We are getting deep into my bowl picks now, which probably just means this evening’s set of forecasts will be smothered in wrongness, sprinkled with incorrectness, and topped off with a great big dollop of error. In other words . . . Don’t Bet On It!
We pick up with the afternoon of New Year’s Day and take you through to the eve of the eagerly-anticipated International Bowl. Here are tonight’s prognostications:
Rose Bowl: Penn State v. Southern California (January 1): The Nittany Lions have had an outstanding season, really, they have. Going by resumes, in fact, I ranked Joe Paterno’s club ahead of the Trojans. The fact is, though, Pete Carroll’s U.S.C. squads have faced Big Ten teams in major bowl games four times, winning all four by margins of 38-17, 28-14, 32-18, and 49-17. I’m not saying the Men of Troy are going to roll the Lions up and smoke them, but I definitely like them to get the win in Pasadena.
Orange Bowl: Cincinnati v. Virginia Tech (January 1): The Hokies made a seamless transition from being perennially one of the top two teams in the Big East to being perennially one of the top two teams in the A.C.C., while the Bearcats quietly slipped into the power vacuum left in V.P.I.’s old league. Although Louisville, Rutgers, South Florida, and West Virginia all made varying degrees of noise when staking their respective claims to the mantle of new beast of the Big East, Brian Kelly operated almost entirely without fanfare when guiding Cincy to back-to-back bowl wins for the first time in school history in 2006 and 2007, capturing conference coach of the year honors in the latter season after guiding the ‘Cats to their first-ever top 20 final ranking and a double-digit win total for the first time since 1951. In the past two seasons, Cincinnati has taken out six ranked Big East opponents, defeating three of them on the road. Coach Kelly is building a solid program, but the Orange Bowl is a big step up in weight class for a team whose entire postseason history consists of a Fort Worth Bowl, a Glass Bowl, a Humanitarian Bowl, an International Bowl, two Motor City Bowls, a New Orleans Bowl, a PapaJohns.com Bowl, and a Sun Bowl. This should be one of the more competitive major engagements of the postseason, but I like Virginia Tech to close the deal on the strength of the Hokies’ superior experience. If Cincinnati makes it back to the B.C.S. next season, I’ll likely pick the Bearcats to win in January 2010.
Cotton Bowl: Mississippi v. Texas Tech (January 2): As ought to have become evident by now, this is one of those years in which I will be rooting for every single Southeastern Conference team in the postseason. (It helps that Auburn didn’t qualify for a bowl game, because I hate Auburn.) Rooting for a team and picking that team are two different things, however, and the fact is that, as impressive as the Rebels’ resurgence has been, the Red Raiders had a better year in a better conference. Houston Nutt did a heck of a job getting Ole Miss back to the Cotton Bowl so quickly, but the Rebs are no match for Mike Leach’s Texas Tech bunch.
Liberty Bowl: East Carolina v. Kentucky (January 2): It makes perfect sense for the Pirates to be in the Liberty Bowl. It makes perfect sense for the Wildcats to be in the Liberty Bowl. Why, then, does it strike me that it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever for E.C.U. to be playing U.K. in the Liberty Bowl? Had the stars aligned a wee bit differently and the notion of a "head coach in waiting" not come suddenly into vogue, this might have been an audition for the younger coach to replace the older. Instead, it’s just going to be a typical exhibition between a plucky Conference USA squad and a middle-of-the-pack Southeastern Conference team in which the former hangs around for three quarters before being put away by the latter. After the game is over, East Carolina’s head coach will write an e-mail to his father with the subject line "Skip to My Lou," in which the incoherent analyst’s son expresses his regret at having lost to Kentucky.
Sugar Bowl: Alabama v. Utah (January 2): In this day and age, I should know better than to doubt a B.C.S. buster. The Utes proved they belonged in 2004, Boise State cemented the legitimacy of mid-majors in top-tier bowl games in 2006, and here it is, another even-numbered year in which an invader from the West has the opportunity to erase the stain caused by Hawaii’s utter unworthiness for anything more distinguished than the Division I-AA playoffs. Here’s the thing, though: Urban Meyer no longer has a Salt Lake City mailing address, Tempe is no New Orleans, and the Utes won’t be lining up against Pittsburgh. ‘Bama in the Superdome is a whole different deal, and, while I expect a good game, I’m taking the Tide.
Believe it or not, just four bowl games remain to be forecast, as many as two of which are games you actually give a rip about watching! Stay tuned and we’ll get this year’s postseason predictions wrapped up soon. In the meantime, don’t forget my regular admonition: Don’t Bet On It!