Predicting All 35 Bowl Games for the 2012 Season
Predicting college football games a year in advance is about as sure a thing as betting on Frosty the Snowman to beat the sun.
It's iffy, at best.
And yet, in one of the greatest traditions associated with college football, you will be assailed in this list with just such prognostication.
All 35 bowl games for next season are included, along with who will play where.
Keep in mind, the landscape of college football has changed drastically, so this list is assuming that bowl affiliations remain close to what they are now, and that there isn't more drastic realignment on tap for the offseason.
New Orleans Bowl
Arkansas State vs. Tulsa
The Golden Hurricane, even without quarterback G.J. Kinne, have the talent to make a bowl game.
It won't be an easy road, as there are some tough matchups within the conference, but it's doable.
As for Arkansas State, all the pertinent information you need is that quarterback Ryan Aplin is returning.
Aplin led the Red Wolves in passing and rushing in 2011 and will have the offensive chops of Gus Malzahn to help him out in 2012.
Temple vs. ULL
Temple is going to be a tough squad.
Bernard Pierce (if he returns) has the talent and desire to be a top-three running back in the country and will be the catalyst for an offense that can struggle to score points at times.
The Owls are a dark horse to win the MAC and match up well with ULL.
The Ragin' Cajuns enjoyed great success, including a bowl victory this season, and have the key pieces in place to compete again next year.
Mississippi State vs. Southern Miss
Dan Mullen has plenty of talent still available with which to guide the Bulldogs to another bowl game.
After an incredibly disappointing season in 2011, the Bulldogs will follow that up with...an incredibly disappointing season in 2012.
Southern Miss, even without head coach Larry Fedora, is a threat to win C-USA behind the play of a still stout defense and quarterback Austin Davis.
BBVA Compass Bowl
Missouri vs. San Diego State
Mizzou will find some tough sledding within its new conference (SEC) but should be able to manage bowl eligibility, especially considering the emergence of quarterback James Franklin.
San Diego State boasts a new conference and one of the better running backs in the country that you have not heard of, Ronnie Hillman.
Both of these teams will have the capability to finish with eight or more wins next season, but whether they will actually pull it off remains to be seen.
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas
Baylor vs. Iowa
The loss of Robert Griffin will lead to a season barely over .500 for the Bears.
They will not revert to total bowl oblivion, however, sneaking into this one.
Iowa is mired in the middle of mediocrity, not being able to get over the hump in Big Ten play, and that is not going to change next season, especially if the Hawkeyes cannot keep their running backs out of trouble.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Cincinnati vs. Iowa State
Cincy is going to miss Isaiah Pead and Zach Collaros on the offensive side of the ball, but it has experience resulting from injuries at the quarterback position last year and some depth on defense.
The Big East has a new look, but the Bearcats will finish near the top of the conference yet again.
Paul Rhoads has the Cyclones heading the right direction and will be able to duplicate this season's success in next year's campaign, leading his team to another bowl game.
Northwestern vs. Texas Tech
These two programs have been toiling near the middle of the pack in the Big Ten and Big 12, respectively.
Much of the same is in store for next season.
Tech still has little defense, and Northwestern still has unsettled issues at several key positions.
There is plenty of potential for both of these teams, but that does not always mean results.
BYU vs. Air Force
BYU is returning quarterback Riley Nelson, who showed steady progression in his time on the field in 2011 after Jake Heaps went down.
Good news for Cougar fans.
Air Force has been able to consistently come up with enough talent to compete in the MWC, and with the conference gutted due to realignment, it will have an opportunity to make a surge towards the top in 2012.
Rutgers vs. Georgia Tech
If Mohamed Sanu returns for Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights are going to be tough to stop on offense.
The versatile wide receiver has an incredible mix of speed and strength that makes him a bear to try to guard.
As for Georgia Tech, it will always have an incredible rushing attack as long as Paul Johnson is there, but balance is needed.
The Yellow Jackets have now lost seven straight bowl games.
North Carolina vs. Nevada
Nevada is looking to become the top dog in the MWC, and Chris Ault is just the coach to make sure it happens.
As for UNC, there are sure to be growing pains with a new head coach and a defense decimated by graduations and NFL departures, but the Heels still have the talent (particularly at quarterback and running back) to put a ton of points on the board.
Pitt vs. Toledo
Paul Chryst has spent his time in recent seasons making Wisconsin one of the highest-scoring offenses in the country.
He now takes his show on the road to Pitt, which will be entering its inaugural season in the ACC.
Toledo, while losing some key talent, should return dynamic playmaker Eric Page, the man who is capable of turning a game around nearly by himself if he gets the ball in his hands.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Navy vs. Arizona State
Navy and its rushing attack will have the experience and talent in 2012 to make a run at returning to a bowl game.
As for Arizona State, quarterback Brock Osweiler will thrive in new head coach Todd Graham's offense, leading the Sun Devils to a seven-win season.
Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl
Houston vs. USF
Without Case Keenum, Houston will suffer a little bit, but it still has some depth on defense and the experience to win several games in C-USA.
USF has been on the cusp of breaking out in the Big East, losing some close games and playing incredibly uninspired ball in big games.
Next season Skip Holtz and his squad will break through to a 7-5 record and a trip to this game.
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
Illinois vs. Ohio
Ohio, led by quarterback Tyler Tettleton, will wind up near the top of the MAC.
As for Illinois, a new head coach and systems to deal with might slow progress, but as long as quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase can remain healthy, the Illini will find their way to bowl eligibility.
It might be an obscure bowl game, but given the circumstances, that should be forgiven by fans.
SMU vs. Hawaii
Ah, to play in Hawaii in December.
The Warriors run a system offensively and play in a weak conference, which will allow them to reach bowl eligibility pretty regularly.
The drama surrounding a matchup of Hawaii against former head coach June Jones and his current SMU team would at least give a few casual observers reason to watch.
Armed Forces Bowl
Marshall vs. Army
Marshall has the pieces in place to get to a bowl game for a second consecutive season in 2012.
Army, though it has had some struggles, should not be overlooked.
The Black Knights have the pieces in place to make a run at postseason eligibility.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
La. Tech vs. NIU
NIU loses standout quarterback Chandler Harnish, so a shot at another MAC title is likely out of the picture.
However, the defense returns some key pieces, and head coach Dave Doeren can get them whipped into shape better than anyone else.
As for La. Tech, the Bulldogs will look to try to establish their dominance in a new-look WAC.
New Mexico Bowl
UNLV vs. Washington State
Yep, I said it—UNLV.
The Rebels were a far cry from a bowl game at 2-10 this season, but expect them to make huge strides in 2012.
Bobby Hauck's system is finally being implemented; he will start to see some of his players on the field, and this team will boast tons of potential. If it can live up to it, a bowl game is not out of the realm of possibility.
Washington State already has the talent to win several games, and with Mike Leach taking over, it will surprise a few teams in the Pac-12.
Music City Bowl
Miami (FL) vs. Texas A&M
Miami always has a plethora of talent and speedy guys to throw on the field.
It seems to be in the area of discipline that this team breaks down.
Enter Al Golden.
In his second season, the Hurricanes will again reach eligibility, minus the postseason ban.
Texas A&M will limp through a brutal SEC schedule, but there is no reason to think that it won't be able to manage six wins.
West Virginia vs. Stanford
Stanford is going to regress with the losses of David DeCastro, Jonathan Martin and especially Andrew Luck but will still have the defensive talent to have a pretty solid season.
West Virginia has an interesting proposition trying to navigate through a new conference, and the teams that had to attempt that in 2011 did not do well.
The Mountaineers, though, are incredibly explosive offensively, and Dana Holgorsen will have some tricks up his sleeve.
Texas vs. Purdue
Mack Brown's team is not going to be any more effective next season than this.
There is no answer at quarterback yet, and unless that is straightened out, the Longhorns will win eight games, maximum.
Purdue is an enigma.
It plays some really good teams very tough and struggles with teams such as Rice.
This inconsistency will again lead to a mediocre season in the Big Ten.
Virginia vs. Cal
Mike London has this Virginia team turned around.
It is not quite elite but will have another good showing in the ACC next season, resulting in this bowl berth.
Cal has some talent at the offensive skill positions and has a schedule in 2012 that will allow it to win at least eight games.
Maaco Bowl Las Vegas
Wyoming vs. UCLA
Brett Smith, Wyoming's quarterback, is very talented and extremely capable of taking it to an MWC title in 2012.
UCLA will be more of the same in 2012—incredibly inconsistent, sometimes embarrassing, but without the Pac-12 South title.
Welcome to Vegas, Bruins.
Penn State vs. Florida
Penn State's defense is going to be scary good, and if it can resolve this whole "head coach" thing and move past the controversy swirling around the program, this team is going to be very similar to the 2011 edition.
Silas Redd will lead the Big Ten in rushing, but without an effective passing game, the Lions will struggle to win the tough games.
Florida is no stranger to this game, and Will Muschamp is cleaning house and implementing his system in Gainesville.
However, it's going to take a few more years before the Gators are back atop the SEC East.
Washington vs. Kansas State
Yeah, Keith Price and Washington were here this season, but what's wrong with getting a second shot?
The problem for Washington remains that it will not be a better team than Oregon.
Toss in USC's likely dominance, and the Huskies will be doing their best to finish third in the conference.
As for Kansas State, the loss of talent (particularly on defense) will be damaging, and teams will know about Collin Klein this season, making it more difficult for him to produce.
Champs Sports Bowl
Virginia Tech vs. Boise State
That's right—Boise State will not be playing in a middle-tier WAC/MWC-affiliated bowl, but a middle-tier Big East bowl.
Because in the world in which we live, that makes perfect sense.
While Boise State's schedule has not yet been released, Kellen Moore is gone, traveling will be difficult and the non-conference schedule looks tough.
The Broncos must travel to face Michigan State and Southern Miss and host Miami (OH) and BYU.
Without Moore and the other departed seniors, the Broncos are not the same team.
Florida State vs. Georgia
Georgia benefited this season from the weakest conference schedule in the SEC.
Next year will be similar, with the exception of the fact that it travels to Auburn and South Carolina.
Expect Mark Richt's young squad to show even more improvement but fall short of the BCS yet again.
The 'Noles had a disappointing season after beginning it ranked in the Top Five and will give us much of the same in 2012.
The defense will be stout at times, and they are still loaded with experience on offense, but they are not quite ready to step back into their place among college football's elite.
Arkansas vs. Wisconsin
Wisconsin is going to struggle to win the Big Ten for the third consecutive season.
The Badgers are losing their most talented receiver, Nick Toon, as well as stellar quarterback Russell Wilson and possibly running back Montee Ball. That's roughly 95 percent of their scoring.
Defensively, they have the experience and talent to play better next season, with guys like Chris Borland ready to step up.
Arkansas is going to be much more of the same: bruising running game, solid quarterback, but some issues on defense.
The SEC West is going to be brutal again next year, and the Hogs will suffer because of it.
Capital One Bowl
Alabama vs. Nebraska
Nebraska, even with another year of experience, is still going to struggle offensively, especially in the Big Ten.
That said, the defense is so talented that it will win at least nine games in 2012.
'Bama has a ton of NFL talent this season, and that spells trouble for next year. It will lose several key players and even with guys like tailback Eddie Lacy ready to step up, it is going to have a tough time duplicating this season's success.
TCU vs. Auburn
Auburn is going to be better next season but will still fall short of the upper echelon in the SEC.
Still, guys like Michael Dyer at running back and Corey Lemonier at defensive end will provide enough big plays to help them finish near the top of the West.
As for TCU, it surprised everybody but itself this season by beating out Boise State to win the MWC.
Quarterback Casey Pachall made significant progress, and Gary Patterson's defense was as tough as ever.
With the Big 12 up for grabs, TCU won't finish far from the top in 2012.
South Carolina vs. Michigan State
Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks are going to be scary good on defense next season, and with tailback Marcus Lattimore returning from injury, the offense will be pretty tough to stop.
Michigan State loses Kirk Cousins, but the more you look at it and its road through the Big Ten, the more you have to like its chances.
The Big Ten is so wide open that anybody could really take the conference, and Mark Dantonio's squad is going to be tough to move the ball against in 2012.
Oklahoma vs. Notre Dame
The Big 12 might be the toughest conference to predict in 2012.
If Oklahoma's Landry Jones returns, it is going to be my pick for conference champs, but it won't be by much.
As for Notre Dame, yes, I said it.
The reasoning behind this pick is that at some point, the Irish are going to make a BCS game. With some key experience on defense, next season might be as good an opportunity as any they will have.
Clemson vs. Louisville
The more I think about it, the more I feel that Clemson will still be the class of the ACC in 2012.
Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins are going to be even better than this season, and the defense should be stout for Dabo Swinney.
As for Louisville, it enjoyed great success this season, finishing near the top of the Big East standings.
Freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will be back and will be much improved in 2012.
Oregon vs. Michigan
Michigan is only going to get better next season.
The Wolverines showed marked improvement on defense this season under Greg Mattison's tutelage, and Brady Hoke has demonstrated his coaching chops to the immediate satisfaction of Wolverine fans everywhere.
Oregon will be the same, speedy group of guys, minus LaMichael James and a few others, but there aren't exactly any other dominant teams waiting to ambush it in the Pac-12 North.
This would be the Ducks' second straight Rose Bowl, and a matchup involving both the explosive Oregon offense and the dynamic play of Denard Robinson would be spectacular.
BCS National Championship Game
LSU vs. USC
The safe bet is to guess an SEC team will be in next season's BCS title game.
Scary as it may be, LSU may have a better team next season than it does this season and should be the favorite to win the conference.
It will be tough, but doable with the level of talent the Tigers can field.
The return of quarterback Matt Barkley instantly thrusts the Trojans into Top Five status, and with the cards falling the right way, their path to the title game is clear.