Bowl season bustles forward, with the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl just about wrapped as we type. (Louisiana Tech – new motto: “Stop already with the WAC reminders” – has Illinois down 35-16 with the 2-minute warning closing in.)
The coming week sees the transition from Total Booger Bowl Mode to the onset of the Big Boy Bowls, and this year’s charming, pastel-sprinkled petit-four “playoff” doohickey. We won’t be able to write about it that way again, so please pardon the literary indulgence.
Things get lively for the Inner Circle on Saturday the 27th when Virginia Tech meets the American Conference’s Cincinnati in the Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman. Both teams bring effective passing quarterbacks; Tech has the edge on defense, and must be acknowledged to have compiled its 6-6 record (to the Bearcats’ 9-3) in a tougher conference.
A resounding win for the Hokies could keep VT’s search for a new head coach on the back burner for another year. Fans will have to decide how they feel about that. Bearcats are giving 2.5 in the line on the showdown in Annapolis.
Monday brings us the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, featuring a thoroughly de-ranked Oklahoma (8-4) and #17 Clemson (9-3). With Clemson’s first-string QB sidelined, and OU’s Trevor Knight being, well, Trevor Knight, the game may come down to who can stop a premier RB most effectively. Sooners will never tire of pointing out Samaje Perine’s record-book 427 yards against Kansas in November, and the last we heard, Perine will be ready for Monday. Clemson’s Wayne Gallman is the man to watch on the Tiger rush.
Sooner fans have their beloved team giving 3. We wouldn’t take points.
Tuesday sees #23 LSU (8-4) take on Notre Dame (7-5) in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in Nashville. LSU is favored by 7, but that understates the defensive edge the Tigers have over the Irish. LSU also brings a multi-pronged offense with Mr. Go-To Leonard Fournette on the ground and Travin Dural at WR.
Notre Dame relies heavily on QB Everett Golson for the rush, one of the weaknesses that were obviously, at some point, going to get the Arsh booted from the Top 10 this season. But Tarean Folston has been a productive RB and will have to be shut down by the LSU D to ensure a lopsided victory.
On Wednesday, New Year’s Eve, #6 TCU will meet #9 Ole Miss for what should be an awesome romp in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta. QB Trevone Boykin led the 11-1 Frog offense to #2 in the nation in scoring, with an average of nearly 47 points per game. But the 9-3 Rebel D was #1 in stopping the point tally, holding opponents on average to fewer than 14 points. Sheer SEC-ness in this match-up is likely to even out the relative favorables for TCU, with its pretty-fast, pretty-good defense, on the other side of the ball.
Bottom line: this one has “classic” written all over it. And when we say that, we’ve usually uttered famous last words. So be warned. Frogs give 3.
For some in our Inner Circle, it all comes down to Friday night, 2 January. The late games will keep us hopping, with #11 Kansas State up first to clash with #14 UCLA in the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. Both come in 9-3, and the Bruins are giving 3 as of this writing. But we’re so high on K-State we can’t stand it.
The Waters-Lockett combo will come through as usual. The Wildcats could use more of a rushing game, but it’s not like they’re facing a top-tier rushing defense in UCLA. (UCLA’s numbers on both sides of the ball are no better than so-so, all things considered.) We expect K-State’s solid Top 25 D to put the squeeze on Bruin QB Brett Hundley, and we give this one a big thumbs-up as premier Friday night viewing.
The TicketCity Cactus Bowl in Tempe (yes, that’s where TicketCity moved to, from the Heart of Dallas Bowl) rounds out Friday night for us. Oklahoma State (6-6) and Washington (8-5) will go head to head in this august venue, which long-time fans will remember fondly as the former Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (2013), and before that, the Insight Bowl. (Before that – before 1997 – it was the Copper Bowl. The FBS bowl now named the Cactus Bowl is not connected with the former Shriner’s Cactus Bowl: the East-West bowl game played in January, featuring top NFL prospects, which ended its run in 2011.)
We should all be so lucky as to get into a real, genuine Booger Bowl: a bowl that has had at least three different names and at least that many sponsors in the last 30 years. The Huskies are giving 5.5 in the line, and for good reason, the Okie Pokes having stunk for much of the season.
But you never want to count a Mike Gundy team out, especially on any given Friday night in December. Brandon Sheperd will be suited up, although Tyreek Hill is gone, for criminal-stupidity reasons you’re welcome to look up for yourself. Husky LB Shaq Thompson will brood over the Cowboy offense like a sword of Damocles. That’s OK; the OK-State O can wiggle with the best of them when it has to. Its youthful, bend-and-sometimes-break secondary will have a stiff challenge in Husky WR Kasen Williams.
Anything can happen.
You had to know we weren’t done with Saturday (tomorrow) yet, even though the Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman is the bowl we most especially care about.
At noon Mountain time, #15 Arizona State will meet Duke for the Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, a game that has reasonably good potential, given the Sun Devils’ tendency this year to defy favorable odds. Both teams come in 9-3, with Arizona State giving 7.
Miami (Da U) and South Carolina (motto: The Other USC) then collide in one of our all-time favorite Booger Bowls in Shreveport, LA. This year, it even has a brand spanking new sponsor, and is making its first outing as the Duck Commander Independence Bowl.
This reminds us, in the Who Knew column, that there are Duck Commander label wines you may want to lay in for optimum bowl viewing. At Wal-Mart a few days ago we saw both a Chardonnay and a muscato. (If there are reds, we didn’t see ‘em.) So choose your snacks carefully.
No, we didn’t get a bottle. Let us know if you do. Oenophile reviews welcome. (Oh, and yes: it’s California, so you can buy any old wine or hard liquor you want at Wal-Mart, at 5:00 AM in the morning if that’s when you’re there.)
Hurricanes give 3.5. But we’ve got our eye on the Ole Ball Coach.
Danged if Saturday doesn’t bring us another of our all-time favorite bowls, this one the relatively new New Era Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium. If Monopoly had a bowl game, it would be the Pinstripe Bowl. And if Boston College and Penn State fans can’t manage to fill the stadium for this one, well, we just don’t know what to say about that. The 7-5 Eagles are giving the President’s Own 6-6 Nittally Lions 2.5. And let us just say we’re happy to see Penn State back in the bowl business.
Nebraska (9-3) will clash with #24 USC (8-4) in the National University Holiday Bowl in the marquee slot on Saturday night. The Holiday Bowl, held in San Diego, doesn’t change its sponsor quite as often as some of the others, but it has its moments.
One of its chief delights is its tie-in with the Wiener Nationals, the national dachshund racing championship sponsored by hot-dog chain Wienerschnitzel. If you’re in the San Diego area, the national final started at Bay Park downtown at 2:30 PM today. You’ll be gratified to know that proceeds from the national finals race go to benefit the Holiday Bowl.
The Trojans are favored by 7 in the line, Bo Pelini having been given the boot from Nebraska at the end of regulation play this year. Whatever.
Monday cues up the venerable AutoZone Liberty Bowl (yes, they still have it), featuring Texas A&M and West Virginia, both 7-5. If you need an excuse to visit Memphis, this is the one. The oddsbubbas have the Mountaineers giving 3.5, but we’re a tad dubious.
Late-late fare on Monday night will see Arkansas and Texas, both 6-6, clash in the AdvoCare 100 Texas Bowl in Houston. Ordinarily we’d figure Houston has the advantage, but with an invasion by two of the most rabid fan bases in the nation, and both of them coming from a relatively short distance, we suggest Houston do a few push-ups and start a prayer chain. The Hawgs give 6, but you just never know.
Tuesday afternoon will delight us with the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, NC, which we like to think of, affectionately, as the Ma-and-Pa Five-‘n’-Dime Bowl. #13 Georgia and #21 Louisville bring their 9-3 records, a load of talent, and one or two regular-season heartbreaks apiece to a clash in which the Bulldogs are currently favored by 6.5. Don’t count this one out for plain old good football.
Our one-time fave the Fight Hunger Bowl has morphed, in the manner of the best Booger Bowls, into the Foster Farms Bowl, and moved down the road to Santa Clara, CA. What can I say, we love any bowl whose logo features a chicken. It will kick off in Levi’s Stadium (new home of the 49ers) on Tuesday night between Maryland and Stanford, both 7-5. The Pugnacious Peony gives 14, which sounds suspicious to us. The Turtle’s not that bad.
Wednesday brings the Big-Boy-Bowl surge, starting with our Inner Circle Peach Bowl, and moving on to the must-see Vizio Fiesta Bowl (yes, we miss Tostitos too), featuring #10 Arizona and #20 Boise State. Of course everyone remembers what Boise State used to do when it went to the Fiesta Bowl that one time and beat Oklahoma through sheer little-guy pluck and spirit, and I’m sure we’ll see the trick play over and over in the pre-game coverage, and three or four times during the game. But don’t be fooled. Arizona gives 3.
Capping Wednesday night, the Capital One Orange Bowl will showcase #7 Mississippi State (10-2) and #12 Georgia Tech (10-3). The Bulldogs give 7, but the game is likely to be better than that.
Thursday kicks off with #18 Wisconsin (10-3) and #19 Auburn (8-4) in the Outback Bowl in Tampa. Auburn gives 6.5.
Things heat up with #8 Michigan State (10-2) and #5 Baylor (11-1) in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, another of those match-ups that has awesome written all over it. The football is likely to rival what we see in the petit-four face-offs Thursday night. Bears give 2.5, partly due to home-state advantage, partly to their epic scoring potential.
To get to Thursday night, we’ll have to get past #16 Missouri and #25 Minnesota in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando. We’re so proud of Goldie and pals for going to a New Year’s Day game this year. Mizzou is favored by 5 in the line.
#2 Oregon (12-1) and #3 Florida State (13-0) will at last face off in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual at 5 PM Pacific (8 Eastern). So buckle in for those silly Northwestern Mutual commercials. Will Marcus Mariota jinx the Ducks with his new Heisman? Will the Seminoles be revealed as a better-than-average but not nosebleed-section-great team when they play another closely-ranked, nosebleed-worthy rival? Tune in. Ducks give 9.
And, finally, we get to #1 Alabama and #4 Ohio State in the All State Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Tide gives 9, for obvious reasons, and we don’t think Nick Saban is going to let this one slip through his hands. If the Buckeyes give ‘em a good game, OSU partisans will feel vindicated for the peculiar CFB decision to overlook Baylor.
Friday afternoon has some juice next week, with the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth. Houston (7-5) will face off with Pittsburgh (6-6) for the honors. Pitt is favored by 3 over a somewhat-diminished Cougar squad.
Completing the warm-up for our Inner Circle two-fer on Friday night, Iowa (7-5) and Tennessee (6-6) meet for the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville. Sharp-eyed readers will recognize that it’s no longer the TaxSlayer.com Bowl. This bowl used to be the Gator Bowl (infamous as the bowl game in which Woody Hayes was fired in 1978, after taking a whack at an opposing player). But as of 2014, it no longer is. Vols give 3.5.
The FCS championship game will be on 10 January. Preview to follow.
With the playoff picture starting to set, LU Nation’s interest prepares to turn to playoff advantage for its top-performing teams. There’s a major sweep-up requirement still pending at Heinz Field, however, along with some in other divisions.
Dallas, NFC East division champ, is at Washington Sunday, and needs a win to keep alive the hope of locking in home-field advantage for the playoffs. That will also depend, of course, on how some other NFC division leaders do this weekend.
Pittsburgh hosts Cincinnati on Sunday night for a do-or-die to clinch the AFC North title. Big game, big stakes: one winner. Don’t want to miss this one.
Denver still needs a win (or a Bengals loss) to clinch a first-round bye. Broncos host the Raiders on Sunday afternoon. You can’t count out Oakland, which has pulled some surprises in the last few weeks, but we think the oddsquad has this one right, with Denver giving 14.
Meanwhile, Green Bay and Detroit meet at Lambeau Field for the AFC North showdown, which, importantly, has implications for Dallas’s comfort in the playoffs.
San Diego and Kansas City are still fighting for a playoff berth and will meet for their season-finale AFC West faceoff in Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The 6-8-1 Panthers are at 6-9 Falcons to decide the NFC South.
Ravens (hosting Browns) and Texans (hosting Jaguars) are still in the playoff hunt, but they need losses by others as well as wins at home.