15 completions resulted in 211 yards for San Diego State.
Beef O’Brady Bowl: East Carolina 37 Ohio 20—Ohio actually led this game early in the fourth quarter at 20-17. But what did them in was an inability to stop the run. East Carolina’s Vintavious Cooper rolled up 198 yards. Ohio, having to rely more on throwing the ball, was turnover-prone. The Bobcats’ Tyler Tetttleton tossed three interceptions and was only 21-for-40, and the Pirates took the game over in the final quarter.
I trust that the careful reader has distinguished the obvious pattern that’s emerging here. MAC defenses aren’t stopping the run. The top back on each opposing team went for a minimum of 143 yards. When your opponent can play low-risk football and not give up production in the process, it’s going to be tough to beat anyone.
This isn’t to say all these games have been disasters. The Northern Illinois and Bowling Green games were both good. Ohio was a midlevel team playing the second-best team in Conference USA, so hanging until the fourth quarter is nothing to be ashamed of. The MAC is clearly making strides. Just as clearly, there are a few more strides to make before they’re really on a par with even a league like the Mountain West.
Speaking of the Mountain West, they had three other teams, in addition to San Diego State, in action for the early part of the college bowl season. The league is out to a 2-2 start, with Colorado State also winning, while the high-profile programs in Boise State and league champ Fresno lost decisively. Here’s how those broke down…
New Mexico Bowl: Colorado State 48 Washington State 45—This was the first bowl game of the year and it was a stunner in terms of the comeback. Colorado State trailed 35-13 in the second quarter, 45-30 early in the fourth and even down 45-37 with less than three minutes left, they managed to win in regulation.
The running game was an issue here. Washington State, as is their custom, threw the ball all over the lot. Connor Halliday was 37/58 for 410 yards, with six touchdown passes against one interception. But there was literally no ground support, and when you have to keep throwing with a lead you’re asking for a trouble. And Colorado State running back Kapri Bibbs is a whole lot of trouble. He rushed for 169 yards as the Rams steal a shocking win.
Las Vegas Bowl: USC 45 Fresno State 20—There was talk the Trojans might not play hard, with players presumably being upset about Ed Orgeron not being given the head coaching job after saving the season from the Lane Kiffin-induced catastrophe in September. Turns out that was just so much talk.
USC dominated this game in every way you could want, and the most impressive was the play of the pass defense and collaring prolific Fresno passer Derek Carr. The Mountain West MVP was 29/54 and could only throw for 216 yards. By contrast, USC’s relatively mediocre quarterback Cody Kessler was 22/30 for 345 yards, and the Trojan line play gave them an edge in both running the ball and stopping the run.
Fresno’s defensive woes, what ultimately cost them a BCS bowl bid, even as they won the Mountain West, were again in evidence here.
Hawaii Bowl: Oregon State 38 Boise State 23—Chris Peterson wasn’t on the sidelines, having bolted for the Washington job. I don’t think Boise would have won in any case, but they surely would have been more competitive than this. Oregon State led this game 31-6 at halftime and then scored a touchdown early in the third quarter.
I didn’t see any of this game, as it fell on Christmas Eve as we exchanged gifts, but I have to think the relatively even stats in the box score are deceptive and that Boise made the numbers look respectable with their cosmetic points added at the end.
I think the Mountain West showing in these four games has to be considered modestly disappointing. The record of 2-2 is fine—they got the win they had to have with San Diego State, and stole a win from the Pac-12.
But for their two marquee programs to not simply lose, but be completely blown out by second-tier Pac-12 teams tells you the MWC is a ways away from being able to compete with top conferences. And with next year’s four-team playoff, that perception is going to cost potential undefeated teams coming out of this league.
And we conclude with the Battle of New Orleans…
New Orleans Bowl: UL-Lafayette 24 Tulane 21—This was a wild game, as ULL jumped out to a 21-0 lead, Tulane rallied to tie it, and then the Cajuns won it on a fourth quarter field goal.
As SanFrancisco 49er legend Joe Montana watched his son Nick split quarterback duties for Tulane, the father had to be reminded of the 1983 NFC Championship Game, when his Niners lost a game in Washington with the exact same ebb and flow, right down to the final score. Although San Fran fans would reasonably complain about some shaky pass interference calls at the end of that one.
Back in the world of 2013, this game was about missed opportunities for Tulane. ULL made a game-time decision to play injured quarterback Terrance Broadway, and while I’m sure it was inspirational, it was not necessarily effective. Tulane committed ten penalties and lost the turnover battle 3-2.
TheSportsNotebook’s coverage of the college bowl schedule has focused on the seven games of Friday and Saturday as our next segment. Those games are previewed here, and we’ll be back Sunday to sort them out.
The opening act of the college football bowl schedule begins Saturday, and TheSportsNotebook will focus on the first eight games–the octave, if you will–that will cover December 21 through December 26…
I’ve noted the pointspread and the Over/Under on each game and made predictions on each. The track record of last year suggests these are picks you can confidently bet against and finance your Christmas shopping that way.
SATURDAY GRAND SLAM: December 21
New Mexico Bowl: Washington State-Colorado State (2 PM ET, ESPN)–Washington State is a four-point and the Over/Under of 65 is tied for the highest in the eight games covered here. Colorado State has one of the best running backs in the Mountain West, with Kapri Bibbs, while WSU keeps the ball in the air constantly with Connor Halliday.
An interesting stat on the Cougar offense–in spite of the fact Halliday throws constantly, including 89 passes in a game against Oregon, none of the Washington State receivers have even 800 yards. Good job by the quarterback and head coach Mike Price in spreading the ball around. I’ll take the Cougars to win and for the game to go Over.
Las Vegas Bowl: Fresno State-USC (3:30 PM ET, ABC)–The Trojans are a solid touchdown favorite. Fresno went 11-1 and has a great passing game, with David Carr throwing the Davante Adams and Josh Harper. But the Bulldogs, as we’ve discussed here throughout the year, play no defense.
Fresno also barely survived games against Rutgers, Boise and San Diego State. That’s no disgrace, because those are all bowl teams, but it also suggests a considerable gap between the Bulldogs and USC, a team that beat Stanford down the stretch.
The fluid coaching situation at USC is a concern, with Steve Sarkisian announced as the new coach and interim Ed Orgeron already stepping down. That’s a reason to be at least a little wary, but I’m going with USC to get another win for the Pac-12 on Opening Day, and their defense is good enough that I’m taking the Under 62.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Buffalo-San Diego State (5:30 PM ET, ESPN)–Buffalo is a nice defensive team and has a 1,400-yard runner in Branden Oliver. San Diego State has had its disappointments, losing to Eastern Illinois to open the year and dropping a 45-19 decision to bowl-bound UNLV to end it. But the Aztecs did beat San Jose State and Boise, and they play in a better league than Buffalo.
All of which makes it a mystery as to why this is a pick’em game. I’ll take San Diego State and go Under 53.
New Orleans Bowl: Tulane-UL-Lafayette (9 PM ET, ESPN)–This would be a fun game to attend, with two New Orleans schools playing at the Superdome, but I don’t know how much fun it will be to watch. ULL quarterback Terrance Broadway is out, removing the most exciting player on the field. Tulane finished the season on a down note, losing three of the last four.
Without Broadway though, I have to go with the Green Wave. They beat good Conference USA teams in East Carolina and North Texas in October, and if they regain that mojo, they’ll win this bowl game. The total of 49.5 is the lowest of this grouping of games, and without Broadway that’s justified. I’m going Under.
CHRISTMAS BUILDUP–December 23 & December 24
Beef O’Brady Bowl: East Carolina-Ohio (Monday, 2 PM ET, ESPN): The biggest perceived mismatch of the Opening Act Octave, with East Carolina is a 13.5 point favorite. Look at each team’s resume and you see why. Ohio got off to a nice start, with September wins over Marshall and North Texas in non-conference play. But since mid-October they’ve only won three games, and those teams have a combined record of 3-33. Nor have the losses been anything to be proud of.
East Carolina had its own shameful loss, a 59-28 thrashing at the hands of Marshall to end the season, but the Pirates throw the ball extremely well, with the Shane Carden to Justin Hardy combination. I suppose you can look at the difference in how both East Carolina and Ohio fared against Marshall and make an argument for the Bobcats to cover this number and perhaps win outright.
I can’t get past Ohio’s steady decline though, and am going with ECU, and in a good passing environment at Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay, both Carden and Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton combine to push it Over 62.5
Hawaii Bowl: Boise State-Oregon State (Tuesday, 8 PM ET, ESPN)–How shaken will Boise be by the departure of Chris Petersen to Washington? The oddsmakers have made them a three-point underdog to a 6-6 Oregon State team.
In reality, this Boise team has been ho-hum all year. Their four losses were to Fresno State, BYU, San Diego State and Washington, which is nothing to be ashamed of. None of the eight wins were impressive though. Even a victory over Utah State came in the Aggies’ first game without injured quarterback Chuckie Keeton.
Oregon State got its wins early and its losses late, but that was a fluke of the schedule. Their five-game skid to end the year came against Stanford, USC, Arizona State, Washington and Oregon. In at least three of those games, including the finale, the Beavers almost won.
They can throw it as well as anyone with Sean Mannion and I’ll pick the Pac-12 to make it 3-0 against the Mountain West in this game. I will go Under 65 though, as the Boise offense is not explosive.
THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS: MAC teams under the tree
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl: Bowling Green-Pitt (6 PM ET, ESPN)–Bowling Green, riding high off their blowout of Northern Illinois to win the MAC title, is a five-point favorite against an ACC opponent. While Matt Johnson lit up the NIU defense with his passing, Bowling Green is still a defense-first team that runs the ball with Travis Greene.
Pitt’s had an up-and-down year and they’ve done just enough to get by including a November win over Notre Dame and another at Syracuse that got the Panthers to 6-6. I’m grabbing Pitt and the five in this spot, with the total going Under 50.
Poinsettia Bowl: Utah State-Northern Illinois (9:30 PM ET, ESPN)–Northern Illinois looks for some redemption after the loss to Bowling Green. Utah State survived the loss of their quarterback Chuckie Keeton. They lost the first game without him to Boise State, but then righted the ship, won five in a row and played a competitive 24-17 loss at Fresno State in the Mountain West championship game. The Utah State defense gave up just 68 points in those six games.
I wonder if Northern Illinois, who might have been in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama had they taken care of business, will be up for this game. I suspect so, but even if that’s the case, this is still an even game. NIU is only a one-point favorite and the total is 58. I’m going to predict some open offenses and say the game goes Over, but I lean Utah State for the win.
TheSportsNotebook will review these games on Friday, December 27. Prior to that we’ll have previews of the seven games that will go on December 27 and December 28, including games involving Notre Dame, Michigan and Miami.
The college bowl schedule is now set. With the announcement of the BCS bowl matchups yesterday evening, the door was opened for the rest of the schedule to fall into place as the bowls made their selections in accord with their conference commitments.
Bowl season is like a great symphony, with its gradual buildup, alternating between a rapid pace and slower movement, and finally building to its championship crescendo. What we’re going to do here today is break down the schedule by those movements. TheSportsNotebook’s bowl coverage will be structured around this schedule layout, with previews and wrap-ups as each movement begins and ends.
Here’s how the 2013 college bowl schedule sets up, with some editorial comments along the way.
THE OPENING ACT Sat, Dec 21 (New Mexico ): Washington State-Colorado State (2 PM ET, ESPN) Sat, Dec 21 (Las Vegas): Fresno State-USC (3:30 PM ET, ABC) Sat, Dec 21 (Famous Idaho Potato): Buffalo-San Diego State (5:30 PM ET, ESPN) Sat, Dec 21 (New Orleans): Tulane-UL-Lafayette (9 PM ET, ESPN) Mon, Dec 23 (Beef O’Brady): East Carolina-Ohio (2 PM ET, ESPN) Tue, Dec 24 (Hawaii): Boise State-Oregon State (8 PM ET, ESPN) Thur, Dec 26 (Little Caesars Pizza): Bowling Green-Pitt (6 PM ET, ESPN) Thur, Dec 26 (Poinsettia): Utah State-Northern Illinois (9:30 PM ET, ESPN)
Comments: The most interesting piece here was Northern Illinois going to the Poinsettia Bowl, something that’s good for college football. The Poinsettia has a spot reserved for Army, one we’ve known for some time would be an open berth. Normally those open spots go to teams at the very end of their conference pecking order.
The MAC has three bowl tie-ins, but apparently something worked out for NIU to go to San Diego, and this game with Utah State will feature two of the really good programs at the midmajor level. I expect both teams to come determined to win.
Commitment to winning isn’t always a part of the bowl game experience anymore, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve come to enjoy these opening act matchups as much as any. You can tell from looking at the schedule there’s a lot of midmajor teams involved and none of those kids, or their fan bases, take these opportunities for granted, or look down their noses at them.
FOUR-DAY FESTIVAL Fri, Dec 27th (Military): Marshall-Maryland (2:30 PM ET, ESPN) Fri, Dec 27th (Meineke Car Care of Texas): Syracuse-Minnesota (6 PM ET, ESPN) Fri, Dec 27th (Fight Hunger): BYU-Washington (9:30 PM ET, ESPN) Sat, Dec 28th (Pinstripe): Rutgers-Notre Dame (Noon ET, ESPN) Sat, Dec 28th (Belk): Cincinnati-North Carolina (3:20 PM ET, ESPN) Sat, Dec 28th (Russell Athletic): Miami-Louisville (6:45 PM ET, ESPN) Sat, Dec 28th (Buffalo Wild Wings): Michigan-Kansas State (10:15 PM ET, ESPN)
Comment: After the first two days of this four-day run that will leave you bleary-eyed, there’s an intermission for NFL Sunday, which will be Week 17. TheSportsNotebook will also split its coverage of this part of the schedule in half, and take two days at a time, both in previews and recaps.
From a marketing standpoint, it’s hard to criticize Rutgers-Notre Dame playing in Yankee Stadium, but the disarray the Rutgers’ program is in takes some of the shine off. I would have much rather seen the Pinstripe Bowl choose Houston as its American Athletic team. A Notre Dame-Houston matchup would have awakened the echoes of 1978 and the Cotton Bowl, when Joe Montana began forging his comeback legend, as he rallied the Irish from 34-12 down and beat the Cougars on the final play.
I was surprised the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl chose Michigan as its Big Ten team over Nebraska. Given that the opponent would be from the Big 12, it seemed an ideal chance to stir up some bad blood between the Cornhuskers and their old rivals.
Mon, Dec 30th (Armed Forces): Middle Tennessee-Navy (11:45 PM ET, ESPN) Mon, Dec 30th (Music City): Ole Miss-Georgia Tech (3:15 P ET, ESPN) Mon, Dec 30th (Alamo): Oregon-Texas (6:45 PM ET, ESPN) Mon, Dec 30th (Holiday): Arizona State-Texas Tech (10:15 PM ET, ESPN) Tue, Dec 31st (Advocare V100): Arizona-Boston College (12:30 PM ET, ESPN) Tue, Dec 31st (Sun): Virginia Tech-UCLA (2 PM ET, CBS) Tue, Dec 31st (Liberty): Rice-Mississippi State (4 PM ET, ESPN) Tue, Dec 31st (Chick-fil-A): Duke-Texas A&M (8 PM ET, ESPN)
Comment: The Liberty Bowl did fans a disservice when they voluntarily picked a .500 Mississippi State team as the SEC opponent for Conference USA champion Rice, when an 8-4 Vanderbilt squad was available. The Commodores would have provided a good challenge for the Owls, and beating an SEC team of that caliber would have been a signature achievement for the Rice program.
I was mildly surprised at the Chick-Fil-A matchup. I thought this committee might opt for Miami over Duke as its ACC team, but was glad to see the Dookies get this opportunity on New Year’s Eve night. They’ll have a much better chance of a good showing here than they did against Florida State in the ACC Championship Game.
A bigger surprise was this same bowl opting for A&M over Georgia. I’m sure Aaron Murray’s torn ACL had something to do with it, but this game is played in Atlanta. How well will the Aggies travel after a disappointing season? How motivated is Johnny Manziel going to be as he presumably prepares for the NFL? Let me clarify that I don’t consider this like Rice-Mississippi State, where I feel fans are getting a raw deal. Duke-Texas A&M is a fine matchup. I’m just surprised is all.
THE NEW YEAR’S BUILDUP Wed, Jan 1st (Gator): Nebraska-Georgia (Noon ET, ESPN2) Wed, Jan 1st (Heart of Dallas): UNLV-North Texas (Noon ET, ESPNU) Wed, Jan 1st (Capital One): Wisconsin-South Carolina (1 PM ET, ABC) Wed, Jan 1st (Outback): Iowa-LSU (1 PM ET, ESPN)
Comment: This is usually where the SEC cleans up on the Big Ten by something akin to a combined score of 94-36 in their three matchups that set the table for the major bowl games that start in mid-afternoon. Wisconsin-South Carolina is one of the spicier matchups of the entire non-BCS card, but the Nebraska-Georgia matchup is a disappointment.
We just watched a Nebraska-Georgia game a year ago in the Capital One Bowl. They’ll move the proceedings from Orlando to Jacksonville and just do it all over. This is why it would have been better if at least one of these teams had been chosen by other bowls, per discussion further above.
If you’re just looking for a good football game, don’t sleep on UNLV-North Texas. Both of these programs had breakthrough seasons and to be playing on January 1 is a great opportunity for both. You have to think the kids and coaching staff will want to make the most of it.
THE BCS BEGINS Wed, Jan 1st (Rose): Stanford-Michigan State (5 PM ET, ESPN) Wed, Jan 1st (Fiesta): Baylor-Central Florida (8:30 PM ET, ESPN) Thur, Jan 2nd (Sugar): Oklahoma-Alabama (8:30 PM ET, ESPN) Fri, Jan 3rd (Cotton): Oklahoma State-Missouri (7:30 PM ET, Fox) Fri, Jan 3rd (Orange): Clemson-Ohio State (8:30 PM ET, ESPN)
Comment: The Cotton Bowl is not actually a BCS game of course, but the nature of the calendar left their game conflicting with the Orange Bowl. Oklahoma State-Missouri is frankly as good a game as any on the slate of the official major bowl games, so perhaps it works out just as well.
TheSportsNotebook will preview the four BCS games individually, while melding the Cotton Bowl preview into the Saturday-Sunday games below. As far as the matchups, it mostly went as expected. I was disappointed the Sugar opted for Oklahoma over Oregon. The Ducks would have been a better matchup for Alabama. But both Oklahoma and Oregon finished 10-2 and when you lose to Arizona by 26 points late in the year like Oregon did, you pretty well sign away complaining rights.
THE WEEKEND WRAPAROUND Sat, Jan 4th (BBVA Compass): Vanderbilt-Houston (1 PM ET, ESPN) Sun, Jan 5th (Godaddy.com): Arkansas State-Ball State (9 PM ET, ESPN)
Comment: These games wrap around the NFL playoff doubleheader that will go on both days, with the pros kicking off at 4:30 PM ET on Saturday, and then finishing in the early evening on Sunday. Vanderbilt and Houston should both be in better games, but their head-to-head matchup will be a good one.
THE GRAND FINALE Mon, Jan 6th (BCS National Championship): Florida State-Auburn (8:30 PM ET, ESPN)
Comment: No controversy in the last year of the BCS. My only surprise is that Auburn is already getting as many as nine points in the early point spreads I’ve seen. We’ll talk about this game in much more detail when the time comes, and by that point we’ll be able to assess how both the ACC and SEC are faring in bowl competition, but (+9) for a hot team from the conference that’s won seven straight of these championship games seems like a lot.