The Ultimate Bowl Preview: There's A Reason To Watch All 34
Optimism will get you a long way—with the ladies, with potential employers, and, most of all, with the 34 bowl games set to kick off on Dec. 19.
For all of us who have watched a boatload of college football this year, there's a reason to watch all 34 bowls.
For the rest of you who joined late or lost interest early, consider this a metaphorical bowl Christmas calendar.
Peel back every slide and find a small nugget of chocolate to chew on.
Here we go.
New Mexico Bowl: Wyoming Cowboys v. Fresno State Bulldogs
My prediction came true—in this business, that doesn't happen a lot, so you have to mention it every time—when the Wyoming Cowboys beat Colorado State and became bowl eligible.
They drew a really tough Fresno State team boasting the nation's second-most prolific rusher, Ryan Matthews, and a fine group of wide receivers to test the 73rd-ranked passing defense of the 'Boys.
Look for Ryan Matthews to make a pitch as a first-round NFL tailback against a Wyoming team that's still finding its leg out of the Mountain West conference.
St. Petersburg Bowl: UCF v. Rutgers
The South Florida Bulls declined an invite to the St. Petersburg Bowl, possibly because the UCF Knights played them uncomfortably close last year in a 31-24 win.
Instead, Central Florida will play the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in a battle of, well, Knights.
UCF 1,000-yard rusher Brynn Harvey might give the Scarlet Knights fits, and Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage finished the year cold, but I expect Rutgers to lean on its 18th-ranked defense and checkmate the home team in the fourth quarter on a late turnover.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Southern Miss v. Middle Tennessee State
Middle Tennessee State ended the year on a tear, winning six straight after losing to Troy, the Sun Belt champion, and the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Southern Miss quarterback "Devious" Martevious Young will test the MTSU pass defense, which finished tops in the Sun Belt conference in passing yards allowed and produced 13 interceptions on the year.
Young threw for 13 touchdowns and only one interception on the year after taking over for the injured Austin Davis in October.
Look for the Golden Eagles to struggle against a resurrected MTSU defense.
Dual-threat quarterback Dwight Dasher, who leads the team in rushing as well as passing, will put the game on his shoulders and confound the Golden Eagles in what might turn out to be a shootout.
EagleBank Bowl: Temple v. UCLA/Army
Their opponent is still being decided, but whichever team gets the Owls in the EagleBank bowl, they'll have their work cut out for them.
Temple's Bernard Pierce is the MAC's leading rusher and the main reason Temple made a bowl and competed for a MAC Championship on the year.
Another reason? Temple's stellar rush defense, which contained Navy in the upset and led the MAC, allowing only 108.3 yards per game.
UCLA would get smacked, meaning Army would be the more intriguing matchup. If Temple conquers them, looks like the military will have to bow to our Owl overlords.
Maaco Las Vegas Bowl: Oregon State v. BYU
The first bowl with some real teeth to it, the Las Vegas Bowl pits Pac-10 runner-up Oregon State against a BYU team that showed signs of brilliance and moments of complete defensive breakdown throughout year.
I like Oregon State quarterback Sean Canfield and the Rogers brothers to run away with this game against a BYU defense that got victimized by TCU and Florida State, but Max Hall and Dennis Pitta could put up a fight against an Oregon State team feeling let down after the loss in the Civil War.
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: Utah v. Cal
Jahvid Best missed the latter part of the season after a devastating injury against Oregon State.
He'll look to shore up his NFL prospects by returning to help Cal face a stiff Utah defense led by outstanding free safety Robert Johnson, who also plays a mean blues riff.
If Best is back, expect him and Cal's other outstanding running back, Shane Vereen, to keep the Golden Bears' offense rolling and eventually gas the Ute defense.
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl: Nevada v. SMU
Expect a cool, possibly hostile reception for SMU coach June Jones, who departed the Hawaii Warriors under inauspicious pretenses two years ago and now returns to coach the SMU Mustangs against the Nevada Wolf Pack.
The Pack should find success running the veer out of their unique pistol formation, the brainchild of Nevada coach Chris Ault, against a so-so SMU rushing defense allowing 170 rush yards per game.
That average will go up once Colin Kaepernick and Nevada's two other 1,000 yard rushers, Vai Taua and Luke Lippincott, get rolling.
If that happens, Jones' return could go from unfortunate to downright nasty.
Little Caesar's Bowl: Marshall v. Ohio
Despite leading the Herd off the bubble and into a bowl game for the first time since 2004, Marshall head coach Mark Snyder resigned (read: was fired) at the end of the year.
That won't help against a good Ohio team that leads the nation in turnovers forced.
Expect a heavy dose of Darius Marshall, C-USA's fourth leading rusher, if he can overcome an ankle injury that kept him out of Marshall's final two games.
Ohio coach Frank Solich will be looking for revenge at Ford Field, after dropping the MAC championship game to Central Michigan on costly turnovers.
Any sign of sloppy play from Marshall should push the game the Bobcats' way.
Meineke Car Care Bowl: Pitt v. North Carolina
After losing to Cincinnati in the de facto Big East championship, Pitt's bowl bid dropped to the Meineke, where they will face a Tar Heel team coming off of a tough loss to NC State in the in-state rivalry game.
The Wannstache will run Big East freshman phenom Dion Lewis right at UNC's ACC-leading rush defense and lean on an outstanding Pitt defensive line, and the Panthers will lose 3-0 in a game that rivals last year's 3-0 loss to Oregon State in boredom-inducement.
Emerald Bowl: Boston College v. USC
Yep, that USC. If you're like me, you're entirely weirded out that the Trojans are playing on a date nowhere year the end of the year, against a Boston College team that put up 163 yards—yards!—against Virginia Tech.
If that stat doesn't surprise you, then neither will USC's game plan—to run Joe McKnight and Allen Bradford right at Boston College's stiff run defense and keep the ball out of Matt Barkley's hands.
Barkley struggled with interceptions as the year went on, so the Trojans will hope to outmuscle the Eagles on the line of scrimmage and force a few turnovers on defense without asking too much of their true freshman QB and avoid further embarrassment in 2009.
Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl: Kentucky v. Clemson
Rich Brooks' Wildcats played inspired football throughout the year, beating Auburn and Georgia and narrowly losing to Tennessee in overtime.
They'll have their hands full of—or grasping futilely at—C.J. Spiller, the NCAA's second-most prolific all-purpose back and the ACC Player of the Year.
Kentucky's mediocre rush defense will struggle to contain Spiller, who hopefully puts on a performance that shames Heisman voters who left him off the finalists ballot in favor of Tim Tebow.
Advocare V100 Independence Bowl: Texas A&M v. Georgia
These bowls are starting to sound like villians in Terminator II.
Von Miller, the national leader in sacks with 16.5, will try to terminate Joe Cox.
The Georgia quarterback has struggled with consistency all year.
The Bulldogs' situation at defensive coordinator—they don't have one—won't help against Jerrod Johnson, the Aggies' dual-threat quarterback, who matched Colt McCoy touchdown for touchdown in the rivalry game the day after Thanksgiving.
This one's a total toss-up.
Who wants it more?
I'd say the Aggies, who are looking to end the year with a winning record under Mike Sherman.
Champs Sports Bowl: Miami v. Wisconsin
Wisconsin will try to apply their patented ground-pound attack against a quick and athletic Miami defense and look to minimize the output of Scott Tolzien, who has struggled all year with turnovers.
Your matchup to watch will be Wisconsin's pass defense against Miami QB Jacory Harris.
Harris struggles under pressure, so if O'Brien Schofield, the Big Ten runner-up in sacks, can hurry the sophomore quarterback, this one could be closer than most expect out of a Big Ten team.
Roady's Humanitarian Bowl: Bowling Green v. Idaho
Bowling Green wide receiver Freddie Barnes—my selection for All-American at wide receiver—will attempt to break the NCAA record for career receptions when the Eagles take on an Idaho Vandals team that made it to bowl eligibility but wilted against its most difficult opponents.
BGSU quarterback Tyler Sheehan will pick apart an Idaho secondary that ranked next-to-last in passing defense and hopefully get his man Barnes into the record books.
Pacific Life Holiday Bowl: Arizona v. Nebraska
The Cornhuskers' defense, led by Nagurski Trophy winner Ndamukong Suh, will try and bottle up a prolific Arizona passing attack, led by sophomore QB Nick Foles.
I expect another close game decided by field goals, as both teams struggle on offense and battle for field position.
If Suh does to Foles what he did to McCoy, don't expect the Wildcats to get as lucky as the Longhorns did.
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl: Houston v. Air Force
The Houston Cougars will trot out their offshoot of the Air Raid against an outstanding Air Force passing defense that led the Mountain West in yards allowed.
The Cougars will struggle against the Air Force triple option rushing attack, as they did against UTEP and East Carolina, and will need to rely on Keenum to make better decisions against the Falcons than he did against the Pirates, where his three interceptions were the difference in a close game.
Brut Sun Bowl: Stanford v. Oklahoma
Toby Gerhart and the Oklahoma rush defense will lock horns as the Cardinal battle for out-of-conference legitimacy after laying waste to the softer Ds in the Pac-10.
With Andrew Luck out, Gerhart will likely get a greater-than-usual number of carries.
Oklahoma will have to hope they can contain him and get Landry Jones some easy throws against a mediocre Stanford passing D that's averaging 250 yards through the air.
Texas Bowl: Navy v. Missouri
Blaine Gabbert finished the year white-hot, throwing for eight touchdowns and no interceptions, and leading the Tigers to three straight wins and a narrow loss to Baylor that wasn't his fault.
Navy rarely faces good passers. The Midshipmen contained Jimmy Clausen without really stopping him—the Irish lost that game more than Navy won it–so they'll have to rely on the triple option to compile a lot of rushing yards, control clock, and keep Gabbert and the Tigers off the field.
It comes down to whether Missouri, which is only allowing 96 rushing yards per game, can stop the triple option and give Gary Pinkel's spread system a chance to succeed.
Insight Bowl: Minnesota v. Iowa State
Eric Decker will miss this bowl for the Golden Gophers, so Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber will have to look elsewhere to move the Minnesota offense—which ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring—down the field.
Iowa State running back Alexander Robinson will try for his sixth 100-yard running game, and the Cyclones will attempt to put a cherry on the encouraging season they've had under first-year head coach Paul Rhoads.
Chick-fil-A Bowl: Virginia Tech v. Tennessee
It'll be a battle of great defensive minds as VT's Bud Foster and UT's Monte Kiffin go head-to-head in the Chick-fil-A bowl on New Year's Eve.
Foster's Hokies will likely blitz the devil out of Jonathon Crompton, who finished the season strong after starting it in interception-heavy fashion.
Tennessee safety Eric Berry will look for a few picks of his own, as he attempts to break the NCAA record for interception return yards—he needs seven.
Don't expect Tyrod Taylor to throw a lot of passes—VT has ACC Freshman of the Year Ryan Williams to pound out some tough yards.
Should be an outstanding game for fans of a defensive struggle.
Outback Bowl: Northwestern v. Auburn
Auburn seems the likely bet—they were beating SEC champion and national contender Alabama until the final minute—but Pat Fitzgerald has coached up the Wildcats' defense, led by All-Big Ten end Corey Wootton, into something respectable.
Mike Kafka and Chris Todd will stage a shootout of unsung quarterbacks for their respective conferences, and the better defense will win the day, whomever that belongs to.
Konica Minolta Gator Bowl: West Virginia v. Florida State
It's the last game for a lot of Seminoles—defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, recently-fired running backs coach Dexter Carter...and, oh yeah, Bobby Bowden.
Knowing what a sweetheart Bill Stewart is, the Mountaineers will likely lay down and make way for a grand exit for the Seminoles' head coach, who is retiring after 34 years.
Christian Ponder hopefully gets the big win he's been denied all year since dropping the opening game against Miami.
Capital One Bowl: Penn State v. LSU
Do you believe in magic? Las Vegas bettors do, of the Paterno variety.
The oddsmakers have Penn State as a field-goal favorite over the LSU Tigers, vouching for Cool Papa Joe's famously good track record in bowl games.
Hopefully Darryl Clark can finish his Penn State career as something more than a pleasant footnote, but the game will come down more to the Nittany Lion defense stopping Jordan Jefferson, who gave LSU a huge boost of momentum in last year's bowl win over Georgia Tech, along with Brandon Lafell and Charles Scott.
Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. Oregon
Though it nauseated many of you to hear it, I think this game will be closer than the experts think.
The Buckeyes will look to put a stop to their losing streak in big games by leaning on their defense and the resurrection of Terrelle Pryor, while the Ducks hope to stake a claim as perennial Pac-10 challengers under first year head coach Chip Kelly.
Count on the Buckeyes to rely on their outstanding defensive line to contain running plays in the backfield and disrupt the reads with instantaneous pressure.
Jeremiah Masoli will have to conjure more of his outstanding ball-fake wizardry and make a few plays with his arm to move the Bucks D away from the line of scrimmage.
Sugar Bowl: Florida v. Cincinnati
The nausea continues as Cincinnati gives Florida more than they bargained for in the passing game.
Tebow will look mortal again—as he has all year—when the Bearcats bring heat and pressure the Chosen One into bad decisions.
The blueprint is there to beat the Gators, and Uncle Kelly knows it.
If he's still coaching the Bearcats, I like Cincy in the upset.
International Bowl: South Florida v. Northern Illinois
Northern Illinois beat Purdue. South Florida is coached by an angry and emotional man. This game is being played in Canada. George Selvie has lost his mojo.
Can you tell I'm struggling?
Northern Illinois in the "upset."
Papajohns.com Bowl: South Carolina v. UConn
Randy Edsall's UConn team played lights out to finish the schedule.
First, there was the shootout with Cincy, then the win that toppled Weis for good, and, finally, a 29-27 win over South Florida to improve the Huskies' bowl standing.
Spurrier's Gamecocks also finished strong with a satisfying win over Clemson in the rivalry game, so this should be a momentum-heavy matchup.
The winner will be decided based on the play of UConn's outstanding running back, Andre Dixon, and the fine South Carolina defense.
I vote defense, particularly in bowl games. It will be up to Edsall to keep the Huskies' momentum going.
AT&T Cotton Bowl: Ole Miss v. Oklahoma State
It's a virtual replay of last year's Cotton Bowl, with Ole Miss looking to spoil a disappointed Big 12 team left out of the BCS conversation.
Oklahoma State couldn't keep up against Texas or Oklahoma, but Jevan Snead and the Ole Miss offense have put on their share of flat performances, particularly in the closing loss to Mississippi State.
If the Rebels can get Dexter McCluster moving, their superior defense, anchored by DE Greg Hardy, will win out over the Cowboys, who haven't risen to the occasion since beating Georgia in Week One.
Autozone Liberty Bowl: Arkansas v. East Carolina
The Pirates stymied Case Keenum and the Air Raid, and they'll have to do it again against SEC passing efficiency leader Ryan Mallett, who is on his way to breaking every significant record for the Razorbacks at the quarterback position.
The Razorbacks have a D to go with their O, so whether or not Mallett struggles, I don't see how Skip Holtz's Pirates will have anything to treasure after this one.
Valero Alamo Bowl: Michigan State v. Texas Tech
Without Fred Davis, BJ Cunningham, Glenn Winston, Mark Dell, and Chris L. Rucker, there's little chance the Spartans can keep up against my man Mike Leach's Air Raid attack.
To even make it close, MSU QB Kirk Cousins will have to play like he did against Purdue—11-of-25 for 208 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions—and not against Penn State16-of-28 for 155 yards, one touchdown, and two costly picks.
Not bloody likely. The Red Raiders will keep Dantonio 0-3 in bowls as a Spartan—you can bet the farm on that.
Fiesta Bowl: Boise State v. TCU
TCU, against its better judgment, will bludgeon Boise State with their top-ranked defense, and poor Kellen Moore will be seeing Jerry Hughes in his nightmares for the entire offseason.
Andy Dalton might have more completions than the Broncos will have rushing yards.
Pardon me while I retch.
Orange Bowl: Iowa v. Georgia Tech
I stand by my prediction that Iowa's defense, in failing to play the triple option aggressively, will fall victim to the ferocity of Paul Johnson's system without being able to match it plodding point for plodding point.
But it might be a little tighter than I predicted originally.
Iowa, to its credit, plays opponents close, so this might become a field-goal kicking competition. And Iowa's won at least one of those on the year.
GMAC Bowl: Central Michigan v. Troy
In an alternate universe, CMU QB Dan LeFevour is about to win the Heisman after becoming the all-time touchdowns leader in 1-A college football history during the Chippewas' win over Ohio in the MAC championship.
He'll add a few more against a Troy defense that won the Sun Belt, yet somehow ranked in the bottom of the conference in passing yards and touchdowns allowed.
The Chips are no slouches on defense either, boasting All-MAC DE and preseason Lombardi Award candidate Frank Zombo, as well as All-MAC ILB Nick Bellore anchoring an outstanding CMU defensive front seven.
I like CMU to run away with this one.
National Championship: Texas v. Alabama
Y'all know how I feel—the Longhorns don't belong on the same field as the time-tested Tide, and Saban knows it.
He'll attack the Longhorns with the same aggression he used to trample over Florida, and though Will Muschamp—an ex-SEC guy himself—will blow a gasket containing Ingram, it will be Greg McElroy's game to win, as long as he has another one in him.
These two teams are, to quote Shakespeare, two lions litter'd in one day, with the Crimson Tide the elder and more terrible.