THURSDAY, DECEMBER 20
Poinsettia Bowl - San Diego, CA
Utah vs. Navy - 9:00 PM - ESPN
We kick things off with the Utes - winners of seven straight until a 17-10 heartbreaker against BYU to close the season - and the Midshipmen, who are once again going bowling and continue to pursue college football relevance. Paul Johnson is gone, off to Atlanta to be the new head coach at Georgia Tech, but the Midshipmen promoted from within and named assistant Ken Niumatalolo - I don't know how to pronounce it - as the new man, and he retained the other assistants. The Midshipmen can run - they've now led the nation in rushing for three straight years, coming in at a robust 351.5 yards per game in 2007. They make no bones about it, averaging less than 100 yards per game passing. So if Utah can get a lead, they'll have an excellent chance to win.
Navy's defense is also suspect - going 8-4, Navy gave up 36.5 points per game, which is even worse when you take away their games against the other two service academies. Meanwhile, Utah is surprisingly stout on defense - in all four of their losses, their problem was clearly offense, as they surrender only 15.5 points per game. The common opponent factor: Air Force scored 20 on both teams, but beat Utah 20-12, and lost to Navy 31-20. However, the Utes played the Falcons without QB Brian Johnson, and lost three of their first four without him full time.
Remember, Navy gave Boston College all they wanted in the Meineke Bowl last year, losing 25-24. This is still a program looking for, like we said, national relevance, and even with the new coaching staff this is a huge game for the Midshipmen. Utah is probably the better team, and their defense will need to continue to be stiff against this rushing attack. If the Utes play within themselves and don't turn it over, they should be more than good enough to win here. Navy is certainly capable, Utah is simply better and has won six straight bowl games.
Will's Pick: Utah 27 - Navy 20
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 21
New Orleans Bowl - New Orleans, LA
Florida Atlantic vs. Memphis - 8:00 PM - ESPN2
Tommy West keeps hanging around and hanging around, bouncing back from a 2-10 season last year to go 7-5 and secure this bowl bid with a triple overtime win over SMU to close the regular season. Martin Hankins has become a capable quarterback and Memphis can put points on the board. The Tigers went 5-1 down the stretch after starting 2-4, including "impressive" wins over Southern Miss, UAB, and SMU to finish.
Meanwhile, your 2007 Sun Belt Champions, the FAU Owls (led by the one and only Howard Schnellenberger) beat Troy on the final week to head to New Orleans. They're also 7-5, with a "highlight" win over Minnesota, and they played South Florida close. They were also beaten by Oklahoma State, Kentucky and Florida by a combined 146-43. So they're still one of those teams too.
The Owls are actually the favorites here by 3, but this is a hard game to figure because neither team has shown anything consistent or definitive. When it's a close call like this one, the ol' heart enters the equation, which means I'm going to lean towards what I'd like to actually see happen instead of what I think will. And Memphis losing is always high on the list of what I'd like to see.
Will's Pick: Florida Atlantic 34 - Memphis 30
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 22
PapaJohns.com Bowl - Birmingham, AL
#20 Cincinnati vs. Southern Miss - 1:00 PM - ESPN2
I'm not sure if this is a good matchup, but it's at least the first interesting one. The Bearcats lost two games they shouldn't have this year - back to back in October against Louisville and Pitt - and that kept them something from really special this season, as their only other blemish came in a 28-23 loss to West Virginia. Along the way, the Bearcats routed Oregon State in that early Thursday nighter, won at Rutgers, won at South Florida and absolutely dusted UConn. This is a good football team.
Meanwhile, Southern Miss will be playing as Jeff Bower's team for the very last time, which is a sad glimpse of how college football has evolved. Bower has gone from being one of the names mentioned for new jobs every year as he helped make the Golden Eagles one of the nation's absolute best mid-major teams for more than a decade, to being essentially forced to resign for being unable to continue to build on his own success. He'll leave with a long history of bowl games and winning seasons. And with the "coach in his last game" factor, you can't count out the Golden Eagles, even as 11 point dogs.
If you want to see good offensive players, Cincy QB Ben Mauk and USM RB Damion Fletcher are on display here against two defenses that can be soft. The Bearcats are without question the better team. But Southern Miss has a history of being here under Bower that Cincy does not, and there's something about him in his last game that I really like. Really tempted to go upset special...but having seen Southern Miss in person, I don't think they can overcome the gap between the two if Cincy comes to play, which they should.
Will's Pick: Cincinnati 34 - Southern Miss 31
New Mexico Bowl - Albuquerque, NM
New Mexico vs. Nevada - 4:30 PM - ESPN
The Lobos have some skill, having won at Arizona and at Wyoming en route to an 8-4 season. Nevada is a 6-6 team that gets to go bowling because Hawaii is in the BCS from the WAC, and their season is a story of almosts - lost at Northwestern by five, to Fresno State by eight, at Boise State in four overtimes, and against Hawaii by two. They can put points on the board in a hurry, behind QB Colin Kaepernick. However, this is essentially a home game for a more experienced New Mexico team, so it'll once again be a case of "almost" for the Wolfpack. EDIT: and this is why we wait til the bitter end to pick the bowls - starting New Mexico RB and general workhorse of the offense Rodney Ferguson didn't make his grades and is suspended for the bowl game. So, we flip the other way.
Will's Pick: Nevada 27 - New Mexico 17
Las Vegas Bowl - Las Vegas, NV
#19 BYU vs. UCLA - 8:00 PM - ESPN
Remember when the Vegas Bowl kicked off bowl season? It's become, sort of, an attractive MWC/Pac-10 matchup, with a solid 10-2 BYU squad here against UCLA...which has already happened once this year. Back on September 8, UCLA beat the Cougars 27-17 in Pasadena. Karl Dorrell isn't around now and Pat Cowan is playing QB instead of Ben Olson. Plus, since that meeting, the fortunes of both teams changed drastically. BYU has won nine straight, while UCLA went 1-4 down the stretch with their only win against Oregon sans-Dixon. So the Cougs, behind RB Harvey Unga (awesome), want revenge.
But even in the tailspin and without Dorrell, can you really pick against a team that already won this game by 10 points? The CollegeFootballNews.com headline on the USC/UCLA game is "UCLA isn't bad in 24-7 loss to USC", which about sums up the way the Bruins have been playing. And picking them in a big game/bowl game is usually a terrible idea. And then you look at the stats from the original meeting - BYU outgained UCLA 435-236, but threw a costly pick six - and you start leaning towards the Cougars. Then you see that BYU is a 6.5 point favorite. Hmmm...
The Vols will be in Pasadena in game two next season to renew their "rivalry" with the Bruins. It's interesting, as an aside, to go on UCLA's official website and read some of their game notes, where they applaud themselves over the last decade by making statements like "UCLA was the only non-Top 25 team to...", which is a backhanded insult. UCLA doesn't win big games.
Will's Pick: BYU 28 - UCLA 27
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 23
Hawaii Bowl - Honolulu, HI
#24 Boise State vs. East Carolina - 8:00 PM - ESPN
For the first time in what seems like forever, the Hawaii Bowl has to find two teams with the Warriors on the mainland in the BCS. But if you can't have Hawaii, Boise State is a good option, as the Broncos will face Skip Holtz' Pirates. ECU isn't bad, but it's highly questionable if they're good enough to beat Boise State. My biggest question here is how the Broncos will deal with playing in the Hawaii Bowl a year after playing in the BCS.
A banged up Bronco secondary gave up 39 to Colt Brennan and Hawaii, but they've played well
as a whole on defense at other points in the season. East Carolina also had some good games early on defense, but were exposed at times late. No matter how you slice it, Boise State has the advantage. Here's another bowl win for Ian Johnson and company.
Will's Pick: Boise State 34 - East Carolina 17
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 26
Motor City Bowl - Detroit, MI
Purdue vs. Central Michigan - 7:30 PM - ESPN
Purdue: started 5-0 and had Curtis Painter in the Heisman talk, finished 7-5 and barely squeak into the bowl picture. Meanwhile, Central continues to be a mid-major factor, and won the MAC in convincing fashion. So all those signs point to Central riding the momentum and taking this bowl game.
But then you once more have to go back to the on-field product - and what's the deal with all of these bowl rematches? This stuff never happens, and now two in one season? - These two teams played on September 15, and the Boilers rolled 45-22 in a game they led 38-0 at one point. If you like offense, here's something to do the day after Christmas: there were over 1,000 yards of offense in the first meeting. And you might know about Painter, but CMU QB Dan LeFevour is equally exciting to watch.
A blowout of that magnitude earlier means you've gotta go back to Purdue, though I'd say factoring in all that momentum it'll be closer this time. But still, gotta be the Boilers, because the Big 10 certainly wouldn't lose to the MAC...
Will's Pick: Purdue 38 - Central Michigan 31
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 27
Holiday Bowl - San Diego, CA
#12 Arizona State vs. #17 Texas - 8:00 PM - ESPN
This would be the first must-watch game of the bowl season if both of these teams weren't so frustrating to deal with. Arizona State had a nice year but took the stick in its only big games. Texas used its name and image to stay in the Top 25 all year, then once again showed their true colors against what had been a lifeless Texas A&M team. Both are overrated.
And I can tell you right now that in a close call like this one, my hatred for Texas is going to win out. Against any other Top 25 team, I'd go against Arizona State here, even though Dennis Erickson can get the job done and deserves credit this year for avoiding the upset. And this will be a much bigger deal to ASU than it will to Hook 'em. But if Texas lays an egg and I pick them to win, I won't be able to enjoy it. Iowa had their number last year in the Alamo Bowl until Drew Tate mocked their symbol up 14-0. Hopefully ASU won't piss them off, they'll just beat them. And expose them.
Will's Pick: Arizona State 30 - Texas 28
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 28
Champs Sports Bowl - Orlando, FL
#14 Boston College vs. Michigan State - 5:00 PM - ESPN
Give Mark Dantonio credit - he did what no Michigan State coach has been able to do in the last ten years by stopping the mid-to-late-season slide that the Spartans are known for. Of course, the next step would be to prevent the slide altogether, but after losing five of six between September 29 - November 3, the Spartans blasted Purdue in West Lafayette, then rallied from down 24-7 at halftime to beat Penn State and go bowling. They're improving as a program.
Boston College, meanwhile, showed some grit all year and had their chances to be in the BCS right now, but only got so lucky against Virginia Tech once. And if you think the loser of the SEC Championship Game gets hosed, how bout these guys, who fall all the way to December 28. The ACC needs better bowl tie ins...then again, since no one showed up to watch the ACC title game, maybe not.
Brian Hoyer at quarterback and Devin Thomas at WR will be a deadlier combination in 2008 in East Lansing, but right now they'll get a chance to enhance their resumes with a win against a good BC defense. Meanwhile, this is the last chance you'll get to see Matt Ryan in action, who couldn't make magic happen last time out, but will have better odds against MSU's defense. This should be good, but BC is a proven winner in 2007 while MSU is still learning, so I'll cautiously take the Eagles.
Will's Pick: Boston College 23 - Michigan State 21
Texas Bowl - Houston, TX
Houston vs. TCU - 8:00 PM - NFL Network
If you're the NFL Network and you're carrying college games - plus a weekly college football show - shouldn't you consider a name change? Maybe that would help convince your local cable operator.
Aside from an unfortunate 56-7 thumping from Tulsa, Houston was eight points away from finishing the year winning 10 of 11. They lost to East Carolina by 2 and Alabama by 6, then won the rest (aside from Tulsa). RB Anthonly Alridge and WR Donnie Avery are the main weapons here.
Meanwhile, the Horned Frogs are tough to try and figure out - picked by everyone to win the Mountain West and challenge for a BCS bid, they never fully recovered from the week two loss to Texas and finished 7-5. They lost the other four games by a combined 18 points and an overtime, but still. The defense that was supposed to be so great just finished the season by giving up 33 to San Diego State. So it's a tough call here.
It's essentially a home game for both teams, relatively speaking, though I'm sure Houston will
have a slight edge here. But you also have to factor in the fact that Art Briles is now the coach at Baylor. So.....
Will's Pick: TCU 30 - Houston 27
Emerald Bowl - San Francisco, CA
Oregon State vs. Maryland - 8:30 PM - ESPN
I don't trust Oregon State. They're 8-4, but who did they beat all year? Utah in the season opener? Oregon without Dennis Dixon? Cal without Nate Longshore? Meh.
Meanwhile, Maryland has been competitive in every game they played - which isn't much, but it's more than the Beavers can say - and needing one win to go bowling, they destroyed NC State 37-0 in the final week of the regular season. They beat Boston College, won at Rutgers, and beat Georgia Tech. They're still a 6-6 team, but they've got some meat on them. And that's enough for me.
Will's Pick: Maryland 23 - Oregon State 21
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 29
Meineke Bowl - Charlotte, NC
UConn vs. Wake Forest - 1:00 PM - ESPN
We start delving into generally better matchups here, including this basketball showdown. Wake won the ACC last year but was mistreated by Louisville in the Orange Bowl, so they're still looking for a "big" bowl win. UConn is a candidate for the luckiest team in college football this year, but did not look good down the stretch, losing on the road to Cincy and West Virginia by a combined 69 points in November. Still, the Huskies are 9-3.
Meanwhile, it wasn't another dream season for Wake, but they did ride the roller coaster: an 0-2 start losing at BC and to Nebraska, then won six straight including wins over Maryland and FSU, then lost a heartbreaker to Virginia before getting dusted by Clemson, but rebounded to close the season by beating NC State and Vanderbilt.
Both teams are good but not great, and as stated both would really treasure this bowl win. If Wake traveled at all it'd be a significant advantage in Charlotte, but expect empty seats. However, I'll take Wake to continue to advance in the college football world - they've been one step in front of UConn to this point, and they'll stay there.
Will's Pick: Wake Forest 21 - UConn 20
Liberty Bowl - Memphis, TN
Central Florida vs. Mississippi State - 4:30 PM - ESPN
The first of nine SEC bowl matchups, eight of which take place over these four days, starting on the 29th in Memphis. Sly Croom's boys went above in beyond, 7-5 and Alabama state champions to be in the postseason for the first time since 2000. You're hard pressed to name their real strengths, but they won every game they were supposed to, and despite being simply overwhelmed (and at times shorthanded) in losses to LSU, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Arkansas - combined record: 43-19 - they also won at Auburn and at Kentucky, beat Alabama and won the Egg Bowl. Mississippi State deserves to be here, and really deserves to be higher on the SEC food chain, round about Shreveport.
Meanwhile, their run defense better bring the A+ game - UCF's Kevin Smith, who just announced he's returning for his senior season, needs 181 yards to pass Barry Sanders' all time single season NCAA rushing record. He'll have done it in three extra games, but hey, who's counting? UCF will be geared up to play an SEC team, and should have every opportunity to get it done here.
As much as I love to toot the SEC horn and feel like a big man, there are several matchups that concern me this year. Instead of going for the 9-0 mark, we'd better hope for above .500. Outside of the mighty Gators and what should be easy pickings for Georgia against Hawaii, how confident are you about these matchups? Mississippi State's tough to pick against anyone, Alabama and Colorado will try to see who can underachieve less, Clemson is supposed to roll Auburn and likewise with Missouri/Arkansas, LSU is playing the #1 team in the nation, the Vols are playing annual SEC-beater Wisconsin, and just writing "Kentucky over Florida State" looks and feels fundamentally wrong. I'm worried.
And it's going to start here. I like Croom and I have no cold blood towards the Bulldogs, but Central is rollilng and I don't think State will be able to fully put an end to Kevin Smith - who ran for 284 in the Conference USA Championship Game just to get within reach - in his pursuit of Barry. It's categorically unfair if he gets the mark with the extra games...but you'll still watch and see.
Will's Pick: Central Florida 28 - Mississippi State 24
Alamo Bowl - San Antonio, TX
Penn State vs. Texas A&M - 8:00 PM - ESPN
Normally one of the best bowls around, but perhaps this year in name only both with the bowl itself and the teams involved - both were disappointing in 2007, but especially the Aggies, who couldn't save the whole despite a good part at the end in whipping Texas.
I respect Penn State in bowls, having been on the business end of three whippings from the Nittany Lions. I don't respect Texas A&M in any situation. No further logic is necessary.
Will's Pick: Penn State 28 - Texas A&M 13
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 30
Independence Bowl - Shreveport, LA
Alabama vs. Colorado - 8:00 PM - ESPN
Hmmm...6-6 Alabama, losers of every game they've played since the Third Saturday...or 6-6 Colorado, losers of four of their last five before they got to play Nebraska and won 65-51. John Parker Wilson's season is about to look a lot better.
Both teams lost to Florida State. There's a statement about college football in 2007. This isn't Alabama's first late season slide, and you can continually use jokes about how much Nick Saban got paid per win and how Mike Shula could've pulled this miracle season off...but do you really see Colorado beating this team? I know I'm skewed because we saw them at their very best, but still, what's Colorado's very best? Because I still don't think it's good enough to beat Alabama. Surely, surely Mr. no pants on the cover of the media guide won't go down five straight to close his first season as the savior. Surely.
Will's Pick: Alabama 28 - Colorado 14
MONDAY, DECEMBER 31 - NEW YEAR'S EVE
Armed Forces Bowl - Fort Worth, TX
Air Force vs. California - 12:30 PM - ESPN
This is an 11:30 local time/9:30 in Berkeley kickoff. The Air Force boys are always ready to play. Kirk Herbstreit picked this as the biggest blowout of all the bowls...in favor of Air Force. Surprised? Maybe you shouldn't be...as stated, Air Force will come ready, and this one will obviously mean more to the Falcons than the Golden Bears, once seen as the #2 team in the nation before everything, everything fell apart. Air Force seems to be the smart pick.
But I just can't. I've seen Cal's speed, and the way they busted Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl last year, you know that Tedford (notice that no one is trying to hire him now, btw) can get them ready. Despite the on-field evidence otherwise, I still believe that Cal is better than what they've showed, and good enough to beat Air Force. But this pick makes me nervous.
Will's Pick: California 30 - Air Force 24
Humanitarian Bowl - Boise, ID
Fresno State vs. Georgia Tech - 2:00 PM - ESPN
While Herbstreit likes the Falcons in a blowout, Corso picked Fresno in this game as the biggest blowout. And unlike the last go round, I couldn't agree more.
Georgia Tech is in transition and typically struggles in bowl games. Fresno is stinging from some "almost" games and needs this one to put a good spin on 2007. I miss getting to type "you don't go against Boise in the Humanitarian Bowl!" now that they've upgraded, but "you don't go against the WAC in the Humanitarian Bowl!" I don't buy Georgia Tech at all.
Will's Pick - Fresno State 24 - Georgia Tech 16
Sun Bowl - El Paso, TX
#23 South Florida vs. Oregon - 2:00 PM - CBS
What at all would make one lean towards Oregon in this one? Dennis Dixon won't be there, and without him Oregon hasn't been able to do anything. Meanwhile, South Florida - though they too fell from the ranks of national championship contenders - is still a very good team and they do have the services of Matt Grothe. Three straight losses by 15 combined points in late October/early November killed their championship chances, but they can still have a record setting year by winning this one. Again, I'd entertain some reason to pick Oregon...but I really don't see what that would be.
Will's Pick: South Florida 24 - Oregon 10
Music City Bowl - Nashville, TN
Kentucky vs. Florida State - 4:00 PM - ESPN
For the record, I was going with Kentucky all week here before the FSU cheating scandal broke, and was preparing to take several paragraphs to fully convince myself of it. A report today, however, shows that as many as 11 FSU starters will be affected by the cheating probe. So it's now a given - on ESPN earlier today, over 80% of the voting population is now going with UK.
And the Cats are still a good football team, especially on offense, and got this done last year against a good Clemson team. In fact, you could argue that 07 UK is better than 06 UK, and 07 Florida State is worse than 06 Clemson. So maybe the Noles circle the wagons and play competitive football - and by the way, how is this Jimbo Fisher in waiting business supposed to play out over time? - but in the end, I like Kentucky to put the SEC above .500 after three games, and put a great cap on the senior seasons of most of their stars. UK fans should enjoy this while they can - basketball team is 4-5, football team is going to be rebuilding from here.
Will's Pick: Kentucky 27 - Florida State 20
Insight Bowl - Tempe, AZ
Indiana vs. Oklahoma State - 6:00 PM - NFL Network
Here's where my soft heart will win out. As much fun as we've had with Mike Gundy this year - and we need to find out when his birthday is so we can change that joke around - the Indiana story keeps building, beating Purdue on a last second field goal to get bowl eligible following the death of their coach before the season, and now looking for a bowl win for the first time in recent memory. Oklahoma State is explosive and I think on the way up in the Big 12...but I can't go against IU here. Indiana finishes off a great season.
Will's Pick: Indiana 23 - Oklahoma State 21
Chick-fil-A Bowl - Atlanta, GA
#15 Clemson vs. #22 Auburn - 7:30 PM - ESPN
Everyone seems to like Clemson here, but I argue for caution. While the (Clemson) Tigers didn't go into their usual huge slide and are currently in the Top 15, their late home loss to Boston College that cost them the division shows the signs of trouble are still alive. And Auburn might be underwhelming, but they're still capable of getting the job done.
Memories from 2003, including sitting next to what had to be a 70+ year old man in a full Tiger suit, suggest that Clemson will be up for this one. They don't make it to the Chick-fil-A very often, and teams from other conferences love to beat the SEC. And if Auburn does that thing where they don't try, Clemson will roll them.
However, a potential x-factor in this one comes with the resignation of Al Borges as AU's offensive coordinator, and the arrival of ex-Troy offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, and - drum roll - the spread. Franklin is boots on the ground already, and implementing his offense in part for this bowl game. So while you may not see Brandon Cox running it very efficiently, it's something completely new that Clemson has to gameplan for.
Auburn's defense did a better job against Darren McFadden than anyone else, by far, in 2007. So against James Davis and CJ Spiller, it's an uphill task. Both coaches could really use this one to build for next season and keep anxious fans of their backs...I'm wrong about Clemson more than any other team we pick. So that plus my SEC bias is probably a pretty good reason to go with them here.
Will's Pick: Auburn 17 - Clemson 14
TUESDAY, JANUARY 1 - NEW YEAR'S DAY
Outback Bowl - Tampa, FL
#16 Tennessee vs. #18 Wisconsin - 11:00 AM - ESPN
I know we're not all happy 'round these parts...but it's good to see our name under the January category.
Here's what you need to know about Wisconsin, who opened as a 3.5 dog and it's been dropping every since: the Badgers are 9-3, though folks are disappointed probably since they were thought to be a Top 10 team and a BCS threat. Defense has been the issue all year - from the opener, where they gave up an alarming 21 to Washington State, which led to giving up 31 to The Citadel, 34 to Michigan State, 31 to Illinois, 38 to Penn State, 38 to Ohio State, and 34 to Minnesota in the closer. Still, they managed to win 9 games. Sound familiar?
The offense in Madison is more than capable - despite those high defensive numbers, the only game they had no shot in came in Happy Valley, where they were dusted 38-7 on October 13. They got in a hole against Illinois they couldn't catch up from, and they were beating Ohio State in the second half before the Buckeyes started playing really well really quickly. But they blasted Michigan 37-21 the very next week. And while blasting Michigan ain't what it used to be, this is a team that can and will score. This ain't Barry Alvarez's Wisconsin team...
...though you may not know it by looking at the tailback. PJ Hill - if he plays, if he's close to 100% - is a threat and something the Vols really haven't seen this year: a huge, bruising, "I'm running right at you here it comes try and stop me" back who will try and wear down the Vols' speed by running right at it. With Tyler Donovan at QB and TE Travis Beckum - who led the team in receiving eight times in twelve games, including 9 for 140 against THE Ohio State University - if you're trying to get a feel for this game in your head, forget the SEC Championship and think back to Lexington. Here come the points. This should be about a thousand times more entertaining than last year's edition of the Outback Bowl.
The wounds are three weeks old and now I just really want Erik Ainge to have a really good game. Wisconsin's defense is vulnerable, and this is David Cutcliffe's last hurrah. And the key to Ainge, of course, is playing within himself and the system and not trying to win it by himself, because that's how disaster strikes. If you want to feel better about 2008, you want to see a big day from Arian Foster and our wide receivers who won't be so young next time you see them.
Same for the defense. The Vols could win in a shootout, and we'll just hope for the best next year. But I'd love to see something tangible to base that on, before we have to find two new defensive ends and a free safety. Going up against PJ Hill and Beckum will be somewhat of a new challenge, so the Vols will need to rise.
It's really a very interesting matchup, and it's hard to peg on both sides. Of course, I'm going with the Vols, and when you continue to look at the yardage surrendered by our defense I'd expect you're going to need 30+ to get that done. But those numbers are out there to be had, and so this game will again turn into one of those where the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win. The bowl game is the aftertaste, and boy could the Vols use a sweet one. As we said after the SEC Championship, fans are going to complain either way, and there will be much scrutiny on replacing Cutcliffe and Trooper, and its assumed adverse affect on recruiting and all that stuff. The Vols return almost everyone on offense except Ainge, and seven major contributers on defense, despite the fact that Florida and Georgia should be preseason top five teams. We're still Tennessee and we'll still have the ability to win every game we play. And that needs to include this one - if people want to complain, you'd rather argue about 10 wins than 5 losses. This was still a good season (you got a DVD out of it, didn't you?) because the Vols are SEC East Champions. We need the aftertaste. The Vols need to go get it.
Will's Pick: Tennessee 31 - Wisconsin 27
Cotton Bowl - Dallas, TX
#7 Missouri vs. #25 Arkansas - 11:30 AM - FOX
If Darren McFadden wants to improve his already soaring draft stock, this will be a good opportunity to do it. The Pigs really don't belong in this bowl and used McFadden and the late LSU upset to get here, even though both Auburn and Kentucky had better seasons and beat the Hogs. And now, with Houston Nutt not wanting to do anything to hurt Arkansas and will prove it by trying to beat them every year at Ole Miss, and even the most diehard Razorback fan feeling a little apprehensive about Bobby Petrino - who would've wilted about a million times faster than Nutt having seen the scrutiny he's faced in Fayetteville - you get to play an angry Missouri team that was just ranked #1 a week ago.
At least, they should be angry. Seeing Kansas in the BCS instead of them would do that to me. If they don't show up - especially on defense against McFadden/Jones - Arkansas can beat them. But what I envision is Chase Daniel and the Tigers doing anything and everything they want to Arkansas' defense. It's an anxious time to be an Arkansas fan, in a program that seems less stable than any of the other 11 SEC programs. I don't see this bowl game making it any less so.
Will's Pick: Missouri 38 - Arkansas 27
Gator Bowl - Jacksonville, FL
#21 Virginia vs. Texas Tech - 1:00 PM - NBC
They're trying to call this the classic offense/defense matchup. I call this Virginia isn't very good but they've just been lucky, and lucky won't cut it against Mike Leach's boys. Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree - and the rest of the receivers ain't bad either - if they can protect Harrell, should score frequently on UVA. This bowl is a big deal to both teams - by the way, what's a Big 12 school doing in the Gator Bowl? What happened to the Big East part of this deal? - but TTU's defense isn't terrible, and that's bad news for UVA's offense too. Virginia has had a great year, but it's not going any further than this.
Will's Pick: Texas Tech 31 - Virginia 20
Capital One Bowl - Orlando, FL
#9 Florida vs. Michigan - 1:00 PM - ABC
You wouldn't have picked this in August, but this might turn into the highest scoring bowl game of them all. Michigan can't play the spread, period. Florida runs it very, very well. But don't forget that Florida's defense is still shaky, and that means heavy doses of Mike Hart, one last time.
Are we winning one for Lloyd Carr here? Because that's really the only reason I can think of to pick against the Gators, and even that doesn't make me think long. Credit Urban Meyer for keeping this team on the go after the brutal UGA loss, and there's no reason to think that'll stop now. The Gators should be the favorite in the SEC in 2008, but they'll need this one to cement that notion. We could talk about some other angles here, but really, it's the Gators.
Will's Pick: Florida 45 - Michigan 31
Rose Bowl - Pasadena, CA
#6 Southern Cal vs. #13 Illinois - 4:30 PM - ABC
The only thing more corrupt about the BCS than the way the presidents hoard the bowl money and bend over for the Rose Bowl is the rule that plays into that bowl revenue sharing, which means that only two teams from each conference can make the ten team field. This means Missouri and Florida stay home, and Arizona State just generally gets the shaft, and Ron Zook is going to the Rose Bowl.
Don't get me wrong - Illinois is good, and I'm not an SC fan and would love to see Juice and Mendenhall go to work on them. And maybe they'll get their yards...but you can't seriously think that the Fighting Zookers are going to win here. Maybe even closer than the experts think...but all of us that thought Southern Cal was going to lay down in the Rose Bowl last year aren't making that mistake again this January.
Will's Pick: Southern Cal 34 - Illinois 24
Sugar Bowl - New Orleans, LA
#4 Georgia vs. #10 Hawaii - 8:30 PM - FOX
While Georgia may not have seen something like Colt Brennan this season, the games they've lost - South Carolina and the Vols - didn't take place because they got thrown on. Florida picked up lots of yards on them, and their defense is still young...but do you really see Brennan going for 400 and 4 TDs here?
And do you see any real notion of the Warriors coming in from Honolulu and slowing down Georgia's offense? Any whatsoever? Didn't think so.
(Just for fun though...if Hawaii wins convincingly, can we vote them #1?)
Will's Pick: Georgia 38 - Hawaii 28
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 2
Fiesta Bowl - Glendale, AZ
#3 Oklahoma vs. #11 West Virginia - 8:00 PM - FOX
I live in southwest Virginia and everyone here bleeds Hokie blood...but there are a few West Virginia fans sprinkled around here, and boy are they pissed.
In a classic "you're either with us or against us", Rich Rodriguez made sure he burned every bridge in every direction on his way out of Morgantown, after selling that coach for life business last year in spurning Alabama, not only did he bail for Michigan, now he's suing his beloved WV to get out of his $4 million buyout. Ouch.
And man, Terry Bowden can't wait to get back into coaching. And I like Terry Bowden, the coach, about a million times more than Terry Bowden, the analyst.
But I digress. Even with Rodriguez, do you really think they're going to beat Oklahoma? And now without him? I would argue that Oklahoma is the best team in college football right now. And West Virginia is clearly not - ask Pitt. You can make a case for the Sooners as the team of the decade. Here comes the evidence.
Will's Pick: Oklahoma 42 - West Virginia 23
THURSDAY, JANUARY 3
Orange Bowl - Miami, FL
#5 Virginia Tech vs. #8 Kansas - 8:00 PM - FOX
Hokie Nation is pleased, ACC Champions and one Matt Ryan miracle away from playing for the National Championship. They get a little mouthy, I mention that LSU beat them by 38 and beat us by 7, I mention the 1994 Gator Bowl, they get a little quieter. But still, congratulations.
Kansas is hard to peg here though. VT's defense will probably be the best they've seen (didn't play Oklahoma) and they're definitely playing in uncharted territory here. I don't think they're total frauds, they had some big wins and played Missouri well. Not sure if VT's defense is going to overwhelm them, but it'll be interesting to see what happens. I'm going with the Hokies because I love here, and I really do pull for them when they're not playing SEC teams. They should finish off a good story here.
Will's Pick: Virginia Tech 24 - Kansas 20
SATURDAY, JANUARY 5
International Bowl - Toronto, Canada
Ball State vs. Rutgers - 12:00 PM - ESPN2
Anti-climactic, and I dislike the idea that if you're picking games or bowls and it comes down to the bitter end, it can be this or the GMAC Bowl that decide it all instead of a meaningful BCS game. But I digress. Rutgers is 7-5 but still a hot commodity, but don't sleep on Ball State - they've been very game against major competition this season, won a share of the West Division in the MAC, and bring everybody back next year. Whether or not they can slow down Ray Rice enough to win may be an issue, but I'll take my chances because it appears Rutgers' magic is gone.
Will's Pick: Ball State 30 - Rutgers 28
SUNDAY, JANUARY 6
GMAC Bowl - Mobile, AL
Tulsa vs. Bowling Green - 8:00 PM - ESPN
I tell you what, nothing wraps up Wild Card Weekend like the GMAC Bowl. Tulsa, despite getting absolutely destroyed by Kevin Smith in the C-USA title game, should still be the better option here. Paul Smith can't throw three picks like he did against UCF, but he should have a better day against Bowling Green. This should be an entertaining game...it just needs to be played in December.
Will's Pick: Tulsa 38 - Bowling Green 24
MONDAY, JANUARY 7
BCS National Championship - New Orleans, LA
#1 Ohio State vs. #2 LSU - 8:00 PM - FOX
It happened last year, it'll happen this year - the nation at large will spend a week looking forward to and then breaking down the NFL Wild Card playoffs, and then Monday will roll around and everyone will say "oh yeah, the National Championship!" Whoever's running this show needs to move this game back before the playoffs start, which was the advantage Southern Cal/Texas had. College football is better and you and I know this, but to the nation at large you don't screw around or go head to head with the NFL. But as screwed up as the system is, you'd expect nothing less really.
We're all picking LSU, right? Ohio State has never won a bowl game against an SEC team, you remember Florida running circles around them last year, LSU has been hyped since August, Les Miles is a hero and a gentleman, we're all on board here right?
Here's a fun stat:
BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES
1998: Tennessee UPSETS Florida State
1999: Florida State beats Virginia Tech
2000: Oklahoma UPSETS Florida State
2001: Miami beats Nebraska
2002: Ohio State UPSETS Miami
2003: LSU UPSETS Oklahoma
2004: Southern Cal UPSETS Oklahoma (yes, OU was favored)
2005: Texas UPSETS Southern Cal
2006: Florida UPSETS Ohio State
That's underdogs 7 - favorites 2.
And I just saw LSU...and I wasn't that impressed. They're a good football team, and you have to be to be SEC Champions. If Glenn Dorsey is close to 100% they're a much better football team. They've got good players at every position. But when you watch them - and watch their defense since October - you don't feel like you're watching the National Champions.
And yeah, you can make that argument about Florida last year. I'm sure, if people had been blogging in 1998, they'd have made it about the Vols then. But on the other side will be a hungry and angry Ohio State team, who's going to play the disrespect card. This is a good program with a good coach, who's probably tired of losing in championship games. They haven't been carrying the banner all year, this was supposed to be a rebuilding situation. Instead, they've put themselves in position to make it happen. I like where Ohio State is coming in, I don't like where LSU is...and I just feel right about this one.
Will's Pick: Ohio State 24 - LSU 23