At last we are down to college football's final four. I have picked each of the first 28 games of the upcoming postseason and, without further ado, I now turn to the task of predicting the handful of remaining contests, offering only at the outset my usual disclaimer: Don't Bet On It!
How little trust should you place in my forecasts? Well, I am the guy who believed beforehand that "Highlander II: The Quickening" would totally rock!
Orange Bowl: Kansas v. Virginia Tech (January 3): Believe it or not, the Jayhawks are on the verge of attending their third bowl in a five-year period, but their previous postseason engagements during the Mark Mangino era---the 2003 Tangerine Bowl and the 2005 Fort Worth Bowl---don't quite measure up to this citrus-themed classic in the Sunshine State. As a matter of fact, K.U. hasn't played a football game after Christmas Day since 1981 and hasn't been in action after New Year's Eve since the close of the 1968 campaign, when Pepper Rodgers was coaching in Lawrence and I was two months old. Admirers of Kansas State's Bill Snyder have to credit the Jayhawks with adopting their in-state rival's Sunflower State strategy of using sorry scheduling to produce an inflated record in order to earn---well, receive, at any rate---a better bowl bid than the invitee deserves. In practical consequence, Kansas has scheduled the same sort of "paycheck game" that defined the squad's September slate, which consisted entirely of home games against the likes of Central Michigan, Florida International, Southeastern Louisiana, and Toledo. This time, though, the Jayhawks are the schedule fodder being paid the big bucks to accept a whipping from a superior squad. V.P.I. will put its offense in, pick up no first downs, put its defense in, and smack the 'Hawks around, giving a Hokie beatdown to an overrated team. That's what it's all about for a squad that will give new meaning to the term "bleeding Kansas" after Virginia Tech gets done asserting its (old) dominion over the Jayhawks.
International Bowl: Ball State v. Rutgers (January 5): The university that produced David Letterman squares off with the university that produced Kristin Davis in the country that produced Alan Thicke. Although I previously proclaimed that the Scarlet Knights were a team on the rise, the State University of New Jersey did little of note in 2007, compiling a 7-5 record that included wins over Army, Buffalo, Navy, Norfolk State, Pitt, and Syracuse. Aside from a three-point home win over South Florida, Rutgers lost to every halfway-decent team it faced, falling by double-digit margins to Cincinnati, Connecticut, Maryland, and newly coachless West Virginia. The team last seen losing to hapless Louisville ought not to present too much of a challenge to any team worthy of a post-New Year's Eve bowl berth, but, fortunately for the Scarlet Knights, they drew Ball State instead. On what planet does a 7-5 record in the Mid-American Conference get you a bowl bid? When the Cardinals crossed the border, did the exchange rate give them credit for 9.2 wins in Canadian football? B.S.U. beat Buffalo, Eastern Michigan, Navy, Northern Illinois, Toledo, Western Kentucky, and Western Michigan, for crying out loud! When the majority of your wins are over schools with directional indicators in their nomenclature and two-thirds of your remaining victories came against universities named after cities other than those located in Coral Gables, Fla., or the so-called Loveliest Village, you have no business participating in postseason play. The result of this bowl will prove two things: first of all, that a mediocre B.C.S. conference team is significantly better than a team from a non-B.C.S. conference with an identical record, and, secondly, that Brian Cook was absolutely right about Brady Hoke, on whose behalf the best endorsement that may be offered is the fact that he was Miss Daisy's best friend. Rutgers will win a bowl staged by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Don't get me wrong, though . . . I plan on watching every minute of it!
GMAC Bowl: Bowling Green v. Tulsa (January 6): Some of you may think I made this one up, but trust me when I tell you I didn't. Heck, I couldn't make this one up, inasmuch as I simply lack the imagination to pair these two teams in an obscure bowl game named for a mortgage company. (Presumably, points scored in the first three quarters will be applied to interest and points scored in the final stanza will reduce the principal balance of the loan.) The Falcons finished the season on a hot streak, going 4-0 in the month of November by an average final margin of 38-20, but that only looks impressive until you pause to consider that B.G.S.U.'s late autumn run came against Akron, Buffalo, Eastern Michigan, and Toledo. Sure, the Falcons beat Minnesota . . . but, then again, who didn't? The Golden Hurricane likewise attained a winning record against a forgettable schedule, winning nailbiters over such questionable competition as Army (by ten), Marshall (by seven), Rice (by five), S.M.U. (by six), and U.A.B. (by eight) while dropping decisions to Oklahoma (by 41) and Central Florida (twice, surrendering 44 points both times). Remember what I said about a mediocre Big East team and a M.A.C. team with the same record? Well, the same goes for a decent M.A.C. team and a Conference USA team with an equal number of losses, which is why Bowling Green will win.
B.C.S. Championship Game: Louisiana State v. Ohio State (January 7): Saurian Sagacity endured its share of scoffing from Sunday Morning Quarterback for being so sure of the S.E.C., but the better argument lies with the side of the Southeastern Conference upon this point. I agree with Sunday Morning Quarterback that supposedly foregone conclusions have proven to be anything but in the Bowl Championship Series era, which has seen championship games in which everyone knew Florida State would beat Oklahoma in 2000, everyone knew Miami (Florida) would beat Ohio State in 2002, everyone knew Southern California would beat Texas in 2005, and everyone knew Ohio State would beat Florida in 2006. Those, though, were situations in which the underdogs all at least had a credible claim to a spot in the game, even if other candidates had equally good arguments. When one team rather obviously has had no business being in contention---say, Nebraska in 2001 or Oklahoma in 2003---the results have been precisely what everyone predicted, without much in the way of drama. (Yes, I know the final margin of the 2004 Sugar Bowl was only a touchdown. No one who watched that game, no matter how rabid a Sooner partisan, ever entertained any illusions about the outcome.) Since I believe the Buckeyes have no serious claim to a spot in the title game, I'm not expecting much of a contest. Yes, Les Miles will get outcoached, but Ohio State will get outmanned by the Bayou Bengals, who will win because they simply are the better team.
I still think there is no national champion this year, though.
There you have them . . . prognostications for all 32 bowl games. It remains to be seen just exactly how many of them I will have erred in predicting, but you may rest assured that the number will be a large one. Consequently, I must caution you for the final time this autumn that, where my picks are concerned, there is one rule to which you must adhere above all others: Don't Bet On It!