The mood here at Dawg Sports is a festive one.
The office is closed down for Christmas. I received some really nice compliments from Burnt Orange Nation, Maize 'n' Brew, Orange 44, and Ronald Bellamy's Underachieving All-Stars. Mark Richt shares my opposition to a playoff. When we went to the grocery store this afternoon, I picked up a cherry pie and some bacon, so I should soon be answering the question that has piqued the interest of the blogosphere. B.Y.U.'s convincing win over Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl gave me my second correct prediction of this young bowl season.
2-0, baby! (Photograph from Sports Illustrated.)
Filled with the Christmas spirit, I therefore proceed into the fourth and final segment of my postseason prognostications, offering at the outset my usual admonition for the last time this season: I don't have the faintest idea what I'm doing, so, please, whatever you do . . . Don't Bet On It!
Capital One Bowl: Arkansas v. Wisconsin (January 1)---Two of the season's biggest surprises will face off against one another in Orlando, as a 10-win Razorback squad seeks to avoid a third straight setback against an 11-win Badger team. The Hogs have been fairly consistent offensively, scoring between 21 and 31 points in eight of their last 11 games, but Houston Nutt's squad has suffered from periodic defensive lapses, allowing 31 or more points in each of Arkansas's three losses. Wisconsin (which, evidently, no longer likes to be called "Wisky") has been reliable on D, holding nine of 12 opponents to 17 or fewer points, but the Badgers have sneaked by such suspect competition as San Diego State (14-0), Illinois (30-24), Penn State (13-3), and Iowa (24-21). At the end of the day, I simply have no evidence that the Badgers can hang with the Razorbacks . . . particularly since U.W.'s 1-5 record against S.E.C. squads in postseason play is redeemed only by last year's going-away gift to Barry Alvarez. This game will play out as it would in the wild, with the Razorbacks devouring the Badgers.
Rose Bowl: Southern California v. Michigan (January 1)---Although the Wolverines' exclusion from the season-ending showdown in the desert generated much wailing and gnashing of teeth, it could have been worse; prior to 1975, the Big Ten allowed only its conference champion to take part in postseason play, so, under the system that prevailed in the Big Ten for much of the conference's history, the 11-1 Michigan team of 2006---much like the 9-1 Michigan team of 1970, the 10-1 Michigan team of 1972, the 10-0-1 Michigan team of 1973, and the 10-1 Michigan team of 1974---would have remained home for the holidays. Instead, the Maize and Blue will attend their 32nd consecutive bowl game since the policy was changed and the Wolverines will face the Trojans in the Tournament of Roses for the eighth time. If that's not enough to appease the Ann Arbor faithful, this will be: Michigan will win the Rose Bowl.
Fiesta Bowl: Boise State v. Oklahoma (January 1)---While I am willing to make the case for Boise State if the Broncos win, I fear that the undefeated W.A.C. champions are something of a mirage. Yes, the Broncos are tough to beat when they're playing at home. Yes, they've been known to get the better of a Pac-10 team every now and again. Yes, they've proven they can play the big boys close in a bowl game. Facts, however, are facts; since bursting onto the national scene at the start of the new millennium, the Broncos have struggled mightily to avoid embarrassing themselves against B.C.S. conference opponents from leagues other than the Pac-10, falling 32-13 to South Carolina in 2001, 41-14 to Arkansas in 2002, and 48-13 to Georgia in 2005. I have a great deal of respect for Boise State, but the college football world continues to await the Broncos' long-anticipated breakout victory against a team from another region and, at this point, I'll believe it when I see it. I don't think we're going to see it in the Fiesta Bowl, where the Sooners are going to rope the Broncos in a game highlighted by the presence of the country's two best tailbacks not named Darren McFadden.
Orange Bowl: Louisville v. Wake Forest (January 2)---Oh, please. Louisville in a big way.
Everybody knows a Cardinal outranks a Deacon. Fortunately for Bobby Petrino's squad, U. of L. doesn't have to go up against a Pope.
Sugar Bowl: Notre Dame v. Louisiana State (January 3)---Is this a de facto home game for the Bayou Bengals? Please, let's not go there. Let us instead focus on such facts as these: L.S.U. has won seven of its last nine bowl games, including a 27-9 thrashing of the Golden Domers in the 1997 Independence Bowl, and the Tigers came within one last-second Iowa miracle in Nick Saban's final game of going 8-1 in postseason play in the last 11 years, whereas the Fighting Irish have gone 0-8 in bowl games in the last 12 years, failing even to be competitive in the aforementioned Independence Bowl, an Insight Bowl, one of a pair of Gator Bowls, and a trio of Fiesta Bowls. What about Notre Dame's 47-21 loss to Michigan and 44-24 loss to U.S.C. gives us reason to suspect that the Irish can stay with L.S.U. for four quarters? What about Charlie Weis's uphill battles to outwit Chan Gailey, John L. Smith, and Karl Dorrell suggests that he cannot be outcoached by Les Miles? Other than name recognition and media attention, what indicates that Notre Dame is anything other than overrated? While I don't expect an absolute thumping from start to finish, I have every confidence that Louisiana State will prove to be the better team and the Tigers will put some distance between themselves and the Irish in the end.
International Bowl: Cincinnati v. Western Michigan (January 6)---N.C.A.A. rules require that all bowl games played after January 3 must include at least one representative from the state of Ohio. Accordingly, the Bearcats will be taking the (presumably metric) field in Toronto to square off against a Bronco squad from the conference to which Cincinnati belonged from 1947 to 1952. Western Michigan specialized in close calls this season, taking part in six games that were decided by eight or fewer points. Cincy limped into the campaign with a 1-3 record to open the autumn, but the 'Cats got it turned around with back-to-back wins over M.A.C. squads Miami (Ohio) and Akron, played respectably in a 23-17 loss at Louisville, and caught Rutgers napping to springboard a 4-1 run to finish the regular season. Without having any better or clearer reason to pick one team over the other, I'm going with the B.C.S. conference competitor to beat the team with a directional indicator in its name. The Bearcats will claw their way past the Broncos.
Baby, if I ever wondered, wondered whatever became of you, I could see you in a bowl with Cincinnati and a team that comes from Kalamazoo. . . .
GMAC Bowl: Ohio (Ohio) v. Southern Miss (January 7)---Let me get this straight: two teams that lost their respective weeknight mid-major conference championship games are playing in Mobile, Ala., in the penultimate contest of the season . . . and folks are mad about the January 8 matchup instead? The Bobcats were less than competitive in losses to Rutgers (24-7), Missouri (31-6), Bowling Green (21-9), and Central Michigan (31-10), while the Golden Eagles came up well short of victory in road games against Florida (34-7), Tulsa (20-6), Virginia Tech (36-6), and Houston (34-20). I believe experience will make the difference in this contest. Prior to 2006, Ohio (Ohio) had neither had a winning record since 2000 nor attended a bowl game since the 1968 Tangerine Bowl . . . and the 'Cats have yet to win in postseason play. How likely is it that a team whose entire bowl history consists of losses to West Texas State and Richmond is going to find a way to beat a Jeff Bower-coached team that has attended bowl games in eight of the last nine seasons? For reasons having nothing to do with my interest in staying on good terms with Sunday Morning Quarterback, I'm taking Southern Miss.
B.C.S. Championship Game: Florida v. Ohio State (January 8)---Opinions about this game are as varied as they are predictable, with S.E.C. fans predicting an upset and Michigan fans expecting a 66-10 Ohio State win. Personally, I tend to side with The Onion, which (in a story for which the link was provided by a reader) deems no team worthy of taking the field with Ohio State. While I feel that Michigan probably is the better team, Florida has the better resume and I am trying to base my rankings on something more than mere gut reactions, which is why I ranked the Gators No. 2 . . . although, in the end, I think the 2006 national championship controversy will prove about as meaningful as those of 2000, 2001, and 2004, when the winner of the national title won sufficiently convincingly to silence any serious doubts whether the champs could have taken down any possible opponent sent to face them. That said, I believe the Buckeyes' long layoff will make them rusty enough for Florida to keep it closer than the two teams' respective levels of talent and coaching otherwise would dictate. I anticipate that the Big Ten champions will beat the S.E.C. champions by between 10 and 14 points, but make no mistake about it: Ohio State, which knows a thing or two about winning in Arizona in January, will defeat a Florida squad that hasn't been to a B.C.S. bowl game since Steve Spurrier was wearing orange and blue.
Amazingly, the trophy will go to the second-smarmiest head coach in the stadium!
Those are the remainder of my prognostications for this bowl season, so all that remains is to point out that, although I began drafting this posting with a 2-0 record in postseason predictions, the writing of this latest and last installment has coincided with the playing of the New Orleans Bowl, in which I predicted a Rice victory that, to put it delicately, didn't so much happen.
Let that be a lesson to you and make certain you take my advice: Don't Bet On It!