The final weekend before the beginning of the bowl games is here, so I had better be quick about completing my postseason forecasts. If you've been following the predictions I've offered so far, you know to be wary of placing faith in my prognostications, but, just to be on the safe side, I should warn you again: Don't Bet On It!
How unreliable is my judgment? Well, I totally didn't see that "Pink Lady and Jeff" cancellation coming! (Note: If you're younger than I am, substitute "Emily's Reasons Why Not" and you have the same joke, only with Heather Graham instead of two Japanese ladies who don't speak English. In retrospect, not going with that joke instead was another misjudgment on my part, wasn't it?)
Capital One Bowl: Florida v. Michigan (January 1): By January 8, one of these two teams will be able to say that it lost to the eventual national champion. Actually, one of these two teams can say that already. At the Division I-A level, however, the Wolverines have lost four straight bowl games, five of their last six postseason berths, and every Rose Bowl they have attended since their national championship year in 1997. Since going through a bad patch of five bowl losses in a six-season span between 1999 and 2004, the Gators have won two straight bowls over Big Ten teams, scoring at least 31 points in each of them. (Also, for what it's worth, according to Brian, Florida knows how to hire a head coach but Michigan, like, does not, though, really, that is neither here nor there as far as calling this game is concerned.) Ordinarily, I would pick against the team that boasted the Heisman Trophy winner, since guys who take home the stiffarm trophy tend to fare poorly in bowl games, for a variety of reasons, but the Maize and Blue are banged up, physically and emotionally, and they will be facing a Saurian squad that has scored at least 30 points in six straight games, ringing up 45 or more in five of them. Nothing about the Wolverines in their present state of disarray suggests that they are capable of hanging with the Gators.
Rose Bowl: Illinois v. Southern California (January 1): The Fighting Illini have won the Tournament of Roses three times, most recently at the end of the 1963 season and only once since the end of the 1951 campaign. The Trojans have won the Tournament of Roses 22 times, most recently last January. Illinois attended its first Rose Bowl on New Year's Day 1947. U.S.C. attended its first Rose Bowl on New Year's Day 1923. The Big Ten representative in Pasadena is coached by Ron Zook. The Pac-10 representative in Pasadena is coached by Pete Carroll. Yeah, the Men of Troy are going to destroy the Illini, aren't they?
Also, Southern California never caved in to the forces of political correctness in order to avoid appearing insensitive to the hypersensitive.
Sugar Bowl: Georgia v. Hawaii (January 1): 'Twas the eve before New Year's and, throughout New Orleans, Warrior fans hoped to cap off their season of dreams by denying the Bulldogs their well-deserved bones with a run and shoot offense designed by June Jones. Colt Brennan was nestled all snug in his bed while visions of the Sugar Bowl danced in his head. Then inside the Superdome arose a wild howl from Georgia fans cheering, then Uga did growl as thousands of boosters got to their feet, awaiting the chance to see the big 'Dawg eat. What into their wondering eyes should stare back but a passel of players wearing red and black? With S.E.C. speed, swiftly they came as the P.A. announcer called each one by name: "Now, Asher! Now, Chandler! Now, Stafford for the first down! On, Owens! On, Atkins! On, Moreno and Brown!" Evil Richt grinned with a menacing laugh as the defense took over in the second half and the Georgia offense continued to amaze as backs and receivers made numerous plays. When the bowl game was over and the Bulldogs had won, Mark shook June's hand and told him, "Well done" . . . then Jones heard Richt exclaim, with unbridled joy, "Go 'Dawgs!" while cranking dat Soulja Boy.
The Warriors will play well on New Year's Day, but you cannot spell "Sugar" without U-G-A.
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma v. West Virginia (January 2): The Sooners return to the scene of last year's most memorable bowl game, where Boise State cemented its stature in the national college football consciousness with the Statue of Liberty play that brilliantly exploited Bob Stoops's scrupulous film study by tricking him into believing the Broncos were running the conventional two-point conversion play they had broken out earlier in the season. The Mountaineers, who similarly transformed their reputation with a Sugar Bowl win one year earlier, are going back to the game in which they frittered away their first chance at nationwide respect with a 34-21 loss to Notre Dame in Sun Devil Stadium on January 2, 1989. It is open to debate whether West Virginia's coaches and players will be distracted by the fact that, for the second straight season, Rich Rodriguez apparently is in play, but "Big Game Bob" rehabilitated his slightly saggy reputation with wins over Miami (Florida), Texas, Missouri twice, and Oklahoma State by an average margin of a little over three touchdowns. It has to gnaw at a perfectionist like Coach Stoops, though, that, after going 3-1 in his first four bowl games at Oklahoma (with a win in the 2001 Orange Bowl to claim the national championship), he has gone 1-3 in his last four (with losses in the 2004 Sugar Bowl and the 2005 Orange Bowl that cost the Sooners the No. 1 final ranking). After holding the Cowboys and the Big 12 North champion Tigers to 17 points apiece, Oklahoma appears to be hitting its stride and, irrespective of whether West Virginia is distracted by all the talk of Coach Rodriguez's possible departure, I expect the Sooners to assert themselves rather forcefully in Glendale.
We are closing in on the final four bowl games, including the big ones. (That's right . . . I'm talking about the GMAC Bowl in Mobile and the International Bowl in Toronto!) As we head into my last set of postseason prognostications, however, I must caution you, as always, that, if you take nothing else away from what I have written here, you must remember this one thing: no matter what you do . . . Don't Bet On It!