Friday, December 19, 2014

The Bowl Picks, Part 3: The Glorious Return of New Year's Day

Click to read Part 1 or Part 2

The first New Year's Day I ever remember changed college football forever. That's not hyperbole.

In 1988, NBC gave up the Rose Bowl. It's fascinating to think about in retrospect but NBC didn't feel the game warranted a high fee and let the game go to ABC. At the time, the Rose Bowl was in trouble due to its association with the Pac-10 and Big Ten. In particular, this was a time dominated by independents like Miami, Florida State, Penn State and Notre Dame.

1989 notre dame
In response to losing the game, NBC moved the Fiesta Bowl opposite the Rose Bowl. It was the first time another bowl game was played against it. To add salt to the wounds, the 1989 Fiesta Bowl featured Notre Dame winning the national championship over fellow unbeaten West Virginia and the game trounced the Rose Bowl in the ratings.

For the next five years, New Year's Day became a ridiculous feast of football. There was the Rose and Fiesta in the early evening, the Orange and Sugar at night, and the Citrus, Hall of Fame (now Outback) and Cotton in the later afternoon. As the child of a Notre Dame grad who instilled a love of college football, it was the single greatest day of the year.

It was too much of a good thing. The bowls were pitted against each other and the system broke down. Fans wanted a national championship game every year. The bowls were sick of cannibalizing the audience. New Year's Day slowly disintegrated.

The best games, with the exception of the Rose, moved post-New Year's Day. With the dreaded double-hosting model, the BCS moved the title game 10+ days past New Year's Day at times. It was absurd. It was sad. It was terrible.

However you feel about the four-team playoff, the college football leaders clearly recognized that they had to do something. Hockey – frozen ice hockey – had taken over New Year's Day with the Winter Classic. What in the name of America had happened?

Now having both semifinals on New Year's Eve the next two years is insanity, there is no doubt that having the six big games on the two holidays is a huge plus for the sport. There will be energy and excitement around a day that has long defined college football.

It'll be good to have you back, New Year's Day. It had been a strange 20 years.

TCU (-3) over Ole Miss
I think TCU is better than Ohio State. I think TCU is better than Baylor. I think TCU should have been in the college football playoff. Now, I don't think it was a grave injustice – they blew the game at Baylor and probably weren't the “one true champion” of the Big 12. But they were the best team.

gary patterson tcu
And I think Gary Patterson knows all of this. His response to being left out of the playoff was markedly different than Art Briles. In part, it's because Patterson knew that TCU needs to win all of its games to make the playoff. Paterson is very realistic about TCU's place in the college football world – they won a Rose Bowl, sure, but they need to prove they belong at the Big Boy table for the duration.

That's why I believe TCU is going to come out and lay an absolute whipping on Ole Miss. It will be a fascinating matchup with the fantastic Ole Miss defense, but it's a matchup that plays in TCU's favor as they can exploit matchups in the secondary to rack up yards through the year. I don't see Ole Miss scoring enough to keep up.

Arizona (-3) over Boise State
The worst thing that happened for Boise State was the Pac-12 Title Game. Arizona got embarrassed and they have been licking their wounds for a month by the time this game kicks off. Do you really think they want to end this fantastic season with two bad losses?

Let's not forget that Rich Rodriguez is an incredible bowl coach. He is 2-0 at Arizona and he won his last two with West Virginia, including the 2006 Sugar Bowl win over Georgia that was a landmark win for the Big East and that program. This is a similar game for Arizona. They are favored but they need a big win to establish that it is a perennial Pac-12 contender.

Boise State is good – but it's Mountain West good. The only time they played a top Power Five team this year, Ole Miss played a C- game and still whipped them. Boise State has improved since then, I just don't think they've improved enough.

Mississippi State (-7.5) over Georgia Tech
This is a terrible matchup for Georgia Tech. Mississippi State is very familiar with option tendencies and reads from what they run on offense. They have a massive and talented front seven that has shut down everyone's running game this year.

While everyone loves Georgia Tech's offense, their defense has been pretty porous at times and Dak Prescott could have a monster game. On paper, everything about this game points toward Mississippi State so I'm not going to out think myself.

Auburn (-7) over Wisconsin
Auburn hired Will Muschamp as its defensive coordinator. Wisconsin's coach left to go to Oregon State. These are two teams headed in different directions. Auburn saw Ohio State score 59 and they'll be gunning for that number.

Melvin Gordon could have a big game, but even if he gets Wisconsin to 35, that won't trump Auburn getting to 65.

Minnesota (+6) over Missouri
Minnesota has been one of my favorite teams all year, constantly covering double-digit spreads down the stretch. It is another great matchup pick, as Missouri is built with fast defensive ends who rush the quarterback while Minnesota is built to smash you straight-ahead with RB David Cobb.

The last time Missouri played a team like that, it was Georgia and they lost 34-0. Is Minnesota as good as Georgia? No. But they will run at will, control the game and tempo, and grind out a tight win.

Michigan State (+3) over Baylor
First off, I am not picking Michigan State because I think Baylor won't be motivated. Now, that may change if Art Briles gets crazy and goes to DC to coach RG3. But I firmly believe Baylor will be sufficiently pumped up and motivated to play in its first Cotton Bowl in more than 30 years. Art Briles is a Texas guy and he knows the importance of the Cotton Bowl.

However, this is a game Michigan State has to have. I know that seems weird to write but Michigan State failed in its only two big games this year against Oregon and Ohio State. If you go 10-3 without beating a ranked team, does it count? This is a statement game for the Spartans and it will validate their entire season.

Baylor's defense is putrid and Michigan State's offense is miles better than it was last year. Even if this game turns into a shootout, Michigan State is equipped to handle it.

Florida State (+9.5) over Oregon
Are you kidding me with this spread? I am well aware Florida State hasn't beaten an elite team all year, but they have beaten many decent to good ones. They haven't lost in two years. You're giving me more than a touchdown? Thank you very much.

jameis 2014 acc
All year, I've thought Florida State is the best team and Jameis Winston is the best player. The problem is they show this for about 10 minutes a game and those 10 minutes are enough to win. I thought the ACC Championship game was one of their more impressive, complete games on offense and they were vexed – as many are – by the triple option.

Can Oregon slow down Florida State? If Winston avoids turnovers, I don't think they can. Can Florida State slow down Oregon? I think they can. That's the difference. Oregon can get into a rut just as Florida State can and it's tougher for them to get out of it because so much is based on tempo.

It would not surprise me if this game felt a lot like last year's BCS Title Game, with Florida State doing enough at the end to pull it out.

Alabama (-9.5) over Ohio State
Alabama is the best team in the country and I'm starting to think they're the best team in the country by a significant margin.

If there is a team that can give Alabama trouble, though, it's this Ohio State team – if J.T. Barrett was playing. Cardale Jones is a better throw and he's a big dude, but he lacks the running ability of Barrett. We've seen time and time again over the past few years that a running quarterback is the Tide's Achilles heel. It feels like this is too tall a task for Ohio State, especially since I do not trust their defense to keep Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon in check.

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