THIS WEEK'S TOPIC:
Bowl season is finally upon us, for better or worse. Our staff chimed in with what they see as the most compelling match-ups on the bowl schedule; jump in with your ideas in the comments! We only had two rules - you can't pick the Notre Dame game, and you can't pick any of the actual playoff games. No low-hanging fruit for us!
Among the minor bowls I'll keep a close eye on the Texas Bowl, where Texas will face Arkansas. This game features two good coaches who each seem to be moving the pendulum in the right direction in their reclamation projects. There are no guarantees in life, of course, but the way things have been headed recently, the next time Charlie Strong and Brett Bielema meet in the postseason they could be on a much bigger stage than the Texas Bowl.
Turning our attention to the major bowls, boy, did the committee nail the "New Year's Six." It's really hard to pick a favorite from them; I'd probably go with the Peach, with TCU and Ole Miss, by a hair over the Cotton, with Baylor and Michigan State. Both games are a contrast in styles and feature strength on strength, but I think TCU and Ole Miss are a little more evenly matched and should make for a better game. But really we're debating if you'd rather have filet mignon or porterhouse - kind of hard to make a bad choice.
The easy answer by a country mile seems to be the Cotton Bowl. Also, a matchup between Oklahoma and Clemson probably would have turned some heads had we known about it in the pre-season but of course the Russell Athletic Bowl takes the luster off that game. I'm most interested to watch the Belk Bowl. The Bulldogs will be looking to put a terrible loss to Georgia Tech behind them and win 10 games. Louisville is also looking to win 10 games. This is a great matchup.
The Cotton Bowl's got to be at the top of the list here when you've got a match-up of a defense like Michigan State's with an offense like Baylor's. I also always enjoy checking in on our usual or regular season opponents during bowl season, so I look forward especially to the Poinsettia (Navy), Sun (Arizona State), Holiday (USC), Belk (Louisville), and Foster Farms (Stanford) Bowls. Sorry, Pitt - not too excited about your Armed Forces Bowl showdown with Houston. Which bowl is Michigan playing in this year, again? I see Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Michigan State…oh, wait. That's right.
I'm looking forward to the Russell Athletic Bowl matchup between Clemson and Oklahoma. It seems every year these two teams are slotted in the top-10 and seem to underachieve, especially Clemson. It will be interesting to see which of these teams can use this bowl as a springboard into next season and which one will find itself looking for answers. Also, with Trevor Knight not for sure to play, this game could be rebranded as the backup QB bowl.
Many things can change between now and January 2nd, but I am all-in for the pure chaos of the Armed Forces Bowl. With Paul Chryst leaving Pitt for Wisconsin, the Panthers find themselves adrift heading down to Fort Worth. Across the field stands interim Houston coach David Gibbs filling in for the dismissed Tony Levine. In the event that both schools do not fill their positions by January 2nd, the Armed Forces Bowl should go crazy. Crowd-source play calling via Jumbotron text polls? Impel both teams to install the A-11 offense with limited practice time? At least two reverse pass plays per series? The zany world of college football is your oyster, Armed Forces Bowl! Even if both positions are filled, we will get many awkward shots of the new coach sitting in a box with the AD, either looking at their new team with the bright-eyed excitement of Christmas morning or the bleary-eyed regret of New Year's morning. In terms of actual football, Pitt's James Conner is a force but Houston does have a top-25 rush defense (in terms of yards per attempt) so there should be a nice battle there.
I love the Peach Bowl this year - how will two teams that had playoff hopes deal with disappointing ends to the season? Highlights: Trevone Boykin (who might be a little pissed he wasn't invited to New York) versus Robert Nkemdiche and the Ole Miss defense. The last game of Dr. Bo's career. The Horned Frogs trying to make a statement against the SEC and showing the playoff committee that they deserved to be in.
Plus it kicks off New Year's Eve at 12:30 ET - who doesn't love some early afternoon football? It kicks off the best two days of bowl games ever - Mississippi St./Georgia Tech, Boise St./Arizona, Baylor/Michigan St., Mizzou/Minnesota, Auburn/Wisconsin, then the two semifinals to top it all off. All in two days. I can't wait.
No love for the Outback Bowl? I know both Auburn and Wisconsin lost their last game (Wisconsin in utterly spectacular fashion), but this is a really cool battle of opposites. The super-fast spread insanity of Auburn going up against maybe the country's best current example of MANBALL in Wisconsin. Melvin Gordon on one side, Nick Marshall and Sammie Coates on the other. Unfortunately, this game is being played opposite the MSU/Baylor Cotton Bowl, so it might lose some viewers, but I know I'm planning on including it in my New Year's afternoon channel rotation.
The games that stand out for me are the two featuring the Big XII teams that were left out of the playoff. The Peach Bowl between TCU and Ole Miss has two teams that came out of nowhere to reach the top five for points of the season. TCU will be looking to prove that they were wrongfully excluded from the Playoff against a top SEC West team. Additionally, the TCU offense that has yet to score less than 30 points will face the Land Shark defense that's only allowed more than 20 three times. The matchup of Baylor and Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl is another interesting battle of styles. MSU hung with another uptempo spread offense for three quarters in their game against Oregon before falling behind towards the end of the game. Although I don't think the 2014 Spartan defense is as good as last season's, it's still probably the best defense Baylor will have faced this season. Sparty played two playoff teams in the regular season, and the angry Bears will want to perform better than Ohio State and Oregon against MSU.
I am of the different school of thought when it comes to the bowl games. Me? I LOVE the minor bowl games! Seriously. I do. I watch as many as I can.
This year, I'm most intrigued in three bowl games in particular, with two being minor games and the third being a sorta-bigger contest.
The first is the inaugural Bahamas Bowl. Football. In. The. Bahamas. DUDE. Forget the two teams. THE BAHAMAS. Amazing.
The second game is the Birmingham Bowl pitting ECU against Florida. ECU started the season as a offensive-happy underdog that upset Virginia Tech the week after the Hokies upset the playoff-bound Ohio State Buckeyes. Then they completely destroyed North Carolina. Then they fell apart. On the flip side, you've got Florida with a lame duck coach that brings a mediocre offense and stout defense to the table. Very interested to see if the Gators play inspired or get wiped off the field.
The third bowl I'm interested in is the Liberty Bowl. There might be 150+ points scored in this one as the Aggies and Mountaineers don't like to play defense that much. Should be an entertaining contest.
My picks for the two bowl games that I will be focused on are the ones with the two featuring the first two out of the playoffs--the Cotton Bowl and the Peach Bowl. For the Cotton Bowl think it will be interesting to see how Baylor attacks a tough Michigan State defense. Likewise, the TCU-Ole Miss matchup in the Peach Bowl will be interesting to see how a formidable Big 12 offense attacked a SEC defense.
The game I am most intrigued with is the Orange Bowl. Matching up Georgia Tech and Mississippi State should provide an entertaining spectacle. GT and MSU rank in the top 20 in both points and rushing yards. Their performances this season surprised the college football world. GT was close to playing the spoiler to FSU's season (but so was everyone else) and MSU was unstoppable until meeting the Tide. However, those looking for a brilliant display of passing will not enjoy this game. Prescott will not be confused with Heisman-hopeful Mariota and you will be lucky to watch GT pass once per drive. But if you like grass stains on your jersey, this is the game for you.