Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Which 2013-14 Bowl Games Should You Watch?

For my bowl picks, click here for Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3.

Many people look at the bowls and say, “Why are there so many?”

I look at the bowls and say, “Why aren’t there more?”

oregon fiesta bowl
Okay, so that’s not entirely true but there is an 8-4 Western Kentucky team with Bobby Petrino as head coach without a bowl game so maybe we do need a few more. And let’s be honest, we’re going to watch.

Okay, so I’m going to watch. And there are a bunch of people out there like me. Even the worst bowl gets viewers in the 7-figures and that, ultimately, is why we’re not going to have a full-blown, 16-team playoff any time soon.

Instead, we get a lot of bowls – here’s the full schedule with times and TV (hint: tune to ESPN). There’s already a lot of chatter about the 2014-15 bowl schedule and what that will look like, when the four-team college football playoff starts.

But we still have one last year of the BCS and, in its final year, the calendar and the standing conspired to send it off in grand style – i.e., no controversy, good matchups and football every day (except for Christmas) from Dec. 21 all the way through Jan. 6. I think we can work with that.

So without further ado, here’s the most important list of the season – which bowls you should watch this year.

35) Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl
East Carolina (9-3) vs. Ohio (7-5)
This has to be my least favorite bowl – or as Homer would say, “9 thumbs up.” I don’t know why this game still exists. It’s played in one of our country’s worst stadiums, which is so bad that the perennially good Tampa Bay Rays can’t get more than a few people to show up. The grass is a puke green, field turf variant that makes it appear the Incredible Hulk wretched all over your television screen.

Adding to the fun this year is the time – the game is being played on the afternoon of Monday, December 23, at 2p.m. on ESPN. It is literally the pregame show to the real pregame show of Monday Night Countdown. When your game is a lead-in to the lead-in to a real football game, well, I’m not sure how you get any lower on the pecking order.

East Carolina is pretty good and will be in the American Athletic Conference next year. Ohio was disappointing. The only thing that might make this game redeemable is the rumor Frank Solich might retire and this would be his swan song. For his sake, I hope he gets a better send off.

34) Heart of Dallas Bowl
UNLV (7-5) vs. North Texas (8-4)
This is a weird one as Boston College was lobbying hard last week to get placed here. Why? Because B.C. has a terrible rep for not traveling to bowl games and they thought a game in Dallas on New Year’s morning would get people to show up. The desires of Boston College fell far behind the needs of ESPN. And the story behind this game will be about 1,000 times more interesting than the game itself.

ESPN wanted to pair Boise State up against an extra Pac-12 team in the Hawaii Bowl for ratings purposes – the only game on Christmas Eve, Boise is always a draw and a BCS conference opponent would help. To make that happen, ESPN needed to find a home for a Conference USA team, which they did when Middle Tennessee was put in the Armed Forces Bowl. But that move displaced a Mountain West team, which ended up here because the Big Ten couldn’t fill its contract here.

Did you follow all that? Basically, this bowl was put on the bottom of the pecking order and treated like a toss out because a) it’s on ESPNU, b) it’s going up against three SEC/Big Ten bowls and c) it’s owned by ESPN.

This bowl has had a very interesting four-year life so far as the only bowl game to ever air on ESPNU. Its second game featured two Top 25 teams, except one was Penn State in the wake of the Sandusky scandal. And moving forward, it should feature a Big 12 or Big Ten team every year. This year?

Well, these two schools deserve to be in a bowl game after good turnaround seasons. It’s just too bad no one will notice.

33) Pinstripe Bowl
Rutgers (6-6) vs. Notre Dame (8-4)
Notre Dame should have waited. They got antsy and signed on to the Pinstripe Bowl last Friday. If they had waited, a weekend of crazy results opened up a prime spot in the Texas Bowl against an 8-4 Minnesota team. That Minnesota team will play Syracuse, while this Notre Dame team will play Rutgers. The matchups are mixed up.

Beyond that, who cares? Rutgers is putrid. I saw them lose to UConn in person. Notre Dame, meanwhile, played an insanely hard schedule that featured 3 BCS teams (Oklahoma, Michigan State and Stanford) and two other ranked teams (USC and Arizona State). Notre Dame was 3-2 against the Top 25.

Rutgers only played five bowl teams. Guess what their record was against them….c’mon guess. Yep, 0-5. Notre Dame might win by 100.

32) GoDaddy Bowl
Arkansas State (7-5) vs. Ball State (10-2)
Western Kentucky went 8-4 and beat Arkansas State. So of course, Arkansas State ends up here for the third year in a row. And for the third year in a row, Arkansas State could be playing for an interim coach if Bryan Harsin gets the Boise State job – following Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn as Arkansas State coaches that spent 1 year with the program and left for a better job.

Even better? Dueling interim coaches! It’s almost a forgone conclusion that Pete Lembo is leaving Ball State – next UConn football coach? – and that will leave the season’s second-to-last game to be determined between interim coaches. Just like last year.

31) Texas Bowl
Syracuse (6-6) vs. Minnesota (8-4)
You can’t help but think Minnesota deserved a better fate than this. They went 8-4. They beat Nebraska. They overcame their coach Jerry Kill being sidelined again by seizures. This was a feel good story! And their reward is a trip to the same bowl they played in last year to play a 6-6 Syracuse team?

For the most part, I think the bowls made good matchups this year, which is the last before conferences will step in and essentially place teams instead of letting bowls make the decision. However, the Gator Bowl taking Nebraska over Minnesota was terrible. I think Minnesota fans would’ve gone crazy for a New Year’s Day bowl game in Florida against a team like Georgia. Alas, the Gophers are stuck here.

30) Armed Forces Bowls
Middle Tennessee (8-4) vs. Navy (7-4)
I always like Navy in bowl games for one reason – they always sell the place out. Or, they at least sell a ton of tickets. So you know if Navy (or Army) is playing, there will be a lot of people there. Middle Tennessee is a bit of an unknown so a game on ESPN against a nationally-recognized name like Navy will have them treating it like a Super Bowl.

And really, all you want out of these games is effort, excitement and a good game. I think we get all three here.

29) Military Bowl
Marshall (9-4) vs. Maryland (7-5)
Maryland fired its last coach for making the Military Bowl.

Yes, that’s way too simplistic for what took place at Maryland when Randy Edsall was hired. And Edsall is coming back for 2014 as Maryland enters the Big Ten. But this is a big game for Edsall’s – and Maryland’s – offseason. You don’t want to join the Big Ten and face the onslaught of Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State off of a loss to Marshall. Even if Marshall is pretty good and has a really good QB in Rakeem Cato. At the very least, this should be an entertaining game.

28)Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Buffalo (8-4) vs. San Diego State (7-5)   
Buffalo has Khalil Mack, possibly the best linebacker in the country. The game is played on Blue Turf. The Boise bowl game, under its many different names, is almost always entertaining. And it’s on at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 21 – you need to have something on while you wrap gifts and drink eggnog, right?

27) Music City Bowl
Ole Miss (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (7-5)
Sometimes, bowl games come together and you think, “Ugh, that sounded terrible in September,” but it’s actually a good game. Here, we have the exact opposite. In September, this would’ve been a potentially exciting game with a ranked, hot Ole Miss team and a Georgia Tech team that felt like an ACC contender.

Instead, they both kind of petered out through the season, as both lost heartbreakers in overtime to rivals over Thanksgiving weekend. However, Ole Miss has too many impressive freshmen and Georgia Tech has the unpredictable triple option, so it’s kind of a game you don’t want to miss. I have no idea what to make of this game.

26) Hawaii Bowl
Boise State (8-4) vs. Oregon State (6-6)
What do we want from our middling bowl games? Points! Oregon State is good at that. Boise State can be good at that, but the loss of Chris Petersen hurts the program. Or does it? The next coach will likely be hired by then and should invigorate Boise State, which has to be happy it’s not going back to Las Vegas for the eighth year in a row or something.

It’s not a great matchup for all the work ESPN did to make it happen – what happened to the rumored Boise State/Notre Dame game? – but it’s the only game on Christmas Eve night. It could be worse. Like last year’s Hawaii Bowl.

1987 fiesta bowl
25) New Mexico Bowl
Washington State (6-6) vs. Colorado State (7-6)
Welcome back! To you, Washington State and your bowl drought that somehow has lasted so long your last bowl game was against Vince Young. To you, Colorado State, and your own half-decade drought. Was it really 20 years ago that Colorado State was a Holiday Bowl fixture playing Michigan and Kansas State?

You have to appreciate that both of these teams are going to be fired up to be here and desperate to get their first bowl win in a while. As an added bonus, it’s the first bowl game and you have to watch the first one. Heck, last year’s New Mexico Bowl was an all-timer thanks to an Arizona comeback and a ton of media coverage resulting from the surprisingly strong rating.

The New Mexico has developed something of a tradition for being the first bowl game of the season. And the holidays are nothing without their traditions. Long live the New Mexico Bowl!

24) Holiday Bowl
#14 Arizona State (10-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
Our first ranked team! And our first hopeless mismatch. I really wish the Sugar Bowl had matched up Alabama vs. Oregon. Not because that game would be better than Alabama/Oklahoma, but that it really threw these Pac-12/Big 12 matchups out of whack. The Big 12 had no depth in the league and got 2 BCS bids. The Pac-12 had too much depth and got 1 bid.

The results? The Pac-12 has a lot of bowl games it will be favored to win, making this a bowl season that will almost certainly not live up to expectations since any loss would be a bad loss.

23) Liberty Bowl
Rice (10-3) vs. Mississippi State (6-6)
If Rice was playing, oh, anyone else in the world, this game would be a lot higher. Rice is an amazing story after winning their first conference title since 1957. 1957! That’s the year my parents were born. That’s so, so long ago.

It’s a big game for Rice. And Mississippi State travels well, so the atmosphere should be good. And the timeslot is plum – 4 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, which will be occupied by playoff bowl games next year. I just can’t get past the feeling Rice deserves a better opponent. Oh well, they get to beat an SEC team and that’s always fun.

22) Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
Pittsburgh (6-6) vs. Bowling Green (10-3)
Pitt DT Aaron Donald is worth the price of admission alone. Bowling Green just pulled of a stunning upset of Northern Illinois to win the MAC. From a football standpoint, this should be a really good game. But it’s the day after Christmas in Detroit – it will be up to Bowling Green fans to make a second trip to Detroit in less than a month to give the game the atmosphere it deserves.

21) Poinsettia Bowl
Utah State (8-5) vs. #23 Northern Illinois (12-1)
There’s one reason to watch this game – Jordan Lynch. He is a one-man team. Sometimes that’s good – like the first 12 games of 2013. Sometimes that’s bad – like the last game of 2013.

We do have a really interesting matchup because Utah State plays some wicked defense, as evident in their enjoyable and gritty performance against Fresno State late Saturday night/early Sunday morning in the Mountain West title game. Good bowl games are about good matchups and Lynch trying to beat this defense by himself should be fun.

iowa orange bowl
20) Outback Bowl
Iowa (8-4) vs. #16 LSU (9-3)
The last time these two teams played, it was Nick Saban’s last game as LSU head coach and Iowa won on a last-second miracle Hail Mary. So that’s a tough act to top.

On the plus side, this is a game that should sell out and local Tampa establishments should be ordering extra kegs like, right now. And right now might be too late.

On the negative side, LSU is way better than Iowa. But it lost QB Zach Mettenberger to an injury that really takes away from the star power. LSU should be a huge favorite regardless and I don’t see Iowa keeping it all that close.

19) Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
Michigan (7-5) vs. Kansas State (7-5)
A lot of people thought this bowl would go for Nebraska over Michigan and that got a lot of people excited, especially in the Little Apple. Instead, they play one of college football’s most storied brands for the first time ever. I think those in purple will come around.

As for the game itself, these seem like very similar teams. They both played top teams tough at home – Kansas State gave Baylor & Oklahoma a game, Michigan did so to Ohio State – but ultimately couldn’t get the season-defining win they needed. For whatever reason, I think this will be a good, back and forth game. And Michigan plays some exciting games, even if they don’t always win them.

18) New Orleans Bowl
Tulane (7-5) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4)
The only one of my wishful bowl projections that came true! Okay, so everyone saw it coming. That’s okay. Few bowl games will be able to match this atmosphere of this one. Could they sell out the Superdome? 9 p.m. start on a Saturday night? Yep, that’ll do.

17) Belk Bowl
Cincinnati (9-3) vs. North Carolina (6-6)
Last year, Cincinnati lost a late season game to Louisville to finish 9-3 and ended up playing a bowl game in Charlotte against a 6-6 ACC team. This year…you get my drift, just replace Duke with North Carolina.

So why is this game relatively high? Because last year’s Belk Bowl was the Belkiest bowl of all time. UNC likes to score. Cincinnati needs a win badly. I foresee more Belkiness.

16) Fight Hunger Bowl
BYU (8-4) vs. Washington (8-4)
A stunningly good matchup for a low-tier bowl. BYU played a very tough schedule but had some great victories, including blowouts of Texas and Georgia Tech. Washington also played a very tough schedule but weren’t able to come through in the big ones, losing to Stanford, UCLA, Arizona State and Oregon.

The winner here could use this win as a springboard to 2014, especially Washington as its whole program seems to be injected with life after the surprising hire of Chris Petersen. When else has a team lost its coach to USC and gotten better?

15) Gator Bowl
Nebraska (8-4) vs. #22 Georgia (8-4)
Not only is this a rematch from last year’s Capital One Bowl, and not only is this a rematch no one wanted, it’s a rematch of a game no one wanted last year!

And you know what? Last year’s Capital One Bowl was pretty darn entertaining if not completely overshadowed by the awesome Outback Bowl going on at the same time. Both teams disappointed this year but for vastly different reasons. Georgia played one of the toughest schedules imaginable and were done in by flukes and injuries. Nebraska played on of the easiest schedules imaginable and were done in by poor coaching and injuries.

My hunch? Despite the initial disappointment, both teams come out of the locker room on fire to start 2014.

14) Russell Athletic Bowl
Miami (9-3) vs. #18 Louisville (11-1)
What makes for a good bowl game? Stars and storylines. So how about this: Teddy Bridgewater, possible #1 NFL Draft pick, plays his final college game in Florida against the school he decommitted to. The Miami defense has been, umm, not good down the stretch and Teddy Ballgame put on a killer performance in the season finale against Cincinnati. What will he do for an encore?

This game could have been so much higher but Miami’s Duke Johnson is hurt and Louisville fans may be preoccupied with the basketball game that day against Kentucky.

13) Sun Bowl
Virginia Tech (8-4) vs. #17 UCLA (9-3)
Hard-pressed for the Sun Bowl to do better than this. You get a Top 25 from Los Angeles with a fantastic QB in Brett Hundley and a budding, two-way sensation in RB/LB Myles Jack. And you put them against a recognizable Virginia Tech team that has one of the country’s best defenses. This is a really, really good game even if I fear Va. Tech might be a bit overmatched.

12) Alamo Bowl
#10 Oregon (10-2) vs. Texas (8-4)
Where to start here? Oregon’s offense in a dome against a Texas defense that has been shredded on multiple occasions as the Mack Brown/Nick Saban/coaching saga rolls on. Literally anything is possible in this game, from Oregon winning 62-0 to Texas pulling an Arizona and winning by 30.

11) Cotton Bowl
#13 Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. #8 Missouri (11-2)
I want to like this game more. I should, right? Top 15 teams, primetime on Fox, JerryWorld, etc. But both teams are coming off of devastating losses – though Oklahoma State’s at home against their archrival has to be more painful.

This is just a conference game though. Maybe in five or ten years, it will feel like a special matchup. This, now, feels like an ordinary game. When Missouri joined the SEC, I doubt there was a single person that said, “Too bad, we won’t see Oklahoma State and Missouri play.” Yet here we are.

Doesn’t matter – you’re going to be watching the Orange Bowl and you know it.

10) BBVA Compass Bowl
Vanderbilt (8-4) vs. Houston (8-4)
I am seriously excited to watch this game. And not just because it’s the first BBVA Compass Bowl in four years that doesn’t involve Pitt or interim coaches. These are two, up and coming teams that probably deserve better – the Gator for Vandy, the Pinstripe for Houston – but end up coming together in a juicy matchup.

Houston is trying to get back to the 10-win levels they enjoyed with Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin while James Franklin has Vanderbilt on the verge of actually competing for an SEC title. This is a huge program-defining game for both teams, even if a January 4 bowl game in Birmingham doesn’t give off that vibe. It’s probably bigger for Houston, in the ESPN-loathed American, but Vanderbilt isn’t Florida quite yet – winning bowl games is still a new thing.

On the bright side for Vandy, it’s their first out-of-state bowl trip since the 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl, which was played in….Birmingham. Okay, seriously, Vandy needs a real bowl destination sometime soon.

9) Sugar Bowl
#11 Oklahoma (10-2) vs. #3 Alabama (11-1)
Oklahoma had a strange season. Of their five toughest games, they played one in Dallas (Texas) and the other four (Notre Dame, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Kansas State) on the road. That seems awfully unfair. Maybe they’re better than we think, considering they went 3-1 in those games on the road?

On the other hand, they got smoted by Baylor and Texas. Baylor is good. Texas is not. Alabama is better than both.

The Superdome will be packed and rocking. We’ll be watching. I have a feeling this is going to be more 2011 Capital One Bowl than 2009 Sugar Bowl.

8) Chick-fil-A Bowl
#24 Duke (10-3) vs. #21 Texas A&M (8-4)
Johnny Football. Do you need any more reason to watch Texas A&M? Is there any other reason to watch Texas A&M?

For Duke, it’s almost too bad that got stuck in the ACC Title Game – yeah, yeah I picked them to beat Florida State like a moron – because it crushed the good vibes. This is Duke! They won 10 games! They should be thrilled to be here.

7) Capital One Bowl
#19 Wisconsin (9-3) vs. #9 South Carolina (10-2)
I know South Carolina fans wanted the Cotton Bowl and, frankly, that would’ve been more interesting. But this is still a really, really good game. Wisconsin is going to be a little salty since their last game was a bad home loss to Penn State that eliminate BCS hopes. Also, the Badgers haven’t won a bowl game in a while as their last 3 seasons ended in heartbreak in Pasadena.

Beating a top 10 SEC team in Florida on New Year’s Day would be huge. I don’t think it’ll happen, but it could. Very intriguing, especially considering Wisconsin wants to run the ball and South Carolina has one of them SEC defenses.

6) AdvoCare Bowl
Arizona (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5)
#1 RB Andre Williams of Boston College vs. #5 RB Ka’Deem Carey of Arizona. That’s your matchup. That’s why you’re watching. That’s why ESPN set it up. That’s why the former Independence Bowl will command your attention at noon on New Year’s Eve day. That’s why this game is #6 on the list. And that’s why this is a great bowl game.

5) Las Vegas Bowl
#20 Fresno State (11-1) vs. #25 USC (9-4)
Saturday, Dec. 21, at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC. Does it get better for a mid-December Saturday? Fresno State may not be playing in a BCS bowl but playing USC on broadcast TV is just about as big as it gets for Fresno. As for USC, their wild season will end playing for a third coach – has any team ever won 10 games in a season for three coaches?

We’ll also see one of the best offense/defense matchups of the bowl season as Derek Carr and his billionity passing yards faces a USC defense that has been very good this year (season-ending debacle against UCLA not withstanding). Throw in Vegas, good weather, a sold out crowd and Brent Musberger (likely) on the call and this game is by far the best non-BCS bowl game. In my book.

4) Fiesta Bowl
#15 UCF (11-1) vs. #6 Baylor (11-1)
Baylor is an early 17-point favorite because people are stupid. No, not the linemakers. The people that haven’t watched UCF this year. If this line was what it should be – Baylor by about 10 – then 99.9% of the world would bet on Baylor and Vegas would be in trouble.

UCF is way better than people think. They gave South Carolina all they could handle. They beat Louisville, in Louisville, after coming back from three scores. They beat Penn State on the road. They are a legit 11-1 team.

This isn’t to say Baylor can’t roll over them. It is to say that is not necessarily a formality. I love this game. UCF has an NFL QB in Blake Bortles and a big-time RB in Storm Johnson. UCF can ball. So can Baylor. I expect lots of points and a lot of action. I’m excited for this on – and the timeslot right after the Rose Bowl is a great one.

ohio state fiesta bowl
3) Orange Bowl
#12 Clemson (10-2) vs. #7 Ohio State (12-1)
For a while, it looked like the most interesting bowl game on the night of Friday, January 3, would be a non-BCS bowl – no surprise since the Cotton Bowl has been more interesting for years than the declining Orange Bowl.

That is no longer the case. This game has the potential to be one of the most exciting, high-scoring BCS games in history because neither team has a good defense and both teams have incredible offenses. Braxton Miller, Tahj Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Carlos Hyde…points, points and more points.

For Clemson’s sake, let’s hope Ohio State doesn’t crack 70.

2) Rose Bowl
#5 Stanford (11-2) vs. #4 Michigan State (12-1)
Irresistible force meet immovable objects. 9 Stanford linemen meet 10 Michigan State defenders in the box.

Usually, you want bowl games to have great offenses. Sometimes, you want to get two teams that smash things to play a game against each other and smash everything. This is that game. The 100th Rose Bowl is everything the Rose Bowl ever meant to be wrapped up in one glorious New Year’s afternoon. I’m already pumped for this one.

1) BCS Title Game
#1 Florida State (13-0) vs. #2 Auburn (12-1)
Many years in the BCS, the title game has not been the best game. In 2001, Miami vs. Nebraska was about sixth on the list. In 2003, the real title game was played in the Rose Bowl. In 2011, no one wanted to see LSU/Alabama, part deux.

No such qualms about this year. The title game is the game and there’s no doubting that. I don’t need to go into detail. You have eyes. You’ve seen Auburn this year, against Georgia, against Alabama and against Missouri. Will their dream season continue? Will the SEC win 8 in a row? Or does Jameis Winston and his Heisman commandeer the Rose Bowl while I lose my ability to make #goacc football jokes for 10 years?

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6 comments:

  1. I don't get it?... Nebraska finished ahead of Minn in the division.

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  2. Nobody likes Minnesota

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  3. Good job, just move Baylor-UCF (insignificant) down to #14 and everyone in between up one, and I'll agree on a top 15. But, but only five must-see games for me... Florida State vs Auburn (it's obvious), Stanford vs Michigan State (it's the Rose), Fresno State vs USC (Derek Carr), Arizona vs Boston College (Carey and Williams), and Wisconsin vs South Carolina (conflicting styles). Have fun.

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  4. Orange Bowl is too high. Cotton too low.

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  5. Vandy really got hosed on this one, how many times does it happen that you lose to one SEC east power (South Carolina), go 8-4, and get put in bowl below a mediocre 6-6 Mississippi State team? My Dores get no respect from anyone outside of the SEC.

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