Already, it has been a busy bowl season here in the blogosphere, so much so that I just flat forgot about Mark Mangino when maligning his fellow morbidly obese offensive geniuses. Truly my bad, Coach Mangino. Let me make it up to you; here's a tray full of fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches, just like Elvis used to make.
If you've been reading my bowl picks, you know already that my postseason prognostications should be taken with a grain of salt. The Unknown Stuntman has been kind enough to set up a Dawg Sports ESPN bowl mania group and, while you are more than welcome to participate in it, I must encourage you not to rely on my predictions when you do so. In fact, when it comes to the following forecasts, the only suitable rule is . . . Don't Bet On It!
Humanitarian Bowl: Fresno State v. Georgia Tech (December 31): Since the turn of the new millennium, Pat Hill's Golden State Bulldogs have replaced the since-fired Jeff Bower's Southern Miss Golden Eagles as the most noteworthy of college football's mid-major giant killers. Although Coach Hill never has won an outright conference title, his teams have beaten Colorado, Kansas State, Oregon State (twice), U.C.L.A., Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and (in the 2002 Silicon Valley Classic) Georgia Tech since the start of the 2001 season. However, the Bulldogs left it all on the field in a 50-42 loss at Rose Bowl-bound Southern California in November 2005 in which Fresno State very nearly threw the national championship chase into complete chaos. (Well, complete chaos by pre-2007 standards, at any rate.) Coach Hill's squad came into the Coliseum trailing a 14-1 record from the previous fifteen games, but the Bulldogs spiraled out of control after that demoralizing setback, losing eleven of their next twelve outings before righting the ship late last year. Prior to posting a win over Kansas State last month, Fresno State had not beaten a B.C.S. conference opponent in its last seven tries and the Bulldogs have not defeated a major league team outside of the Raisin Capital of the World since the 2004 MPC Computers Bowl. Does the West Coast F.S.U. have what it takes to get by a Yellow Jacket team in the midst of a transition being led by an interim coach? With defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta's attentions divided by his temporary head coaching duties, will a Fresno State offense that has put up 30 or more points in seven of its last eight outings, including four in a row, be able to score on a Ramblin' Wreck D that has given up 24 or more points in seven of its last ten games, including each of the last four? Uh, yeah. Don't be surprised if the Golden Tornado gives up 38 postseason points for the third year in a row as another bunch of Bulldogs hands the Yellow Jackets a loss.
Uga understands that, in the binary code of Peach State athletics, No. 1 is in Athens and the zeroes are all at The Flats.
Sun Bowl: Oregon v. South Florida (December 31): If I had told you on October 14 that these two teams were going to meet up in a bowl game, you never would have believed the Bulls and the Ducks would be squaring off on New Year's Eve. Oregon stood at 5-1, sporting a road win over Michigan in the midst of a series of impressive offensive performances and hampered only by the narrowest of losses to a California team that had frittered away its national title shot in a home loss to Oregon State the day before, shortly after No. 1 Louisiana State had fallen on the road against Kentucky. U.S.F. was undefeated and the Bulls' 6-0 record was buoyed by wins over Auburn and West Virginia. Then the bottom fell out for both teams: South Florida lost its next three outings against Rutgers (by three), Connecticut (by seven), and Cincinnati (by five), while the Ducks waited a little later to collapse, beginning a three-game skid when Dennis Dixon was lost for the autumn in a loss at Arizona. The Bulls, however, have had some time to regain their swagger, ending the season by beating Syracuse, Louisville, and Pitt by a cumulative tally of 144-64. Granted, it's just Syracuse, Louisville, and Pitt, but dropping a gross of points on a trio of conference opponents is nothing to take lightly, particularly when two of those three wins were over the Cardinals, who hung tough on the road against West Virginia and upset bowl-bound Rutgers in their other November outings, and the Panthers, who ended the campaign in Morgantown with what would have been the upset of the season in any other season. Short of a miraculous recovery by Dixon, whichever third-rate backup winds up taking snaps for the Ducks will be shaking like a Leaf (sorry) at the prospect of having to match Matt Grothe yard for yard and point for point. Without their star playmaker, the Ducks simply do not have the firepower to keep up with the Bulls. If they gave out the Heisman Trophy when they ought to give out the Heisman Trophy, this game might have turned the tide for Dixon's candidacy---if one player singlehandedly makes the difference between a team being an 8-1 national title frontrunner and being an 0-4 disaster, that player is, by definition, the best player in college football---because Oregon's season will reach its ignominious end in a loss to South Florida.
Music City Bowl: Florida State v. Kentucky (December 31): I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that Bobby Bowden's and Rich Brooks's pregame conversation at midfield includes a discussion of bran recipes and at least one non-ironic asking of the question, "Are you gellin'?" Despite their common membership in a generation known alternatively as "active seniors" (in the parlance of A.A.R.P. advertisements) and as "those young upstarts" (in the Pennsylvanian argot known as Paternese), though, Coach Brooks has the edge on Coach Bowden in at least three important areas. First of all, Coach Brooks possesses the capacity for using actual curse words, dadgum it. Secondly, Coach Brooks's anointed successor isn't looking down on him from the press box. Finally, Coach Brooks knows who his starting quarterback is, which partly is a tribute to Coach Brooks's superior short-term memory and partly is an indictment of Florida State's inconsistency under center. The Seminoles are a spent volcano; there is no rule that says F.S.U., a former all-girls' school that did not win its first football game until the year after Bear Bryant won his first bowl game as the head coach at Kentucky, has to be good. After winning ten or more games in each of the fourteen seasons between 1987 and 2000, the 'Noles have lost three or more games in each of the seven seasons since, posting a record of 15-15 in their last 30 outings. Although the Wildcats have lost four times in the five games since their upset of top-ranked L.S.U. in mid-October, Andre Woodson led U.K. on an 11-2 run prior to the Blue and White's late-season fade and I am confident that, after five weeks of preparation to face Florida State in an S.E.C. town, Kentucky will be ready to win its second straight bowl game over an A.C.C. opponent.
It's just too bad the Wildcats can't field a competitive team in sports other than football. (Image from Newspaper Hack.)
Insight Bowl: Indiana v. Oklahoma State (December 31): The Hoosiers will tip off . . . er, I mean kick off . . . in Tempe just two hours after the Wildcats take the court . . . uh, that should be field . . . in Nashville. Couldn't we have gotten the two basketball border rivals together in a bowl game if Indiana and Kentucky both earned New Year's Eve berths? The last perennial cellar-dweller left in the Big Ten hasn't made it into postseason play since 1993, hasn't won a bowl game since 1991, and has never won a game after Christmas Day that wasn't against either Baylor or South Carolina, neither of whom has much of a reputation as a tough out in the postseason. The Hoosiers (who finally fulfilled the dream of their late coach, Terry Hoeppner, to see I.U. play in a bowl game) are just happy to be there, whereas the Cowboys have something to prove. Oklahoma State's supposedly stellar offense often sputtered, managing 23 or fewer points in losses to Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Troy, and the Pokes routinely were torched by the opposition, surrendering 35 or more points seven times. O.S.U. went 0-4 outside of Stillwater in games against teams with winning records. Although Indiana proved to be a scrappy opponent in nailbiters against Northwestern, Penn State, and Purdue, I just don't think the Hoosiers have it in them to outduel the Cowboys in the desert, so I like Oklahoma State to end the season by making a statement, much as the squad did in 2006.
The intensity of bowl season is beginning to heat up and, for those of us who do not count ourselves among the advocates of tradition-rejecting solutions, New Year's Day annually represents the greatest day on the sports calendar. We'll be getting to January 1 in the next installment of my bowl forecasts, but, ere you get caught up in the excitement of the arrival of 2008, I must caution you once again: Don't Bet On It!