College Football: Which Schools Need To Be Rocky To Go Bowling?
Rocky Balboa had little to no chance of beating then heavyweight champ Apollo Creed back in 1976. He was out of shape, was a bum, and had wins against guys like Spider Rico to his credit.
But on that one night, the Italian Stallion showed us all what heart can do for a man as he took the champ the distance. Oh, what a movie for the underdogs and bums of the world.
Then of course sequels came along and made Rocky nearly invincible to 2000 lb. punches, but hey, we still love the story of the underdog fighter from Philly who went on to be one of the most popular fictional fighters of all time.
As for the real world, with college football on our doorsteps, who are the teams that are going to need a Rocky-like upset or two to see postseason light of day?
Each team on the list is one of those squads that many are taking to win four or five games, which means they are going to have to score an upset or two along the way if they want to go to college football's postseason.
There is one team from each conference who I think has the talent to win those four or five given games, and be able to spark a major upset or two along the way.
So yo Adrian, let's get started with the list.
Last year was the first time the Demon Deacons failed to make a bowl appearance since the 2005 season. This year they have to replace Riley Skinner, the QB who enjoyed most of the success, and find a way to get back to the postseason.
The schedule has its ups and downs. They should beat Presbyterian, which won't really help their postseason cause. Also on the list of probable wins is Duke, Maryland, and Vandy. The rest is a shake up.
October 2nd vs. Georgia Tech will be their first shot. I think that by then, any O-line issues will be solved, and Jim Grobe will have found a pretty good group of guys on defense that could silence the Jackets.
BC at home on November 6th could also be a game that Wake wins. I think BC is favored to have a slightly better season than Wake, so this would be a minor upset, if that.
Where the Rocky effort will have to occur is on Senior Day when they host Clemson.
I think both teams will be on the ropes heading into this one, and the team with the bigger heart will win.
I go with Head Coach Jim Grobe on this one, simply because he may be one of the best coaches in the nation who gets little respect on the national level.
Wake is my training montage in the ACC.
Many experts are thinking that Michigan is going to finally return back to form in 2010.
I am not one of those experts, or even fans for that matter, who thinks the maze and the blue will return to respectability.
While it is not impossible, it is going to take a few upsets along the way for the Wolverines to put on their bowling shoes.
UMASS, Bowling Green, Indiana, and Illinois all should be wins, with question marks around both Notre Dame and UCONN.
I still think that the Wolverines will have to score at least one big Rocky left hook to earn a bowl spot, so who's it going to be?
Well, I am taking the October 9th tilt vs Sparty as that game. A lot of people like the Spartans this year and think they could be the dark horse in this year's Big Ten race. But last year's Spartan team almost blew a lead to a not so good Michigan team.
As many fans told me after my Big Ten preview, the Wolverines have experience now, they will cut down the mistakes, and they will be better. I think I may be starting to drink some of the Kool-Aid.
Furthermore, I think the trip to West Lafayette in mid-November could be the Wolverines chance to crack a New Year's Day bowl game.
Michigan is the Italian Stallion of the Big Ten.
Last year, Doug Marrone won four games in his first year at the 'Cuse. This year, he is stepping into the offensive coordinator's shoes, as well as the head coach's.
If Syracuse is to get back to a bowl game in 2010, they will need to win the games they should, against Akron, Maine, and Colgate, and find a way to win at least three in the Big East.
The best shots for the underdog Orange to gain these Balboa knockouts will be at home vs. Louisville and UCONN, and on the road at USF, which is a team in transition.
Also do not overlook their game at Rutgers, whom they beat 31-13 at home a season ago.
Look for Ryan Nassib and Delone Carter to provide just enough plays in these games for the Orange to make a run to a lower tier bowl.
And if they slip in one of those games, the real Rocky upset could come in Cincinnati on Halloween Eve—Spooky thought, I know.
Last year the Cyclones shocked Nebraska in Lincoln and even put a scare into Mizzou on there way to a seven win season and a bowl win.
This year, many fans in Ames are expecting the Cyclones to build on their 2009 performance, but it will be tough.
The fall practice season started with terrible flooding in the area, and players were asked to help sandbag around the campus community. This begs the question, how and will they be ready to play football?
A Thursday night opener vs. a tough MAC school in Northern Illinois won't be easy, nor will non-conference slates with Iowa and Utah.
But the Cyclones will find a way to get it done.
Iowa State should squeak out the opener over Northern, plus Northern Iowa, and Colorado. After that, it will take upsets.
The first, I like them to shut down Taylor Potts and the potent Red Raider offense that is lacking a Mike Leach to coach it in 2010.
I also like them to pull of an Ivan Drago-like upset at home over Utah. I think it will be low scoring and tailback Alexander Robinson will out play Eddie Wide and the Utes offense.
Then, in the finale, for the telephone trophy, they street fight Mizzou Tommy Morrison style and make Gary Pinkel once again the most hated coach in the Big 12.
Iowa State climbs the museum steps to a bowl game in 2010.
It seemed like Mike Price always found a way to come out of nowhere and have a solid season while he was coaching at Washington State. Now the same is expected from him in 2010 with UTEP as he tries to end the Miners bowl-less streak that is now at four seasons.
To do so is going to be a challenge. Offensively, UTEP has the players. Defensively, not so much. In order for them to make a run at six or seven wins, they must improve here.
The schedule is not going to help.
They should win the opener over Arkansas PB, beat New Mexico State, Rice, Tulane, and UAB.
But they will need at least two major to moderate upsets for those six or seven wins to stand out.
On September 10th, they travel to Houston for what should be a shoot-out. If they can force Case Keenum to make mistakes, they have a chance.
But the two games I am looking at is a trip to MWC foe New Mexico, and a trip to Arkansas near season's end.
The New Mexico game shouldn't strike anybody as being an upset, but I think the Lobos will be slightly favored.
Arkansas, on the other hand, will not be. I think that this game will be a shoot out, the Hogs take the Miners too lightly, and UTEP and Mike Price will steal a huge win, and bowl eligibility.
Nobody expects much out of the Rebels at all in 2010, unless you are talking about basketball.
New head coach Bobby Hauck will disagree. Hauck comes to sin city from Montana, where winning was the norm in Grizzly country. Now he has the arduous task of trying to guide UNLV to a bowl game.
To do so, he will have to basically upset everyone on the schedule, from what the experts are all saying.
I disagree, saying they will beat New Mexico and Hawaii for sure.
As far as the Rocky of four upsets, well, let's get started.
The first, Apollo Creed, will come in the form of Idaho, on the road at the Kibbie Dome. This will be almost a home game of sorts for Hauck, and the team will respond with an exciting victory.
The second, Clubber Lang, will come at Colorado Springs against CSU, a team they beat 35-16 a year ago in Vegas.
Our Ivan Drago may be the biggest of all the upsets as they head into Provo, and Omar Clayton and company run wild on Bronco Mendenhall's Cougars.
Then, to finish it up, they upset Air Force at home on senior day and set themselves up to go bowling with a win in their final two games, which I think Hawaii is the sixth and final win.
Bobby Hauck and UNLV stun the MWC just like Wyoming did a year ago and head to a lower tier bowl game.
No other non-conference schedule in the country is as tough as Toledo's appears on paper.
Trips to Purdue and Boise, with home games vs Wyoming and Arizona are simply enough to put Toledo on the bowl sidelines.
But not so fast, my friends.
Toledo could win 5 games in the MAC, then all they would need is an upset against one of the four mentioned above....
Arizona falls victim in the opener. I am going to call it right now. Arizona will not be able to stop the Toledo running game, and the Rockets defense will be improved enough to confuse Nick Foles and the Arizona offense, as the Rockets start the 2010 campaign out with a bang.
They also earn a bowl game in the end, for this first round knock down of the team I have picked to win the Pac 10.
Last year ASU lost three league games by five points or less, enduring a rocky 4-8 season.
This year, not much is expected from the Sun Devils, which could give them the element of surprise.
Other than expecting wins over Wazzu, Portland State, and Northern Arizona, who else could they beat that would be considered an upset?
On paper, the best shot for ASU is UCLA at home. Oh, that is just one win and they will need at least two more, right?
Well, I am taking them on the road to beat Cal. I think that Cal will be looking ahead to Oregon State and will get beaten by the legs of Steven Threet.
Next up is a huge upset. I like them to beat USC at the Coliseum.
Last year, they lost by just five at home, to what I think was hands down a better USC team than the one on the field in 2010. USC will also be looking ahead to ASU's in state rival, Arizona, and ASU will earn a big win on their way towards a bowl bid.
The Bulldogs are moving in the right track when it comes to inching closer to a bowl game. This year, fans in Starkville are hoping that five wins turns into six.
The schedule is always tough in the SEC, but look for wins over Memphis, UAB, and Alcorn State to justify three.
But I am going to go with four upsets for Mississippi State and Dan Mullen.
Here they are:
On September 18th, they travel to LSU. They force Jordan Jefferson into some mistakes and find a running game post Dixon as the Bulldogs improve to 2-1.
On October 16th, they travel to Gainesville. This will be similar to the Ole Miss-Florida game of two years ago, as the Bulldog defense suffocates John Brantley and the Bulldogs shock the SEC world.
Then, two weeks later, they beat Kentucky, which may not be a world shaker.
Then, on senior day in Oxford, they run in, play hard, clip the Rebels by a field goal, earn the Egg Bowl, and take a trip to a bowl game.
Beating Florida is going to be the key, but I think that if Rocky can KO a superior Mr. T, I mean Clubber Lang, then the Bulldogs can beat the Gators and go bowling.
Last year, the Vandals had a breakthrough campaign, earning eight wins and a Humanitarian Bowl victory. Now they are forced to try and repeat the feat in a very tricky WAC conference.
The Vandals schedule is not easy, with trips to Nebraska, Fresno, and Western Michigan, just to name a few.
They should earn wins over the likes of North Dakota, Utah State, San Jose State, New Mexico State, and Hawaii, but where will that big breakthrough win come?
The spread offense gets the Huskers out of their defensive game-plan and Nathan Enderle has the game of his life for the Vandals, as they earn a huge national spotlight win for the Idaho program. They can yell back to Moscow, "Yo Vandals fans, we did it," as they are well on their way to back to back bowl appearances.
Yo Adrian, It's Over
It is always easier said than done when Hollywood is making it into an underdog film, than when actual college kids are getting it done on the field.
This simply is my list of teams that are going to be on the cusp and will need at least one, or maybe even three or four big time upsets.
On this list there are no Northwestern '95's, or no Ball State 2009's. This is simply just a list of teams that I see having gutsy runs at bowl eligibility, and hopefully a Rocky-like upset along the way.
So who are your teams that could pull of a Rocky Balboa-ish win? And against whom?
As always, feel free to leave your comments below and let me know what is going on in that melon of yours after reading this piece.
And if you don't, well, in the words of Ivan Drago, "I must break you!"