As the bowl breakdown continues, it behooves us to recall before proceeding that I am consistently wrong in my efforts to predict the outcomes of college football games, in the postseason every bit as much so as during the regular season.
Bear that in mind when evaluating the following prognostications and, please, whatever you do . . . Don't Bet On It!
While I'm busy making the wrong calls on the next four bowl games, though, you should make the right call by voting for Mark Richt for 2007 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year. This has been a public service announcement.
Champs Sports Bowl: Boston College v. Michigan State (December 28): Any denizen of Bulldog Nation who is still grumbling about Georgia's draw in the Sugar Bowl need only look to the team from Chestnut Hill to see just how much more a team may have a right to gripe. The Eagles put together their best season since Doug Flutie was lining up under center, yet, despite making it all the way to the A.C.C. championship game, B.C. finds itself toiling in the shadow of Epcot in a contest christened after a sports apparel store against a consistently middling Big Ten team that, true to form, imploded after a 4-0 start and limped to a 3-5 finish. Should the Spartans find a way to get by the Eagles in Orlando, though, it will mean Michigan State has overcome its midseason slump by registering three straight victories to close out the campaign. Ending the season on a three-game winning streak is something Sparty has done exactly once since 1990, so I'm guessing a disciplined Boston College squad will find a way to extend its seven-game bowl winning streak against Meltdown State.
Texas Bowl: Houston v. Texas Christian (December 28): You have to hand it to the folks who put this one together. The Cougars and the Horned Frogs competed as league rivals in the Southwest Conference for 20 years and in Conference USA for four years. During those periods of common affiliation, the balance of power distinctly shifted, as Houston was 9-1 over T.C.U. from 1976 to 1985 and Texas Christian was 8-1 over U.H. from 1991 to 1995 and from 2001 to 2004. The Horned Frogs have hopped from one conference to another since the breakup of the Lone Star State league in which they competed for nearly three-quarters of a century, leaping to the Western Athletic Conference in 1996, to Conference USA in 2001, and to the Mountain West in 2005. Since making the latest of those multiple moves, Texas Christian has been especially rough on opponents with ties to its former conference homes, building up a double-digit halftime lead on Texas in Austin and registering wins over Baylor (twice), Iowa State, Oklahoma, Southern Methodist, and Texas Tech since the start of the 2005 campaign. The Horned Frogs were done dirty when the Big 12 took the Bears instead of them and T.C.U. will not pass up an opportunity to underscore that fact, even at one remove.
Meddling Baylor alumna Ann Richards, I hope you're satisfied.
Emerald Bowl: Maryland v. Oregon State (December 28): If ever you needed evidence for the proposition that the critics of Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen are correct that the bowl tie-ins he negotiated for the West Coast B.C.S. league stink, the showdown in San Francisco provides all the proof you would ever need. The Terrapins are a .500 team with a losing record in conference play who faded down the stretch, losing six of their last ten games after opening up with a pair of gimmes against Division I-AA Villanova and an F.I.U. squad that went winless until December. The Beavers, by contrast, won six of their last seven games to post an eight-win regular season that included victories over Cal, Oregon, and Utah. Three of O.S.U.'s losses were to quality Arizona State, Cincinnati, and Southern California squads on the road. What are the Beavers doing playing below their ability level by the Golden Gate Bridge? I like Oregon State to win big beside the Bay before their fans write justified letters of complaint to the Pac-10 home office over such a substandard bowl berth.
Meineke Car Care Bowl: Connecticut v. Wake Forest (December 29): Remind me again . . . is this a conference game? Maybe these are even the same team . . . they both lost to Virginia in Charlottesville by a 17-16 final margin, after all. The defending A.C.C. champion Demon Deacons doubtless found it disappointing to follow up their league title run with a postseason date in Charlotte, but what did they expect after losing at home to the worst Nebraska team any of us can remember? The Huskies' claims to fame are dubious, as well, as UConn got to 9-3 by beating Duke and Maine, being awarded unearned victories over Louisville and Temple on obvious officiating gaffes, and losing the team's last two road games to Cincinnati and West Virginia by a combined margin of 93-24. This is a clear-cut case of the resistible force meeting the movable object, and, when push comes to shove, absent a declaration that this is the national bowl of disinterest, I have to go with Connecticut as the slightly more credible parvenu, since the Huskies at least beat South Florida, which is a good deal more than the Deacs can claim.
Granted, Wake beat Florida State, but holding F.S.U. in higher regard than U.S.F. is so 2005! (Note: Just to make certain there is no room for misunderstanding, my purpose in posting the foregoing picture is not to get you to gawk at Jenn Sterger, but to mock her for her fair weather fandom. This, too, has been a public service announcement . . . and one that meets with Orson Swindle's approval!)
You now know my picks on the first dozen bowl games, yet we aren't even halfway through the postseason! As we inch steadily nearer to New Year's Eve, I would caution you that, the higher the stakes of the game, the more likely I am to miss the call completely. That being the case, as you await the next round of picks, please make certain to heed my regular disclaimer: Don't Bet On It!