Don't Bet On It: Bowl Edition (Part II)

There are 32 bowl games to play, which means there are 32 bowl games to pick, so it's high time I got back to the serious business of incorrectly predicting the outcomes of those postseason contests, complete with repeated references to a former Georgia coach who ought to remain nameless and occasional asides taking jabs at the Bulldogs' major S.E.C. rivals. You won't want to miss those.

As was the case with my first round of postseason prognostications, the next round of forecasts is accompanied by my usual disclaimer regarding the misplacement of faith in my predictions. Succinctly stated, that caveat is as follows: Don't Bet On It!

If you were Chris Moneymaker and this was Texas Hold 'Em, I'd say bet on it, but, since you aren't and this isn't, I'm saying not so much. (Photograph from Sports Illustrated.)

Emerald Bowl: Florida State v. U.C.L.A. (December 27)---Have the Seminoles beaten anyone? I ask that in all seriousness. F.S.U. has wins over a Miami squad whose head coach has since been fired, over Rice and Troy teams scheduled to meet in the New Orleans Bowl, over a Duke unit that hasn't beaten a Division I-A opponent since 2004, over a Virginia squad that lost to Western Michigan, and over Western Michigan by an eight-point margin in Tallahassee. The 'Noles limp into San Francisco after dropping five of their last eight decisions, including a 30-0 annihilation at the hands of Wake Forest. While the Bruins' expectations were dashed by a midseason skid during which U.C.L.A. lost four in a row, the reigning city champs managed to wrap up the regular season with three straight wins, including a conference road victory over a Hawaii Bowl-bound Arizona State team and home wins over Oregon State and U.S.C. squads that combined for 19 victories. During that final trio of outings, the Bruin D allowed just over nine points per game . . . and Karl Dorrell's troops will be going up against a Florida State offense ranked 38th in passing offense, 54th in scoring offense, 73rd in total offense, and 103rd in rushing offense. If the Bruins shut down the Trojans, is there any reason to think they can't shut down the Seminoles, as well? Since posting a 13-0-1 record in bowl games between the 1982 and 1995 seasons, F.S.U. has gone 4-6 in postseason play. Not since the 1984 campaign has a Bobby Bowden-coached team played the season's final game before December 28 and not since the 1977 Tangerine Bowl have the 'Noles won a bowl game as early as this one. Finally, while F.S.U.'s Marching Chiefs will be staying in the Sunshine State, U.C.L.A. is able to boast of having Juggler Dude, the West Coast equivalent of the fellow known to University of Georgia students from the mid-1990s as "The Bagpipe Guy." How can you pick against the team that has Juggler Dude? You can't spell "crushing Florida State" without U-C-L-A.

Independence Bowl: Oklahoma State v. Alabama (December 28)---You don't suppose Mike Gundy will be bringing a resume to present to Mal Moore in Shreveport, do you? If so, he will have to overcome a pair of impediments to his being found fit to coach the Crimson Tide. First of all, of course, he has been saddled with the first name "Mike," which is never a good sign for an Alabama head coach. Secondly, Coach Gundy has shown no capacity whatsoever as a closer. Each of his first two Cowboy squads have leapt out to 3-0 starts against the likes of Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic, Missouri State, and Montana State before stumbling through O.S.U.'s Big 12 schedule. The Pokes lost seven of their last eight games in 2005 and six of their last nine games in 2006, recording quasi-quality wins over Texas Tech last fall and Nebraska this year but otherwise displaying little aptitude for winning football games . . . particularly on the road, where Coach Gundy's Oklahoma State squads have gone 3-8. This is harsh, but it's true: Mike Gundy has posted the same record (10-13) in his first two seasons as Ray Goff did in his. Those are fighting words, I know, but, in the last two seasons, the Cowboys have given up 29 or more points 14 times in 23 contests and Bobby Reid has been sacked two or more times in six of O.S.U.'s last 10 outings. I believe 'Bama is going to get after the Pokes and the Tide will turn the season around with a win in the Pelican State. Now all they need is a new head coach. . . .

Believe it or not, that was the first, but not the last, Ray Goff reference of the evening here at Dawg Sports.

Holiday Bowl: California v. Texas A&M (December 28)---When pairing two coaches who are evenly matched insofar as their respective uncanny abilities to find a way to lose a close one might reasonably be supposed to be offsetting, I would, of course, have to pick Ray Goff and Bill Curry from the Georgia-Kentucky clashes in the early to mid-1990s, as both men seemed uniquely capable of frittering away a victory on a boneheaded call. Since Coach Goff and Coach Curry are retired now, though, the two men tied for the top spot on my ballot for Coach I Would Least Like to See Standing on My Team's Sideline With Three Minutes to Go and the Game in the Balance unquestionably would be the Golden Bears' Jeff Tedford and the Aggies' Dennis Franchione . . . and that is saying something, considering that I just got done calling the outcome of a bowl game pitting two teams that lately were coached by Les Miles and Mike Shula. These two teams took decidedly different routes to San Diego, as Cal had to underachieve to get there and Texas A&M had to overachieve to reach that destination. The Holiday Bowl is home to some bad memories for the Berkeley Bears, whose claims to having legitimate gripes about being shut out of the B.C.S. were silenced in an embarrassing two-touchdown loss at the hands of a team that had lost at home by 30 points when playing the team that supposedly swiped Cal's spot in the Rose Bowl. The Golden Bears' loss to the Red Raiders in the 2004 Holiday Bowl was hardly aberrational, however, as California has not beaten a current Big 12 team that finished the season above .500 since handing Aloha Bowl-bound Kansas a 27-23 setback in Lawrence in 1992, going 0-4 against teams from that league with winning records in the interim. Following an early-season five-game run during which the Golden Bears put up 42, 42, 49, 41, and 45 points, respectively, Coach Tedford's offense has sputtered, managing just 26 points against lowly Stanford, 21 against Washington State, 20 against Arizona, and nine against U.S.C. Coach Fran's charges, on the other hand, have played sporadic defense, holding Oklahoma to 17 points and Texas to seven while surrendering 28 or more to Nebraska, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech. Cal still has something to prove, while the Aggies have yet to come down after their big win in Austin, and I'm not convinced that a Texas A&M team that has scored more than 27 points just twice in its last eight outings can keep up with a Pac-10 offense. California makes the most of its home state advantage and becomes just the third team from the Pacific Coast conference to win in the Holiday Bowl in the league's last eight tries.

Texas Bowl: Rutgers v. Kansas State (December 28)---There's no two ways about it; the State University of New Jersey flat got jobbed and K-State is going to pay for the Scarlet Knights' inexcusable plummet to a pre-New Year's Eve postseason berth. In fact, the only reason the Wildcats haven't paid for it already is the confusion that resulted when Tony Soprano sent his goons to Manhattan to take care of business and the mobster's henchmen went to New York City by mistake. Kansas State pulled off the upset over the Longhorns on November 11, but, otherwise, the 'Cats endured a forgettable season in which they sneaked by Illinois State by a one-point margin, lost to Baylor and Kansas, were blown out at home by a Louisville team that Rutgers beat, and played lousy football on the road, going 1-3 away from Wagner Field, with the lone win coming against Colorado in a game in which K.S.U. held a 20-14 lead in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the Scarlet Knights, who may have been a narrowly-missed two-point conversion away from a B.C.S. berth, will suffer a letdown in Houston similar to that experienced by Kansas State in the 1998 Alamo Bowl, but I doubt it: Greg Schiano is staying in Piscataway and this Rutgers squad has a golden opportunity to bring the oldest Division I-A college football program its first bowl win. K-State wasn't that good even when K-State was good and the Scarlet Knights will cement their stature as a team on the rise with a Texas Bowl win that none of us will be able to see on television.

Rutgers alumna Kristin Davis thinks the Scarlet Knights got hosed on their bowl bid. (Photograph from Yahoo! Movies.)

Music City Bowl: Clemson v. Kentucky (December 29)---Honestly, it feels like we just saw this game, only it was New Year's Eve 1993 in the Peach Bowl and the coaches involved were Ken Hatfield for the Tigers and Bill Curry for the Wildcats, so I guess it's been a while. This time around, Tommy Bowden is in charge of the Tiger team and, for once, the squad from Lake Hartwell faded late instead of losing early. After shellacking Georgia Tech on October 21, Clemson lost three of its last four games and clawed its way past lowly N.C. State by six points at home. Kentucky also has endured its share of heartbreakers this season, playing Louisville and Florida tough on the road before allowing those games to get out of hand in the second half and falling to South Carolina by seven and to Tennessee by five. While the Wildcats managed to win a few close ones, as well, their narrow victories came by two over Louisiana-Monroe, by three over Mississippi State, and by four over a Georgia squad that was then in a tailspin. This game will be played on the seventh anniversary of the Wildcats' last bowl appearance (against Syracuse in the 1999 Music City Bowl), as well as on the 22nd anniversary of Kentucky's last bowl win (over Wisconsin in the 1984 Hall of Fame Classic). The 'Cats have won after Christmas Day just once since the 1976 Peach Bowl and just twice since Bear Bryant moved from Lexington to College Station following the 1953 campaign, so postseason success has been something of a rarity for Kentucky. Although the Tigers' weak schedule makes them a tough team to figure, I suspect that a Clemson squad that hung some points on some people (scoring 28 against South Carolina, 31 against Georgia Tech, 33 against Boston College, 51 against Louisiana Tech, 52 against North Carolina, 54 against Florida Atlantic, and 63 against Temple) will have some success scoring on a Wildcat defense that surrendered some big numbers (allowing 31 points to Mississippi State, 36 to Central Michigan, 40 to Louisiana-Monroe, 49 to L.S.U., and 59 to Louisville). The Tigers will outlast the Wildcats in this ferocious feline battle.

Just please please please please please please don't wear these uniforms.

Sun Bowl: Oregon State v. Missouri (December 29)---The Beavers earned a spot on my final regular-season BlogPoll ballot by rebounding from a 2-3 start to claim victory in seven of their final eight games, registering wins over Hawaii, Oregon, and Southern California while scoring 30 or more points in five of their last six outings. The Tigers, on the other hand, came roaring out of the gate with six straight wins to open the autumn, but four losses in five games between mid-October and mid-November robbed the campaign of much of its luster. Granted, Missouri closed out the regular season in dramatic fashion by registering a 42-17 victory over border rival Kansas, but the Tigers haven't won a game outside of Columbia since October 7 and they are averaging just 24 points per contest on the road. Out in the West Texas town of El Paso, Missouri will not love the company of its Sun Bowl opponent as the Tigers leave it to the Beavers to deny them the chance to win back-to-back bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1978 and 1979.

Liberty Bowl: Houston v. South Carolina (December 29)---Between Labor Day and Christmas Day, Steve Spurrier is the Evil Genius, but something seems to happen to Darth Visor after a visit from St. Nick. Maybe the Ol' Ball Coach hears the sound of all the Whos in Whoville singing and his heart grows three sizes, but, whatever the cause, Steve Superior lacks the same killer instinct in the postseason that he demonstrates during his team's run through its regularly-scheduled contests. In bowl games, Coach Spurrier was 0-1 while at Duke (with the loss in the 1989 All-American Bowl coming by a 28-point margin), 6-5 while at Florida (with the losses coming by margins of 11, six, 38, three, and 17 points, respectively), and 0-1 while at South Carolina . . . so far. Add in his 0-2 playoff record as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Bandits and the mastermind has an all-time postseason ledger of 6-9 as a head coach in the U.S.F.L., the N.F.L., and the college ranks. Even though the Cougars are 0-6 in bowl games since their 1980 Garden State Bowl triumph over Navy, Art Briles's squad has been on a tear lately, winning six straight contests, scoring 28 or more points in nine of Houston's 13 outings, and losing three games by a total of eight points. The Gamecocks only won seven games, but four of their five losses were by a touchdown or less and they managed to win a couple of tight ones on the road, beating Kentucky in Lexington and Clemson in Death Valley. After a stirring come-from-behind victory over their in-state rival, the Palmetto State Poultry may witness the chickens coming home to roost for them in Memphis, where Houston will have no problem handing Darth Visor his 10th postseason defeat in 16 attempts. The bad news for Steve Spurrier is that his 'Cocks are going to lose to the Cougs, but the good news for Steve Spurrier is that he is now officially the second-biggest smarmball ever to have coached the Florida Gators.

Steve Superior . . . pointing the way to a losing ledger in postseason play!

Insight Bowl: Texas Tech v. Minnesota (December 29)---Nationally, the Red Raiders rank third in passing offense and 113th in rushing offense. Dude, it's called balance. There are few teams in America in which I repose less trust than Texas Tech; under Mike Leach's direction, the Red Raiders have become the Kansas State of the new millennium, growing fat off of out-of-conference scheduling so weak it would embarrass Auburn while failing to step up to the plate in big games. While Coach Leach commonly is thought of as a miracle worker, the fact is that he took over a program in Lubbock that had had just three losing seasons in the 14 years prior to his arrival . . . and, in the course of losing five or more games in five of his seven seasons, he has posted records of 1-6 against Oklahoma (with the lone win coming on a questionable call last season) and 1-6 against Texas. Accordingly, there are few teams in the country in which I place less faith than Texas Tech under Mike Leach . . . but one of those few teams is Minnesota under Glen Mason. Admittedly, I have held a grudge against Coach Mason since Christmas Day 1995 and I would love to see the 'Dawgs draw the Golden Gophers in a bowl game sometime while that turncoat still has a Minneapolis mailing address, but, as George Clooney pointed out to Julia Roberts in "Ocean's Eleven," the mere fact that I'm biased doesn't make me wrong. Coach Mason's Minnesota squads routinely fade down the stretch, as his first nine Gopher teams lost eight of their last nine games in 1997, six of their last eight in 1998, four of their last eight in 1999, four of their last five in 2000, six of their last nine in 2001, five of their last nine in 2002, three of their last seven in 2003, five of their last seven in 2004, and five of their last eight in 2005. This year, Coach Mason elected to try a different approach, leading his team to losses in five of Minnesota's first seven outings before going 4-1 after mid-October. There should be points galore (not to be mistaken for the younger sister of the famous James Bond heroine from "Goldfinger") in this desert scoring fest, but, in the end, Texas Tech will get the better of the Golden Gophers . . . by which, of course, I really mean that Glen Mason will get the worst of himself to a greater extent than will Mike Leach.

Those are my picks for the second round of bowl games, but, of course, I tend to be quite wrong about such things, so, whatever you do, please remember: Don't Bet On It! Also, as long as you're remembering points that bear repeating, you should also recall that I hate Auburn.

Go 'Dawgs!

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