Bowl season is cranking up into high gear, and so are my predictions for bowl season. We finally have made it to New Year’s Eve, so there’s no sense mincing words. Accordingly, I will dive right in after offering my obligatory disclaimer: Don’t Bet On It!
Texas Bowl: Missouri Tigers v. Navy Midshipmen (Dec. 31): I’m always happy to see the student-athletes of the U.S. Naval Academy matching up with a Big 12 opponent in the postseason, because it warrants linking to this unintentionally NSFW clip. Unfortunately for the Mids, they’re going up against a Mizzou rush defense that is giving up just 96.4 yards per game on the ground and has surrendered just thirteen rushing touchdowns in twelve games. Granted, no one in the league runs the ball quite like Navy, but the Tigers can move the ball and I like them to slow down the Midshipmen enough to give Missouri the win in a Lone Star State showdown with big recruiting implications for Gary Pinkel’s squad.
Insight Bowl: Iowa St. Cyclones v. Minnesota Golden Gophers (Dec. 31): Oh, for pete’s sake, am I really going to have to go to the trouble of looking up information on these two outfits? I have absolutely no insight to offer (see what I did there?) on either of these two teams, so I’m going with Minnesota because I have even less faith in Iowa State than I do in the Golden Gophers. Basically, I just want to get this one out of the way so I can get to the games featuring SEC teams.
Chick-fil-A Bowl: Tennessee Volunteers v. Virginia Tech Hokies (Dec. 31): The Big Orange have a December date in the Georgia Dome and you’d have a hard time persuading the Volunteer faithful that this outing represents anything less than the SEC Moral Victory Championship Game. Unfortunately for Lane Kiffin’s crew, the Tennesseans’ focus appears to be all over the place, ranging from "we’re just happy to be here" after two losing seasons in the last four years (a perception that somehow succeeds in overlooking 19 wins in the two seasons immediately preceding Phillip Fulmer’s final fall on the sideline) to "we should’ve gotten the Outback Bowl bid instead" (which, to be fair, they should have) to "there’s nothing to these secondary violations because 178 miles is totally different from 200 miles." Those seem like a lot of distractions for a team going up against a squad as solid as VPI. I’m going with the Hokies in a typically closely-contested
Peach Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Outback Bowl: Auburn Tigers v. Northwestern Wildcats (Jan. 1): Just when you thought no traditional SEC power could be more upbeat over a 7-5 season than Tennessee appears to be, along come the Plainsmen to demonstrate just how much it is possible to overreact to a .583 winning percentage that would have done Chan Gailey proud. (By that, of course, I mean overreacting to going 7-5 in a positive way. If you’re overreacting to going 7-5 by declaring the death knell of human civilization the way, say, I am, well, that’s perfectly reasonable, naturally.) The fact is, though, that there are different paths by which to arrive at mediocrity. The Tigers started out 5-0 but stumbled down the stretch, losing five out of seven games after October 3. That was the date on which the Wildcats snapped a two-game losing streak to begin a 6-2 run to close out the campaign, capped off by a three-game winning streak that included triumphs over two ranked teams. In these sorts of situations, postseason tilts in Tampa tend to follow a familiar pattern: Kentucky had no business being invited to the Outback Bowl in 1998, and the Wildcats were beaten fairly handily by Penn State; South Carolina had no business being invited to the Outback Bowl in 2008, and the Gamecocks were beaten quite convincingly by Iowa; Auburn had no business being invited to the Outback Bowl in 2009, and the Tigers will be defeated by at least two scores by Northwestern.
New Year’s Day is now upon us, so we’re starting to get into the games that actually matter to you. Stick around for the rest of my forecasts, but please continue to keep in mind at all times that I offer a warning for a reason. In other words, whatever you do . . . Don’t Bet On It!