Wednesday, December 31, 2008
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 www.philsteele.com. 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
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
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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!