Tuesday, December 6, 2011

2011-2012 College Football Bowls - Opening Saturday

First and foremost, it's important to note that I do NOT advocate gambling on these games.  Here's why:

Apparently, the players have calmed down a bit (as reading through the rest of the thread will tell you) but the point here is that no one knows how each team is going to react to its respective bowl game.  Take this Southern Miss team and take the Hawaii Bowl itself.  Over the next few weeks, will the Golden Eagles stew over going to a bowl that's worse than what they deserve and end up getting shocked by an inferior opponent they don't get up for like Boise State in the very same bowl four years ago?  Or will they gather themselves and realize that even though they may feel they deserve a bigger game, it's their job to come out motivated and kick the crap out of an overmatched opponent like Notre Dame was able to do the very next year? 

Bowl results very often depend on who wants to be there and who doesn't, as well as who practices hard in the three or four (or, in the case of the BCS championship game, five) weeks before the game and who is more focused on seeing the sights of whatever city the game is in.  This info is almost impossible to gauge, even if you go so far as to stalk players, coaches and beat reporters on Twitter (not endorsed or recommended by this blogger), which is why a lot of these picks will probably be wrong.  No matter how the teams match up, the one that wants it more is probably going to win.  But since we can't gauge that, we have to stick to the metrics we have.

And then maybe we'll make some guesses about who's going to get up for games and who won't :)

Off we go with the first three games of bowl season on the first day of bowl season.  Spreads are courtesy of Bookmaker and are as of the time of writing:

Saturday, December 17
New Mexico Bowl
Temple -6.5 vs Wyoming (O/U 47)

It seems like every year, the New Mexico Bowl opens the bowl season and features the Surprise WAC/Mountain West Team of the Year.  The inaugural version in 2006 featured a San Jose State team reaching its first bowl game in a decade and a half defeating New Mexico on the Lobos' home field.  2007 saw that same New Mexico team going from 6-7 to 9-4, capping a surprise season with a 23-0 domination of Nevada.  Steve Fairchild in his first season as Colorado State head coach took the Rams to this game in 2008 when Gartrell Johnson ran all over Fresno State in a big upset.  The Bulldogs were victims to a Mountain West underdog again in 2009 when Wyoming made its first bowl game in five years (and second in 16 years) and shocked them in double overtime.  And last year's game saw a UTEP team making its first bowl appearance in a half decade get blown out by BYU.  
This year?  The Cowboys are surprise return visitors, going 8-4 and an impressive 5-2 in the Mountain West just a year after a 3-9 (1-7) campaign.  Their opponents are the Temple Owls, whom you probably know from destroying a program that failed to "minimize expectations" enough this season (no, I'm not bitter at Rangoon Edsall.  Not one bit.)  Anyway, Bernard Pierce ran for 4 touchdowns in the first half in that game - 4 of his whopping 25 on the season - and to win this one, he'll need to run wild.  Temple has the nation's 7th best rushing offense but third-worst passing attack.  Wyoming can run the football themselves, ranking 32nd in the country and they will likely rely on the ground game to keep Pierce and their opposite numbers on the sidelines.
These are two good, young teams with good, young coaches (Steve Addazio, Florida's old offensive coordinator and Dave Christensen, Missouri's former OC) and while this game is perhaps a disappointment for the Owls, who had to be thinking MAC Championship before back-to-back divisional losses at Bowling Green and Ohio, they've won three straight since and should simply be excited to return to the postseason after being robbed of the reward last season.  Expect a close, low scoring game (the teams combined to play in 9 one possession games) that should favor the Owls and their 3rd ranked scoring defense.
Prediction: Temple 27-21

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Utah State -3 vs Ohio (O/U 58)
5:30 PM, ESPN

First and foremost, what a logo.  Changing the name of this bowl from the Humanitarian Bowl to...this...seems like a calamitous PR decision on almost every front ("Hey kids!  Let Daddy tell you about the time he played in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl!") but that is one mouth-watering logo.  Anyhow, this bowl always used to be Boise State entertaining some visitor from a BCS league but now the Broncos are in bigger-money bowls on a yearly basis, this bowl is filled by other WAC teams.
This year, the league's representative is the underdog Aggies from Logan, making their first bowl appearance since 1997.  Not only is it their first bowl since the Clinton presidency but this was the first season Utah State won more than 4 games since 2000, back when it played in the Big West.  In fact, the Aggies could have won the WAC this year - or at least a share of it - but lost 24-17 at home against eventual conference Louisiana Tech.  They haven't lost since, however - ripping off 5 straight wins to close the season...but all came by 7 points or fewer and only one was against a team with a winning record (21-17 two weeks ago against Nevada.)  As for the Bobcats, they too could be conference champions, but they blew a 20-0 lead to cede the MAC to Northern Illinois on a last second field goal.  They themselves had won 5 straight before that game, though - with 3 coming by a touchdown or less.  They'll be looking to erase the memory of last year's New Orleans Bowl thumping at the hands of Troy.
The last time these two teams played, Utah State went to Athens and won what I am sure was a thrilling 5-0 contest in 1994 (thankfully, there was no rematch later that year.)  Hopefully this year's rematch one has more than a few more points.  It should.  Like our above game, look for the running games to dominate as Utah State is 6th in the country in rushing and Ohio is 25th and look for a close game - though perhaps a bit higher scoring - that the MAC team wins.
Prediction - Ohio 34, Utah State 31

New Orleans Bowl
Louisiana-Lafayette +5 vs San Diego State (O/U 60)

Want a sign of how far the Sun Belt has come as a football conference?  Look no further than the New Orleans Bowl.  The inaugural game was played on December 18, 2001 and Sun Belt champion - 5-6 North Texas - got drilled 45-20 by Colorado State.  The Mean Green were the only Sun Belt team to go bowling that year, as 8-3 Middle Tennessee and 7-4 Troy were left on the sidelines.  The Sun Belt would go on to lose 4 out of the first 5 New Orleans Bowls but then everything changed on December 22, 2006 when the Trojans - six years removed from joining FBS - thumped Rice 41-17 to start a run of 4 Sun Belt victories in this bowl over the next 5 years and counting (and the one loss was Troy losing 30-27 in overtime to Southern Mississippi in a game that will forever be remembered for DeAndre Brown hideously breaking his leg.)
Furthemore, this game is no longer exclusively for the Sun Belt champion anymore because (a) the Sun Belt routinely gets multiple bowl bids these days (Florida International and Arkansas State - this year's champ - join the Rajun Cajuns on the bowl circuit this season) and (b) sadly, the payout and prestige of this bowl haven't been the same since Hurricane Katrina.  But ULL won't care, as this is their first ever bowl game - becoming the latest Sun Belt program to pop its postseason cherry after both Florida programs did so in recent years (and Western Kentucky should have this season.)  They did it on the back of a fantastic season from Blaine Gautier, who completed 192 of 304 passes for 2,488 yards, 20 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions.  Gautier's played musical quarterbacks with Chris Masson all season but has been the starter most of the way and the Rajun Cajuns fate in this game should be up to him.
Did San Diego State get hot and turn a corner in year 1 of Life After Brady Hoke or did they simply beat the teams it was supposed to (1-11 New Mexico, 3-9 Colorado State, 2-10 UNLV and 4-9 Fresno State) while losing to the team it was supposed to lose to (Boise State) in winning 4 out of 5 to close the year?  One thing's for sure: Ronnie Hillman can run the football.  The true sophomore followed up his fantastic freshman season under Hoke (262 carries, 1532 yards, 17 TD's) with an equally impressive sophomore campaign without him (287 carries, 1656 yards, 19 TD's.)  Only Boise, TCU and Colorado State held him under 100 yards and he has run for 370 yards and 6 TD's over his last two games.  He'll be the best player on the field and the guess is that a defense conceding almost 30 points a game (29.8) and gave up 61 to Oklahoma State and Joseph Randle as well as 42 to Western Kentucky and Bobby Rainey (who, once again, should be in the postseason) and 35 to Louisiana Monroe (including 4 rushing touchdowns) won't be able to slow him down.
Prediction: San Diego State 45, Louisiana Lafayette 27

Look for previews of the four bowl games during the week before Christmas tomorrow night.

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