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Don't Bet On It: Bowl Edition (Part I)

All right, I've been ducking this long enough.

After I went 2-3 in my championship game picks and 2-3 in my final set of regular-season forecasts, my season-long tallies fell to 72-13 in S.E.C. games and 80-34 in all other games.

How bad an idea would it be for you to pay attention to my predictions? This bad.

That leaves me limping into the postseason with a 152-47 ledger in 2006 prognostications, which makes me just a bit leery about predicting the outcomes of all of the bowl games and which ought to make you extremely leery about putting any stock whatsoever in anything I have to say upon the subject. Now more than ever, therefore, I feel it incumbent upon me to offer my usual warning: Don't Bet On It!

Here is the first round of my postseason predictions, to do with what you will:

Poinsettia Bowl: Texas Christian v. Northern Illinois (December 19)---Thank goodness! The return of college football is less than a week away! I can't wait! As an added bonus, instead of being forced to endure a postseason-commencing contest featuring the Sun Belt champions as the host team, we will have the pleasure of witnessing the Horned Frogs in action. Following back-to-back Thursday night losses to B.Y.U. and Utah by a combined margin of 51-24, T.C.U. has gone on a tear, winning seven straight games, in which the Frogs have held six victims to 17 or fewer points and scored more than 30 points four times. Will the season's third weeknight kickoff doom Texas Christian, which is 10-0 on weekends but 0-2 on days beginning with a "T"? When kicking off before 6:00 p.m. Eastern time, the Horned Frogs are 7-0, but what will a late start time bring? How will a T.C.U. defense ranked fourth in the land against the run (67.6 yards per game allowed on the ground) fare against 1,900-yard rusher Garrett Wolfe, who has gained at least 162 yards in each of the seven games in which he has gotten at least 23 carries? I like the Frogs to jump out to an early lead and hang on for the win in the first contest of the postseason.

The Bandit knew that you always go with a Frog.

Las Vegas Bowl: Brigham Young v. Oregon (December 21)---It's funny enough to imagine the Cougars playing in their second straight Las Vegas Bowl, in which student-athletes who consider caffeine morally ruinous will be turned loose on a town where gambling and prostitution are legal. (By the way, if the postseason game in Nashville is the Music City Bowl and the postseason game in Detroit is the Motor City Bowl, why isn't the postseason game in Las Vegas the Sin City Bowl? Just curious.) If a trip down the Strip wasn't jaw-dropping enough for the squad from the school formally affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, though, an encounter with the Ducks surely will be, as Oregon takes the field in psychedelic Day-Glo uniforms that would have fit right in at one of the L.S.D.-ingesting "Acid Tests" sponsored by University of Oregon alumnus Ken Kesey. I picked the Ducks to make some noise in the Pac-10 this season, ranking them as high as No. 2 at one time, but they faded down the stretch, losing five of their last eight (including three in a row to end the regular season) following a 4-0 start. B.Y.U., by contrast, closed out the campaign on a nine-game winning streak that included an impressive win at T.C.U., thereby earning a top 25 ranking from me. I like the team that ended the season on a hot streak to take care of business in an exciting matchup with the squad that fizzled in November. The Cougars will be spraying one another with whole milk in the locker room after winning a shootout over Oregon.

New Orleans Bowl: Rice v. Troy (December 22)---How lousy a game is this going to be? One guy named Troy is going to be taking on the staple crop Oryza sativa and that's supposed to be a bowl game? That's not a bowl game, that's a trip to Benihana! Wait, hang on a second . . . it turns out that Rice and Troy are universities, complete with college football teams and everything. Who knew? While we tend to think of Rice as a perennial doormat in any league, be it the Southwest Conference, the W.A.C., or Conference U.S.A., the Owls are not what they seem. After opening the season 0-4, with back-to-back losses to Texas and Florida State by a collective 107-14 margin, Rice proceeded to win seven of its last eight games, scoring 31 or more points in six of those victories. Although the Trojans won six of their last seven outings and acquitted themselves well in losses at Florida State and Georgia Tech, the fact remains that Troy's victories came against Alabama State, Middle Tennessee (by one point), North Texas, the Louisianas-Lafayette and -Monroe, and the Floridas Atlantic and International. It's pretty bad when Rice is out of your league, but there you have it.

Troy said he was really jazzed about facing his upcoming opponent. Bowl: South Florida v. East Carolina (December 23)---Better ingredients may make a better pizza, but do they make a better bowl game? Alas, we may never know, because there isn't much pizzazz to this clash of schools with directional indicators in their nomenclature. While both the Bulls and the Pirates have been known to score some eyebrow-raising upsets over the years, neither is a marquee program, as U.S.F. has yet to establish itself as a legitimate contender in the new and improved Big East, while E.C.U. has only just begun to pull out of the tailspin into which the program was sent by the Pirates' collapse in the 2001 GMAC Bowl. (East Carolina squandered a 30-point halftime lead and went on to lose to Marshall in double-overtime. Following that loss, the Pirates, who had attended three straight bowl games, proceeded to lose 38 of their next 52 outings before righting the ship in the middle of the 2006 season.) The Bulls won both of their Conference U.S.A. matchups with East Carolina in 2003 and 2004 before U.S.F. moved on to the Big East and I do not expect a different result now that South Florida has moved up in weight class. The Bulls will outlast the Pirates.

Since all references to East Carolina University must be accompanied by a photograph of E.C.U. alumna Emily Procter, it stands to reason that a reference to East Carolina playing in a bowl game should be accompanied by an autographed picture of Emily Procter. (Photograph from Autograph Success.)

New Mexico Bowl: New Mexico v. San Jose State (December 23)---Am I the only one who thinks that the only reason we even have a New Mexico Bowl is so Bill Richardson can use it to promote his presidential candidacy? Whatever the cause, though, the hometown Lobos---they're the ones who aren't coached by Hal Mumme, by the way---will be hosting a Spartan squad that has won 10 of its last 14 games after dropping 25 of its previous 30 decisions. San Jose State nearly pulled off a couple of upsets along the way, as well, falling 35-29 at Washington and 23-20 against Boise State. Although New Mexico concluded the regular season on a 4-2 run, the Lobos, like Bugs Bunny, have taken multiple wrong turns at Albuquerque, as four of their six losses (including an embarrassing season-opening setback against Portland State) have come at home. New Mexico might have the crowd, but San Jose State has the team.

Armed Forces Bowl: Tulsa v. Utah (December 23)---Is this a bowl game or a Carnac the Magnificent joke? "Tulsa . . . Utah . . . Armed Forces. Name three places I'm glad I'm not." The Golden Hurricane earned a berth in Forth Worth on the strength of an 8-4 campaign that included wins over Navy and Southern Mississippi, while the Utes lost four of their first eight games and dropped a heartbreaker to in-state rival B.Y.U. to end a 7-5 season from which much more had been expected. There are some interesting angles from which to examine this contest---for instance, did you know that, in Tulsa's first dozen bowl appearances, the Golden Hurricane faced a squad from the Peach State four times?---but the bottom line is that Utah hasn't lost a bowl game since 1996 and I don't look for the Utes to start now.

Bell Helicopter is proud to sponsor the Armed Forces Bowl. As a company spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, put it at a recent press event, "I love the smell of sponsoring a bowl game in the evening. It smells like . . . victory!"

Hawaii Bowl: Arizona State v. Hawaii (December 24)---Please take note of the fact that, in the words "Hawaii Bowl," we find a pair of A's, a B, one H, a couple of I's, a single L, an O, and two W's . . . but no D. No team on the mainland averages as many aerial yards per game (432.2) or points per contest (47.3) as the Warriors, while the Sun Devils have scored at least 28 points in five of their seven victories . . . but Arizona State also has been held to 13 or fewer points in three of the team's five losses. Fortunately for the Sun Devils, they will be going up against a Hawaii defense ranked 109th in pass defense (245.6 yards per game allowed). On the other hand, the Warriors will be playing in Honolulu against a team in the midst of a coaching transition, so I like the home team to bedevil the visitors as Hawaii wins a shootout.

Motor City Bowl: Middle Tennessee v. Central Michigan (December 26)---Middle Tennessee against Central Michigan? Are we absolutely certain there's no chance of a tie? College football's least extreme postseason pairing matches the M.A.C. champion Chippewas with the 7-5 Blue Raiders, a team that lost road games against Oklahoma and South Carolina by a cumulative 111-7 final score yet claimed the honor of beating Florida International in a 7-6 barn-burner to open the season. This doesn't look like a competitive contest to me and I expect the Middle Michiganders to roll to the easy victory in Motown as the Chippewas scalp the Raiders.

Despite their past differences, Dalewa will be rooting for Central Michigan. (Image from Ultimate Disney.)

In the near future, I'll be bringing you my forecasts of some games of which you've actually heard, but, in the meantime, you should bear in mind that, when it comes to the minor bowl games, I know even less than I usually do . . . if such a thing is conceivable. The best way I know of warning you adequately in as few words as possible is to offer my usual admonition: Don't Bet On It!

Go 'Dawgs!