Now that I have forecast the outcomes of the early bowl games, it is time to get down to the serious business of predicting the outcomes of some of the New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day contests. Please, as always, bear in mind the durability of my regular disclaimer: Don’t Bet On It!
The next five bowls on the slate all offer intriguing nuances. Former Georgia Tech head coach George O’Leary faces Georgia, former Florida head coach Steve Spurrier faces Florida State, former Michigan State head coach Nick Saban faces his old team, and Joe Paterno will be on the sideline for the final game of the other coach’s career, even though that opposing coach was born just prior to the start of JoePa’s 15th season as a Penn State assistant.
Liberty Bowl: Georgia Bulldogs v. Central Florida Knights (Dec. 31): Georgia, of course! Duh! I’ll be going into this in greater detail in "Too Much Information" when we get closer to the game, but you didn’t think I was going to pick against the ‘Dawgs, did you? Please!
Chick-fil-A Bowl: Florida St. Seminoles v. South Carolina Gamecocks (Dec. 31): In 1988, during the summer before I enrolled in the University of Georgia, I began reading a biography of David Letterman during a train ride from New Orleans to Atlanta. (Yeah, that sentence looks a lot weirder in print than it sounded in my head.) The writer noted that Letterman had never been able to do product endorsements the way Johnny Carson used to do on "The Tonight Show," because Dave sounded sarcastic and mocking even when trying to play it straight as a pitchman. I thought about that when it occurred to me that there would be conversations between the head coaches squaring off in the Georgia Dome during which Steve Spurrier had to refer to a grown man as "Jimbo." While I expect this game to be competitive, I trust Darth Visor’s ability to school a first-year coach, and I am a bigger believer in the conference runner-up that beat Clemson and Florida by a combined 65-21 margin on the road than in the conference runner-up that beat the Gators and the Tigers by a combined 47-20 margin at home. I’m picking the Gamecocks to beat the Seminoles in a bowl game. (Yeah, that sentence also looks a lot weirder in print than it sounded in my head.)
TicketCity Bowl: Northwestern Wildcats v. Texas Tech Red Raiders (Jan. 1): Who shot whom in the what, now? The TicketCity Bowl, is it? Featuring both Northwestern and Texas Tech, you say? In Dallas? This didn’t used to be the Cotton Bowl or something, did it? No? But it’s at the old Cotton Bowl stadium, though? And it originally was going to be called the Dallas Football Classic, but it never went by that name in an actual game? And now it’s sponsored by TicketCity, which is a ticket broker, which is the most useless business to advertise to people who are attending a football game, since they wouldn’t be at the football game in the first place if they didn’t know how to buy tickets? And, next year, the representative from the twelve-team Big Ten will not face a representative from the ten-team Big 12, but will instead face a representative from Conference USA? Well, I have to tell you, every bit of that is a new one on me. Eh, I think I’ll go with Northwestern.
Outback Bowl: Florida Gators v. Penn St. Nittany Lions (Jan. 1): I’m getting so sick and tired of hearing about how the Big Ten and the SEC are dead even in bowl games over the last decade that I’m almost tempted to root for the Sunshine State Saurians . . . almost, but not quite. (All else being equal, conference pride takes a back seat to my natural disdain for all things orange and blue.) As usual, the Outback Bowl proved to be the class clown of SEC-affiliated bowls, picking the home-state Gators over more deserving Mississippi State and South Carolina squads that beat Florida in the Swamp, and doing so for no particularly good reasons. Typically, when the Outback Bowl misuses its SEC pick to select a team out of its logical order, the result is a mismatch, as a lower-tier Southeastern squad has to face a Midwestern team that finished higher in the conference standings. Once again, those tools in Tampa made an off-the-wall selection that will leave Big Ten partisans braying about the unsurprising fact that their league’s fourth-place team is better than our league’s seventh-place team. Yeah, no kidding. The Nittany Lions will devour the lame duck.
Capital One Bowl: Alabama Crimson Tide v. Michigan St. Spartans (Jan. 1): These rumors are unsubstantiated, but I’ve heard talk that, instead of playing the football game, these two teams are going to settle the Capital One Bowl by letting Mark Dantonio and Nick Saban compete against one another in a dour-off. If they wind up settling this one on the gridiron instead, though, there shouldn’t be much drama to it. Let me see here . . . an SEC team coming off of a stellar season the year before entered the autumn ranked No. 1, stumbled to a 9-3 regular season capped off by an embarrassing loss at home to a resurgent in-state rival who came from behind to claim a close victory, and drew Michigan State in Orlando. I have seen this movie before, and I know how it ends, so I’m predicting a lackluster Crimson Tide victory over the Spartans.
We’re starting to get into the meat of the postseason schedule, so stick around for the final few bowl predictions. While you’re waiting, though, you must resist the inclination to put cash down based upon any of my most likely faulty forecasts; whatever you do, . . . Don’t Bet On It!