Aside from March Madness, there is nothing that I look forward to more in sports than bowl season.
While the BCS is certainly the most flawed “playoff” system in all of sports, I still love all of the bowl games.
To me, it’s as much a part of the holiday season as anything else, and I’m looking forward to another round of college football’s postseason, from the New Mexico Bowl to the BCS Championship Game.
It’s going to be an exciting slate of games yet again, and here are my picks for each of them:
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Nevada vs. Arizona (December 15, 1:00 PM ET)
The first game of the 2012-13 bowl season features a middle-of-the-pack WAC team and a middle-of-the-pack Pac-12 team.
Nevada started the season 6-1 but skidded, losing 4 of their last 5 games. While Arizona has been inconsistent throughout the season, I’m gonna have to go with Rich Rod’s Wildcats to top the Wolf Pack, mostly because I think Arizona’s offense will tear apart Nevada’s subpar defense.
My pick: Arizona
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Toledo vs. #22 Utah St. (December 15, 4:30 PM ET)
My personal favorite bowl game name, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, will pit the Toledo Rockets (led by their 33-year old head coach, Matt Campbell) against the WAC champion Utah St. Aggies.
I’ve been kinda pulling for Toledo this season, and I want to pick them to upset the Aggies. However, Utah St. was a shanked field goal away from beating Wisconsin and lost to BYU by only 3 points. With only 2 losses by a combined 5 points this season, I can’t pick against Utah State.
My pick: Utah State
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: BYU vs. San Diego St. (December 20, 8:00 PM ET)
The BYU Cougars and the San Diego St. Aztecs will face off in the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl.
BYU didn’t match the success of seasons past under Bronco Mendenhall, finishing with a 7-5 record, but they didn’t lose to poor teams. The 5 teams that BYU lost to have a combined record of 46-14, with 4 of those teams are currently in the top 25. In fact, BYU lost to Notre Dame by only 3 points, and so I’m going to pick the Cougars to beat the Aztecs, though I could see this one going either way.
My pick: BYU
Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl St. Petersburg: Ball State vs. Central Florida (December 21, 7:30 PM ET)
Before I continue, I just want to pause to give props to the MAC. They’ve sent 7 teams to bowl games this year, including one to a BCS bowl. The conference was ultra-competitive and heck of a lot of fun to watch.
The Ball State Cardinals represent the MAC in this game, facing the UCF Knights, who probably don’t even belong in a bowl game. UCF was handed penalties for major recruiting violations in both football and basketball. The only penalty that the school appealed was the 1-year postseason ban in football, which will be heard in January.
So while they will likely will be banned from postseason next year, when they join the Big East, they can play this year. That allowed them to get into the Conference USA Championship game, where they lost to Tulsa. And since I don’t think they should be playing this year, I’ll definitely be picking the Cardinals.
My pick: Ball State
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: East Carolina vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (December 22, 12:00 PM ET)
The R+L Carriers Bowl offers a match-up of two teams that are, in my mind, pretty evenly matched. The ECU Pirates and UL-Lafayette Rajun’ Cajuns both have 8-4 records and fairly solid offenses and defenses.
This game is pretty much a toss-up to me, and while the Rajun’ Cajuns is perhaps the best team name in all of college sports, my gut tells me to go with ECU.
My pick: ECU
MAACO Bowl Las Vegas: Washington vs. #19 Boise State (December 22, 3:30 PM ET)
For the 3rd straight season, Boise State will end up in Las Vegas because they didn’t manage to go undefeated.
The Broncos go up against the Washington Huskies, who are playing in the postseason for a 3rd consecutive year. And while the Huskies’ record hasn’t improved over the last few years under coach Steve Sarkisian, he’s managed to make the disastrous 0-12 season of 2008 seem like a distant memory.
There’s no question that Boise St. is the heavy favorite going into the game. While the Huskies managed to upset the favored Nebraska Huskers 2 years ago in the Holiday Bowl, I don’t think they’ll manage to do it to the Broncos.
My pick: Boise State
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl: Fresno St. vs SMU (December 24, 8:00 PM ET)
The work of June Jones at the helm of the SMU Mustangs has really been remarkable, as he’s guided them to their 4th consecutive bowl game. Considering the shape the program was still in when he got there, that’s pretty impressive.
Then you have the Fresno St. Bulldogs, who have lost 3 games this season, with 2 of those losses coming to Oregon and Boise State.
I don’t think Fresno St. will blow out SMU, but I do think they will win.
My pick: Fresno State
Little Caesars Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Central Michigan (December 26, 7:30 PM ET)
It’s probably because I’m a sports geek, but I’m actually looking forward to this match-up between the Hilltoppers and Chippewas, who have a combined record of 13-11.
In the end I think that momentum plays a factor in this game. Western Kentucky lost 3 of their last 4, while Central Michigan had to win their last 3 games just to become bowl eligible.
While winning times are ahead for the Hilltoppers with Bobby Petrino headed to the program, the Little Caesars Bowl will belong to the Chippewas.
My pick: Central Michigan
Military Bowl pres. by Northrop Grumman: #24 San Jose St. vs. Bowling Green (December 27, 3:00 PM ET)
In the post-Boise St. WAC, having 2 teams in the top 25 is a rarity. But headed into the bowl season, both San Jose St. and Utah St. are ranked.
While the Spartans are without coach Mike MacIntyre, who accepted the job at Colorado, they are still are very good team and the favorites in their showdown with the Bowling Green Falcons, who have looked impressive at times this season in the tough MAC. I’m still going with the Spartans.
My pick: San Jose State
Belk Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Duke (December 27, 6:30 PM ET)
For the first time since 1994, the Duke Blue Devils are playing in a bowl game. And yet again, a Cincinnati coach has decided to jump ship to a more prestigious job, with Butch Jones darting for Tennessee.
Starting next season, the Bearcats will have Tommy Tuberville at the helm, who surprisingly left Texas Tech to come to Cincinnati. And while dealing with the loss of a coach isn’t always easy, I think Cincinnati still manages to win the Belk Bowl.
Since becoming bowl-eligible at 6-2, Duke has lost each of their last 4 games, and I don’t see them pulling off an upset.
My pick: Cincinnati
Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl: Baylor vs. #17 UCLA (December 27, 9:45 PM ET)
Of the non-BCS bowls, the Holiday Bowl may be my favorite. Year in and year out, it seems to pit two good teams against one another, and the games are you usually good.
This year, it hosts the Baylor Bears and the UCLA Bruins, two teams that have had very different seasons. Baylor played its first season in the post-RGIII era, and it had mixed results. They boast one of the more high-powered offenses in the nation, but the defense has been lackluster. The high point of their season was easily their upset of Kansas State (damn you, Baylor), spoiling the Wildcats’ dreams of a BCS title.
Jim Mora’s 1st season at the helm of the Bruins has been mostly successful, when they’re not playing Stanford.
While Baylor has won 3 straight, I’m still picking UCLA. And yes, it has a little bit to do with the fact that I’m still angry at Baylor for ruining Kansas State’s run and helping Alabama sneak their way into another national championship game.
My pick: UCLA
AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl: Ohio vs. Louisiana-Monroe (December 28, 2:00 PM ET)
Frank Zolich has turned the Ohio Bobcats into a perennial power in the MAC. Since 2009, Zolich’s Bobcats haven’t won fewer than 8 games in a season.
Their opponent, the UL-Monroe Warhawks, started their season off with a shocking upset of then-#8 Arkansas, just the beginning of the Razorbacks’ downward spiral. The Warhawks would then nearly beat both Auburn and Baylor, plus went on a 5-game winning streak during their season.
This is a tough game to pick, but I’m going to go with Ohio.
My pick: Ohio
Russell Athletic Bowl: Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech (December 28, 5:30 PM ET)
By all accounts, this season has been a major disappointment for Frank Beamer and the Virginia Tech Hokies. They started the season ranked at #16, with the expectation being that they would win at least 10 games, just like they had each of the past 8 seasons. But that wouldn’t happen, as the Hokies needed to win their final two games in order to just be bowl eligible.
On the other side of the coin, you have Rutgers, playing in their 1st season since Greg Schiano bolted for the NFL. In his 1st season, Kyle Flood led the Scarlet Knights to a 9-3 record and a share of the Big East title, something Schiano never did during his tenure.
In another game that has the potential to be down-to-the wire, I’m going with Rutgers (they’ve won their last 5 bowl games), even if they faltered a little towards the end of the year.
My pick: Rutgers
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas: Minnesota vs. Texas Tech (December 28, 9:00 PM ET)
We finally get to the 1st bowl featuring a Big Ten team, in this case the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
I’m a Wisconsin fan, and therefore, I don’t much care for Minnesota. But I do have to say I’m impressed with the job Jerry Kill has done there thus far. This program was an absolute wreck, and he’s helped get them back into the postseason fairly quick. They face the Texas Tech Red Raiders, who are without Tommy Tuberville after he left for Cincinnati.
This is a tough one to pick, but my Big Ten fandom will have me leaning toward the Gophers.
My pick: Minnesota
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl: Rice vs. Air Force (December 29, 11:45 AM ET)
The Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl gives us a matchup between the Rice Owls and the Air Force Falcons, who have matching 6-6 records and both were in the middle of the pack in their respective conferences.
I’ll admit, I don’t know too much about either team. Rice started the year 1-5, but managed to get hot and secure a bowl bid. However, in a game called the Armed Forces Bowl, it would feel wrong not to pick Air Force.
My pick: Air Force
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: West Virginia vs. Syracuse (December 29, 3:15 PM ET)
In its first two years of existence, the Pinstripe Bowl hasn’t disappointed, and I expect that trend to continue this year.
Syracuse, who won the inaugural edition of the game in 2010, will go up against West Virginia, whose season went down the tubes after a very promising start. After beginning the season at 5-0 and with Geno Smith as the clear Heisman frontrunner, the Mountaineers went into a horrific downward spiral, losing their next 5.
They managed to win their last 2, and I think that their high-powered offense will show up and be too much for the Orange.
My pick: West Virginia
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Navy vs. Arizona St. (December 29, 4:00 PM ET)
The Navy Midshipmen will square off against the Arizona St. Sun Devils in this year’s edition of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
Navy started the season 1-3, but rallied to win 7 of their last 8, including a thrilling victory over Army in their annual rivalry game. And aside from a 4-game skid in the middle of the season, Arizona St. hasn’t looked all too shabby either.
I have nothing but the deepest respect and gratitude for all the men and women who defend the freedoms of this country, so I’ll always gladly pick them in bowl games.
My pick: Navy
Valero Alamo Bowl: #23 Texas vs. #13 Oregon St. (December 29, 6:45 PM ET)
The Alamo Bowl pits two teams that have had polar opposite seasons.
Expectations were high going into the season for Texas, looking to rebound after a dismal 5-7 campaign in 2010 and an average 8-5 year in 2011. But the Longhorns would be so-so, and Mack Brown’s seat is beginning to get pretty warm.
Meanwhile, the Oregon St. Beavers came into the season not expecting the kind of season they have had, and any thoughts of forcing out Mike Riley have all but disappeared.
I like the Beavers in this game, which for Texas would set the stage for what could be Mack Brown’s final season at the helm of the Longhorns in 2013.
My pick: Oregon St.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: TCU vs. Michigan St. (December 29, 10:15 PM ET)
It’s been a down season for both programs in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
The TCU Horned Frogs have had great success under Gary Patterson, but their 1st season in the Big 12 wasn’t quite as smooth. And there’s also the Michigan St. Spartans, who followed up a very successful 2011 season with a disappointing 6-6 campaign.
I think the Horned Frogs have looked a little more impressive than the Spartans this season, so I will go with them in this game.
My pick: TCU
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: North Carolina St. vs. Vanderbilt (December 31, 12:00 PM ET)
Many around the North Carolina St. program thought this was the season where they could finally break out and be highly successful. But the Wolfpack were mediocre much of the time, and now Tom O’Brien has been ousted.
The Vanderbilt Commodores, on the other hand, were pretty good in SEC play, beating all the teams that were at their level or below them. They looked better than the Wolfpack in conference play, and played in a much tougher conference (though avoided playing most of the top teams in the SEC West), so I’ll take the Commodores.
My pick: Vanderbilt
Hyundai Sun Bowl: USC vs. Georgia Tech (December 31, 2:00 PM ET)
Nobody does college footbal better than CBS, and the Sun Bowl is now the only bowl game in which we get to see Verne Lundquist and Co.
The Yellow Jackets are the only team with a losing record to make a bowl game, and they’ve been disappointing this year. But perhaps no team in the nation that has been more disappointing than USC.
With Matt Barkley returning, many thought the Trojans would contend for a national title. Instead, they sputtered to a 7-5 record, Monte Kiffin fell on the sword for his son, and Lane Kiffin will be on the hot seat next year. However, I think they will get some consolation and win the Sun Bowl.
My pick: USC
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Iowa St. vs. Tulsa (December 31, 3:30 PM ET)
Not the most intriguing game of New Year’s Eve, but the Iowa St. Cyclones vs. the Tulsa Golden Hurricane still isn’t a bad matchup.
The Cyclones have made it to the postseason 3 times in Paul Rhoads’ 4 seasons at the helm. In 2012, though, they haven’t looked all that good, going 3-6 in conference play. Tulsa, given they play in a much weaker conference, have looked a lot better, and I’m going to have to go with the Golden Hurricane.
My pick: Tulsa
Chick-fil-A Bowl: #8 LSU vs. #14 Clemson (December 31, 7:30 PM ET)
The Chick-fil-A Bowl has struck absolute gold this year, landing two very good teams to set up a marquee matchup.
The LSU Tigers played plenty of close games this year, and should have beat hated rival Alabama and represented the SEC West in the SEC Championship Game. Instead, they’re not even playing in a BCS bowl game, but they have their work cut out for them in this game. The Clemson Tigers went 10-2, losing only to Florida State and South Carolina.
In my mind, this is the best non-BCS bowl, and I’ll be going with the Mad Hatter and the Bayou Bengals.
My pick: LSU
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl: Mississippi St. vs. #20 Northwestern (January 1, 12:00 PM ET)
Just like they did a few years ago in the 2010 Outback Bowl, the Northwestern Wildcats will kick off college football in the New Year. This time, they face off against the Mississippi St. Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs, like they have often under Dan Mullen, looked dominate against teams they were supposed to beat, but came up short in big games. Northwestern was a little bit of a surprise in the Big Ten, as Pat Fitzgerald continues to do a remarkable job with the Wildcats. And I think this is finally the year that they get the bowl win that the school has craved for so long.
My pick: Northwestern
Heart of Dallas Bowl: Purdue vs. Oklahoma St. (January 1, 12:00 PM ET)
Purdue is yet another team that failed to meet expectations this season, and it cost Danny Hope his job. Perhaps if the Boilermakers had held on and beat the Ohio State Buckeyes, Hope would still be employed. But it was not to be, and now they go up against Mike Gundy’s Cowboys with an interim coach.
Oklahoma St. is a better team than Purdue, no question, so I’ll have to take them in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
My pick: Oklahoma St.
Outback Bowl: #10 South Carolina vs. #18 Michigan (January 1, 1:00 PM ET)
In his 1st season at Michigan, Brady Hoke picked up the pieces of the failed Rich Rod project and led the Wolverines to a Sugar Bowl victory. His 2nd season would have a few more bumps in it, as it started with them getting thumped by Alabama, and ended with a disappointing loss to Ohio State.
Meanwhile, the Head Ball Coach has led South Carolina to another 10-win season, as the Gamecocks have cemented their place among the SEC’s top teams.
I don’t see Denard Robinson and the Wolverines breaking out in this game, so I’ll go with Steve Spurrier and South Carolina.
My pick: South Carolina
Capital One Bowl: #7 Georgia vs. #16 Nebraska (January 1, 1:00 PM ET)
Perhaps no team had a more painful defeat than Georgia’s loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. A masterful final drive by Aaron Murray and the Bulldogs came up just short, as the clock ran out on them after they decided not to spike the ball.
Nebraska also lost in their conference championship game, only they were completely dismantle by Wisconsin and their three-headed monster backfield.
Georgia has to enraged about missing out on the national title game, and they are gonna take it out on the Cornhuskers.
My pick: Georgia
Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. #6 Stanford (January 1, 5:00 PM ET)
Somehow, some way, the Wisconsin Badgers made it back to Pasadena for a 3rd straight year.
After a sub-standard regular season, the Badgers showed up in a big way in the Big Ten Championship Game, clobbering Nebraska. Then, just a few days later, coach Bret Bielema announced that he was headed to Arkansas, leaving all of Madison stunned. In came Barry Alvarez, who will coach the team in the Rose Bowl, where he is 3-0, to try and work some of his magic one last time.
Stanford has handled the departure of Andrew Luck quite well, having a spectacular season to get to Pasadena, a place where Luck never led the Cardinal.
But as I’ve said in my post-Big Ten Championship Game article, I’m not betting against my Badgers again. They’re gonna win one for Barry.
My pick: Wisconsin
Discover Orange Bowl: #15 Northern Illinois vs. #12 Florida St. (January 1, 8:30 PM ET)
I think it’s hilarious that when the BCS finally gives the little guy a chance, a majority of people are complaining and feeling sorry for Oklahoma. The BCS has NEVER helped out the little guy, and the big schools always benefit from it. So all the “Northern Illinois doesn’t belong” BS is just stupid.
Wasn’t Oklahoma’s loss to Boise St. in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl a perfect example of why Cinderella should be given a chance?
That being said, I still am going to pick the Seminoles to win the game, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Huskies pull off the upset.
Besides, could they really do any worse than Clemson did against West Virginia last year? Nobody was complaining about Clemson being in a BCS bowl going into that game, and look what happened.
My pick: Florida State
Allstate Sugar Bowl: #21 Louisville vs. #3 Florida (January 2, 8:30 PM ET)
Will Muschamp certainly has the Florida Gators back on a winning track. If it weren’t for a loss to Georgia, they could be playing for the national title.
Their unfortunate foe in the Sugar Bowl is the Louisville Cardinals, who could be in deep trouble. Don’t get me wrong, they are good football team, but this game just looks like a pure mismatch.
Then again, there’s a reason why games aren’t played on paper, and weirder things certainly have happened in college football. Maybe Louisville can surprise the nation; but I wouldn’t count on it.
My pick: Florida
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: #4 Oregon vs. #5 Kansas St. (January 3, 8:30 PM ET)
A matchup that looked like it would be played for the national championship not too long ago will instead take place in the Fiesta Bowl.
Yet again, Oregon’s offense is incredibly explosive under Chip Kelly, who might be coaching in his final game for the Ducks, as he’s rumored to be wanted by several NFL teams.
Kelly’s counterpart is Bill Snyder, who IS Kansas State football. Snyder has done yet another masterful coaching job, and leads his team into a game that is set up to be a classic.
In the end, I think Colin Klein and the Wildcats are able to outlast Oregon. I have a good feeling this one is coming down to the 4th quarter, no matter who wins.
My pick: Kansas State
AT&T Cotton Bowl: #9 Texas A&M vs. #11 Oklahoma (January 4, 8:00 PM ET)
It’s really unfair that Gus Johnson no longer calls March Madness games, and only gets to do one bowl game. That’s just depriving America of greatness. At the very least, he will get to call a very, very good game.
Freshman sensation and Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, along with coach Kevin Sumlin, have eased the transition to the SEC for the Aggies quite a bit. In the Cotton Bowl, they face an old Big 12 foe, Oklahoma, who is playing with a purpose after being left out of a BCS bowl.
Another excellent game on paper, I will take Johnny Football and the Aggies to top the Sooners in a shootout.
My pick: Texas A&M
BBVA Compass Bowl: Pittsburgh vs. Ole Miss (January 5, 1:00 PM ET)
You gotta love the obscure bowls they thrown in-between the BCS bowls and the national title game.
The BBVA Compass Bowl gives us two 6-6 teams, the Pitt Panthers and the Ole Miss Rebels. Both programs have promising 1st-year coaches, Paul Chryst for the Panthers and Hugh Freeze for the Rebels. As their records indicate, both teams have been fairly inconsistent throughout the season.
One of my deciding factors in this game is Chryst, who was a brilliant playcaller. I think he’ll dial up a great gameplan to lead his team to a bowl win and a winning record.
My pick: Pittsburgh
GoDaddy.com Bowl: #25 Kent St. vs. Arkansas St. (January 6, 9:00 PM ET)
On the eve of the national title game, the Kent St. Golden Flashes and the Arkansas St. Red Wolves will face each other in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
Arkansas St. managed to go 9-3 and were the Sun Belt champions. However, Gus Malzahn left the Red Wolves to take the head coaching job at Auburn, so they’ll have an interim coach leading them in the game. And then there’s Kent St., who comes out of the incredibly tough MAC, and I’ll take them to win this game.
By the way, the nicknames of the teams in this bowl are superb.
My pick: Kent State
Discover BCS National Championship Game: #1 Notre Dame vs. #2 Alabama (January 7, 8:30 PM ET)
And at last, we reach the most anticipated national championship game in years.
Two historic program square-off. One’s the defending national champion, and the other has made its resurgence from rubble.
The Crimson Tide seemed to have their dream’s of a repeat seemed dashed after being defeated by Johnny Football and Texas A&M. But after stunning losses by Oregon and Kansas St. in the same night, they were thrust back into the national title picture. Alabama would go on to defeat Georgia in one of the greatest college football games I’ve ever seen (I still have to put Boise State’s miraculous win in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl just above it).
They go up against the undefeated Fighting Irish, who few suspected would be here at the beginning of the season. But Manti Te’o (who should have won the Heisman) and his teammates have dodged a few close call to find their way back in the biggest game in college football.
As far as a prediction goes, this game is going to be an instant classic, guaranteed. And though I can hardly bear the thought of the Lou Holtz lovefest that would follow it, I think this is the Year of the Irish, and I’m going to pick Notre Dame to reclaim their spot on top of the college football world.
My pick: Notre Dame
During bowl season, there’s almost nothing that is certain. All you can do is expect the unexpected, and assume that the Big Ten will be dominated by the SEC. Other than that, just sit back and enjoy one the greatest experiences sports has to offer.