Wednesday, December 31, 2008

BCS Bowls and Professor's Picks

New Year's Day and BCS Bowls

Happy New Year!

Hope you are enjoying this bowl season and your picks are going well. After starting an ugly 3-4, I have climbed back to 10-7 heading into the New Year's Eve bowl schedule.

Below are picks for New Year's Day bowls (and post-New Year's), including all the BCS games - except the title game which will be posted next week.

To find any bowl prediction for earlier games, simply keep scrolling down until you find it or click on the post title to the right ... bowls are listed in chronological order within each post.


* All times Eastern

Outback Bowl
Iowa (8-4) vs. South Carolina (7-5)
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
Jan. 1 at 11:00 AM ESPN
Expect a low scoring game between two of the nation’s stingiest defenses (SC ranks 11th in overall defense and Iowa is 12th). The Gamecocks never could find any offensive consistency, especially at QB, and were not competitive in losses at Florida and Clemson to close the season. SC must try to stop Iowa junior RB Shonn Greene, who scored 17 TDS and rushed for over 1700 yards.
Professor’s Pick: Iowa

Capital One Bowl
Georgia (9-3) vs. Michigan State (9-3)
Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando
Jan. 1 at 1:00, ABC
Run, Run Rudolph could be the official carol of this game because two of the nation’s best runners will be in the Cap One. State’s Javon Ringer may be licking his chops to run against a Dog defense that allowed over 400 yards to Georgia Tech in the season finale, and surrendered 38 points or more in four of UGA’s last five games. Georgia counters with RB Knowshon Moreno and a cast of dangerous offensive playmakers. This may be the last game for Moreno and QB Matt Stafford and they want to go out with a win.
Professor’s Pick: Georgia

Konica Minolta Gator Bowl
Nebraska (8-4) vs. Clemson (7-5)
Jacksonville Municipal, Jacksonville
Jan. 1 at 1:00 CBS
Clemson was a bit of a surprise pick over Florida State for this game, but attribute that to the Tigers great fan base. Nebraska has a balanced offense that should be the difference in the game if the Huskers avoid turnovers (they were -10 in turnover margin). Two of the nation’s best fan bases will fill the Gator Bowl.
Professor’s Pick: Nebraska

Rose Bowl (BCS)
Southern Cal (11-1) vs. Penn State (11-1)
Rose Bowl, Pasadena
Jan. 1 at 4:30 ABC
The Granddaddy is the top bowl this season other than the BCS title game … and it might be just as compelling as the big one. Remember back in late summer when the college football world fretted as to whether Joe Paterno was still up to coaching the Nittany Lions? When ESPN did a semi-ambush job on JoePa on one of those Outside the Lines shows? When Joe hurt himself demonstrating (!) on-side kick techniques and was banished to the press box? My, what a difference a season makes. The plain helmets from Happy Valley are a last-second Iowa field goal from being in the national championship game, roll into the Rose with a high octane HD offense, and the great Paterno has signed on for three more seasons. The mighty Trojans were never seriously mentioned with Oklahoma, Florida, and Texas in the national title discussion even though SC has been the dominant program of the decade. Many expect the vaunted SC defense to shut down the Staters in a blowout, but I expect a close and exciting Rose Bowl.
Professor’s Pick: USC

FedEx Orange Bowl (BCS)
Virginia Tech (9-4) vs. Cincinnati (11-2)
Dolphin Stadium, Miami
Jan. 1 at 8:30 Fox
Most consider the Orange Bowl to be the least attractive of the BCS bowls this season, but it may be a compelling game. The UC Bearcats won the Big East under second-year coach Brian Kelly and seemed to use everybody on the roster at QB before Tony Pike settled in. The Hokies won the ACC for the second straight season and will be trying to break an eight-game BCS bowl losing streak for the conference.
Professor’s Pick: Cincinnati

AT&T Cotton Bowl
Ole Miss (8-4) vs. Texas Tech (11-1)
Cotton Bowl, Dallas
Jan. 2 at 2:00 Fox
Ole Miss finished the season with five straight wins in Houston Nutt’s first year at the helm, and the Rebs boast a solid QB in Jevan Snead, several playmakers on offense, and good fronts on both sides of the ball. Texas Tech answers with one of the nation’s most prolific offenses, led by QB Graham Harrell and future all-pro WR Michael Crabtree, an outstanding offensive line, and an underrated defense. This might be one of the most entertaining bowls of the holiday season, and because of the unusual date (Jan. 2) the Cotton Bowl will have the attention of the entire college football spotlight.
Professor’s Pick: Texas Tech

Auto Zone Liberty Bowl
Kentucky (6-6) vs. East Carolina (9-4)
Liberty Bowl, Memphis
Jan. 2 at 5:00 ESPN
ECU upset Tulsa in the C-USA championship game to earn the Liberty Bowl berth. The Pirates are accustomed to playing big-name opponents (they whipped ACC champ Virginia Tech and West Virginia of the Big East this season), so an SEC team will not intimidate them. The Wildcats needed a break to regroup after stumbling to four losses in five games down the stretch. This would be a mild upset, but UK gets the job done in Memphis.
Professor’s Pick: Kentucky

All State Sugar Bowl (BCS)
Alabama (12-1) vs. Utah (12-0)
Super Dome, New Orleans
Jan. 2 at 8:00 Fox
The Sugar is a premier post-season pairing between a team that was #1 for much of the late part of the season and one that has not lost. Alabama will have had time to recover from the emotional SEC title game loss to Florida. Utah is the most legitimate threat of all the non-BCS schools, going undefeated twice in the past five seasons and winning the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. However, the Utes have not faced a defense like Bama brings, nor have they tried to slow a power running game like that of the Tide.
Professor’s Pick: Alabama

International Bowl
Buffalo (8-5) vs. Connecticut (7-5)
Rogers Centre, Toronto
Jan. 3 at Noon ESPN
Buffalo’s fine turnaround season and MAC championship seemed almost an afterthought in the Turner Gill coaching sweepstakes. The Braves head man was mentioned for every prominent position – most notably at Auburn – but in the end was offered nothing better than his current position alongside Niagara Falls. The short trip to Toronto will allow Buff fans the opportunity to turn the old Skydome into a nice home field advantage, but U Conn is probably the better team.
Professor’s Pick: Conn

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (BCS)
Texas (11-1) vs. Ohio State (10-2)
Phoenix Stadium, Glendale
Jan. 5 at 8:00 Fox
The Fiesta Bowl locked up two of the nation’s most loyal fan bases by choosing Texas and Ohio State (selecting the Buckeyes over an undefeated Utah team) and the game should be a great duel in the desert. OSU still seeks to prove something on the national stage after getting hammered in the past two title games, while Texans are feeling the sting of being passed over for this year’s title tilt in favor of an Oklahoma team the Longhorns handled on a neutral field. Hey, life ain’t fair sometimes.
Professor’s Pick: Texas

Ball State (12-1) vs. Tulsa (10-3)
Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile
Jan. 6 at 8:00 ESPN
For much of the season these two mid-majors (to borrow a March Madness term) made noise as long-shot BCS busters, but both fell hard and fast. Tulsa started giving up points in bunches and lost the C-USA title game. Ball State lost the MAC championship to Buffalo, then the Cardinals lost their coach (Brady Hoke) to San Diego State. Expect plenty of offense and for Tulsa to carry the day.
Professor’s Pick: Tulsa

Friday, December 26, 2008

2008 Bowl Professor's Picks

Bowls to New Year's Eve

The college football bowl season now swings into the post-Christmas peak period.

Below are Professor's Picks for all the bowls through December 31st.

Predictions for New Year's Day and BCS bowls will be posted by the first of the year.

The pre-Christmas bowls were more Scrooge than Santa as the old professor has bah-humbugged to a 3-4 record so far.

Maybe the Motor City Bowl will provide me a bailout to get going.


Motor City Bowl
Central Michigan (8-4) vs. Florida Atlantic (6-6)
Ford Field, Detroit
Dec. 26 at 7:30 ESPN
The Motor City could use good news and CMU QB Dan LeFevour might be just the man to provide some. He’ll have to lead the Chippewas past FAU coach Howard Schnelleberger, who sports an unbeaten (5-0) record in bowls.
Professor’s Pick: Central Michigan

Meineke Car Care Bowl

North Carolina (8-4) vs. West Virginia (8-4)
BOA Stadium, Charlotte
Dec. 27 at 1:00 ESPN

A match-up of two unpredictable teams. West Virginia will bid farewell to QB Pat White, the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher among quarterbacks. White combines with RB Noel Devine to provide the Mountaineers a lethal rushing combo. Heels are better against the pass than run, so expect WVU to make big plays on the ground.
Professor’s Pick: West Virginia

Champs Sports Bowl
Wisconsin (7-5) vs. Florida State (8-4)
Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando
Dec. 27 at 4:30 ESPN
The Badgers started and finished strong, but lost five of six in the middle of the season. The Seminoles were less streaky, but very inconsistent down the stretch alternating wins/losses in their last six games. Both teams run the ball well, but expect home state FSU to get the win in the land of Mickey Mouse.
Professor’s Pick: FSU

Emerald Bowl
Cal (8-4) vs. Miami (7-5)
AT&T Park, San Francisco
Dec. 27 at 8:00 ESPN
With a chance to win the ACC Coastal Division, Miami fell apart in the last two games, giving up a combined 79 points and 957 yards in losses to Georgia Tech and NC State. Cal finished strong versus weak opponents Stanford and Washington but at least has some momentum. Watch the contest between Cal RB Jahvid Best against Miami’s young but good defensive front.
Professor’s Pick: Cal

Independence Bowl
Louisiana Tech (7-5) vs. Northern Illinois (6-6)
Independence Stadium, Shreveport
Dec. 28 at 8:15 ESPN
La Tech coach Derek Dooley is one of my favorite up-and-comers and leads his Bulldogs to a first bowl appearance since 2001. First-year NIU coach Jerry Kill got the Huskies to a bowl only one season after the team posted two wins. The pro-La Tech crowd might play a big role because the game is only an hour away from the Dog campus.
Professor’s Pick: La Tech Bowl
NC State (6-6) vs. Rutgers (7-5)
Legion Field, Birmingham
Dec. 29 at 3:00 ESPN
This game is somewhat intriguing because neither squad appeared bowl-bound to start the year. Rutgers stumbled to a 1-5 start and then stormed to six straight wins to close fast. State also struggled out of the gate at 2-6 before winning its last four. Rutgers looked awfully good in winning by nearly 30 points a game during the late streak. Go with the Knights.
Professor’s Picks: Rutgers

Valero Alamo Bowl
Missouri (9-4) vs. Northwestern (9-3)
Alamodome, San Antonio
Dec. 29 at 8:00 ESPN
Missouri enters the game after falling well short of pre-season expectations. The Tigers should beat Northwestern, although the motivation levels of the two teams may be far different. In contrast to the disappointment of Mizzou not reaching a BCS game, the NU Wildcats arrive in San Antone excited at the prospect of reaching 10 wins for only the second time in school history. Tigers are still the better team however.
Professor’s Pick: Missouri

Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl
Nevada (7-5) vs. Maryland (7-5)
Bronco Stadium, Boise
Dec. 30 at 4:30 ESPN
The blue field bowl will host the Nevada dynamic duo of QB Colin Kaepernick and RB Vai Taua. Both rushed for more than 1000 yards, and Kaepernick threw for another 2479. The sophomores also accounted for a combined 49 TDs. Maryland is another of the unpredictable ACC teams, so this one could be entertaining, but go with the Pack from the WAC.
Professor’s Pick: Nevada

Texas Bowl
Western Michigan (9-3) vs. Rice (9-3)
Reliant Stadium, Houston
Dec. 30 at 8:00 NFL Network
The Texas Bowl may be most notable for being one of the few post-season games not televised by ESPN. Those who can tune in to the NFL Network should see the Rice Owls throw the ball around on the way to a first bowl victory since 1954.
Professor’s Picks: Rice

Pac Life Holiday Bowl
Oklahoma State (9-3) vs. Oregon (9-3)
Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
Dec. 30 at 8:00 ESPN
One of the better non-BCS games, this matchup pairs two top-ten scoring offenses, each averaging over 40 points per game, that are terrific on the ground and good through the air. The Cowboys of OK State feature an All-American combo in RB Kendall Hunter and WR Dez Bryant. The Ducks counter with a red-hot attack that scorched rival Oregon State in the season finale.
Professor’s Pick: OK State

Armed Forces Bowl
Air Force (8-4) vs. Houston (7-5)
Carter Stadium, Ft. Worth
Dec. 31 at Noon ESPN
Do you prefer ground or air travel? The AFA Falcons bring their land-based option game to the Lone Star State where they will face an explosive Houston squad. The Cougars led the NCAA in total yards and passing. Call me a traditionalist, but I prefer to watch the option.
Professor’s Pick: Air Force

Sun Bowl
Oregon State (8-4) vs. Pitt (9-3)
Sun Bowl, El Paso
Dec. 31 at 2:00 CBS
The venerable Sun Bowl (ok, the sponsor is Brut but I like the sounds of just plain old Sun Bowl), pairs OSU and Pitt teams that came close to winning the PAC-10 and Big East respectively. The Beavers were a victory from the Rose Bowl, but got blown out by Oregon to close the season. Pitt finished second in the Big East to Orange Bowl-bound Cincinnati and comes into the game having won four of five. Two outstanding runners could be the focus: LeSean McCoy of Pitt and Jacquizz Rodgers of State (if he’s healthy).
Professor’s Pick: Oregon State

Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl
Boston College (9-4) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6)
The Coliseum, Nashville
Dec. 31 at 3:30 ESPN
Talk about opposites in recent bowl history. The big story here is that Vandy is in a bowl for the first time since 1982, and the Commodores are trying to win one for the first time since 1955. The bad news is that the team doesn’t even get to travel and they have to play a BC team that won nine games, made it to the ACC title game, and has the nation’s longest bowl winning streak at eight. Let’s make it nine?
Professor’s Pick: Boston College

Insight Bowl
Kansas (7-5) vs. Minnesota (7-5)
Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe
Dec. 31 at 5:30 NFL Network
These teams stumbled to the post-season instead of storming to a bowl. Iowa humiliated Minnesota 55-0 to close the season. Kansas fared much better by beating Missouri in the finale, but the Jayhawks lost four of their last six overall.
Professor’s Pick: Kansas

Chick-fil-A Bowl
Georgia Tech (9-3) vs. LSU (7-5)
Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Dec. 31 at 7:30 ESPN
Tech blistered Miami and Georgia the last two weeks of the regular season and many consider the Jackets the best team in the ACC right now. The triple-option attack is difficult to defend if turnovers are minimal, and LSU ranked 11th in the SEC in scoring defense. With several weeks to prepare, the Tigers may play better than most expect, but the hometown Wreck should ramble.
Bowl Ball: Georgia Tech

Friday, December 19, 2008

College Football Bowl Bonanza

The Campus Game
Bowl Picks 2008-2009

Welcome to the annual Campus Game Bowl Bonanza.

Throughout the bowl season, analysis and predictions will be posted for all 34 major college bowl games.

Let's start with games through Christmas Eve.


* All times Eastern

Eagle Bank Bowl
Navy (8-4) vs. Wake Forest (8-4)
RFK Stadium, Washington D.C.
Dec. 20 at 11:00 AM ESPN
This is a rematch of a game Navy won at Wake by a touchdown in September. The top threat for the Middies is RB Shun White who averages over 8 yards per tote. Wake is one of a record ten ACC teams going bowling this season and many of the matchups look favorable, including this one as a mild upset.
Professor’s Pick: Wake Forest

New Mexico Bowl
Colorado State (6-6) vs. Fresno State (7-5)
University Stadium, Albuquerque
Dec. 20 at 2:30 ESPN
Many felt Fresno would be a potential BCS-Buster at the start of the season, but injuries and a challenging road schedule bit the Bulldogs. The CSU Rams are bowling for the first time since 2005. Expect plenty of offense, but Fresno (featuring my favorite name in college football – TE Bear Pascoe) should outscore the Rams for the victory.
Professor’s Pick: Fresno State

MagicJack St. Petersburg Bowl
Memphis (6-6) vs. South Florida (7-5)
Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg
Dec. 20 at 4:30 ESPN2
For a second straight season the USF Bulls stumbled late after moving into the national top ten rankings. QB Matt Grothe is streaky but will make enough plays to handle the Tigers from Beale Street.
Professor’s Pick: South Florida

Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl
BYU (10-2) vs. Arizona (7-5)
Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
Dec. 20 at 8:00 ESPN
Mike Stoops finally got Arizona to a bowl game (and is now rumored as a finalist for the Iowa State job – unsure why that would be a better place than Tuscon) … the Wildcats first trip since 1998. BYU faltered in the only two big games the Cougars played (blowout losses to TCU and Utah). Still, I like their offense to win a fourth straight bowl.
Professor’s Picks: BYU

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
Troy (8-4) vs. Southern Miss (6-6)
Superdome, New Orleans
Dec. 21 at 8:15 ESPN
Troy’s most memorable game of the season came in Louisiana when the Trojans took a 31-3 lead over LSU before the Bengal Tigers stormed back for the 40-31 victory. Troy still posted a fine season in winning the Sun Belt outright after sharing the title the last two years. USM looked horrible early in the season, falling to 2-6 at one point, before the Eagles turned golden and finished with four straight wins. TB Damion Fletcher is one of the nation’s best, but I’m going with Troy in a close, exciting win.
Professor’s Pick: Troy

Poinsettia Bowl
Boise State (12-0) vs. TCU (10-2)
Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
Dec. 23 at 8:00 ESPN
A premier pairing of offensive explosiveness (Boise) and defensive toughness (TCU). The Boise Brocos missed out on the BCS bowls when Utah outpolled them to get in the Sugar Bowl, and the Fiesta decided Ohio State would outdraw them. The Broncs won by an average of 27 points and might need every trick in their vast playbook to run over the Horned Frogs. TCU lost only twice (at Oklahoma and at Utah), both games on the road and both to teams headed to the big BCS bowls. Make time to enjoy this one.
Professor’s Pick: Boise State

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl
Notre Dame (6-6) vs. Hawaii (7-6)
Aloha Stadium, Honolulu
Dec. 24 at 8:00 ESPN
Everyone knows the Irish have not won a bowl since 1993, and this one is certainly no gimme. Hawaii played Orange Bowl-bound Cincinnati to the wire in the season finale, and the Warriors were in a BCS game themselves last season. ND has gotten progressively worse offensively, although the size and speed of the Irish should allow them to control the Hawaii lines. Expect a close one and the Irish to break the streak.
Professor’s Pick: Notre Dame

Phil Steele Bowl Contest

Bowl season is upon us!

The Campus Game annual bowl bonanza posts, listings of all 34 bowls along with a Professor's Pick for every game, will be online prior to the bowl games and updated throughout the bowl season. Last year's mark was 24-8, so we'll see how it goes this time around.

For those interested in making bowl predictions, Phil Steele (who produces some of the best football publications in the business) has a "bowl confidence" contest going on now at All the guidelines for the contest are posted at the site and it's FREE!

Check back soon for our bowl picks.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Warm Fire League 2008

Around the Nation Week 16
Pre-Bowl Post

Got that warm fire stoked yet?

Welcome to The Campus Game pre-bowl Around the Nation. Before the first post-season contests kickoff this weekend, schedules and predictions for all thirty-four college football bowls will be posted.

For now, throw on another log, pull the laptop close, and huddle up around that warm fire.

I originated the "warm fire league" phrase a few years ago in the Coach's Corner column of Game Day Weekly as an homage to baseball's hot stove league.

Back in the day (to steal a catchphrase from my current college students), baseball fans would gather around a hot stove during the off-season to talk about trades, prospects, and all sorts of topics to pass those cold winter months until the start of another season.

While hot stoves have gone the way of 8-track tapes and good defense in the Big 12, many of us still like to keep a warm fire going as we long for college football during the bleak months between the end of the season and the kickoff to spring football.

So, pull up a chair, warm your hands, and think about these topics over the off-season.

Coaching Changes: The salaries paid big-time college coaches continue to climb faster than Oprah’s weight. With that financial commitment comes great scrutiny and immediate expectations. For the past few seasons, the trend has been to give new coaches less time to establish themselves. This year, however, even firmly entrenched coaches are being run off unless they win championships. Does anyone really believe Tennessee and Auburn upgraded their coaching by replacing Phillip Fulmer and Tommy Tuberville with Lane Kiffin and Gene Chizik, respectively? These impatient programs (Presidents, ADs, and Boosters) may soon wish they’d taken a longer view.

Hiring Practices: A corollary to the coaching change issue is the way in which colleges make these new hires. Big-time programs like Texas and Florida State anointed coaches-in-waiting (Will Muschamp at Texas and Jimbo Fisher at FSU). The red flag in such scenarios is that the process is closed … how can an up-and comer get top jobs … good thing such a policy wasn’t in place when Ohio State hired Jim Tressel. Race is also an implication. When the number of black head coaches is lower than it was a decade or two ago, hackles will be raised and rightfully so. Making the issue more intense is a case like Auburn, where a head coach (Chizik) is hired who has lost ten games in a row and won only five in two seasons, while viable minority candidates like Turner Gill of Buffalo or Charlie Strong of Florida are passed over. You best believe that more will be heard on this topic ... and from more credible sources than grandstanding windbags like Charles Barkley.

Playoffs vs. Bowls. Call me old-school on this one, but put me firmly in the bowl supporter category. Big-time college football does not set up well for a playoff (you’d run into the same arguments about who gets put in and left out whether it is a four-team, eight-team, or sixteen-team format), and the bowl system is too lucrative to weaken. ESPN takes over the BCS bowls in 2010 and existing contracts preclude a playoff until at least 2014. Talking about a playoff system is fun, but would any system generate more discussion, interest, and intrigue than the current setup? Doubtful. A better idea, in my opinion, is to loosen up conference affiliations with specific bowls to allow more freedom of matching top teams in the big bowls each season. I also like the comments of Todd Blackledge (my favorite television analyst) that we should make New Year's Day a sacred one for college football once more.

Ok - there you go … three topics to get your warm fire league started. More will be posted all through the off-season, but we have plenty of bowl business to attend to first. Check back by the end of the week for Professor's Picks for pre-Christmas bowls.

See you at kickoff!

Monday, December 8, 2008

For the Ages

Around the Nation Week 16

Texas 15 - Arkansas 14 … December 6, 1969

Nebraska 35 - Oklahoma 31 … Thanksgiving Day 1971

Notre Dame 24 - Alabama 23 … New Year’s Eve 1973

Florida 31 – Alabama 20 … December 6, 2008?

Florida beat Alabama on Saturday to win the 2008 Southeastern Conference title and earn the right to play for the BCS national championship. The Gators will meet Oklahoma in the NCG on January 8th in Miami.

Like the legendary college football games listed above, this was one for the ages.

Gator QB Tim Tebow, the only sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy, further cemented his legend by willing Florida to two touchdowns in the final ten minutes including a game-clinching TD pass to roommate Riley Cooper with 2:50 left.

So, how does this SEC championship game rank with those historical relics from back in the day?

From a quality standpoint, very well. From a significance standpoint, unfortunately not so much.

There are common threads connecting the Florida-Alabama tilt to each of those classics.

The Big Shootout

The “Big Shootout” of 1969 was played on the same date and pitted #1 (Texas) against #2 (Arkansas). Much as many now expect Florida to roll to a national title after turning back the Tide, Texas also won a premature national championship endorsement.

President Richard Nixon was on hand for the game, and in the victorious Longhorn locker room (pictured above) proclaimed Texas as the year’s national champs. Texas confirmed Tricky Dick’s prognostication by whipping Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.

Game of the Century

The Florida-Alabama game also paralleled the great 1971 Thanksgiving Day battle between Nebraska and Oklahoma.

Johnny Rodgers of Nebraska
broke this
72 yard punt return to give the Huskers an early lead

It is not uncommon among those who truly study college football to rate that game as the most exciting of the post-WWII era. It was a true national event as approximately 50% of the nation's television sets tuned in after turkey to watch a game that was anything but.

Like Florida-Alabama, the game was a seesaw affair as first the #1 ranked Cornhuskers and then the #2 ranked Sooners would grab the lead and momentum. The game was also exceptionally well-played (although the Sooners lost 3 fumbles in the high-risk wishbone) as there was only one penalty called (a 5-yarder against Nebraska).

In the end, the toughness of Nebraska QB Jerry Tagge and RB Jeff Kinney was too much for the Sooners and a Kinney TD with 1:38 remaining sealed the win. The Huskers would go on to win the national title.

Meeting of the Masters

A third gridiron glamour game matched Alabama and Notre Dame on New Year’s Eve in the 1973 Sugar Bowl.

Simply the best ... Bear and Ara 1973

In the first meeting between the two storied programs, the Irish took advantage of a Tide kicking game mistake (Bill Davis missed a PAT in the fourth quarter) to come out on top by a single point and win the national championship.

Similarly, the most significant play in Florida’s win over Bama might have been the brain cramp suffered by Tide returner Javier Arenas. He fielded a wayward kickoff and fell out of bounds inside his own five-yard line ... had he simply let the ball go OB, Alabama would have started at the forty … instead Florida held, got good field position, and put the game away.

That ND-Bama game also matched two all-time coaching greats in Ara Parseghian of ND and Paul Bryant of Alabama. Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are not on par with Ara and the Bear ... but may well be Hall-of-Famers in time.

Since it was not an actual national championship game (like the terrific trio above), the Florida-Alabama game will probably not hold up through the years like those classics. Still, it was a championship caliber contest.

Florida 31 – Alabama 20 … a game for the ages.

Around the Nation

The matchups for all 34 post-season bowls were announced Sunday night.

While Texas has gotten most of the publicity for missing out on the NCG, USC and Penn State also have legitimate complaints. Both teams are balanced, play outstanding defense, and lost last-minute games on the road to strong opponents (just like Texas).

Could the Big 12 end up being more hat than cattle by the time the bowls are over? The North is a disaster (although some of the bowl pairings are favorable) and the verdict is still out on Texas Tech and Oklahoma State in the South (although – again the bowl matchups look good for them). The test of the hype will be how well Texas and Oklahoma fare versus Ohio State (Fiesta) and Florida (NCG) in BCS bowls.

Around the South

Expect the ACC to embrace the planned relocation of the conference championship game to Charlotte in a couple of years.

Originally, a Florida site seemed promising (do you think the league poobahs thought FSU and Miami might be in that game most years), but the empty seats in Jacksonville and now Tampa are unsightly on television (to be kind). Charlotte is the traditional capital city of the ACC and (weather permitting) should be a positive for a league that is improving.

The depth of the SEC suffered significantly with the disappointing seasons turned in by Tennessee and Auburn.

The conference could not fill slots for two bowl partners (Independence and Papa John’s), and an initial glance at the post-season lineup suggests a .500 record or worse might be in the old Christmas stocking.

Be sure to check back soon for The Campus Game preview of all thirty-four bowls.

See you at kickoff!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Post-Season Awards

Professor's Picks
Post-Season Awards
Around the SEC Week 15


Will the New Year bring the Southeastern Conference an unprecedented third consecutive national championship?

After Alabama and Florida finished up the regular season with wins in rivalry games, the opportunity for a conference three-peat appears imminent.

Barring a bizarre twist in BCS rankings (gosh, when does that ever happen), the winner of the SEC title game in Atlanta this weekend will play in the BCS Championship game in Miami on January 8th. The opponent will probably be the Big 12 champion, but don’t discount USC (and Penn State deserves consideration too).

Coaching Carousel

The annual coaching carousel has again hit the SEC full force.

Sylvester Croom resigned at Mississippi State after the Bulldogs suffered a 45-0 beating from Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. What a difference a year has made in Starkville; last season Croom and the Bullies finished up an eight-win season with a Liberty Bowl victory in front of about 40,000 Maroon supporters.

Croom joins previously deposed Phillip Fulmer of Tennessee and recently removed Tommy Tuberville of Auburn as the SEC coaches to lose their positions this gridiron season.

The Big Orange moved quickly to fill the vacancy on Rocky Top, naming former USC assistant and Oakland Raider head coach Lane Kiffin as top Vol.

At Miss State several names have been bandied about including Derek Dooley of Louisiana Tech, Chris Hatcher of Georgia Southern, and Gus Malzahn (OC) of Tulsa. Might as well put Tuberville's name on the list now.

On the Plains, Mike Leach of Texas Tech appears to be a target and Will Muschamp (coach in waiting at Texas) figures to get a call too. Dooley might warrant attention as well.

SEC Awards

Here are one man’s picks for SEC end-of-the regular season awards.

Coach of the Year

1. Nick Saban (Alabama): Everybody thought he’d turn the Tide into national title contenders. Few thought he’d do it so soon.

2. Houston Nutt (Ole Miss): Sweet redemption for the former Arkansas head hog, as his Ole Miss Rebels made giant strides on the way to an 8-4 season.

3. Urban Meyer (Florida): The no-nonsense Meyer has assembled a juggernaut of talent and speed with the Gators.

Player of the Year (Offense)

1. Tim Tebow (QB Florida): A throwback, the Florida QB is the best and most valuable player in college football.

2. Percy Harvin (WR Florida): The Gators best runner and receiver, if he cannot play in SEC title game it is a huge blow.

3. Glen Coffee (RB Alabama): The unsung hero of the Crimson Tide’s undefeated season. This workhorse has piled up over 1200 yards rushing.

Player of the Year (Defense)

1. Eric Berry (S Tennessee): This All-American intercepted seven passes and returned two for TDs. The sophomore is a future All-Pro in waiting.

2. Rennie Curran (LB Georgia): The little tackling machine was often the only resistance in an otherwise soft Georgia defense.

3. Rolando McClain (LB Alabama): The emotional leader of the nation’s top team.

Newcomer of the Year

1. Jevan Snead (QB Ole Miss): The Texas transfer overcame some shaky moments early to be a big-time threat for the vastly improved Rebels.

2. Terrence Cody (DT Alabama): Mount Cody became a cult hero to Tide fans … and a nightmare for opposing centers.

3. Tie- A.J. Green (Georgia) and Julio Jones (Alabama): These rookie wide receiver mega-recruits more than lived up to their billing.

Game of the Year

1. Alabama 27-LSU 21 (OT): The Crimson Tide won the biggest challenge of the regular season by beating the defending national champs on the road.

2. Ole Miss 31-Florida 30: At the Swamp, the Rebels overcame a ten-point third quarter deficit for the first signature win of the Houston Nutt era.

3. Vanderbilt 31-Kentucky 24: The Commodores jumped out to a 24-7 lead on the road, then hung on to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 1982.

SEC Bowl Projections

Remember to check back soon to see Professor's Picks for all the bowl games (last year's record of 24-8 will be tough to top and a 5-0 streak in BCS title games will also be on the line). All
bowl selections will be finalized after championship Saturday. Here is an early set of SEC projections.

BCS NCG: Alabama/Florida Winner vs. Oklahoma

Sugar: Alabama/Florida Loser vs. Utah

Capital One: Georgia vs. Michigan State

Cotton: Ole Miss vs. Missouri

Outback: South Carolina vs. Iowa

Chick-fil-A: LSU vs. Georgia Tech

Music City: Vanderbilt vs. Maryland

Liberty: Kentucky vs. Tulsa

Independence: No SEC Eligible Team

Papa John's: No SEC Eligible Team

Professor's Picks
Last Week’s Record 6-2
2008 Regular Season Record 68-24

The pigskin prognostication ended with a strong week to land at forty-six games over .500 for the season. Be sure to check back throughout December for analysis and predictions for all 34 bowls!

* All times Eastern

MAC Championship
Ball State vs. Buffalo
Ford Field Detroit
Friday December 5th at 8:00 ESPN
The Ball State Cardinals (12-0) look to continue a perfect season behind star QB Nate Davis. Coach Turner Gill (former Nebraska great) deserves kudos for leading the Bulls (7-5) to a division title but expect Ball State to get the victory.
Prof's Pick: Ball State

Conference USA Championship
East Carolina at Tulsa
Saturday December 6th at Noon ESPN
Skip Holtz's ECU Pirates started the season with tremendous wins over Virginia Tech and West Virginia, faltered in the middle of the season, but rebounded to win the East. Tulsa, behind stellar QB play from David Johnson, looked like a BCS buster type team during an 8-0 start before road losses at Arkansas and Houston ended such dreams. I like ECU's toughness, but the Tulsa offense and home crowd should be too much to overcome.
Prof's Pick: Tulsa

ACC Championship
Boston College vs. Virginia Tech
Raymond James Stadium Tampa
Saturday December 6th at 1:00 ABC
After an up and down ACC season, the league ended up right back where it was at this time last year ... with a BC-VT rematch. Last year, Tech earned the BCS bowl berth (Orange) by avenging a regular season loss, and the Hokies hope to do the same this season since BC beat them 28-23 on October 18th. Winner figures to take on Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl.
Prof's Pick: Virginia Tech

SEC Championship
Alabama vs. Florida
Georgia Dome Atlanta
Saturday December 6th at 4:00 CBS
See SEC Game of the Week Article
Prof's Pick: Florida

Big 12 Championship
Missouri vs. Oklahoma
Arrowhead Stadium Kansas City
Saturday December 6th at 8:00 ABC
The red-hot Sooners are hanging 60 on everybody they play lately and have scored less than 40 only once all season (35 against TCU in Week 2). The weather in KC figures to cause more problems than the Missouri defense, but keep in mind the Tigers will almost be playing a home game. Stakes are high for OU as a national championship date with the SEC champ is there for the taking.
Prof's Pick: Oklahoma

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Old School vs ... Old School?

SEC Championship Game
Alabama vs. Florida

December 6th at 4:00 ET on CBS
(originally published in Game Day Weekly 12.1.08)

Call it the throwback bowl.

Instead of the Georgia Dome, they should move this one up north somewhere and play it in the wind, sleet, and snow.

Forget about those new-fangled plastic things … helmets I believe they call them … just strap on the leather headgear and let’s (drop) kick this thing off.

Alabama and Florida meet in the Southeastern Conference title game this week and they say the survivor will move on to the BCS National Championship Game in Miami.
The loser might get out of the intensive care unit in time for a trip to the Sugar Bowl.

These two teams are tougher than the calluses on your granddaddy’s hands.

Meaner than a bill collector at the end of the month.

As subtle as a hammer to the thumb.

When you settle down to watch this one, keep the smelling salts and aspirin next to the chips and dip because you may feel the pain.

Start with Alabama, the ultimate old school team.

Talk about a throwback, Tuscaloosa on game day is circa 1964 complete with fans decked out in black and white houndstooth hats, holding rolls of toilet paper attached to empty boxes of Tide detergent. Not sure what men wear to the games.

Nick Saban’s Red Elephants will pass if they have to, but prefer to pave over defenses behind an offensive line that moves more people than U-Haul. Coming from a state that only votes Republican, the Tide offense sure reminds me of a bunch of liberal Democrats … run left, run left, and run left.

On defense, nose tackle Terrence Cody gathers up offensive lineman and ball carriers like a homeless man going through the trash. He simply picks through the muck until he finds what he’s looking for. Any leftovers tend to go to Rolando McClain, a sprinter posing as an NFL linebacker in waiting.

Old school?

Every time I watch Alabama in those plain crimson helmets with the white number on the side, I expect to blink and see Johnny Musso taking an option pitch with half his jersey tearing away, or the Bear leaning on a goal post, smoking a Chesterfield, and looking like he’s posing for a carving on Mt. Rushmore.

How about the Sunshine State squad?

Some might think Florida is new age, but to me the Gators may be even more of a throwback.

When Urban Meyer took over the program, Florida decided to go all retro on offense … all the way to the 1940s.

Call it the spread, the spread option, or whatever you like, but Florida runs the single wing. If the Gators would only add a couple of spin moves and fakes, they could be running the Notre Dame box vintage 1924.

Like a bunch of boys with the best player in the backyard, the Gators don’t need a lot of fancy formations and trick plays (even though they have them). They got a guy who is just bigger, faster, stronger, and tougher than your guys.

Here comes Tebow.

Timmy Touchdown. Mr. Heisman. Let him play in the mud and his face gets caked more than a 1-year old celebrating a birthday. Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said Tebow “brings a Bronko Nagurski quality to the quarterback position.” And I believe Bobby coached Bronko so he should know.

Florida doesn’t run an offensive system so much as the Gators field a commando unit.

Would you rather be bludgeoned repeatedly with a blunt instrument or slit apart with a stiletto? Either way, you know it’s gonna hurt. If Tebow is not pounding away, a fleet group of Gator receivers is slicing and dicing through defenses like a knife set on an infomercial. To quote another throwback - old Darrell Royal of Texas - the Gators run faster than small-town gossip.

What should each team fear?

Florida has not faced a team with power on offense like Alabama will bring to the dome.

Center Antoine Caldwell is the nation's best, and he anchors a stalwart group that includes future NFL top ten pick LT Andre Smith. The Gators are thin at defensive tackle, and smallish to boot. If the Tide is able to grind out first downs by ramming the ball with a tailback trio that features Glen Coffee ... it might be see ya later Alligator.

A major concern for Alabama? Defensive personnel adjustments will have to be made.

The Tide prefers to sit in a base 3-4 with big Terrence Cody controlling the middle, and the four linebackers patrolling the field. That alignment will not work against the Florida offense. The Tide will have to work an extra defensive back into the game plan to avoid mismatches with Gator speedsters running past those linebackers.

Just a hunch, but I think Urban Meyer and Nick Saban can figure out those Xs and Os better than I can.

For my money, this figures to be the best SEC championship since the game was instituted in 1992.

Never have the stakes been higher.

The Crimson Tide and the Gators met in the first three conference championship games, and have played each other a total of five times in the title game (1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, and 1999). The Tide won the first and last meetings, the Gators the three in-between.

In 1992 and 1996, the game propelled the SEC winner all the way to the national championship.

Expect this throwback game to do the same.

Game Ball: Florida

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Real National Championship?

Around the Nation Week 15

Keep the BCS National Championship Game.

Debate Texas and Oklahoma, USC and Penn State, Boise State and Utah all you want.

It’s almost certainly just noise because the two best college football teams in America will meet Saturday night in the Georgia Dome.

Alabama and Florida are ranked #1 and #2 in the Associated Press poll and the writers have it right.

All the handwringing over BCS rankings and the like is interesting to most, aggravating to many, and fun to some. In the grand scheme of determining the national champion, all the chatter may matter little this season.

After watching Alabama demolish Auburn in the Iron Bowl and Florida filet Florida State in a monsoon, it is difficult to see any other team beating either of these two squads.

When the Gators take on the Tide in the SEC Championship game, you will see contrasting styles but similar programs.

Bama pounds away behind a mammoth left side of the offensive line, and defensively relies on a dominant front to eliminate an opponent’s ground game and to pressure the passer.

Florida uses quarterback Tim Tebow as a hammer, then slices away with a fast fleet of backs and receivers. Defensively, the Gators emphasize speed over power.

Both programs are led by no-nonsense, dynamic coaches.

Nick Saban and Urban Meyer might not be the most humorous or gregarious guys around, but they were hired to win on the field, not entertain off it.

They are the best in the business and so are their teams.

Alabama and Florida cannot meet in the BCS National Championship Game, but determining an opponent in that game is (par for the course) causing quite the stir.

Oklahoma edged out Texas in the final regular season BCS rankings and will represent the Big 12 South in the conference title game. The Sooners are a healthy favorite to beat Missouri and reach the NCG in Miami against the SEC champ.

Texas, USC, and Penn State all have legitimate claims to the game.

The Longhorns beat Oklahoma head to head just over a month ago, but the Sooners racked up poll points by scoring 60 points per game since then.

USC has the nation's finest defense, and a track record of playing well in big-time games, but the Trojans are going to the Rose Bowl for the fourth straight season courtesy of an early season loss at Oregon State.

Penn State and Joe Paterno, all but forgotten in the discussion, lost once all season, that coming on the last play of the game against an 8-win Iowa team.

Check back later this week for the SEC championship game preview.

The BCS bowls are shaping up thusly:

BCS NCG: Florida/Alabama winner vs. Oklahoma

Rose: USC vs. Penn State

Fiesta: Texas vs. Ohio State. It’s not out of the question that the Fiesta goes for a PR coup by taking Utah and then Boise State.

Sugar: Alabama-Florida loser vs. Utah. Unless the Fiesta pulls a surprise (leaving Ohio State or Texas for the Sugar), the SEC runner-up faces the same fate as Georgia last season … playing a non-BCS conference opponent.

Orange: Virginia Tech/Boston College winner vs. Cincinnati. The Bearcats will represent the Big East with hot coaching prospect Brian Kelly. ACC champ is not the league’s best – that would be Georgia Tech.

Enjoy the games and watch for our bowl previews later this month.

Around the Nation

Championship games and coaching changes are the talk of college football this week.

The Big 12 title will be decided in Kansas City on Saturday night. The MAC championship game is Friday night and pairs Buffalo and undefeated Ball State. The Army-Navy game is a national treasure for college football fans and will be played at noon ET on CBS from Philadelphia.

Charlie Weis could be in jeopardy at Notre Dame after the Irish lost big at USC.

Around the South

The SEC title will be decided in Atlanta at 4:00 ET on CBS. Also, Lane Kiffin is the new head coach at Tennessee, while Sly Croom is out at Miss State.

In Tampa, the ACC championship game matches Virginia Tech and Boston College … the winner goes to the Orange Bowl.

Tulsa hosts East Carolina in the C-USA title game with a trip to the Liberty Bowl on the line.

See you at kickoff!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Rivalry Week

SEC Rivalry Week
November 25, 2008

On this most American of all holidays, here’s hoping you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Since all the traditional SEC rivalries are played this weekend - making it too difficult to single out one game above the others - here is a special combined version of Professor’s Picks and the SEC Game of the Week.

Make sure to visit next week as we assign final grades for the regular season, and bestow special honors in several categories.

Professor’s Picks
Last Week’s Record 1-3
2008 Season Record 63-25

The old pigskin professor suffered a first losing week of the season, but expects to get back in the gravy this week (hopefully the game picks will go well too : -).

* All times Eastern

Egg Bowl
Mississippi State at Ole Miss

(12:30 Friday on Raycom)
First off, why is this game not being played on Thanksgiving night? Nothing better than finishing up the holiday evening with a third turkey sandwich, an iced-cold Coca Cola, and a heaping helping of Egg Bowl. Houston Nutt’s Rebels are one of the league’s hottest teams, thanks in large part to the big-time play of QB Jevan Snead. Ole Miss has plenty of other offensive weapons too and could be in line for a Cotton Bowl berth if they leash the Bulldogs. Sly Croom’s Bullies held off Arkansas last week, and have shown a knack for winning big games. Expect the Ole Miss Rebels to make a statement in this rivalry and to take home the Golden Egg.
Drumstick: Ole Miss

Battle for the Boot
LSU at Arkansas
(2:30 Friday on CBS)
The LSU Bengal Tigers probably feel like somebody already took a boot to them after the 31-13 beating administered by the Ole Miss Rebels last week … at Baton Rouge no less. Recurring themes cost the Tigers in that game: poor quarterback play and ragged defensive effort. Redshirt freshman QB Jarrett Lee has thrown 17 interceptions (and it seems like all of them have been returned for touchdowns) and will likely lose his job this week – partly because of injury and partly because of ineffectiveness. Freshman Jordan Jefferson should get the nod. The Tiger defense has not played well either. Ole Miss gashed them on the ground and through the air. Arkansas will not pose nearly the same offensive threat however. The Hogs jumped to a 14-0 lead against Miss State, but still lost 31-28. RB Michael Smith is one of the league’s best but State held him to 60 yards rushing (with only 1 yard in the second half). Redshirt freshman QB Nathan Dick (younger brother of regular starter Casey) played well (333 yards and 3 TDs) in the loss. Last season Arkansas won a triple-overtime thriller … this time the Razorbacks get booted.
Drumstick: LSU

Clean Old-Fashioned Hate
Georgia Tech at Georgia

(Noon Saturday on CBS)
This game should be a dandy. Paul Johnson brings the Yellow Jackets to Athens bearing a high-powered option offense. At 8-3, the Wreck could still win the ACC (needing only a Virginia win over Virginia Tech to reach the title game). B-Back (or fullback) Jonathan Dwyer makes the Jackets sting. At about 230 pounds, with good speed, the ACC’s leading rusher is a load. QB Josh Nesbitt is not always smooth running the triple-option, but he is a running and throwing threat. His favorite target is big wideout Demaryius “Bay-Bay” Thomas, who could be a key against Georgia’s smallish corners and over-eager safeties. Defensively, Tech is strong up front with a foursome that includes Michael Johnson, a 6’7 beast and certain NFL first rounder. Georgia will not come into the game with an empty offensive tank either. The Dogs boast four terrific play-makers in QB Matthew Stafford, RB Knowshon Moreno, and WRs A.J. Green and Mohamed Massaquoi. The line is still young and battered, but has shown some scrappiness. The UGA defense will depend on LB Rennie Curran to contain Dwyer, and better hope the secondary and line plays better than in previous games. Here are a few keys for each side: Georgia must score because it is doubtful the Dog defense can hold Tech to less than thirty points … the Dogs better also try to take their time in scoring because the Tech offense cannot score from the sideline … balance is a beautiful word for Georgia because being able to move the ball on the ground and through the air will alleviate the Tech pass rush … for Georgia Tech: The Jackets need to hold onto the ball as they’ve lost 18 fumbles on the season and Georgia has some ball hawks on D … the Jackets should also be physical up front because Georgia got physically whipped in losses to Florida and Alabama and didn’t seem to like that type game … Tech needs a win to break a seven-game losing streak in the series but also because, contrary to what most think, option attacks do not improve so greatly after the system is ingrained in a program; actually regular opponents typically learn how to defend the attack more effectively upon seeing it season after season. This one is too close to call with any confidence although I think Tech is just a bit better right now; however, I’ll stick with the hometowners.
Drumstick: Georgia

Battle of the Palmetto State
South Carolina at Clemson
(Noon Saturday on ESPN2)
Clemson has won nine of the past eleven in this rivalry, but comes into this one with an interim coach (Dabo Swinney) and as part of a league where every team is 6-5 (or maybe it just seems that way). The Tigers have a dynamic duo of tailbacks with C.J. Spiller and James Davis (who needs 203 yards to become the school’s all-time leading rusher). SC will counter with a duo of quarterbacks. Coach Steve Spurrier plays musical chairs with Stephen Garcia and Chris Smelley, only the two never get to sit down … they simply get the play from the head ball coach and run right back in every other play. Clemson always seems to play looser in this game and I expect the Tigers to win.
Drumstick: Clemson

The Iron Bowl
Auburn at Alabama
3:30 Saturday on CBS
Have you heard the news? Tommy Tuberville and Auburn have beaten Alabama six straight times. Perhaps Tiger fans should repeat that taunt and hold as many fingers as they can in the air as many times as they can by Saturday afternoon. I have a sneaking suspicion that the top-ranked Crimson Tide, which has been rolling along without the publicity of Florida and all those Big 12 contenders, is ready to make a statement this week, against this team and this coach. There might be some drama if Tom Thumb pulled a “win one for the Tub” retirement speech before the game but I don’t expect that to happen. I do expect Nick Saban and the Red Elephants to rumble over the Tigers.
Drumstick: Alabama

Sunshine State Showdown
Florida at Florida State
(3:30 Saturday ABC)
The battle for the Charlie Crist’s cup (well, it’s actually the Governor’s Cup sorry) takes place in the panhandle and as Urban Meyer describes the rivalry … this one is nasty. Both teams lead their conferences in offense; FSU is second in the ACC in defense and Florida is third in the SEC. Both squads come into the game on a roll. Florida is widely regarded as the nation’s hottest (and perhaps best) team. Since losing to Ole Miss the last Saturday of September, the Gators have crushed everybody … only Vanderbilt has played them inside of thirty points. Offensively, Florida sends an array of speed at you and dials long-distance running and throwing. If there is a flaw, it’s that the Gators have only one power back and that’s QB Tim Tebow. FSU has come together behind QB Christian Ponder, but also boasts threats in RB Antone Smith (15 TDs) and WR Greg Carr (28 career TDs). FSU advances to the ACC title game if Boston College loses to Maryland. Florida is already in the SEC championship against Alabama, and that game will be a play-in to the BCS National Championship Game if both teams take care of business this weekend. It will not be a picnic for the Gators but they should pull out a close win.
Drumstick: Florida

Kentucky at Tennessee
(6:30 Saturday on ESPN 2)
No flashy nickname in this game, but it does have important implications. For Tennessee, the game marks the last time Phillip Fulmer will lead the Vols through the T at Neyland Stadium as head coach. While many UT fans are glad to see the Fulmer era end, historically he’ll be ranked as perhaps the second greatest Tennessee coach, trailing only Robert Reese Neyland himself. For Kentucky, the stakes are less emotional but more practical. At 6-5, the Wildcats are trying to get themselves into as nice a bowl as possible. As the saying goes, the more you win the warmer it gets for the bowl. I’ll go with emotion over bowl positioning this time.
Drumstick: Tennessee

The Academic Bowl
Vanderbilt at Wake Forest
(7:00 Saturday on ESPNU)
OK, I made that moniker up, but like it nonetheless. Both teams come into the game at 6-5 and awaiting a bowl destination. The Commodores are going bowling for the first time since 1982, but the post-season may be getting old hat for the Demon Deacons under Jim Grobe. Many expected the Deacs to vie for a conference crown but they fell a bit short. For Vandy, a hometown bowl in Nashville might be in store.
Drumstick: Wake Forest

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Around the Nation Week 14

Two of America’s greatest traditions come together once again on the final Thursday of November.

Football and Thanksgiving go together like turkey and dressing.

From the playgrounds to the professionals, we love to pass around the pigskin and work up an appetite to pour on the giblet gravy. Playing football on Thanksgiving revives images straight from a Norman Rockwell painting.

Another tradition seems to be developing too … but this one conjures up thoughts of a different Norman. Try Bates.

Every year around Thanksgiving, the BCS bowl selection process for choosing the two teams that will play in the National Championship Game (NCG) gets tougher to swallow than a third plate of holiday leftovers.

The Texas Tech-Oklahoma game is a culprit for a second consecutive season.

Last year, the #4 Sooners lost to Tech on the same weekend that #2 Oregon fell to Arizona. Those losses sent the BCS careening into a selection process that would see the eventual national champion (LSU) lose on the last weekend of the regular season.

This year, #5 Oklahoma may have triggered more tumult by thrashing the #2-rated Red Raiders 65-21. The game was not as close as the score indicates.

The outcome means there is a three-way log jam atop the Big 12 South between Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech. If all those teams win out, the one with the highest BCS rating at the end of the regular season will play in the Big 12 Championship game and – with a win there – probably advance to the BCS NCG.

Texas coach Mack Brown argues that since Texas beat Oklahoma head-to-head, the Longhorns deserve to be ranked highest. Bob Stoops of Oklahoma responds that by using similar logic, Texas cannot be ranked higher than Texas Tech since the Red Raiders handled the Horns.

And on it goes.

So, what now in the national title race?

#1 Alabama is now the only team to truly control its destiny.

The Crimson Tide plays Auburn in the fabled old Iron Bowl rivalry this week, then Florida in the SEC Championship game the following Saturday. Win both and Bama is in the NCG.

Florida should also be in good shape. The Gators must beat Florida State on the road and Alabama in the SEC title. Win those two and the Gators ought to earn the NCG berth.

Who would face the SEC champ in the title game?

Probably the survivor of the Texas-Oklahoma political battle, but who could argue against USC or Penn State being just as deserving as any of the other one-loss teams?

Here is a rundown of the BCS conferences with bowl projections following.

ACC: The Atlantic Division winner will be either Boston College or FSU. If Boston College beats Maryland, the Eagles are going to Tampa. Should BC lose, the Seminoles advance. In the Coastal, Virginia Tech can take the division with a win at home over visiting Virginia. If the Hokies lose, Georgia Tech wins the crown. Projected champ: Virginia Tech (but watch Georgia Tech)

Big East: Cincinnati controls the conference and can secure a BCS berth by beating Syracuse. If the Bearcats stumble, West Virginia could slip in by taking the backyard brawl with Pitt. Projected champ: Cincinnati

Big 12: Missouri has won the North and will play the South champ. Just a hunch, but Texas coach Mack Brown is a master politician and will milk the UT win over OU … while conveniently brushing aside the Longhorn loss to T-Tech. Bob Stoops is no smooth operator like Mack the Knife, but if his Sooners pound OK State this week, that could be a sufficient answer. Projected champ: Oklahoma by (this much ---) over Texas

Big Ten: Joe Paterno adds to his legacy with a Big Ten title and trip to Pasadena. Champ: Penn State

Pac-10: Oregon State won a great game with Arizona to maintain the conference lead. The Beavers can make their first trip to Pasadena in more than forty years by beating in-state rival Oregon next week. If State loses, USC will take the crown by beating UCLA in two weeks. The PAC-10 is pulling for OSU so a second BCS slot could go to USC. Projected champ: Oregon State

SEC: Alabama and Florida must get by in-state rivals to keep national championship hopes alive. Projected champ: Florida

BCS Bowl Projections heading into Thanksgiving:

NCG: Florida vs. Oklahoma/Texas Runoff Winner
Fiesta: Texas/Oklahoma Runoff Loser vs. USC
Sugar: Alabama vs. Utah
Orange: Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati
Rose: Penn State vs. Oregon State

A big loser right now?

The Big Ten's Ohio State. The Buckeyes will not get to a BCS bowl if Oregon State and USC win out.

A big winner?

Georgia fans might get to see the Dogs play those Buckeyes in the Capital One Bowl (they much prefer that matchup to one with Michigan State).

Enjoy the games and our wonderful Thanksgiving Day tradition!

Around the Nation

The Big 12 Network … I mean ABC … will televise the Bedlam game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State Saturday night. The stakes will be huge for the Sooners.

On Thanksgiving night, Mack Brown and his Texas Longhorns have an opportunity to get the jump on OU in the politicking when they face the Aggies of Texas A&M.

Out West, Notre Dame visits USC, and Hollywood may be the final script in the Charlie Weis saga with the Irish. The Civil War between Oregon and Oregon State will decide the Granddaddy.

Around the South

The Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama is the nation’s toughest game.

The #1 ranked Tide will be trying to break a six-game losing streak to the Tigers.

Georgia hosts Georgia Tech in the Good Old-Fashioned Hate rivalry. Tech can still win the ACC and advance to the Orange Bowl.

For the Yellow Jackets to have a chance, visiting Virginia must travel to Blacksburg and beat the Hokies of Virginia Tech. It’s never easy to handle a live gobbler around Thanksgiving.

In C-USA, congratulations to Skip Holtz and East Carolina for winning the East. Houston wins the West with a victory over Rice. If Rice wins, Tulsa takes the crown by whipping Marshall. If Rice wins and Tulsa loses, the Owls are heading to the title game. Got that?

See you at kickoff!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Professor's Picks and Around the SEC Week 13

Is there one more bowl eligible team out there?

The SEC has nine bowl affiliations. A team has to have at least a .500 won-loss record to qualify for the post-season. With Vanderbilt’s victory over Kentucky lifting the Commodores to the magic six-win mark, the league can now fill eight of the bowl slots. Will one more team complete the dance card?

That seems unlikely.

Auburn and Arkansas are the two teams yet to win six games that can still qualify for a bowl. It will be a tall order for either.

Auburn has a week off to prepare for the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa against undefeated and top-ranked Alabama. The Tigers have won six straight in the series (just in case anybody hadn’t heard), but will be a decided underdog against the 11-0 Tide.

Arkansas does not play the nation’s top team, but for Bobby Petrino to take the Razorbacks bowling in his first year, his squad would need to beat Mississippi State on the road this week, then best LSU at home the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Neither of those is an impossible scenario, but it’s tough to see either playing out.

As we wind toward the season’s end, the main topics of conversation in the league are the national title, coaching changes, and bowl scenarios.

Here is a tidbit of info on each.

Assume Alabama and Florida win their remaining regular-season games (Alabama has Auburn at home; Florida has the Citadel at home and Florida State on the road). The SEC championship in Atlanta then becomes a play-in game for the BCS title game in Miami. Loser would go to the Sugar.

The coaching carousel is cranking up once more around college football with a new twist.

This season teams are getting rid of coaches early so they’ll be able to snatch up the next hot coaching prospect. Clemson and Tennessee are prime examples. With Phillip Fulmer out on Rocky Top, the new hottest seat belongs to Tommy Tuberville at Auburn. Things may get warm for Sylvester Croom at Miss State too.

Finally, here are the latest bowl projections.

BCS Title: Alabama-Florida Winner vs. Big 12 Team

Sugar: Alabama-Florida Loser vs. Big 12 Team, Big Ten Team, or USC

Capital: Georgia vs. Big Ten

Cotton: LSU-Ole Miss winner vs. Big 12

Outback: South Carolina vs. Big Ten

Chick-fil-A: Vanderbilt vs. ACC

Music City: LSU-Ole Miss loser vs. ACC

Liberty: Kentucky vs. C-USA

Enjoy the games!

Game Day Weekly Ratings

1. Florida: Gators dominated a decent South Carolina team

2. Alabama: Do not underestimate Tide against Florida in SEC title game.

3. Georgia … Dogs never make it look easy, but beat Auburn for a third straight year.

4. Ole Miss … Rebels peaking at the right time.

5. LSU … Bengal Tigers should never trail Troy by 28, but what a comeback.

6. Vanderbilt … Congratulations to the Commodores. Let’s go bowling.

7. Kentucky … If Wildcats could wake up before halftime each week, they’d win more.

8. South Carolina … Gamecocks got crushed by Florida … but who hasn’t lately?

9. Auburn … Tigers looked more confident running traditional offense against Georgia.

10. Arkansas … Rested Hogs must win next two to earn post-season bid.

11. Miss State … nothing to be embarrassed about in loss to Tide … well, the offense is pretty bad.

12. Tennessee … will the Volunteers show up against Vandy and Kentucky or simply mail it in?

Professor's Picks

Last Week’s Record 5-1
2008 Record 62-22

* All times Eastern

Arkansas at Mississippi State (2:30)
The Bulldogs played well defensively in a physical and emotional loss to Alabama. Arkansas sat home and munched popcorn and watched. Statistically, these teams are about even with the exception of scoring defense where Arkansas ranks dead last in the league. State just struggles so much to score that I believe the rested Hogs can pull the mild upset.
Game Ball: Arkansas

The Citadel at Florida (1:30)

The only issue for the Gators is whether they are peaking too early. No team in the FBS is playing better right now. That’s not good news for the FCS Bulldogs from The Citadel. This one may not be a fifty-point blowout simply because the Gators will be resting up and looking ahead.
Game Ball: Florida

Ole Miss at LSU (3:30 CBS)
See SEC Game of the Week.
Game Ball: LSU

Tennessee at Vanderbilt (12:30 Raycom)
The Commodores finally won that elusive sixth victory to become bowl eligible by beating Kentucky. The Volunteers played pathetically two weeks ago against Wyoming then had an off week to listen to rumors about who the next UT coach might be. A bad season gets worse for the Vols and a good season gets better for the Dores.
Game Ball: Vanderbilt

Open: Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina

Crossing Paths

Ole Miss at LSU
SEC Game of the Week
November 22nd at 3:30 ET CBS
(originally published in Game Day Weekly 11.17.08)

The last time teams coached by Les Miles and Houston Nutt crossed paths, the results were dynamic.

On and off the field.

On the field, Nutt coached his Arkansas Razorbacks to a triple-overtime 50-48 stunner over Miles and the No. 1 ranked Bengal Tigers on the day after Thanksgiving. The loss appeared to knock LSU out of the national championship race, but a West Virginia loss to Pitt the next week reopened that door and LSU took advantage by whipping Ohio State for the title.

Off the field, even more drama took place.

That game turned out to be Houston Nutt’s last as head Hog. He was shown the door at Arkansas after ten seasons and three SEC West division crowns, resigning amidst a swelling unrest among Razorback backers (or at least a vocal and influential group of them).

For a week, the game looked like it might be the last for Les Miles in Baton Rouge too.

Hours prior to the SEC Championship game, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit reported that Miles would take the Michigan job (Miles’ alma mater), replacing the retiring Lloyd Carr. Miles called a hasty, brief (and strange) press conference the day of the title game to dispute the claim and announce he was staying at LSU.

Had that rumor not broken that day?

Who knows, but it seems there was substantial interest from Michigan and Miles about him returning home to Ann Arbor. At any rate, he stayed and his team won a national title a few weeks later, a game probably made even sweeter to Miles because it was against Ohio State … Michigan’s arch-rival.

Whether Nutt was forced to leave or Miles was forced to stay, things worked out well for everyone.

Miles got the national championship within weeks of staying at LSU and Nutt got the Ole Miss position within minutes of leaving Arkansas (he probably had it before he even resigned).

When their paths cross again this week, nothing as dramatic as jobs or championships will be at stake, but the game is significant.

After starting the season inconsistently (the Rebels first six games read W-L-W-L-W-L), Ole Miss comes to LSU at 6-4 and on a three-game winning streak. The Rebels throw the ball more than was typical for Nutt during his Arkansas days, mainly because QB Jevan Snead is a big-time player, but Ole Miss can move the ball on the ground too. Defensively, the Rebels struggle statistically (next-to-last in the SEC in total defense heading into last Saturday’s game), but they play the run tough – which is LSU’s strength.

As Nutt promised the seniors during his first team meeting, Ole Miss will be going bowling this year for the first time since 2003. A win over LSU might mean the difference between a Music City or Liberty Bowl berth and a potential Cotton Bowl appearance.

For LSU, the comedown from a national championship high has been eventful.

Blowout losses to Florida and Georgia ended any talk of repeating as national champs, and a bitter overtime loss to Alabama (and former LSU coach Nick Saban) two weeks ago closed the door on the conference race as well.

The Tigers must have been feeling the effects of that Bama loss Saturday night because they fell behind Troy 31-3 midway through the third quarter before roaring back with 37 unanswered points on the way to a 40-31 victory. The win was the biggest comeback in LSU history.

Expect plenty of offensive fireworks in this game.

LSU will try to run the ball right at the Rebels with outstanding tailback Charles Scott hoping to take the pressure off inconsistent QB Jarrett Lee.

Ole Miss will try to keep the ball in the hands of Snead and playmakers Dexter McCluster, Shay Hodge, Cordera Eason, and Mike Wallace.

The scoreboard will be moving when these two teams cross paths, but the coaches are not going anywhere.

Game Ball: LSU

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Around the Nation Week 13

It’s time for the yearly yakking about a playoff to commence.

No less a national figure than President-Elect Barack Obama calls for the creation of a college football playoff system.

Barack’s bailout plan for college football?

The Big O calls for an eight-team, three-round playoff that, according to Renegade (that's his cool new Secret Service code name), would be simple to implement.

Obama told 60 Minutes, “It would add three weeks to the season. You could trim back on the regular season. I don’t know any serious college football fan who has disagreed with me on this. So, I’m going to throw my weight around a little bit.”

Depending on your point of view, it’s either too bad - or a good thing - that (with regard to college football) Obama is a lightweight.

Don’t get me wrong. I call Obama a lightweight not as a politician or leader (he’s terrific as the first and may be great as the second) … however, he definitely is a lightweight with regard to his understanding of the current structure of big-time college football. Mr. President, count me as a serious fan who disagrees with you about the playoff plan.

First problem … follow the money.

Any credible playoff plan would need to include those personal college ATMS called the bowls. An eight-team tourney outside the bowl system would never pass muster. The bowls are the reason the plus-one proposal (an additional title game after the bowls) is the only one to ever gain any real momentum (and it’s not a good idea either).

Second problem … follow the money.

In the bowl system, the colleges (read: College Presidents) rake in the revenue from those post-season appearances and – more importantly – control that money. In a playoff system, the NCAA bureaucracy would gain leverage over those bucks. College presidents are about as likely to let go of power as are U.S. Presidents.

Third problem … follow the money.

When Barack-O says, “You could trim back on the regular season,” he shows how truly na├»ve he is on the topic.

Home football games generate hundreds of thousands of dollars (in some cases millions of dollars) through ticket sales, concessions, parking, memorabilia sales, and television deals. That sum does not even count the indirect money made by local merchants (hotels, restaurants, etc).

Think half of the 120 or so FBS teams would be willing to give up a home game so eight schools can have a little playoff during the holidays. Think Obama is going to give back Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Virginia to John McCain?

So, is any realistic playoff scenario possible?

The earliest a true playoff system could even be considered would be 2014 when existing television contracts expire. By the way, the purchase by ESPN of television rights to BCS bowls is probably a positive step for playoff proponents in the long run.

Still, until college presidents come aboard (and they are now firmly opposed to a playoff), college football fans should get used to the current format.

And that current format, for all its flaws, has made college football the most talked about and popular sport in America.

Enjoy the games … and stick to politics Mr. President.

Around the Nation

The biggest game of the weekend takes place in Norman on Saturday night when #2 Texas Tech visits #5 Oklahoma.

If Texas Tech wins, the Red Raiders have a clear path to the BCS title game. If Oklahoma wins, expect a great debate about the merits of the Sooners as compared to the Texas Longhorns. Texas beat Oklahoma earlier in the season, but the Sooners have played a much tougher schedule.

The Big Ten championship will be decided when Michigan State visits Penn State. With a victory Penn State goes to the Rose Bowl. If MSU wins, the Spartans would need an Ohio State loss to Michigan earlier in the day to claim the crown.

Out West, Oregon State can move a step closer to Pasadena with a win at Arizona.

The Big East champ will likely be the winner of the Cincinnati-Pitt game.

Around the South

Ole Miss and LSU meet in Baton Rouge in the SEC Game of the Week. Tennessee will try to salvage some pride at Vanderbilt.

The ACC race is crazy. Nine teams are still in the running for the title, so flip a coin to pick a winner. The Georgia Tech-Miami Thursday night game is big and could start to narrow the field.

In C-USA, Houston looked awesome in blasting Tulsa 70-30. The Cougars host West rival UTEP in the league’s biggest game of the week.

See you at kickoff!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Professor's Picks and Around the SEC Week 12

With road victories Saturday, Alabama and Florida clinched Southeastern Conference championship game berths.

The Crimson Tide needed overtime to subdue LSU at Baton Rouge.

In an exciting back and forth game, Alabama defensive back Rashad Johnson picked off this third interception of the game on LSU’s first OT possession (one of the four oskies tossed by Tiger QB Jarrett Lee). The Tide then quickly drove in for the winning score and a 27-21 victory.

Florida had a much easier time at Vanderbilt.

The Gators jumped all over the Commodores on the way to a 35-0 halftime lead. QB Tim Tebow passed for three touchdowns and ran for two more before taking the rest of the evening off about six minutes into the third quarter. The final of 42-14 does not indicate how lopsided the score could have been.

With the clinching wins, the SEC championship game participants are set at the earliest time in recent memory.

Of course, both teams have their eyes on a larger prize … the BCS title in Miami.

Should both teams win out in remaining regular season games, the winner of that SEC showdown stands a very strong chance of playing for the national title.

With an undefeated record and #1 ranking, Alabama is assured of reaching the BCS title game if the Tide keeps winning.

Bama faces a rested Mississippi State team in Tuscaloosa this Saturday, takes a week off, and finishes up with the Iron Bowl at home against rival Auburn. The Tide will be trying to break a six-game losing streak in that series.

For Florida, the case is not so clear cut, but the Gators should feel good about their position.

Florida faces South Carolina and the Citadel at home the next two weeks before traveling to play in-state rival and ACC front-runner Florida State on November 29th.

If Florida wins out and handles Alabama in Atlanta, the Gators would have a strong case among potential one-loss teams.

The biggest threats to the Gators in that scenario?

Try any of a trio of Big 12 teams … Oklahoma, Texas, and currently unbeaten Texas Tech (assuming the Red Raiders lose one) … along with Southern Cal.

The BCS will shake out soon enough, for now Crimson Tide and Gator fans can get ready for Atlanta … and hope for an even bigger prize.

Enjoy the games!

Game Day Weekly SEC Ratings

1. Florida: Yes, Alabama is #1 nationally, but the Gators look like the hottest team in America right now.

2. Alabama: Tide showed the steely nerves of a champion in defeating LSU on the road.

3. South Carolina … Gamecocks boast league’s top D, but the old ball coach is alternating QBs again.

4. Georgia … Dogs offense has good pedigree … the defense may be looking for a new master soon.

5. Ole Miss … Rebs go for three in a row – and bowl eligibility – this week.

6. LSU … Bengal Tigers quarterback play is feast or famine … hello Cotton Bowl?

7. Kentucky … Wildcats had Georgia on ropes, but defense has faltered of late.

8. Vanderbilt … Commodores must beat UK, UT, or Wake to go bowling.

9. Arkansas … Turnovers butchered the Hogs at Columbia, but the SC defense played its role in them.

10. Auburn … Tigers struggled against FBS UT-Martin, but any win is sweet on the Plains right now.

11. Miss State … the Bulldogs needed the off week because Alabama on the road will be a chore.

12. Tennessee … AD Mike Hamilton probably should have waited until after the Wyoming game to fire Fulmer.

Professor's Picks

Last Week’s Record 4-2
2008 Record 57-21

* all times Eastern

Mississippi State at Alabama (7:45 ESPN)
The last time MSU played a top-ranked Tide team was 1980, and the Bullies stunned Bama and the Bear 6-3. My guess is that the Bulldogs will match that offensive output this week … and lose about 28-6. The Crimson Tide looks solid in all aspects (except place-kicking perhaps) and moves to 11-0 on the season. Florida is getting all the publicity right now ... and that's probably about what the Tide team and staff prefer.
Game Ball: Alabama

Georgia at Auburn (12:30 Raycom)

See SEC Game of the Week.
Game Ball: Georgia

South Carolina at Florida (3:30 CBS)
The Gamecocks come into the contest at 7-3 and looking to land a New Year’s Day bowl (likely the Outback in Tampa, but possibly the Cap One in Orlando). In last week's win over Arkansas, head ball coach Steve Spurrier reinstituted what he calls the “quarterback shuffle” with Chris Smelley and Stephen Garcia alternating every play. SC will need to throw everything plus the visor at the mighty Gators. "Experts" around the nation would probably rank Florida as the favorite to win the national title right now. The Gamecock defense will compete with Florida, but I don’t see enough offense to pull the stunner.
Game Ball: Florida

Vanderbilt at Kentucky (8:00 ESPN2)
We haven’t often been able to call the Vandy-UK game an intriguing one, but this time it qualifies. Kentucky nearly knocked off Georgia and could get to eight wins by beating Vandy and Tennessee. That might mean a New Year’s Day bowl for the Cats. On the other sideline, post-season options are dwindling for the Commodores. After starting 5-0, VU has dropped four straight and still needs another win to go bowling. Not this week.
Game Ball: Kentucky

Louisiana-Monroe at Ole Miss (2:00)
Ole Miss had a week off to prepare for the final three games of the season, still needing one win to become bowl eligible. They should reach that milestone against the 3-7 Warhawks.
Game Ball: Ole Miss

Troy at LSU (8:00)

Troy moved to 6-3 (and bowl eligibility) with a win over Western Kentucky, while LSU lost an emotional struggle in OT to #1 ranked Alabama. The Bengal Tigers may be sluggish after that disappointing loss, but if the QB play is at least decent (which it has not been lately), then LSU should have enough talent for a solid win.
Game Ball: LSU

Open: Arkansas, Tennessee