After a long season, college football’s elite teams — which is to say, more than half of them — have earned the right to play in tradition-rich postseason games. You can imagine the thrill these young men must feel, getting to play in the Maaco Bowl… or the EagleBank Bowl… or the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. There are thirty-four bowl games this year, one of which will probably be played in the vacant lot down the block from your house. To help you sort it all out, here are my opinions about the eventual outcome of each game. This post will cover the earliest, least interesting games; I’ll put up more predictions later.
New Mexico Bowl Wyoming (6-6) vs. Fresno State (8-4)
The Wyoming Cowboys have trouble scoring; they ranked 111th in the country in that department. In this game, they might take some hope from the fact that Fresno State has trouble stopping its opponents from scoring; the Bulldogs were 81st in scoring defense. The offense, with RB Ryan Mathews (151 yds/gm average) is solid, though, so I expect Fresno State to win fairly easily.
St. Petersburg Bowl Rutgers (8-4) vs. U of Central Florida (8-4)
Rutgers is an enigma: it was crushed by Cincinnati, which is understandable since the Bearcats are a good team. But Rutgers was also crushed by Syracuse, which isn’t a good team. As recently as a year ago, Central Florida was also not a good team; it went 4-8 in 2008. The Knights turned it around in 2009, posting a respectable record, and their four losses came at the hands of bowl-bound teams, including Texas and Miami. Playing the bowl game in Florida might work to their advantage as well, so I’m picking the Knights to beat the Scarlet Knights (UCF over Rutgers).
New Orleans Bowl Middle Tennessee St. (9-3) v. Southern Mississippi (7-5)
Southern Miss generates offense; the Golden Eagles averaged 33 points per game over the course of the season. Middle Tennessee State features the aptly-named Dwight Dasher, a QB who had 11 rushing TDs and 21 passing TDs. Dasher personally accounted for a per-game average of 298 yards (total offense). Southern Miss is favored, but the Blue Raiders of MTSU might just pull off a mild upset in this one.
Maaco Bowl Oregon State (8-4) vs. Brigham Young (10-2)
Previously known as the Las Vegas Bowl, this year’s edition features two teams that are only average defensively, but are capable of putting up a lot of points. The stars of the show at Oregon State are the Rodgers brothers: RB Jacquizz Rodgers ran for almost 1,400 yards and 20 TDs, WR James Rodgers had 1,000 yards receiving and 9 TDs. BYU’s main attraction is QB Max Hall, who threw for 30 touchdowns, 3,368 yards — but 14 interceptions. The Cougars are more highly ranked, but I think Oregon State’s players will be jumping up and down and hugging each other after their victory.
Poinsettia Bowl Utah (9-3) vs. California (8-4)
Last summer, it seemed likely that both of these teams would be playing in a more prestigious bowl game than this one. Utah turned out to be just a little better than average in most departments, with the exception of the pass defense, which proved to be quite good. California looked great in some games — vs. Stanford, for instance — and dreadful in other games — vs. Oregon, USC, Washington. The season-ending blowout at the hands of the Huskies probably finished them off. Utah wins.
Hawaii Bowl Nevada (8-4) vs. Southern Methodist (7-5)
Southern Methodist is to be congratulated for a respectable season after years of misery for the program. As recently as last year, the Mustangs were 1-11. Nevada began the 2009 season with three straight losses, but then got rolling. The Wolf Pack has three 1,000 yard rushers, including QB Colin Kaepernick. This game will be lopsided, in Nevada’s favor.
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl Ohio (9-4) vs. Marshall (6-6)
This epic, formerly known as the Motor City Bowl, features the team which finished 98th in the country in total offense (Ohio). They will be struggling to gain yards against Marshall, which lost 3 of their last 4 regular season games. The only reason to watch this game is to check out the picture quality on the new TV you got for Christmas. Not to spoil your present, but Ohio will win.
Meineke Car Care Bowl North Carolina (8-4) vs. Pittsburgh (9-3)
North Carolina has very little offense, and their task won’t be made any easier by Pittsburgh’s stout defense; the Panthers were among the nation’s top 20 against the run. North Carolina also has an excellent defense, led by DBs Deunta Williams and Kendrick Burney. Pittsburgh’s main weapon is RB Dion Lewis, who ran for 1,640 yards and 16 TDs in the regular season. The game is in Charlotte, meaning that the crowd will be pro-Carolina, but I think Pittsburgh will eke out the victory in a close game.
To be continued…