I bounced back in last week's picks, posting records of 5-2 in national games of interest and 4-1 in league title showdowns to improve my forecasting records for the season to 62-23 in Southeastern Conference outings, 57-45 in non-conference games, and 119-68 in toto. That ain't half-bad, considering my recent track record, so I should hasten to reiterate my regular disclaimer: Don't Bet On It!
How far off base are my prognosticating skills? I thought "Last Action Hero" would be the big ticket for 1993. I also thought that year's Georgia team would do all right, even without Andre Hastings and Garrison Hearst.
I know there are a lot of folks out there who don't care much for the bowl system. For example, Peter Bean recently took bowl apologists to task. Such criticisms, however, are shortsighted and misguided. Why, just take a look at the first few games of this year's bowl lineup:
Poinsettia Bowl: Navy v. Utah (December 20): See? The postseason kicks off in grand style as the Utes, who teetered on the brink of disaster after a 1-3 start but rebounded to reel off seven straight wins en route to an 8-4 ledger, take on the Midshipmen in San Diego. The U.S.N.A.'s recent resurgence has been among college football's feel good stories of the 21st century and has made Paul Johnson one of the hottest coaching commodities in the country. Utah has won six straight bowl games since falling to Wisconsin in the 1996 Copper Bowl, but Navy will put a stop to that streak in a fine exhibition of gridiron prowess to inaugurate the most wonderful time of the year.
Some folks are against a system that allows the Midshipmen to compete in bowl games? That sort of thing is exactly why we used to blacklist people.
New Orleans Bowl: Florida Atlantic v. Memphis (December 21): After such a stellar start to postseason play, we move right into the first of three bowl games being hosted in the Crescent City as . . . aw, are you kidding me? Memphis can't be going to a bowl game, can they? The last time I looked, East Carolina was hanging 56 points on the Tigers in their own home town, dropping them to 4-5 and causing Elvis to roll over in his grave (assuming Elvis is dead, which he isn't, but that's a separate conversation). While we're at it, what's F.A.U. doing here? Surely Troy won the Sun Belt, right? You mean the Owls beat Troy last Saturday to finish 7-5 and win the league's automatic bid to the New Orleans Bowl? Oh, for crying out loud! What a joke! Who came up with this nonsensical system, anyway? By the time Memphis gets done taking care of business in a flash against Florida Atlantic, I'll be ready to join Peter among the playoff proponents, thank you, thank you very much.
PapaJohns.com Bowl: Cincinnati v. Southern Miss (December 22): All right, now this is more like it. Despite their having stagnated to the point that a successful U.S.M. alumnus was let go as head coach, the Golden Eagles remain a model of consistency and a fixture of minor yet respectable bowl games. Southern Mississippi's reputation as a giant killer may have faded, but the Eagles cannot be taken lightly by a Bearcat squad looking to cement its stature as a player in the reinvigorated Big East. Cincy's victories over Connecticut, Miami (Ohio), Oregon State, Rutgers, and South Florida paved the way to a successful campaign, which the 'Cats hope to cap off by registering their tenth win of the season. When Cincinnati emerges victorious from Birmingham, my faith in the sensibility of the bowl structure will be restored.
Some folks are opposed to having a PapaJohns.com Bowl? Yeah, these are the same people who order their pizzas over the phone like Neanderthals instead of using the internet like a good American.
New Mexico Bowl: Nevada v. New Mexico (December 22): Off to Albuquerque we go, buoyed by the certainty that college football's unique postseason arrangement is among the crown jewels of the finest sport known to man, and there we will find . . . oh, that has to be a typo, right? The Wolf Pack's claim to fame is that the team's league losses to Boise State, Fresno State, and Hawaii all were nailbiters, but Nevada fell flat on its face in road losses against Nebraska, Northwestern, and San Jose State teams that all found mediocrity an unattainable aspiration. What is a 6-6 W.A.C. team doing in a bowl game in the first place and why is that squad facing a hometown Mountain West also-ran when it gets there? The Lobos opened the season with a Labor Day weekend snoozer in El Paso against a U.T.E.P. squad that sent U.N.M. home trailing a 10-6 setback. Later, New Mexico went to Fort Worth and absorbed a 37-0 drubbing from the Horned Frogs. Remind me again why I'll be glued to my television to watch Nevada beat New Mexico in a bowl pairing that could only have been inspired by the fact that the two teams follow one right after another in an alphabetical listing of all the Division I-A member institutions?
All right, so the opening stanza of bowl season presents a mixed bag for those of us who are proponents of college football's existing postseason structure. Nevertheless, I'll be offering picks on each and every bowl game, so be sure to stay tuned and, whatever you do, remember . . . Don't Bet On It!