Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Welcome to the dog show: 2013 college bowl predictions

Entering the final year of the current BCS system to determine a “national” collegiate football championship, it is still comforting to know the post-season bowl system – rewarding too many undeserving teams with trips to exotic places (like Mobile, Birmingham, Boise, Charlotte) – is alive and well. Next season, when the playoff system is implemented, there will be even MORE games (four to be exact) to wine and dine and entice college presidents to send their young men to “represent” their institutions.
I liken the bowl season to a dog show – with all sorts of breeds competing to see which one is the best that night. It’s impossible to truly compare a Scottish terrier to a Great Dane, but it’s done. It is the same to some extent to say whether the Belk Bowl is better than the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (at least we know what will be served in one press box).
They are ALL dogs to one extent or another – some are mutts and some are champions.
With some of these games, a fan must ask, “What’s to be gained by playing?” If the game involves a team from a mid-level conference, the answer is obvious …prestige in beating one of the “big” boys.. But a second-division club from a major conference has nothing to gain by putting its reputation on the line in a venue its fans care little about.
The real answer is money, money and mo’ money. A conference like the Big 10 deliberately overextends itself, contractually, is to scoop up each loose penny it can find for its own use (not necessarily its members – how much does Michigan REALLY benefit by having Minnesota play in the Texas Bowl???).
So begins the marathon that is the viewing of too many games before the real crème de la crème meet in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl to crown a mythical national champion. For the rest of the other encounters, please heed these words: buyer beware. You get as good as the records and matchups allow.
Here are the categories (and criteria) of the 2013 bowl/dog show, to be used for this judging:
Grand champion – This game is the best of the best. In this instance, the winner is no mystery.
The two best teams, as sustained in the 2013 regular season, ARE Florida State and Auburn, to play in the Rose Bowl.
If Auburn played Alabama (who probably IS the best overall squad in the U.S.) nine other times in 2013, the Tigers/War Eagles could well go 0-9, but when it counted, in the Iron Bowl, Auburn pulled a rabbit out of its … hat, and won the game. The loss earlier in the season (in double overtime) doesn’t matter; it’s just fodder for the water cooler debating society.
In this game, I just don’t see Auburn bringing Cinderella to this ball. FSU is a better balanced team and the string of consecutive national championships coming from the SEC will end (Florida State 42, Auburn 24).
Best in Show finalist – In the running for the overall blue ribbon as one of the top 3-4 games, but just cannot get past that one element, keeping it from the crown and the glory.
Rose Bowl (Michigan State-Stanford) – this should be the best game of them all in the long tradition of Big 10-Pac-12 matchups. As a Michigan fan, I’ve learned (the HARD way) NOT to pick against Stanford when playing in Pasadena. Won’t start now (Stanford 27, MSU 21).
Fiesta Bowl (Baylor-Central Florida) – how much does anyone truly know about these two programs? Outside of Central Florida and Central Texas, the answer is very little. It will be time to introduce them to the national stage, unlike anything seen in the past (Baylor 45, CFU 41).
Sugar Bowl (Alabama-Oklahoma) – Seeing Alabama takes its frustrations out on the Sooners will warm the hearts of all Texans to the south (Alabama 42, Oklahoma 20).
Orange Bowl (Clemson-Ohio State) – two overrated programs with something to prove to themselves. Besides, the best running back in the nation is Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde and why he was omitted from ANY Heisman Trophy consideration is a mystery (offering more fuel to the Buckeye bitching fire). Watch him excel in the NFL.
By the way, the Heisman is just another dog (and pony) show; Jameis Winston has already been anointed as the “next big thing,” especially after his clearance of any possible sexual assault charges in Florida. He’ll play one more season and then skip Tallahassee for the pros (Ohio State 30, Clemson 24).
Breed champion – Good matchup; hopefully the game will live up to the hype and expectations.
Russell Athletic Bowl (Miami [Fla.]-Louisville) – the old Tangerine Bowl has itself what should be an entertaining game, especially to see if Terry Bridgewater can become an NFL quarterback (Louisville 35, Miami 28).
Capitol One Bowl (Wisconsin-South Carolina) – Can the epitome of Big 10 football – the physicalness of the Badgers – match the typical SEC overall talent of South Carolina? (South Carolina 24, Wisconsin 21).
AT&T Cotton Bowl (Oklahoma State-Missouri) – A real good matchup on paper, but, in truth, it is just two years removed from being a regular Big 12 game. No real excitement; still should’ve been Texas versus Texas A&M (Ok-State 41, Missouri 37).
Class winner – Game should be better than expected, especially for a minor level bowl.
Las Vegas Bowl (Fresno State-USC) – both in the top 25 and the Bulldogs have that chip of their shoulders about not getting any respect. But why is such a small venue? (Fresno 37, USC 34)
Alamo Bowl (Oregon-Texas) – this was going to be a major blowout for the Ducks, but circumstances can change a team and for the Longhorns, circumstances have certainly inserted itself into the storyline. You never want to play a team totally motivated to prove itself, and its coach, to the football world (Oregon 37, UT 34).
Sun Bowl (Virginia Tech-UCLA) – the folks in El Paso always produce a winning matchup, a well-organized week of festivities and one of the more interesting settings for any college football game (mountains to one side, the border crossing to the other) (UCLA 27, VaTech 20).
Chick-Fil-A Bowl (Duke-Texas A&M) – I don’t think Duke can hang with A&M’s offense and you know Johnny Manziel wants to end his collegiate career on a high (scoring) note (A&M 49, Duke 17).
Outback Bowl (Iowa-LSU) – LSU is by far the better team but doesn’t have its three-year starter at quarterback. Iowa won’t know how to plan for the Tigers’ future and cannot handle LSU’s overall speed (LSU 42, Iowa 20).
Out of the money – Matchups actually not as good as the reputations of the schools involved.
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl (Boise State-Oregon State) – at least Boise is seeing crystal blue water instead of its home ugly-ass blue turf.
Holiday Bowl (Texas Tech-Arizona State) – Tech, with all its so-called high-powered offense, has lost five games in a row because no one knows a thing about defense. Won’t be as close as people think.
Liberty Bowl (Rice-Mississippi State) – of all the teams headed to a bowl game of any repute, who served Rice for this one? Pun intended.
Independence Bowl (Boston College-Arizona) – anyone rooting for Rich Rodriguez? Seriously??? Oh yeah, Shreveport is this nation’s winter vacation paradise … if you’re a crawfish!
Stray – it’s not a good game, and the only reason you’ll watch is either you went to one of the school, or your tuition money is presently headed there.
Poinsettia Bowl (Utah State- Northern Illinois) The “We Got Screwed” award for 2013 goes to poor ole, Northern Illinois, from a ranked, BCS possibility to this crap.
Military Bowl (Maryland-Marshall) – We. Are. Marshall. In. A. Lousy. Game. Maryland is there for local interest only and those God-awful uniforms.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (Washington-BYU) – Brigham Young is contractually obligated to be in San Francisco (all those Mormons spending time in America’s most liberal city… hmmmm). What’s U-Dub’s excuse?
Pinstripe Bowl (Notre Dame-Rutgers) – Puh-lese! This is perhaps the most overrated game of all. And did the Irish REALLY want to be outdoors in NYC in the dead of winter?
Music City Bowl (Georgia Tech-Ole Miss) – Rebels and rambling wrecks … sounds like a better country song than football game.
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl (Middle Tennessee-Navy) – they’re cutting back on the military budget; start by NOT sending Navy to this lousy game, to face a school no one knows ... even in Tennessee.
BBVA Compass Bowl (Houston-Vanderbilt) – geez, had it been Rice and Vanderbilt, they could have used the old 1950s TV show format, “The College Bowl.”
Mutt – Not even worth activating the “power” button on the remote. You’d be better off watching an actually dog show. Not even worthy of making a selection.
New Mexico Bowl (Colorado State-Washington State) – why this? I have no idea (at least someone can go eat at El Pinto, one of the best Mexican restaurants around).
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (San Diego State-Buffalo) – the university or the Bills?
New Orleans Bowl (Louisiana-Lafayette-Tulane) – at least the food should be good.
Little Caesars Bowl (Pittsburgh-Bowling Green) – BGSU deserved better that Pizza! Pizza!
Texas Bowl (Syracuse-Minnesota) – Houston is a long way for fans not to show up.
Heart of Dallas Bowl (UNLV-North Texas) – Local interest involving the ONLY area school at a bowl game; too bad the opposition isn’t a known entity. Bowl (Ball State-Arkansas State) – where is Danica Patrick when you REALLY need her?
One 2013 aspect that strikes home in my household is what should be termed as the “Todd Graham” factor. Three teams that the current head coach at Arizona State led (Rice, Pitt), or is leading (Sun Devils) are in the 2013 bowl picture.
But just more than a decade ago, Graham was stationed as the head football coach at Allen (Tex.) High School (1995-2000), one of the northern suburbs of Dallas, where he established the foundation of what he become one of Texas’ premier gridiron schoolboy programs.
While at Allen, Graham convinced the school district to build one of the first indoor practice facilities in the Metroplex (to perfect scale for a 50-yard surface), and the best weight room in the DFW area. The building was nicknamed the “Todd Majal” by critics, but it showed the kind of commitment to excellence that resulted in AISD voters overwhelmingly approving the construction of a 20,000-seat stadium – the best of its kind around.
His first head coaching assignment (after assistant posts at West Virginia, with a certain unnamed former Michigan head coach, and Tulsa) was at Rice University (in Houston), leading the Owls to a berth in the New Orleans Bowl in 2006. After one season, he moved back to Tulsa as its head coach, winning three Conference-USA titles in four years and going undefeated in three bowl appearances. At TU, Graham was 36-17, including a 28-27 victory at Notre Dame in 2010.
In 2011, he was head coach at Pittsburgh, leading the Panthers to a berth in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Prior to that game, he accepted his current assignment with Arizona State, and has gone 18-8 in Tempe, winning last year’s Fight Hunger Bowl, and playing for the Pac-12 championship against top-five ranked Stanford earlier this month.
For the same reason I root for the New England Patriots (with the Tom Brady connection), I also pull for Graham’s squads – past and present – because he was a friendly and honest interview when I worked for the paper(s) that serviced Allen.
In the STRAY category must be placed the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., involving the Michigan Wolverines against Kansas State’s Wildcats. This less-than-interesting matchup pits the Big 10’s most (overall) disappointing squad against an also-ran from the Big 12 Conference (never in anyone’s serious pre-season championship discussion).
Both teams post 7-5 records, although K-State had a winning conference mark at 5-4 (U-M was 3-5). Each team defeated a ranked team during the year (Texas Tech in Lubbock for KSU and Notre Dame for Michigan at the Big House).
K-State is not nearly as talented as Michigan, and shouldn’t come within two touchdowns, depending on which Wolverine unit appears in Tempe – the fight-to-the-last second team that almost beat Ohio State, or the let’s-not-be-offensive players that lost to Michigan State and Nebraska.
The Wildcats do have a platoon system at quarterback but neither Jake Winters nor Daniel Sams is as individually as gifted as Michigan’s Devin Gardner (when he wants to play as he did versus the Buckeyes). The “Cats are still missing the presence and skills of Collin Klein.
The main offensive threat is junior wide receiver Trevor Lockett, with 1,146 yards receiving and eight touchdowns. If the last name seems familiar, Trevor’s father, Kevin, is the school’s ALL-TIME leading receiver, from the early 1990s.
On defense, ranked 36th in the nation, Kansas State is led by DT Ryan Mueller, with 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss of yardage. He will be paired with Michigan’s Taylor Lewan and should have pro scouts drooling at that one-on-one.
The constant for KSU is its head coach, legendary Bill Snyder, who has rebuilt this program TWICE from ruination. He has forgotten more than most coaches know about football and is as revered a figure in the state of Kansas as one individual can be. Hell, the field in Manhattan is named after him.
One major deterrent to watch this game is its kickoff time – 10:15 p.m. Detroit time (9:15 here in Texas). Why accept a game invitation where so much of the fan base is susceptible to falling asleep after halftime?
IF … and that could be a big “if” … one manages to stay awake, he or she will see (most likely) a high-scoring affair with Michigan emerging victorious (U-M 40, KSU 28).

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