I hope everyone has enjoyed the holidays so far. We are now in the in the thick of the bowl season, and, more importantly, we are officially in the slowest work week of the year for everyone outside of retail. It's the perfect time of year to catch up on emails, clean out your desk, and sneak out of work early to watch sparsely attended match-ups between 7-5 teams whose mascots you can't remember.
I'll precede our usual disclaimer with a little disclosure: I prepared this set of picks while on a flight to New Orleans. The free wifi ran out before the free drinks did, so these forecasts may be a little more uneven than usual. Given my shoddy track record and this additional datum, I urge you to follow this sound advice: Don't Bet On It!
New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Dec. 30th, 3:20 p.m. EST, ESPN)
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (-1.5) vs. Iowa State Cyclones – Iowa State’s claim to fame in 2011 is costing Oklahoma State a shot in the mythical national championship game. That upset is arguably the only reason that the Cyclones made it to a bowl, as the Cycles didn’t win again and finished 6-6. Rutgers, on the other hand, managed to put together its usual semi-solid (plasmic?) season with one head-scratching loss to woeful UConn (whom even Iowa State managed to beat). Although this is essentially a home game for the Scarlet Knights, who beat Army in Yankee Stadium last month, Iowa State gets the lean for one reason: they’re pretty good at running the ball (35th nationally) while Rutgers is terrible at it (115th nationally). In a cold weather bowl where neither team has a good-to-great quarterback, you have to take a team that can pound the rock.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (Dec. 30th, 6:40 p.m. EST, ESPN)
Mississippi State Bizarro Bulldogs (-6.5) vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons - Maybe I’m just a spoiled Georgia fan, but I have a pretty simple algorithm when it comes to picking games between ACC and SEC squads: SEC! SEC! SEC! Need something more than that? How about the fact that Dan Mullen’s ground-based spread attack gets to face a Wake Forest defense that ranks 70th nationally against the run? Or maybe you’re swayed by the fact that MSU’s defense actually managed to improve a bit after Manny Diaz jumped ship for Texas (from 21st nationally in scoring defense to 19th), whereas Wake Forest is stuck in the bottom half in the nation in scoring offense? You know what? I’m just going to stick with the fact that MSU managed to become bowl eligible in a division that won the last 2 national championships and is guaranteed to win its third this year, while the Demon Deacons play in a conference that hasn’t won a national championship since the first Bush administration. SEC! SEC! SEC!
Insight Bowl (Dec. 30th, 10 p.m. EST, ESPN)
Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Oklahoma Sooners (-14) – Hey, remember that time that Oklahoma was consensus number 1 in the country? Wait, I’m not talking about 2003 when they got skunked by USC in the championship game. Oh... no, I’m not talking about 2007 when LSU forced us to start taking Les Miles seriously as a head coach, either. I meant this year before everyone outside of the Bulldog Nation learned what happens when Willie Two Thumbs coaches your secondary. Should Oklahoma beat Iowa? Absolutely. BUT: the Hawkeyes’ QB James Vandenberg has a pulse and has thrown 23 TDs to just 6 INTs. Iowa covers, though they might not win.
Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl (Dec. 31st, Noon EST, ESPN)
Texas A&M Aggies (-10) vs. Northwestern Wildcats – As someone tasked with forecasting the outcome of football games, this match-up terrifies me. On the one hand, Texas A&M has collapsed so regularly in the second half that you could set your watch by it. On the other hand, they do have a bunch of talent and have recently fired perennial underperformer Mike Sherman. On the other, other hand (assuming that you grew up near Chernobyl or are an Indian deity), how fast can wunderkind Kevin Sumlin cure the Aggies from what appeared to be a terminal case of NFL AIDS? It’s all too much to process, so I’m stuck with a gut feeling that 10 points is WAY too much of a margin between two teams between which it’s hard to find a decided advantage. Northwestern covers?
Hyundai Sun Bowl (Dec. 31st, 2 p.m. EST, CBS)
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (-3) vs. Utah Utes – Did you know that Utah has the nation’s 7th ranked rushing defense? Did you know that Paul Johnson has never won a bowl game at Georgia Tech? Could it be that Tech’s archaic offense can’t compete with a team that has a full month to compete? Look, we always tell warn you not to take our advice (seriously, Don’t Bet On it!) because picking football games against the spread is hard, and because I’m not even good at it. But I’m personally contemplating flying to Las Vegas and betting ALL THE DISPOSABLE INCOME on the Utes. (Seriously, though, Don’t Bet On it!)