The self-proclaimed "most wonderful time of the year" has gotten off to a tepid start in 2012-13, but there's plenty of action ahead of us.
College basketball seems to have a monopoly on the term "Cinderella story," and justifiably so. But even if upsets aren't as prevalent (or important) in college football, they do still exist and they do still matter.
You can't play in a bowl with a losing record, which makes it hard for most games to be considered true "upsets." That is, if you were good enough to make a bowl game then, in most cases, you should be good enough to win one as well.
However, there are still a number of underdogs this year who stand a good shot at defying the odds. Let's examine three of them:
All spreads courtesy of VegasInsider.com – LVH
WASHINGTON HUSKIES vs. Boise State Broncos (MAACO Las Vegas Bowl)
When: Dec. 22, 2012 – 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
Spread: Boise State -5
Yeah, the Broncos are 10-2, but who have they beaten? Fresno State, I guess. Other than that, though, Boise's resume is pretty barren: Their other nine victories have come over teams with a combined record of 35-76.
That's about as bad as it gets.
The Huskies only have seven wins, but they've done so against superior competition. Washington has conquered the likes of Stanford (the Pac-12 champion), Oregon State (then 6-0 and ranked seventh in the country) and San Diego State (whom the Broncos lost to in Boise).
Boise State has won the last two Las Vegas Bowls by a combined score of 82-27. But make no mistake about it: These Broncos aren't nearly as good as the past two iterations.
Don't be surprised if the Huskies win convincingly.
MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS vs. TCU Horned Frogs (Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl)
When: Dec. 29, 2012 – 10:15 p.m. ET
Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
Spread: TCU -3
The Spartans entered 2012 with delusions of rose petal-infused grandeur. I think it's safe to say things didn't go according to plan. Instead, they found themselves needing to beat Minnesota in their final game to even become bowl eligible.
So why, exactly, do I think they can beat TCU?
For a lot of reasons, actually. Say what you will about Big Ten Football—most of the odium will be justified. However, even if the games are ugly, they're physical enough to separate men from boys. And even though Sparty lost five games in conference play, they did so by a microscopic average of 2.6 points per game.
TCU had an equally rough go during its first season in the Big 12, coupling nice wins over Texas and West Virginia with embarrassing no-shows against Iowa State and Oklahoma State.
Both teams are built similarly, so it wouldn't be wise to expect a lot of points to be scored in Tempe. However, much like Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, Michigan State has a unique opportunity to salvage a season gone awry.
And much like Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, I don't expect them to squander it.
NORTHERN ILLINOIS HUSKIES vs. Florida State Seminoles (Discover Orange Bowl)
When: Jan. 1, 2013 – 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami
Spread: Florida State -13.5
I wouldn't perjure myself by saying Northern Illinois is better. They aren't.
But I'm also not too dense to ignore history. And the history of non-BCS schools against major conference opponents in BCS bowl games is rather auspicious:
|2004 Utah||Fiesta||Pittsburgh (+16)||Utah 35, Pittsburgh 7|
|2006 Boise State||Fiesta||Oklahoma (-7)||Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42|
|2007 Hawaii||Sugar||Georgia (-8)||Georgia 42, Hawaii 10|
|2008 Utah||Sugar||Alabama (-9.5)||Utah 31, Alabama 17|
|2010 TCU||Rose||Wisconsin (+3)||TCU 21, Wisconsin 19|
The non-BCS qualifiers are 4-1 straight up, 3-2 against the spread, and 2-1 in both facets when playing as the underdog.
Boise State and Utah weren't actually better than Oklahoma and Alabama. The 2006 Sooners boasted names like Adrian Peterson and Malcolm Kelly; the 2008 Crimson Tide started future pros in Julio Jones, Mark Ingram, Andre Smith, Kareem Jackson, Javier Arenas, Rolando McLain, Terrance Cody and Dont'a Hightower.
It didn't matter.
So I won't worry too much about the prodigious talent of E.J. Manuel or Bjoern Werner. And I won't lose sleep fretting about Florida State's (unfair) home-field advantage.
Because something special happens when plucky mid-majors saunter into BCS bowl games. And I won't be the one who bets against that.