Bowl season got underway in a big way on Tuesday night, in a game I called correctly. Since we both know just exactly how bad I am at forecasting the outcomes of college football games, my early success can only be taken as a harbinger of future failure, so, please, whatever you do . . . Don't Bet On It!
Here is my next round of postseason prognostications, over which the fetid stench of impending doom hangs like the sword of Damocles:
Champs Sports Bowl: Purdue v. Maryland (December 29)---By all rights, the sponsorship deal for this affair in Orlando ought to have saddled this contest with the nomenclature "Teams That Haven't Beaten Anyone Sports Bowl." Seriously, what's the closest either of these teams can come to claiming a quality victory? The Terrapins' one-point win at Clemson? The Boilermakers' six-point home win over Minnesota, for crying out loud? Make it the Chumps Sports Bowl. Just as the Bulldogs' victories over the Yellow Jackets in the 1990s typically proved that being a mediocre S.E.C. team was better than being a mediocre A.C.C. team, Purdue's victory over Maryland will prove that being a mediocre Big Ten team is better than being a mediocre A.C.C. team.
Meineke Car Care Bowl: Navy v. Boston College (December 30)---This is one of the better matchups of the bowl season . . . as evidenced by the fact that LD thinks these are the right teams but this is the wrong bowl. The evenly-matched Eagles and Midshipmen each come into the contest sporting 9-3 ledgers, but Boston College is a team in transition from Tom O'Brien to Frank Spaziani to Jeff Jagodzinski as the athletic administration in Chestnut Hill labors strenuously to find the most unpronounceable coach in the country. (Ironically, the Eagles will be going up against a team with a quarterback named Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada.) Before the season began, I predicted a 10-win season for the U.S. Naval Academy, and, since that is among the few prognostications of mine that any longer have even the slightest chance of coming true, I'm sticking to my story and picking the Midshipmen.
Sure, both quarterbacks won the Heisman Trophy, but, after graduation, Navy's Roger Staubach served his country in uniform, while Boston College's Doug Flutie fled to Canada to dodge the draft and play football on a metric field.
Alamo Bowl: Texas v. Iowa (December 30)---While neither of these teams expected in August that their season would be over prior to New Year's Eve, Mack Brown and Kirk Ferentz know how to get their players ready to close out the campaign with a W. Coach Brown's Longhorns have won four of their last five postseason engagements and Coach Ferentz's Hawkeyes have won two of their last three bowl games. Oddly enough, this will be Iowa's fourth Alamo Bowl in a 14-season span but Texas's first postseason trip to the Alamodome. While I am hesitant to predict that a band of Texans will succeed in holding off an opposing force in San Antonio, I believe a December bowl game is more likely to be visited by Santa Claus than by Santa Ana, so I'm taking the 'Horns to hook the Hawks once the 'Eyes learn Texas is upon them.
Chick-fil-A Bowl: Georgia v. Virginia Tech (December 30)---I will, of course, get into this in greater detail later, but, even before it was announced that four Hokies will miss the game, it was pretty clear that I was going to go with the 'Dawgs. By the way, if you're looking for some good comedy material while you're waiting for the Peach Bowl, please direct your attention to the Gator fan who wonders why Georgia doesn't win more and the proposed explanation that it might be because of the Bulldogs' talent base. Meanwhile, here on this planet, Georgia---both the University and the state---is among the top producers of N.F.L. talent and Mark Richt has compiled a 60-17 record that is the best in school history after as many games and has him winning at a clip comparable to Pete Carroll (64-12), Nancy Meyer (60-12), and Jim Tressel (62-13), which is good enough to have Bulldog Nation convinced that these are the glory days for Georgia football. (As you probably can tell, I find the whole premise of the question to be absurd and most likely indicative of a broad ignorance of S.E.C. history on the part of the questioner, but, if you're looking for a more serious treatment of the subject---which I only came across after drafting the foregoing paragraph---LD once again is your man.)
It's a nice place to visit, but people who question Georgia's talent and discount the Bulldogs' victory total wouldn't want to live here.
MPC Computers Bowl: Miami v. Nevada (December 31)---I certainly hope MPC Computers only plans on sponsoring this event, rather than supplying the participants with some of its products. If these two teams get access to computers, the guys from Nevada are going to be hitting on-line gambling sites and the guys from Miami are going to be downloading porn. Then again, they are being forced to spend New Year's Eve in Boise, so maybe we should let them go as crazy on the internet as they like. I doubt seriously whether the 'Canes can be rallied by a battle cry as limp as, "Win one for the Coker!"---but, fortunately for the squad from Coral Gables, they simply field more talent than the Wolf Pack. The team from the Biggest Little City in the World has attended four bowl games since moving up to Division I-A in 1992, three of which have come under Chris Ault, who now is in his third stint as Nevada's head coach . . . but never has the Wolf Pack gone up against an opponent like the one from Little Havana in postseason play. Nevada's bowl history since joining the Big West consists of a one-point loss to Bowling Green in the 1992 Las Vegas Bowl, a three-point loss to Toledo in the 1995 Las Vegas Bowl, a three-point win over Ball State in the 1996 Las Vegas Bowl, and a one-point win over Central Florida in the 2005 Hawaii Bowl. To recap: Bowling Green; Toledo; Ball State; Central Florida; Miami. Which one of these is not like the others? Against Miami (Ohio), I'd give Nevada the nod . . . but against Miami (Florida)? No way. The Hurricanes will win the game and the fight.
Outback Bowl: Tennessee v. Penn State (January 1)---I hate to have to say it, but, this season, the Nittany Lions are nothing more than Purdue with a better pedigree. Both, after all, are eight-win Big Ten teams who failed to impress against the best teams on their respective schedules, beating next to no one on their way to postseason berths in the second half of the bowl season. The resurgent Volunteers, by contrast, defeated five bowl-bound teams and came within a hair's breadth of defeating each of the S.E.C.'s two B.C.S. representatives. Tennessee is a solid football team looking to cap off a successful campaign with a bowl win and, if for no other reason than because Joel had some very complimentary things to say about me, I'm picking the Big Orange to win in Tampa.
Cotton Bowl: Auburn v. Nebraska (January 1)---The classiest fan base in the country meets the least classy fan base in the conference in a game about which Auburn fans appear inexplicably unenthusiastic. These two teams haven't squared off in a bowl game since New Year's Day 1964 and I, for one, am excited about seeing these two historic programs butt heads. (If you're an Auburn fan and you're reading this, no, I did not just call you a butt-head.) Perhaps the suspensions of Tray Blackmon, Brad Lester, and Kevin Sears have dampened the spirits of the War Eagle faithful, or perhaps Auburn fans are aware of the fact that the Tigers' last three postseason trips to the Lone Star State resulted in A.U. losses by margins of 36-7 in the 1969 Bluebonnet Bowl, 34-17 in the 1973 Sun Bowl, and 36-16 in the 1986 Cotton Bowl. While I don't expect the margin to be quite that lopsided this time, the fact is that Al Borges's vaunted offense has fizzled in recent weeks, being held to 27 or fewer points seven times in the Plainsmen's last eight games after hanging 34 or more points on three of their first four opponents this fall, while the Cornhuskers have scored on everyone except such quality defensive teams as Oklahoma, Texas, and Southern California. Perhaps due to the inherent inequity of denying a team the opportunity to play every game in inclement weather, the Big Red Machine has struggled in Sunshine State-based postseason tilts, going 1-8 in the Citrus and Orange Bowls between the 1978 and 1993 seasons, but the Lone Star State has been more kind to the 'Huskers, who have posted a combined 7-1 record in the Alamo, Bluebonnet, Cotton, and Sun Bowls since 1969. Let's go ahead and mark 'em down for 8-1, as I like Nebraska and I hate Auburn.
Gator Bowl: West Virginia v. Georgia Tech (January 1)---There were those who had their doubts about Chan Gailey and his ability to get the job done. Those same naysayers questioned Reggie Ball, as well . . . but Coach Gailey and the Yellow Jackets' maligned true freshman---oops, I mean senior; it was an honest mistake---signal-caller have risen to the occasion. When the Ramblin' Wreck was 9-2, many wondered whether Georgia Tech would be able to lose five games, as they have each and every previous year of Coach Gailey's tenure at The Flats. Now, though, Chan and Reggie have their team sitting pretty at 9-4 and, with one game to go against an opponent that actually deserves a New Year's Day bowl bid, it looks like smooth sailing for a Golden Tornado squad that has scored 12 or fewer points in four of its last seven outings. The two teams slated to meet in Jacksonville will arrive in the Gateway City with vastly different mindsets. One is proud to play in a legitimate B.C.S. conference; the other plays in the A.C.C. One is excited because its coach isn't leaving; the other is dejected because its coach isn't leaving. One is looking to post its second consecutive 11-win season; the other is looking to recapture the lost glory of the 1997 Carquest Bowl. (We are, after all, talking about the Yellow Jackets, whose last six postseason victories have included two wins in competitive games against Stanford.) In short, the Mountaineers are going to win and Georgia Tech is going to lose.
On January 1, West Virginia will face a team from the Peach State playing its second consecutive game in the same venue. Yeah, I know how that movie ends.
I am now three-quarters of the way through the 2006 bowl lineup, with the second half of the New Year's Day games and such post-January 1 thrill rides as the International and GMAC Bowls to go, so stay tuned . . . and, while you're waiting, remember: Don't Bet On It!